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(Consider this) The Hint of the Century

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“God, this place is probably older than I am,” Bucky said, looking around the demolished remains of the cathedral. Admittedly, they were in central Europe in one of those countries that Americans could never seem to remember the name of, and therefore something that was only five hundred years old were ‘upstart buildings.’ So it probably didn’t matter that they’d wrecked the place.

It really wasn’t their fault, Bucky was going to raise his hand and swear before God that they did not mean to knock down the church.

Some wanna be sorcerer had taken over the joint, raised a bunch of zombies with some magical… thingie… and made a complete mess of the entire area, terrorizing the locals. The Avengers hadn’t been called in until the Ghost dude -- he’d shouted his villainy name as being the Ghost Whisperer, or something -- had brought down a damn aircraft with a resurrected pterodactyl. Bucky wasn’t entirely paying attention to the rant-and-rave, being much too involved in the set up and take down part of the operation -- and he was being dragged away by a combination of local police and Dr. Strange.

Tony was consulting with the local police, which involved a lot of hand-waving, and he was clearly growing more and more annoyed by the second. Finally, he stomped back over to Bucky, rolling his eyes so hard that it looked painful. “Strange says the guy had some kind of magical pendant that he was using to... he wasn’t controlling the zombies with it -- that was the grimoire -- but to protect himself from them, maybe? I don’t know, magic doesn’t make any sense to me. Anyway, he doesn’t have it on him, so it’s got to be in there somewhere.” He waved a still-gauntleted hand toward the half-destroyed old church. “And the locals refuse to muster a crew to search for it, because they think the place is haunted.” Another eye-roll. “We just arrested the guy who was haunting it; you’d think they’d get that. But they don’t. So it’s up to us to dig through the mess and find the pendant.”

“Great,” Bucky said, watching Tony stride around through the rubble, occasionally assisted with a repulsored hop or delicate leap. Watching Tony in that armor was like witnessing a very aggressive ballet dancer. Beautiful, powerful, great ass-- Bucky sighed, shook his head. “Seems a little, I dunno, heretical or somethin’. Don’t you think? Digging through church wreckage? I feel bad enough about smashing the building to bits in the first place.”

Tony glanced back over his shoulder. “Didn’t take you for the religious type, Klondike. It’s just a building, really. And Strange says we really can’t let anyone else walk off with that pendant; we’ll just end up with another villain in three weeks.”

Bucky shrugged, a little sheepishly. “I grew up in in the 20’s and 30’s, Stark. I was an altar boy and everything. Used to take communion and listen to the litany in Latin.” He grumped about that; he’d been back to church a few times since Hydra. His first confession in seventy years had taken almost four hours, and he’d barely been able to talk for two days after he was done with his penance. But the service itself was in English, and that had been weird enough that Bucky had mostly given up the habit.

Tony tipped his head a little, which meant he was conceding the point. “Still, I’m pretty sure this place was deconsecrated long before we got here. Zombies will probably do that.” He crouched, took hold of a fallen beam, and heaved it out of the way. “...Huh. There’s a door in here. I didn’t notice that before.”

“Where, in the Sancrist-- oh.” Bucky stopped. “Uh. I think I know where he was getting the zombies from. That probably leads down to the catacombs.” He crossed himself, kissed his thumb, and then pushed the door open, very slowly. Haunted, the locals said. Bucky wondered if the place had been haunted before the Ghost Whisperer showed up.

Tony muttered something and a soft, wide light shone out of his chestplate, dimly illuminating the stairs leading down. He eyed the passageway. “Strange definitely said that closing the grimoire would drop any remaining zombies wandering around. So there’s nothing down there to worry about. Just...”

“Dead people.”

“Yeah, that.” Tony hesitated a moment longer, then sighed and started down the stairs. “Okay. Might as well get it over with.”

Bucky crept down behind him, torn between wanting to hold Tony’s hand, because part of him was always going to be that scared Catholic boy who was positive he was going to hell, and the other half wanting to yell Boo and see if Tony shrieked like a little kid, because that would be funny as shit.

“Did the locals specifically say what was haunting, around here, I mean, are we talking angry poltergeist that throws the bones of the dead at us, or just scary sounds at night?”

He was working himself right up, that’s exactly what he was doing. Given that they’d been fighting zombies in the morning, complete with the whole hunger for brains and the horrible smell, he was pretty sure he could be excused.

Still…

“Nope, just ‘haunted’ and ‘cursed’, over and over,” Tony said, sounding annoyed. “There was a bit in there about... it didn’t translate well. The two in one body? The two who became one? Something like that.” He glanced back as he reached the bottom, flashing Bucky that insouciant smirk. “So maybe there’s only two ghosts. I bet we can take ‘em.”

