Actions

Work Header

I Just Want You and Me Inside Real Life

Chapter Text

Tony,

I'm sorry. It was him. December 16th, 1991. I'm sorry. Forgive me. Forgive him. You know I had to.

Steve.

Tony could laugh, and then probably scream at how unassuming the letter had looked. It had been sitting on the work table, in the middle of his keyboard. Tony had actually fucking smiled when he saw it. He hadn't even guessed at its contents.

He had just grinned and skipped over to it, recognizing the handwriting, the blocky letters that made up his name very familiar to him. He had even caressed the writing, gently, reverently, before flipping it over and opening the envelope. That was a mistake.

Seven sentences, nineteen words. 80 letters if you counted the numbers, 74 if you didn’t. Seven fucking sentences. That's all it took.

Well, ok, technically there were more sentences. A whole files worth. But it was the first seven sentences that did it.

God, those fucking words. They were enough to push him, nay drop kick him off the wagon, send him into a weeklong drinking binge. And then back to rehab.

Seven. God. Damn. Sentences.

 

Tony clicks his fingers against the tumbler, watching his breath puff out into the night as a glittery cloud.

"I thought you were sober." A voice says from Tony's right.

"I was in California, Nat." Tony breathes, taking a sip from the glass.

"You know better than to hide anything from me Antonio." She says, coming closer. It isn't worded as a threat, it's fonder than anything. Tony sighs.

"It's Wilson's apple juice. I just like the feel of the glass in my fingers. And also, this glass set cost a fortune so might as well use it." Tony replies. Natasha laughs softly, and leans her head on his shoulder.

"I'm proud of you." She whispers. Tony smiles, tips his head against hers. They stand there for a long moment, watching the moon on the unbroken snow stretching across the yard of the compound.

"So, it's over?" She asks. Tony sighs in one long rush.

"Yeah, it’s fucking over." Tony growls, gripping the glass too tight. Nat doesn't say anything, just scoots a little closer to him. He appreciates it endlessly.

"Does he know, ‘bout California?" He asks. Nat shakes her head, straightening up.

"No, we didn’t tell him." She says.

"We?"

"Clint knows Antonio." She whispers. "After I found out, I told my husband." Tony nods, and knocks back the rest of the juice, really wishing it was alcohol.

"And uh… he's here, in the compound?" Tony asks. Natasha nods again, knowing exactly who he's referring to.

"Yes, he is."

 

Tony is avoiding, he knows that he is. He doesn't interact with the new additions to the household at all. He talks to Clint and Nat, but ignores the Captain and his new boyfriend. He also ignores the monster in the basement.

And he's surviving, he does just fine with the team on the field, eternally grateful that his suit has a face plate, and no one can see the pained looks he sends in a certain flag wearers direction. But he knows things, because JARVIS is an incredible asset, and he overhears a lot.

Like when they were battling the Hydra assholes, and Tony flew around a corner to see Wilson with his hands-on Steve's face.

"Look at me, babe. I know, ok? I can only imagine how awful that has to be for you to see, but I swear to God if you are that stupid again, I'm gonna kill you." Wilson had said before they both had dashed back into the battle.

Or two weeks ago when he had seen Cap crying in the stairwell leading down to the basement.

Or those seven fucking sentences had been a good indicator that things in Cap's life had gone to shit. Which Tony was fine with, his life has also gone to shit.

But eventually his curiosity gets the better of him.

"J, baby, who is watching the monster in the basement?" Tony asks, rolling the textured glass between his hands, some habits can be kicked by rehab, like drinking. Some can't, like the feeling of the glass in his hands.

"Agent Romanoff is, although watching is a loose word. She is playing Angry Birds on her phone." The AI responds. Tony nods, taking a fortifying breath and takes the elevator down to the basement.

“J, freeze the cameras so she doesn’t see me?” Tony asks.

“Already done sir. The feeds are playing on a loop so Agent Romanoff doesn’t see you.” The bot replies.

Part of the basement is the garage, with stealth vehicles and Tony's sports cars. The other part is the Hulk containment cell, that Tony designed. Which had seemed dumb because Thor and Bruce were lord knows where, and had been for a while. But now, it housed someone else. It’s set in a room off to the side of the cars, with a viewing room off to the side. He pulls open the door and steps inside.

Tony hovers just out of sight, well what he hopes is just out of sight. He's rolling the crystal tumbler between his hands. He kind of likes it, the brooding look that comes with spinning a glass between his hands, it's almost super villain-esque, and Tony could laugh at how close he is to becoming a super villain. He mostly just likes the faceted surface against his palms, the way his scars and calluses catch on the glass.

He glances back up at the space in front of him. Light is spilling out from all the glass onto the concrete floor. It's sterile, florescent light and Tony sort of hates it. It feels too harsh, too unforgiving, even though the only other person around deserves it.

Tony leans against the wall behind him, eyeing the Hulk Containment Cell. It's been furnished since the last time he saw it. A twin bed, with military grade sheets and blankets, a table and one chair, a small bathroom behind opaque glass, and a tumble of clothes. There are a few shredded books, and a puzzle set up on the table. The puzzle isn't very far along, and Tony is mildly curious if the man works on it.

Speaking of, the only other thing in the containment cell is a man, huddled in the corner. Well, not corner, there aren't any corners in the circular room. He's huddled against the wall opposite Tony, looking like some horror villain. His hair shields his face, and he's wearing grey sweatpants and a matching sweatshirt. Tony recognizes the clothes for what they are: cheap and generic, given to someone volatile who might shred them by panicking.

Tony contemplates the man, taking in his bare feet, toes curled against the sterile white floor. He takes in the rigid line of the man's shoulders, and the way his arms wrapped around his knees are probably bruising. He swallows thickly, and knocks back the last of the too sweet juice in the glass. He stares down into the crystal, watching the way the lights are catching in the faucets of the glass. He glances up again, and yelps.

He stumbles backwards and crashes into the concrete wall behind him so hard he knocks the wind from his lungs. He hadn’t even realized he’d taken a few steps forward. The glass slips from his hand and shatters into a million pieces, but Tony doesn't even look.

Because standing a mere few feet in front of him, breathing hard, and glaring daggers at Tony is the Winter Soldier.

He has his metal hand braced against the glass, his eyes are intense and violent. Tony gets it suddenly. How the man was able to kill all those people, Tony hadn't even been looking down that far, his peripheral vision should have picked up the advancing man. But it didn’t, and when Tony glanced up, there he was.

He swallows, desperately trying to get breath back into his lungs. The Winter Soldier doesn't move. If it weren't for the occasional blink, Tony would think he was dead, or a robot. It's silent for a long time as Tony’s breathing and heart beat slow back to normal.

"Glass." He says finally. Tony frowns, still gasping.

"Glass. Careful." The Soldier repeats. He doesn't relax, his body all hard lines of alert, tense, but the energy changes. Tony tilts his head, and pushes his hand into his hair.

"uh… Thanks?" Tony says. The Soldier doesn’t move, just keeps staring.

Tony pulls out his phone and texts JARVIS, asking the AI to clean the glass before anyone else comes down. He decides that’s just about enough murder staring for one lifetime so Tony picks his way to the door, and pauses to watch the man. The Soldier hasn't moved, but his eyes have tracked Tony. Tony frowns and leaves.

Chapter Text

Tony puts the incident out of his mind. He spends a lot of time in his lab like usual and he avoids the team at all costs. He thinks nothing of it, nothing. That is until two weeks later.

The team was called out to Maine to subdue some drunk Asgardian teens who were summoning monsters and being rowdy. It should be noted that teens is used loosely as these Asgardians are younger than Thor, but still a couple hundred years old.

The battle itself is unremarkable, over quickly and the teens sent back to their home. Tony settles into the seat on the jet and pulls out his headphones. He has FRIDAY, a sassy AI installed on his phone, scan all of the rooms on the jet, listening quietly. It's probably unhelpful and invasive, but after what Steve did, is still doing, can you blame him? Seven fucking sentences. How else is he supposed to find out what’s going on in his own damn home? Tony sighs and pulls his hoodie around his neck and hunkers down, closing his eyes, feigning sleep.

"I picked up a conversation between The Asshole and Falcon boss." FRIDAY says. Tony taps his phone twice, a code the AI knows means yes. There is a bing when the feed patches through.

"Don't, Sam. Don't!" Steve yells, FRIDAY automatically adjusting the volume so Tony doesn't go deaf.

"Steve, I get how hard this is. But do not yell at me." Sam says, calmly. There's a pause. And then Steve sighs.

"Do you know how hard this is? I don't know what he wants. And he's frustrated and I'm frustrated. Is he gone Sam?" Steve's voice sounds wrecked and broken, and Tony smiles a bit.

"Gone? No, he's sleeping, right. That's what JARVIS said." Wilson seems confused.

"No. I mean…." Steve blows out a breath. "Is Bucky even still in there? Is he just The Soldier now?"

There is silence.

"Steve…." A pause. "Baby, I think that if anyone could find him under all of that, you will. But I also think that for your own sanity, you have to be able to admit that it might never happen. There might only be rehabilitating the new man he has become, not finding the old one." There's the unmistakable sound of a kiss.

Tony flinches, he can't help it. Tony taps into his phone a few more times, and the feed cuts off, for a few moments anyway. But no one has ever said that Tony Stark possesses good coping skills. He turns the feed back on.

"Do you have any idea what he keeps asking about?" Steve is asking, in that low voice he uses for right after kissing.

"No. Tell me the words again, maybe I can come up with something." Wilson whispers.

"Glass, Night Visitor, broken, careful, pretty." Steve says. Tony chokes on his own saliva and drops his phone. Clint glances up with a raised brow, and goes back to rubbing Nat's feet. Tony swallows and pulls his phone up by his headphones. He texts JARVIS, and a second later footage of the Hulk containment room opens on his screen.

"Bucky…" Steve is pleading in the footage. It's three or four days old.

"No!" The soldier spits, agitated, pacing, angry. "Asset!" He cries, thumping his own chest. Steve swallows, and shrinks a little, which makes the soldier more agitated. His pacing moves from caged animal, to frantic, trapped.

"Glass, Night Visitor, careful, broken, pretty. Who?" The Asset says slowly. Tony can tell even from the grainy footage, that his meaning is perfectly clear to himself. But also, that something, his programming or simply his own mind, doesn't allow him more words than that. And to be fair, the meaning is very clear if you have some other information.

Tony recognizes the words for what they are, code: deliberately chosen to convey the meaning but not give away too much. Tony swallows.

"Buck, I need more. What do you need?" Steve asks. The soldier clutches his head in frustration and flips his bed over. Tony closes the video.

They arrive back to the compound late, and the team drifts off to their bedrooms, the couples leaning against each other for support, talking softly. Tony lingers in the common room, rummaging through the cabinets looking for nothing, and stalling until everyone is gone.

"J?" Tony calls when everyone is in bed.

"Yes sir?"

"Is anyone watching the basement now?"

"No sir, I am. Captain Rogers has asked me to alert him if our guest needs anything. " Tony nods, and debates for a long moment.

"Keep it that way, don't let anyone down there." Tony picks up the glass, the twin to the one he broke, and steps into the elevator. He walks down the hall to the room slowly, and lingers outside the door for a long moment. He takes a fortifying breath and steps slowly into the room.

The Winter Soldier is lying on his back on his bed, eyes closed, arms folded over his chest. He's dressed in a clean pair of sweats, a darker grey than the ones from the other night. His hair is still a greasy mess that makes Tony’s scalp itch just looking at it.

Tony sighs, and clears his throat. He regrets it immediately, because The Soldier leaps up and lunges toward the wall. Tony almost drops the new class and almost falls.

"Jesus." He breathes. "You're gonna give a guy a heart attack." The soldier just stares at him for a few minutes.

"I uh… heard you were looking for me?" Tony asks. The Soldier tips his head just slightly.

"Right, so um. Here I am?" It comes out like a question and Tony almost leaves. He even turns around, but the Soldier makes a distressed noise and puts both of his hands on the glass.

Tony turns back and steps forward, slowly, before he can overthink. He steps into the circle of light, around the glass walls. He holds up the tumbler, letting the light sparkle off of it. The soldier nods.

"Glass." He says, definitively. Tony nods.

"Yeah, it’s the other one from the one I broke the other night." Tony explains. The Soldier nods.

"Broken. Careful." He says, nodding.

He looks relieved, and Tony kinda gets that. He thinks it's a sick twist of fate that he is the one who understands the Winter Soldier of all people, but he is. Tony blows out a breath, and spins the glass between his hands again. He isn't sure what to do now, the night visitor part of the man's speech makes sense. The pretty doesn’t, but he doesn’t think there is a way to define it.

The man is still staring at him, intent. Tony smiles briefly. The soldier tilts his head, watching. They don't say anything, just look at each other.

"I'm not good with silence. The Asshole always hated that about me, but I just don't like quiet. Been too quiet for too long. And Howard." Tony stops abruptly, because the Soldier’s face tightens at the mention of Howard Stark.

"Not a fan huh?" Tony chuckles, dry. "Me neither, man was a jerk. He's gone now you don't have to worry. Well, actually, maybe I should thank you for that." Tony laughs then, laughs till it hurts and then cries. He has to sit down as he sobs. The soldier drops down to the floor of his cell too, looking distressed.

"Sad." He says. Tony nods, wiping his nose.

"Yeah. You killed my mom." He says, broken, choking on it. The Soldier scrambles up and paces around the circle of his room. Tony watches him for a moment.

"Night Visitor. Sad. Hurt. Careful. Glass?" He asks, stopping. Tony shakes his head, and places a hand over his chest, right above his heart.

"Hurts here. I'm not cut on the glass. See?" Tony says, using his free hand to lift up the unbroken glass.

The Soldier sinks down to his knees opposite Tony, mirroring his position. He puts his hand over his heart too.

"Inside?" He whispers. Tony nods.

"My heart. It's not broken, well. Not physically, it's still beating. Can you feel yours?" Tony asks. The Soldier looks puzzled.

"Beating?" He whispers. Tony nods.

"Yep, it's what hearts do. Sometimes we have pain that isn't physical. My heart hurts. Inside here." Tony says, thumping his chest, dropping his eyes down to the floor.

"Me too." The Soldier whispers. Tony's eyes snap up and he stares into pained blue eyes. There is something flickering there, like maybe the man he was before Hydra is trying to come forward, trying to convey that what Tony said makes sense. The Soldier pats his chest, nodding slightly.

"Well, you have been through a lot." Tony says. He feels like he's discovering a new species, like he's the first one to observe the new behavior, and make first contact.

They stare at each other for a while, and then Tony reaches forward and places his palm on the glass. The Soldier reaches up and aligns his metal palm with Tony's.

"Me too." The Soldier says again. Tony nods.

"Yeah buddy. Me too."

He stands after a few more moments, and yawns.

"Can you keep a secret?" He asks. The broader man stands as well and tips his head, thinking.

He nods eventually. Tony smiles and walks over to the food port; he unlocks it and then slides the glass into the room. The Soldier's eyes widen and he reaches out with his flesh hand gently. He cradles the glass like it's a precious baby. And then turns a blinding smile on Tony.

"For me?" Tony nods.

"Thank you. Secret, won't tell them." He says, and smiles. Tony nods. He turns and leaves, feel weird. Lighter somehow. When he is almost to the door the Soldier calls to him.

"Will you come back?" Tony turns, and gapes at him.

The Soldier is standing in the center of the containment cell, the glass is nowhere in sight. He looks sad almost. Tony blinks, surprised by the full sentence.

"Yeah uh sure." He breathes, and then slips out the door.

Chapter Text

Tony sleeps late the next day, and wakes up thinking about the man in the basement. How he was the first person Tony has cried in front of about his mother and father's death. And how he thought that the Soldier only used short sentences because the programming prevented anything more. But the final question of last night proved that in correct.

So that then begged several questions.

Did he prefer short sentences? Did he not have anything else to say? Was it the programming? How much of the programming was broken, and how much did the man remember?

Tony sighed, lying on his back in bed. This was confusing.

"JARVIS. Delete all footage from last night in the room." Tony says.

"Already done sir."

"This is why I love you. Also, monitor the footage, send me anything that mentions me or the glass or anything you think is relevant."

"Absolutely sir. Might I remind you that your flight to California is in four hours and Ms. Potts will kill us both if you miss the flight." Tony sighed.

"Yeah yeah." He stood and hurriedly got dressed.

 

Tony spends a week in California, working on SI business. A few days into the trip, JARVIS sends him some footage from the containment cell.

"Hey, Bucky, you seem better." Steve says, grainy in the video, trying to smile. The soldier nods.

"Night Visitor." Is all he says. Steve frowns, but doesn't say anything. The soldier nods, his lips twitch.
Steve sighs.

"I missed you." Steve says, the same thing he always says in closing before leaving the Soldier. "I hope you get better."

Then he leaves. The soldier frowns and puts a hand to his heart, patting it slowly.

The next footage is from a day later. It's just of the Soldier sitting by himself, in the middle of the night. He's slowly running his flesh fingers over the glass Tony had given him.

Every few seconds he looks over at the door looking hopeful. He sits there all night; Tony fast-forwards through the footage watching as the man tries to spin the glass between his hands like Tony had. He's so careful with it, with the metal arm, barely touching it. At about 7 in the morning, The Soldier sighs, and in a flash the glass is gone. Steve comes in the room a beat later and nods at Bucky.

"Good Morning Buck!" He calls cheerfully. Bucky doesn't move.

"You ok?" Steve asks, false cheer in his voice as he puts the food into the food slot.

"Hurts." The Soldier says, and puts his hand over his chest very briefly.

"Hurts? What hurts Bucky?" Steve looks instantly panicked.

The Soldier shakes his head.

"Nothing." He says softly. Steve frowns but doesn’t say anything about it, and then starts chattering on about something.

The soldier doesn't listen, Tony can tell. He stares toward the door and sighs.

A few days later Tony gets more footage. He's been so busy that he hasn't had the time to process everything JARVIS had sent him.

He opens the new video, the second he gets into bed at the hotel.

The Soldier has mastered the rolling of the glass between his palms in this video. He is very proud of himself, but he clearly hasn't been sleeping. Staying up all night, watching the door, looking sad.

 

The day Tony flies home, he sits in the airport for a good two hours before his flight. He’s flying first class of course, his private plane needed repairs. He mostly stays in the VIP lounge but an hour before his flight he gets up and pulls his hood up.

He wanders around the airport for lack of anything better to do. He stops on a whim and looks at some novelty shot glasses in one of the little travel shops in the airport. He chuckles and buys two. He has the worker wrap them carefully and then tucks them into his carry on.

Tony sleeps through most of the flight and gets to the compound late at night, it's almost midnight. He dumps his luggage in his bedroom and then takes the shot glasses down to the containment room.

The Soldier is sitting on the bed like he had been in all of the videos Tony saw.

"Hey Snowflake." Tony calls when he arrives at the room. The soldier looks up, beams and scrambles from the bed.

"Night Visitor!" He cries, excitedly. Tony smiles.

"Hey. How are you?" Tony asks, walking forward to stand close to the glass that separates them.

"Better. Missed you. Safe?" The soldier says. Tony nods, after a moment of shocked silence.

"Yeah, I had to travel for business. Had I known you would miss me I would have told you. I'm sorry." Tony says, surprised. The soldier cocks his head at him for a moment.

"Look." He says and then pulls the tumbler out of nowhere again, and rolls it between his hands. He looks up at Tony and grins. Tony smiles right back.

"Good job!" He says, and The Soldier preens under the praise.

"Can you keep another secret?" Tony asks.

"Yes." The Soldier says eagerly. Tony passes a wrapped package through the food slot.

The Soldier takes it reverently and sits down near the glass, Tony sits down too. The Soldier gently unwraps the paper and reveals the shot glasses. His face lights up.

"For me?" He asks. Tony nods. He gently picks up first one glass and then the other, each with his flesh hand, and turns them over in his hand.

"California." He says simply. Tony nods again.

"Yeah, my company has a large part of their R&D team out there and I needed to go over see some things. But I'm back now. I saw those in the airport and thought of you. Just don't tell anyone." Tony says, watching The Soldier run his fingers over the glass.

Tony bought two that have textures and pretty colors on them, knowing how much Bucky seems to like the faucets on the tumbler he has.

"Always. I will tell no one." The Soldier says solemnly. Tony is surprised, again. The soldier doesn’t really seem to talk in longer sentences to anyone.

They sit quietly for a moment. And then Tony starts talking, because what else is he going to do.

"I'm sober you know. So, buying shot glasses felt really silly. But I like the weight of the glasses in my hand. You know? Cause I've gotten so used to carrying one, but now usually it has water in it. And I roll that one between my hands because I like the texture. Just like you did, it feels nice doesn't it?" Tony smiles.

"And I liked the texture of those." He says gesturing to the shot glasses. "The swirls in the glass and the feelings of the words. My therapist said that it isn't uncommon for recovering alcoholics to want to hold the glasses they used to always carry around, but that the key was to not put anything in it except water or juice, soda. Retrain the mind or something. But I knew how much you liked the glass and I don't think The Asshole gives you things the way he should. That sounded dirty. I just mean that I don't think he treats you like he should, but I also think there are things about you, you aren't telling anyone." Tony whispers, smiling up at The Soldier who is watching him intently.

"That's ok. I can keep a secret too. And I don't talk to the team if I don't have to. So, don't worry." Tony smiles and the yawns. The Soldier smiles.

"Sleep." He says. Tony nods. He stands, stretching.

"Yeah, I'm tired. You should sleep too." Tony whispers. The other man turns and glances at the bed. He sighs.

He reaches the metal hand up and presses the palm flat against the glass. Tony raises his own hand and holds his palm against the glass, right over the Soldiers. He smiles. They both do.

Then the Soldier jerks his head toward the food Slot. Tony goes willingly, and when The Soldier motions he sticks his hands into the slot. The man gently places one of the shot glasses in his hands, his cool fingers scraping briefly on Tony's palms. Tony swallows and pulls his hands back, looking at the man standing across from him.

"Why?" Tony breathes, blinking at the man.

There is a pause, as the Soldier gathers his words or thoughts.

"To replace the one, I made you break." He says. Tony blinks at him and then smiles, curling his hands around the shot glass. He doesn't say anything else, just leaves.

He sets the shot glass on the nightstand and smiles as he falls asleep.

 

Tony tries to stay away, because if Steve ever finds out, Tony is a dead man. And then a week later he and Steve get in a fight. It's minor, but cuts Tony to the bone.

