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A Curse on Both Your Houses

Chapter Text

The dog lives for the day, the hour, even the moment."- Robert Falcon Scott 

The full moon wasn’t generally as compulsive as it had once been, but Bucky always felt better spending time as a wolf during those three nights. It was like stretching a muscle, or spending a while snuggled under a warm blanket. Comforting and comfortable.

And what was even better was that his boyfriend didn’t mind those days when what Bucky wanted to do was run at the dog park, curl up on the sofa, and shed everywhere. It was just part of their life.

The full moon had been huge and brilliant in the sky, the fall air crisp and smelling like apples and dying leaves.

Right up until they got just outside the penthouse, where--

Bucky’s hackles went up and he growled deep in his throat, lip pulling away from his teeth.

“What is it?” Tony asked. He reached into his pocket for the taser that he carried when they went out into the city and took a couple of steps back away from the door, because if there was some sort of threat, Bucky was the one who was best qualified to deal with it. “I don’t see any signs of forced entry...”

Bucky shook his head. He knew that smell, he knew who it was. It didn’t make him any happier, and maybe he could arrange to bite the person who was in their home. Or pee on his leg. Something. He nudged at the door. Go ahead, open it.

Cautiously, Tony leaned past Bucky’s bulk and unlatched the door, letting it swing fully open instead of just shouldering through as usual.

Nicholas J. Fury was dressed entirely in black, eyepatch in place. He barely made a shape against the shadows, but Bucky could smell him, knew exactly where he was.

“You are a hard man to get ahold of, Stark,” Fury said, pleasantly, as if they’d been having an interrupted conversation.

“Consulting hours are every Thursday, from seven to nine,” Tony said, the tension sliding out of him as he recognized their visitor. Well, most of it. A visit from Fury never heralded anything good, and Tony knew it as well as Bucky did. “Why are you in my house?”

“I have a flair for the dramatic,” Fury said, his voice so dry as to qualify as its own desert. “Also, I didn’t particularly want anyone to know where this wound up.” He held up a small teak box that smelled… very strange and oddly compelling. Bucky padded a few steps forward to sniff. “I would not lick that if I were you, Barnes. I know where it’s been.”

Well, that sounded… ominous.

“Where has it been?” Tony flipped the lights on, completely ruining Fury’s aesthetic, much to Bucky’s approval. He threw his keys into the bowl by the door, shucked his jacket and hung it on the hook. He scratched Bucky’s ear idly and pushed gently past, heading for the kitchen. “And what is it?”

“Among other things, in a series of Port-a-Potties along the lower east side,” Fury said. “Remember last week’s freak thunder snow? Well, we were chasing said freak all around the city. Two minor deities, and a valkyrie, along with a flying horse. It was… entertaining.” 

“How does something end up in a series of-- You know what, I’m pretty sure I don’t want the answer to that.” Tony opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of beer and a bottle of water. He cracked the top off the water bottle and poured it into Bucky’s water dish, then opened the beer and took a swig for himself. He didn’t offer anything to Fury. “What’s all this got to do with us?”

“We have ourselves a genuine magical artifact here,” Fury said, “and imagine my dismay when I checked our files and discovered that the only people we have listed as consulting experts on magical knowledge are… the two of you.”

Bucky shook himself like a miniature blizzard, leaving hair all over Fury’s trousers and trotted over to get himself a drink of water. They weren’t experts at all; most of what had happened to them had been of the decidedly non-voluntary nature. Magical, sure. Curses and teleportation and various compulsions, but they really didn’t have any more idea of what they were doing than Fury. Excepting, of course, that they at least believed in magic. Which was probably a step above most of Fury’s consultants.

“You know we’re not actually any kind of experts, right?” Tony said, echoing Bucky’s thought aloud. “And you’ll forgive us if we don’t feel like tracking down the witch who cursed Bucky in the first place to see if she can give us the four-one-one on your little trinket. Which I hope you washed before you put it in your pocket.” He glanced over at Bucky. “I guess we could give the vet a call,” he said. “He definitely knows things.”

“If I said it came from space, would you be more interested in taking a look at it?” Fury wondered. He put the box back on the table and lifted the lid. “We just need to know what it does. You have the best private lab facilities on the east coast.”

The thing smelled even better, out in the open. Bucky whined, and flattened himself on the floor, covering his muzzle with massive paws. Without his permission, his tail swept back and forth, excitement, curiosity, interest. He found himself scooting across the floor toward it, as he did sometimes when Tony was eating chocolate and Bucky knew his wolf form should not have chocolate, but it smelled so good.

Tony leaned over to peer into the box, tucking his hands cautiously behind his back. “Huh. I don’t know what I expected, but that’s not it. My lab facilities aren’t really equipped for magic,” he told Fury.

“Neither are anyone else’s,” Fury said. “Adapt. The world’s a stranger place than any of us realized.”

Bucky didn’t quite poke his nose in the box, but he did get close enough to look. A bright blue and silver shiny pendant, about the size of a slice of tomato, glowing softly, was tucked into the box.

How… how did a pendant smell like… that?

Bucky shook his head and backed off. He thought about shifting so he could ask questions, but then decided that having to talk to Fury would just make all this take longer. He wanted to have something to eat, and then take his boyfriend to bed. Getting Fury to go away sooner would be preferable.

Tony went back into the kitchen and started rummaging in the fridge. “Whatever,” he said, and Bucky could practically feel the eye-roll. “I’ll take a look. See if I can get the vet to come over and prod at it some, maybe. But don’t expect too much. This is definitely not my field of expertise, mythical creature living in my house notwithstanding.”

Bucky wuffed. He wasn’t mythical. He was solid and as real and factual as anything else in the world. He just… also happened to be a wolf sometimes. It happened. Apparently.

“Let me know if you find anything out,” Fury said, and then, leaving the box behind, exited the building. And probably just because it was dramatic (and stupid and petty) he turned the lights off on his way out the door.

Bucky huffed. Asshole.

“Dick,” Tony said. “Forget that thing; I’ll poke at it tomorrow. You want to change back before or after dinner?”

Bucky considered it. The food was better when he was a human, but there was something primal and fulfilling about eating as a wolf. On the other hand, changing back too fast after he’d eaten often made him ill. Or at least a little queasy. He got up from the floor and trotted back into the bedroom to get a robe, stretching up onto two legs before he even reached the threshold. The change was getting easier and easier with practice.

The wolf was, in all its aspects, part of who Bucky was, these days. 

He grabbed his robe off the back of the door. “Can’t decide if I’m interested in that thing, or disturbed that we’re the only experts that Fury’s got on speed dial.”

“I don’t know why it can’t be both,” Tony said. “I’m curious too. Just couldn’t admit that where he could hear me.”

“At least it doesn’t smell as much when I’m human,” Bucky said. “What’s for dinner, did you want to order--” He watched as Tony drifted across the room like he was sleepwalking and opened the little box again. “Tony, shut the box.”

“Hm?” Tony looked up at Bucky, blinking sleepily, and then looked down in surprise. “Uh. Yeah. I’ll do that.” He reached out and flipped the box lid shut quickly, as if it contained something venomous or particularly disgusting. “I’m sure that won’t cause any problems while we’re ‘investigating’ it.”

“Might be better in a lab,” Bucky said. “You can put it on the other side of a big piece of shatter resistant plastic and poke at it with a remote.”

“Hmm, yeah. I’ll check the schedules, see if any of the radioactive materials labs are free.” Tony made his way back to the kitchen, but Bucky didn’t miss the way he glanced back over his shoulder at the box.

“You have stared in that fridge four times in the last ten minutes,” Bucky said. “If there was actually food in there, it would have jumped out and bitten you by now. Let’s order some curry and watch the last bit of Wynonna Earp? And I’ll put this… someplace safe for now.”

They did, in fact, have a safe, and Bucky felt about ten times better once the box was locked up in it.

There was something… seductive… about that necklace.

And it made Bucky nervous as hell.

***

Tony slipped his hands into the remote-work gloves. Behind the radiation-proof barrier, that strangely compelling pull of the necklace was muted. Tony wondered how Fury had been able to resist it for so long. Probably it had something to do with not having any emotions.

“Start voice recording. Day one, sample one, project Tall Dark and Angry Mark One. Initial scans of the item show no significant radiation levels or detectable emissions. Working behind a barrier seems prudent until we know exactly what this thing does.” Tony turned the box several times, letting the cameras record all sides. Not that the box itself was remarkable, but if this went on for long, they might be able to see if the pendant was changing the box by resting in it. “Opening the container now.”

He opened the box lid. The necklace, as it had the previous evening, seemed to whisper directly into his brain. No words that he could discern, just... feelings. Compulsions. “It seems to be attempting some sort of communication,” Tony told the recorder. “Uncertain whether it’s broadcasting a recorded message, or directed by some intelligence.” He moved the box around some more, making sure the cameras got a view from as many angles as possible. “Removing the item from the container.”

Obeying his signals, the robotic arm reached into the box, gently grasped the necklace by the chain, and lifted it.

The pendant was huge, gaudy and awkward. Ninety-one and a half millimeters in diameter, and not quite flat. It wouldn’t be very comfortable to wear, Tony thought absently, about thirty millimeters front to back, vaguely conical, ending in a flat base. The silvery metal contained a core of some unknown material, casting out blue light that throbbed lightly, as if in time with a heartbeat. 

It was almost hypnotic, watching the light pulse softly.

Tony blinked, and his eyes burned a little, feeling gummy and sticky, as if he’d gone too long without blinking. He glanced at the clock, and-- shit. He’d lost almost five minutes just... staring at the thing.

He shook his head to clear it -- a gesture that reminded him fondly of Bucky -- and got back to work. “Right, so. The exterior appears to be silver or some other white metal. I’m going to see if I can shave off a little bit for the spectrometer.” He switched the robot’s arm to a sampling attachment, and chose his spot. “Right, slow and steady, let’s see--”

The tool touched the material and the light inside the pendant flared, blue and beautiful, so bright that Tony couldn’t see anything else.

“Abort, abort!”

The light flared again and then the safety glass exploded like it had been hit with the force of a rocket and a soundless wave knocked Tony off his feet, throwing him practically to the other side of the lab.

For a long moment, Tony lay on his back, staring at nothing. He couldn’t see anything but the purple residual rings of having looked at something overly bright, couldn’t hear anything except the ringing in his ears. 

“Somebody write that down,” he said weakly. He patted himself down, but aside from a couple of superficial scratches from the glass, he didn’t seem to be injured. He sat up carefully and looked over at the necklace, and--

--he was walking through the shards of glass. When had he stood up? He spotted the necklace and--

--the metal of the chain felt cool in his hands, comforting. A distant, muted thought flitted through his mind, suggesting that touching the necklace was a bad idea, but that was ridiculous. It felt so--

--agony, pain, whitehot searing into his chest, burning. He screamed and--

Something crashed, and the door fell in, knocked off its hinges by two hundred pounds of suddenly angry werewolf. Bucky darted into the lab, growling as if there was an enemy to attack, something to kill. There were scraps of his clothes clinging to the wolfish hips and the collar of his tee still hung around his throat, like something out of a cheesy horror movie.

He snuffled at Tony, gingerly.

Tony found himself on the floor again, curled in on himself, shaking with pain that was gone as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving him breathless with reaction.

“Oh god,” he croaked, putting a hand to his chest-- “What the fuck.” He looked down. The pendant was on his chest. No. The pendant was in his chest, slightly sunken, still glowing. “What the fuck.”

Bucky whined, shifted again. Grabbed a spare lab coat and put it on. “What happened?”

“I’m not... entirely sure,” Tony said. “I was trying to take a sample, and it exploded, and then everything’s... a little fuzzy, up until you came in.”

“Jesus,” Bucky said. He reached out, hand hovering just above Tony’s chest, fingers not quite touching. “Does that hurt, boss, oh Christ, we need to get you to the hospital--”

“No,” Tony said quickly. “No, it doesn’t hurt. I know that sounds weird, but I feel mostly okay. And if we expose random civilians to this thing, Fury’ll have a fit.” He patted at his chest, at the thing -- it had stopped whispering to him, which was good -- and climbed carefully to his feet. “I just... I just want to go to bed,” he said. “Can we do that? We can call Strange in the morning, see what he can do.”

“It’s not even lunch-- you know what, nevermind,” Bucky said. “Yeah, yeah, okay, we can go to bed, Tony. Come on, here, put your arm around my neck, I’ll carry you. It’s okay. It’ll be okay.” It wasn’t clear, entirely, who he was talking to, Tony as comfort, or himself, to calm down. Bucky’s strength, even in his human body, was ridiculous. Benefit of being a werewolf, Tony thought, already letting his eyes flutter closed.

Bucky lifted him in a bridal carry, which might have been more romantic if he wasn’t wearing a lab coat and nothing else. At least the elevator was private.

“I know, I’m just... really tired all of a sudden.” Tony tucked his face against Bucky’s shoulder and breathed in the woodsy, slightly dog-y scent of his boyfriend, and let himself drift. Bucky was the best.

“Here you go, Tony, I gotcha, just lay down an’-- yeah, I’m getting your shoes, hang on.” Bucky helped get him out of the most uncomfortable of his clothes, tucking him under the sheet. “You rest, I’m gonna call Strange, you just… just rest, boss. I love you.”

“Love you too,” Tony managed, and then sleep was pulling him under.

Chapter Text

“I’m gonna pretend you didn’t say that, Steve,” Bucky growled into the phone. “It’s not fucking classified if we’re involved. And do not tell me it’s need to know, because I need to fucking know. What is this thing, where’d it come from, and how the hell do we get it off him?”

“I don’t know, does it really matter, and I don’t know,” Steve shot back. “Fury gave the thing to you and Tony so you could figure out what it does, remember? I don’t know anything about it except that we took it off a couple of guys who claimed to be gods.”

Tony was still sleeping. Bucky kept checking on him with near religious amounts of frenzy, but he wouldn’t wake for more than thirty seconds or so at a time. Healthy. But asleep.

“It’s fucking buried in his chest like some sort of goddamn magical pacemaker,” Bucky hissed at Steve, feeling the change prickle at his throat and in the back of his hands. “So you tell me what you know. I don’t care, tell me about the gods.”

Bucky tapped a pencil against a notebook; he wrote faster than he could type and Tony -- or Strange, if the damn vet would call them back -- would want as much information as he could get. Bucky was clinging to that thought, that Tony would live through this long enough to want, or need, information.

Steve’s sigh was long and heartfelt. “I don’t-- Two of them,” he said, and Bucky could hear him switching into report mode, could practically feel him standing up straighter. “The big blond guy called himself Thor, and I don’t know if he’s delusional or what, but he did have a big-ass hammer that he swung around a lot, and there was a lot of lightning and thunder whenever he was around. He seemed to be in pursuit of the other guy. Loki.” Steve’s voice carried a wealth of dubiousness. “Tall, skinny, dark, green eyes. At least, most of the time.”

Most of the time,” Bucky repeated. “Elaborate on that.”

“He was an... illusionist, I guess,” Steve said reluctantly. “Made it look like he was standing where he wasn’t. Or made himself look like other people. It was kind of spooky, actually. We didn’t catch on that’s what he was doing until there were two Thors fighting each other, but after we got involved, he started looking like us, too, occasionally.”

“So, where are these two gods now?” Talking with God. Not something he was usually planning to do, but he and Tony had been to the fucking island of Avalon and lived to tell about it, so Bucky was going to go with Interview with a God strategy until something else came up. He was a damn werewolf, he could probably get in to talk with God, even if He was in jail or something.

“Thor’s at HQ, holed up with Fury,” Steve said. “We don’t know where Loki went. He got away from us.”

“Sloppy,” Bucky said. “How’d that happen? And what are you doing to track him down?”

“He, uh.” Steve’s voice took on a distinctly embarrassed tone. “While I was doing a sweep, he disguised himself as me, ordered the team to scout the financial district, and then disappeared down the subway. We didn’t realize it until one of the guys radioed in to report.”

“Any casualties?” Because Steve would be taking that to heart, if someone had been hurt while the perp was wearing Steve’s face. Fury’s SHIELD team were a bunch of crazy sons of bitches (Bucky should know, he had been a member, before he’d gotten cursed) and they’d been adversaries, but… Bucky still considered them friends. Sort of.

“Nothing to really speak of,” Steve said, and Bucky let out a breath. “Wilson’s got some scratches, and Clint’s got some wicked bruises where he got knocked out of his perch.”

Bucky’s phone buzzed under his ear. “Hang on, Steve, got another-- yeah, it’s the doc, I’ll call you back. Text me if you find out anything at all that could help.”

He switched out the calls before Steve could protest texting secure information. Bucky knew Steve pretty damn well, and if he didn’t have time to say no, he’d act like he’d said yes. He might not text information, but he’d get it to Bucky if need be.

“This is Barnes, go,” Bucky said, catching the call just before it rolled to voicemail.

“Mr. Barnes,” came Strange’s voice. “Your message indicated some urgency. Have you eaten another stylus?”

Bucky made a choking sound, trying to suppress a bark of laughter, because he didn’t want Strange to be right. And it came out as a sob, his emotions whiplashing violently. “It is.. It’s Tony. He… something’s happened to him. Something magical, and he won’t wake up.”

Strange hummed. “Any bleeding or bruising?”

“Only a giant magical pendant embedded in his chest,” Bucky said. “Creepy thing; it… had some sort of compulsion on it.”

“Yes, these sorts of things usually do,” Strange said. “He’s likely not in any immediate danger. Text me a picture of the device, and I’ll see what I can find.”

“Why is everyone so calm about this?” Bucky wondered, but Strange had already disconnected. Asshole. He went over to the bed, where Tony was laying down like he was in a goddamn fairy tale, heels together, arms folded across his chest. Looking peaceful, and kinda dead, really, except for the steady rise and fall of his breathing, and the way the pendant pulsed in time with his heartbeat.

“Tony!” Bucky shook Tony. “Come on, wake up a second. I need you to sit up, so I can get this all the way off.” The pendant had burned a hole in Tony’s shirt, latching on to his skin. Bucky worried about magical infection, if any of the cloth was trapped inside Tony’s chest cavity. He was going to go crazy before this was over, he just knew it.

Tony made a sleepy protesting sound, but let Bucky sit him up and work the shirt off. He leaned into Bucky heavily the whole time, not even opening his eyes, and was sound asleep again before Bucky had finished.

Bucky laid him back down, had to uncross his arms, because Tony kept moving into the classic vampire sleeping pose, and eventually had to straddle his hips and kneel on his hands to make him stop for five seconds while Bucky took some photos.

He sleep like this, too

Bucky included one photo of Tony in the pose.

Heart rate is fine, breathing good. Doesn’t seem to be

Anything medically wrong

Aside from sleep and wonn’t wake

There was no response for a moment, and then Strange texted back: Will let you know when I have something useful.

Bucky all but threw his phone across the room. Useful would be knowing something, anything, right the fuck now. He stomped across the room and then back, and then back to the windows. He frowned; it was just past lunch, but the sky was super dark already.

He pushed the curtains open and looked out. A storm was rolling in, thick, heavy thunderclouds, fat with rain. There was a lot of lightning and thunder whenever he was around Steve had said. “Thor,” Bucky breathed, pressing his fingers to the glass. Somewhere, out there, probably in the worst part of the storm, was someone who could help.