“Lovely,” Bucky said. “I don’t really want to take them anywhere. It’s not like it’s their fault that they’re dead. Someone mucking around with the natural order of shit. Oh-- look at that!”

Bucky turned as something glinted and glittered. It probably should have been blue, reflecting the arc-reactor, but it wasn’t. It was golden, sunshine, and pure. Beautiful. A tomb, carved from marble and inlaid with gold.

On the top of what looked like a double-sized burial chamber were two marble statuettes, naked and beautifully done, almost lifelike, reaching for each other but never quite touching.

“Wow.”

“You said it,” Tony agreed. He came over to look at the tableau. “There’s no dust on them.”

“It’s beautiful,” Bucky said, staring up at the statue. While gorgeously done -- Michelangelo's David might well have been jealous -- the expressions on the statues faces were of people who were in terrible pain. Grief, or despair. Bucky’s gaze was drawn to the space between their hands. “Sad, though.” He walked all the way around the statuary, and then-- “Huh, what’s this, I wonder.” He pointed to a reliquary at the end. There were strange marks on it, but the container didn’t look locked or anything.

“How should I know?” Tony wondered. “You think the pendant might be in there?”

Bucky reached for the box; gold and colored enamel, pictures. He squinted, picked it up. “There’s a story here.” He turned the box around in his hands until he found the beginning, an ancient series of events. A wedding, but the man was looking over his new wife’s shoulder-- at her brother, maybe? The estranged couple fighting, the man fleeing to be with his lover. “God, they were burned at the stake.” Bucky shuddered, still looking at the pictures.

“Well, that’s horrible. What are they doing in the church? I thought heretics weren’t allowed proper burial, or something like that?” Tony came closer, shining his light a little more clearly on the box.

“I don’t know,” Bucky said, his fingers grazing over the lid. “I wonder what’s in it.”

“You probably shouldn’t open that,” Tony said sharply.

“I just want to see,” Bucky protested. “It’s just a box, what harm can there be in looking inside a box?”

“Have you not paid any attention to the movies we’ve watched? At all? There are dozens of movies that explain why it’s a bad idea to open random artifacts in a cursed graveyard.”

“If I took your movies seriously, I wouldn’t go to the beach, either,” Bucky said, getting his nails under the lid and prying at it. “Man-eating sharks and everything.” Ahhh, there, there was a little catch under one side, and he pressed it. “Ha, got it!”

The box opened with a soft hiss and a delicate blue mist flowed out, all shiny, pretty, something highly magical is going on here fog. Great special effects, Bucky had time to think before he inhaled--

Richard von Hohenburg opened his eyes for the first time in six hundred years, looking around. The church, where they’d been tortured, forced to confess, burned, and then cursed. As if what they’d done was so terrible.

He’d been locked in a tiny space, no body, no anything. No contact with the realms of the dead. And sensing that Anton was nearby, sensing it, but not being able to touch him, tell him, apologize, nothing.

But he had eyes now. He could see now.

“Anton?”

***

“It’s just a box, what harm can there be in looking inside a box?”

Tony nearly choked on his own spit. “Have you not paid any attention to the movies we’ve watched? At all?” To be fair, Tony hadn’t been paying a lot of attention during those movies, himself, largely because he’d spent them surreptitiously watching Bucky. Not that he had any intention of ever telling Bucky that. “There are dozens of movies that explain why it’s a bad idea to open random artifacts in a cursed graveyard.”

“If I took your movies seriously, I wouldn’t go to the beach, either. Man-eating sharks and everything.” Bucky was peering around the edges and seams of the box, and Tony couldn’t quite suppress a foreboding feeling.

“Maybe we should--”

“Ha, got it!” Bucky flashed Tony a grin, that bright, boyish smile that lit up the room and seemed to dissolve at least half a century’s worth of suffering from Bucky’s eyes.

Which meant that Tony saw, before Bucky, the glowing blue mist that curled up out of the box. “Bucky, back away!” But the mist had already slithered into Bucky’s mouth and nose like a hundred sparkling snakes, and was spreading rapidly.

Tony snapped his helmet closed. “Bucky! Are you okay?”

Bucky’s eyes met his, and for a moment, their normal stormcloud gray flickered and flashed the same blue as the mist.

“Shit, Bu--” The mist was seeping right through his armor, because of course it was, because fucking magic, and this was why Tony was never going on a magic mission again without--

Anton Mätzler gasped his first breath in centuries, since the smoke of the fires had choked out his last. He staggered back, away from the cursed relic with its compartments, keeping him from his beloved even in death.

“Anton?”

Anton’s head turned toward the sound of his name, a voice that was both utterly unfamiliar and at once well-known. “Richard, love?”