He is actually sitting in the common room, sprawled across a love seat, taking up the whole seat, idly scrolling on his phone. Steve comes in, a huge bowl of popcorn in his hands.

"Ugh, Tony we get it you’re rich, do you have to take up the whole love seat?" Steve taunts. Tony doesn't rise to the bait and just continues scrolling.

Steve settles on the arm chair near the love seat, and Tony hopes that he leaves it, but he doesn’t.

"I want a drink. Tony, I'm surprised to find whiskey in the cupboard, all done drinking your life away, well what's left of it." Steve tries again, no one laughs. Tony swallows and glances at Steve.

"Aww, honey. You aren't worth wasting the good booze on. Didn't take more than a couple of drinks to forget you." Tony snips, then he stands and leaves the room.

 

Tony paces in his bedroom for nearly an hour. Rage is seething through him and pain burns hot right behind it.

He had thought Steve would have been it, that Steve would have been everything. But Steve had revealed exactly what he thought of Tony, in Seven. Fucking. Sentences. Tony wants a drink, desperately wants a drink.

Because he lied, Steve and this heart break are worth the good booze.

His fingers itch, his throat feels tight and he trembles. He wants a drink so badly, but he knows, he knows that one drink will lead to two which will lead to a drinking binge that will lead to more expensive rehab.

So instead Tony storms down to the monster cage. He throws open the door and storms up to the glass.

The Soldier apparently heard him coming, and is standing up right up near the glass watching, waiting.

"I hate him." He snaps. The soldier doesn't move, just shifts.
What Tony does next is either really brave or really stupid. He storms over to the door of the containment cell and slams open the lid of the key pad.

"JARVIS override." He snaps. Jarvis does it without a word and the door slides open. Tony steps into the containment cell and marches right up to the shocked man standing there gaping at him.

"You shouldn't be here." The Soldier says, voice a croak.

"I don't think you're gonna hurt me." Tony stops a few feet from the man and takes a few shaky breathes.

"You don't know that. You can't possibly know that." The Soldier says, stepping back just a bit.

Tony feels reckless and wild, and he wonders if his eyes are blazing.

"I do know. Because I think that programming of yours is more broken then you think it is, and you can speak in complete sentences when you want to, you just don't. And I can't quite figure out why." Tony pauses and draws in a deep breath.

"My ex just said some really hurtful things and I want a drink. So so badly." Tony whispers, and holds his hands out. They tremble and shake, like leaves in a hurricane. "I know I’m being reckless; I know that you probably don't want me here and that I should have thought before I acted. But you don't look at me like I'm a menace, and you don't talk to me like I'm broken and unreasonable. And you didn’t break my heart." Tony whispers. The Soldier blinks at him nervously.

"Not safe. Leave." He says, nervously. Back to single word sentences. Tony sighs.

"You wouldn't hurt me Snowflake." Tony repeats. He reaches out and catches the flesh hand between both of his.

The skin is dry and warm, the palm covered with callouses from his weapons. Tony breathes in and out, feeling the stillness in the man before him. It radiates out, like waves, from him. Tony closes his eyes, and squeezes the hand tightly. He lets the stillness in the man blead into him, and he lets his heart slow.

"You aren't gonna hurt me, because I know that you can break out of here. And I know that you take care of the glasses I have given you. A monster would have broken them. You treat them gently, like fragile birds." Tony opens his eyes and looks up. The Soldier is breathing hard, unnaturally still except for the panting of his breath.

Tony smiles, squeezes his hand. He releases him and turns and flees the room.

Chapter Text

Tony calls his sponsor, and stays up late on the phone with her. He sits in the middle of his bed, cell phone cradled against his face, pillow in his lap, shades open to watch the stars. He quietly talks to the woman on the other end.

He doesn't sleep that night, even when he and Meg hang up. He takes the blankets from his bed, and sits right in front of the windows, swaddled in the quilts. He covers Dum-e and U when they trundle over, U handing him a mug of coffee.

Tony watches the stars and the trees, and if he cries a little then the bots certainly don't judge him. He reaches into the nightstand next to him and pulls out a heavy photo album. He opens it, spreading it open on the ground before him. There is an inscription on the first page.

"To Tones, so you always know that people love you. -Rhodey and Pepper." Tony reads to the bots, and smiles. He flips the pages slowly, eyeing each page.

It's full of pictures, from his childhood. Him as a pudgy baby held securely between Jarvis, the human, and his wife Ana, both of them kissing his cheeks as he gums his fist. Tony balanced on Ana's hip as she stirs a huge pot of something on the stove in his childhood home. Tony and Jarvis admiring Tony's first circuit board, the tears from Howard's rejection still fresh of his cheeks.

There are a few pictures of Tony and his mother too: Maria in a beautiful blue dress, with her dark hair pulled back into a stylish updo. Pearls line her elegant throat, and beam from her ears. Her eyes and lips are painted and she's genuinely smiling. She's holding baby Tony, he can't be more than 2, leaning toward the Christmas tree. Her mouth is open in a smile as she tips Tony toward the tree, he's smartly dressed and laughing.

Tony gently trails his fingers down this photo fondly.

Tony smiles and tips the book toward the bots.

"She's beautiful, isn't she?" Tony asks. Dum-e and U beep solemnly. Tony flips the page, the next one is also him and Maria.

Tony is older, probably seven or eight in the photo, and is standing beside his mother in a photo studio. Maria is sitting down, wearing a floor length dark red dress, that makes her dark hair shine. Tony in the picture is wearing a matching tie.

There are two photos of them in the same outfits, one of them looking staged. Tony and Maria are wearing matching fake smiles, and she is holding one of his hands between both of hers folded in her lap.

It looks dated, fake. But in the next photo they are both laughing, beaming at each other. Tony remembers the day.

The photographer had made some stupid joke about the weather and Tony and Maria had both laughed, loud and long. Tony loves this photo, it's his favorite of his mother. She looks so light and happy, unlike the person she became toward the end, sad and reeking of cigarette smoke. That and booze.

Tony turns a page. There are a few more pictures of him and Jarvis and Ana.

The pages after that are pictures of him and his MIT friends. Him and Rhodey laughing at the camera, a group of them and their other friends at parties and in the labs.

Then there is a picture of him and Rhodey and Pep at some SI function. Pepper is wearing a beautiful evening gown, and Rhodey is in his dress uniform, they look beautiful and they are both standing protectively next to Tony. He smiles fondly and turns the page.

This is what he and Meg had talked about for a long time, this is the next step in his recovery.

The next few pages are pictures of him and Steve. Pictures from press conferences, pictures of him and Steve laughing on the Quinjet after missions, pictures from lazy Saturday mornings in bed, pictures from dancing in crowded rooms, and late-night shawarma runs. Pictures that before made him feel full, happy, lighter, now make him feel hollow, gutted. He pulls them all out of the photo book and stacks them neatly. He closes the book, after tucking a photo of him and Nat smiling during movie night into an empty slot.

He takes a deep breath. He stands slowly, carrying the photos. He wraps them in a rubber band and writes a note. He takes it to Steve’s room, and sets them down just outside the door. He takes a deep breath, and sends a picture to Meg.

You aren't worth the good booze, and you certainly aren’t worth the memories.

Tony stays away from the Soldier for a while, almost two weeks. He works on SI and works in his lab, and works with the team on upgrades. Steve says nothing about the photos, beyond a few sad looks toward Tony sometimes.

Tony decides late one night to go through some of the footage from the Containment cell.

Steve and The Soldier are getting nowhere. The Soldier seems resigned and sad, agitated almost. He barely sleeps, from what Tony can tell.

Steve tries, talking about old war memories, or their childhood, anything. But it never works. The Soldier never responds, or rises to the bate. Sometimes he stares at his hand, the flesh one, sometimes he just stares blankly straight ahead.

One night, two days earlier, the Soldier stays up late. He bites his lip and stands, crossing to the glass and staring at the camera.

"Come back. Sorry. Miss you." He says directly into the camera. Tony blinks and then stands. He grabs a sweater and pulls it on as he descends into the basement. He steps into the room and smiles when The Soldier scrambles up eagerly.

"Heya Snowflake, figured out the cameras, did you?" Tony coos and grins when the Soldier nods.

"Message." He says and Tony grins.

He is always surprised at how much the soldier conveys with one word. It's a very utilitarian way of speaking, he doesn't need to waste space on words he doesn't need. Tony kinda wishes he'd talk, ramble on about something, but he likes that the Soldier knows he understands.

"I'm sorry I didn't get it for a few days. Next time, you can look at the camera and ask JARVIS to get me. He will." Tony says. The Soldier nods, looking thrilled. Tony smiles right back. He steps closer and sits down close to the glass, The Soldier sits too.

"So, Snowflake. You got a name you want me to call you?" Tony asks. "Cause calling you Snowflake works but you gotta have a preferred name. It can be anything." Tony whispers. The Soldier tips his head. He takes a deep breath.

"I am not Soldat anymore." He breathes, words deliberate, and soft. "But I am not Bucky either." Tony nods, delighted by all of the words. "I am something in-between, at least right now." He says, and then sinks back into quiet.

"James." He says finally. "Snowflake." He says and grins. Tony laughs, and holds his palm up against the glass. James lifts his and fits his palm aligned with Tony's.

"Pleased to meet you Mr. Snowflake, aka James." Tony grins. "My name is Anthony, Tony if you'd like. But you can't tell anyone I was here." Tony says. James lights up.

"Anthony." He says softly, toying with the word in his mouth. He grins happily. "Secret, always." James says. Tony nods.

They don't take their hands down from the glass and after a while Tony starts talking.

He ends up telling James stories from his childhood, and James listens intently. He frowns at all the right moments, smiles when Tony shares something funny and most importantly listens.

Tony talks himself out and stands.

"I promise to come back Snowflake." Tony whispers. James stands too and nods.

"I'll be here." He says. Tony smiles and leaves.

 

Tony means it. He swears he does. But then he finally has some time to be in his lab. And the Iron Man suit needs some repairs anyway.

So, he pulls off his business suit and changes from his slacks to Jean's and a black tank top. He instructs the suit through JARVIS to go stand on the repair dock. When the suit is in place, Tony climbs up to sit on its shoulders and tinker with the helmet. Then he wraps himself around it like a koala and works on the back of the suit.

And then the next thing he knows, JARVIS is interrupting his work. Tony glances up and around, blearily.

"J, baby repeat that." He asks, still confused.

"Of course, sir. You have been awake for 36 hours, and have been working on the suit for approximately 20 of those hours. I strongly encourage that you sleep." The bot responds. Tony blinks.

"What time is it?" He whispers.

"1:30 in the morning." JARVIS responds. Tony sighs.

"I suppose sleep can’t hurt." Tony says and stands.

But on the way to his room he decides to visit the monster in the basement. The man is sleeping, a rare sight. He’s curled on the bed, sleeves pulled over his hands. He’s tucked his head down under his arms, and his breath is slow and even. Tony walks slowly up to the glass and watches.

He puts his hand up, like they always do and smiles. He watches the sleeping man for a while. He wants the man to know he was there; James should know he was there. He glances around and then spots one of Steve's sketch pads lying around.

Tony walks over and scrawls a note, folds it and sticks it through the food a lot, making sure it flutters to the ground. A place a super assassin will find it, but a place his asshole best friend won’t.

Chapter Text

Tony goes and passes out on his bed after visiting the basement. He wakes up after nearly 13 hours. He stretches and lies in bed for as long as possible. Today he and Steve have a press conference.

People want to see Captain America and one of the richest men in the world talk about their breakup. The publicist said that since the public was denied a public fall out, a press conference is pretty standard. And today is the day.

They are gonna talk about all the taudry details. Not the real ones of course, the fake ones Pep came up with. Then Twitter and the internet will take care of the rest.

Tony takes a deep breath and gets up. He takes a scalding shower and dresses in his favorite suit. He makes sure his hair is immaculate and then heads to the conference room of the Compound. Steve is standing there on the phone. Tony straightens his tie and sighs. Steve glances at him and ends his call.

"You ready Tones?" He says. Tony scowls at him.

"You don't get to call me that Captain Rogers." Tony snaps. He pushes through the door and smiles when he sees the cameras flash. He sits down and grins out at the reporters. Steve sits down and smiles too.

"Well hello again!" Tony calls, grin stretching. "It’s been a while hasn't it my loves?" Several of the reporter’s blush. (Reporters are easy to bed, and Tony has bedded plenty.)

"Hello everyone." Steve says, raising his hand. Several of the women in front smile at him and Tony barely suppresses an eye roll.

"So, a beautiful little birdy named Pepper Potts tells me y’all have some questions for me?" Tony says, winking. “You know the drill, one at a time. Speak clearly and we will all get through this." Tony snarks. The room laughs and the reporters sit down.

Steve always used to be in awe of Tony's ability to navigate these things. He has had a lot of practice, and Pep only ever gets reporters who like Tony, even if they don’t agree with him.

"Mr. Stark, is it true that you and Captain Steve Rogers have broken up?" A young reporter near the front asks, note book posed. Tony could laugh, most of them use their phones and take notes later.

"Ah heard about that did you?" Tony snarks and then sobers. "Yes. About a month ago ol' Cap here and I called it." Tony says. Steve nods.

"This question is for either of you, why did you break up? It seemed like you two had something perfect." Tony surprises a sigh. This was the question he didn’t want to answer. Its silent for a moment, and Steve glances at him. He takes a deep breath.

"As some of you know, we recently rescued the Winter Soldier from the Nazi organization Hydra. Since then the Avengers have worked tirelessly to take down Hydra. While we have succeeded, that unfortunately means some things came to light. Some of things we were unable to move past." Steve says, serious as always. Tony snorts slightly at that.

What a load of shit. It's the scripted story they came up with. It's at least part of the truth, kinda. But it’s still bullshit.

"Care to elaborate Mr. Stark?" Yet another reporter asks. Tony pastes on his press smile.

"Um, that about sums it up. Sometimes things happen. But our work on the Avengers hasn't been changed any by the split." Tony replies.

"Mr. Stark, have you been seeing anyone else?"

Tony grins, and takes a moment to debate. It’ll piss Steve off, but the press will go wild and that's worth it.

"Oh Sarah. How on earth did you know? I have been ever so careful." Tony says flirtatiously. "Yes, I have been seeing someone. It's very new, and it's very hot. You know what I mean?" Tony tosses out, winking. Several reporters laugh, and beside him a pen Steve was holding shatters. Tony laughs.

"Easy there tiger!" Tony says laughing. "Um, this person wished to remain as anonymous as possible. But the second they want to go public you all will be the first to know." Tony grins, and is relieved to see Happy motioning them out of the room. Tony stands, poses for a few more photos and then strides out. The door slams behind him.

"What the fuck was that Tony?!" Steve screeches. Tony sighs and turns to raise an eyebrow at the blonde. He shoos Happy away when the man sends him a concerned look.

"Aww Steve. That was a press conference." Tony says. Steve's face hardens.

"No Tony, what the fuck was you telling the press that you are in a new relationship?" Steve demands. Tony blinks.

"Oh, I see. You're the only one allowed to move on. Got it." Tony snaps. Steve's eyes flash.

"I didn’t move on! You broke up with me!" Steve snaps. Tony gapes at him.

"Yeah, because you wrote a letter!" Tony cries. "Also, you did move on, how the hell do you explain Wilson?!"

"Don’t bring Sam into this." Steve snaps, fury flickering around his features. Tony blinks a few times.

"Like you didn’t bring the motherfucking Winter Soldier into this? Right, my fucking mistake." Tony cries. Steve snarls.

"You leave Bucky out of this!! He is a victim Tony! How do you still not see that? He didn’t mean to, he was brainwashed, kidnapped!! I thought you of all people would understand that!" Steve shoots back.

"Oh because of Afghanistan, because of the metal in my chest?! Yeah, that makes me sympathetic to the man who murdered my mom!" Tony yells right back. "But that isn’t why we broke up. You fucking wrote a letter!”

"I was out of the country rescuing Bucky! God. Why are you like this?! I was busy and all I had time for was that!!! Bucky could have been hurt!! I wasn’t gonna abandon him because you needed your hand held!" Steve shouts. Tony blinks. Blinks again and swallows thickly.

"There it is. You launched a super soldier sized nuke at our relationship. And instead of calling me and telling me that you are in love with him and telling me what he did, you wrote a fucking note. And yeah, I needed my hand held. I needed my boyfriend! I needed you Steve!" Tony shouts and then deflates.

"I needed you. And I loved you. God, Steve. You don’t get it. You told me the most earth-shattering news possible in a letter. I loved you, I thought you were it for my future. And you still don’t get what you did." Tony sighs, voice going soft.

"You only love yourself." Steve snaps. Tony actually stumbles back a few steps.

"I am letting you house the God Dammed Winter Fucking Soldier in the basement. I let you move your new boyfriend into my house, and you dare to tell me that I only love myself?!" Tony snaps. Steve folds his arms and glares.

"You know what Steve. Fuck you." Tony says, and storms off.

He gets into the elevator and pushes his hands into his hair. He lets himself sob, let's himself feel like he’s folding in on himself. JARVIS is a literal gem and stops the elevator. Tony shrinks into the corner and sobs. In rehab they told him to let himself feel the pain, to not diminish the feelings.

"Sir, the Monster in the basement is currently unattended and if you would find it beneficial, I will send the elevator down." JARVIS says a while later.

Tony sniffs and shrugs. Why not? His beef is not with the assassin, it's with Steve. So, he hauls himself up and strides out of the elevator. The soldier is awake this time, and he stands immediately when Tony walks in. He smiles.

"Anthony!" He cries. Tony tries to smile, but let's it fall from his face.

"Hey Snowflake." Tony whispers. He walks up to the glass and tips his forehead against it, bracing both his palms on it. He breathes out, watching his breath fog the glass.

"Anthony?" The Soldier breathes, cautiously.

"Been a bad day, Snowflake." Tony whispers. Its silent for a few long moments.

"Someone hurt you." It isn’t a question. "Who?" The soldier asks. Tony finally looks up.

"Nobody important." Tony sighs. He pulls out his phone.

"FRIDAY, find out from J how many people are still here."

"Right away boss." There is a pause. "Only two. Clint and Natasha, they are in their room watching TV. The Asshole has gone to New York to drink with Wilson, Thor is off world and Dr. Banner is at a college in Colorado helping with their biology department." The AI says. Tony smiles and pockets his phone.

"So, Snowflake. I have a wild and crazy idea." Tony says. The Soldier eyes him suspiciously.

"What say we break you out and go watch a movie or something?" Tony asks. The soldier pales and steps back.

"I could hurt someone." He breathes. Tony shakes his head.

"Do you want to hurt someone?" Tony whispers. The man tilts his head.

"No." The Soldier says. Tony beams.

"Great. Then let's blow this popsicle stand." Tony strides toward the door and overrides the codes. The door hisses as it opens.

Tony steps back and waits.

The Soldier takes a deep breath and steps out to the cell. Tony smiles. James takes a deep breath and then smiles. Tony beams right back, reaches out grabs the man, and tows him to the elevator.

They take it up to Tony's suite. Tony pulls the man out of the elevator and leaves him in the living room while he heads into his kitchen.

"I'm thinking pizza and movies. You a meat lovers’ kind of guy, or veggie? Or do you want hamburgers? I can order anything." Tony quips. James blinks. Blinks again.

"What?" He asks. Tony laughs.

"Sorry, I get really excited. I want pizza. Is that ok with you?" Tony asks. Calming a little.

"Yes." James replies. Tony grins. He orders two pizzas, a molten chocolate cake, and two, two-liter bottles of soda.

Tony then settles on the couch and smiles at James.

"Sit wherever you want Snowflake. You want to watch TV?" Tony asks. "You haven’t seen any of the best sci-fi movies. And it's my duty to educate you."

James shifts for a few moments, looking nervous. He doesn't move, stands totally still. He breathes out slowly and settles on the other end of the couch near Tony and eyes him, as though nervous. Tony grins.

"I'm thinkin Star Wars, cause you gotta see those movies, you just gotta." Tony says, tossing a blanket at the stunned assassin. Tony curls under his own, and ques up the movie.

The pizza arrives twenty minutes later, and Tony settles in to watch the movie. James eats an entire pizza and a half by himself, and drinks one entire two liter of soda. He curls under the blanket, flesh hand fisted in it as though he's scared it'll be taken away.

He's behaving as though everything will be taken away actually. He eats quickly and sneaks’ glances at Tony. He is enraptured by the movie, staring at it with wide eyed wonder. Tony grins, and doesn't say anything, just eats his half of the pizza and watches with minimal comment. Which is quite the feat given how Tony prefers to watch movies.

They get through the first two Star Wars, (episodes IV and V, Tony is no animal) that night. James watches with the same baffled expression through the whole thing, and Tony alternates between watching James and watching the TV.

 

At the end of the second movie, the pair walk back to the containment cell in silence. Tony reaches out and takes James hand, his flesh one, as the elevator descends to the basement. The pair stops for a moment and looks at the glass of the containment cell. Tony sighs.

"I hate that we are caging you.: He whispers. James turns and looks at him in surprise.

"Not a cage. Safe." He breathes. Tony shakes his head.

"It's a cage. Glorified, but still a cage. And you don't need it." Tony whispers.

James sighs, and they stare at the glass in silence for a beat. James squeezes Tony's hand after a moment and steps forward. He releases Tony's hand and walks into the cell, closing the door behind him. Tony doesn't know why it makes his chest feel tight. He swallows and walks forward to put his hand against the glass. James does the same, and smiles softly.

"Thank you, Anthony." He whispers.

"Anytime James." Tony replies.

Chapter Text

The next night Tony goes to bed at the ungodly hour of 9:30, but it's hot, stifling and his mind keeps returning to the containment cell. Steve is still out, so Tony finally gives up and throws the blankets off. He gets dressed and then pads down to the basement.

James beams when he sees Tony and presses his palm up against the glass.

"Heya Snowflake. I'm bored and can't be alone with my own mind, come hang out with me?" He asks.

James frowns but nods. Tony beams when JARVIS puts in the override in without being asked. Tony grabs James' arm and tugs him toward the elevator. The ride up to the pent house is silent, but not in a weird way. When they get back to the penthouse Tony heads to the freezer and grabs two pints of ice cream.

"Alright Tasty Freeze you want Cherry Garcia or Phish Food?" Tony asks holding up the pints. James takes a long time, studying each thoroughly before picking the Phish Food.

Tony grins and tosses him a spoon. James catches it easily and moves toward the couch. Tony shakes his head and crosses to the balcony, sliding open the glass door.