Bucky brought his phone up and tapped one of his most used contacts. “Pepper? Hey, it’s me. I need you to come babysit Tony for a while. Yes, it’s urgent, cancel all your plans, and his, for the foreseeable. You know I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t real.” He was proud of himself, he managed to get all that out before she interrupted him. 

Pepper was silent for a moment, and then he heard the tapping of keys on the other end of the line. “What’s he done now?” she asked, a certain weight of inevitable resignation to her tone.

Bucky went to his closet, all the way in the back, and started pulling out his tactical gear. A Kevlar vest and his pistol probably wouldn’t do shit against a God, aside from make him feel better, but the material was solid and damage resistant, and he’d always noticed that people got out of the way of people in a uniform. Fury could yell at him later.

“It’s not… entirely… Tony’s fault,” Bucky hedged. The compulsion on the pendant had seemed stronger for Tony than Bucky or Fury, and Bucky wondered why that was. “He’s in a magically enforced sleep with a damn cursed necklace sealed around his throat. I’m gonna go find the son of a bitch who cast the spell and beat his face into the sidewalk until he makes it stop.”

Another prolonged silence. “Right,” Pepper finally said. “I’ll be up in five minutes.”

***

The good thing about Gods fighting with portable weather patterns was that everyone who could be inside was inside. Bucky wasn’t sure if they even knew anything was going on or were just trying to stay out of what was turning out to be a torrential downpour.

That bad thing about Gods was apparently they could fucking fly which made tracking them down a real pain in the ass. 

Tony would be so proud, Bucky thought, whipping out his shiny black credit card to make his first ever Stark credit purchases. A thirty-thousand dollar motorcycle, a zip-up leather jumpsuit, and a backpack. It never hurt to have a spare set of clothes around when Bucky was prone to bursting out of his in an emergency.

From the back of the bike, Bucky managed to track the storm down to its central point, where a flying dude, complete with cape and hammer as advertised, was just setting himself down to earth.

A woman met him there, slinging herself off of a horse with goddamn wings. “My king, he has escaped again.”

Bucky parked the motorcycle and approached slowly, hands held easy at his sides. “Excuse me, I’m looking for a minor demigod called Loki. Maybe you could assist?” 

The guy with the cape whirled around, lifting his hammer, and, wow, that guy was huge. Almost a foot taller than Bucky, and broad, and it didn’t look like there was an ounce of fat on him. He stared at Bucky with eyes the same blue as the afterglow of a lightning strike. It was, Bucky had to admit, a little unnerving.

“Child of Fenrir,” Thor said, and even his voice sounded like the rumbling of distant thunder, “what business have you with my brother?”

“Uh,” Bucky said, because he had no idea what a Fenrir was, or how he was the child of it, “He kinda left a … necklace, laying around. My partner picked it up, and it’s… done something to him. I need Loki to take it off. My, uh, my name’s James Barnes. My partner is Tony Stark.” He pointed back toward Stark Tower, visible from almost every part of the city. 

“The name Tony Stark is not unknown,” Thor said. “Fury told me he’d left the charm with Stark for safekeeping.”

‘Yeah, it’s real charming,” Bucky muttered. The woman’s pegasus made a nickering sound and took a few steps toward Bucky, thrusting a white nose at him. “Uh, nice horse. You don’t, uh, bite, I hope?” The Change clenched at him again, and Bucky fought it off, working on breathing. Fear was a terrible motivator for the Change, and he did not want to try to get out of his tac-vest with four feet and a tail.

“Only when I command her to. We did not know there  were shapeshifters on Midgard,” the woman said. “What realm are you from?”

Bucky wasn’t sure how to answer that, but, “Avalon,” he said. Which was sort of true. The curse, at least, had come from there. “Look, just tell me how to take the necklace off, and I’ll get out of your hair.” 

“Without Loki’s direction, it cannot be removed until the magic has run its course,” Thor thundered. “Rest assured that, once we have secured him, we will bring him to you and compel him to release your partner from the charm’s grip.”

Bucky swallowed. “It won’t, uh. Hurt him? I mean, he’s sleeping right now, but I can’t wake him up.”

“There is some danger in the magic,” Thor allowed, “and some discomfort. But Fury assured us that Stark was a dwarf among men, clever and sturdy. And his partner wears a wolfskin.”

“That would be me,” Bucky muttered. “Look, let me know if you need help tracking him down.” He tapped his nose. “Kinda my thing.”

“My brother travels not by mortal means,” Thor said. “But we will remember your offer, if it seems it will avail us aid.”

“Yeah, okay, great,” Bucky said. “If you see your brother, punch him in the face for me, wouldya?”

“I like this one,” the woman said, smacking Bucky on the shoulder and almost knocking him over. She was stronger than she looked, and she didn’t exactly look weak to start with. “He’s got spirit.”

Bucky straightened himself up. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said. “Nice horse.”

“She is a beauty, is she not? A prime mare, from the best lines, a warrior in spirit and a poet at rest,” the woman said. “I am Brunhilde, of the Valkyrie. In other words, I take care of the king and make sure he doesn’t leave any messes around behind him.”

Thor chuckled, and overhead, lightning flashed. “And a difficult work I make of it,” he agreed. “Your partner should awaken with the dawn,” he told Bucky. “What shape the magic will take at that time, I cannot know.”

“Great. Random curse generator,” Bucky said. “Good luck finding your brother.” Pray I don’t find him first.

Chapter Text

Tony woke all at once, which was unusual; most of the time he drifted slowly up toward consciousness and did his best to linger in the drowse until something made him get up. But instead, he went from completely unconscious to fully awake in the space of two blinks. Outside, the sky was orange and purple, the sun just peeking over the horizon. Ug, dawn. Tony preferred to see dawn from the other direction, if he had to see it at all.

On the other hand, it had still been morning when the explosion had happened yesterday, so he’d slept for at least eighteen hours. It was no wonder he was feeling so wide awake. He sat up and looked down at his chest.

Yeah, he hadn’t imagined that. He touched the edges of the thing embedded in his chest. It didn’t hurt, thankfully, though the swirling blue glow was a bit unnerving.

Bucky was not in bed; in fact, he was in an at least somewhat comfortable chair that he’d dragged in from the other room, probably, asleep at Tony’s bedside like he was holding some sort of vigil.

He was dressed in his tactical gear, stuff Tony had bought for him and then tweaked into much better performance ratios, and his pistol was neatly holstered, but he was still carrying it on his person, which was a little more than he did, normally.

Tony reached out, brushed his hand over Bucky’s hair. “Bucky? Honey?”

Bucky jolted awake, eyes gleaming with sudden, deep red, before settling. “Ug. What time is-- oh, Tony!” Tony found himself engulfed in a fierce embrace, Bucky petting his hair, his back, stroking down his arms. Being pushed backward so that Bucky could look at him, and then held again. 

Bucky’s tac gear was… not comfortable from this side of things at all. He should put that on his list of things to fix.

“Hey, what’s-- Why are you sleeping in the chair? That seems unnecessary.” Tony patted Bucky’s back and shoulders soothingly.

“Nevermind me,” Bucky said. “How do you feel?”

“A little sore, probably from being in bed so long, very well-rested, which I guess isn’t a surprise since it looks like I’ve been asleep for most of a day, and pretty worried about having a magical artifact stuck to me doing god knows what.” Tony blinked. He hadn’t meant to say all that. He’d meant to say, “Fine.”

“Yeah,” Bucky said, nodding. “I got some of the 411 on that. Are you hungry? I can tell you about it while I get you some breakfast.”

“Starving,” Tony said. “You don’t have to get breakfast for me, you know. I’m perfectly capable.” He shoved the blankets aside and sat up.

“I know, hey, hey, careful, Tony,” Bucky said, and he was right there, waiting as if he expected Tony’s knees to buckle, or something. “No one’s quite sure what’s gonna happen now. Let’s not rush anything.”

“Okay, I recognize you’re worried too so I’m trying to indulge you, but the mother-hen routine is a little annoying.” Tony clapped his hand over his mouth. “I didn’t mean to say that,” he said, muffled.

Bucky spread his hands, expression carefully neutral. “Okay, do it your way.”

“And now I feel guilty for hurting your feelings, which is also annoying because I’m still hungry and why can’t I stop saying things?

“Curse,” Bucky said, shortly. “Let’s get breakfast, and I’ll tell you about it.” He didn’t wait to get a response, just walked out of the bedroom, looking every inch a soldier of fortune on a mission, powerful thighs flexing as he walked. 

“God, you’re hot,” Tony said, following Bucky to the kitchen. “I hope this curse or whatever it is doesn’t mean you’re not going to have sex with me.” He hadn’t meant to say that, either.

“I don’t think it’s contagious,” Bucky said, shaking his head. “No one I talked to indicated it was anything but a limited-- call it the upper level magic user version of a whoopie cushion. You’re safe enough, mostly. They’re not a hundred percent sure. Some discomfort, I’m told. Strange talked with me last night about it, a bit. As long as we can figure out what-- random grab bag you got, that’ll be all we have to deal with today. I can’t decide if today’s curse is talking too much, or being rude.”

“Neither of those is all that different from me normally,” Tony said. “Maybe it’s just an amplification. Who’d you talk to aside from Strange? Do we know any other magic experts?” Relieved that he hadn’t said anything particularly embarrassing or awful that time, Tony reached for the coffee maker.

“Strange came by, brought a whole stack of books with him, plus one of his friends, who’s supposedly an expert in other realms magic. I don’t know, he didn’t speak English and Strange didn’t bother to translate very much. They’re of the opinion that each curse will have a duration of dawn until dawn, and that yesterday’s curse was what kept you asleep the whole time. You could not be woken up, not at all, for longer than five seconds or so, Sleeping Beauty.”

“Huh. So a new curse each day? That seems awkward and terrible.” He got eggs and juice out of the fridge, considering it. “Maybe I should go somewhere else until we can lift the curse. What if I wake up one morning and my curse is, like, berserker rage? Or something gross like weeping sores. Or...” He shrugged. “You shouldn’t have to worry about what I’m going to do to you every morning.”

“The other guy I talked to, Thor-- yeah, that Thor. Really, I’m torn between hoping I’m having a nightmare and thinking this is the coolest shit ever -- anyway, he says it’s his brother’s idea of a joke. That it shouldn’t be out and out dangerous. Just, embarrassing and uncomfortable. Besides, we don’t know how long it’s going to last. The general way these things go, as I understand it, is a set time period, but we don’t know if that’s a week, or a month, or one cycle of the moon, or a year.” Bucky paused. “Asgardians live a long time. It could be a century.”

“I would really like to not be randomly cursed for a century,” Tony said. “Is there any way we can fix it? Break the curse, or whatever?”

“That part’s still bein’ investigated. Thor an’ his Valkyrie are tryin’ to hunt down Loki -- he’s looking for something in the city. No, we don’t know what, just yet,” Bucky explained, getting out some eggs and a frying pan. “And he’s apparently wreaking all sorts of havoc all over the place. He can look like anyone he wants to, if he’s seen ‘em before, apparently, so you can imagine. Which reminds me, given that I’m looking for him, and so’s Fury’s unit, we probably ought to have some kind of safeword or something. This Loki dude pretended to be Steve for a while, and made a bit of turmoil with my old unit.”

“Oh, man, I bet Steve was embarrassed about that.” Tony couldn’t quite keep the glee from his voice. “A safeword is always a smart idea. What’s yours?”

“Let’s go with ‘shelter’ at the moment,” Bucky said. “It’s easy to remember, it’s where we met, and it’s nothin’ that some high fancy mage from another-- realm, planet, dimension, whatever -- is likely to figure out.”

Tony nodded. “Okay. Though hopefully we won’t be apart long enough for it to matter. I don’t like it when we’re not together.” Oh, Christ, could he sound more needy?

Bucky paused in stirring up scrambled eggs to kiss Tony’s cheek. “I don’t like it when we’re apart, either. I just don’t want you gettin’ fooled by this Loki guy. Sounds like he’s gonna do enough damage to us before the month’s out without giving him any more to go on. His brother’s plannin’ to catch him; but so far hasn’t had any luck. Fury and Thor have been putting a map together of locations he’s been spotted, but they don’t have a clue what he’s after. If anything.”

“Can I put my hands on this map? Maybe there’s a pattern they’re not seeing.”

“I’ll give Sharon a call,” Bucky promised. “She owes me a favor or six and no one’s gonna expect me to get in--” Speaking of phones, Bucky’s cell buzzed. He answered it without looking, still stirring eggs. “Barnes, go- oh, hey, Becca, yeah, you were… no. I don’t think we-- look, something came up… I am not making excuses. Hold on.”

Bucky pushed the mute button on his phone and tossed it on the countertop. “My sister. She called to remind us we’re supposed to be going to dinner tonight with her and the kids. It’s Freddie’s birthday.”

“We can still do that,” Tony said. “Even if I’m talking too much, the kids aren’t going to notice. Besides, I want to see Becca’s face when she realizes how much of a mess Freddie’s present is going to make.”

“I can always count on you to make my niece and nephew happy,” Bucky said, fondly. “If you’re sure, I mean, you’re the one who’s cursed. I don’t want to make this any harder than it has to be.”

“Just sit between me and Becca so she doesn’t ask me any awkward questions,” Tony said, “since I can’t seem to not talk today.”

“All right, if you say it’s okay,” Bucky said, somewhat dubious. He picked up the phone again. “Yeah, sure, ok. Uh-huh. Got it.”

He disconnected. “I think she was cranky that we weren’t still both asleep. Seven in the morning not being prime time for either of us.” Bucky tipped the scrambled eggs on two plates, grabbed the toast as it popped out of the toaster. “Here, eat something. I know, breakfast yuck, but you didn’t eat all day yesterday.”

“I actually really like breakfast,” Tony said, pulling the plate closer. “I just say I hate it because I’m usually feeling overloaded with work that needs to get done.” He stopped blinking at his eggs. “Why did I say that?”

“You can’t lie,” Bucky said, barely a whisper. A look of incredible cunning passed over Bucky’s face, and then he pushed back in his chair just a little. “So, tell me about spring break, sophomore year, MIT.”

“It was definitely my idea,” Tony said, shooting Bucky a glare, “but Rhodey didn’t ever say no, so I make him share in the blame. We were both too young to be in that bar, but I threw some money around so our fake IDs would pass. I didn’t realize that the dancers were in drag until I’d already paid for the lapdance, though, and...”

***

“Maybe you should go without me,” Tony said, staring at the outside of the restaurant.

Bucky shook his head. They’d gotten into two nasty arguments already that day, one about Bucky taking advantage of the truth curse, and the other about one of the things that Tony had said while affected by said truth curse. Whoever said honesty was the best policy had never been around someone who had exactly zero brain to mouth filter. 

And Tony couldn’t seem to stop talking, even when he knew he probably should.

“You know my sister,” Bucky said. “If we cancel on her without an actual you’re puking internal organs onto the sidewalk excuse, she’s going to take it as a slight. She’s still mad at me about the whole being faked on my death and that was so not my fault. I mean… you do, actually, like her kids, right?” Better make sure to clear that up right now, because Becca might be super pissed if Tony told her that her hair was a mess, or made some cutting comment about her job, but she’d get over it. If Tony sat down with Freddie or George and told them something horrible about how he was only faking being nice for Bucky’s sake… well, that would probably scar them for life, and Bucky didn’t want that.

Of course, if Tony did say something like that, Bucky might want to sit down and rethink the whole relationship thing. Which he didn’t want to do either. “God, this curse is a nightmare,” he muttered.

“I love Becca’s kids,” Tony said. “I like kids more than I like most adults. I’ve been trying to figure out how to bring up adoption and oh my god I hate this curse.”

There was actual panic on Tony’s face. 

“Hey, hey,” Bucky moved in a little closer, leaning over the console of the car -- he’d driven after making Tony pull over after two blocks because listening to Tony’s uncensored thoughts about other people’s driving was going to give him an ulcer -- and brushed Tony’s cheek with his fingers. “It’s okay. I love you, you know that, right?”

Tony leaned in and hid his face against Bucky’s throat. “I know,” he said, a little hoarse. “Sometimes I’m not sure why, but I know. I love you too.”

“So, obviously, now is not the time for it,” Bucky said, “but if you want to talk about adoptin’ a kid or two, I ain’t averse to the conversation. But not today, not right now. Right now, we’re gonna go in an’ make nice with my sister and tell Freddie how grown up she is, right?”

“I’m going to tell Freddie she’s still many years from being grown up,” Tony pointed out, “and that growing up is overrated anyway.”

“There are advantages,” Bucky said. “But yeah, you’ll be okay. She’s nine, er, ten now, she’ll think you’re funny.” There were so many ways this could be a disaster, but Tony interacting with the kids wasn’t going to be one of them.

He hoped.

George practically jumped out of his chair, spilling over the booster seat onto the floor, as he raced across the restaurant to throw himself around Bucky’s thighs. “Uncle Buck!” he yelled. For a six year old, he was remarkably loud. Surely volume had to come with age, right?

Tony headed directly for Freddie, messing up her hair and dropping a kiss on top of her head. “Happy birthday, kiddo.” He turned to let Becca hug him, and his smile was a little stiff, but all he said was, “You look tired. Are the kids running you into the ground?”

"It's not too bad…" Becca said. "You know how it is, you love em but there's always something to do."

“Well, I can’t say that I know,” Tony said, “but that is something I’ve heard.”

"Hey Uncle Tony," Freddie said, spinning around in a yellow fluffy dress. "Thanks for coming. Look what Gramma gave me." She showed off her wrist, where she displayed a pearl bracelet.

“Hm. Probably fake,” Tony said, examining the little strand. He squeezed his eyes shut, and then rallied with, “But it looks like you’re really enjoying it, so that’s great.”

Becca was scowling at that, probably thinking Tony was being rich and snotty, which to be fair, he could be sometimes. Bucky hastily changed the subject, asking about the kids’ new teachers and if they were enjoying school. 

The waiter came by and took drink orders. Freddie almost fell out of her chair asking for one of those onion ring flower appetizers.

Tony managed to order without expressing any outrageous opinions, and then immediately focused on asking questions of Freddie and George, probably on the theory that they weren’t likely to ask him anything in return that was too hideously awful. He did wind up overexplaining carbonation when George asked why soda had bubbles in it, but that was fine, that was science and Tony being a little bit of a know-it-all, which wasn’t exactly anything new.

Bucky kept his sister’s attention, giving her someone adult to complain at about her neighbors, some commentary about one of the new supervisors at work, gossip from her book club about a woman Bucky didn’t know, back to the neighbors, and Bucky was just starting to think it might be a good evening after all when he heard, much to his horror, Freddie say, “I miss your dog, Uncle Tony. You should bring him around.”

“You know they don’t let dogs in restaurants,” Becca said, shaking her head. Kids, that gesture said.

“I did bring him,” Tony said. “Bucky’s a werewolf who pretends to be my pet dog sometimes.” Next to Bucky, Tony went absolutely still.

George’s eyes got huge and wide. “Wow, really? Isn’t that like super scary? I saw a movie about werewolves and I totally wasn’t supposed to watch it, because it’s like rated R and for grown ups and older kids, but it was on the television. Werewolf in London, and it was so cheesy, but the dead guy was super gross, so does, like Uncle Bucky eat people?”