“What’s… what’s happened to us?” Richard was staring down at his hands, one was normal, human, if wearing strange gloves with no fingers, but the other-- the other was gleaming silver, unyielding metal, but as flexible as a normal hand. “And you, Anton, my dearest, look at yourself, clad in armor, like a knight?”

Anton looked down at himself. It was a strange armor indeed, with more of magic about it than metalsmith, ghostly messages and symbols writ across his very vision. “A strange knight, indeed,” he said uneasily. “I wonder how one removes such armor.” No sooner had he spoken the words than the armor... unfolded itself, spilling him out into the dank air of -- the crypts? Long abandoned, the sacred tombs fallen into disrepair and rot.

Anton felt no pity for them. Not after what they’d done to him, and to Richard.

He turned toward Richard, hands outstretched. “My love... I know not how this miracle has come to pass, but I can only be joyful to see you again. To touch your hand, your face...”

“I must say, you don’t look quite like yourself, but--” Richard came over to stand directly in front of him, clasped Anton’s hands in his own, and spread them, admiring. “It is a good form, nonetheless. And quite well-displayed in those strange garments. T’was always your brilliant mind that most captivated me, my dearest, although I did not object to a lithe form beneath me.”

Anton laughed. “Nor did I object to being beneath you, though it was your kindness and patience for which I first loved you.”

“Hey, hey, hey, sorry to interrupt, guys--” the voice that came from Richard’s throat was the same, but had a faster, less formal way of talking, an almost incomprehensible rumbling accent. “Tony-- Tony, you okay in there? Stark. Come on--”

Anton shook his head. “I know not this Tony--” And then it seemed he was rudely pushed aside, shoved to the back of his own consciousness, though he felt his throat working as he said, “I’m here, I’m here, Buckaroo, I’m okay. I think.”

Anton tried to push his way back to the forefront. “What sorcery is this?”

“I’m fuckin’ possessed,” Richard complained. “I owe you, like a hundred fuckin’ beers man, when we get out of this--”

“Stop! These forms are ours now,” Richard continued, face working uncomfortably as he seized control of the spirits that shared their bodies. “We have earned this, through countless centuries of torment. You will not--”

“Uh, no, dude, no, just-- ow!”

Richard went to one knee, heaving as if he was going to cast up his accounts, but when he looked back up, from his position on the floor, the twinkle in his eye and the suggestive smirk was entirely Richard’s own. There was a time when Anton would have killed for that look; a time where he had died for it.

Anton felt his own co-habitant jostling him, and wrestled for control. “Bucky! What the hell did you do to him, you--” Anton twisted back into place. “Please,” he said. “We died for our love, only to be held forever apart, unable to so much as whisper. Grant us a short while, at least!” With all his strength, he summoned his memories of the torture -- beatings and burnings, heavy chains and the ducking stool -- and pushed them at his host.

The body stumbled, and it was not Anton’s doing. “Christ,” the other said. “That’s--”

“Here, I’m here, my darling,” Richard said, and it was beyond heaven to be clasped in strong arms, willing to hold him, eager and exalting. “Let me kiss those honeyed lips, so long denied me.”

A kiss, tender and sweet, was pressed against Anton’s forehead, and even if the body was not his own, he felt it, keenly. Doubled, even, with a taste of regret, guilt… longing, underneath, until the sensation was almost unbearable.

Anton pressed into Richard’s arms, and if the feel of the metal one at his back was strange and unyielding, the gentle caresses of the other more than made up for it. “I love you,” Anton whispered, aching with the strength and sincerity of that emotion. “I could not recant that, even in the flames.”

“Nor did I,” Richard promised him. “Thus, this elaborate prison to keep us apart.” He spat through his fingers, protection from evil magics. “And I have you back, in my arms again, and nothing will keep me from you.” He stroked his fingers through Anton’s hair. “Say you will still be mine?”

“I have never been anything else,” Anton swore, “not since the moment of our first meeting.”

“Uh, hey--” The spirit that inhabited Richard’s body shivered and shuddered, “look, no, come on, romantical as all this is, I ain’t-- that’s Tony’s body and this one’s mine, and we’re gonna have to take up habitation again, an’ okay, no, seriously, that’s not fair, get out.. Get out of my memories!”

Anton felt his host’s frantic terror and fiery rage and laughed, delighted. “I believe these two hold each other in near as much esteem as we feel for one another,” he confided.

“It’s not like that--” Richard’s host snarled. “I ain’t nothin’ to him, an’ I don’t…”

“Shhhh, it shall all be well, my host,” Richard said. “You hunger for him, and you shall have him. It will be well. We will treat him… very well.”

“He doesn’t hunger; are you insane?” Anton’s host snapped. “Look, I’m sorry you got killed and locked up in a box for so long, but he’s not interested and you can’t just--”

Anton wrapped mental arms around his host. “My Richard does not lie,” he promised. “Nor are we mad, except with wanting each other. Let us have this, and enjoy your own desires come into fruition.”