"Come on, it's a gorgeous night out." He says, and then throws himself into one of the luxury deck chairs.

He cracks open the ice cream and tucks in, waiting patiently while James makes his way out cautiously. He takes a deep breath of the fresh air, and perches on a chair next to Tony. He opens his ice cream and takes a small taste. His eyes widen and he gapes at Tony.

"Holy Shit." He says. Tony laughs.

"They've changed ice cream since the 40s, haven’t they?" He murmurs fondly around another spoonful. James nods and then leans back against the chair and savors another bite. His eyes drop closed, and he looks happy, calm.

Tony smiles and mimics his posture, enjoying the night breeze and the cool ice cream. The trees around the compound rustle slightly and it's peaceful.

"Here, try mine." Tony says a while later when James has finished his ice cream and is turning the container over and over in his hands. James takes the pint from Tony cautiously and takes a very quick bite, like he's afraid Tony will take it back. His eyes widen and his hand twitches, like he's wanting to clutch it to his chest and inhale it.

"Easy Snowflake, I ain't gonna take it from ya. Not all of us can eat a pint and a half of ice cream and not get sick. Or gain a thousand pounds." Tony says, folding his arms and closing his eyes. He can feel James still staring at him but doesn't open his eyes. The man will speak if he wants to.

"But…." James starts and then stops. Tony doesn't say anything. "Anthony. You don't need to worry about a thousand pounds. You are beautiful." James states. Tony's eyes fly open in shock and he gapes at James, who has gone back to savoring his ice cream.

"Th-Thank you?" Tony whispers. James nods and takes another bite. Tony just watches him and wonders what the fuck he is supposed to do now.

James takes a deep breath suddenly, and sets down the now empty container.

“Head hurts." He whispers. "flashes of memory." Tony nods.

"You need to talk about it?" Tony whispers. James looks at him and then looks up at the stars.

"Stars." He says. And then pauses. Tony looks up at them too, waiting it out. "I remember the cold stars in Siberia. They don't care, they just sit there every night." James says. Tony nods.

"When I was in the cave…" He trails off and swallows. "When I was in that damn cave, I wished more than anything to see the stars." James looks at him in surprise. "I wanted to find the constellations and wanted to remember my mom." James frowns and looks up at the sky. “Instead there was just stone.”

"M scared." James eventually says, Tony glances at him. "Those god damned words are still in my damn head. I could hurt someone." He whispers. Tony frowns.

"Hasn't Cap come up with a way to fix that?" Tony asks. James frowns.

"He doesn't understand." James says. Tony nods.

"No, he doesn't." He whispers. James glances at Tony and frowns. "Welcome to the future." He whispers. James frowns and glances away.

They lapse into silence; Tony folds his arms and closes his eyes. It's quiet, something Tony still isn't used to that sometimes. New York City was always loud, always bright, always in motion. But here, here it’s quiet and dark. Tony misses the city almost desperately sometimes.

Tony is almost asleep, when James starts singing, softly under his breath. It's soft and haunting, and in Russian. Tony opens his eyes and turns to look over at James. James is looking up at the sky, tears are glistening in his lashes. The words are sad, and James looks broken, shattered in the soft light from inside.

Tony wordlessly reaches over and threads his fingers through that of James' flesh hand. The man grips his fingers like a lifeline, but doesn't cease his singing. Tony figures it's a lullaby, it sounds like one anyway. Soft and lilting, but sad and hurting spoken by the broken man. Tony doesn't want to think really about how the assassin learned it, but the thoughts come anyway.

Was it a mother, clutching her baby and singing in a broken voice while death itself descended upon her home? Was it a handler, singing it mockingly as they hurt James? Tony flinches at either thought, both equally gruesome and horrific, for vastly different reasons. Tony shudders and grips James hand back just as hard. James trails off eventually, and they just sit in silence again.

James starts singing again, nothing that sad though. He sings old war songs, and something that sounds maybe like Russian pop. Tony eventually falls asleep, listening to the lilting Brooklyn-by-way-of-Russia carry him to sleep.

 

"Another drinking binge Tony? Seriously this is just sad." a voice Tony really doesn't want to wake up to taunts. "At some point you will have to stop vying for attention like this and actually get a personality."

Tony groans and opens his eyes. Rogers is standing in the doorway eating cereal too loud and giving Tony the eyebrows of judgement. Tony stands and stretches, back popping. He hopes James made it back before anyone found him, but he suspects Steve wouldn't be here if he had seen James. Tony yawns and heads toward the door.

"Move. I wanna go to bed." Tony says, and waits for Steve to get his bulk out the doorway.

"Seriously Stark, this is just sad." Steve says, and doesn't move. Tony takes a deep breath.

"Move Steve." He whispers, trying not to rise to the bait. It turns out he doesn't have to.

"Get out of the fucking doorway Rogers before I blow you to pieces." A voice snarls behind Steve. Steve jumps and steps back inside.

"Platypus!" Tony squeals and rushes towards Rhodey. Rhodey braces himself and opens his arms, scooping his best friend up into a huge hug.

"Hey there Tony. Miss me?" Rhodey asks.

"Yes, forever and always, to infinity and beyond. Yes." Tony cries, actually sobs into Rhodey's jacket and breathes deeply. Rhodey always smells so good, spicy and strong. Tony adores it and wraps himself as tightly around Rhodey as he can. Rhodey smiles fondly, and scoops his best friend up to carry him back up to Tony's suite.

They settle on the couch, Rhodey instructing JARVIS to turn down the heat and put on Star Wars, before wrapping them both in a blanket. Tony snuggles close and takes another deep breath.

"I missed you Honeybear." He whispers. Rhodey smiles into Tony's hair and kisses his forehead.

"Missed you too Tones."

Rhodey never used to be this tactile with his friends, but he thinks that's usually true of most people before they meet Tony. Tony who is always touch starved and really just wants a snuggle. Rhodey at first remembers being uncomfortable by it, not wanting to constantly be touched. He eventually got over that, realized that snuggling with your best friend is the best thing ever.

"Want me to kill him?" Rhodey asks a while later when they both realize that Steve has disappeared.

"Yeah kinda, but no." Tony whispers, almost asleep. Rhodey chuckles and runs his hands up and down Tony's back. Tony makes a happy noise and curls closer, which Rhodey hadn't thought possible. Tony falls asleep not long after that.

Chapter Text

Rhodey and Tony hole up in Tony's suite for two days, ordering copious amounts of pizza and ice cream and catching up on their lives. They watch lots of Sci fi and there are lots of cuddles. Tony smiles near constantly and laughs several times so hard he snorts water or soda out of his nose.

"Seriously, I think her cat is like an alien or something. He is way too smart for his own good!" Rhodey cries, grinning at Tony as he snorts.

"Oh my god, your neighbor's cat is not an alien!" Tony shrieks, giggling. Rhodey raises a brow.

"Listen you have not met Danvers, but yes, I definitely think that her cat is an alien." Rhodey snarks. Tony chuckles.

"You know, as weird as our lives are at this point, I'm not even surprised. Maybe I’ll get an alien cat." Tony mutters. "So, there anything between you and this Danvers person?" Tony asks, wiggling his eyebrows over the rim of his glass. Rhodey rolls his eyes and chucks a pillow at Tony.

"What are you twelve?"

"Yes."

Rhodey heaves a long-suffering sigh and then shrugs.

"Nah, she's dating Captain Rambeau." Rhodey says. Tony deflates a bit, damn he had hoped Rhodey was dating someone. "Oh, don't look so sad, we are both grown ass men, Tony Stank." Rhodey teases.

"Nooooooooo! You swore you would let that die‼‼‼‼" Tony cries, dropping his head back against the back of the couch. Rhodey grins and glances down at his hands.

"But I am sorta seeing someone." He says, smirking when Tony's head snaps back up.

"What?! Who?!" Rhodey just grins.

"Promise you won't get mad ok? And you can't tell anyone." Rhodey says, suddenly looking a little shy.

"I swear I won’t. I mean I might tell Pep that you are seeing someone next time she calls, because she always asks how you are." Tony says, flapping his hand. Rhodey laughs.

"Well that's thing. Pepper and I are dating." Rhodey says. Tony's jaw drops.

"Holy. Shit!"

"Please don't be mad. If you're uncomfortable with it then your friendship is more important to me and Pep." Rhodey pleads.

"Honeybear no! I'm so not mad! I'm so happy! You two are perfect for each other! Seriously! I love this!" Tony squeals and flings himself at Rhodey, wrapping him in a tight hug. "Call Pep!" Tony demands.

"Tones, it's two in the morning! I'm not gonna wake her up!" Rhodey protests.

"She isn't sleeping! There was a huge board meeting that ran late, and I can almost guarantee that she's still up! Call her, call her, call her!" Tony says bouncing up and down on the couch. Rhodey rolls his eyes.

"Fine I will call her, but then we are going to sleep! I'm old Tones." Rhodey says fondly, dotting a kiss on Tony's temple when he leans forward to grab his phone. He hits the speed dial button for Pepper and puts it on speaker.

"Hey baby. How's Tony? Is he sleeping? I swear to God Jim if you are keeping him up late, I will drive out there and kill you both!" Pepper says.

"Well, darling you are awake now." Rhodey points out, while Tony beams at him.

"Yes, but I am actually headed to bed. I'd just slipped into that nightgown you bought me. It's so soft." Pepper says.

"Hi Pepper, I'm still awake and you are on speaker phone and I'm begging you not to keep talking." Tony chimes in while Rhodey guffaws.

"Oh my god, Jim! Warn me next time!" Pepper shrieks, Rhodey just continues to laugh. "Hey Tones, how are you?"

"I'm better since my Platypus is here." Tony says, curling into Rhodey.

"I'm glad you two are catching up. Before I forget." Pepper says, there is a rustle like she has climbed into bed. "That prototype you sent over is finished, you can come up whenever and test it."

"Yes! Thank you Pep!" Tony cries, and makes overexaggerated kissing noises at her.

"Pepper, could we steal you from work on Saturday? I want to spend the day with my two-favorite people in New York City." Rhodey says. Tony squeals in delight.

"Say yes, Pep! Say yes‼" Tony pleads.

"Well who can say no to that. Yes, I'll move my meetings and we will spend all day together. Just the three of us!" Tony and Rhodey both cheer. Tony smiles and glances at Rhodey, who looks happy and wistful.

"I'm gonna go shower and check on something I have been neglecting." Tony says, standing.

"You don't have to go…" Rhodey says. Tony smiles fondly.

"It's ok Honeybear, talk to your girl." Tony winks and heads to his bedroom. He hears Rhodey take Pepper off of speaker and start speaking quietly to her.

Tony shuts his bedroom door.

"J baby, how's James?" Tony asks, trying to ignore the flash of guilt at that.

"He appears sullener and more anxious but otherwise seems unchanged." The bot says.

"Will you make sure that when Rhodey and Steve go on their respective runs tomorrow that you wake me up?" Tony asks.

"Certainly sir."

"Thank you." Tony replies and then heads to brush his teeth.

He crawls into bed and snuggles under the covers. He falls asleep quickly, waking only slightly when Rhodey slips into bed an hour later. Tony lets Rhodey pull him close and breathes out a happy sigh.

 

"Sir. Sir. Sir, if you do not get up now then you will not have time to visit the basement before Rhodes returns." Tony grumbles and sits up, scrubbing his face.

"Fuck, why do these idiots get up at the butt fuck of dawn? Christ." JARVIS wisely doesn’t answer. Tony grabs one of Rhodey's hoodies and heads down to the basement.

He's yawning when he walks in, distracted, thinking about how if he makes this quick, he can be back in bed and asleep before Rhodey gets back.

"Anthony!" James cries and races forward, slamming his hand against the glass harder than he means to. Tony smiles and places his hand against the glass much more calmly. "Are you ok? Are you hurt? Where have you been? Did I do somethin?" James demands.

"Easy there Snowflake. I'm fine, something came up. You didn’t do anything, I promise." Tony reassures gently. James frowns.

"That's not your sweatshirt." He says softly, slowly. Tony glances down, having forgotten that he had pulled it on earlier.

"Oh, no. It's Rhodey's." Tony explains. Something flashes across James' face. Tony frowns. "He left it in my room, and when he got up for his run this morning, I just grabbed it so I could come check on you." Tony says, adjusting the hoodie. James' face doesn't show any discernible emotion and Tony shifts nervously.

"'M fine." James says.

"Good. Sorry I haven't been busting you out of here lately, Rhodey is gone a lot so I rarely get to see him. And then tomorrow we are gonna go to NYC for at least one night probably more. You gonna be ok?" Tony asks. He feels off kilter suddenly, like he upset the man but he doesn't know what he said wrong.

"Fine." James says. Tony frowns.

"Ok, well I'm hopefully gonna bring back a present for you when I get back."

"don’t have to."

"I know, I want to. Hang in there, I'll be back soon. But I gotta go now, Rhodey will be back soon." Tony whispers.

"Secret?" James asks.

"Yeah. I'll see you soon James." Tony whispers. James nods and turns away.

Tony pauses, and then turns away too. He makes his way back to his room. He crawls into bed and sighs. It's still too early, and that conversation was weird but sleep tugs Tony down once more and he goes willingly.

Chapter Text

Pepper is thrilled to see them both the next day, pulling them both into a long hug.

"I have missed you both so much!" Pepper cries. She is dressed comfortably, in jeans and a blouse with flats. Rhodey pecks her briefly and hooks an arm around her waist. She leans into him, and Tony smiles at them fondly.

"Tony, do you want to head to your shop and see the prototype?" Pep asks. Tony shakes his head.

"Nah, I'll head down there tonight when you two scamper off to do the nasty. For now, I want to go get an incredible cup of coffee!" Tony cries, ignoring the looks his friends give him at his wording. They set off to a coffee shop, where Tony buys a too large coffee and drinks it too fast. They wander around Central Park after, chatting and laughing.

Tony can't keep the smile off his face, something in him finally relaxing. They get hot dogs in the park and squeeze onto a park bench to eat.

"How are you doing Tony, really?" Pepper asks, turning toward him. "Every time I call you, you say you're fine, but Tony, that letter…." Rhodey makes a noise of agreement, looking concerned.

"Yeah Tones, and then Barnes is living in the basement? Come on. Are you ok?" Rhodey asks.

"Your penthouse is always open; you can always come back." Pepper says. Tony smiles.

"Pep, hun, you live in my penthouse. So, it isn’t mine, it's yours. And I know it's got a guest room. But I need to be with the team. You know that, stupid Fury says i's good publicity to see the team living together. And he isn't wrong. Also, I've spoken with Barnes. He…. He wasn't. It wasn’t him, like it was, but it was Hydra. He didn’t want it." Tony says, watching a couple across the way walk by, holding hands.

"He's scared and he's hurt. And the Asshole is keeping him in the Hulk containment cell in the basement. I've forgiven Barnes." Tony says. Pepper and Rhodey watch him, not saying anything.

"As for the Asshole…. He doesn't know about rehab. And he doesn't know that I'm sober." Pepper glares, and Rhodey frowns. "He's still a douche canoe but I'm rising above. I swear guys, I'm fine."

"We trust you." Pepper murmurs. "But, if you ever need to get away, come visit me! I'll skip meetings and we will watch chick flicks and gossip." She smiles fondly, and brushes his hair back. God, Tony loves her.

They didn't work as a couple. She needs stable, she needs Rhodey. Tony was too much stress, and running a company and Tony is too much. Tony isn't upset by that, because at the time, he had found Steve. Steve, who hadn't thought caring for Tony was too much. He and Pepper were just better as friends, probably one of the few couples that actually applies to. She can care for him much better as his friend. She loves being CEO of S.I., and from what Tony can tell, loves Rhodey too. And she loves Tony, but loving each other romantically was too much.

"I promise. I'm fine. Now what I want is to go back to said penthouse and watch a movie, cuddled up on the couch." Tony says. Rhodey and Pepper grin.

The trio does just that, piling on the comfy couch to watch a cheesy rom com, AC blasting so they can curl together under sinfully fluffy blankets.

They go out to Tony and Rhodey's favorite Italian place for dinner and spend hours eating endless breadsticks and laughing. After dinner, Tony sends the love birds off to desert and heads to his workshop.

JARVIS is moved to the compound, and FRIDAY runs the tower now. But Tony installs J back into the workshop for now so that he can work on the prototype.

Tony settles in and pulls up a video call.

"Hey there colonizer!"

"Hey Princess Shuri." Tony says smiling at the young woman on his screen. She smiles back.

"You wanna talk about the mind thing, right?" She asks. Tony nods, and launches into his spiel about his prototype.

"So, it's called Binarily Augmented Retro Framing, or BARF. God, that's a horrible acronym. But basically, it should let someone reframe traumatic events. The problem is..."

"The problem is that said someone has to be awake and actively changing their memories. Which, depending on the trauma could be worse." Shuri says, tapping a pen against her lips. Tony nods.

"Exactly." Tony says, and then pauses, knowing that Shuri is thinking faster than he has a hope of comprehending.

"We need a way to do essentially the same thing, but less traumatizing." She says. "So, either we have to make sure the person is unconscious or find a way to eliminate the trauma. But that could change based on a case-by-case basis. Is this a general desire to help, or is there a specific person in mind?" Shuri asks. Tony sighs, and pushes a hand into his hair.

"There's a specific person. You've heard about my living situation, right?"

"I have. We need to get the trigger words out. How many are there?"

"There are ten words or phrases." Tony says.

"Including a response phrase?"

"No."

"Do you have them?"

Tony swallows, glancing away. He does have them. But he almost hates to say them.

"Oh perfect! Your AI just sent them." She says. Tony blinks and then grins; JARVIS is the fucking best.

"So, your system is likely too traumatic for this instance. And no offense but that sounds expensive." Shuri says. Tony chuckles.

"We all know you're way smarter than me. That's why I'm not working alone on this. I know when someone can do better than me." Tony says. Shuri blinks, and blinks again.

"Captain Rogers is wrong about you."

Tony scrubs his face. "He's wrong about a lot." Shuri laughs.

"Typical white man." Tony laughs then too.

"Let me think on this. We may need to bring him here, to Wakanda. Do you think you can manage that, if that's what needs to happen?" She asks. Tony nods.

"Absolutely. The man needs help, and he can never lead anything close to any sort of life if those words are still in his head. He deserves to not live in fear that he will be captured again." Tony says, heart aching as he thinks of the torment in the man's eyes. Shuri tips her head at him, and considers him for a moment.

"I'll video call you later when I have a solution. We will fix your boyfriend." Shuri says, and disconnects before Tony can even dispute it. He blinks, and frowns. If Shuri can tell from thousands of miles and a gritty video call what Tony is starting to feel, then certainly others can too. He has got to get himself under control.

Tony frowns and glances at the clock. It's nearly midnight. Rhodey and Pep would be so proud if he just went to bed now. But he left some cars here, and his fingers twitch with the desire to dismantle an engine.

 

Time slips by while he is under the car, grease staining his fingers and his clothes, and he has the engine mostly apart when his computer pings with a video call.

"Stark?" Shuri calls when JARVIS answers.

"I'm under a car currently, but I can hear ya fine." He calls. There is a pause.

"Isn't it like 3 in the morning in New York?"

"Yeah, sleep is for the weak." Tony snarks. She snorts.

"Sure, it is. Anyway, I have an idea. If we put him in cryo, or maybe even just under approximately a metric fuckton of anesthesia, then I can remove the programing from his head. He wouldn't even feel it, and he should be totally restored then." Shuri explains. Tony scrambles to get out from under the car so fast he hits his head and pops into the view of the hologram rubbing his head.

"Really? You can fix him?" Tony says, then shakes his head. "I mean help him?" Shuri smiles.

"I can. But he has to come here. I can't bring my equipment to you, and I feel better about doing this in my own lab. Is that manageable?" She asks, and Tony gets what she isn’t saying. She just wants him and James to come, no Cap.

"Yes, I'll make it happen. I don't know when I can get there, but I'll let you know when we can come."

"Perfect. If he would feel safer traveling in cryo so there is no risk of him hurting anyone, let me know. See you soon Stark." She says, and disconnects again. Tony grins and goes back to working on the car.

Chapter Text

He spends all of the next day passed out in bed. Well, that is of course after Rhodey comes down and drags him out of the lab, grumbling about how keeping a normal sleep schedule would apparently kill Tony. Tony just grins and collapses fully clothed into bed, exhausted.

He wakes up later in the evening when Pep and Rhodey bring back dinner. They all pile into the living room again, and Tony tucks into his Chinese food while listening to Pepper talk about her and Rhodey’s day in the city.

Tony smiles at them happily, watching how they sit close together and share bites of their food. They are a good pair, and they make Tony ache a little bit. He wants that, wants to lean back against someone the way Pepper just did, casually against Rhodey. He wants someone here, someone to wrap an arm around his waist and hold him, brushing kisses in his hair. He takes a deep breath and turns toward the movie, playing some cheesy sit-com, letting the two have a moment.

Even Steve never fit into this dynamic, he never liked the way Pepper and Rhodey touch Tony casually, platonically of course. Never liked the way they would hold him so casually even before they got together.

Rhodey and Pepper tuck Tony in a few hours later, which feels weirdly domestic. He smiles happily and passes out again.

"Hey Rhodey, Pep." Tony greets the next morning, breezing into the room, dressed in a suit. Pepper is back to business dress as well, and Rhodey is in sweats. He pecks them both on the cheek.

"Are you leaving? You can stay longer you know." Pepper says, frowning. Tony smiles.

"Something has come up, I gotta get back. But I'll leave Rhodey for ya." Pepper nods, and goes back to the email she was typing, but Rhodey looks surprised.

"I can come back with you Tones." He says. Tony smiles and flops into Rhodey's lap.

"I know you can Honeybear. But I've gotta go to Wakanda soon." Tony says. Rhodey's eyebrows shoot up.

"Really? Why?" He asks. Tony grins.

"Princess Shuri and I are collaborating on a project." He says.

"Don't believe him, Shuri is working on a project and Tony just wants to watch her in action." Pepper says. Tony and Rhodey both snorts.

"Rude, but accurate."

"When do you leave?" Rhodey asks.

"Hopefully by the end of the week but it depends on a couple things." The other two nod. Tony leans into Rhodey and allows himself to enjoy the contact for a few more moments.

"When do you go back?" Tony whispers. Rhodey gives Tony a squeeze and sighs.

"On Wednesday."

"Well! I will leave you two love birds alone! Call me, Platypus, I miss you always." Tony says, leaping up and heading toward the door. He leans down and busses Peppers cheek on the way past.

