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Kiss and Tell

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Loki disappeared from the rooftop with a flash of blinding green, having spent all of ten lousy seconds explaining his latest nefarious plan. Unlike some of their lesser enemies, Loki was smart—occasionally—and he knew better than to stay behind and wax poetic about his misdeeds.

Fortunately, it was rare for their run-ins with Loki to leave behind any real destruction these days, but even a ‘reformed’ Loki not hellbent on world domination still had a natural talent for being a vexing, frustrating, cocky little shit and unfortunately, the damage done was usually to someone’s ego and pride. 

Tony’s mostly.

Make one joke about a guy’s dick and he spends the rest of eternity acting like one. 

Tony muttered a string of expletives under his breath to go with the thought, but with the trickster long gone, the effort was futile.

He looked around at the others, all clad in their uniforms—mostly, with Steve missing his cowl and Clint still wearing pajama pants and Thor’s hair a bird’s nest, but at this point, they treated all Loki-related alarms as additional training, so proper decorum was optional.

No one seemed too concerned with Tony’s current predicament either, but he could see some of his own mix of annoyance and exasperation reflected in their expressions.

Thor, however, was beaming. “I truly think my brother has finally abandoned the rest of his evil ways.”

Tony eyed Thor with no small amount of doubt and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of spite. Thor was a giant teddy bear at heart, sure, but Tony wouldn’t put it past him to enjoy someone else being the target of Loki’s pranks for once—and of course, Tony was Loki’s favorite.

Tony was still convinced this was revenge for the dick joke, but Sam thought Loki picked on whoever had the most amusing reaction, Clint insisted Loki just had a big old crush, and Steve wondered whether snark just attracted more snark like a magnet. 

“Really, Point Break? This—” Tony gestured between the few measly inches of space between him and Thor first, then pointed to the honest-to-god mistletoe hovering right about them. “This counts as ‘abandoning his evil ways’?”

Thor shrugged and the cheerful smile didn’t budge an inch. “He isn’t stabbing anyone. I count that as progress.”

Tony’s whole face scrunched up. “Talk about low expectations. And okay, sure, this is one of Rudolph’s less… harmful pranks, but it is no less annoying.” Tony tried to back away from Thor, hoping the first time was a fluke and the magic would let up now, but he was given roughly three more inches of space before his back hit an invisible wall.

An ominous, enchanted sprig of mistletoe that hung autonomously in the air and kept Tony stuck to whoever got too close until—according to a cackling, self-satisfied Loki—they shared a kiss, had never been on any list, in any capacity, ever, of the evil forces Tony would have to battle, but here he was.

And sure, it was better than terrorists and alien invasions and fire-breathing douchebags—far, far better—but come on… Tony was way too old for this crap.

Tony knew he was scowling, arms crossed, foot tapping impatiently, the perfect picture of displeasure, and finally Thor had the good graces to look apologetic. 

“Tony, as always, I do apologize for my brother’s… lackluster interpretation of fun, but it would be to our discredit if we didn’t make the best of this situation. So, my friend, are you willing to give it a try?” 

Any trace of apology disappeared when Thor tapped his own cheek with his big pointer finger, eyes shining with mischief, and that right there, that was why Tony didn’t doubt for a second that Loki and Thor were brothers.

Tony looked at the others again—and yup, how nice, they’ve all traded post-battle grimaces for amusement now. Probably the high of adrenaline having nowhere to go but into giddiness over a kiss. Bunch of schoolchildren, really.

Natasha was five seconds away from giggling and even Steve was fighting back a smile. Sam looked ready to pull out the popcorn and Clint was already waggling his eyebrows and grinning. Tony flipped him the bird.

Alright, he could deal with this. He just needed to focus on the positives. Having to kiss his gorgeous teammates wasn’t exactly a burden, not when Tony’s needy, touch-starved self already wanted to do that on a daily basis.

His mood brightened. Obviously, this wasn’t such a big deal, neither to Tony nor to anyone else and—

And his eyes landed on Bucky and his joy withered right back down and died, like some sad, little flower. The super soldier was the exact opposite of amused and while his neutral expression usually bordered on resting assassin face anyways—the sort that made weaker-willed men shake in their boots, but Tony just found disarmingly sexy—this wasn’t just a resting murder face, no, this was an outright murder scowl.