“Tony--” and there was not a lot of change in the longing in Richard’s eyes. “I’m sorry. I don’t know, maybe it’s me. I can’t… I can’t fight it.”

“Bucky.” Anton’s hand tightened on Richard’s. “It’s, it’s okay. I don’t mind. Not if it’s you.”

And then, with an eager, fervid groan, Richard’s mouth was on his; a kiss of no finesse, no sweetness, but instead all avid hunger, devouring Anton, as if they could become one, as if they could hold each other tight enough to never have to let go.

Anton moaned, surrendering himself to that kiss, wrapping his arms around Richard’s shoulders, clasping at Richard’s clothes and hair and arms, anything he could reach, scrambling to press closer and closer yet, as if determined to merge their bodies into one.

“I’ve got you, I’ve got you, Tony, it’s okay,” and that was not Richard, but as he’d stopped fighting, and was letting those hands touch and caress, seemed to know how to unfasten the strange clothing they both wore, had stopped resisting and was now actively helping… well, it was good. It would be well.

Anton’s host -- Tony, apparently, and how strange that their names were so similar -- came forward again, more gently this time, showing Anton the strange clasps and catches that held Richard’s clothes together. “Yeah,” he said. “You always do. I’ve got you, too.”

Too hungry for his lover’s kiss to speak, Anton pressed their mouths together again, tongue flicking at the corner of Richard’s mouth, teasing and tasting.

Richard cupped his jaw with one hand, his thumb teasing at the corner of Anton’s mouth, coaxing it open. “Ain’t you sweet,” he murmured and Anton didn’t even know anymore, who was who, but it didn’t matter, those clever fingers were stroking his skin, raking passion up from the coals that had long since been banked.

Richard ran those hands down his chest, thumbing nipples erect, and then, “Beltpouch, second from the left,” he said, which made no sense whatsoever to Anton, but his host -- Tony -- was already sliding their hand into the indicated-- pocket? On a belt?

What Tony found there was some sort of packet, shiny like metal but softer, and whatever it was, it amused Tony greatly. “Really?” he said. “On a mission?

“Look, you wanna go in dry with some randy old ghosts, be my guest,” Bucky said, and that didn’t make sense either, but that metal hand was curling around Anton’s member, stroking light. The metal wasn’t cold, either, but warmer than human flesh, and there was the faintest shuddering to it, a vibration from deep inside that stimulated and aroused. “But I done my share of trench quickies, an’ I’d rather be prepared.”

Still amused, Tony conceded the point. A deft twist of their hands opened the packet, and then Tony retreated a little, shooting Anton a burst of memories demonstrating the purpose of the contents -- it was like oil, it seemed, for this very purpose. Anton poured some over his fingers and -- oh, Tony had not been exaggerating; it was so much better than oil. Slicker, smoother. Anton reached between his legs and pushed the stuff into his hole, shuddering at the sweet burn of it.

“God,” Richard said. “You’re so beautiful.”

And Richard was nudging Anton over onto his knees, helping spread the oil, rubbing at the opening of his body eagerly, spreading it, tugging. “Careful now, you gotta-- gentle. It’s… well, I ain’t gonna apologize, but it’s a lot.”

“Yes, I can see that,” Anton returned, teasing. “But I have waited too long to delay any more than necessary. I would have you, my love, and soon.”

One finger pressed inside, thrusting, the slick easing the way, smooth and silky and perfect. Then a second, and that burned, but Anton had experienced fires much more potent, and all it did was make him whine and twist his hips, urging.

The fingers withdrew and then, yes, there it was, pressing urgently on him, and he bent his back, fingers clenching at the stone underneath him.

“Tony--”

“Yes,” they gasped, and Anton wasn’t sure which of them it was, speaking. “I need you, now.”

A strangled moan, hands gripping Anton’s hips, and he was pulled, slowly, impaling himself on Richard’s fine tool, filling him up, stretching him out. One hand went to the small of Anton’s back, rubbing in soft, soothing circles, tracing the line of his spine, and then gripped the curly mass of his hair, tugging his head back.

Anton gasped, curving his back even more, keening at the overload of sensations. “Fill me,” he begged, all shame long since gone, burnt up in their holy fire until all that was left of him was wanton desire, a burning need hotter than any flame. “My love, please!”

“I have you, I--” It was all hard, urgent rhythm then, being thrust into and pulled back from. The body that covered his was unfamiliar, and at the same time, that same, tender lover that Anton had given everything to, and been everything for. They moved together, hurried, racing toward release, eager to share in each other, the way they always had, and it was sweet, and rough, and just this side of blissful.