"Love you Pep, I'll call more regularly."

"Empty promises! Drive safe!" She calls. Tony grins and gets into the elevator.

Even after years of Rhodey leaving like this, it still tugs at Tony's heart every time. He sighs, feeling tears spring to his eyes. He feels it for a moment, the ache of separation. Then he pulls himself together and climbs into his car, speeding out of the city toward the compound.

 

When Tony gets home, he heads straight to his room and changes into comfier clothes. He then does some of the mandatory paperwork for S.I., so that the second Steve leaves James, Tony can go talk to him. It feels like the afternoon and evening drag by, and Tony is practically vibrating by the time JARVIS gives him the all clear.

Tony races down the stairs, ignoring the elevator and sliding into the room. James looks up and his face brightens.

"Anthony!" He says, standing up.

"Heya Snowflake, didya miss me?" Tony teases.

"Yes." James says, simply like its common knowledge.

Tony blinks, and then grins.

"Missed you too James. I have a surprise for you." Tony says, James grins.

"Glass?" He asks, watching Tony's hands. Tony shakes his head.

"Not this time buddy. Better. I found someone who can take the programming out of your head." Tony says. The room goes deathly still. James appears to be holding his breath, and Tony watches him curiously.

"I don't think it's possible." James says softly. Tony frowns and dashes to the door. He yanks it open and walks up to James. He doesn't want glass separating them, he wants to hold the man's hands and look right into his eyes.

"It is possible. I found someone smarter than me to do it." Tony says, taking the man's hands. James looks away.

"Not possible."

"It is! James, I swear, Princess Shuri can do it! She is way smarter than me, and we video called over the weekend and figured it out. She can do it." Tony pleads.
James still won't look at him, and Tony realizes why when a tear traces down his cheek. Tony reaches out and wipes it away, before cupping James' cheek and turning him to look at him. "I promise James. Do you trust me?" Tony whispers. James’ vibrant blue eyes shimmer with tears and he nods.

"I trust you Anthony. But…" James bites his lip and closes his eyes, body tensing. Tony hadn't anticipated this, but it makes sense. Of course, he is scared, this is scary and requires a lot of trust in Tony and someone he has never met.

"Come with me Snowflake. Come on." Tony says, tugging on the man's hands. They meander up to Tony's rooms, and Tony guides James into a chair in front of his computer. He takes the other chair, and pulls up the video call.

James tenses at the ringing noise and then gapes at the screen when Shuri’s annoyed face pops up.

"Stark, I am right in the middle of something, what?" She grumbles. James shrinks back a bit.

"Sorry Princess. I just got back from NYC and I told Snowflake here that you can fix him. But he doesn't believe me, and he's apprehensive. I thought talking to you would help." Tony says, reaching out of sight of the camera and taking the metal hand, which is curled in a tight fist.

"Oh! Hi Sergeant Barnes! How are you?" Shuri asks. James stiffens.

"m ok." He mumbles.

"You'll feel much better when I get that garbage out of your head." Shuri says. James frowns and looks down. It's silent for a moment.

"It's not possible. Hydra…. Short of killin' me, there's nothin anyone can do." He whispers. Tony's heart breaks, and he scoots closer, pressing their thighs and shoulders together. The metal fingers curl around his and he squeezes back tightly.

"Well, Hydra is no match for me." Shuri says softly. "I know I can do it, and you don't even have to be awake for it. If you come to Wakanda, I'll take care of it." James looks up a bit, eyebrows creeping up.

"Flying?" He says. Tony's brow furrows in confusion, how else would they get there? Shuri however understands perfectly.

"We can put you in cryo Sergeant Barnes. You can make the flight in cryo and then I will complete the procedure when you get here." Shuri says. James visibly relaxes, and sighs, rubbing his face.

"Anthony?" He breathes.

"Who the fuck is Anthony?" Shuri asks.

"Really Shuri? What did you think Tony was short for?" Tony asks, exasperated. James' lips quirk briefly.

"I have honestly never thought about it." Shuri says, shrugging. James chuckles briefly.

"Can Anthony come with me?" James asks, so softly Tony barely hears it. Shuri glances between them.

"Yeah, Stark can come. But no one else. Wakanda doesn't need to be overrun by white men." Shuri says. James blows out a breath as he nods.

"Stark, do you still have a cryochamber?" Shuri asks. James stiffens. Tony sighs and cuts a glance at the man and then looks at the screen.

"Yeah, I do."

"Perfect. Sergeant Barnes, I understand if you need a few days to prepare for going back into cryo. Whenever you are ready, you and Stark can fly out and we will get your head fixed." Shuri says, smiling gently.

"Thank you." James whispers.

"Stark, call me before you leave so I know when to expect you."

"Will do. Thank you, Princess." Shuri nods and disconnects.

Tony turns from the now dark screen and looks at James. They are silent for a while.

"Can we go in two days?" James asks. Tony nods.

"Yeah, we are gonna have to keep this secret, Steve can't know until we are gone." Tony says. James nods.

"I don’t want to tell him." James says. Tony suppresses his grin and tries to ignore the happiness at hearing James say that.

Tony leans his head on James shoulder briefly and then smiles at him.

"I think we need more movie time to celebrate." Tony says. James smiles and nods.

They pile on the couch, under blankets of course, and watch Star Trek. Half way through Tony falls asleep, slumped against James.

James goes very still at the feeling of Tony leaning against him, and then slowly leans back, shift Tony to his chest. He curls his arms around the smaller man, tucks the blankets around them both and then gently breathes in the scent of Tony.

"Sergeant Barnes, if you too, wish to sleep, I will wake you up before anyone knows you are gone." JARVIS says. James jumps a bit and then smiles, and nods.

 

The next two days are a whirlwind of activity on Tony's end. He hires a pilot, someone Shuri found who can be discreet and can fly the jet capable of hauling the cryo equipment. He packs clothes for himself, and then on a whim orders James a whole new wardrobe also to be brought on the trip.

He doesn't sleep at all for those two days, and spends most of the time in the jet, setting up the cryochamber, making it as comfortable as possible for James. He makes sure it's set up with a seat right next to it for him, even if James doesn’t know he’s there, he wants to be close. The flight is around 15 hours, and Tony has a bed set up for himself as well. They are gonna leave at around 10 pm from New York and Tony is doing his best to stay awake and not to over caffeinate so he can sleep most of the flight.

Then mercy of all mercies, Fury calls Steve out on a mission, the day they are supposed to leave. A mission to Siberia to take out some lingering Hydra, just Steve and Nat and Clint. They all board a quinjet and take off into the afternoon, while Tony whoops and cheers in relief, because sneaking James out is now going to be a cake walk.

At around 9 that night, Tony is ready, his stuff is packed and on the jet. The cryochamber is ready and waiting and the pilot is on board with his copilot preparing for the flight.

"Heya Snowflake, ready to go?" Tony asks. James sighs and nods. Tony smiles and hands James a set of super soft sweats. James takes them and looks surprised.

"Why?" He asks.

"Um, someone told me that when they started thawing out, clothes chaffed, and felt awful. I hoped that the softer the sweats the more comfortable you would be. If you don't want them, you don't have to wear them." James blinks in surprise. Blinks again, and then takes a careful step forward and wraps an arm around Tony, pulling him into a hug.

"Promise you will stay with me. Even when I'm asleep." James whispers. Tony hugs the taller man back.

"I'm not going anywhere Snowflake, I'm gonna be there the whole time. Even when you're sleeping." Tony breathes.

James takes a deep breath and releases Tony. He steps back into the bathroom area of his cell and changes into the clothes. He comes back grinning, wearing fuzzy socks. Tony smiles and takes the man's hand.

They walk onto the jet and Tony shows James the set up.

"The bed's for me, I haven't slept in two days so I'm gonna pass out as soon as you do." Tony says smiling. James smiles slightly, eyes glued on the chamber.

"Does it hurt?" Tony whispers. James shakes his head.

"Waking up does a little." James says, and Tony files that away, to discuss with Shuri and see if there is a better way to wake James up. James takes a deep breath and heads toward the chamber. Tony releases his hand. James settles into the chamber, lying back against the almost bed like support. He is shaking a little bit, and Tony steps forward.

"James, hey. Snowflake look at me." Tony whispers. James turns to look at him, eyes guarded and scared. "Do you trust me?"

"Yes."

"Good, I'm not gonna let anything happen to you, and I'm gonna be here the whole time. We can trust these people, we are gonna help you. This is not like any of the other times ok?" Tony whispers, reaching out to cup James' cheek. James reaches up and holds his hand there for a moment.

"Ok. I trust you." James whispers. "I…." He trails off and sighs. Tony waits, knowing James will say what he needs to if it's important. "I'm ready. See you when I wake up." James whispers.

Tony smiles and steps back. "I'll be right here Snowflake." James nods and leans back, closing his eyes.

Tony sticks the vitals monitor on to James chest and steps back. He puts the code in to activate the chamber, and watches sadly as the cover slides into place with a soft whoosh.

"Initiate cryofreeze?" The cool female voice asks.

"Yes."

"Initiating." There is a pause, with a soft hissing and Tony watches James face. It doesn't change.

"Cryofreeze successful, vitals suspended, operations normal." The voice says. Tony sighs and steps back. He hits the call button to the cockpit.

"Everything is good to go back here." He says.

"Roger that." The pilot says.

The engines rev and they take off soon after. Tony sits by the window for a few minutes, watching New York City come into view and then fade away again, followed by endless expanses of blue ocean, barely recognizable in the night. He closes all of the window shades and kicks off his shoes. He crawls into the cot and tucks the blankets around himself. Before he sleeps, he has JARVIS send off a message to Shuri that they took off and are on their way.

Chapter Text

"Mr. Stark, sir." Tony groans and pulls the pillow over his face.

"Mr. Stark, you requested that I alert you when we are making our decent into Wakanda." The pilot says, sounding amused. Tony groans again, but sits up. He scrubs his face and heaves himself out of bed. He pulls up the window shade, and watches the lush green landscape draw nearer for a while, letting his mind just sort of float as he wakes up.

"We are almost there James." Tony says, turning toward the cryochamber. James looks as though he is sleeping, not like he is frozen. Tony sighs, and gets dressed, and carefully styles his hair so it looks less like he has been up for 48 hours and then asleep for nearly 16.

They land 45 minutes later, and Tony stands and fidgets nervously. Shuri had told him that once he arrived, her team would come and transfer James to her lab. He rests his hand atop the chamber and waits. The glass is cold.

"Ah there are the broken white men!" Shuri says, stepping into the airplane. Tony smiles, but doesn’t say anything. "Relax Stark. My team knows what they are doing, it'll take us five minutes tops to get him up to my lab, his temp shouldn’t even change." Shuri says, and steps aside as her team arrives. Tony steps back too, and watches nervously as they disconnect the cryochamber.

"Power lost, entering stasis mode." The voice says. "Stasis mode only sustainable for four hours." The team unlocks the wheels and braces themselves around the chamber. Shuri says something in Wakandan and the team moves as a cohesive unit out of the jet and into the castle in front of them. Shuri motions for Tony to follow.

They walk much slower than the team, who jog with the chamber into the building. Tony frowns.

"Relax Stark. You’re gonna offend me. I know what I'm doing, and Barnes won't know that you were away from him for ten seconds." Shuri says. Tony laughs then, because he is being ridiculous.

They arrive in Shuri's lab, right as her team finishes reconnecting the cryochamber.

"Power returned. Vitals stable, temperature stable." The voice says. The team nods respectfully at Shuri and leaves the room.

"I like the AI in the chamber, that's a nice touch." She says, wandering over to her computer system. She pulls up a program and motions Tony over. "What do you think colonizer?" Tony gapes at the plans. They are so sophisticated, and nothing he would have thought of. When he says as much Shuri laughs.

"I know, that's why you called me." She grins, taking the sting out of her words. Tony smiles back.

"We will get started tomorrow. Come on. Your broken white boy will be here when we get back. My mother and brother have insisted that you join us for dinner. And then I am sure you are tired so after dinner I will take you to your room." Shuri says.

Tony takes a last look at James before following Shuri.

He feels a little guilty because he promised he would be there the whole time, but he is starving.
And the food is incredible, as is the company. T'Challa is hilarious, and he and Shuri bicker the whole time. The queen is kind and welcoming and Tony laughs a lot and eats even more.

Shuri then shows him to a guest room.

"There's two beds and the bathroom is just through there." She says, pointing.

"Why two beds?" Tony asks.

"Once your boy is fixed, he's gonna need to recover. You seem to be the only one he trusts." Shuri says, and shrugs. She turns away.

"Oh, by the way. You and your man are the only ones allowed in the country currently. If Rogers finds out you are here, he will not be allowed to enter the country. So, don't worry." Shuri says, smiles and leaves. Tony blinks and then grins.

 

Tony wakes up really early. Jet lag is a bitch sometimes.

He heaves himself up and into the shower, enjoying the warm water cascading down his body. He scrubs his face and hair with the fancy Wakanda soaps provided. When he's done, he towels off with the fluffiest, nicest towel he has ever seen, and gets dressed.

He chooses worn out, permanently oil stained jeans, and a worn-out band tee. He slips into the hall way and heads to Shuri's work shop. The cryochamber is whirring and clicking softly in the quiet. It glows faintly, the screen on the front showing the temp. Tony drags a chair over and sits down next to the chamber. He reaches up and places his hand over James' on the glass.

"Hey there Snowflake. How are you doing?" Tony whispers. "I know I said I'd be here the whole time, but I gotta eat and sleep you know? But I'm back, and I'm not goin anywhere." The only answer is a click in the machine as the temperature is held constant. Tony sighs and tips forward, resting his head against the glass.

"I know that after this, you are probably gonna remember everything between you and Rogers." Tony grits out. "I know that he will tell you some things about me, but please. James, please don't believe him. I am not the person he says I am. I just need you to know that."

He pauses for a second.

"I have forgiven him, you know. Well, ok. Maybe I haven’t forgiven him. For what he did. I’m trying though, I swear. But I don't think that my heart can handle it if you hate me too, I really don't think that I can handle it. So, promise me, Snowflake, that I'm still gonna have you." Tony whispers. He pretends the tears leaking onto the glass aren't tears, that if anything they are condensation. He wipes his eyes, and sits back in the chair, curling in on himself. He sits in silence for a long time.

He just watches the cryochamber, watching James. It's a little unsettling to watch, he is so still, the cryo freezing him in time. Tony nods off again, curled in the chair.

 

"Wake up, Stark. I have coffee." Shuri says, nudging Tony with her foot. Tony grunts and looks up at her blearily.

"Come on, have some coffee." She coaxes.

"Coffee?" Tony whispers, and makes grabby hands at her. She laughs, and hands the steaming mug over. Tony takes a deep pull of it and then sits up straighter, back popping. Shuri chuckles.

"You really care about him, don't you?" Shuri asks. Tony follows her gaze, looking fondly at James.

"I shouldn't, there are a thousand reasons I shouldn't." Tony says. Shuri rolls her eyes.

"There are usually reasons not to, but don't worry. I don't care. Care about it him or don't." Shuri whispers, and squeezes Tony's shoulder briefly.

Tony smiles at her and stands, following her to the fancy computer she sits down at. Her fingers fly across the keyboard, pulling up programs and diagrams. She expands them and Tony is suddenly standing in the middle of a hologram of James brain.

"I took these scans, or well, I told a machine to take these scans while we were sleeping." She says. Tony steps back until he can see all of the brain, instead of standing in the middle of it. "Hydra scum used a method that is effective but not very advanced. He suffered some repeat brain damage from the electrocution straight to his brain. Luckily, his healing factor is advanced enough to heal it. It looks to me like what Hydra attempted to do was damage the memories in his brain and leave the trigger words and the memories associated with them. That’s why they worked. The problem is that his brain would heal, but not remove the trigger words." Shuri says. Tony nods.

"So, he would slowly remember things, but the effect of the trigger words is still there." Tony says. Shuri nods.

"Precisely. Now according to the scans, because he's gone so long without the torture, his mind and body are healing. I would like to raise the temperature of the cryochamber a little, enough that his body can heal as well as his mind but he remains unconscious. I think in order for my plan to work he should be as healed as possible." Shuri says. Tony nods.

"That could take a few hours or a few days. He won’t wake, and he won't feel anything." Shuri assures.

Tony offers a weak smile. This all makes him nervous; he trusts Shuri, and he trusts that James won't feel anything at all, but he hates that the man is in cryo for longer.

Shuri inputs a command into the computer on the chamber, and the chamber hisses as the temperature rises a little.

"Come Stark, I will leave one of my team here to monitor the chamber. I have a few things I want to show you."

Tony is reluctant to leave, but follows Shuri with another last look at James.

Shuri, as Tony always suspected, is way smarter than Tony. The tech and things she has designed for the palace and her country are incredible. Tony doesn't think his mouth closes the entire time, he's so in awe. Shuri just beams proudly as he sings her praises and shows him new things.

"Those bracelets are life changing, and all the things you are doing with Vibranium, I'm so impressed!" Tony says, hours later. He's stuffing his face with some food whose name he tried to pronounce a thousand times, butchering it each time to the great amusement of the royal family. Shuri chuckles.

"I didn't necessarily create all of that, but I have helped." She says. Tony just grins. "Speaking of Vibranium, I have some ideas for a new arm for your broken white boy, but I'm sure he would appreciate your input." Tony's eyes widen.

"No, no, I'm sure you know what's best. I have no good ideas compared to you." Tony mumbles. T'Challa chuckles.

"You have made him insecure, sister." He says. "My sister is very good at all sciences, it's true, but she much prefers the biological side of things. Mechanics do not interest her as much. I have heard that few can rival your genius, Stark. Your minds working together will fix that broken man." T'Challa says. Tony blinks and then blushes a little, the king of Wakanda is pretty attractive and to hear him say those things, well Tony is kind of a mess.

Shuri smiles at him with a knowing look and stands.

"Let's go check on Barnes, and then look over some ideas for arms."

James is not as improved as Shuri would like, but is hopeful that by tomorrow they can start work on removing the programing. Tony and Shuri spend hours after dinner, pouring over designs for arms, bickering back and forth with each other. Tony finally is sent to bed around two am. He's almost asleep when the phone rings.

"mmm 'ello?" Tony grumbles, without opening his eyes to answer the phone. He balances it on his face and drops his hand to the pillow.

"WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO STARK?!?!?! WHERE THE FUCK IS HE?!?!" Steve bellows into the phone, so loud that Tony jumps, sending his phone toppling to the ground. He scrambles for it.

"Rogers?" He asks, rubbing his face.

"Where is he? What did you do with him?!" Steve growls, voice low and dangerous. Tony sighs. "I swear to God, Stark, if you hurt him in any way, I'll kill you."

"Please, threaten me, see how well that works for you." Tony snaps. Steve snarls.

"Watch your fucking mouth Stark. Where the hell is Bucky?!?!" Steve roars. Tony sighs.

"Why would I tell you?" Tony snaps. "You're just gonna accuse me of murder or something equally stupid."

"Fuck you Stark! You had no business being anywhere with him without my consent!"

"Oh, so you own him now?"

"HE'S MY BEST FRIEND! YOU ARE NOTHING TO ME OR TO HIM!!! WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STARK????" Steve screams, and something crashes in the background. Tony flinches, and can feel panic starting to rise in his gut.

"And there it is, good to know those two fucking years meant so much to you." Tony whispers. Steve doesn't say anything, just pants into the phone.

"You are such a self-obsessed whore. This isn't about you! This is about Bucky!! He isn't someone to just get on your back and spread your legs for, Stark." Steve whispers, Tony's name filled with disgust, when it tumbles from Steve's mouth. "He is better than that, and he deserves better that you. So, if you have squirreled him away so you can get regularly laid, I will hunt you to the ends of the earth to find you."

Tony blinks, blinks again and realizes the silhouettes of the room are blurry because his eyes are filled with tears. Tony swallows, there's a giant lump in his throat.

"That's not what this is. You asshole, that's not what this is! James barely knows his own name." Tony stops abruptly, as the gravity of what Steve says hits him. "Do you really think that I am that much of a whore that I would…. That I would take advantage of him like that?! That's basically rape Steve, and you should know I'm not that person!" Tony snaps. "Jesus Steve, I like dick but not that much!"

"Fuck you Stark! You spread your legs for everyone, I heard rumors you know. About you and Pepper…" Steve taunts. Tony stands up, furious.

"Do not bring Pepper into this, you hear me? Leave her the fuck alone. This is between you and me, leave her out of this." Tony snarls. Steve just laughs.

"Fine, bring Bucky back, or I swear Stark, it'll be the end of you."

"Good, come get me asshole." Tony snaps and then ends the call by hurling his phone against the wall.
He sinks onto the bed and sobs, shaking with the force of his emotions.

 

He gives up the idea of sleep, he's shaking and hyperventilating too bad. He pads down the hall to Shuri's lab, and curls in the chair next to James. The tears don't stop and he shivers in the cool air.

"I wish you were awake; I could really use someone to talk to. Or hold me. God, I miss Rhodey." Tony whispers, wiping at his eyes. "Your best friend is such an ass."

Tony sits in silence for a moment, watching James through the frosted glass of the cryo. James twitches sometimes, the temperature has risen enough that his heart is pumping, very slowly, allowing his healing factor to kick in.

"I can't really believe how long I dated him. Did he tell you?" Tony asks eventually, there is of course no answer.

"We dated for nearly three years, and I thought we would get married, or something. I loved him, so much it felt like I was breaking. But it wasn't healthy, he was never there for me the way I was there for him. He hated my reputation, hated the press, the spotlight I'm constantly dragged into. He would get jealous and angry sometimes, for no reason. Or no reason that made sense. And I loved him, I thought I was the problem, that if I just changed and got my act together, then he would finally just love me. God James, I drank so much. So much, to just forget our fights, forget the look on his face when I smiled at someone wrong. And then…." Tony sighs, reaches into his pocket and fishes out the letter.

The writing is smudged, and the paper is getting worn thin, but Tony refuses to get rid of it. A reminder, a warning, to never accept what Rogers put him through ever again.

"And then he wrote seven sentences to end it, to tell me what Hydra did. I wasn't even deserving of a phone call." Tony cries again, tears leaking down his face.

"I get it, I wouldn't date me either, but I would have called someone to tell them shit like that." Tony whispers. He swipes at his face, and curls into the chair.

Tony's phone vibrates in his hand and he answers it. (Stark phones, curse the damn things can survive being hurled against the wall a few times.)