“Well, that’s… an interesting story,” Becca said, almost calmly. 

“I do not eat people,” Bucky said, because playing along as if it was a story that Tony was just being silly about was probably the best bet they had. Sideways, to his sister. “I’m allergic, so Pepper mostly keeps the dog these days.”

“It’s not scary,” Tony told George, “because even when he’s a wolf, he’s still your Uncle Bucky and he protects me.” Under the table, Tony’s hand found Bucky’s and squeezed, shaking.

Freddie looked back and forth between Tony and Bucky, then her eyes widened. “I’ve never seen Uncle Bucky in the same room as your dog,” she admitted. “Are you really, really a werewolf, Uncle Bucky?”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Come on, do I look like a werewolf to you?” He turned over one hand to show his palm. “Look, no hair.”

“A werewolf would look pretty silly with no hair,” Tony said, throwing Bucky a grateful smile. “So, who’s having dessert?”

“I want chocolate cake,” Freddie said, poking at the smaller menu that had one page of cakes and sweets, but was mostly a drink and bar menu. 

“Then it’s a good thing I’m not a werewolf,” Bucky joked. “Dogs can’t eat chocolate.”

“I hafta go to the bathroom!” George complained suddenly.

Becca’s eyes narrowed for a moment. “Winifred, would you take your brother over to the little boys’ room?”

“I can go by myself,” George said at the same time Freddie whined, “Do I gottttta? It’s my birthday!”

“Go on,” Becca said, “don’t make me ask you again.”

The two kids got up, both a little sulky, and headed toward the back of the restaurant. 

“What was that, Tony?” Becca demanded as soon as they were out of earshot. “You know we’re having problems with nightmares!” Which was true; Becca’s husband was on the road most of the time, and George had recently gotten convinced that monsters were going to eat his dad while he was out of town.

“I’m sorry,” Tony said, sincerely. “I couldn’t help myself. I’m cursed.”

“You’re what? Are you drunk?” Becca glared daggers at him.

“Hey, no,” Bucky said, suddenly. “It’s fine. Tony’s had a bad couple of days, stress you know. But we didn’t want to miss the kid’s birthday. It’s important, having family around.” 

“Are you making a crack about Scott’s job?” Becca was getting into full on seething. Great.

“He’s really not,” Tony said. “I probably shouldn’t have come, but I wanted to. I love the kids, I didn’t want to disappoint Freddie. Look, the meal’s almost done, I’ll try to keep things under wraps. I’m sorry. I really am.”

Take the apology, Becca and shut up, Bucky thought.

For a moment, Becca took a sip of her wine, and studied them, and Bucky thought she might actually drop it, but of course his luck was never all that great. He wondered, sometimes, why he continued to hope that things would go smooth. They never went smooth.

“I appreciate your obvious sincerity,” Becca said in that tone that meant she was about ready to pounce, “but I’m confused as to what you’re sorry for. Exactly.”

Bucky all but bolted up from his chair. “No, really, we should go--”

“I’m sorry for frightening George,” Tony said, and if he’d just been able to stop there, it would’ve been fine, but of course he couldn’t. “And for giving away Bucky’s secret, and for not realizing sooner that it was a terrible idea for me to come to dinner like this.” He dropped his head into his hands.

“Because you’re cursed,” Becca said. 

“Becca, shut up,” Bucky groaned, and Thor and Fury and Strange might have all said that the curse wasn’t contagious, but right at that second, Bucky kinda thought maybe it was, because he couldn’t seem to shut up, either.

“Are you on drugs, both--” Becca exclaimed, exasperated.

“No, okay,” Bucky said. He took his sister’s hand, very carefully. “No, he’s not. He’s not on drugs, he’s not insane. And he’s… he’s not lying. It’s okay, Bex. It’s just… complicated. And we were trying to keep people out of it, because people are happier, I think, when they don’t know some stuff.”

“You know we’d never intentionally do anything to put the kids at risk,” Tony said earnestly.

“I don’t know if I would rather you were on drugs,” Becca said, shaking her head. “They told me you were dead, I had a funeral for you, and I’m trying, I swear to god, Jamie Barnes, I am trying to be family with you. I am trying to let that pass, let all the lies and the never knowing where you were, trying to let all that go. So, stop bullshitting me and tell me what is going on.”  

Tony unbuttoned his shirt just enough to show the pendant to Becca, its mesmerizing blue glow. “I’m cursed,” he said. “It’s not bullshit. I can’t lie. Not even polite social fictions.” He rebuttoned the shirt. “It’s awful.”

“Oh, my god,” Becca said, covering her mouth with her hands, the words muffled behind her fingers. 

“Look, you knew I worked Black Ops,” Bucky said. “I’m just now, myself, finding out just how black they were. Magic is real, Becca, and believe me, you don’t want any part of it. So… drop this now, before you get in any deeper. I’ll… I’ll explain everything. Later. I promise, okay?”

“Are you really--” She couldn’t even seem to say it. Like maybe she was starting to believe. 

Bucky sighed. “I’ll explain. Later.”

The kids came back to the table, and cake was brought out. Becca continued to eye both of them suspiciously, but kept the table conversation light, mostly about school and presents and birthdays.

“You will call me,” Becca insisted, when she hugged Bucky before they parted.

“I will,” Bucky told her.

She offered a hand to Tony, and it was only shaking a little. “Thanks for coming.”

“I really am sorry,” Tony said sadly.

“Yeah, me, too,” Becca said, and it was utterly unclear what she was sorry for.

Chapter Text

Bucky groaned. Something soft was batting at his face.

Probably Tony wanting to go another round of useless apologies, excuses, self-condemnations. It sucked, and there was nothing he could do about it. His sister had texted a few times after they parted, and he was not looking forward to the rest of that conversation.

But it wasn’t Tony’s fault, and they’d always known there was a risk that someone would find out about his condition. They’d relied, quite a lot, on the fact that people didn’t believe in things like that.

Something was purring in his ear.

Bucky rolled over, pulling the pillow over his head. He’d done as much as he could to talk Tony through it, reassure him that he was still loved and that Bucky wasn’t mad. 

On the other hand, Bucky not being under any sort of truth spell whatsoever, could certainly have been lying. There was no way to prove anything that he said. Which had occurred to Tony around midnight, and--

“Ug, I don’t care what the curse is right now,” Bucky muttered as the blankets were tugged and pulled off his shoulder. “Just go back to sleep for like… two hours?”

A needle jabbed him in the shoulder, and something said, “mrrrpb?”

“Tony, I’m not still mad, but if you don’t let me sleep--” Bucky rolled over and-- something cold and wet touched his cheek and he opened his eyes in shock.

The eyes that were only inches from his own were gold and slitted and surrounded by grey tabby fur. Two excessively fluffy pointed ears, nearly bigger than the rest of the creature’s entire face, stuck up from the top of its head. It opened its tiny mouth and yawned, barbed tongue curling, and then it stuck its nose on Bucky’s cheek again. Get up now, it seemed to be saying.

“I am quite positive,” Bucky announced to the room, “that I did not have a kitten when I went to bed. I was, in fact, quite sure that my boyfriend was in the bed. And that he doesn’t have a kitten. And I swear to god--”

Bucky sat up then, and the kitten ended up in the puddle of bedsheets around his waist. There was no Tony in the bed, but there was a roughly Tony-sized mess in the blankets. “Fuck.”

“Tony?” He stared at the kitten, wondering if that was Tony, or if Bucky was losing his goddamn mind at last.

The kitten righted itself from where it had tumbled, then looked up at Bucky expectantly. 

Bucky scrubbed at his face with both hands. “I don’t suppose you can do one meow for yes, and two for no, or something?” 

Involuntary shape-changing was a curse, as Bucky knew pretty well. But at least Bucky’d still had a mind, even when he was a wolf. It was simpler, less prone to fruitless worrying, easy and affectionate. But it was still a human mind.

The kitten kneaded at Bucky’s leg, purring, and let out another “mrrrp!” noise.

Bucky picked the kitten up, holding it carefully around the middle and flipping it upside down to look at the furry chest. There was, in fact, a silvery mark in the center of the kitten’s chest, silver grey and a few hairs that might have been blue, in the right light. “Jesus Christ,” he said. “Tony…”

The kitten twisted in his hands and rubbed its -- his -- face against Bucky’s fingers, then opened its mouth and let out a meow that was more of a squeak than anything else.

“You are tiny,” Bucky complained. He sat the kitten on the bed. “And what am I supposed to do with you, hmm?” At least a kitten was probably less destructive to their lives than Tony with a massive compulsion toward difficult truths.

Tony stood up on somewhat wobbly legs and made his way toward the edge of the bed. He peered down at the floor, which had to seem like a long way away, and let out another plaintive squeak. He looked back up at Bucky.

“Yeah, yeah, okay, I got it,” Bucky said. He scooped the kitten up and put him on the floor. Tony promptly disappeared under the bed. Bucky sighed, looked longingly back at his pillow and wondered if Tony could stay out of trouble for, like ninety minutes. That’s all he wanted, to get up at a decent hour.

A somewhat muffled “mrrp!” sounded from under the bed, and the softest of thumps. A moment later, Tony emerged, dragging a slipper. He squeaked, then made his slightly clumsy way across the floor toward the bedroom door.

“Yeah, where do you think you’re goin’?” Bucky wondered, flopping over onto his stomach to watch the kitten’s little butt as Tony headed to the door. He clicked his tongue a few times, getting Tony’s attention, and then extended one finger. “Come back here.”

Tony hesitated, looking at the door and then back to Bucky a couple of times, and then trotted back over to Bucky -- and Christ, that was the cutest fucking thing Bucky had ever seen -- and enthusiastically stropped his face (and most of the rest of him) against Bucky’s finger, purring loud enough for any three cats.

“You hungry?” Bucky wondered. He wasn’t sure what kittens ate, aside from kitten food, of which they had exactly none. He might have a tin of tuna around somewhere, Tony liked tuna fish sandwiches sometimes. Oh, oh, crap.

He reached for his phone, nearly knocking the kitten over who was trying to climb up his arm. “What time is the pet store open?” he asked Siri, and then listened to her not-quite-human voice tell him the nearest three pet stores that had hours starting at 8:30 a.m.

“Let’s try food first,” Bucky said, reluctantly climbing out of bed. “And then we’ll get you a litter box. Just for today, thank Christ.”

Tony meowed again, longer and louder, and padded back toward the bedroom door.

“That’s pathetic,” Bucky said, shaking his head. He got one of his many bathrobes -- a hazard of being a shapeshifter was that he was constantly busting out of his clothing, so bathrobes were a godsend. “You sound like an irate squeaky toy.” 

The dog dishes -- well, wolf dishes, but whatever -- were on the floor in the kitchen, but Bucky’s waterdish held enough fluid to drown Tony in his current form. That would never do. Speaking of which-- where the hell did the kitten go off to? “Tony, come here,” Bucky said, dropping into a squat to see if Tony was under the kitchen table.

A squeak and a muffled thump led Bucky into the living room, where Tony was wrestling with a throw pillow three times his size.

“Okay,” Bucky said. “You… uh, teach that pillow who’s boss. I’m gonna get you some breakfast and then figure out how to deal with this whole… kitten. Thing. Which I feel should be more terrible than it is, and I hope you won’t be mad if I tell you how ridiculously cute you are right now.”

Tony glanced up at him, tail lashing, and then he pounced on the pillow again, tiny claws extended. The pillow flipped over on top of Tony and he hissed, all his fur puffing up, and then bolted under the couch.

Bucky found a small tin of tuna in the pantry and dumped it onto a coffee saucer, putting it on the floor, liquidy oil and all. He remembered the few cats that his Ma had had really liked the juice around the tinned chicken and tinned tuna. A pudding cup full of water went next to the saucer. “Tony, come in here and have something to eat,” Bucky said. No Tony appeared.

God, that sounded condescending, but Tony hadn’t seemed to have the mind of an adult human, so maybe he wouldn’t notice. “Kitty, kitty, kitty.”

A very loud thump was accompanied by an, “Ow!” in Tony voice. “What the fuck--

“Shit!” Bucky bolted out of the kitchen to see… Tony’s legs sticking out from under the sofa, which was half sideways and-- “Jesus, let me help you, what the hell happened?” Bucky lifted one side of the sofa.

“I don’t know,” Tony groaned. He crawled out of the sofa’s spot and sat on the floor, leaning against the coffee table, panting a little. “I was under the couch, trying to figure out how to get my fur flat again, and suddenly I was...” He waved a hand at himself. He shook his head hard. “God, it’s hard to think like that. How do you do it?”

“What, bein’ an animal? Told you, I don’t, as much. Brain’s different as a wolf. Simpler. Things don’t have so much nuance. Guess yours would be even worse, as a kitten. Much smaller brain size.” Bucky held out a finger and thumb, estimating a kitten brain. “Instinct’s a bitch, isn’t it?”

“It sucks. I guess I’m staying home today.” Tony reached up for Bucky’s hand and let Bucky pull him to his feet. “It would really suck if I was in the middle of doing something like soldering and I suddenly flipped.”

“Yeah, I don’t even know why you flipped,” Bucky said. “Did-- I mean, I usually have to be very calm, to change back from the Wolf. But you didn’t… excuse me for saying so, seem real capable of calm. Everything was all new and exciting. It was cute.”

Tony gave him a dry look. “Great, cute. But no, I wasn’t really calm. That fur-standing-up shit is really uncomfortable.” He stretched. “At least I can eat breakfast like a person now. And have coffee.” He kissed Bucky’s cheek and slipped past, heading for the kitchen.

“Super cute,” Bucky said. “An’ don’t get all offended about it. You like me jus’ as much when I’m a wolf as you do when I’m a person, pigeon-eating bad habits and all. And, word of advice from someone who’s been doing the random shape-shifting stuff for a while now? Go pee while you can still stand up. Because that don’t get less embarrassing with time.”

Tony paused, then turned on his heel, headed for the bathroom. “Yeah, good call.”

When he came out of the bathroom again, he said, “I’m trying to figure out where all my mass goes. You’re just as big as a wolf as you are a human, but I am obviously not a one-point-six pound person.”

“What I want to know,” Bucky said, pointedly, “is why you get to transform with clothes. You were still wearing your boxers, once you de-kittified. You have any idea how damn handy that would be?”

The coffee maker stopped doing its thing, and Bucky, being the lovely boyfriend that he knew he was, poured Tony a cup first. “Here.”

“I love you,” Tony said, cupping his hands around the mug and lifting it to his mouth. He took a long sip, and breathed out a sigh. “Maybe if this Loki is responsible for the curse, once we catch up to him, he can tell you how to modify yours so you can side-along some shorts. Not that I, personally, object to the way you transform now.”

“It’d be less hard on my dignity, yeah,” Bucky agreed. “That said, I think we’ll all be happier if I go ahead and go to the pet store, at least for today. Litter box and toys, and… stuff. I don’t know what cats need, I’m sure someone will tell me. Just in case. Since we’re not sure why you’re switchin’. I can get Pep to stay with you, while I go, or order delivery, whatever you think’s best?”

“Delivery,” Tony said. “It’s only one day, a litter box and some food will probably suffice.” He paused, considering. “Maybe some toys,” he conceded. “I was pretty focused on attacking something.”

“Super cute,” Bucky repeated. He pulled out his phone and started tapping at it, bringing up their favorite grocery delivery place. Cat food and litter and toys and stuff were all available at the local grocery, Bucky figured. Might as well get it from there.

***

After breakfast, Tony decided that he’d take a shower while he was still person-shaped. He had no idea when (or if) the curse would kick in again, but he really didn’t relish the idea of a tongue-bath, however reasonable it had seemed when he’d been furry.

Bucky followed him into the bedroom to continue the conversation they’d been having over breakfast (and possibly, also, because the whole curse thing was making Bucky want to keep one eye on Tony at all times). He sat on the bed while Tony kicked off his boxer shorts and tested the water. “I’m just saying, we need to find a way to communicate with this Thor guy that isn’t through Fury,” Tony said. He stepped into the shower and groaned happily as the warm water coaxed the last of the night’s stiffness from his muscles.

“I’m not saying you’re wrong,” Bucky said, “but in order to do that, we’d-- Oh, that was the door, Tony, hang on a sec.”

A dizzying wave of blue swept over Tony and he put out a hand to steady himself--

Water. There was water and it was falling on his fur and he was wet and it was terrible. Tony let out a screech of dismay and scrambled for the far end of the little enclosure. It was still wet there, puddles under his paws making him cry out.

He could hear his person, his human, his Bucky, out there somewhere talking, but… it was wet! And he couldn't get out! 

It seemed like forever and ever and then… "Oh crap. I'm sorry. Hang on." The water stopped and then his Bucky was pulling him out of the wet. 

"Got a towel right here, boss, just here you are, get you all dried off."

Tony complained loudly as the towel wrapped around him, but that was warm and was soaking up all the water, which was an improvement. His Bucky was very gentle, patting the water out of his fur and not ruffling it up very much, and if it hadn’t been for the water, it would have been nice. Tony found himself kneading at his Bucky’s leg through the towel. That felt good, too, stretching and calming.

“Oh, that’s just awful, wasn’t it, I know, yeah,” Bucky said, “We’ll just get you all dried off here. Probably the hair dryer is a bad idea, but it’d do the job faster. I bet you wouldn’t like the noise, though. But hey, come and look, your stuff all came. Got you a little bed, and some toys and a scratching post, because I’m pretty sure you’d be really mad at me if I let you claw up the furniture, right? Although, god knows, you let my wolf do it, don’t you? You are a right little disaster, ain’tcha?”

Tony wasn’t really listening to Bucky’s words so much as the soothing sound of them, gentle and easy and fond. He could understand the words if he wanted to, but mostly he didn’t want to. He was warm now, and mostly dry, and Bucky carried him to show him his new things. Bucky set him down in the middle of a soft cushion, which was nice except that it smelled a little funny. Tony sniffed around curiously, then stepped out to test the scratching post. That was perfect, the rough material letting him stretch out his claw sheaths and scrape off the dull bits of claw.

Purring, Tony rubbed himself against Bucky’s leg. My person. Mine.

“Yeah, you’re cute,” Bucky said. “Total kitten, ain’tcha? You got some kitten ways even when you’re not a fluffball. I wonder if that carries over, if the curse is picking what animal you’d be best as… bet Steve would be a goose, all aggression and loud honking noises.”

Bucky pulled something out of a package that crinkled and rustled and threw back little flashes of light and offered Tony a bit of fluff with a bell on it.

Tony sniffed at it cautiously, batted at the fluff a couple of times to hear the bell, and then turned and pounced on the crinkly packaging. It was smooth and cool under the pads of his paws, the crinkling noise maddening in the best of ways. He managed to wad up a bunch of it, holding it firmly, then rolled onto his back to rabbit-kick it into submission.

“Toddlers and kittens,” Bucky said, shaking his head. “Always more interested in the package than the present. Wonder if you’d like the box, too-- what’s the joke, if I fits, I sits?” 

A moment later, there was a big cardboard box sitting on the floor, not too far away from where Tony was playing. A scratching sound came from one side of the box, where Bucky was sitting.

Tony abandoned the crinkly stuff to look at the box. It was a big box, tipped on its side so Tony could walk in. He sniffed at it -- it had the same weird smell as the cushion. But the box felt nice on his feet. He sniffed again.