They moved together, push and pull, rocking together, words unimportant, only feelings, and the fire inside them, until..

“Oh, yes, yes, my darling!”

Anton cried out, groping for his own member; it took no more than a half-dozen frantic strokes before he was spilling, his whole body aching as it tried to clench down around Richard’s still-firm erection. He shivered and shuddered with the force of his release, a sudden wash of relaxation sweeping over him, like a deluge of warm spring rain.

Richard matched him, then moved slowly with him, stroking him down, soothing and sweet, and then he stiffened, biting down on Anton’s shoulder to stifle his scream. “Oh, oh, my darling,” he was saying, kissing the skin, as if tasting the imprint he’d left, his soft tongue stealing away the sting. “It’s always been you. Always you. Forever.”

“Until the end of days,” Anton promised, lassitude creeping in. “My only love.” How he longed for a bed, or even a rough pallet, where they could lie together and rest, tangled in one another’s arms.

“Look, a bed we got,” Richard said, apparently negotiating with his host. “Jus’ need to finish our mission here, yeah? There’s a guy, he hurt a lot of people, an’-- we’re looking for a pendant, about -- so big? You seen anything like that?”

“The priest who tried us wore an amulet of that size,” Anton recalled, sitting back on his heels. “He would have been buried...” Anton considered the catacombs, then pointed. “In that chamber.”

“Thanks,” Richard said, and offered him a hand up, already finding and pulling on his clothes. He made a face, apologetic, and handed Anton a-- surprisingly soft -- pale white shirt with no buttons and no laces. “T’ clean up--”

Anton might have protested, but what else was there to use? He wiped away the oil and the rest of it, rolling the shirt up around it. His host rolled their eyes. “Come on,” Tony said, “let’s find this pendant and get out of here.”

That chamber had been half-heartedly cleaned, and someone had set up a bedroll, and a desk. The cellar had been partially cracked open, perhaps in the battle, but Richard’s host was able to lift a portion of the collapsed rock out of the way.

“Our ghost whisperer,” Richard’s host said. “So, he probably already ransacked this place. You see anything in this mess, Tony?”

Anton moved over to the desk, looking it over. It was a spindly little thing, flimsy and unimpressive. He pulled open the first drawer and shuffled aside a few scraps of paper, and--

Anton backed away. “I don’t like it,” he said decisively. The pendant gleamed with power, sharp-edged enough to separate a man from his own shadow. He couldn’t quite take his eyes off it.

Richard went to him, as if to shield him from the amulet. It buzzed with surging energies, gleaming. “That is what our forms came to find,” he said. “To destroy it, or see it safely locked away, so no one else would suffer what we have suffered. They are, I believe, good men.”

Tony grunted. “Well, that’s the goal,” he said. He looked around. “We need something to put it in, until we can make other arrangements.”

“The box,” Anton said, pointing back the way they’d come. “The prison held us for centuries; it will surely hold this amulet for as long as you need.”

“I shall retrieve it,” Richard said, and he leaned in to kiss Anton’s cheek, soft and sweet. It shouldn’t have hurt to watch him walk away, he was barely going out of sight, and Anton would be able to hear him the whole time. But still, it ached with concern, throbbed with fear. The last time he’d let Richard out of his sight, they’d been separated, imprisoned. Told always that if he was willing to recant, to confess, to point the finger at his lover, that he would be spared. Told that Richard had recanted.

Anton had never believed that. Ever.

And, in the end, he was thus proven. Faithful, through all the long-- “How long, even, has it been, good host? What is the year?”

“What? It’s twenty-nineteen. Er, two thousand nineteen.” Tony, too, was watching the way Richard had gone, though Anton rather suspected it was the host who occupied Tony’s thoughts.

“That is… quite a long while to be imprisoned and alone,” Anton said. “We died in the year of our Lord, 1482. Richard was a knight, from Switzerland. I was his servant… and his downfall. He gave me gifts, clothing and jewels, and-- I looked too high for my station, so the church… declared us heretics.”

“I’m sorry,” Tony said. “Things are... better, now.”

“This thing ain’t exactly light,” Richard’s host complained, coming back into the room, “but I guess it’ll do as good as any. Strange’ll make heads or tails out of the whole mess anyway. Pop it in the box.”

Anton reached out and then hesitated, not quite able to make himself touch the horrible thing. Tony took over, scooping it up. It felt cold, much colder than mere metal and stone should be, even in a crypt.

There was a tug, like something pulling at his soul, loosening it.

“You know you have to go, right?” Richard’s host said, and it was very gentle. He reached out, touched his flesh hand to the other side of the medallion. “Not back in the box, but… you died. It’s time t’ move on. Tony can make a big church donation, get the bishop t’ do Last Rites, or whatever.”