In Tony’s direction. 

Oh.

Oh no.

Tony’s stomach sank straight through the floor. What a painful reminder that his ridiculous crush on the handsome, sweet, not-so-secretly nerdy super soldier was so ill-advised, so badly timed, and so very much unwanted. 

Sure, they forged a great friendship, growing closer the more time Bucky spent living with team—reclaiming his identity, healing, turning sweeter and more charming by the day—but Bucky had been distant lately, coming down to the workshop less and less, always picking the seat furthest from Tony, darting out of the room whenever Tony entered, and now apparently Tony’s mere presence prompted a scowl usually reserved for someone about to get a metal fist to the face.

Tony fought back a sigh, shoved the thoughts of his crush back—way back—and focused on Thor before his pause became too awkward to wave away.

“I guess it’s lucky I got stuck with you then, big guy,” Tony drawled, sticking to his ‘flirty billionaire’ routine. Some masks were easier to wear than others, and at least this one had the benefit of Thor’s smile brightening up. He drew Tony in a little closer with a big, warm hand on Tony’s waist and hey, that wasn’t so bad either.

It just wasn’t the hand of the broody super soldier with thighs of a god and the blue, bedroom eyes of a super model who was—yup, still glowering, somehow even scarier than before, and Tony’s heart shriveled up all over again. 

“Alright, alright, get over here.” Tony focused on Thor, no need to make the big lug feel bad, it wasn’t his fault Tony messed things up with Bucky somehow.

Tony stood up on his toes—damn these gorgeous, tall people living in his house and eating his food—and smacked a loud kiss on Thor’s scruffy cheek.

With a trill of a small bell, the mistletoe above them went poof and disappeared and when Tony took a step back, Thor did the same, and their movements were unrestricted now, no longer trapped by some magical, cosmic powers.

“Alright, so Blitzen wasn’t lying then.”

The others approached them now, although everyone stood far enough from Tony not to trigger the mistletoe, and Tony noted that Bucky kept back even further.

He had to work really hard not to pout.

“What’s Loki’s angle here though?” Natasha wondered aloud. “Making us kiss Tony every time we accidentally bump into him? That’s…” 

“Standard Loki nonsense.”

“Tony’s lucky day, obviously.”

“No great burden, surely.”

“Not a burden, no, but it is a bit inconvenient.”

She snorted at the chorus of replies. “Well, whatever it is, let’s just hope there isn’t a follow-up.”

“I feel like Blitzen wouldn’t run away before rubbing our faces in Part Two, if there was one. He’s not exactly subtle. I really think he just hates me that much—either that or he’s been binge watching Christmas movies and decided this is how we celebrate the season.”

“Here’s the problem though,” Sam chimed in, “Loki isn’t the only villain out there and if someone else gets wind of this…” 

“This could put us at risk, yes.” Steve crossed his arms and hummed. “You and Tony are our aerial support, so Tony would be relatively isolated up in the air, but there’s always a chance he’ll be needed on the ground.”

“I guess every lift is going to cost you a kiss now, Legolas.” Tony grinned at Clint, who blew him a kiss in return. “Let’s just hope everything stays quiet for a few days then.”

“And if it doesn’t, we can always call in Jim. It’d be good to see him for the holidays,” Sam added and Tony nodded right along. Holidays without his Platypus were a travesty.

“My friends, I am certain my brother would not allow us to come to harm if there was a true battle. He would lift the spell.”

When the others gave Thor skeptical looks, Tony felt the need to step in. “I hate to admit it, but Thor does have a point. Loki loves to give us a hard time, but he’s also a possessive weirdo about it. Remember a few months ago when Doom had me cornered and my suit was down and you lot couldn’t get me out in time? Remember when Loki showed up out of nowhere? Yeah, I don’t think Doom wants to crawl out of his precious Latveria any time soon, not after what Loki did to him.”

“Didn’t Loki curse you right after though?” Clint asked. “What was it again?”

“I couldn’t speak English for a week,” Tony replied, then shrugged. “That one wasn’t so bad, actually.” 