"Rogers I really can't take anymore yelling, ok? Call me every name you want but I need a fucking minute to get myself composed before you start again." Tony breathes.

"One of these days you are going to tell me what happened between the two of you." Natasha says, voice lilting softly.

"Nat!" Tony says, a bit louder, sitting up.

"Hello Antonio, I heard all of the yelling." There is an indignant squawk in the background, and Clint yelling something.

"Well actually, I was sleeping. Clint was hiding on top of the fridge and heard everything, then ran back here and told me." She pauses again. "Antonio, I know you can't tell me where you are…" She trails off. Tony sighs.

"I went to help him. Nat, you have to know I wouldn't hurt him, or…. Or do anything Steve accused me of." Tony chokes, the remembered words making him feel sick. Nat snarls.

"I know, love, I know." She growls. "I am furious that he said those things, I know you wouldn't do that. Do you need help?" She asks. Tony smiles, and feels a pang of homesickness, not for the weird broken home it is now, but the way it was, before he even got with Steve.

"No, we are being taken care of, I promise. We will be home eventually. Well, I will be. He may not want to." Tony whispers.

"Antonio." She breathes, soft, knowing. Tony cringes.

"I know. I don't want to talk about it." He answers, just as soft.

"Then I won't press. But if you need to talk, you call me." She says. "I have to go; I can hear Rogers shouting again. Take care of yourself Antonio." She says.

"Bye Tony!!" Clint screeches, and there is a thunk as Natasha swats him. The call beeps as it disconnects and Tony sighs.

He gets up, pockets his phone, and pats the glass, running his fingers over it, before pressing his palm flat on it like they do when James is awake.

"We are gonna fix you. I promise. Just…. Just don't leave me too." Tony turns and leaves, heading back to his room, for a long hot shower and for his tablet, where he can do some work. Make these hours count. As he leaves, he misses the way James fingers twitch, as though in an aborted motion to place his hand against the glass too.

Chapter Text

Tony eats breakfast in his room, alone, as the family attends to some business that he can’t be privy to. This is fine by Tony. Shuri sent word with breakfast that she would be back by noon to check on James. Tony eats, and then takes his tablet to the lab to sit with James. The hours tick by, Tony designing new arrows for Clint and new widow bites for Nat.

"I see you have not missed me." Shuri calls as she walks into the room. Tony blinks and glances around.

"No rest for the wicked." Tony answers, and yawns. Shuri frowns but says nothing, just pulls up a hologram to monitor James' stats. Tony has JARVIS start formatting the upgrades and then saves and shuts down the tablet.

"It looks good! His brain looks great actually!" Shuri says. "Most of his levels are back to normal, and his brain isn’t showing any more damage." Tony beams, turning the smile from Shuri to James, looking fond. Shuri rolls his eyes.

"You are nearly as bad as my brother and his girlfriend." She says, sounding disgruntled.

She starts getting some tech ready, instructing her team, who filed in after her, to fit something on the top of the cryochamber near James' head. She pulls up a hologram and then turns down the temperature of the chamber. "So, he doesn't feel anything." She says at Tony's curious look.

She presses a button on the attachment to the chamber, and with a soft hiss, a helmet of sorts settles on James' head. Tony shifts nervously. Shuri starts the program, and the helmet lights up. The team hovers around the lab, getting to work on other projects and watching the procedure. Tony really wishes that he could hold James’ hand, but as that isn't possible, he just hovers.

"Alright, let’s get started." Shuri says, clapping her hands. She types a command into the holographic keyboard, and watches what Tony realizes is a projection of James' brain. She watches it carefully and then types something else. That happens several more times. Tony shifts nervously the whole time.

"Don't worry Stark, all I did was type in the trigger words. The helmet sent them into his subconscious so I could see the response. Now I know how to remove it." Shuri says, and then types a very complicated looking command into the keyboard, the helmet's light flashes, and Shuri steps back, watching.

The process is actually rather dull it turns out: it involves a lot of typing and then watching, then more typing. Tony eventually sits, the sleepless night from before catching up to him. It takes hours, and it's late evening by the time Shuri steps back.

"Alright, I think it's all gone. I'm gonna type in the trigger words again and see what the response is." Shuri does just that, and Tony holds his breath, again wishing he could hold James' hand. He grateful though that James isn't awake, isn’t sitting here anxiously for this.

Shuri grins at the results of the first word, and rapidly types in all the others. She beams and steps back, shutting down the program. The helmet shuts off and retracks.

"It was successful, the trigger words are out of his head. His memories are restored, for the most part, his time with Hydra may be blurry, he was likely on a lot of drugs, but his memories before that are intact." Tony gapes at her and then jumps up and wraps Shuri in a hug.

"Thank you." He whispers, crying slightly. Shuri stands stiffly and then pats Tony's back gently before Tony steps back. "I’m sorry, I'm just in awe. I couldn't have helped in such an easy, pain free way and you did it! Thank you." Tony breathes. Shuri smiles.

"You're welcome. Now, let’s thaw your boy out." Shuri says.

They wheel the chamber into Tony and James' shared room, well, Shuri’s team wheels the chamber, Tony and Shuri follow slowly. Tony turns on the thaw feature once they get there.

"This tech is well designed." Shuri says and Tony smiles.

"It's designed to thaw slowly enough that he slowly comes back, and then it's supposed to give him a melatonin injection, formulated for his body, to allow him to sleep off the rest of the effects. After dinner if your team could help me move him to the bed, I'd appreciate it. I can't lift him." Tony says. Shuri smiles.

"That is a brilliant design." She says, and leads the way to dinner. It's just them and the queen mother, as T'Challa was needed elsewhere. Shuri and Tony talk arm designs and other tech while her mother watches in amusement. They linger over dinner, Tony feeling relieved that James is finally helped, finally feeling better.

But Tony is exhausted so before too long, he heads back to his rooms with part of Shuri's team.

"Status." Tony says to the chamber.

"Thawing program enabled, body temperature stable, circulation stable, brain waves stable, breathing stable. Melatonin injection successful, current heart rate and breath rate indicate sleep." The AI responds.

Tony smiles, and unlatches the cover. It slides back with a soft hiss. Tony turns back to the bed, and folds back the covers, adjusts the pillows. He steps back as the team lifts James from the chamber to the bed and lie him down gently. They close the chamber and wheel it from the room with wishes for a good night tossed over their shoulder.

Tony thanks them, and gently tucks James into the bed. He smooths the man's hair back, and then leans down and brushes a gentle kiss along his forehead.

"Sleep well." He whispers and prepares for bed himself. He fills a glass with water and sets it on the night stand next James’ bed, and the climbs into his own, turning out the lights.

He turns his phone off, puts it on his nightstand and snuggles into the bed. He falls asleep listening to the steady sounds of James breathing.

 

For the first time in 70 years, Bucky Barnes opens his eyes and knows exactly who he is. He does not however, immediately know where he is. He blinks a few times, grateful for the bastard super soldier serum that allows him to see in the near blackness of the room.

There is a faint blue light coming from his left, but it is dim, and doesn't really illuminate the room. Bucky blinks again, and swallows. His mouth is dry as hell, but there is a glass of water next to him. He grabs it and downs it quickly. He can hear noises around him, but none immediately make him think a threat is nearby so he doesn’t let the lack of any clue as to his whereabouts bother him too much. He swings his legs to the edge of the bed and stretches.

He smiles in surprise when he realizes that the usually pain and stiffness from being in cryo are gone, instead is the burning need to pee and exhaustion. Bucky stands and pads silently to the bathroom. He remembers a bit more the longer he’s awake and realizes that this must be Wakanda, and that Tony must be here. When he's done, he pads back to bed.

Tony is sprawled on his back, star-fishing in the middle of the bed. His mouth is open and he is snoring softly, hair tousled, skin looking warm and soft. Bucky smiles fondly at him and pauses to adjust the covers around the man. Tony snuffles.

"Mmmmm Dum-E stop tryin t' kill me." Tony mumbles. Bucky chuckles softly, and lets himself take a moment to drink the sight of Tony in. Bucky recognizes him now, where his mind was too muddled to before, and he smiles fondly.

"Thank you." He whispers and goes back to his own bed. He crawls between the sheets and pulls the covers up around his chin. He sighs happily, enjoying the crystal-clear feeling in his mind, and the soft sheets, the fluffy pillows.

He doesn't immediately go back to sleep, instead he takes stock of the room. Watches the light curtains fluttering in the breeze from the open window, surveying the tumble of clothes spilling from a suitcase dropped into a chair by the door that must be Tony's. The room is spacious with two queen beds, the one Bucky is lying in tucked against the wall, Tony's sticks out into the room. Bucky breathes in the new scents, the earthy scent from outside and the clean scent of the sheets.

He shifts slightly, and winces barely at the dull throbbing ache of the metal arm, something he hasn't really noticed for a while. He suspects that the Hydra scum made him forget, included programming to make him ignore it. Bucky rotates his shoulder, flopping onto his back. It doesn't hurt too badly, he's definitely felt worse, but it isn't pleasant.

He's dragged from his musing by a soft sound from Tony's bed. Bucky turns toward Tony and frowns. The man's breathing is picking up and he moans slightly. Not the fun kind, sounding almost pained. Bucky frowns. He sits up, and tilts his head, trying to better hear.

"No…. Please." Tony mutters, voice and breath hitching. It's quiet for long enough that Bucky starts to think that maybe Tony has gone back to sleeping peacefully, when suddenly Tony thrashes wildly in the bed.

"Steve no! Stop!" Tony cries, thrashing so violently the sheets tangle around his legs, which only adds to the terror. "Steve please, don't! Steve‼!" Tony screams, thrashing upwards with a muffled scream. That sends Bucky into action. He leaps off his bed and crosses the short distance between their beds.

"Anthony." He says, voice at a normal volume. Tony continues to thrash, eyelids fluttering as he dreams. Bucky reaches out and takes Tony's shoulders. "Anthony, Anthony!" He tries again louder. Tony doesn't wake, and thrashes away from him.

"Anthony! It's me, Bucky. You're safe, it's alright!" Bucky cries, raising his voice to finally get through to him. Tony comes to with a jolt, arms coming up to grab Bucky's as his wild eyes skitter around the room.

"James?" He croaks.
"It's me. I'm here doll." Bucky whispers. Tony looks around, and then sits up fully. Bucky releases him and sits back, giving him space.

"Where are we?" Tony whispers softly, eyes still flitting to all the dark corners of the room. Bucky turns on the bedside lamp. Tony blinks at the sudden brightness but relaxes a bit.

"I'm not totally sure, if we're bein' honest. I think Africa somewhere? With princess Shuri? But I just woke up a few minutes ago." Bucky says. Tony jolts and searches Bucky's face.

"Oh my God, it worked!" Tony cries. Bucky laughs softly.

"Yep."

"You remember?" Tony asks softly.

"Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, shipped out with the 107th, kidnapped by Hydra, world class assassin for 70 years." Bucky says. Tony beams, and wipes his cheeks, which are damp. Bucky frowns, and reaches out to brush Tony's hair back.

"I'm so glad. I trusted Shuri, of course, but wow, seeing you…" Tony trails off. Bucky smiles.

"Yeah. My head feels clear, finally." Bucky says. Tony beams again.

"That's wonderful James." Tony whispers. Bucky smiles, and checks the clock. It's just after three in the morning.

"You should get some more sleep. You look tired." Bucky whispers. Tony frowns, looks down at his hands and clenches them together to hide their tremble. Bucky frowns, wanting to ask why Tony had been begging Steve to not do something. But Tony is pale and shaking slightly, and Bucky can tell that he'd brush it off.

"Do ya…." Bucky pauses. "Do ya want me to sit here with ya? Or leave the light on?" Tony blinks, blinks again.

"You don't have to…" Tony whispers. Bucky smiles, and gently eases Tony back into the pillows. He tucks the blankets around Tony, who looks slightly bewildered.

"Light on or off?" Bucky asks. Tony hesitates, looking shy.

"Off?" Bucky obliges, turns the light out and leans back against the headboard. He can feel the tension in Tony humming through the mattress. Bucky reaches out gently and cards his metal fingers through Tony's tousled curls.

Tony stiffens, but a light scrape of the fingertips against his scalp has him melting. Bucky smiles softly. Tony shifts onto his stomach, and snuggles into the pillow. Bucky doesn't stop carding his fingers through Tony's hair.

"Did you feel it? When Shuri took the programming out?" Tony asks. Bucky is silent for a moment.

"No, not really. I just dreamed, about being warm." Bucky says, glad for the dark to hide his blush. He had actually dreamed of lying on a blanket, in a field somewhere, curled up with Tony, just talking in the sunshine. Ambient bird songs, a gentle breeze, and Bucky had felt more relaxed than he ever has in his life. He also dreamed that Tony had talked to him about him leaving, which didn’t make sense. Still doesn’t, Bucky doesn’t think he’s ever given Tony the impression he’s going anywhere.

"That's good. I was worried it would hurt." Tony whispers.

"It didn't, but I coulda handled it if it had. Woulda been worth it, and besides, not like I havn' had worse." Bucky whispers. Tony tenses.

"Just because those Hydra dicks thought it was ok to hurt you doesn't mean that I do. I wouldn't hurt you James." Tony says, vehemently, but his voice cracks like he's crying. He buries his face in the pillow. Bucky blinks, and frowns.

"I know that doll. I know you wouldn't hurt me." Bucky whispers. Tony nods, takes a deep breath and then turns his head so Bucky's metal fingers trail along his cheek. Tony sighs, and closes his eyes.

"Stay," Tony mumbles.

"Course, 'M not goin anywhere." Bucky whispers. He cards his fingers through Tony's hair until long after Tony has dropped back to sleep. Eventually Bucky goes back to his own bed, sleeping again, making sure Tony will be able to see him if he wakes up before him.

Chapter Text

Tony wakes slowly to the sound of the shower going, and someone singing. It's some jazzy sounding tune from what Tony guesses is probably the forties. He sits up and rubs his face, smiling slightly. He gets out of bed and gets dressed, in a band T and jeans. He steps up to the sink outside the bathroom and runs the water to wash his face. His phone rings and he towel off his face before answering the call.

"I'm giving you one more chance Stark. Where. Is. He?!" Rogers barks into the phone. Tony really needs to start looking at the caller ID.

"I'm not gonna tell you, so you can give that up. But he's fine. And so am I thanks for asking."

"I don't give a shit about how you are. How can he be fine when he's been kidnapped, again?!" Steve snaps. Tony sighs, turning to lean back against the sink.

"Yeah well, I don't give a shit about you either, so feelings mutual. He hasn't been kidnapped. He knew exactly where we were headed and exactly where he is. I got his permission, and we haven't slept together so don't get jealous." Tony snaps. He can practically feel Steve's rage vibrating the phone.

"You are such a narcissistic whore. He doesn't even know his own name! How could he have known where you were taking him and why?" Steve snaps. Tony pinches the bridge of his nose.

"Rogers, international calling is mother fuckin expensive and as much as I love hearing you croon sweet nothings in my ear, I've really gotta go. My date just got outta the shower, and they are looking like a damn snack in a towel, if you know what I mean. So, excuse me while I enjoy that." Tony says and ends the call. Bucky raises a brow from where he is rummaging through the suitcase Tony packed for him.

"Your date huh?" He asks, looking distractingly delicious in just a towel, like Tony described.

"Oh… uh I just said that to piss off the Asshole and get him stunned enough to hang up." Tony says. Bucky chuckles.

"Fair enough, the conversation sounded frustrating." Bucky says, pulling a tight ass t-shirt on that almost stops Tony's breath. He turns away and shimmies into a pair of sweats, and Tony only checks out his ass a little.

"It was, but it always is when I'm talking to him." Tony sighs. "Come on, I'm starving!" Tony says and leads the way to breakfast.

"Ah, Stark's broken white boy is up and about!" Shuri says, with a warm smile as they enter the dining room. "Sergeant Barnes, meet my brother T'Challa, the King of Wakanda, and my mother, Romanda." She says. T’Challa and the queen-mother both smile and nod at James.

"Ma'am, Sir." He says, standing at attention and nodding slightly at each, which only looks a little ridiculous in the outfit he's wearing. "Please, call me Bucky." He says.

Tony smiles fondly at him and takes his usual spot at the table. Bucky sits next to him. Food is quickly passed around and James eagerly tucks in, eating a lot. Tony laughs and jokes with the family as usual, and Bucky shares a few anecdotes himself.

After breakfast, Shuri takes them to her lab. Tony and Shuri start talking rapidly about vibranium and prosthetics, but Bucky stops in the doorway and looks around the room. His mouth hangs open and his eyes widen with each new thing he sees.

"I love the future." Bucky whispers, and Tony pauses in his ramblings and calculations to grin at him.

"James, if you would like I can have one of my assistants take you on a tour of the castle, and grounds. Show you more of the tech that isn't in here. Tony and I may be awhile." Shuri says. Bucky nods enthusiastically. He is led off by an eager assistant who starts a detailed explanation about vibranium mines.

"Does he know?" Shuri asks. Tony blinks and wrenches his gaze from where he was staring after Bucky.

"Know what?" Tony asks.

"What happened between you and Rogers?" Shuri asks. Tony sighs.

"No, he's been back to himself for less than 24 hours. I'm not gonna tell him what happened between us, not yet anyway. I'm surprised you know." Tony says. Shuri shrugs.

"Superhero news travels fast, and I saw the horrible press conferences you two did." Shuri says. They turn back to their work for a moment. "For the record, I think you are better off without him. I'd set you up with my brother but he's got a girlfriend so I think your broken white boy is a good second choice." Tony barks out a startled laugh and grins at her.

"So, this arm…"

 

They spend their days much the same, settling into a pattern. Bucky spends the days outside, learning about Wakanda with the kids and even takes on a small heard of goats, that have taken to following him around the castle grounds. Tony thinks it's unfairly adorable, watching Bucky walk through green lawns, trailed by children and goats. Bucky tells them stories, and is learning to speak some Wakandan from the children.

Tony and Shuri spend hours in the lab, working on designs for a new arm for Bucky. Tony also observes a lot of Shuri's other projects, learning all he can.

At night they lie in their respective beds, gazing at each other and sharing stories about their days. Bucky tells stories about the funny things the goats do, and Tony jokes about the lab.

It's nice, easy, fun. Tony knows it isn't permanent, but he's grateful that the days bleed into weeks. Bucky seems to appreciate the relaxed pace in order to adjust to being himself again. And Tony likes being away from the team and the stress that goes along with that. But he knows, as soon as the new arm is operational and on Bucky, they will have to go home.

Steve tries calling a lot more, near daily actually, but Tony doesn't answer, ignores the call and moves on with his life. As much as he can, when he's sharing his space with a man plucked straight from his spank bank.

"That is the thousandth time you have looked out the window and sighed. Go see your broken white boy, the arm will be here when you get back." Shuri chides fondly. Tony sighs, but goes, abandoning his tools with a clunk.

 

"Tony!" Bucky calls cheerfully. Tony stops and gapes at him.

He's sitting in the grass, cross legged, in a long-draped outfit, offering handfuls of grass to a very fat goat that is standing in front of him. Two little girls are standing behind Bucky, braiding his hair, adding flowers to the brown locks. They finish a braid and then start again, combing gentle fingers through the brown locks. Bucky looks rested and happy.

"Hi Bucky. Looks like you've made some friends." Tony says, walking closer. Bucky grins.

"Yep." Bucky beams. He reaches out and pats the goat on its head, and it bleats rather pushily at him. Bucky smiles, fond and pulls a handful of grass up to feed the goat. Tony chuckles.

"Spoiled little thing." He says, indicating both of them really, goat and man. Bucky nods.

"Yeah she is. But she's real cute!" Bucky coos. Tony laughs and drops onto the grass near Bucky, the goat ignores him completely.

One of the girls behind Bucky makes an excited noise, before saying something in Wakandan. Bucky chuckles and glances at Tony.

"She wants to know if she can braid your hair." He says. Tony blinks and then blushes a little.

"She can if she wants to." He whispers. Bucky grins and relays the message to the girl, who beams and leaves her friend to Bucky. They sit like that for a while, the sun warm and comforting, the sound of Bucky's goat herd moving around and the girls soft chatter, making Tony feel sleepy.

"So Shuri says you guys are close to finishing the arm?" Bucky says eventually. Tony opens his eyes and glances over at Bucky. The goat has climbed into his lap and is asleep, it's still unfairly adorable. Bucky is running his hand gently down the goats back. Tony might die from cuteness.

Tony nods. "Yeah, it's looking good. We have a few more things to iron out but it's almost ready."
Bucky nods and it's quiet for a bit.

"This arm is attached to my ribs." Bucky whispers, his flesh hand reaching around to rub under his left armpit. Tony nods.

"Yeah, we took some scans while you were under." Tony says. Bucky frowns.

"That means…." He trails off. Tony sighs.

"It means that you are gonna have to be put under again, so we can remove the old arm. Shuri's got some fancy plan, the new arm is gonna be a lot lighter so it shouldn't need to be mounted like this, but I actually have no clue." Tony rambles. Bucky frowns.

"You're gonna be there right?" He asks, voice small. Tony turns to look at him fully, the girl weaving his hair into braids scolds him. Tony shoots her a sheepish look and she combs out his braids with he fingers before returning to Bucky.

"Yeah of course, I'll be right there the whole time." Tony whispers. Bucky smiles slightly, and nods.

"Good." He says softly. They lapse into silence again, interrupted later by Tony's phone ringing. He sighs and pulls it out of his pocket, scowling down at it. He takes a deep breath and answers the call.

"Hey Tash." He says.

"Hey Tones." She says. "How are you?"

"I'm fine. Is it the Asshole? What does he want?" Tony asks. He stands up and paces a few steps away.

"Tony why do you think I'd call just because Steve is pressuring me to?" Nat sighs. Tony shrugs, before remembering she can’t see.

"I don't know. But he's been calling almost nonstop." Tony supplies. Natasha lets out a dry chuckle.

"I'm calling because he's gotten worse. Meaner, saying bad things about you all the time. I wanted you to know that when you two do come back, you had better tell him what storm he's walking into, because it's a big one. Have you told him what happened?" She asks. Tony sighs, glances over his shoulder at Bucky, who is gently stroking the goat and talking to the girls. Another kid has wandered up and is animatedly explaining something.

"No. No, I haven't. What would I say Nat? Hi, I was in love with your best friend, and then you came back and ruined my relationship, and I don't hate you but he hates me." Tony snaps. It's silent for a minute, the line crackling.