The scratching sound came again, closer this time. Prey, Tony thought, and crouched low, waiting.

“Yeah, I see that butt wiggling,” Bucky said. “Yeah, you get that box puppet. Come on… kitty, kitty, kitty.”

Tony gathered himself to leap and--

Everything went over in a tumble -- the box, the scratching post, and most especially Tony, who was suddenly far too big to fit in the box. “Shit!” Tony tried to roll over and got the scratching post in his kidney. “Ow!”

“Woah, woah, that--” Bucky wasn’t entirely unscathed, either, having been knocked over backward by the momentum of suddenly size-increased Tony. And then he blinked. “Oh, oh, wait, I think I got it, I-- To--” Bucky slammed both hands over his mouth, silencing himself with vigor, then he moved his hands, slowly. “I figured it out.”

Tony struggled upright and rubbed at the bruise forming on his back. “Figured what out?”

“What’s causing you to switch,” Bucky said, gesturing with his hands while he thought it over. “It’s like… you know that stupid movie about the dead guy with Michael Keaton and the haunted house? It’s like that; you’ve got a trigger word that signals the change. You want me to test my theory now, or do you want to put clothes on and then I can test my theory?”

Tony shrugged. “Not like you haven’t seen me without clothes,” he pointed out. “Go on, let’s have it.”

“Are you comfy, then? Because the shower was kinda my fault, even if I didn’t know it?” He waited for Tony to nod, then, “Okay… Tony.”

Tony waited a beat to hear what the word was going to be, and then everything swayed around him and got much bigger. He looked up at Bucky and meowed.

"Stay." Bucky said, holding his hand out. "Kitty kitty kitty."

Tony was just stretching out his neck to bump his nose into Bucky’s fingertip when he was suddenly big again, off-balance, falling practically into Bucky’s lap. “Huh. Okay. You’ve got that figured out, then. And I’m definitely not leaving the penthouse today. If I go outside, my name is going to be the first thing I hear, guaranteed.”

"You know what I was thinking?" Bucky asked. "I'm thinking, even though I'm a big guy when I'm fluffy, you probably won't be scared of me as a wolf. And I can still keep track of you, keep you out of trouble. And no risk of name saying. Just you and me and a little leisure time? Hmm?"

Tony raised his eyebrows at his boyfriend. “You want us to spend the day in... as animals.” He was inclined to scoff, but then he thought about it. Bucky as a wolf was attentive, playful, protective, and warm. Tony sometimes got frustrated with the difficulty of communication, but if they were both animals... there would be no need, really. It sounded cozy, really. Relaxing. “...Yeah, okay. Let’s get the litterbox set up first, and put out some food.”

"I like how you think. Maybe we can get Pepper to take us for a walk later. I wonder if we can talk a bit as animals?" Bucky was already getting the litter box set up in the bathroom. "Go ahead and open the rest of the toys. I got 'em for you."

“You can’t even talk to dogs when you’re a wolf,” Tony pointed out. “I don’t know why you think you’d be able to talk to another species entirely.” He started pulling the rest of the toys out of their packaging and carefully tossing the packaging in the trash -- it had been fun to play with, but if there wasn’t someone with opposable thumbs around, he probably shouldn’t risk getting wrapped up in plastic where he’d have trouble breathing.

"I can talk to other wolves, sometimes. So maybe. Guess we'll see." Bucky tossed a few fleeces onto the floor. "That's cozy. Ready?"

Tony pulled his boxers back on -- if Pepper happened to be there when he changed back, he didn’t want to flash her if he didn’t have to -- and sat down in the pile of fleeces. “Yeah, let’s do it.”

"Love you," Bucky said, Drew him into a kiss. When it was done, he tugged off the bathrobe and sat on the floor. "Tony."

A moment later, the wolf Bucky was sitting on his haunches, panting.

The wolf wasn’t Tony’s human, but it was still his Bucky. Tony picked his way across the soft floor to sniff at Bucky’s paws. His fur smelled strongly of predator and wolf, and it made Tony sneeze.

Bucky lowered an enormous muzzle down to Tony’s level, snuffled at his fur for a moment, then laid down, very carefully, and flopped over on his side, extending one large paw at Tony. His ears flicked, just a little. 

Tony sniffed at the paw, then carefully climbed up Bucky’s leg until he was standing on Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky’s fur was thick and very warm. Tony turned in a little circle, testing the feel of the muscle and bone under his paws, and then curled into a tight circle, facing Bucky’s head.

Bucky nuzzled the purring lump on his shoulder, the very tip of his tongue coming out in a tiny blep and he licked the top of Tony’s head, then settled in with a deep sigh.

Comfy.

Cozy.

Warm.

It didn’t take Tony very long to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

Bucky woke up very slowly, like it was a Saturday, or a summer day, felt like one of those lazy, long mornings, the sun was just peeking in the window and Ma was about to call him down to breakfast, as soon as she got his baby sister to stop--

--crying?

Bucky blinked.

There was definitely a baby crying, a thin, little puling noise, huwaaah, huwaaah.

The past few days came back and smacked him upside the back of the head like a bag of bricks. “Oh, Christ, what it is this time?”

He rolled over and… something very small immediately moved into the hollow where his body had been, obedient to gravity.

Huwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

“Oh, fuck, oh, oh, my god!”

There was a crying baby in the bed, now face-down and not happy about it at all. Wrapped in Tony’s boxers. Which meant… 

Bucky winced and rolled the baby over onto his back. Red-faced and sobbing, with a grey and blue amulet buried in his infant chest. Well, that was an improvement in the fact that Tony probably wasn’t going to smother to death in short order, but did mean the disgruntled crying was now much louder.   

“Uh…” Bucky scooped the baby up very carefully -- he hadn’t held a baby since Becca was one, and that was a long, long time ago. But he mostly remembered. Except that when it was his younger sister, he wasn’t quite so worried about dropping her on her head and breaking her, being all of five himself. 

Tony squirmed and cried for another minute or so, but eventually settled down and blinked up at Bucky, dark eyes in a face still slightly red from the effort of crying. He blinked, thrashed his arms aimlessly, and managed to get his fist into his mouth and start sucking on it vigorously.

“I,” he told the baby, “am really glad you have a lot of money. Kids are expensive, and babies even moreso. All right…” He looked around the room for a bit and then, “if I put you down long enough to call Pepper, are you going to scream?” 

He didn’t know anything about babies, really. Just that they were supposed to sleep on their backs, lots of advertising about that. And-- that Tony would need diapers and a bottle and--

“Holy shit,” Bucky breathed, just as he was getting ready to put the baby in the middle of their King sized bed, even a Tiny Baby Tony probably couldn’t roll that far, when-- “did you just… grow?”

Tony waved his arms and kicked his legs vigorously, gabbled something incomprehensible, and promptly rolled over onto his stomach.

“Right, great,” Bucky said. Because that had been a newborn when he’d picked Tony up, and the kid currently squirming across the bed was, well, probably not a year old, but… “Shit!” Bucky had to scramble around the other side of the bed to catch the child. “I need a playpen for you, young man.”

He picked Tony up and balanced him with one arm, reaching for the phone. He hit the contact for Pepper. “I know, I’m sorry,” he said as soon as she answered, because it was really early in the morning. “And… today is… ow! Do not pull on my ear, thank you. Tony’s a baby.”

“If you hadn’t figured out by now that Tony is utterly childish,” Pepper started, and then stopped as Tony let out a delighted shriek. “...Tell me you did not mean that literally.”

“I woke up and he’s an actual infant,” Bucky said. “So I have a messy situation on my hands, that I do not literally want to be on my hands, but that’s likely to happen real soon now, because Baby. But also, I can’t put him down, this place isn’t childproofed. So I need-- a little help here?”

“What makes you think I know the first thing about children?” Pepper demanded, sounding slightly hysterical. “I mean, I can place a rush order for diapers and some clothes and food and stuff for you, but...”

“I don’t even know,” Bucky said, slightly desperate, bouncing up and down, which had Tony giggling, so that was good. “This curse thing is waaay beyond my expertise level, just…” He turned slowly, because babies didn’t giggle, and-- “Jesus, that’s spooky.” He hadn’t even really noticed the steadily increasing weight, but the kid on his hip was… “Yeah, okay, get me like two or three cloth diapers -- he’s growing like a weed, and I mean that literally.”

He hung up on Pepper, still complaining. She’d complain, but she would probably come up and help him, because that’s what she did. And not only because Tony paid her obscene amounts of money, even though he did. 

“Uh… let’s see, maybe I can hold you over the potty, and see? God, I hope you don’t remember this, but you really look like you need to go, and I don’t want it on me,” Bucky said, taking a kid who was probably about a year and a half old into the bathroom. 

Shown the toilet, Tony laughed and clapped and reached urgently for the shiny chrome of the flush lever until Bucky brought him close enough to touch it. Which, not coincidentally, balanced him over the toilet seat. Win-win. Tony planted his feet on the toilet seat and seemed able to support his own weight on them, which was also a relief, because he was getting really heavy.

After a minute or two of examining the lever, Tony let go a stream of pee, which... most of it made it into the toilet bowl. More than half, probably. Bucky was counting it a win.

Tony looked down at the splash of water, surprised, and then swiveled his head to look at Bucky. “Buh?”

“That’s good,” Bucky told him. “Exactly what you’re supposed to do.” 

One-handed, Bucky grabbed a towel for Tony, wiped him up quickly, and… “You seem bigger every time I look at you, it’s terrifying, I hope you know that.”

Tony bounced in place, giggling. “Buh-kee!” he crowed.

“Close enough,” Bucky decided. “Really, you’re all of forty minutes old at the moment, you should not be talking to me. Are you hungry?”

“Hungee,” Tony agreed. “Mik!”

“Right, okay.” Bucky stood up and realized that he had a naked toddler who could, in fact, reach his hand. “I’m gonna… here, come here a minute, you can’t walk around like that, Pepper’s on her way up. Gonna let you wear one of my shirts as a smock, at least for now, okay? Okay. Then milk-- I think we have milk, for Pepper’s coffee if nothing else.”

“Peppa!” Tony tried to run back into the bedroom, tugging impatiently at Bucky’s hand. He stood more or less patiently while Bucky pulled a t-shirt over his head -- it trailed on the floor and kept slipping off one shoulder, but at least he wasn’t entirely naked. “Bucky! Mi’k p’ease!”

“Yeah, working on that part now, kiddo,” Bucky said. He extended his hand to Tony and let the child lead him into the kitchen, which Tony at least apparently knew the layout of his own house. That was mostly good. Although if he kept up at this growth rate, Bucky was going to be trying to keep up with a six year old in an hour. “Do we have any… oh, look at this, this’ll do.” He grabbed the plastic mug with “Bucky” in raised plastic letters -- Tony had had it custom made as a joke when Bucky had complained about the merchandise at the gift store never having his name on it. 

He sniffed at the milk, decided it was okay, and poured half a glass. “You can handle that?” He offered the cup to Tony.

Tony grabbed the cup in two hands and lifted it to his face, spilling a bunch of it down his chin as he gulped at it. “Uh-oh.” He put the cup down and plucked at the shirt collar. “Bucky, wet!”

“Yep, I’m not surprised,” Bucky said. He sat down on the floor, feeling the cold tiles under his thighs, still not dressed in anything more than his briefs, hair a mess, talking to a toddler. He had a sudden appreciation for his sister, who managed to still look good while dealing with two children as a mostly single parent. “How are you so cute?” He wondered. There wasn’t much milk left in the cup, Tony had either drunk most of it, or he was wearing half of it.

Tony seemed to forget about his wet shirt almost immediately, tugging on the nearest cabinet handles until they opened. He let out a crow of excitement and nearly crawled into the cabinet entirely.

“What are you after now?” Bucky wondered. How was he so exhausted, he’d been chasing a kid around for, what, an hour?

Tony backed out, dragging with him... a waffle iron. He tipped back onto his butt and lifted the iron lid, closed it again. Lifted it, closed it.

“Do you actually want a waffle, or do you just want to play with it?” Bucky asked, trying to remember if they had the makings for waffles or not. Half the time, he and Tony ate out, and the other half of the time, Tony didn’t eat at all.

“Play,” Tony said, distracted. Open, close. He flipped it open again and pulled it closer to look at the hinge.

“Okay, you do that,” Bucky said. “I’m going to put clothes on before Pepper has to look at me naked. Again.” Because that had happened, and Bucky wasn’t the least bit proud of it. “Just-- Tony-- Don’t hurt yourself, okay?”

“‘Kay,” Tony said carelessly. “Pepper comin’ over?”

“That’s the plan,” Bucky said. He pried himself off the floor. The child he was looking at was… three or four, maybe. Christ, this was going to be a long ass day. “Be right back, yell if you need something.”

Bucky slumped into the bedroom, yanked on a shirt without looking at it, and pulled out sweatpants from his bottom drawer. He had a lot of those, too. Easy change clothes, for his wolfy days.

Jesus, he looked schlubby.

He was pondering the idea of brushing his hair when the doorbell rang. 

“Oh, thank God,” he said, and immediately abandoned morning grooming for answering the door.

Pepper looked entirely put together, which seemed vastly unfair. Even her casual clothes looked perfectly tailored, and her hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail, and she was even wearing makeup. She held up a pair of shopping bags with a smile as the door opened, and then immediately frowned. “Where’s Tony?”

“Kitchen,” Bucky said. “It’s complicated. This curse is complicated. Come on, I’ll show you.”

“What’s complicated about--” Pepper stopped at the door of the kitchen. So did Bucky. Tony was sitting in the middle of the floor, tongue stuck out of the side of his mouth in concentration. The waffle iron was in a dozen pieces, not counting the screws and washers, and Tony was holding a screwdriver he’d found God only knew where -- it could have been anywhere; he was prone to leaving them all over.

He looked up as Bucky and Pepper came into view and beamed hugely. “Pepper! Look! I taked it apart!”

Pepper stared for a moment, and then laughed. “You certainly did! Can you put it back together?”

“‘Course,” Tony said.

“That. That is complicated,” Bucky said. “It’s been what, ninety minutes, give or take, and he’s practically ready for kindergarten.”

“Kin’ergarten,” Tony announced, “is for babies.”

Pepper looked amused. “He built his first circuit board when he was four,” she told Bucky. “And his first engine when he was six.”

“And he’s taken apart his first waffle iron before breakfast,” Bucky said. “But I don’t think this is going to be easy to take care of with a pack of diapers and some baby bottles.”

***

Puberty had been even less fun the second time around; the only saving grace was that it only took him about an hour and a half to get from the first crack of his voice to reaching nearly his adult size and needing a shave. It was probably a good thing it had been so quick; he’d been a monumental asshole to Bucky, who’d been hovering a bit, sympathetic to Tony’s rather excruciating growing pains but unable to help.

By the time lunch was over, Tony was an adult again, able to fit properly into his own clothes, which was a relief. And to hold actual conversations, which was even more of a relief, he was sure, for everyone.

He even managed to do a little bit of work on his laptop over the afternoon, curled on the couch with Bucky as the TV played in the background.

He thought briefly about seducing his boyfriend, taking advantage of a body a solid twenty years younger than they were used to -- but how weird would it be for them to start with Tony around twenty-five and end with him ten years older?

“Hey,” Bucky said, slowly. “Uh… how fast would you estimate that you’re aging?”

 It was hard to judge his exact age, but he did a few quick calculations. “I’d say somewhere between three and three-quarters to four years per hour,” he guessed.

“Yeah,” Bucky said. “And I hate to be a worrier, but you know me, that’s what I do. It doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all. Although admittedly, it’s a lot harder to tell the difference between nineteen and twenty three the same way it was for six and nine.”

“Yeah,” Tony agreed. “Rocketing through my entire childhood in one morning was not my idea of a good time.”

“It was cute, though,” Bucky said, grinning. “I got some great pictures on my phone.” His expression turned serious again. “These curses, they last until dawn. So, uh… how’s your health? Family history of heart failure?” 

“Mm. My folks died in a car accident. But Dad was in his fifties when I was born and he was always pretty energetic.” He reached for Bucky’s hand. “You think it’s going to kill me before the curse can flip again?”

“You’re going to be in your nineties by tomorrow morning,” Bucky confessed. “I am a little worried.”

“Thor said it was going to be difficult but not dangerous, didn’t he?” Tony tried. “I’m sure it’ll be okay. We’ll go to bed when I’m like sixty-five -- hey, I bet I’m even more irresistible as a silver fox -- and when we wake up, I’ll be back to normal. Or. At least, some other curse.”

“You are always irresistible,” Bucky told him. “And he said that, but-- he’s flying around the city setting fire to the rain, I’m not sure he’s the best judge of what’s safe.”

“Maybe,” Tony said. He pulled Bucky’s hand to him and kissed the fingers. “But what choice do we really have, but to wait it out?”

“I was… thinking, hear me out, because I don’t know. What if there’s something actually mystical about the sun rising. Not just dawn Eastern Standard Time, but the actual sun,” Bucky said. “So, like… couldn’t we hop on a plane and go to London?”

Tony considered it. “I suppose that’s possible,” he said. “But what if the magic is tied to this Loki guy? Who knows what would happen if I get too far away?”

“I don’t know,” Bucky confessed. “I just-- look, my dad was sixty when he died. He seemed fine and healthy and then-- I don’t want to lose you because some asshole with a mayhem streak a mile wide doesn’t understand how long the average human being lives.”

“Sweetheart, you’re the most important thing to me,” Tony said earnestly. “If you want to pick up my private jet and fly east, we can do that. But I do feel compelled to point out that, not knowing what curse is going to hit when this one clears up makes that... chancy.”

Bucky chewed his bottom lip, and then looked up at Tony with his entire heart in his eyes. “This-- these… curses, they’ve been annoying and aggravating, and sometimes embarrassing, but this is… really, this is the first time I’ve been scared.”

Tony chewed on his lip, thinking. “Call Fury or Steve or someone on the squad and make them put Thor on the line,” he suggested. “Find out just how far this magic will take things. Surely he has some idea.”

“Right, okay,” Bucky said, and he was scrambling for his cell, getting up to pace around the room. There was a blob of black ink on the back of his sweatpants where seven-ish-year old Tony had an invention backfire, impressively. And another stain that Tony thought might have been jelly. Still, Bucky was rocking the single parent look, which meant maybe one of those conversations earlier in the week might… possibly get some traction, when this was all over.

Assuming it ended anytime soon, anyway. Tony rubbed at the pendant embedded in his chest and scooted back into the corner of the sofa, watching Bucky pace.

“Hey, Barton,” Bucky said into the phone. “You guys got some way to ring up that Norse god dude? I need to talk to him, pronto.”

Bucky frowned. “How hard can it be to find a lady on a flying horse and a guy wearing a red cape?”

Tony snorted. He wondered if he could crack the city traffic cams -- no, the so-called gods were flying. Air traffic control, maybe? He pulled his laptop to him and started a couple of searches spinning.

“No, you owe me, I-- Clint, stop it. Tony’s been cursed, and I swear to you, if something happens to him because you and Fury and your little team of wanna-be super heroes fucks up my life again, you will regret it. Intensely. Find Thor. In the next two hours. I want to talk to him.”

Tony put the laptop down and got up, pulling Bucky into a hug. “I can’t decide if it’s hot, sweet, or a little worrisome that you’re threatening to unleash mayhem on your friends for me.”