In fact, Tony genuinely enjoyed that little prank, content to flex his foreign language muscles with the rest of the polyglots in the house. The worst part, really, was the weird ways Bucky looked at him whenever Tony was babbling in Italian with JARVIS or flirting in French with Nat. There was even a rumor going around that Bucky shattered a glass in his metal hand after a barely coherent Tony dragged himself into the kitchen, murmured at Thor in sleepy Russian to be a dear and get the coffee brewing, and then shuffled back out, muttering equations.

Tony felt guilty about that for days, knowing that he upset Bucky—talking in Russian? Really? What had he been thinking?—but when he confessed his guilt to Nat during one of their spa-and-pamper sessions, all she did was give him a funny look. The kind that seemed mostly fond, but also made it clear she thought he was an idiot. 

When he pressed her, she said that he didn’t upset anyone and that Bucky wasn’t angry and that he just had to trust her, but Tony still worried. It didn’t seem to matter what he did or didn’t do these days. Bucky had been staying away, obviously uncomfortable, and for the life of him, Tony couldn’t figure out what he did wrong. 

He wanted to fix things. He missed their time together. The quiet sessions in the workshop where Tony would meticulously clean the cybernetic arm and lovingly check every part to make sure nothing was hurting Bucky. In turn, Bucky would smile at him, soft and unguarded, laugh at his dumb jokes, tell him about his day, ask questions about Tony’s projects and let him ramble to his heart’s content.

It was always so simple and sweet, no pretenses, no need to put on a show, and Tony missed it all dearly.

Despite Natasha’s reassurances, he was doing this all wrong. Instead of Bucky’s soft, shy smiles, he was getting unhappy scowls, instead of their late-night conversations and falling asleep on each other during movie nights and too-early breakfasts, Tony was getting awkward greetings and hasty avoidance, and with each murderous glare, Tony’s chances to be with this gorgeous, brilliant, wonderful man were plummeting lower and lower.

Honestly, he’d give up on the crush altogether if it meant getting Bucky’s friendship back. 

When his eyes, as if pulled by a magnetic force, were drawn to Bucky again—he was always drawn to Bucky and Tony kept telling himself it was just because Bucky was so damn handsome—there was still a tightness to Bucky’s lips, but at least the scowl was gone.

“Alright, we need to figure out the parameters of this… inconvenience.” Steve’s mouth said ‘inconvenience’, but his expression said ‘pain in the ass’ and Tony agreed. “We need to know how close we have to be for the curse to kick in. Thor, can you, uh, step closer to Tony again? If you don’t mind? Slowly this time, so we know when it triggers.”

“It would be my pleasure, Captain.”

Thor approached under Steve’s command and everyone watched him take measured steps until he passed some invisible threshold and poof—the mistletoe appeared above their heads, leaving roughly a foot or two of space between them.

“Okay, that is pretty inconvenient,” Steve lamented as he scratched the back of his head. “Tony can’t just avoid everyone until the spell is lifted.”

Thor was a solid wall of muscle and warmth next to Tony and this time he was the one to lean in to give Tony a peck on the cheek.

Poof again. No more mistletoe.

Tony rolled his eyes fondly. “You can’t get enough of me, can you, big guy?”

“I have no idea what you mean. This is purely research, my friend.”

Tony chuckled, always put in a better mood by Thor’s genial attitude and not-so-subtle, but entirely platonic flirting, but he caught sight of Bucky again in the background, standing just behind Steve and oh—the scowl was back.

Tony’s good mood evaporated as quickly as it had come. Hastily, he drew his eyes away, only for them to land on Natasha, which wasn’t a safe place either because the judgmental arch of her brow spoke volumes. Granted, Tony had never been great at silent conversations, so he didn’t know what the brow was trying to say and when he shrugged helplessly, Natasha shook her head and gave him that look again and how was Tony supposed to know what all of that meant?

He had to make an educated guess here, so he decided the look probably meant ‘quit staring at the guy who looks like he wants to stab you and who could break you in two with his pinky finger’. 

“You’ll have to stay inside the Tower until the spell is lifted,” Steve interrupted Tony’s internal lamenting. “The streets of New York aren’t exactly known for their elbow room and I’d rather not have to deal with the press or any opportunistic villains du jour. Given Loki’s surprising amount of patience, this could last us all the way through the winter, but I’m hoping we can find a solution sooner than that.”

Tony just waved away both the concern and the apologetic look.