"I don't know what you should say, but I know that you probably like him, and he deserves to know what his jackass of a best friend did to you." Nat says. Tony sighs.

"I'll tell him, eventually."

"Make sure you do. Bye Tones." The line goes dead and Tony sighs. He turns and waves at Bucky.

"I'm headed inside, see you later." Tony says and hurries off.

 

That night Tony can't sleep, can't get his mind to quiet. Bucky is sleeping soundly, on his stomach, arms tucked under the pillow, hair fanned out around his head. He looks unfairly beautiful, as he always does. Tony frowns, and turns away to look up at the ceiling. Tears prickle his eyes, and he gets it. He understands.

He understands why the man he loved dropped everything, including Tony, for those beautiful blue eyes.
Tony understands why Steve broke his back, keeps breaking his back for this man.

Because watching Bucky smile at his goats, or tell the children made up stories, watching the way his eyes light up when he tries new food, watching his smile, in the mornings when he wakes up and knows who he is, it makes it all worth it.

It's all worth it to see that, and Tony probably would have done the same had he been in Steve's shoes. Tony rolls his head and looks at the sleeping man, and his heart aches. Bucky deserves the best, he deserves love, and while that probably isn't from Tony, it probably also isn't Steve.

He rolls away from Bucky and curls around the other pillows in the bed. He cries quietly, wishing that things were different. He startles when the bed dips, and a warm body stretches out beside him. A warm hand ghosts down his arm and Tony freezes.

"Shhhh doll, I gotcha, it's ok." Bucky whispers softly.

"James?" Tony breathes, confused.

"Yeah doll, easy I got ya." Bucky breathes, soft and low.

It's quiet for a moment, and Tony tries to still his tears.

"Do you remember what you asked me, before we watched that movie, before you broke me out?" Bucky whispers. Tony nods.

"Remember how you asked me if I wanted to hurt anyone and I said no?" Tony nods again. "I still don't, I have no intentions of hurting anyone ever again, but it hurts me to see you hurting. And I hate the person who made you cry then and now." He whispers.

Tony stiffens, and Bucky rubs up and down his arm. "Talk to me, darling. Tell me what's wrong? What can I do?" He breathes, and gently nuzzles the back of Tony's neck.

Tony sighs, and tucks his face into the pillow, feeling guilty. It's quiet for a long time, and Tony wonders if Bucky fell asleep, but then Bucky pulls him close against his chest, wrapping his arms around him.

Tony hesitates and then reaches up and loosely curls his fingers around Bucky's wrist. Bucky hums softly.

"Thank you." He whispers, and Tony turns slightly. "Thank you for not looking at me like who I used to be from before, thank you for letting me be my own person, and thank you for bringing me here." Bucky whispers. Tony nods slightly.

"You're welcome Bucky." Tony breathes. Bucky holds him tighter.

"You don't have to talk to me, but if you need to talk to someone, I'm happy to listen." Bucky breathes.

Tony rolls onto his back, and Bucky scoots backwards to give him room. He leaves his hand on Tony's chest, right beneath the arc reactor. He swipes his thumb around the edge of it.

"What is it?" He murmurs.

"An arc reactor." Tony whispers back. Bucky doesn't say anything, just spreads his fingers on Tony's stomach. "I was kidnapped, years ago. I was giving a weapons demonstration in Afghanistan, and was kidnapped. Someone I was close to told them to, and there was an explosion. I got shrapnel in my chest, that was moving toward my heart. I had open heart surgery in a cave, with no anesthesia." Tony says, rubbing his chest, right above the reactor.

"It was the worst pain I've ever felt. And when I woke up after I was hooked up to a car battery. I built the first version of this." He pauses to knock his knuckles against it. "in that cave, it keeps the shrapnel from shredding my heart." Tony whispers. Bucky pulls him closer, and leans his head against the side of Tony's.

"I'm so sorry doll." He manages to choke out, voice sounding thick with emotion. "They took my arm without anesthesia or anything and I wouldn't wish that pain on anyone." He whispers. Tony reaches up hesitantly and threads his fingers into Bucky's hair.

They lay like that in silence again, close just listening to each other breathe.

"I…. I never apologized for what I did." Bucky says. "I never apologized and you have done all of this for me, brought me here, fixed me, you’re fixin' m’ arm, and I never apologized."

"It wasn't you James." Tony breathes, and is surprised to find he means it, he bears Bucky no ill will, maybe never did. "It wasn't your fault. And if you hadn't killed them, those asses at Hydra would have sent someone else." Tony whispers.

"But I still killed your mom." Bucky whispers, and he sounds miserable. Tony frowns and turns his head, so their foreheads rest together.

"Bucky, I will always miss my mother, but it isn't your fault. It isn't, you weren't you, you didn't know, and you didn't want to, I know you didn't want to." Tony whispers. Bucky sighs.

"I don't know what I did to deserve this." He answers. Tony cups his cheek gently.

"You deserve more than this." Tony whispers, so soft he almost doesn't hear it.

"Tony…." Bucky breathes, and reaches up to cup Tony's face too. Tony closes his eyes, and feels Bucky's breath against his cheek, his lips. Tony's heart beats almost painfully, and he wants it, he wants Bucky to close the distance, and kiss him. But Steve would never forgive him, never, and he isn't the whore Steve says he is. Tony can feel the other man’s presence heavy between them, even if Bucky can’t. So, Tony rolls away, to the opposite edge of the bed and stands up.

"Tony?" Bucky asks.

"I need to make a call." Tony says, gruff. He wraps a blanket around his shoulders and leaves the bedroom. He walks outside, and sits down, leaning against the castle wall.

He sobs then, breaking down into his hands because the pain is too much.

He sobs for a long time, until literally no more tears will come and then just sits, huddled and numb, outside.

Chapter Text

Bucky knows Tony is avoiding him, has been since their almost-maybe-sorta-could-been kiss, and the ache of rejection doesn't make it any easier to accept.

Bucky lets him, and spends time outside with his goats. That is, until one of the stupid goats decides to throw up all over him. Grumbling, Bucky stomps back to his and Tony's room.

It's empty of course, Tony and Shuri are in the lab, working on his new arm he supposes. He tosses his soiled clothes into the laundry chute and takes a shower. When he's clean, and no longer reeks of goat barf, he stomps to the suitcases in the closet.

He’s rummaging through the one Tony had packed for him, when he knocks a pair of pants from Tony's suitcase to the ground. Bucky curses mildly and bends to pick them up. Under them is a slip of paper. Bucky tosses the pants on top of Tony's suitcase and picks up the paper.

He unfolds it, and reads the few sentences written there. Bucky frowns, and rereads the letter. It doesn't make sense. Well, it kind of does, parts of it make a lot of sense.

But why would Steve need to ask for forgiveness? And why would Steve even write a letter to Tony?

Bucky frowns, and pockets the letter. He leaves the room and heads to the lab. Shuri and Tony are bent over a machine, each working diligently on something.

"Excuse me, princess?" Bucky calls. Shuri doesn't look up.

"What's up, broken white boy?" She calls cheerfully.

"Where are the computers again?" He asks, frowning when Tony continues to ignore him.

"Upstairs, third door to the left of the stairs, it's the library, hard to miss." Shuri says. Bucky thanks her and follows her instructions.

He sits down at one of the fancy computers in the palace library and pulls up the internet. He glances around, the room is empty, and spacious, so the risk of being overseen is low.

He takes out the letter and then types in the search bar Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. It takes a second because the left hand has some delay. Several links pop up, most from unreliable sources, but Bucky sees one link from a slightly more reliable site. He clicks on it and scrolls past the picture to the article. It's just a few sentences:

Tony Stark, Iron Man, and Steve Rogers, Captain America, announce split in a press conference Monday. Several people took to Twitter bemoaning the fact that America's favorite couple has called it quits.

Rumors also flew on almost all social media as to why the couple split, as they gave no clear reason in the press conference. Mr. Stark said that when the reformed and recovering assassin, known as the Winter Soldier, was rescued and moved to a secure location for rehabilitation, some things came to light that the couple seemed unable to move past.

Rumors continue to circulate, but neither Cap nor Iron Man have said anything to confirm or deny the truth of the split. Stark also announced in the press conference that he was seeing someone else, but no further details have been released at this time as to who his mystery beau may be.

Bucky frowns and looks at the picture. It is clearly from some red carpet somewhere; Steve is standing in a military dress uniform with his arm around Tony. He is grinning at the camera, looking sly and cocky, just as Bucky remembers.

Tony is wearing an expensive looking tux, and tinted glasses, but he is beaming up at Steve with open adoration and love written all over his face. Bucky frowns, Steve looks indifferent, but Tony is obviously besotted. The caption is unhelpful:

Tony Stark and Captain America at the 2016 Maria Carbonell foundation benefit and silent auction.

Bucky clicks back to the main search page and scrolls through the results, all of which are unhelpful. He clicks to the images tab, but that makes things more confusing.

There are so many pictures of Steve and Tony at various press conferences, galas, charity events, and a few from after missions. There are also several pictures of Steve and a man named Sam Wilson side by side with pictures of Tony alone, with captions that reads things like:

Did Captain America cheat with Falcon? or Captain America finally ditches Stark and shacks up with Falcon, the world’s hottest new superhero.

Bucky frowns, there is lots of wild speculation online about who Tony's new lover is, but there are no photos of the mystery person and no other evidence aside from the line in the press conference. Something about all of this doesn't fit with the Tony Bucky has gotten to know and the Steve Bucky remembers from the 40s.

He pulls up a video of the press conference, but doesn’t learn anything new and sighs in frustration. This is getting him nowhere, except indicating that the break up they presented to the public and the break up Tony is actually going through are vastly different.

Bucky then clicks through pages and pages of photos from the duration of the relationship. Almost all of them look the same: Tony beaming, looking happy and in love, usually looking up at Steve full of affection, while Steve looks at the camera, there is not a single picture of Steve looking at Tony.

Bucky frowns, was Tony just a filler for Steve? It would appear so because the pictures he finds of Steve and Sam are different, Steve is staring at Sam with expressions that rival Tony’s from their photos. A look he's never documented giving to Tony, Bucky notes.

Bucky takes the letter out of his pocket and scowls at it, how is this the same man that was his best friend? There are parts of this story he's missing, and he sure as shit aint getting the details from Tony.

He bites his lip. He could call Natalia, but that seems like a dangerous idea, he isn’t convinced her loyalties lie completely with the Avengers. He supposes he could call Steve himself, but he'll have to wade through the relief and smothering Steve will try to do.

Frowning, Bucky leans back and drums the metal fingers of his left hand against the table. He is so distracted; he misses the approaching footsteps.

"Ah, I see Stark finally told you of his relationship with your best friend." T’Challa says from behind Bucky. Bucky jumps and leaps from his seat, whirling up onto the desk, and drawing a knife from his shoe.

He brandishes it at T'Challa before realizing and relaxing slightly. The king looks unimpressed.

"Impressive reflexes, but I am no threat, at least not now." T'Challa says. Bucky blows out a breath and climbs off the table.

"I'm sorry, you startled me." Bucky says. The king smirks.

"Clearly. The pictures gave you something to think about?" He asks. Bucky glances back at the screen and nods. "It is a shame; they seemed a good match. Although Stark clearly loved Cap more than he loved Stark." He says with a gentle frown.

"That's kind of the impression I get too." Bucky says.

"Stark deserves better than that, he may seem abrupt and conceited but he is a genuine person." T'Challa says, and Bucky turns to look at him.

"I know. He's amazing." He breathes. T'Challa studies him for a moment and then nods.

"That he is." He says, and then leaves. Bucky frowns, logs off the computer, and pockets the letter. He heads outside, mind full, to sit with his goats and enjoy the cool breeze of the late afternoon. (The barf incident from before far from his mind.)

 

Two days later, Shuri and Tony are done with the arm, and Shuri has planned out the surgery.

"So, Mr. Barnes, we will sedate you, put you under. I have run some tests on anesthesia and your blood, and figured out a dose that should keep you under long enough. Then we will remove the old arm and its hardware. I think that your healing factor should take care of the damage, but there may be some bone and muscle damage that needs to fully heal before the new arm can be fitted. If that is the case, we will heavily sedate you and let you sleep off the healing process." Shuri says.

Bucky swallows and reaches for Tony's hand, gripping it tightly with his flesh hand. Tony ignores the way his heart picks up and steps closer to Bucky. "If there is not too much severe damage, we will add the new mount for your arm." Bucky blinks.

"Wait, this new arm is detachable?" He asks. Tony squeezes his hand.

"Yes, so if you don't want to sleep in it you don't have to. It can also be left on, so you can do whatever makes you comfortable." Tony says. Bucky beams at him, and Tony's heart stutters again. He reaches out and gently tucks a loose lock of Bucky's hair behind his ears, he can’t help it. He maybe shouldn’t, he’s trying to avoid the man and all the feelings attached, but Bucky leans a little into the touch and smiles. Tony smiles back and turns back to Shuri.

"We can start this afternoon if you would like Mr. Barnes." Shuri says. Bucky's expression clears, and he frowns a bit.

"Yes. I'd like this one gone as soon as possible." He says. Shuri nods and bustles off to get everything in order, and to alert the other surgeons who will be helping. Bucky turns nervous blue eyes to Tony.

"You'll stay with me? The whole time?" Bucky asks. Tony smiles, and takes Bucky's flesh hand in both of his.

"Yes, I'll be here the whole time. Don't you worry, Snowflake." Tony teases. Bucky grins and they head back to their room. Bucky takes a shower, mumbling something about wanting to relax, and then fusses with his hair. Tony watches for a while before rolling his eyes.

"Here, come sit." He says, motioning to the floor in front of his bed. "Oh, and bring my shaving bag, yeah that one." Tony says. Bucky hands him the bag, and sits down obediently on the floor, leaning back against the edge of Tony's bed.

Tony opens the bag, and sprays some product into his hand.

"This will make it super soft." Tony says, voice quiet.

He spreads the ritzy, expensive, hair product on his fingers and then gently works them through Bucky's hair. He massages it into Bucky's scalp, then moves the extra down through the dark strands. Bucky's shoulders drop as Tony works, and Tony smiles slightly.

Steve never let him do this, but he loves this, loves pampering the people he cares about. One of the many house keepers who flitted through his childhood, before Ana Jarvis, had been in beauty school and had taught Tony everything she knew. Tony loved it and learned more on his own as he grew older.

Pepper had let him pamper her sometimes, but they had both been so busy it had hardly happened. Steve had hated it, had made fun of Tony for wanting to buy him expensive products, and wash his hair in the shower when they showered together. But Bucky looks relaxed.

Tony sprays some different product, frizz ease essentially, on a comb and gently works it through Bucky's thick, dark hair. Bucky sighs, and settles more firmly against the bed. Tony pauses briefly to shift, unfolding his legs from where he had tucked them up under himself, and allowing them to dangle over the side, on either side of Bucky. Bucky reaches his metal hand up and curls his fingers loosely around Tony's ankle. Tony smiles, and goes back to slowly working the comb through Bucky's hair, gently over and over.

"How come ya never asked me why I talked in one-word answers before the programming got out of my head?" Bucky asks softly. Tony frowns gently, focusing on the comb.

"'Cause I figured it was either the programming, or that you felt you didn’t need more words. I usually understood you." Tony answers. Bucky gives a brief squeeze to Tony's ankle.

"It was mostly the programming, and mostly the fact that I didn' need more words. You understood." Bucky states, with a small shrug. Tony smiles and hums affirmingly.

"Thank you for the glasses, they meant a lot." Bucky whispers. Tony smiles, running his fingers through Bucky's hair to check for knots. (And because he’s a little bit obsessed with the man’s hair.)

"Of course, the Asshole wasn't giving you stuff." Tony states.

"You said that before." Bucky breathes. Tony nods.

"Yeah, well it's still true." He adds. Bucky chuckles a bit.

It's silent for a second, Tony's hands still combing through Bucky's hair. Tony runs the comb through it a few more times, marveling at the way the dark strands bunch through its teeth and then fall back against Bucky's neck.

He also likes the soft sound the comb makes in his hair. Tony sets the comb aside and works his fingers through the soft locks, nails scraping lightly at Bucky's scalp. Bucky makes a small sound and then freezes.

Tony grins and does it again. Bucky resists, but when Tony repeats the motion a few more times, Bucky melts. Tony smiles softly, and is glad that Bucky can't see his face, because he can imagine that the look on his face is impossibly fond and tender.

He's content to just sit there, working his fingers through Bucky's hair. He can tell that Bucky could probably fall asleep like this, and he files the knowledge away, wondering if at some point he'll get to find out.

"Steve never let me do this. He said he hated it." Tony whispers, so softly, Bucky probably almost can't quite hear it. "I could never get a straight answer from him on why, he just hated it. But it's one of my favorite things, playing with people's hair. I used to help Rhodey with his before parties at M.I.T, and Pepper still lets me braid her hair sometimes." Tony continues, fluffing Bucky's hair a bit, and scratching his scalp again.

"I like it." Bucky whispers, soft and slow. Tony smiles.

"Good, you have great hair." Tony says, fingers brushing Bucky's neck as he gathers up his hair. Bucky shivers a bit.

"Sorry Snowflake. My fingers are always cold." Tony says, gently. Bucky shakes his head a little.

"It’s fine." Bucky slurs. He sounds so relaxed, and Tony smiles, impossibly fond, at him again.

Tony feels relaxed too, and happy. It feels kind of like a blanket of contentment, and intimacy has settled over them. The moments feel sticky, long and stretched out. As though time stopped, and there is never gonna be a moment after this one. Tony feels suspended, the rest of the world has fucked off, and it's just the two of them.

He smiles softly, and hums tunelessly under his breath. This feels important, intimate, in an unhurried way, like it means something but both of them haven't the energy to focus on it. Tony just keeps swiping his hands through Bucky's hair, and Bucky is slumped boneless against the bed.

Tony's watch chimes, breaking the spell. He sighs, scanning the message.

"It's time Snowflake." Tony whispers. Bucky sighs in response.

Tony smirks, and types out a response quickly before turning his attention back to the man in front of him. He scrapes all of Bucky's hair back, and makes quick work of a French braid, tight enough to keep his hair back, but not tight enough to be painful. He ties it off with an elastic, and then nudges Bucky up, away from the bed.

They both stand on shaky legs. Tony smiles up at Bucky, who smiles back.

Bucky offers his elbow, and Tony tucks his hand into it before they make their way to the lab.

An operating table has been brought in, stationed under the large windows, along with some extra lights. Bucky tenses, but Tony gives his elbow a squeeze and he relaxes a bit.

"Ah there you are. Ready?" Shuri asks.

Bucky nods, and perches on the edge of the table. Shuri introduces the other surgeons, and Tony hovers nearby, always in Bucky's line of sight.

"If you have no more questions, let’s get started." Shuri says, smiling. "Remove your shirt please." She asks.

Bucky pulls his shirt off, a warm looking sweatshirt that he hands to Tony. Tony takes it, and holds it close, needing something to do with his hands.

"Alright Sergeant Barnes, lie back. This will feel cold for a moment." Shuri says, Bucky lies back, and looks nervously at Tony. Tony rushes forward and takes his flesh hand.

"I'm here Snowflake. Not goin’ anywhere." He promises. Bucky nods, and takes a deep breath. Tony shifts to holding Bucky’s wrist so Shuri can put an IV in the back of Bucky's hand and they wait only a few seconds before Bucky's eyelids are fluttering. His breathing slows, relaxes, and then Bucky is asleep.

"Alright, he's out." Shuri announces.

She and the surgeons get to work, sterilizing the area and gathering supplies. Tony's part isn’t for a while. He is here for moral support and to remove the hardware in Bucky's body, to help remove the arm. But first the surgeons and Shuri have to work.

Tony keeps hold of Bucky's now limp hand and watches as the surgeons numb the area and clean it, before beginning to cut around the metal arm. Tony has to look away, down at the hand he’s holding. He studies the callouses and scars, mapping them all, until Shuri calls to him.

"Alright Stark we are ready for you."

 

It takes three grueling, bloody hours, and lots of anesthesia to get the arm off. Tony is exhausted by the time the thing is off and lying on a side table. The surgeons stitch Bucky back up, resetting his shoulder.

The Hydra dicks had mangled Bucky's ribs and shoulder so bad, the Shuri and her team of surgeons had to break the bones and reset them. Tony had flinched during that whole process, clinging to Shuri's reassurances of one, Bucky didn't feel it, and two, that with his healing factor he'd only be in pain for a few days tops. They put some fancy contraption over his shoulder and side;

"A new cast I'm working on, molds to the body and stays put but can be applied and removed way easier." Shuri explains.

Bucky is given a shot of heavy-duty-super-soldier-grade, pain killers, and then wheeled back to their shared room. They maneuver him into the bed, and cover him up. Tony smiles gratefully at the surgeons and Shuri. He sits on the edge of Bucky's bed after they leave. He smooths back the man's baby hairs, and sits quietly, while he sleeps off the drugs.

"Tony…." Bucky whimpers. "Tony…."

Tony jerks awake and fumbles for the bedside light. He doesn’t remember falling asleep. Bucky is struggling to sit up next to him though, grunting and whimpering in pain, so he must have been asleep for a few hours.

"Hey shhhhh. Easy Snowflake, lie back. It's ok, shhhhh." Tony soothes, sliding off the bed so that he can more easily reach Bucky. Bucky whimpers again and feels at the cast.

"My arm. They took my arm." Another whimper. "Don't make me do any more missions. Hurts. Please. I'll be good. Please." Bucky whispers, desperate. Tony has to swallow, and fight to ignore the rush of anger at Hydra.

"Shhhh baby." He soothes. "You are safe, no one is gonna make you do anything. Don't worry, I got ya." Tony whispers. He lets Bucky sit up when he tries to do so again, helping him. Bucky looks around, and frowns, his fingers running over the cast over his stump. "See? We are in Wakanda, you're safe." Tony whispers. Bucky sighs.

Tony sits on the edge of the bed, and rubs his hand across Bucky's upper back and shoulders.

"Shhhh Snowflake." Tony soothes, rubbing back and forth in a repetitive soothing motion.

Bucky is quiet, but slowly the tension bleeds out of him.

"What happened?" He asks eventually. Tony scoots closer, pressing himself close so that Bucky knows he isn't alone.

"When we removed the mount and arm, we discovered that Hydra really fucked up your ribs and shoulder. We couldn't mount the new arm until we fixed the damage. They reset your ribs and shoulder. The cast is to make sure your healing factor fixes them right." Tony says. Bucky nods.