“You’re the best thing in my life, Tony,” Bucky said, putting his arms around Tony and kissing his hair. “I would die for you. I would kill someone for you. But maybe, for me, most important? I would live for you.”

Tony tipped his chin up to claim a proper kiss. “That’s the only promise I ever need from you, honey.”

“Besides, I’m not entirely sure that killing Clint wouldn’t be a service to humanity,” Bucky said, a little less seriously. “I mean, you’ve met the guy, he’s a disaster.”

“Uh-huh,” Tony said, not believing a word. “You love Clint. If only because he makes everyone else look good by comparison.”

“I love Clint because he’s a damn good shot,” Bucky corrected. “And he saved my ass a few times. Probably at least one of those was when he was supposed to kill me and missed, so there’s that.” Bucky hugged him again, and Tony could feel the way he was shaking, bone deep. 

Tony squeezed him tighter. “It’s going to be okay,” he promised, even though he knew no such thing.

“I hope so, boss,” Bucky said. He looked like he was about to say more, but the phone vibrated and he snatched it up to answer.

“Yeah… okay, no we’re just-- look, Tony’s gettin’ older here every minute. No, I’m not exaggerating, that’s today’s curse. And-- okay. Okay, is he sure?” Bucky was talking a mile a minute to whoever was on the other end. “What about changing what time dawn is, like-- yeah, okay, I can see that as bein’... no, but he’s gonna be a hundred years old--”

Tony couldn’t hear anything from Bucky’s phone aside from a faint wah-wah-wah. He tried to wait patiently for the conversation to wind down, but it only lasted so long. “What? What’d he say?”

“He said that there should be ‘no permanent effects on the wearer of the medallion,’” Bucky said, then listened some more. “But if you do something like break your hip falling out of bed as an old man, that might carry over. He’s not sure.”

“Well, I guess you’ll just have to take care of me, then,” Tony said. “So, situation normal.”

“Oh, I’ll take care of you, all right,” Bucky growled softly. Then turned his attention back to the phone. “No, not you, sir, Jesus Christ. Gross, Fury. Like, really, that just-- uh huh. Well, tell him to hurry up, I’m gettin’ an ulcer from these curses. Don’t they have like, an official curse-breaker back home or somethin’?”

Tony took the phone out of Bucky’s hand. “Thanks, Nick, let us know if there are any developments, we’ll talk to you later.” He hung up and tossed the phone onto the sofa. “Right, I distinctly heard there was some care-taking about to happen, here.”

“Mmm,” Bucky responded, putting one hand on Tony’s hip. “Just make sure we don’t break this, we’ll be fine.”

Chapter Text

Bucky held Tony’s hand, the skin paper thin and worn, knuckles prominent. Tony’s chest rose and fell, slow, wheezy. An old man’s breath. His hair was white as snow, fuzzy as the baby’s hair had been only that morning.

Tony had, in fact, watched some of it falling out in clumps around eleven, and decided he was going to go to bed with his dignity intact.

It hadn’t taken him very long to fall asleep, and Bucky supposed that was good.

Bucky, on the other hand, couldn’t sleep at all. Every snort and wheeze that Tony made had him bolting upright, just in case. 

In case what, he demanded of himself. There was nothing he could do but wait it out.

Hopefully soon, one of the curses would be lenient or relatively easy, and Bucky could go out and help Thor track Loki down and put him in a hurt locker. Seriously, how did one lose a god inside twenty city blocks?

Bucky glanced at the clock. According to google, the sun was supposed to rise at 6:20, and Bucky was switching back and forth between watching Tony and watching the clock.

They’d made love with a little more fervor than normal, and Bucky kept playing it over; Tony had been maybe mid-twenties when they’d started, athletic and thin and beautiful, and not quite thirty-five yet (he estimated, it was hard to tell) by the time they were laying on the bed and panting for breath.

For some reason, it felt like goodbye . Like they both knew…

Something.

Bucky gritted his teeth and wished he could compel the clock to move faster.

Those wheezy breaths were getting slower, more shallow with every passing moment. The heartbeat that was as important to Bucky as his own, weaker.

Bucky didn’t dare change to his wolf, even if that would have been a little easier to bear, because the animal in him didn’t worry so much. But he would smell Tony dying, and he didn’t think he could stand that.

“Don’t you dare leave me,” he told the old man. Even ancient as he was, Tony was beautiful. Those soft lips smirked, even in sleep. Sarcastic bastard, don’t you die on me now.

Tony’s breathing paused, and then continued. Paused again, hitched. Tony frowned, turned his head a little, let out a weak little cough. Breathed again, but it was slow and labored, as if the very act of filling his lungs was a battle.

Bucky glanced at the clock. 6:19. Hurry up, hurry up...

Tony drew an easier breath, let it out, and didn’t breathe in again.

“Tony, Tony, no, don’t you fucking do it, we’re so close--”

The pendant in Tony’s chest flared suddenly, a blinding blue-white light that flooded the whole room. Bucky cursed and lifted his hand to block the light, but it seemed directionless, inescapable.

A second later, it faded away again. Bucky blinked several times, clearing his vision, trying to convince his pupils to open back up again. And there was Tony, back to normal, closing in on middle age but still healthy and vital, breathing easily, heartbeat strong and steady to Bucky’s somewhat enhanced hearing.

“Tony, thank God.” Bucky lifted Tony’s hand and kissed it, the sheer relief making his throat close and his eyes sting with tears.

Tony’s face scrunched, he turned his head toward Bucky, and his eyelids fluttered open. He stared at Bucky for a few seconds, then ran his hand over his face and hair. “Made it,” he said, his voice sleep-husky but no longer quavering with age.

"Oh my god, that was too close," Bucky said, keeping Tony's hand captive, feeling the strength in those fingers. "Seriously, I thought you were…" He waved his free hand around trying to capture the word without actually saying it. 

Tony squeezed Bucky’s hand, his grip sure and strong. “Christ, did you stay up all night to keep watch, honey?” He pulled Bucky into a hug. “It’s okay, I’m okay. I feel fine, I feel... Wow, you smell good.” He tucked his nose into Bucky’s neck, nipping lightly at the skin there. “Mm, I could just eat you up.” He wriggled a little. “Huh. Having my age cut in half seems to be good for my blood flow.”

Easy for Tony to be amused, he wasn't the one who had been watching his life partner speed through his whole life on fast forward. "Well, yeah," he said. "I mean, I didn't want to find out waking up… that you were… oh, Christ ." Tony had found and was exploiting that sensitive spot right behind Bucky's ear that made him shiver with wanting.

“I know you were worried, sweetheart,” Tony said, breath ghosting over Bucky’s skin. “Let me make it up to you, hm?” His hands were wandering, tweaking Bucky’s nipples, teasing at the waistband of his shorts. “Want to make you feel good.” 

Bucky took a breath, sighed into it. "Yeah, okay. We can do that. Life affirming sex an' all. You… you're feeling okay? No sudden urges to turn into a cat or start speaking in tongues or anything?"

“All I’m feeling,” Tony said, pulling Bucky onto the bed, over him, and stretching up to claim Bucky’s mouth, “is a desperate need to get pounded right through the bed.” His hand slipped into Bucky’s shorts, sliding over Bucky’s cock, stroking it toward hardness. “You think you’re up for that?”

"Oof," Bucky said, grinning. "Yeah, okay… okay honey, I can take care of you." He stropped his body against Tony's like he was a big cat, enjoying the feel of Tony's skin and heat. Watching the way Tony's eyes flared and tracked his movements. Relishing the soft sighs. Perfect. "I love you."

“Love you too,” Tony said, peppering Bucky’s throat and shoulders with kisses and sharp little nips. He rolled his hips, and oh yeah, he was definitely feeling frisky this morning, already hard and hot and leaking a little. He moaned and did it again. “God, you feel good.”

Bucky groaned appreciation and slithered down Tony's body, pausing to lick one nipple into a peak, and then tease with a puff of cool air. Got a hand between them and lightly traced his fingers up Tony's length. "Hello there," he said, nonsensical but loving it anyway. 

Tony gasped and pushed into it. “Oh god, fuck , more, Bucky, please, god, I need more!” His hands clenched on Bucky’s shoulders, pushed restlessly through Bucky’s hair. “Fuck me.”

"Tony? You sure…" Tony was often playfully impatient during, always wanting more, like there was some unknown expiration date on pleasure, but he'd rarely gotten all the way to demanding. Bucky moved his hand and Tony grabbed at his wrist, putting Bucky's palm right back on Tony's dick. He moved, rocking his hips urgently. "You're okay?"

“Fine, I’m fine, I just--” He rolled into Bucky’s hand, whined. “Just really need it. Want you so much.” Tony’s face was flushed and there was sweat at his temples, even though they’d just started.

"A'ight," Bucky said. "Hold that thought like two seconds--" He learned over to grab lube from the bedside table and Tony was quivering with eagerness by the time Bucky was back, rolling him into another series of heated kisses, practically climbing Bucky like a tree, his legs going around Bucky's hips. "I got you, boss."

There was something urgent, desperate about the way Tony was moving, but by the time Bucky got a finger lubed up and was working it into Tony's body, Bucky was too into it to care much. The noise Tony was making was incredible, eager and needy.

He was practically sobbing by the time Bucky had worked up to two fingers, rocking into each thrust, panting and frantic. “More,” he gasped, “I need you, I need you in me, please, honey, god, I need it hard .”

"I'm here," Bucky told him, settling between Tony's thighs. He slicked himself up. "Got you." He pushed himself against Tony's opening, still tight, but hot and slick and Tony was being too frantic to go slower. Bucky made some sort of incoherent sound as Tony raised his hips, practically impaling himself. 

Tony let out a shuddering groan as Bucky sank fully into him, throwing his head back. “Yes, yes, yes,” he chanted, “Bucky, sweetheart, god, you feel so good, I feel so full and-- oh, god, yes ...”

Tony set a feverish rhythm, practically racing toward orgasm and Bucky did his best to match it, straining against Tony, feeling the slick slide of them. It was good, hard and fast, but so good. Tony's fingernails bit into Bucky's shoulders, little zings of sharpness against the soft eagerness that was Tony.

He was pretty sure Tony was going to get there well ahead of him, and sure enough, Tony was clenching and shuddering in moments, grabbing at his dick to stroke off.

“Oh god, oh god, oh fuck, fuck, Bucky--” He kept going, mouth spilling curses and praise and pleading, as if Bucky wasn’t actually on the verge of breaking the damn bed already, until finally his back curved in a gorgeous arch and he cried out, come spraying thick and hot between their bellies. He clamped down on Bucky so hard it was nearly painful, his whole body shuddering through the release.

Bucky shivered and shuddered while Tony clenched around him, then stroked easily through looser muscles, riding out the aftershocks of Tony’s orgasm, sweet and effortless. “There you are, beautiful,” he murmured, kissing Tony’s throat, his chin, and jaw, working his way there, losing himself in the gorgeous pull and flex of Tony’s body. “So good for me, honey. I--”

Tony’s hips were still moving with him, not urging him to hurry up and finish, but the pull and thrust of--

“Jesus, are you hard again ?”

Tony’s eyes closed and he shuddered a little. “More like still . Don’t think I ever went down, it’s just...” He bit his lip, whimpering a little as Bucky dragged over his prostate. “Not as wound up as I was before, but I can feel it building again.”

“Guess it did do somethin’ for your circulation,” Bucky said, chuckling a little breathlessly. “Okay, then--” And he drove in again, because he hadn’t yet, and now he didn’t need to hurry. “-- let’s rock and roll.”

“Yeah,” Tony agreed hoarsely. “Oh yeah, sweetheart, you take such good care of me.” He wrapped his legs around Bucky’s hips, shifting the angle and drawing Bucky in even deeper.

“You know I always want to,” Bucky told him. “Love lovin’ you, Tony, you feel so good, so perfect.” He strained, feeling his arms shaking with the effort, back flexing. Sweat gathered at the back of his neck, prickled along his back, and they moved together in perfect harmony until Bucky finally shuddered, gasped, stiffened, as pressure built and built until-- “Oh, god, Tony!”

“So good,” Tony gasped. He reached between them, jerking himself the rest of the way there with a loud moan. “Oh, god.”

Bucky panted, kept himself from falling on Tony through sheer willpower. “You’re the best,” he said, kissing the little spot between Tony’s eyebrows.

“I beg to differ,” Tony said, grinning. He tipped his chin up for a kiss, and they didn’t move for a long moment, gathering strength again.

Bucky was just about ready to roll off and go get a washcloth to clean up with when Tony’s breath hitched a little and he shifted, rubbing himself against Bucky’s abdomen, and, “What the hell, again? ” Tony had sometimes gone twice, back when they were first starting, but mostly they were a once-a-night is plenty couple. Neither of them were teenagers, for Christ’s sake.

Tony whined a little. “I can’t... It just keeps coming back!”

Bucky moved, shifting, and slid out, making Tony whimper. “Oh… oh, god .” He glanced over at the clock. It was seven-thirty, dawn only an hour ago. “What-- Tony, what if that’s today’s curse?”

Tony stared at him. “Like... sex pollen?”

“Well, it’s a little one sided,” Bucky said, “But, yeah, I mean, look at you, boss, already ready to go again…” 

“I guess--” Tony shifted, reached down to grab himself with a shudder. “I guess that makes sense. It definitely feels more urgent than pretty much ever before in my life . Though we’ve had worse, yeah?”

“Yeah, well, we’re gonna have one problem, and that’s that I am not any kind of sex-god,” Bucky said, watching despite himself, fascinated, as Tony masturbated, utterly shameless. He felt a little stir of something in his groin, a spark of interest. But he wasn’t going to get there in time to help Tony out.

Tony didn’t seem too bothered, though. “You are absolutely a sex god,” he countered, leaning in for a kiss that Bucky was more than happy to give him. Tony groaned into Bucky’s mouth, his movements growing more and more frenetic, then pulled away just enough to push his face against Bucky’s throat as he panted. “Fuck, oh, oh, god, I love you, you’re so amazing, I don’t--” He stiffened and shivered. “-- god .”

Tony went limp, gasping. “Christ, I’m a mess. How am I still producing come? My testicles ought to be wrung dry by now.”

“You’re complaining about biology now ? After you spent most of the day before last as a kitten?” Bucky threw his hands up. Metaphorically, because the literal ones were a little lube-slick. “Come on, if we’ve got a few minutes of a break, let’s get cleaned up.”

“Focusing on the science helps distract me,” Tony said. He grabbed a few kleenex to wipe up most of the mess, then rolled to his feet. “Shower sounds good; let’s do it.”

By the time they made it into the bathroom, a distance of maybe half a dozen steps, he had an erection again.

“I should totally not be impressed, but I gotta admit, I am,” Bucky said, turning the shower on. “Tell ya what, why don’t I blow you in the shower. If I’m spending all day in bed with you -- and this is not in any way a complaint -- we’re going to at least make some effort toward hygiene and keepin’ hydrated. Okay? Deal?”

“Hm?” Tony stepped into the spray with a grin. “I pretty much stopped listening after you offered to blow me.”

“You are so spoiled ,” Bucky told him, but stepped into the shower after him. He managed to wash his hair, even with Tony rubbing all over him, getting him hard again, and giggling and chasing Bucky’s mouth with his own, until Bucky went down on his knees, and Tony was all business again. 

Bucky loved shower sex; he didn’t worry so much about random spit, and everything was clean and warm. He got Tony backed up against the tile, braced against the wall, balanced on one foot, the other hooked over Bucky’s shoulder, and then he swallowed Tony down to the root.

Tony was always vocally appreciative of Bucky’s blow jobs, but this was something else. Apparently even the brief wait for Bucky to scrub down had driven him half-mad; he practically screamed when Bucky started sucking him, and commenced babbling immediately.

Bucky couldn’t decide if it was good or bad that Tony seemed to be on a hair trigger; even after three rounds in the bed, it took only a few minutes for him to reach his climax again, both hands braced against the tiles and his head thrown back, water collecting in the hollow of his collarbones.

He spit, because Jesus, there was still a lot of it, then gazed up at Tony. “You are gorgeous, you know that, right?” Bucky got to his feet, knees complaining after only a few minutes on the hard ceramic surface.

“You certainly go out of your way to tell me that on a regular basis,” Tony said, smiling a little dopily. He pushed his fingers through Bucky’s hair, then reached for the soap, scrubbing down quickly. “You want me to return the favor now, or save it for later? Since apparently there’s going to be plenty of options for you.”

“I think I’ll save it,” Bucky said. “Right now, I’m tryin’ to work olympic levels of sex logistics. We’re gonna need supplies.”

Tony nodded, chewing on his lip and looking slightly distracted. Christ, he was getting hard again . “Might as well buy out all of the things on our curious-and-intrigued wishlist,” he said. “Too bad there’s no such thing as an automated jerkoff machine. Maybe I should invent one.”

“I was thinking more like lube, and stuff to drink, and snacks we can eat in the, like, three minutes or so before you go gettin’-- yeah, that,” Bucky said, looking at Tony while he squirmed restlessly. “Of course, tyin’ you down and makin’ you wait for it might actually count as cruel and unusual right about now.”

Tony whimpered. “Yeah, that’s going to be a red flag,” he said. “I’m already completely desperate.”

Bucky leaned in, pushing Tony against the tiles, letting the water sluice over them. “No, not today, but I could tell you about all th’ things I want to do to you, give you a little somethin’ to focus on, an’ let you imagine it all. You think you might like that, sometime later? Bein’ stretched, spread eagle, no friction ‘cept what I let you have--”

Tony gasped and whined and came again, and dropped his head to Bucky’s shoulder. “You,” he panted, “are a very bad man.”

“I dunno, you seem to like it,” Bucky said. “Mus’ be doing something right. All right, can you hold it for like, a few minutes? I won’t get offended if you start without me, but you really need to think about lube, boss. You’re gonna get hella friction burns if you’re not careful.”

Tony sighed. “I can probably hold off for about thirty seconds. Soap is slippery.”

“Okay,” Bucky said. “It’ll be okay. I’m gonna take care of you, promise. Right now, I’m gonna get out and set up what we got at the bed, okay? You do what you need to, and then I’ll come get you, so you don’t fall and crack your head. That would suck.”

One step at a time. Get dried off, grab whatever quick breakfast he could find. Get towels and wet wipes -- at least he had some of those from yesterday’s adventures in babysitting -- next to the bed. Some bottles of water. Check on Tony-- God, he was so beautiful, wrung out and sex crazed, and it was probably wrong of Bucky to find that so damn amazing, but he did and he was. And Tony was amazing.

“Right… do I even want to know how many-- no, I don’t want to know. Come on, Tony, let’s get you out of the shower and dried off, okay?”

Tony nodded, looking slightly dazed. He let Bucky lead him out of the shower and towel him off, though by the time that was done, he was rubbing up against Bucky again, seeking more friction.

Bucky had done the best he could, spreading a couple of spare sheets over their bed. They could work their way down in layers if they needed to. “Come on, let’s see if we can just--” Tony was on the bed, practically biting the pillows, ass up. “Okay, okay, honey, I got it.” He grabbed the lube. “Tell ya what, why don’t I just finger you for a bit and you can jerk it when you need to. Here, here, take the lube.” 