“Don’t worry about it. Gives me an excuse to stay in the workshop and tinker for the rest of the holidays—my only request is that you get to be the one to tell Pep I’m not showing up for any of the press conferences or galas.”

Steve snorted and shook his head, but he was terrible at hiding his own fondness for Tony’s antics (Tony grew on these people like a fungus and he reveled in that fact every day). “Why am I not surprised you’re taking this so well? If I didn’t know better, I’d say you and Loki were in cahoots.”

“Cap, please. If me and Blitzen ever teamed up,” Tony teased right back, “you’d know. I’m just a ‘go with the flow’ kinda guy. I get cursed with enchanted mistletoe? No problem. Either I get some peace and quiet or I get to kiss all of you gorgeous people. That’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned.”

“You may bump into me at your every convenience then,” Thor said, that spark of playfulness still in his eyes, and Tony wanted to tease him back, but he lost all the words when a frankly terrifying growl reverberated through the air just before they all turned to watch the Winter Soldier stalk back to the Quinjet.

At least Tony assumed everyone else was watching Bucky. He was too busy squirming with guilt to pay attention to anyone else. Here he was, blatantly flaunting the fact he could trap his teammates and force them to kiss him without their say-so at any moment, treating everything like a joke.

Oh, he was the absolute worst, wasn’t he?

“I’m just, uh, just gonna get into my suit right over here and—fly back. You know, science never sleeps an’ all, gotta get back to work, stay out of the way, not force people to, uh, to do things.” Without turning to look at anyone else, Tony activated the suit, wrapped himself in gold titanium alloy and made a hasty escape.


The Avengers watched Tony fly off until he turned into a tiny dot on the horizon and  disappeared.

“Wow, that had to be one of Tony’s most embarrassing exits, right?” Clint squinted against the sunlight. “Top five at least.”

Sam looked over his shoulder at the Quinjet again. “Cap, can you go deal with your best friend, please? He’s being a dumbass and there’s a lot of fragile tech in there.”

Steve sighed and fiddled with the straps of his shield. “Nope, it’s Saturday. On the weekends, he’s your best friend. You go deal with him. I’m—not getting involved.”

“Hey, no,” Clint turned around to jab a finger at Steve. “You’re our fearless leader, you have to get involved. Those two are driving everyone up the wall! I don’t know how much more of this I can take!”

Thor nodded, his expression morose. “I fear even my attempts to make friend Bucky jealous did not work. How could he not be jealous?”

“Oh, he’s jealous alright,” Natasha corrected. “That little growl of his says as much, but you all have to remember who you’re dealing with. Those two are brilliant, sure, but they’re also the two biggest idiots we know.”

“Yup. Take Bucky over there.” Sam hooked his thumb over his shoulder. “He’s probably in there vowing to never love again—while simultaneously planning Tony’s and Thor’s wedding, down to the damn flower arrangements because he’d throw himself on a damn grenade if it made Tony happy.”

“Yup. And Tony, well, he’s even worse,” Natasha continued. “He sees one single frown and thinks Bucky hates him because any time Tony sees a hint of negativity, he automatically assumes he’s responsible for it.”

“That’s ridiculous though and—and—entirely in character, yeah.” Steve deflated and decided he probably should get involved. “If only those two could just talk to each other…”

At least three different Avengers snorted simultaneously. 

“Talk? To each other?”

“Pfft, not in this economy.”

“Not in this universe.”

Steve sighed. “Right, right, wouldn’t want to make things easy—and now we have this damn spell too. So, what do we do? How do we fix this?”

“Well, the spell doesn’t have to be a problem,” Clint said. “Maybe Thor here has the right idea. What if we all try to make Bucky Boo jealous?”

Natasha didn’t seem that impressed. “Admit it, you just want an excuse to kiss Tony.”

“Don’t pretend like you don’t,” Clint countered and she shrugged, but didn’t deny it.

Steve hummed, tapping his fingers against his chin. “You know, Bucky does have a bit of a possessive streak. Nothing serious of course, he’d never hurt anyone, but as we all saw, he does get a little… growly. Maybe he just needs that extra push in the right direction, something to show him he shouldn’t wait around to ask Tony out.”

“I still can’t believe his immediate reaction to realizing he’s in love is not to jump Tony’s bones right then and there.” Clint clicked his tongue. “I’m telling you guys, romance is dead. No worries though. I’m gonna kiss Tony so good under that mistletoe, Barnes will have no choice but to do something about it.”