Anton’s vision blurred. “Must we? We’ve only just come together again, and I’ve missed you, my love, so much.”

“Wish for it,” Richard’s host said. “You can feel it, right? The power the amulet’s got over the dead. Stay together, all eternity. No heaven or hell without the other.”

“Richard?” Anton wasn’t even sure what he was asking, but he needed to see the spark of his lover in those strange gray eyes, one last time.

“I am here,” Richard said. “And I will-- always protect you. Even if I failed before, I can-- together. Always.”

“Always,” Anton promised through his tears. “Until the end of days.”

There was another tug, and--

“Well, that’s… look at you, all non-corporeal and shit,” Richard’s host said, although he wasn’t really the host anymore, and Anton couldn’t seem to bring himself to call him Bucky, like he was some sort of pet deer or something.

Nor was Anton still in Tony’s body. Rather, they floated above the two men, and when he looked at Richard, he saw -- a ghost, like a wisp of smoke caught in a Richard-shaped glass, but it was Richard, the countenance he’d known and loved. “Oh, my love.” He reached out and, incorporeal as Richard looked, he felt solid, even warm, to Anton’s touch.

“My most beloved,” Richard said. “Always. We will have it, our forever.”

“Uh, so, like, it was good to meet you an’ all, but we really need to get this thing gone and safe,” Bucky said. “An’ like, totally take a shower.”

“I’m seconding the shower idea,” Tony agreed. “You two lovebirds have a good time, now. Don’t spook anyone who doesn’t deserve it.” The ghosts barely even glanced at them, then they were fading away entirely, hands twined and hearts in their eyes.

Tony dropped the pendant into the box that Bucky was still holding and twisted the cover into place. “Right, well. That’s that, then, I guess.”

“It… uh, it was somethin’, all right,” Bucky said, not quite meeting Tony’s gaze, cheeks and neck flushing.

And they were both standing around in an abandoned and half-destroyed church’s catacombs in their underwear. Because they’d let a couple of ghosts use them to fuck.

Yeah, that was going to land pretty high on the Weird Shit rankings, and Tony was just going to hope Bucky attributed the embarrassing stuff Tony’d said to ghost. That would probably be for the best. “So. We should probably, you know. Get dressed. And get this back to Strange.”

“Yeah,” Bucky said. “Totally that’s what we should do.” His hand fluttered a moment, like some wounded butterfly, in the space between them, and then dropped it before he could make contact. “Uh. Are you okay?”

“What? Fine,” Tony said, only a little brittle. “Never better. Well. Tired. And I really want that shower.” He eased past Bucky and went back to where his armor waited, his clothes still crumpled on the floor where they’d been dropped. He picked up his jeans and pulled them on.

“You know,” Bucky said, staring at his tactical armor, all over the place. “This is why Strange can portal. I gotta put all this shit back on… for what, ten minutes while we cross town?” Bucky gave Tony a grin, a little hesitant, like he wasn’t sure that Tony was going to laugh at his jokes anymore.

Tony grinned back. It wasn’t like he’d forgotten how to fake being relaxed and easy with someone he’d seen naked. And he didn’t want to stop laughing at Bucky’s jokes, anyway. They were friends, these days; once the awkward wore off, Tony wanted them to stay that way. “I mean, you could stroll across town shirtless,” he suggested. “Earn a lot of local goodwill that way.”

“I am shirtless,” Bucky pointed out. “You… uh… yeah, I have a tac-vest, but. My undershirt was sacrificed to the cause. It’s good, it’s great. I mean… we’re okay, yeah?”

“Of course,” Tony said. He pulled on his t-shirt and stepped back into the armor. “I mean, awkward. But no reason not to be okay.”

Bucky just nodded at that, threw the tac vest on and didn’t bother to lock it in place, showing off arms, and ribs, and the very bottom strip of his belly between his pants and the bottom of the vest. He bent down and hefted the case under one arm, and his gun in the other hand. He didn’t say anything then, either, just jerked his chin toward the exit, watching Tony with eyes that seemed somehow… thoughtful.

Tony wondered what those thoughts were, but shut that down almost immediately. It didn’t matter. They were going back to their separate rooms at the hotel, take hot showers, and catch a night’s sleep. And then in the morning, everything would be back to normal. He nodded and made his way back out of the church.

***

Bucky couldn’t decide if he was feeling satisfied and smug, or guilty, and the two extremes were yanking at him. He showered, water hot enough to boil a lobster, until his skin was pink and stinging. It would fade soon enough. It always did.

Ug. This was not how he wanted any of this shit to go down.

Tony had been drawing back the whole time between when the spirits departed and when he’d faux-cheerfully waved Bucky off into the next room.

They needed to talk.