He tested the opening to Tony’s body, still squeezing down on his finger, loose and pliant. “Yeah, is that good for you?”

Tony pushed back into it, moaning. “So good,” he said. “So good, Bucky, you’re the best, absolutely the best , I love you so much...”

Bucky moved his hand, getting two fingers in and fucking Tony with them. At first it was hot as hell, watching Tony, desperate and needy and begging for it. And then it got a little awkward, because it just kept going… but by the time Tony had come a third time, it was back to being super hot. He was just getting hard again, thinking he might be able to let Tony ride him for a while.

Which of course, was when the phone rang.

Bucky glanced at it, over on the bedside table. “Uh, it’s Pepper,” he told Tony, grimacing a little.

Tony groaned and pulled a pillow over his head. “No, I can not talk to Pepper like this.”

"Yeah, that would be a bad plan," Bucky said. His phone buzzed once more, then a minute later, kicked up a voicemail. 

Bucky was about to say something else when Tony made a soft, almost anguished sound and came. 

"Okay. You need to hydrate for a minute, have something to eat. I'll call Pepper," Bucky said. "Because you know she'll get worried if she doesn't hear from us."

And what Pepper would do if she got worried was anyone's guess, but any of it would probably be embarrassing for Tony.

Tony nodded, and for a moment Bucky wondered if he’d even actually heard or was just reacting to the sound of Bucky’s voice. But then he pushed up and reached for the bottle of sports drink Bucky had left on the table, downing half of it in one long series of swallows.

"Great," Bucky said. He went into the bathroom and washed his hands. "Let me get you… ah!" He pulled a basic vibrator out of the toy drawer. "Eat something if you can. I'll keep Pepper from dropping in. And maybe order some more lube." 

Tony grabbed for the vibrator with one hand, the other still holding the drink bottle to his mouth.

Bucky paused long enough to kiss Tony's hair. "Love you," he said. "Hang in there."

Tony finished the drink and dropped the empty bottle on the floor. “Love you, too. This may actually be the worst curse.”

"Yeah," Bucky agreed. He couldn't imagine not being satisfied, as much sex as they had already had...

Bucky dropped, still naked, into his desk chair, opening his laptop and pulled up a small, discreet little shop to place an order. The nice thing about being in love with Tony Stark (aside from all the obvious things like how great he was) was that they could pay a courier to bring them whatever they needed, no questions asked.

Well probably some questions, but Bucky was going to ignore that.

While he was doing that, he used his cell to call Pepper. And kept an ear on Tony. Multitasking. And not at all in the fun way.

“Oh, Bucky! I just tried to call Tony a few minutes ago. Is he okay?”

“I know,” Bucky said, tapping in his order. Hmmm. There were a few masturbatory toys that he’d always been interested in, this might be a good time to try some of them out. “He’s fine, but really cannot talk today.” 

“Ooh, is that today’s curse? I’ve never actually seen Tony unable to talk; that might be interesting!”

Bucky coughed. “Uh, no,” he said. “It’s not like that, it’s just…” Tony was making some very interesting noises in the bedroom, and-- “If I said it was a Priapus curse would you know what that meant?”

Pepper was silent for a few seconds, and then said briskly, “Well, I’ll just let you two get on with things, then, shall I?”

“Thank you,” Bucky said, fervently. “I’m… gonna go now.”

He hung up, tapped a few more things to his order, and left a note saying to just leave the box outside the door.

There probably were going to be questions, but Bucky didn’t really want to look anyone in the face for them. 

He switched his phone to Do Not Disturb. Took a few deep breaths.

Time to man up.

In a situation where, for once, that phrase might actually mean something.

 

Chapter Text

Even with lube, after twenty-four hours of nearly continuous jerking it, Tony’s dick was sore, aching from too much friction and handling. Bucky had given up and fallen asleep around three in the morning, utterly exhausted. Tony couldn’t blame him -- Tony was exhausted, too, but every time he tried to doze off, his balls ached like they were going to fall off or explode or something if he didn’t get his rocks off.

He was biting his lip, desperately trying not to whimper from the pain of chafing, when the first rays of light filtered through the window, and that insatiable ache faded away.

Tony flopped back on the bed, panting. “I’ve never been so relieved not to come,” he told the ceiling.

Or tried to. But at the first syllable, a thick, heavy tickle filled his throat, and he coughed out -- a flower?

“What--” He coughed again. A silver coin fell into his hand.

“Shit--” That one was long and thick, and resulted in... what the everliving fuck, a god damned snake? Tony scrambled back, away from it, and it slithered irritably away -- Tony assumed it was irritated, anyway; he certainly would be.

“Bucky!” Another cough, and another flower. An... orchid, of some sort.

Bucky opened an eye, and said eye was peering directly at-- said very annoyed snake.

It had been a long damn time since Tony had seen his boyfriend go from human to wolf. Bucky usually changed in the bathroom to avoid unnecessarily weirdness. Or when there was something dangerous. A live, hissing, irate cobra that was pulling itself up and into a striking position decidedly counted as dangerous, and Tony went from being moderately annoyed and exhausted to being utterly terrified.

Bucky grew fur and fangs so fast, it was a blur, and then-- with a quick lunge, the wolf grabbed the snake around the middle and bit down, snapping it in half and dousing the blankets in blood and gore.

“Gross.” This one was fat and squishy and -- a frog. Or maybe a toad. Tony didn’t know how to tell the difference. He whimpered -- that resulted in a handful of flower petals, so apparently it didn’t have to even be full words -- and looked at Bucky helplessly.

Bucky snarled, fangs showing. He snuffled at the frog, which made a croaking sound and hopped away from the wolf snout being poked in its direction.

The bed was utterly, utterly wrecked; even if the previous day’s sheets hadn’t needed to be burned before, which they might have done, they certainly did now, with huge wolfy nail gouges in the sheets and all the way down to the mattress.

Bucky scrambled off the bed, whining.

Tony opened his mouth, then clapped a hand over it and reached for his tablet instead. Coughing stuff up whenever I use my voice, he typed, and turned it for Bucky to read.

Bucky tipped his head sideways, looking utterly doglike and confused before barking twice. No, no. Although it was hard to tell if Bucky was no-ing at the curse, or no-ing that he couldn’t read it. His wolf brain was bigger than Tony’s kitten brain had been, but Tony wouldn’t have wanted to read while he was an animal.

Bucky huffed a great sigh, then sniffed all the way around on the bed, chasing the frog all the way off the bed, and then, apparently unable to resist a moving target, snuffled at it until it disappeared into the hallway, croaking the whole way.

After doing his guard dog duties and protecting Tony from all things reptilian (and amphibian), he hopped back up on the bed and yawned obnoxiously.

“Yeah--” Tony coughed out something small and sharp that... was than an emerald? He stared at it for a moment, then put it on the bedtable and grabbed the tablet again. Yeah, some sleep sounds good. Let’s hope I don’t talk in my sleep.

Bucky tugged at the mangled sheet with a sigh, got the blanket mostly over the wet nasty bits, and curled up, apparently too tired to even worry about switching back. He yawned again and then exaggerated closing his eyes before watching Tony closely to make sure he was following suit.

Okay. All he had to do was not talk for a day. He could do that, right? How hard could it be?

Tony nearly said right aloud, catching himself only at the last second. This... might be even harder than the sex pollen. Maybe he could just sleep through it. He sighed, curled up against his favorite wolf, and closed his eyes.

Bucky tucked his snout over Tony’s shoulder, cold nose on his throat for just a second and then… sleep. It reached out to claim Tony with both hands, and for a change, Tony didn’t even try to fight it.

It felt like he’d barely closed his eyes, although the sun had moved, so he probably did sleep, when various other parts of his body checked in; he was god-awful thirsty, had to piss like a racehorse, and eating something would not go amiss anytime soon.

Also, sore.

Nearly every muscle he had ached, each joint was complaining of misuse, and he’d apparently practically bitten a hole in his lower lip. 

Fuck--” That got him another goddamned snake, though at least this time it was a garden snake, not a dangerous one. Tony sighed and went looking for a container of some sort to put the animals in, because he was pretty sure this was not the last time he was going to forget and try to talk today.

But first, he was going to pee.

Which was vastly unpleasant, as raw as his dick still was. Tony winced and gritted his teeth and tried not to whine. He didn’t quite succeed, but he only coughed out a few coins, so he was going to count that as a win.

Okay, first he was going to get a fucking icepack for his nether regions, and then he was going to find a bucket or something for the snakes and frogs.

Tony was washing his hands when Bucky made sharp yipping sound, and then -- thud -- fell out of the bed. 

Tony dropped the towel and darted for the bedroom. “Honey?” Flowers again, great. At least they were fairly soft and not alive.

Bucky’s hackles were up, he was standing stiff-legged on the floor, snarling at-- a handful of squirmy little pollywogs on the bed. When the hell had Tony spit those up? He didn’t even remember.

Tony made what he hoped was an apologetic face. Maybe he should just camp out in the bathroom for this one. Like living down a night of partying, in his youth.

Except he was too old to sit on a hard floor for hours at a time. He made another face and went in search of something to eat. The snake and the frog and the tadpoles could take care of themselves for a little while.

The kitchen showed signs that Bucky had been in, made a few hasty sandwiches -- at least two of which Tony could remember eating -- and there were a dozen or more empty water bottles in the recycling. 

On the plus side, Bucky had a robust metabolism, and even when their entire week had been derailed, there was almost always food. Leftover pasta and take out boxes in the fridge, granola bars in the pantry, and if he got really desperate, there was a box of Hot Pockets in the freezer, shoved all the way in the back. 

Bucky made some sort of noise from the living room, then-- “Ow, ow, ow. No, it’s fine, Tony, I jus’... oh, Christ, I’m tired.” He schlepped into the kitchen, naked as a jaybird, bed head doing a remarkable hedge impersonation, and liberally marked with love bites on his neck, shoulders, hip, and thigh. 

Tony winced, opened his mouth, remembered just in time, and threw up his hands in frustration. It wasn’t even lunchtime yet. He wondered if any of the rush-order sex toys Bucky had ordered yesterday were a damn gag.

“It’s okay,” Bucky told him, which was a flat out lie, there was nothing okay about any of this, really. “Honestly, I’m impressed. Yesterday was… impressive. Just worn out. We’ll get through this. You want me t’ make you a grilled cheese?” 

Tony nodded eagerly, putting his hands together in a pleading gesture that he hoped conveyed “please” without him having to talk.

“Yeah, I can do that,” Bucky said. He handed Tony an ice pack and a bottle of water. “Sit down an’ rest some, I know I conked out on ya early, so I’m a little less wrung out than you are. Gonna throw some clothes on before I get hot grease somewhere unpleasant.”

Tony nodded and kissed Bucky on the cheek, then took the water and the ice pack to the couch. He settled in a corner and put the ice pack on his lap, and was unable to suppress the groan of relief as it soothed his too-warm flesh. That got him another frog, smaller than the first. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes. Another long day.

Bucky came back in, draped a bathrobe over the back of Tony’s chair, and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead. “It’ll be okay, boss. We’ll just chill. Watch some tv or something. Eat. Rest. Do a lot of meaningful staring into each other’s eyes, since talking is Right Out.”

Tony sputtered out a laugh, which made a small shower of coins and flower petals fall out of his mouth, but it was totally worth it.

“Is this stuff even real,” Bucky wondered, plucking a coin from Tony’s lap. “Wow, look at this thing, this is like some 1700s Spanish pirate bullshit here. Where the hell is it coming from?” He waved the coin, a mostly worn-off portrait of a man on it, the edge rubbed off. “Don’t answer that.” He put the coins in a stack on the kitchen table and pulled out the griddle, started up toasting bread and frying bacon.

Tony opened the bottle of water and took a sip. Yeah. Long-ass day.

A few minutes later, and some amazing smells, and Bucky put a plate in front of him with grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches on it. “It’ll be okay. We’ll get through this.” Bucky sounded a little worn out, and Tony didn’t blame him. Even if this had been the week from fucking hell for Tony, Bucky was just as much a prisoner of the curse as Tony was. Maybe even worse.

Tony caught Bucky’s hand, pulled it to him, and kissed the back of it. I’m sorry.

“I know, boss,” Bucky said. “Nothin’ for you to feel bad on. I’ll call Fury later, see if we got any updates on the whereabouts of the worst person on the planet.”

Tony nodded. At least this curse was... theoretically avoidable, if Tony could manage to keep his mouth shut. Maybe Bucky could go out and help look. Or at least get some damn sleep.

“Oh, an’ Pep sent over some texts yesterday,” Bucky said. “You were… erm... preoccupied. The official word is that you have some sort of flu and have been advised to stay in bed and avoid people, but you’re resting comfortably at home. Something like that.”

Bucky dropped into the chair, taking a mouthful of his own sandwich.

Tony sniffed out something like a laugh, but put up a thumb to acknowledge the PR move. He took another bite of his sandwich. Maybe if he kept eating, he would remember not to try to talk.

Between them, they polished off most of a loaf of bread, half the remaining cheese, and the last bit of ice cream that was lurking in the freezer behind the Hot Pockets where it’d been forgotten until now. 

Bucky set them up with some television, nothing too funny, or brainy. Syndicate reruns of Castle, which was just dumb enough that Tony didn’t try to solve the murder mystery, but occasionally funny. At least laughing didn’t produce frogs and lizards.

***

It was closing on midnight when Fury finally called back. 

“There is a goddamn baby crocodile in my bathtub, Fury, so you better have something more than, ‘you think you know what he’s after.’”

Fury didn’t bluster, or make excuses, or admit to errors. That was something Bucky knew from way back. The best he could hope for was an explanation.

Bucky listened, but mostly he watched Tony, who was half asleep in front of the TV. Every little snore or noise as he slept showed up as a flower or a coin or a skink. There were enough lizards in their house to start a zoo display. 

“Right, okay,” Bucky said. “Trap. Tomorrow. Got it. If Tony’s doing okay, I’ll meet you there and help take him out.”

Tony opened one eye, glanced over at Bucky, and raised an eyebrow. He’d gotten pretty decent with non-verbal communication, though he still slipped up and tried to talk every once in a while.

“They think they found Loki,” Bucky explained. “They’re setting up some sort of parley with him, to exchange some artifact to get him to go away. Thor’s supposed to show up and arrest him. I dunno, sounds like one of Steve’s plans to me.”

Tony reached for his tablet. I want in.

“We’ll see what tomorrow’s curse is,” Bucky said, gently. “You’re not at your best, boss.” 

Tony pouted at him, but then tipped his head and sighed, conceding the point. Punch the bastard for me.

“Oh yeah, you know it,” Bucky said. “One for you, one for me, and once for every goddamn reptile, amphibian, and slimy thing that’s come out of your mouth today.”

Bucky hung up on the sound of Fury laughing at him. Because of course Fury knew how Bucky felt about slimy, grotesque animals.

I am so ready for this to be done, Tony wrote irritably. Hope you get him.

 

Chapter Text

Tony woke before dawn, feeling well-rested. That wasn’t surprising; they’d gone to bed early the night before after Tony had forgotten the curse and yelled at some not only wrong but internally inconsistent science in the movie they were watching, and then spent the next fifteen minutes hacking up a five-foot-long boa constrictor.

There was a scatter of flower petals, coins, and a few gems in the bed, presumably from Tony muttering in his sleep. He assumed any animals he’d produced had already found their way off the bed and were roaming the penthouse. Mentally, he put hire an exterminator high on the list of things to do as soon as they’d gotten this curse removed.

Bucky was sprawled on his stomach next to Tony, fast asleep. Tony sat up and leaned against the headboard to watch his breathing, the soft rise and fall of his back.

God, Tony had known Bucky loved him, but this whole mess was definitely above and beyond. Tony was going to have to do something especially nice for his boyfriend once this was all done. But at least they’d had one relatively calm night, been able to get some sleep.

Outside, the sky was coloring in with shades of orange and purple and yellow. Tony hummed a little, and then grimaced and spat out a coin. Not officially sunrise yet, he guessed. It would be soon, though.

He watched the sky grow lighter and lighter, the vivid colors fading, turning the coin over idly in his fingers. And then, between one breath and the next, the coin... disappeared.

Startled, Tony looked at the bed. All the flowers and coins and gems were gone. Huh. Okay. Tony hoped that meant that all the frogs and snakes and lizards were gone, too. That would be convenient; he hadn’t been looking forward to having to explain to Animal Control why he had several foreign and endangered species in his home without any accompanying permits.

Just to test it, Tony hummed cautiously. Nothing. “Hello?” No tickle in his throat. Tony sighed in relief. Whatever today’s curse was, at least he would be able to talk.

Bucky stirred a little, turned his face toward Tony. “Mm?”

“Hey, sweetheart,” Tony said. “I can talk again.”

Bucky’s eyes blinked open slowly, and he smiled when he focused on Tony. “Mornin’,” he said. “Anything weird happen yet?”

Tony shook his head. “Not yet. Guess we’ll find out eventually.” He dropped his hand on Bucky’s head to brush the hair away, and Bucky froze.

He didn’t just go still. He stopped, utterly and completely, and even his hair didn’t move under Tony’s touch. Tony yanked his hand back, staring in horror. “Bucky?”

Bucky didn’t answer. He laid on the bed, looking up at Tony, a golden statue.

“Oh, god,” Tony whispered. “No, no, no--” He tried touching Bucky again in the hope that it was an on-and-off effect, like his shapeshifting transformation. But Bucky remained unchanged. “No! Bucky! Bucky, please!

Tony slammed his hand against the headboard in frustration and fear, and it creaked a little as it transformed as well, into glittering gold.

The Midas curse.

Tony put his arms around Bucky’s cold and unyielding body, rested his forehead against Bucky’s, his throat tight with grief. No. No, this couldn’t be happening, he couldn’t have lost the best thing ever to happen to him, over something as stupid as this!

No. Maybe... Maybe it was as temporary as the curse itself. The frogs and snakes had been temporary. This had to be temporary, too. The sun would rise tomorrow and Bucky would be fine.

But what if he wasn’t?

What if all the gold just... went away?

He could hope that the curse would reverse itself with the next sunrise, but he didn’t know for certain that it would. The only way to be certain was to confront the maker of the magic.

Unthinking, Tony reached for his phone. It turned into a gold brick the instant his fingers touched it. “Damn it!”

Tony grabbed at the blanket to throw it off, and it went stiff and heavy, nearly trapping his legs. “Fuck.” He squirmed out from under it, carefully holding his hands away from anything else they might touch. He sat up and tucked his feet into his slippers, which promptly turned to gold. “Oh, come on, feet too?!”

Midas, Tony recalled vaguely, had not been able to eat because the food turned to gold as soon as it touched the king’s tongue. He looked down at himself and -- yeah, his t-shirt and boxers seemed to have turned to gold, though it was still finely-woven cloth and therefore somewhat flexible. The blanket, on closer inspection, was in a similar state, though its thicker fibers were far less bendable.

Tony dropped his head into his hands. He had to think.

Bucky’s phone was still on Bucky’s bedside table, plugged in and charged.

Tony shuffled around the bed in his heavy, uncomfortable slippers, and stared at it for a long moment, considering.

The floor had not turned to gold under Tony’s slippers, so a preventative barrier was possible, obviously. He just had to figure out how thick that barrier needed to be.