"So, I have to have more surgery?" He asks softly. Tony scoots closer, keeping up the repetitive motion of his hand.

"Yeah, but the next surgery is much easier. Shuri swears it." Tony whispers. Bucky nods, and his shoulders shake. Tony realizes that he's crying with a jolt. Tony thinks for a moment and then props the pillows against the head board, and settles against them.

"Turn over, onto your stomach." Tony says, pulling a pillow onto his lap. Bucky looks unsure but he wipes his eyes, and stretches out. He buries his face in the pillow and settles himself between Tony's legs. Tony undoes the braid, and combs his fingers through Bucky's hair again.

"It's ok, Bucky. Cry it out, you've been through so much, and crying helps." Tony soothes. Bucky's shoulders shake and he hides his face. Tony makes soothing sounds, and keeps stroking through Bucky's hair.

Bucky eventually settles, and turns his face to the side, breathing slowly. He brings his arm up and winds it around Tony's hips, holding on tightly. Tony smiles and continues to stroke his fingers through Bucky's hair.

"There you go Bucky baby." Tony babbles, hoping Bucky doesn't notice the pet name. "I got ya, no one's gonna hurt you, not with me around." Tony says, adjusting the blankets around Bucky's shoulders.

"Thank you." Bucky whispered. Tony smiles softly.

"Of course, I got you." He whispers back. Bucky's breathing evens out and he drops back to sleep. Tony smiles and leaves the light on, continuing his motion through the other's hair.

"I'm never gonna let anyone hurt you, sweetheart. Never." he promises. Then he sighs and looks fondly at the sleeping man. "I think I love you Buckaroo. I'm so screwed."

 

Bucky only takes three days to heal up quickly, by the third day he is back to himself. His pain seems to have lessened considerably, and Tony beams when Bucky tells him.
Shuri is also glad, and told Bucky that the next day they can give him the new arm.

"You healed up well Sergeant." Shuri says, examining Bucky's left side without the bandages and cast. "This all looks really good." She smiles at Bucky who smiles back.

"Tomorrow morning, we can mount the arm, which will be quick, and the recovery time should be much less. Then you two can go home." Shuri says, and smiles again.
Bucky smiles too, but Tony frowns.

"Excuse me, I'll be right back." Tony says, gently extracts his hand from Bucky's and all but runs from the room. He leaves the castle, and strides away.

He's crying, not really realizing it, as he walks down the road leaving to the castle. He wanders down to where Bucky keeps his goats, without really meaning to.
He sits in the grass near them and sobs into his hands. He feels stupid, he knew that they would have to leave. That this wasn't permanent.

Bucky deserves to go and see his best friend, to go back to the city he grew up in and start over. He absolutely deserves that, and more, Tony knows this. And at this point, he will give anything to Bucky.

But Tony isn't ready to head back to the compound. He doesn't want to go back to being alone, and sad. He doesn't want to be back in the same building, let alone the same country as Steve. Being away has been so nice, and Tony has almost moved past the pain from before. Almost.

And when they go back, he will lose Bucky. Bucky will be swayed to Steve's side, and will agree that Tony is a problem and a nuisance. Someone to be avoided, not loved or befriended. Tony stifles a sob, and curls closer around himself. He's mildly surprised to notice that he is wearing Bucky's sweatshirt, he pulls the collar up over his nose and breathes in Bucky's scent. He doesn't want to lose this, to lose Bucky, and he doesn't have any idea how to prevent that.

He's aware, painfully aware that they can't stay here, he and Bucky aren't in love, and they aren’t hiding here forever. Tony closes his eyes and allows himself a moment to indulge the fantasy, to imagine it.

He can see it so vividly: waking up in a bed here somewhere, some house, cottage, somewhere, spooned up against Bucky. He can see himself snuggling closer and trading lazy morning kisses with him. He can feel the warm cup of coffee and the warm African sun, watching Bucky from the doorway as he greets his goats. Tony imagines Bucky would turn and smile at him, radiant and at peace in the morning sun, a baby goat snuggled in his arms.

Tears slip from beneath his eyelids and he dries them on the hoodie. A goat bleats loudly at him and trots back to his friends, loudly declaring Tony to be a disappointment and not very good source of treats.

He opens his eyes and the fantasy fades. It's not real and it's never gonna be. The Bucky and Tony they could have been here isn't real, and they have to go back, to the team, to work, to New York, to Pepper, to Steve. They have to go back.

He sighs slowly and stands, trudging back to the castle.

He bypasses dinner completely and heads to their room, wanting to be alone. He toes off his shoes and curls under the covers, pulling Bucky's sweatshirt up around his face. He closes his eyes and waits for sleep to claim him.

 

Tony jolts awake, gasping.

"Easy, doll. I gotcha, it's alrigh’, easy." Bucky drawls, voice sleep ragged, but his eyes in the dark are kind, gentle. Tony sits up and glances nervously around the room. No one is there but Bucky, Steve isn't running at him, shield raised, murder in his eyes. It was just a dream.

Tony sighs and drops his head to his hands. Bucky reaches over and rubs his back, in a soothing up and down motion. Tony breathes out. Bucky sighs too.

"You ever gonna tell me what happened?" He asks. Tony frowns.

"What happened with what?"

"What happened to give you nightmares like this?" Bucky asks.

"Oh, uh, it's just PTSD, twists memories and shit." Tony explains, lifting a shoulder.
Bucky frowns and doesn't stop the motion of his hand.

"You can tell me doll. If you need to talk, I'll listen." Bucky whispers. Tony sighs and then lists sideways, until his head meets Bucky's chest. Bucky grunts a bit but draws Tony closer, tucking his nose into Tony's sleep mussed curls.

"I… I just had a supremely bad break up." Tony mutters. Bucky makes a noise in his throat, a hum of support, but Tony doesn't say anything else.
They sit like that for a few moments, quiet, listening to the other breathe.

"Let's get some more sleep, doll. We got a big day tomorrow." Bucky breathes, and gently lays back on the bed, keeping Tony tucked to his chest. Tony feels that he should send Bucky to his own bed, but in a few days they go home. So, Tony cuddles closer, curls his fingers in Bucky's shirt and settles in. Bucky smiles softly, and tightens his arm around Tony.

"I gotcha doll. Nothin can get ya with me here, promise. Sleep, sweetheart." Bucky rumbles, and Tony does.

Chapter Text

The next day they get to work right after breakfast, which Bucky doesn't eat so that he doesn’t get nauseous with the anesthesia.

"Last time Bucky." Shuri says smiling. "How you feeling?"

"Ready for this to all be over." Bucky admits. Shuri laughs a little.

"This surgery is really simple, don’t you worry. Could you remove your shirt?" Shuri asks. Bucky struggles out of the same sweatshirt Tony cried in the other day. Tony reaches forward and automatically helps him. Bucky shoots him a grateful smile and then takes his hand in his, squeezing gently.

"Alright. So, for the new arm to mount, we gotta give it something to anchor to." Shuri says and then lifts the prosthetic next to the operating table. "It's hollow to the elbow, so that your shoulder can fit inside and so that it isn’t as heavy as the other one. Stark gave it some nanotech so once it's docked, it will mold to you and allow you to move it. We will explain all of this again when we fit the arm in two days. Today, we are gonna add the mount." Shuri explains. Bucky doesn't wince, but he does tense, Tony feels it through the hand he's still holding.

"The nano tech Stark created will create a belt to hold the arm around your shoulder. We just have to put in the sensors and the magnets that will help with that. I know this is all confusing. Today, all we are gonna do is place six magnets, and sensors, here." Shuri says, touching places on Bucky's shoulder where the sensors will go. "Then we will have to make sure they connect to your brain accurately so you can use the arm." Shuri explains. Bucky nods and turns to Tony.

"You're gonna stay right?" He asks. Tony smiles at him and gently cups his cheek.

"Of course, Snowflake. I'm not goin' anywhere." Tony promises. Bucky nods, sets his shoulders and turns back to Shuri.

"Then let’s do this!" He says.

This surgery only takes two hours. The magnets and sensors are placed easily and whatever Shuri did to get them to communicate with Bucky's brain works. Tony didn’t really have a part in this surgery except to just sit and hold Bucky’s hand.

Bucky's skin is already healing by the time he's tucked back into bed.

"He's strong, your white boy. We can test the arm day after tomorrow. Then you can take him home." Shuri says, and squeezes Tony’s shoulder before leaving again. Tony sighs and tucks Bucky in to bed. He leans down and kisses his forehead.

He sits on his own bed and pulls his tablet over to do some more work. A few hours later Bucky stirs.

"Tony?" He asks weakly.

"I'm here Snowflake, I'm right here." Tony says, getting up and walking over to Bucky. Tony reaches out and brushes a wisp of hair off his forehead.

"Why were you all th' way o'er there?" Bucky says, slurring slightly. Tony smiles fondly.

"Doing some work Snowflake." Tony explains.

"Thasssss dumb. Cuddle me." He says.

Tony raises an eyebrow and peers down at the slightly delirious Bucky.

"Please?" He adds, and Tony really can't argue with that. He crawls under the covers and lets Bucky pull him close. Tony stretches over Bucky and turns out the light.

"See? This 's soooooo much better." Bucky whispers, sticks his nose in Tony's hair and falls asleep.
Tony lies there feeling a little uncomfortable before surrendering to the heat radiating from Bucky and goes to sleep himself.

 

The next two days are lazy, Bucky spends them out in the sunshine with his goats, or with Tony in the lab along with Shuri.

"Stark. Why has Captain Rogers called here four times in the last hour?" T'Challa asks, striding into the lab the morning they are going to test Bucky's arm. Tony sighs. Bucky is conveniently down feeding the goats.

"I'm really sorry. He's pissed that Bucky's here. I guess he found out where we are. I'm sorry." Tony says, feeling miserable.

"What really happened between you two?" Shuri asks. Tony sighs and drops into a chair. He drops his head down to his hands and sighs.

They both have hosted and helped him for nearly two months, they deserve this truth at least.

"Steve and I dated for two years, as the whole world knows." Tony starts. "It was never perfect, and in a lot of ways it was really really bad. I was an alcoholic, and drank a lot. We fought constantly and were sometimes horrible to each other. Then Steve went on a mission to Washington DC. He met Sam there, and apparently Bucky too. He came home and pretended things were ok for like six months. Then he just disappeared. Left a note in my workshop." Tony shudders and closes his eyes.

"'Tony, I'm sorry. It was him. December 16th, 1991. I'm sorry. Forgive me. Forgive him. You know I had to. Steve.' Is all it said. I researched in SHIELDs files the date. I found out that the Winter Soldier murdered my parents, and that Steve had known since DC. I tried to call him, so many times. He never answered, ignored all my calls. Then I got really drunk and decided it was time to go back to rehab. When I came back, I found out that Steve was sleeping with Wilson, had been since DC, and had moved the man who killed my mom into my basement. It wasn't Bucky’s fault; I know that now. He didn't want to, Hydra made him do it, you saw the brain damage. But my boyfriend, the man I loved more than anything, knew who killed my parents, knew how damaged I was, and cheated on me anyway. Kept it from me anyway. I would have helped." Tony breathes, and it hurts, aches in his chest.

"I would have helped him find Bucky. I would have supported him, funded him if nothing else, and instead he moves his boyfriend and his best friend into my home. And now he thinks I'm raping his best friend and holding Bucky here against his will." Tony finishes.

T'Challa and Shuri both swear in Wakandan and share glances.

"He left a note to tell you the Winter Soldier killed you parents?" Shuri asks, unbelieving. Tony nods. "Honestly, fuck white people." T'Challa shoots her a sharp look.

"Does Sergeant Barnes know?" He asks.

"No. I haven't told him yet. I need to, but…." Tony breathes. Shuri sighs.

"I think he'd choose you Stark. Hell, what Rogers did is fucked up. What an ass. I think Barnes would understand and side with you. He's an idiot if he doesn’t." Shuri says. Tony offers them a weak smile. The three lapses into silence.

 

In the hall, Bucky stands in stunned silence. He'd been headed to the lab, ready to try the new arm on, and maybe convince Tony to help him walk the goats down to a pond he discovered earlier. He'd heard Shuri inquire over what happened and had stopped to listen for an answer.

He hadn't expected Tony to give them one, had expected the usual brush off, but instead the story had spilled from Tony's lips. Bucky had quietly pulled the note out of his pocket and reread the sentences. They make his hand shake with rage, his vision blur.

Bucky doesn't know what makes him angrier. The fact that Steve cheated on Tony, that Steve left a note, or that Steve moved both Wilson and himself into the compound without consulting Tony.

In the library, when he’d done his research, he’d found a lot of stuff on Tony, a lot of not so great stuff. The man had more cheating scandals than he should, honestly too many people had cheated on the poor man. And then of course there were the files from SHIELD, the files alleging that Obadiah Stane did something unthinkable, way back in 2008. (The man died before any charges could be pressed.)

How could Steve accuse someone of rape, given those files. Bucky wants to go and scoop the genius up, and hold him close. To protect him and maybe pummel the shit out of Steve motherfucking Rogers.

The conversation between the royals and Tony kicks up to tamer subjects, and Bucky collects himself and strides into the room.

"Heya Snowflake!" Tony says, too brightly. "Ready to try your arm?" Shuri gets up and pulls a chair nearer to the arm on its table.

Tony smiles brightly at him, and they all murmur partings to T'Challa when he leaves, mumbling about seeing his girlfriend.

"Alright Barnes, your shirt please." Shuri says.

Bucky shucks his shirt and hands it to Tony, who gently sets in on a table. He and Shuri grin at him and then maneuver the arm onto his shoulder. The arm makes a brief click when it connects with the magnets.

Then it seems to ripple outward over his shoulder and around his armpit to anchor to his skin. He impulsively reaches up with both hands to feel and is delighted to see the sleek black and yellow accented arm move with his command.

"How's it feel?" Tony asks.

"Real good." Bucky breathes. Tony wanders around and touches the join of the arm and checks the joints and functionality. He gives it a few tugs, but the thing doesn’t move.

"It's got vents in the shoulder so that your skin can breathe, and to remove it, just put your thumb to the sensor here." Tony says, indicating the place on his arm pit. Bucky does and watches in fascination as the nanotech folds back up and the arm clicks out of place.

"It'll only disengage for your thumb print or for a password you can create. Here. I couldn't resist." Tony says, and flips open a control panel in the forearm. It has an overwhelming amount of options. Bucky blinks wide eyed and toys with the options.

One reveals hidden knives in the palm that would easily slide forward to his hand.

Another enables a blue tooth speaker, yet another enables an AI to scan the surroundings. There’s an option to let the arm lock in a position, lock the fingers around a weapon for running.

Some allow the arm to turn into an air conditioner that will blow cool air on him.

Another one makes the arm vibrate, which could be fun in noncombat settings.

Another sends a distress signal to the Avengers.

The arm is quite the feat of engineering and Bucky is in awe. He leaps up and crushes Tony into a hug, wrapping him in both arms.

"Doll, it's perfect! God you both are so brilliant." Bucky says, twirling Tony around. Tony laughs a little breathlessly and hugs right back.

Shuri just watches fondly.

"Well, broken white boy, I've done all I can to fix you." She says. Bucky sets Tony and down and takes Shuri's hand. He bows over it and kisses her knuckles.

"I am in your debt, Princess." He teases.

Shuri rolls her eyes. "You are disgusting." She says fondly.

"Stark, you and Barnes are welcome to stay as long as you like." Shuri says, with a meaningful glance at Tony. Tony smiles gratefully, but Bucky cuts in. Someone needs to go punch Stevie in the god damn face, and Bucky is more than ready to rise to that challenge.

"Actually, Tony, can we head back soon? I got some stuff I need to do in New York." Bucky says. Tony pales, very briefly, and then steps back.

"Yes, of course. I'll just go see about our plane." Tony says and then disappears.

 

Tony only spends thirty minutes securing the plane, and then goes back to their room. He curls on the bed and cries, curled around himself. He falls asleep, the strain of the day taking a toll on him.

Tony jolts awake when the bed dips and a warm body curls up behind him.

"Shhhh doll. Easy." Bucky coos. Tony relaxes then and turns to look at Bucky.

"What are you doing?" He whispers.

"Holdin you. I can tell ya been cryin." Bucky whispers. "It's ok. Just let me hold you, easy doll." And then Bucky starts singing that same lullaby. Tony turns away again, and then finds there are more tears in his eyes.

Bucky just holds him tighter and sings Tony back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Three days later, Bucky and Tony board the plane for New York. Tony hugs Shuri and T'Challa, who both promise that if he ever needs to flee that "Fucking Colonizer" he is welcome to come back to them. Bucky is polite and gracious and carries Tony's bag onto the plane with his own after biding the royals, and his goats goodbye.

He carried on so much, lecturing the adorable animals about behaving and how Bucky would be thinking of them. Shuri promised to look after them and that maybe the next time she was in the US she'd bring them with her to the compound, and assured Bucky she would send pictures. Bucky looked so happy by that, that Tony had rolled his eyes and bought some of the goats from Shuri to take home with them. Goats who are currently being loaded onto the plane, and Bucky is overseeing them being settled in.

"Most people buy flowers." Shuri murmurs.

"You say no to that face." Tony snarks. Shuri just grins and waves them off.

Tony and Bucky settle on the plush seats of the plane after final goodbyes and soon they are on their way home. Tony texts Natasha to let her know and then sits anxiously.

Bucky chatters to the goats and then settles in with a book.

Eventually though, with an eye roll, Bucky scoops Tony up into his arms and drops into one of the seats in the cabin. Tony squeaks and gapes at Bucky.

"I can tell that you aren't listening to your movie and you look like you're wound so tight you are gonna explode. We got 15 hours left honey, relax." Bucky says, running his hands up and down Tony's arms.

Tony huffs and is about to argue, but Bucky slips metal fingers into his hair and gently rubs his scalp. Tony instantly goes pliant in Bucky's lap and curls against the soldier's warm, firm chest.

"There ya go, that's it doll." Bucky coos, and reclines the seat, kicking his feet up on the table. Tony yawns eventually and dozes comfortably against Bucky.

Bucky's breathing slows too, and the pair naps most of the flight away. Eventually Tony wakes up, and Bucky seems content to just hold Tony, so they remain snuggled in the chair. Tony sighs.

"Buck… I gotta tell you something." Tony whispers. Bucky hums and pulls Tony closer.

"Is my arm gon' explode?" He asks, voice gravelly with sleep. He’s shifted the seat back further back; the cabin lights are dimmed and there’s a blanket around both of them.

"No, of course not." Tony says.

"Is someone dyin'?" Bucky drawls. Tony frowns.

"No, why would someone be dying?" Tony asks, and sits up a little bit.

"Then let’s not ruin this flight with serious conversations, hmm? Let's just relax and enjoy the last few hours before having to go back to the real world, yeah?" Bucky says, rubbing Tony's back. Tony swallows down his protests and curls up against Bucky again. Bucky queues up a movie and they spend the rest of the flight mocking rom coms.

It's nice and fun, and Tony wishes Pep and Rhodey were here, that they are curled in the penthouse in New York, pelting popcorn at each other and all of them laughing and sharing blankets. Maybe someday he’ll bring Bucky with him when he visits.

They land at near one am, and Tony and Bucky quietly wrangle the goats into a pen in the yard.

"We'll have to build a barn and shit." Tony says, watching Bucky gently guide his goats into the pen.

"Yeah, it's plenty warm now though, they should be fine until tomorrow." Bucky says, and then climbs out of the pen.

It was set up so that Clint could have rabbits, but the local birds (much to Sam's delight) had found the rabbits much too tasty. The goats would probably fare better.

Bucky takes Tony's hand and they walk into the compound.

It's dark, and quiet. Tony seriously doubts everyone is asleep, but no one is in the living room or the kitchen.

"J, baby, where is everyone?" Tony asks.

"Welcome home, sir. Agents Barton and Romanov are currently on their way home from a mission in Italy, Quintjet ETA in 5 minutes, Thor is still off world, Dr. Banner is asleep in his room, and Captain Rogers and Airman Wilson are watching a movie in their room. And might I add, and welcome to Avengers compound Sergeant Barnes." JARVIS answers. Bucky gapes at the ceiling.

"I couldn' appreciate this before but damn doll. Your brain is incredible!" Bucky says. Tony laughs.

"Thanks Snowflake." He whispers. Bucky smiles and reaches out, gently cupping Tony's cheek. Tony’s breath catches and he steps closer to Bucky.

"Yasha?" Someone calls, and then there is a crash and Clint’s angry swearing.

"Welcome home Agents Barton and Romanov." JARVIS calls.

Bucky turns and blinks at Natasha.

"Natalia?" He asks. Natasha steps forward.

"You're you, again?" Natasha asks. Bucky grins and nods.

"Yep. Tony took me to Princess Shuri and they fixed me up." He says. Natasha smiles a little weakly, and Tony is just starting wonder if she’s gonna hug him when there's the sound of a door being flung open at the top of the stairs.

"TONY‼‼!" Steve bellows, and the lights come up in the living room, illuminating the stairs, living room and the furious blonde on the landing. Nat and Clint immediately turn to look at him, and Tony actually takes a step back. Bucky whirls around, eyes cold, and plants his feet.

Steve barrels down the stairs and heads for Tony, eyes cold with rage. Tony braces for the hit or for fingers on his throat, something.

Steve gets about five steps from Tony when Bucky's fist connects with his face.

"Stand down Rogers." Bucky snaps, stepping between the stumbling, bleeding Captain, and Tony.

"Bucky? What…. How?" Steve mumbles. Bucky just glares at him, every line of his body rigid. Tony looks at him worriedly. The aura of the Winter Soldier is practically rolling off of him, and he's braced for a fight.

"I should be asking you the same." Bucky snaps. "I may have been tortured for 70 years but at least I'm not an absolute asshole." Steve blinks.

"Buck, this isn't about you.” Steve says dismissively. "Tony! Where the fuck do you get off, kidnapping Bucky?! Hasn't he been through enough?" Steve steps forward, but Bucky glares at him and steps closer to keep himself between Steve and Tony.

"Bucky move. Tony, what the hell is wrong with you? What the hell did you do to him?" Steve yells.

"I said. Stand. Down. Rogers." Bucky snarls, advancing on Steve, who takes a stunned few steps backward.

"Bucky, what did he do to you? Tony you whore what…" Steve doesn't get to finish because Bucky punches him, hard, in the stomach.