And god damn, if there was one thing Bucky was really, really bad at, it was talking. And in that subset of bad things about talking, there was talking about feelings. Bucky hadn’t had bloody damn feelings in so long, figuring out what to do with them sometimes took him all damn day.

Sit a plate in front of him, and he’d eat. Ask him what he wanted to watch on the television and he’d freeze up for an hour or more, trying to decide.

But letting Tony get back to the Compound without talking about this, or making a terrible attempt at talking about this, and Bucky wouldn’t see him for a week or more, while he hid down in the ‘shop and pretended that nothing ever happened, he was fine, why?

“Fuck.”

Well, yeah, and that’s exactly what had happened, too.

Bucky yanked on a pair of soft sweatpants, a tee, and a hoodie, his preferred clothing for between missions.

Knocking was pointless. Tony would pretend not to hear him, if he didn’t want to talk. Bucky was going to go with the Natasha method of talking shit out. It took him exactly six seconds to scramble the hotel’s expensive key-card entry system and he let himself into Tony’s room.

Tony… was still in the shower.

Which was, in and of itself, a little worrisome. Was he washing… Bucky off?

Bucky threw himself down on Tony’s bed and prepared to wait it out.

Not too much later, the water shut off. Another moment or two while he dried off, and then the bathroom door opened, and Tony walked out, stark naked, still scrubbing a towel over his hair and humming something under his breath.

“Oh shit! Fuck!” Tony practically teleported back three feet when he spotted Bucky on the bed, jostling the towel down to cover himself, more or less. Mostly less. “What the fuck!”

“Oh, my god, stop screaming, it’s just me,” Bucky said, sitting up. “And I literally just saw… all of that, like not two hours ago.”

Tony pressed a hand to his chest, the other one still holding the towel over his groin. “Jesus, don’t do that shit. Christ, you take in a handful of spies and assassins and suddenly there’s no privacy anymore.” He grabbed up a pair of sweats and pulled them on quickly, half-turning in an effort to preserve his modesty that only gave Bucky a really fantastic view of his ass. “What do you want?”

“You--” Bucky said, and Tony shot him a look so incredulously disbelieving that Bucky amended his statement somewhat. “To talk this out with me, Tony. I mean, maybe you didn’t notice, or somethin’ but we just had sex. I think… we should talk about it.”

Tony huffed, then opened the mini-fridge and pulled out a couple of bottles of beer. Local stuff, so it probably wasn’t swill. He tossed one toward Bucky. “What, you want a Yelp review? ‘Four stars; excellent technique and presentation but the ambiance left something to be desired.’”

“That was shitty technique,” Bucky said. “I totally would have-- it was rushed and relatively unconcerned about your pleasure. I’m just saying. If I was… in control of the situation.”

Tony took a swig from his bottle, throat working as he swallowed, his still-damp hair dripping water down his chest. “If you were in control of the situation,” he said, “it wouldn’t have happened.”

“Well, no,” Bucky admitted, “because I ain’t crass enough-- okay, no, not true, I’m totally crass enough t’ ask a fella for a quickie after a near-death experience. Jus’, you know, not… you. I wouldn’t do you like that. An’ I’m sorry as hell that it went down this way.”

“This way?” Tony was giving him that sardonic look, the one he used a lot when he was being snarky at the press. “What way would you have preferred, dare I ask?”

“I had a plan,” Bucky muttered. “I know they say Steve’s the man with the plan, but that idiotic bastard jumps out of airplanes with no chute, he doesn’t have a plan, he’s got a chip on his shoulder the size of the Titanic. I… I had a plan. Thought it might have been goin’ well. These days, we split off for a mission, I’m usually your backup. Which is good, right? You trust me… trusted. Me.”

Bucky sighed. Tony probably didn’t trust him at all, anymore. And Bucky didn’t blame him, not one bit, really. It wasn’t his fault, but-- but it was. He was the one who opened the damn box, wasn’t he? And he was the one who didn’t fight it, because he wanted Tony, and it was so damn easy to just let Richard have his way, have his body, have Tony’s body under him.

God damn it.

Frowning, Tony sank down onto the little desk chair. He rolled the bottle between his hands, intent. “You had a plan,” he repeated slowly. “For... me?”

“Yeah,” Bucky admitted. “We already-- the concert series, this spring, that we went to? I know you like music, an’ I’m still tryin’ to figure out what I like, so… we had fun, right? That was fun?”

“Yeah, that was great, I-- Wait, that was... part of the plan? The plan where... What, exactly, is the end goal of this plan?” Tony’s eyes couldn’t possibly get any more focused.