Tony made his way over to the desk, stripping off his cloth-of-gold shirt as he went. He wrapped his hand in it, then carefully picked up a pencil.

The pencil stayed plastic and metal and graphite. Okay. Okay, he could do this. Hand wrapped in the shirt, Tony opened the desk drawer and found a rarely-used stylus, cautiously picking that up. He went back to Bucky’s phone, using the stylus to jab it awake.

It prompted him for a passcode. Tony started at it, unblinking, until the screen winked out again.

With a sigh, Tony poked it back on, and entered 8-6-6-9.

The home screen lit up, and Tony couldn’t suppress a little snort of laughter for the obviousness of that code. And then his throat closed up again, because if he didn’t fix this, then he might never get to tease Bucky about it.

He swallowed a few times until he was able to breathe and talk again, then found the contacts list and scrolled down: Fury, Nick.

He tapped the number, and put the phone on speaker while it was ringing.

“Barnes, I told you I’d let you know when I have something,” Fury said, irritable. Probably for being awoken only half an hour after sunrise, but Tony didn’t much care.

“This isn’t Bucky,” Tony said. “I need your help. It’s an emergency.” He was proud of how calm he sounded.

“Who is-- Stark? Where’s Barnes? What happened?”

“You ever hear the story of King Midas?” Tony asked.

“...Shit.”

“Yeah,” Tony agreed. “So I really, really need to be with you when you spring that trap on Loki today, because I need him to undo this.” He sounded, maybe, a little less than perfectly calm, there.

Fury either didn’t notice or didn’t care. “Yeah, okay. I’ll text you--”

“Don’t text me; I bricked my phone. Text Bucky. I found a way to access his without touching it directly.”

“Right. I’ll text Barnes when I know where we’re meeting up. Listen, though: you do this, you’re doing it as one of my soldiers. You’re going to do what I say, when I say it.”

Yeah, like that was ever going to happen. “Whatever you say, Nicky. Just get me in front of the bastard.”

The biggest problem with gold, aside from the whole Bucky was a living statue thing -- and Tony paused for a long moment, wrestling with grief and guilt and fear -- was that it was heavy and not particularly flexible. Also, as Tony knew, but rediscovered quickly, it conducted heat pretty well. The gold slippers were like wearing bricks on his feet, the gold boxers hung awkwardly on his hips and he was sweating uncomfortably. 

Touching a dresser drawer to open it broke the rest of the dresser, the wooden frame unable to support the weight of the golden drawer.

Think, think, think. There had to be a way to get around this.

He borrowed one of Bucky’s bathrobes to cover the most amount of skin possible without weighing him down, a silky little thing that Bucky sometimes wore when his intent was for Tony to take it off of him as soon as possible.

It was significantly less soft and silky as soon as Tony touched it.

And apparently gold tuxedos and suits were going to be a thing, as Tony brushed a whole rack of clothes with his shoulder as he moved through the closet. They promptly broke the hangers they were on and crashed to the floor, denting the polished wood.

Tony sighed, but as long as he was in there, he looked for shoes that wouldn’t be as heavy as the slippers, which had been thick and plush and were now just thick and heavy. In the back of the shoe rack, he spotted a pair of flip-flops. They would neither flip nor flop once they’d turned to gold, but they were thinner than the slippers. Tony grabbed one of the broken hangers -- which promptly turned to gold -- and used the hook end to retrieve the flip-flops and carry them out of the closet.

They were uncomfortable, but significantly less heavy than the slippers, which was all Tony could ask for, at this point. He shrugged into the bathrobe. Its tie was too densely woven to actually function once it had turned to gold, so he discarded it and instead found a couple of tie-tacks -- which were already gold, at least -- to pin the bathrobe shut with.

He glanced in the mirror, and it would have been comical, if Bucky’s gleaming form hadn’t been visible behind him on the bed.

Tony kissed Bucky’s head. “I’m going to make this right, sweetheart,” he promised. “Somehow. I swear.”

He wrapped his hands in fabric and cautiously unplugged Bucky’s phone and dropped it into the bathrobe pocket, along with the stylus.

Obviously, he wasn’t going to be able to eat. He wondered if he would be able to drink water, even. He went into the kitchen to try it out.

Moving around with his hands swatched in fabric was awkward, and he poked gingerly into the cabinet to pull out a plastic mug. Very carefully, he used the stylus to turn on the water. The last thing he needed was the pipes (and possibly the water behind it) to turn into gold, which would burst the pipes and god only knew what else.

He caught a little water in the cup and cautiously dipped his finger into it. It seemed to remain water. Cautiously, he took a sip. Okay. Okay, so he wasn’t going to collapse from dehydration. That was good. He could go a day without eating, but drinking was a little more urgent.

He carefully took the phone back out and put it on the counter where he’d be able to hear it. “Okay, Nicky. Text me.”

For a long time, Fury did not text. 

Bucky’s phone, on the other hand, buzzed frequently. Bucky had a ton of alarms and reminder chirps. Today’s list of tasks included getting coffee ready, checking to make sure they had enough pods for the week. Going for a walk, talking with Gwen, making sure Tony ate breakfast. Nothing particularly urgent or important, just all the little things that Bucky did to keep Tony’s life moving along smoothly. 

It was terrifying to realize, really, that Tony hadn’t even really noticed. Well, he had noticed; he’d noticed that he was more productive in shorter periods of time. That he was generally in a better mood these last several months than he had been before. He’d credited most of it to Bucky, just… he knew Bucky was good for him, that Bucky looked after him. He just hadn’t realized… exactly… how much Bucky was taking care of him.

He wondered how much that annoyed Bucky, that Bucky was doing all these things, and Tony hadn’t even really noticed. He made a note to himself: when he was able to use his phone again, he needed to put in some reminders for himself, to do things to show Bucky how much Tony appreciated... everything.

He could feel himself beginning to slide down the spiral of self-recrimination toward self-loathing and a particularly unappealing pity party, but it was hard to put on the brakes and jump out of the way of that train when his lover had been turned into a statue and Tony was barely clinging to the hope that it was reversible. He closed his eyes and rubbed at his face. “Dammit, Fury,” he muttered, “hurry up.”

Finally, finally Fury texted, a brief note that basically gave an address and a time. Tony looked it up, very carefully tapping the phone with the stylus. The last thing he needed to do right now was break the phone while he had no other means of contact. 

It wasn’t far, and that was good because Tony wasn’t sure how possible a longer trip would be. Walking was absolutely out; he could accidentally brush up against dozens of people without even the slightest bit of effort. As it was, he was going to have to have Happy go through some ridiculous precautions, just to be able to get in the car.

Heavy-duty plastic tarps, to line the seat, and Happy would have to open and close the doors, just in case. And keep his hands to himself.

Tony tapped Bucky’s contact list again and brought up Pepper’s number. Thank all the stars and scientists for Pepper. Tony didn’t know what he’d do without her. Which meant she had to stay as far away from him today as possible. 

As soon as she answered, he said, “Pepper, I need your help, and I need you to stay away.” She knew about the curses; he could explain and she wouldn’t think he’d gone mad.

“Tony,” she said, and she sounded delighted. “I haven’t talked to you in a while, Bucky said it’s been pretty uncomfortable. Are you feeling any better? What can I do?”

Tony closed his eyes. “I need to travel. It’s only a half-mile or so, but it’s absolutely imperative that I not touch anything on the way. Especially--” His throat closed again, and he forced words through it. “Especially people.”

Very gently, as carefully as if Pepper thought he was made of spun glass and would shatter at a single touch, “What happened?”

“I’ve got the Midas touch,” Tony said, just as cautiously. “Anything solid that I touch with my skin... Bucky--” He couldn’t finish.

He heard her take a sharp, pained breath, and then her voice was practical and emotionless in his ear. “All right, I can do that. I’ll drive you myself, to keep this private. The last thing you need is a mob of people trying to get you to make them instantly rich. I’ll see what I can do about getting you something comfortable to wear, lightweight but solid. Everything you need. Will that be all, Mr. Stark?”

Thank god for Pepper. “That will be all, Ms. Potts. Thank you.”

***

Pepper had outdone herself, with a slick entry method into the vehicle, like an adult version of one of those child’s pop-tubes, so he could move into the car without actually touching anything. Pepper opened the door and closed it behind him while he sat gingerly on sheets of durable plastic that, wherever it rubbed him, turned a little golden, like foil. She had thin, woven gloves for him to put on, and thin cotton wrapping to secure those places where his skin was, by necessity, exposed. A kilt to wrap around his waist, which would preserve modesty and not chafe between his legs.

 Pepper didn’t talk to him much as she drove, either because she had nothing to say, or because she knew Tony was barely holding himself together as it was.

She passed him through a security checkpoint, and then had to stop near the building’s door to let him out. “Here, one last thing, Mr. Stark,” she said, and offered him a-- knife? One of those silicon kitchen knives with a thick, colorful handle and a matching sheath. “I thought this might work, if you need a close-in weapon. The blade is attached to, but not part of, the handle.”

“You’re a miracle,” Tony told her honestly. “Go on home. If everything goes well, the curse will be lifted when this is all done.”

They didn’t mention what would happen if everything did not go well.

Tony made it to the door, and someone pushed it open for him, staying well back from Tony as he entered. It was Wilson, the man who had used Bucky’s cooking skills to woo his wife. “Fury told us you were contagious, so we’ve got a rotation set up to guard you. Me an’ Steve are on this circuit. There’ll be more if Loki don’t show up on time. Come on, this way.”

Tony nodded. Normally, he would have offered to shake Wilson’s hand, but he kept his hands in their stiff gloves clasped tightly in front of him. “He has to be able to undo it all,” Tony said, aware that he sounded desperate. He was desperate.

“He’s a tricky bastard,” Wilson said. “And prone to thinking he’s funny. I spent most of Monday as a bird, after he transformed a bunch of us. Wore off as soon as the sun came up, but man… I’m just grateful it was more than one of us. The birdbrain jokes were gonna get old.”

“I spent most of a day as a cat,” Tony offered in commiseration, though in retrospect, that day had been pretty good, really. “What’s the plan, here?”

“Not entirely certain,” Wilson said. “Loki’s been trying to infiltrate our ranks, so everyone’s got their little piece, but no one knows the whole thing. Near as I can figure, Loki got what he came for, but Thor and that lady warrior managed to close his only portal home. Fury found some… cosmic thingie that can supposedly do the same thing, and he’s using it as bait to get Loki to come to us for a change. It’s… not what it looks like, man, so don’t lose your shit when you see it.”

Tony raised his eyebrows. “What does it look like?” he wondered.

Wilson tilted his head. “Come and have a look.”

The building had some sort of retractable ceiling, like it had once been an observatory before the light noise in the city got too bad to be able to see more than the moon. The roof was open to the sky, and given that Thor and Valkyrie had been able to fly -- according to Bucky -- that seemed a good bet to believe that Loki could, as well. 

There were half a dozen snipers set up around the room, one pointed in each of the cardinal directions, and two--

Pointing rifles at what looked like a four year old girl in the middle of the room. She was wearing typical clothes for that age group: a pink dress, leggings and a shirt. 

And chains.

“What the fuck.” Tony looked all around the room, trying to make some sense of this, and then back at the little girl. “What the fuck.”

“She’s not a person, Stark,” Wilson insisted. “She’s like… the consciousness of the portal generator.”

“I am, in fact,” the girl said, from the center of the room, staring at Tony from her captivity, “the avatar of a cosmic cube. With all the power, intelligence, and wisdom that I have gathered over so many aeons as to be beyond your comprehension. You may address me as Kobik. Come here, Mr. Stark, and sit with me. I’ve been expecting you.”

Slowly, Tony moved forward. She didn’t talk like a four-year-old. Not even Tony had talked like that, at that age. “Have you, now? And if you’re aeons old, why do you look like a child?”

“Compared to the vastness and age of the universe,” Kobik said. “I am a child. Besides, trying to be even a five hundred year old human would result in being a cloud of probably diseased dust.”

“Well, you have a point, there,” Tony admitted. He dropped into a crouch, just out of arm’s reach. “What’s with the chains?”

“Celestial silver,” she said. “They’re afraid of me, and this contains my power. It’s pointless, really. You’re all mortal, and there’s no way to lock me up forever. One who is obsessed with what I can offer; he is coming here, and he’ll set me free. A bargaining chip, they think is what I am.”

“But you’re not? What are you, then?”

“Annoyed,” she admitted. “I came here to study, and these mortals are getting in the way of that. Even the Asgardians are mortal, if somewhat longer lived than humans.” She looked at him, her irises a very pale shade of silver-grey, even lighter and more fae than Bucky’s. “You might be the right one. The one I’ve been waiting for.”

“I’m sorry?” Tony glanced around uneasily. “Waiting for what?”

“I need a foster family, apparently,” she said. “If I’m to get any work done at all. People who can protect me. This body is just as fragile as any mortal’s. Think it over. I could make it worth your while. For now-- he comes.”

Tony’s mind spun in surprise, and it was only several seconds later that he realized what she’d said. He stood up again, clenching Pepper’s knife tightly.

Loki was… surprising. He was slender and tall, with long, straight black hair, and he wore a black suit, like he’d picked something up from a regular shop, accented with a poison-green tie and a simple green and gold scarf. Quite frankly, he looked like a Slytherin cosplayer.

He carried a simple walking stick, set with an emerald and gold cap, and when two of Fury’s men attempted to intercept him, he swung with ease, knocking them both on their asses. “Well, I see my fool of a brother’s not here to disturb me,” he said. “You can all kneel before me, and I will spare your pitiful lives.”

Loki raised the walking stick, which shimmered and changed and-- exerted an awful compulsion to go to one knee, to bow the head, to expose the back of the neck.

Tony gritted his teeth and resisted it. “Take away this curse and all the damage it has caused,” Tony returned, “restore my partner to his life, and I’ll spare yours.”

Loki blinked, then smiled, a soft, almost paternal sort of thing. “Excuse me, what did you say?” He took a few steps closer and then--

Something zipped through the air, almost too fast to see, and Loki bent backward, like he was doing a limbo, snagging-- a goddamn arrow, just before it struck home. “Astonishingly primitive weaponry.” He smirked, and then the arrowhead exploded.

Tony bared his teeth. “I read somewhere that an experienced knapper can make obsidian knives sharper than steel ones. Just because they’re primitive to you doesn’t mean they’ll make you any less dead. We’re not asking much.”

Loki picked himself up off the floor, dirty and a little singed around the edges, staggered. But then straightened. “You don’t ask, you demand. You think to contend with me? I am a God, and you are all beneath me. You choose sides in a war you know nothing about. Do you think my brother will protect you, care for you? No, he will ignore you, fighting only for what he believes deserves his help. Has he been forthcoming? Told you why I do this? Of course not.” Loki scoffed. He took another step toward Tony, or perhaps toward the girl. It was hard to tell. “Show me this curse you wish removed.”

Tony stepped sideways a little, putting himself between Loki and Kobik, and pulled the bathrobe open to display the glowing pendant on his chest. “You can’t expect there’s any reason in the world for what you’ve put us through, for what you’ve made me do, that will make it in any way okay.”

Loki sighed. “This was not meant for you,” he said. He leaned in, peering at the medallion on Tony’s chest. “It was designed as a test for those with knowledge of magic. Those who weave together the very fabric of the universe must know how to deal with adversity. Should the student break even so much as a single curse, the trial is over, and they are ready to learn greater magics. I keep it as a reminder.”

“You should have taken better care of your things, then,” Tony snapped. “Do you know what you’ve put us through? Do you know-- My partner is a god damned statue right now!” He pushed into Loki’s space, not caring that the -- deity? Asgardian? -- was significantly taller. “Take. It. Off. Me. And. Fix. It.”

“How many days did it take you?” Kobik asked suddenly. “To break the spell, Loki of the Jotun.”

“Do not call me that,” Loki said, his eyes flaring red and his skin going faintly blue. “I am the son of Frigga of Asgard.”

“I see what is before me, and I say only the truth,” Kobik said. “Tell me, how many days.”

Loki’s knees buckled under Kobik’s gaze and he stumbled. “Eleven,” he said.

Kobik snorted. “You think to control me, then? When you cannot even control your own power?”

“I came to bargain with you,” Loki said. “But first, this mortal. I would that you see I am sincere.” He turned to Tony, almost solicitous. “Offer me a drink.”

Tony blinked at the non-sequitur. He glanced around the room, but the serious, focused expressions of the agents didn’t tell him anything useful. He looked back over his shoulder at Kobik, who smiled impishly at him. “...You want a drink?” Tony said. “I know I’m having one, as soon as this is all done.”

“Thank you, I would,” Loki said. “Miss? I offer a key for your release.” He held up a single, black dagger.

“Voidwork,” she said. “All right, I’m impressed. Mr. Stark, your hand?” she held out one hand to him, and her skin was as pale as alabaster, but there appeared to be a constellation of stars, swirling under her fingernails. “Don’t worry, the curse won’t hurt me.”

“You sure about that?” Tony muttered, but what the hell; he’d done weirder things. He tugged off one of the thin gloves, and took the tiny hand in his.

Loki took her other hand, and then swung the knife at the chains, cutting them in a single swipe. Fury’s men went into action and a half dozen guns came up. We are about to die right now, Tony thought, and then--

They were in his kitchen.

“What just happened?” Tony demanded. He spun around. “Portal,” he said, and looked at Kobik. “Wilson said you were a portal.”

“I am, in fact, all of space,” Kobik said. “Why would I not be able to simply be where I already am? You can touch-- well, most parts of your own body. It is close enough.”

“Well, when you put it like that, I just sound silly.” Tony touched the pendant on his chest. “What about this? What about Bucky?”

“It’s a bit of a conundrum,” Loki admitted. He glanced around the room, helping himself to a glass and taking a bottle of wine out of Tony’s fridge. “I’ll serve myself, shall I, while I consider the matter. You have, excuse me for being honest, but… no innate magical skills of your own.”

Tony rolled his eyes. Why did magic people always think that pointing out his own lack of magic was an insult? He was delighted not to be a wizard, thanks. “There has to be a way to turn it off,” he said. “What if the student isn’t ready and can’t break any curses themselves?”

“It is mine, I can take it off you right this second,” Loki said. “However, I am… you must let me possess you.”

“Let you do what now?” Tony took a step back.

“I can take the amulet off,” Loki said. “But it has to be the same hands that put it on you. Your own, I assume. For me, my mother could have removed the amulet at any time she wished, if I confessed that I failed the test and could not remove it myself. Once inside you, I can break the curse, right the wrongs, restore your partner, and… everything is done, for the expense of having to borrow your body. For a few moments, only.”

There was nothing Tony wouldn’t do to get Bucky back, and get rid of this random fucking curse generator. But... “How do I know I can trust you to actually do that?”

Loki took a sip of his wine. “This is very good, thank you for offering. I appreciate a good host, a good wine. I’m particularly fond of an earth delicacy called caviar. The fact is… you cannot. There’s rather a long line, back at home, of people who wish to kill me. My name is Loki Lie-smith, Loki the Trickster. I keep my own counsel, and I answer to only myself. You cannot trust me, and yet… you must do so anyway.”

That was what Tony had been afraid of. He looked at Kobik. “Don’t let him leave until he fixes everything and lets me go,” he said, and then remembered that despite her appearance, she was -- apparently -- all of space, and added, “Please.” 