"What did he do?! Are you shitting me, Rogers?" Bucky yells, ducking a swing from an enraged Steve. They circle each other like wild animals and then Steve makes another lunge at Tony. Bucky roars and tackles him to the ground.

The super soldiers are outright brawling now. Clint and Nat grab Tony and haul him to the kitchen doorway and Wilson appears at the top of the stairs, watching in confusion as the super soldiers destroy the living room.

The coffee table literally disintegrates when Bucky is thrown into it. The couch flips over when Bucky muscles Steve into it, and the force of them is too much for the couch. The TV breaks when Steve ducks a punch from the metal arm. An end table goes flying, an arm chair somehow ends up in two pieces. A lamp shatters, the railing on the stairs creaks and then cracks when the pair’s brawl takes them into it.

"Why don't we talk about what you did, hmm?" Bucky spits, after a few moments, chest heaving with the fury. Steve backs out of reach and gapes at Bucky.

"Buck, what…. what happened?" Steve says, looking lost.

Bucky laughs, a cold bitter thing. "Hydra happened, you dick. Hydra tortured me and made me murder people for 70 years! I’m told you had a lovely nap. Did you wake up and have a snack and some juice? How lovely." Bucky taunts, complete with hands clasped together and sarcastic pout on his face. Steve looks stunned. Tony could cheer, or maybe laugh, but he's mostly just confused.

"Tony here was the only person to help me. You shut up!" Bucky snarls, stepping forward, (and hello sexy murder strut), when Steve opens his mouth to protest. "Tony came to visit me while you kept me in a god damned cage, and tried to force me to be the old Bucky Barnes. Tony took me to Wakanda, with my permission, got me help. Got the trigger words out of my head. Got me a sexy new arm, and never once did he ask me to be the old Bucky, never once did he make me do something I didn't want to." Bucky pauses and turns to smile at Tony, his features softening.

"He did all that for me, and we are just friends. We aren't dating, we aren't romantically involved, although I want to change that. So, I can't imagine how doting and incredible he is when he's actually dating someone. And then, to have that someone write him a mother fucking letter, a letter Stevie, can you believe?” Bucky says, and Tony isn’t sure when he had the time to watch Queer Eye, but he does have Jonathan Van Ness hair, so it works, and the impression is uncanny, down to the head tilt.

“A letter to tell him that his boyfriend was going to go rescue the man responsible for killing his parents. And then to find out that the same douche bag who left a letter, was also cheating on him for nearly six months? Precious, loving, wonderful Tony finds out that this great, all American man he's been dating has known the reasons behind his parent’s death for those six months and was too chicken-shit to sit down and have a fucking face to face conversation with him about it. Then, Tony decides to help the monster in the basement out, and that same ex, as if he hasn't done enough, calls him a whore, and accuses him of assaulting me? How can someone who loved and dated Tony Stark for two years do all that?" Bucky says, and glares daggers at Steve. The room is deadly silent. Natasha moves first.

"Oh, Antonio." She breathes, and pulls Tony into a hug. Tony lets her, and feels Clint step closer, slinging an arm around Nat and Tony, glaring at Steve too. Tony doesn't look away from Bucky.

"Bucky, you heard me?" Tony breathes.

"Sorry doll. I didn't mean to, but I was so shocked by what you were saying that I couldn’t leave." Bucky replies, without looking away from Steve.

"Wait." Sam says, and comes cautiously down the stairs. He has to step over a lamp that smashed into the bottom of the stairs and the broken banister. "You told me you and Tony broke up a month before DC. You said you were single, that it wasn't public yet because of the mission Tony was on." Tony wonders if one day Steve will stop breaking his heart, and gives a pained little laugh at that.

Steve looks lost, and glances between Bucky, Sam and the three huddled in the doorway. Bucky is still glaring, and Sam looks a little crushed.

"I may have changed." Bucky says, voice soft. "But at least I don't treat people like this. I don't even know you anymore." And it’s a cliché, overused line, but Steve actually stumbles back a little with the force of it.

"Buck… come on. Tony and I weren't good for each other, and I had to find you." Steve says, a little desperately.

"There are better ways to handle a break up." Sam says before Bucky can say anything. "I'll give you an example. Steve, you lied to me for the first six months of our relationship, and treated our teammate, and the man who pays our bills and buys our food and gave us a place to live, like complete shit. I don't really think I can be with someone like that, so I'm sorry, but we're done." Sam says, and then crosses the room behind Bucky.

"Tony." He says, looking at Tony earnestly. He's got tears in his eyes. "Tony, I'm so sorry, and I can't imagine the pain I have caused you. I hope you know that I truly had no idea what was happening. I hope you can forgive me. I know I don't have any right…" Sam says. Tony smiles at him, still encircled in Natasha's arms.

"You are welcome to whatever you need, I've got a ton of free rooms, or can get you transportation back to DC or wherever you want." Tony says. Sam smiles.

"You're too good for Steve. But I think Bucky might be good for you." Sam says with a wink. Nat and Clint laugh, and Tony just blinks at him. "I think I need some space, but eventually I'd like to come back." Sam adds and then tosses a glare back at Steve. With a last look at them all, Sam walks outside to call a cab or uber or something and get the hell out. Tony doesn’t blame him.

Steve is gaping like a fish and Bucky still looks a little Winter Soldiery but he also looks smug.

Steve glances between them all, and sighs.

"You're all gonna take his side?" He mutters. Clint barks out a humorless laugh.

"Cap, there isn't another side to take. You did nothing but handle this wrong." He says. Nat nods.

"Tony isn't in the wrong here. You are." Nat says, then gently shoves Tony into Clint’s chest. She crosses over to Steve and punches him hard, right in the eye. Tony gasps, but Bucky just laughs, bitterly.

"I can't believe you." Bucky breathes, and he kind of slumps, once his chuckles have stopped. "The punk I know from Brooklyn would never have done this. He never treated people like this."

"Yeah, well, you've changed too." Steve spits out, hand to his rapidly swelling eye. Bucky laughs.

"God, I should hope so. I've been through hell. I'm not the same man who fell from that train in the forties, and I'm not the deadly assassin Hydra made me to be. I'm me, and I'm different. Funny thing, I’m fucking allowed to be. I'm sorry if you can't handle that, but I'm finally fucking done being what other people want me to be. I’m done being what you want me to be.” Bucky says decisively. Then he turns away from Steve and walks over to Tony. Clint steps back and throws an arm around Nat’s shoulder. Bucky reaches out to cup Tony's face.

"I'm sorry if I crossed any lines just now, but I can't understand how he could treat you like that. You are precious and wonderful and deserve the world." Bucky whispers, and swipes his thumbs over Tony's cheek bones. Tony reaches up and holds loosely onto Bucky's wrists. "Would you let me take you out to dinner? Would you let me try and give you everything that asshole failed to?" He asks. Tony blinks and then grins.

"Really?" He asks, because there's always doubt in his mind.

"Yes. I'd love nothin’ more than to treat you like the king you are, doll." Bucky breathes, leaning forward to tip his forehead against Tony's. Tony laughs a little.

"I'd love to get dinner with you." Tony whispers.

"Doll, can I kiss you?" Bucky breathes.

"Yes." Tony squeaks, and then Bucky's lips are on his. It's delightful, and sweet and genuine. Tony tilts his head up into it and let Bucky probe his mouth with his tongue.

They pull back too soon because there are still people in the living room, but Tony just beams up at Bucky. Bucky grins right on back.

Steve makes a disgusted noise. "Ugh. Tony you…" He doesn't get to finish. Natasha is charging him again in a flash.

"I think that maybe it's time you leave, Captain Rogers." Nat says, throwing him back against the wall, and Clint draws his bow behind her. Steve glances between them, and then back over to Bucky and Tony. He huffs and storms outside.

"I'm gonna go make sure he actually leaves." Clint says.

"You two go on up to bed. I'll start cleaning the mess." Nat says, and Bucky grins gratefully at her before towing Tony upstairs.

 

Once in Tony's suite Bucky leans down and kisses Tony again.

"Goodnight Doll." He breathes and starts to pull away.

"Wait, where are you goin’?" Tony asks.

"To find a guest room and sleep. I'm tired, baby." He says fondly.

"Or… or you could stay here?" Tony asks, fussing with his hoodie strings. Bucky's eyebrows go up.

"Are you sure?" He asks. Tony nods, and steps toward Bucky, bringing his hands up to hold the other man’s side. Bucky raises his metal arm to brush aside some of Tony’s hair.

“I…” Tony starts. And then sighs and slumps down onto the bed. Bucky sits next to him and watches him, reaching out to take Tony’s hand. Tony sighs. “No one, no one has ever looked at me the way you do. You look at me like I’m important, like I matter. You look at me like you actually see me.” Tony says softly. Bucky smiles slightly.

“Doll, you are important, and you matter so much. And if I could beat that punk Rogers up again, I swear I would. If it meant that you smiled and believed how important you are, I’d kill anyone who made you doubt it.” Bucky breathes. Tony smiles.

“I think I’d rather you just hold me.” Tony whispers. Bucky grins, toes off his shoes and scoots back onto the pillows, Tony following.

They curl together on the bed, Tony curled on Bucky’s chest, with metal fingers in his hair, and soft kisses dotted onto his forehead.

“JARVIS, lights.” Tony breathes. The lights fade out slowly, and they are left with the soft light from the back-door light outside.

Bucky and Tony sigh together, relaxing back into the bed. They lie like that for a long time, not speaking. Bucky can tell Tony is thinking about what happened in the living room, but he doesn’t want to press.

Tony eventually props up on his elbow and looks at Bucky.

“You ok doll?” He asks. Tony nods.

“Yeah. Will you kiss me?” He asks. Bucky grins and reaches up, bringing their lips together in a sweet kiss. Tony makes a happy sound, and wriggles closer, threading fingers into Bucky’s long hair.

Bucky smiles into the kiss briefly before deepening it.

Tony groans, and climbs fully on top of Bucky, straddling his hips and curling against his chest. Bucky runs big palms up Tony’s back and then down to his ass.
“Are we moving too fast?” Tony pulls back a little to whisper.

“Do you want to stop?” Bucky asks, brow creasing.

“No, no. I just… we haven’t even gone on a date. I don’t want to ruin this. You’re important to me. You’re the first real thing I’ve had in forever and I don’t want to ruin it.” Tony says again.

“Tony, doll, I just beat up your ex. When we met, I was locked in the basement. We spent over two months in Wakanda fixing me and my arm. Nothing about how we got to this moment has been normal, and if I keep talking about this, I’m gonna say something that might scare you off. Which woul’ be a real shame darlin’ because you on top of me like this…” Bucky trails off. Tony is beaming.

“I love you too Bucky.” Tony breathes. Bucky freezes, and then yanks Tony back down to smash their lips together. Bucky nips at Tony’s bottom lip and when Tony gasps, he pushes his tongue inside, gently exploring Tony’s wonderful mouth.

Tony breaks away, to yank his sweatshirt off and toss it aside. Bucky sits up to join him, kissing Tony’s jaw, and down his neck. Tony sighs and tips his head back, sliding his hands under Bucky’s shirt to finally feel the muscles of Bucky’s back.

Bucky pulls back to throw his own shirt aside, and then rolls them to gently settle Tony back onto the pillows.

Tony hooks his legs around Bucky’s hips, and yanks him as close as possible, kissing the living daylights out of him.

Bucky pulls back and waits for Tony to drag his eyes open. He looks good, color high in his cheeks, lips bruised and bright red, eyes hazy and soft when they finally meet Bucky’s.

“You are gorgeous.” Bucky whispers. Tony laughs a little.

“Not as gorgeous as you, Bucky-babe.” Tony breathes. Bucky grins and kisses him quick.

“You got lube and a condom?” Bucky asks.

Tony nods. “Bedside drawer, where else.” Bucky huffs a laugh and reaches over to grab it. He has to move away from Tony to reach, the bed is that big. Tony takes the opportunity to shuck his pants. Bucky does the same, then turns back and gapes at the other man.

He’s sprawled in the middle of the bed, lounging against the mountain of pillows, and eyeing Bucky in the low light of the room. He’s trim lines of olive skin and lean muscles, with legs to die for. His cock is beautiful, flushed and full, curving up toward his stomach. He’s not as big as Bucky, but he’s gorgeous and certainly isn’t lacking. Bucky is drooling a little.

Tony seems to be studying him too, those honey eyes looking hungry.

“Like what you see, Soldier?” He purrs. Bucky growls and scrambles back to the bed, to kiss him again, the smooth slide of their bodies finally together making both of them sigh.

“Yes.” Bucky says and then trails his hand down Tony’s side, gently palming over Tony’s cock. Tony gasps a little and arches beautifully into the touch.

“You good like this baby, on your back?” Bucky whispers, nosing at the sweet-smelling skin behind the others man’s ear.

“Yes, wanna see you.” Tony breathes, trailing finger tips over Bucky’s shoulders, feeling all the muscles there.

Bucky grins and kisses Tony soundly. He props himself up on his metal elbow and moves back a little to slick his flesh fingers.

“Some day I’m gonna try out that vibrate feature you put in my arm doll. But right now….” Bucky trails off, grinning when Tony’s eyes go a little hazy, well hazier, and uses the momentary distraction to pour a healthy amount of lube over his fingers and reach down to circle around Tony’s hole.

Tony sighs and lets his legs fall open, wrapping his arms around Bucky’s shoulders.

“I may have selfishly added that feature.” Tony says, smirking. Bucky chuckles, and gently pushes the tip of his finger inside. Tony’s breath catches.

“I’m sure I can put it to good use.” Bucky says, and leans down to dot more kisses on Tony’s neck and shoulders, around his collar bone.

Bucky slowly works one finger inside Tony, gently sliding it in and out, listening to Tony’s soft little sighs and pants.

“So beautiful.” Bucky breathes, and adds another finger.

Tony grabs his face and hauls him up for another kiss, breathing heavy.

Bucky gently thrusts his fingers in and out, in and out, until Tony relaxes a little. Bucky crooks his fingers, watching Tony intently. Tony gasps when Bucky find his prostate, and Bucky grins, rubbing his fingers over the spot before scissoring them.

“Bucky! BuckyBuckyBuckyBucky.” Tony chants, tossing his head back. “I’m ready, I’m ready, come on!” Bucky laughs.

“Easy baby, relax. I’m gonna take care of you.” Bucky soothes, but adds another finger to quiet Tony’s babbling. It doesn’t work, if anything, Tony starts babbling more, tugging on Bucky’s shoulders.

“I had big plans for our first time you know.” Bucky says laughing a little. “I was gonna blow you, maybe eat ya out, treat you right.” Tony huffs at that.

“You can treat my right by getting on with it! Come on, I’m ready! Baby, Bucky-bear, Bucky-babe, come on!” Tony demands. Bucky laughs, and kisses Tony for a second, and then pulls his fingers free.

He tears open the condom, and rolls it on, adds another large amount of lube to his cock, and then lines up.

“Fuckin’ finally.” Tony snarks when he feels the head of Bucky’s cock brush his opening. Bucky rolls his eyes and gently pushes forward. Tony’s mouth drops open when the fat head of Bucky’s cock breaches his tight ring of muscle.

They don’t talk as Bucky sinks into Tony’s heat, but both of them are panting and gasping by the time he’s fully seated, sharing the air between them.

Tony takes a few minutes to adjust, and Bucky kisses his face, his jaw, and his neck a few times while he does.

“I’m ready.” Tony finally breathes. Bucky braces himself on his elbows, and gently pulls back a little and then pushes back in. Tony is nothing but wonderfully tight heat, and Bucky himself is a little overwhelmed already.

“More, more. I’m not that breakable!” Tony demands. Bucky laughs and pulls almost all the way out and then pushes back in, harder. Tony grins a little at that, so Bucky does it again, until he gets a rhythm going.

“Feel so good Bucky, so good.” Tony sighs, wrapping his arms back around Bucky’s shoulders and pulling him close for a kiss.

“You too, so good Tony.” Bucky mutters, and kisses Tony deeply as he picks up his rhythm. Tony is thrusting his hips up to meet Bucky. Bucky shifts so he can get a hand between them, wrapping metal fingers around Tony’s cock and gently pumping his fist, in time with the movement of his hips.

“Ah! Yes! Bucky!” Tony cries, as Bucky speeds up. A few more thrusts, and Bucky is spilling inside Tony, hips stuttering and loosing rhythm as he orgasms. A few more pumps of Bucky’s hand and Tony follows, throwing his head back and spilling all over Bucky’s hand and his own stomach.

Bucky collapses onto Tony, trying to be as gentle as he can, and for a while they just lie there, breathing heavy as they come down.

“I love you Tony.” Bucky whispers, after he’s pulled out, disposed of the condom and wiped up the mess on his hand and Tony’s stomach. “Thank you for saving me.” He says, slipping into the bed, and pulling Tony close. Tony hums happily.

“I love you too Bucky. But you’re wrong. You saved me.” Tony breathes, and his eyes are shining in the low light of the room. Bucky’s breath catches and he leans forward to seal their mouths in another kiss, this one full of promise, and full of love.

Chapter Text

One year later

"Darlin' if you don't get that cute butt of yours down here, I'm gonna leave without ya!" Bucky calls up the stairs.

"You two are gross." Clint remarks from the couch. Tony laughs as he hurries down the stairs.

"Hey Bucky-Bear, I'm ready." He says beaming.

Bucky grins right back and takes Tony's hand. He tows him out to the waiting car, after kissing Tony soundly to the sound of Clint gagging.

"Heya Happy. How's the girlfriend?" Tony asks. Happy goes a little scarlet and mumbles something about how good it's going and ushers them into the car.

Bucky sits in the comfortably plush seats and pulls Tony into his side. He presses a lingering kiss to the smaller man's temple and smiles down at him.

Tony cuddles close and beams up at Bucky.

"You excited doll?" He whispers. Happy very quietly puts up the privacy divider with a knowing twinkle in his eye.

"Very. Rhodey and Pep are the only people I love more than you." Tony says. Happy break checks the car and Tony laughs. "And Hap." Tony adds.

"I can't wait to meet them." Bucky says. Tony giggles.

"You met them at Christmas." Tony teases, stilling gazing fondly up at Bucky.

"That doesn't count. They were around for an hour, and then left to enjoy the Colonels time off." Bucky chides, working metal fingers into Tony's hair. "Besides, Clint and Nat were there, Sam had just moved back, Bruce was back, and Peter, May, and Happy were around. There wasn't time." Tony shrugs.

"I mean fair, but you have still met them. Did you see the rock he got her?!" Tony cries. Bucky chuckles, the sound like heaven.

"Yes, darlin'. You've showed me a thousand times." Bucky kisses Tony's head again. They cuddle closer, and watch the trees and ritzy houses give way to sky scrapers and busy streets. Happy pulls up to the curb of Stark Tower and lets them out.

Bucky tips him, which he insists he doesn't need, and then tucks Tony's hand into his elbow and pulls him inside.

They kiss briefly in the elevator, and then the doors open on the penthouse.

"No, I'm just saying, James, that if I don't finish this before they get here, Tony will have glommed onto us, and I'll get no work done." Pepper is saying.

"My love, you promised you would take the weekend off." As Tony and Bucky round the corner, they can see Pepper at the kitchen island, with Rhodey cooking in front of her. He leans over and kisses her.

Bucky releases Tony's hand and nudges him forward, grinning down at the excited brunette.

"Honey Bear!" Tony shrieks and launches at Rhodey, who expertly turns and catches Tony when he jumps up. Rhodey twirls them around and lets Tony pepper him with kisses. Bucky chuckles and smiles when Pepper strides up to him.

"Lovely to see you again Sergeant Barnes." Pepper says, and busses his cheek. She's wearing a shirt that looks like it's probably Rhodey's and jeans. She's barefoot and her hair is in a low ponytail.

"It's just Bucky ma'am." He says.

"She knows that, babe. She just likes saying Sergeant Barnes." Tony calls, still in Rhodey’s arms. Pepper laughs and nods.

Rhodey and Tony are already curled on the couch, and Bucky ambles over, sitting next to them. Pepper goes back to her lap top.

"Love, you have fifteen minutes and then Tony will start pouting." Rhodey calls.

Pepper huffs.

"That's why I'm finishing it now. Pick a movie Tones." She says. Tony grabs the remote, snuggles closer to Rhodey, and drops his feet in Bucky’s lap while he browses the movies.

"James?" Pepper calls a few minutes later. Bucky and Rhodey both turn and answer.

"Ma'am?" Bucky says while Rhodey says "Yes dear?" Pepper and Tony crack up.

"My James, not Tony's." She clarifies. "Is the food burning?"

"Shit!" Rhodey calls, dumps Tony in Bucky's lap and runs toward the stove. Bucky laughs and Tony pouts.

"Platypus!" He whines.

"Will you hush, I'm burning dinner over here!" Rhodey calls.

"Come on now doll, it's alright." Bucky coos. Tony pouts but let's Bucky kiss him gently, and pull him closer.

Pepper finishes her work, and Rhodey finishes cooking while Tony and Bucky pick a movie.

Rhodey sets the table, and Pepper makes a big show of turning off her phone and computer.

"Ok, my assistant knows that I can't be bothered unless it’s an actual emergency. I'm all yours." Pep says and pecks Rhodey’s cheek.

They sit around the small table and eat the food Rhodey made and talk and laugh, Bucky telling stories of the war and Rhodey bitching about Captain Danvers and some other military people. Pepper and Tony laugh their asses off and so do their men.

"So, where did Captain Asshole fuck off to anyway?" Pepper asks during a lull in the military stories.

"He took a long-term SHIELD assignment in Italy, working at their base there." Bucky says, taking Tony's hand. "He retired from being Cap. Gave the SHIELD to Sam. It’s working good so far." Tony smiles.

"I like Sam a lot better." Tony says. Rhodey and Pepper whole heartedly agree and then Pepper regales them all of a story of Tony at SI. (Much to Tony’s embarrassment.)

They all pile on the couch after dinner and watch Star Wars, which basically means that Star Wars plays in the background and they chat over it.

Bucky lets Tony curl into his side, and Pep curls against Rhodey, and they turn up the AC and curl under blankets.

Pep eventually falls asleep and Bucky dozes off around two am.

"You happy Tones?" Rhodey whispers. Tony smiles at him, and curls closer to Bucky.

"Yeah Sour Patch. I'm better than ever."

 

The next day he finds a letter in his pocket, with seven of the best sentences he's ever read in his life:

Tony,

I love you. Forever. Always. All I want in life is you. You saved me, let me keep saving you. Say yes. Marry me.

Bucky.