“The plan, Tony--” Bucky said, and he couldn’t quite resist the urge to roll his eyes, “was for us t’, you know, figure out if we liked each other. I mean, that’s what people do, when they like a fella, think he’s somethin’ else. If we like spendin’ time together, not the whole saving the world shit, that gets old, but… normal stuff. An’ then, I was plannin’ to see if maybe you liked me back, an’ we could spend more time together. I got… I got so much time back, Tony, and I just want to live it, an’ share it with someone special, and I thought… maybe that could be you.”

Tony’s lips moved, soundlessly, repeating the phrase someone special to himself. “You’re talking about dating,” he said, looking startled. “The plan was to date me?

The plan itself had gone up to dating.

That Bucky had wild and crazy flights of fancy after that, well, he didn’t need to dump his whole heart on the ground right this second, did he?

“The plan was to find out if we wanted to date. Or… whatever,” Bucky said, waving a hand. “Who knows, you couldda been terrible to hang out with. Not… I mean, you weren’t, you were great, it was… yes. The plan was to date you. I thought it was goin’ well, and now it’s all smashed to shit, an’... it wasn’t my fault, except that it was, and Tony, I am so, so sorry.”

Apparently he did need to dump his whole heart on the ground, right this second.

“Oh my god, I’m an idiot,” Tony said. He was staring at Bucky, though at least he didn’t look angry or disgusted. “Those were dates. How did I not-- Well, obviously, because I was too busy trying not to let on how much I wanted them to be dates to realize they actually were.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Idiot,” he reiterated.

“So, uh, it was goin’ well?” Bucky asked, because Tony was getting really deep into self-recriminations, and that wasn’t the direction Bucky wanted this to go, at all.

Tony lowered his hand, and he was smiling, not that practiced press smirk, but a wry, almost hesitant smile that was purely Tony. “It was going well,” he said. “Maybe a little slower than it needed to be.”

Bucky blinked. “I tried for a kiss once, and you backed off an’ asked me if you had cheese on your shirt,” he pointed out. “I thought… I dunno. But you didn’t say no, the next time I asked you to go somewhere, so--”

“I thought I was imagining that,” Tony said. “I thought... overactive imagination, it’s a thing, with me. Also, I did in fact have cheese on my shirt,” he pointed out. “Your first kiss with someone shouldn’t be with them looking like a slob who’d just nosedived into the nachos.”

“They were really good nachos, though,” Bucky said. “I was brushing crumbs out of my shirt, too.” He inched a little closer, probably not being as smooth as he would like to be. “So, what-- should my first kiss with someone be like?”

“It probably should also not be because you’ve been possessed by a couple of horny ghosts,” Tony said. “I think... I think maybe it should be after you’ve told someone you like them, just so you’re both on the same page. And then it should be...” Tony swept forward, fingers curling into Bucky’s hair, palm cupping the back of his neck as Tony’s mouth brushed over Bucky’s lightly once, twice, three times, teasing, drawing away when Bucky tried to lean into it, and then finally lingering, tongue flicking against Bucky’s lip. “A little like that,” Tony finished, a little breathless.

“Just a little like that?” Bucky asked, his thumb brushing against Tony’s jaw, coaxing him to stay, to sit down, to-- enjoy the moment, Barnes, you didn’t think you were going to get to have one.

“Well, you know, there’s a lot of variables, it’s impossible to account for all of them at once.” Tony hadn’t pulled away, was tipping his head into the light caress. “Lots of different ways a kiss can go, you know.” His eyes were wide and dark and full of something like wonder.

“We could, uh, try some of them out, if that… was a thing you wanted to explore?” Bucky suggested, hopefully.

“We’ll have to test all of them,” Tony said thoughtfully. “Probably more than once. Science requires repetition, you know.”

“It’s only science if you write it down,” Bucky said. “An’ uh, I was thinkin’ this was more of a what happens in Zurich stays in Zurich kinda sitch here. I mean, not the dating. Or the kissing, that’s… I’m totally open t’ you know, having the team. Well, know. Not that Nat doesn’t already, but… spies, what can you do? But… I think we can skip on the whole sexual possession post-mission report.”

“Uh, yeah, that’s fair, that’s... definitely not anything anyone else needs to know about,” Tony said. “Went down into the catacombs, found his camp and the necklace, the end.” He brushed his thumb down the side of Bucky’s neck, considering. “So what’s your candidate, then? For a kiss?”

“Oh, I kinda like those standing kisses, pushin’ someone back against a wall, and kiss til your legs get all weak an’ the wall’s the only thing holdin’ you up,” Bucky said. “That’s my favorite.”

“Yeah?” Tony looked around. “Oh look. A wall.” He hooked his hand in Bucky’s shirt and tugged until they were both upright. “Want to show me?”

"I would, in fact, love to," Bucky growled. New plan, his brain decided. How to get Tony out of these pants and into the bed, a three phase project.