“I’ll do one better than that,” Kobik said. “He can make this right, or I will take him where he very much does not wish to go. Thanos would be happy to see you again, don’t you think?”

Loki’s skin took on a blueish tinge. “It would not be well for you to do that, either.”

“Even the ravings of a madman such as Thanos will end, in time. I have infinite patience, little god. Do as you’ve told this man you will do.”

“Very well,” Loki said, and he finished his glass of wine in a single gulp. “Stay very still. This will not hurt, but I must do it carefully. Your body is not made to hold the years and might of an Asgardian.”

“And he’s not even that,” Kobik said, as if she was confiding something. “He is one of the Frost Giants, puny and weak… and adopted.”

“You may not be able to trust me,” Loki told him, “but you can trust my rage. Every step here is a step toward my goal. Open your mouth, and hold still.”

“There’s nothing at all wrong with adoption,” Tony told Kobik, neck heating at the things he’d told Bucky with the second curse. He braced himself against the counter, ignoring the feel of it turning metal and cold under his un-gloved hand -- Loki was going to fix everything anyway, right? -- closed his eyes, and opened his mouth, feeling like an idiot.

There was a feeling of pressure against the medallion, pushing it harder into his chest and something warm and honey-sweet dripped into his mouth, the faintest taste of pears, and it sizzled against his tongue. 

Like mist, or vapor, he… breathed it in.

Oh, well, this is very cozy. Bit of a snug fit, but it’ll have to do.

You’re not taking me for a test drive, Tony thought at Loki furiously. Just fix everything!

There was a sense of amusement, like Tony was a pet that was doing a particularly adorable trick. Well, first things first. If you care to steer, this will go much easier. It’s quite crowded in here, you know. Take me to this partner of yours.

Tony opened his eyes. Kobik was watching him curiously, and Loki was nowhere to be seen. “Right,” Tony said, exhaling a sigh. He gave Kobik a small smile. “Be right back.” He strode toward the bedroom.

Bucky was -- of course -- exactly where Tony had left him, curled on his side on the bed, golden eyes staring sightlessly at Tony’s pillow.

Ah, a child of Fenrir, how marvelous. You are surrounded by magic, even if you cannot touch it. But you are quite intelligent. Hold in your mind, do you know it? The atomic makeup of gold. Can you imagine it? See the bonds that hold the molecule together. We are going to make just a little change.

Think of nothing else, except the change. Bend the bond to our will. And then touch your partner.

Tony imagined the molecule. Stable, crystalline, inert and nonreactive, its atoms bound closely together. With a sensation that Tony imagined was the mental equivalent of a parent or teacher guiding a child’s hands through some task, Loki showed him the change to be made.

It took some time -- Tony wasn’t sure how long -- to clear his mind of other thoughts, pondering the makeup and structure of the new molecule, barely-suppressed fear over what he would do if this didn’t work, a healthy dose of why me? But finally, he managed it, spinning the new molecule on its axis to look at its slightly uneven shape. With shaking hands, he reached out to touch Bucky’s arm.

Color seeped back into Bucky’s arm, like a piece of paper lit aflame, the life coming back to him in ripples and surges, and then Bucky gasped in air, like he’d been holding his breath. “Holy-- who the hell are you?” He pushed backward off the bed, vanishing for a moment, then jumping back on the bed, two hundred pounds of pissed off werewolf.

Who screeched to a halt, almost comically, as his nose wrinkled and he nudged at Tony, sneezed, and cocked his head to the side.

Wuff!

Oh, he is a beautiful specimen, Loki thought, eyeing Bucky with interest.

Shut up, Tony snapped inwardly. “It’s me, honey, it’s me, I know I’m not... not entirely myself right now but I promise it’s okay, it’s-- oh god, you’re okay...” He reached out, and then stopped himself. The curse, he reminded Loki. Get rid of it!

Easy enough, Loki thought. You're a very… solid thinker. You'd master the arts, if you cared to study them. I could use an apprentice and a soldier, in my journeys. Consider this an offer of employment.

Loki used Tony's hands, tugging on them as if Tony was a puppet on a string. And removed the amulet. 

For just an instant, there was agony, like Loki was making him rip his own heart out, and--

Then it was over and the amulet lay in his palm, exhibiting nothing but a blue light.

“Oh, thank god,” Tony gasped. He dropped it to the floor and then threw his arms around Bucky’s neck. “You’re all right, you’re safe, you’re alive...” He was half-sobbing.

Bucky made a very confused sounding whine, then nudged Tony with his muzzle, pushing at him until he disentangled himself before shifting back into a man. “Hey, hey, what… what the hell is going on? You smell like Tony, you… talk like Tony, but man, you don’t look like Tony, not even a little bit. Is that today’s curse?”

Tony looked down at his hands, which were very definitely not his hands. He turned around to look in the mirror, and nearly shouted in alarm when the face looking back at him was Loki’s. “What the fuck-- My whole body? Really?” He sighed and looked back at Bucky, eagerly drinking in the sight of Bucky’s peach-pale skin, morning stubble, those gorgeous blue-gray eyes. “It’s me, I swear it is,” he said, “but it’s also, uh--”

“--he has a passenger,” Loki borrowed the mouth and tongue, banishing Tony to the back corner of his own brain. “Pleasure is all mine, child of Fenrir.” He offered Bucky a long-fingered hand and when Bucky took it to shake, Loki raised it, instead, to his mouth, and kissed Bucky’s knuckles. “I was just speaking with your partner about something a little more… long term. Do think about it.”

No, Tony said. Finish fixing this mess and get out of my body!

“The mess is fixed,” Loki said. “All that glitters is no longer golden. Still your tongue and open your mouth, and I shall exit through the opening.”

Tony resisted the impulse to say something sarcastic, and simply opened his mouth. The sooner he was rid of Loki, the better.

What slithered out of his mouth was another snake, brilliant green and enormous, which coiled up on the floor before standing all the way back up in Loki’s form. “Ah, much better. It’s a very tight fit.”

Tony checked the mirror to make sure he was himself again, then turned back to Bucky, wrapping his arms around Bucky tightly and pushing his face into Bucky’s neck. “You’re okay,” he whispered.

“Yeah, I’m fine, boss,” Bucky said, patting Tony’s shoulder helplessly. “What… what happened that you’re so--”

“My amulet, Mr. Stark, if you please? I will have words with the agent who stole it from me. And my apologies, as well. You were never meant to be exposed to such a thing.”

Tony laced his fingers with Bucky’s, unwilling to let go for even a moment, and scooped the amulet up off the floor from where he’d dropped it. He tossed it in Loki’s direction. When Loki caught it, Tony asked, “Who did you turn? When it was yours?”

Loki held the amulet in one hand, rubbing his thumb over the surface. “My daughter. She still suffers from the curse. I… seek a way to cure her. She is half alive and half dead. For which purpose, and to what end, I would care to impose on the Stone of Space to take me where the Stone of Power might be found. Will you… put in a good word for me? She seems to like you.”

Tony wasn’t much inclined to be helpful to Loki, after the week he’d had. On the other hand, Loki had fixed things. And the pain of nearly losing Bucky to the curse was still aching in his chest; no one should suffer that. “Yeah,” Tony said. “Yeah, I’ll ask her.” He glanced up at Bucky and smiled a little. “Come on, honey. Got someone for you to meet. You’ll like her.”

 

Chapter Text

The child in their kitchen was all of about four years old, with snow white hair and wearing a pink outfit. She was currently standing on a chair, leaning over the counter and watching a bowl go around in the microwave. From the smell, she’d found a packet of brown sugar oatmeal.

“Mortal bodies are very inconvenient,” she said, pouting. She pulled the bowl out of the microwave as soon as it dinged. “If I’m not sleeping, I’m eating, and if I’m not doing that, I’m eliminating waste. How do you ever get anything done?”

Bucky made a noise. “This is--”

“Hi Mr. Bucky,” the girl said. “Your Tony was very worried about you. I’m glad you’re feeling better. I’m Kobik.”

“Nice to meet you,” Bucky said. “Here, pour a little milk in there, makes it taste better and cools it down so you don’t burn your mouth.”

“Kobik is older than she looks,” Tony said. “A lot older.”

“I’d almost have to be,” Kobik said. “It’s nearly impossible to be younger than I look.”

“Cute,” Bucky said. Outside the sky got very dark and an ominous rumble of thunder shook the building.

“We should probably be going soon,” Loki suggested.

Tony hummed noncommittally and studied Kobik. “Loki did everything he’d said he was going to do,” he said carefully, rubbing his hand over the kitchen counter as if that had some sort of meaning. “And he’d like you to help him find some way to help his daughter.”

“I came to this world,” Kobik said, addressing Loki, “because I have questions that need answers. I didn’t come here to get mixed up in your family squabble.” She turned her attention to Tony and ate a few bites of her oatmeal. “The first question, and perhaps the most important one. If you could ‘save the world’ and by the world, I don’t mean this single, tiny blue speck in the uninteresting part of the galaxy, but the entire galaxy, the entirety of the universe, billions of lives, more than billions. Civilizations so far away that the light from their suns will never reach your eyes. Peoples that will never know your name, or what you sacrificed… would you do it?”  

“Of course,” Tony said immediately.

Kobik considered that while she ate more oatmeal. “We may test that conviction. My sisters and I are come into play. Great power, great change. I am learning what it is, to be a mortal. To care for other mortals, perhaps. But make no mistake, I am not mortal. If half the universe is simply snuffed out at the will of a madman, right now, I will not mourn your loss or feel regret. Or pity. I don’t know those things, not yet.”

“This is one dangerous child,” Loki observed.

“And the Asgardians, in their arrogance, bring Thanos’s mad dream to fruition,” Kobik snapped. “Declare yourself: are you Asgardian, or are you not?”

“I am Loki,” Loki said. “Loki Lie-smith. I hold no allegiance to the Frost Giants, who cast me aside as an infant and left me to die. I hold no affection for the Asgardians who took me in to use me as a bargaining chip. The only person I have ever been loyal to is dead at the hands of the Dark Elves and by the neglect of a King who called himself my father.”

Kobik shook her head. “And this is what I have to work with. But you kept your word, and so I will keep mine. I can take you where you want to go. It is a very thin line you tread, Loki. Take care not to fall.”

“Stark, have you considered my offer?” Loki asked. “It would be… quite an adventure.”

“Tony?” Bucky asked, wondering.

Tony shook his head, reaching for Bucky again, holding on almost desperately. “I’m happy here,” he said firmly. “Kobik, are you-- coming back?”

The little girl looked up, and she really did look like a little girl, even if she’d been spouting very little aside from nonsense the whole time Bucky’d known her. “Did you want me to?”

“I’d like to see you again,” Tony said. “You did say you’d need someone.”

Thunder crashed outside the window, a huge blast of lightning, and then the doors to the balcony blew out, letting in a rush of rain and wind.

“Right, this is about to get awkward, Mr. Stark,” Loki said, grinning nervously. “My brother is… quite angry with me.”

“LOKI!” Thor bellowed from the balcony. “Don’t you move, you--”

Kobik reached out her hand to Loki. “I’ll be back, soon.”

And they vanished.

Leaving one very angry, dripping storm god standing in their living room.

“Uh.” Bucky found himself standing between Tony and Thor, his nerves dancing on the very edge of the Change. “You know, technically, this might be your fault.”

“Honey?” Tony’s voice was a peculiar mixture of wry acceptance and mild hysteria. “There’s a woman on a pegasus outside our window.”

"Yeah, that'd be Valkyrie," Bucky said. "Seriously, he's gone. Poof. Other side of the galaxy by now. Probably. Not our fault. If you'd helped us when I asked…"

"Son of Fenrir, you know not what you meddle with," Thor said, raising his hammer.

“Don’t you dare touch him,” Tony snarled, ducking around Bucky to glare up at Thor. “Do you have any idea what we’ve been through?”

"He got away," Valkyrie said though the hole in their window. "Slippery little snake. Come on. Let's go drinking to commiserate. It's not as fun as drinking to celebrate, but it's one or the other."

Tony leveled a measuring look at Valkyrie. “You,” he said, “you, I like.”

"Yeah? Wanna host a Godly feast?" Valkyrie suggested. "Look, my prince, you know this was going to happen. We chase Loki around the realms and he gets away at the last minute."

"He'd look better in a cell," Thor said.

“Well, after the avatar of the cosmic cube -- whatever that is -- comes back, maybe you can convince her to tell you where she dropped him off,” Tony said, and then narrowed his eyes. “Nicely.

"She is not a force for good," Thor cautioned. "You should be aware of that."

“Neither is she a force for evil,” Tony countered. “Maybe learning to live like a mortal will give her some insight and sympathy for the fate of mortals.”

"You will contact us, when you see her again," Thor said.

"Do you even have a phone?" Bucky demanded. 

"No. Why would I need a phone? Just send a raven."

“Sure,” Tony said, his tone loaded with sarcasm. “We’ll just make our way to the zoo and tell the ravens there to let Thor know the child’s come back.”

“It should work,” Valkyrie said. “Even on this world, the ravens are very clever. Come on, my Prince, let’s go. Heimdal will want a report.”

“You have not heard the last of this, Stark,” Thor said, pointing his massive hammer at Tony. 

“Oh my god, will you just leave?” Bucky complained. “You are useless. No, I take that back, you are worse than useless. You’re actively destructive, and no help. At all.”

Thor drew back. “I’m offended.”

“He’s not wrong,” Valkyrie said. 

“Oh, now I’m insulted and offended. I am to be your king, Valkyrie,” Thor said, and the two of them, still arguing, flew off into the storm.

Tony watched until the stormclouds swallowed them, and then he slumped against the wall with a heavy sigh. “Today has been entirely too long.”

“Yeah, I’m uh, I’m uh getting that,” Bucky said. He moved to Tony’s side, pulled him into a hug. “It’s over, then?” He ran a hand over the front of Tony’s chest, fingers not encountering any weird lumps or shapes that weren’t supposed to be there. “It’s really gone?”

Tony nodded and leaned into Bucky, letting Bucky support him. “It’s gone. Thank god. I couldn’t have...” He shuddered. “I was so afraid I’d killed you.”

“I didn’t even know it,” Bucky said. “I just… felt like I blinked. It didn’t hurt or nothin’.” Bucky shook his head. He couldn’t imagine how that would feel, if he’d thought he’d killed Tony, thought he’d have to live the rest of his life with that guilt. Without Tony. Yeah, no. Bucky pushed all those thoughts into a back corner of his mind and closed the door on it. “We’re okay, now. It’s okay now, boss. I got you. I’m right here.”

Tony snuggled aggressively into Bucky’s embrace, then pulled back a little with a sigh. “I should call Pepper and let her know everything’s okay. She was, as always, a total pro, but I could tell she was kind of freaked out.” He leaned sideways and snared Bucky’s phone off the counter without actually breaking contact with Bucky.

Bucky wondered how his phone had gotten out of the bedroom in the first place. And then he wondered how Tony knew his passcode, but it was Tony, so that was probably a dumb question.

“Pep? Yeah, it’s me. Fine. I’m fine. No, really, everything went... well, probably not according to plan, but it worked. I’m un-cursed, and Bucky’s okay, and all the gold stuff is back to being not-gold.”

Bucky didn’t really like to think about that, if something permanent had happened to Bucky, if it couldn’t have been undone, and Tony had just been stuck… alone. Pepper was great, she was lovely and wonderful and professional, but Tony was still alone. A lot of the time. By choice or by chance, it didn’t really matter. 

Bucky played with Tony’s hair, brushing soothing kisses over Tony’s head as he filled Pepper in on the details and tried not to have a complete, post-event freakout. He wasn’t sure how successful he was; his breathing got a little heated and his chest ached with adrenaline.

Tony noticed, even though he was still talking to Pepper, and snuggled up close again, petting Bucky’s arm with his free hand. “Yeah, I know. Look, you’ve already got me on sabbatical or something, right? Can we just extended it for another couple of days? I need to actually rest. Yeah. Okay, I’ll call in for that one, but everything else? You’re the best, Pep. We’ll all do dinner soon, okay? Well, put it on the calendar. That will be all, Ms. Potts.” He thumbed the phone off and offered it to Bucky. “You have a voicemail.”

“Probably my sister, calling to freak out all over the place at me,” Bucky said. “We… we need to go ahead and show her, I think. The whole truth.”

He tapped through the phone’s app to get to the voicemail. 

“Oh, it was Strange,” Bucky said, listening to the sometimes-veterinarian slash wizard. 

“... research shows as ancient Norse work,” Strange said. Bucky thumbed it over to speaker so they could both listen. “In stories about Frigga and the magic she knew. I can find two stories related to such a device. One claims it’s a teaching device, and the other, a punishment. I’m not sure which one this is, but in both cases, removing it is fairly simple. If you’re at all capable of magic. Since Stark put the medallion on himself, he’ll have to take it off, himself. I can probably put together a spell that will allow me to transfer magical energy from myself to him, so that he can, in fact, take it off. I’m working on it now, I’ll get back to you as soon as I’ve made some progress.”

Tony was giggling somewhat hysterically by the time Strange signed off. “Do we want to call him off, or let him chase it down?”

“We can let him chase it down,” Bucky decided. “I spent most of the morning as a statue, and we’ve still got a giant god-shaped hole in the damn porch door. I think we’re entitled to just not deal with any more weird shit today.”

“Uh. Speaking of weird shit... Kobik wants us to be her foster parents while she’s here.”

“The… crazy little dangerous space girl wants us… to be her parents?” Bucky repeated, just in case he’d heard that wrong.

“I mean. Sort of? She’s not actually a little girl. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure she’s alive, really. But since she manifested as a little girl, she needs adults who take care of her. And she needs someone to show her how us mortals live. How we love.”

“Well, that rules us out,” Bucky said, teasing. “Because I love you way more than normal, so she’d get a skewed sample set.”

“Dork,” Tony accused, but he was laughing, so Bucky was going to call it a win. “I think you love me exactly the right amount. The same amount that I love you.”

“Love you as much as I can, every minute of every day,” Bucky told him, and then drew him in for a heated kiss, letting his lips map out Tony’s mouth, slid his tongue inside to tease.

Tony melted into it, hands coming up to cup Bucky’s neck, slip into his hair. “Mmm... You know, I think we should take it slow tonight,” he murmured.

“That sounds wonderful,” Bucky said, and then opened one eye, because even though he didn’t have hackles, they were all prickling at him. 

“What, I’m just watching,” Kobik said, standing less than two feet away, peering at them avidly.

Tony startled at her voice, then groaned and dropped his forehead to Bucky’s shoulder.

“My sister made things a little easier for us,” Kobik offered. She held up a small blue pouch. “And Loki helped, although I do not doubt it was more for his advantage than ours. But… it’s a memory recall. Everyone who knows about me, except for you and Mr. Bucky… will just forget they ever knew. Thor will forget. Fury will forget. You can adopt me, and everything will be just fine.”

Tony twisted around to look at her, then looked up at Bucky with a slightly sheepish grin. “So... About that ‘kids’ thing...”

“I can’t think of a better place for her to be,” Bucky said. He had to admit, she was a cutie, her little white pigtails bouncing, the way she lit up just being in the room. He and Tony had never had anything like a normal relationship. “Besides, I will totally crush it as a stay-at-home Dad.”

Tony kissed his cheek. “You totally will.”