“Wait, wait, wait, hold up.” Sam waved his hands frantically. “This is your brilliant plan? Kiss Stark under the magical mistletoe until Barnes gets so jealous, he gets over his own stupidity and carries Stark off into the sunset— after he punches one of you for daring to touch his precious engineer?” When no one denied said plan, Sam shook his head. “No, nope. I’m not doing this. I’m calling Jim. I need reinforcements, someone with a braincell that’s not too busy recreating its favorite rom-com.”

“Well, I happen to think it is a fantastic plan,” Thor declared, “as it will allow me to both shower Tony with affection and help two lovers find their way towards one another. There is no nobler cause during these holy days.” He cleared his throat and his big grin dimmed. “But I shall also attempt to find my brother nonetheless. In case something goes terribly wrong.”

Steve sighed again. “It always does, doesn’t it?”

There were nods all around and Sam already had his phone pressed to his ear before they ever made it back to the jet.

Chapter Text

Tony sighed, recognized it was the sort of melodramatic sigh one would see in a soap opera, and then sighed again just out of spite.

So maybe he did look like some forlorn lover, but he couldn’t help it. Breakfasts were supposed to be their time. They were sacred.

So many of their sweet moments had happened in the kitchen. Most of the Avengers weren’t morning people (and Steve and Thor, who were, knew better and kept their morning cheerfulness to themselves), so breakfasts at the Tower consisted of the sizzle of a hot pan, the gurgle of brewing coffee, the quiet munching around the table punctuated by sleepy yawns, and Bucky’s solid, warm frame next to Tony.

There were at least three separate occasions where Tony fell right back asleep on Bucky’s shoulder mid-bite and one even more memorable instance where Bucky had carried Tony’s sleeping form out of the kitchen and into the family room, tucked him in on the couch, brushed a hand over Tony’s forehead with a soft, “Get some rest, doll,” and oh, Tony had never been more in love with someone in his life.

He blamed Howard, honestly. Damn him for making Tony so touch-starved and needy—and all the way into his forties, good god—that he’d fall for the first super soldier who batted his pretty eyelashes at him and wooed him with his curiosity and charm and the way he treated Tony like someone worthy of love.

The sheer audacity of James Buchanan Barnes to be so damn sweet and considerate and gentle that Tony had no choice but to fall for him.

Tony sighed for the third time.

Of course, the good times never lasted. Here he was, sitting in the kitchen at the breakfast bar, munching on some fruit while working through a particularly tricky schematic and he was mid-bite when Bucky and Sam walked into the kitchen. Sam gave him a wave, Bucky have him the classic deer-stuck-in-headlights look, stumbled over thin air, made a fumbling excuse about forgetting his phone, and promptly bolted—and then Sam gave Tony that apologetic, ‘sorry for your loss’ look, which just added insult to injury.

Sam headed for the cupboards and started rummaging through their impressive cereal collection while Tony nibbled on his apple and jabbed at the hologram with distracted pokes. 

“Hey, Sam?”

“What’s up?” 

Sam went for the healthy, ‘this is not candy in disguise’ cereal, as always. Poor guy had to keep up with ‘I will eat my weight in ice cream and not lose an ounce of muscle’ super soldiers and Tony could sympathize.

“You’re close with James, aren’t you?”

Sam grunted. “Only on the weekends—and when he’s not being a brat.”

“Can you tell me how I managed to mess things up with him?”

Sam spilled the cereal over the rim of his bowl and had to hastily tilt the bag upright again.

“Um, come again?”

“How did I mess things up? We all know I tend to do that—it’s a character flaw, I’m working on it—and clearly I did something wrong because James just bolted out of here like a terrified rabbit. I’ve never seen a man turn around so fast before.”

“Uh, I’m sure you didn’t—I mean, I’m sure you’re fine. Barnes isn’t actually human until at least ten o’clock and two cups of coffee.” Sam snuck a glance at Tony and hurried to put away his cereal before grabbing the milk out of the fridge. “He’s a lot like you in that regard, so don’t pay attention to anything he does this early in the day. He’s a walking disaster.”

An endearing walking disaster, thank you very much. Tony’s disaster too, Tony wanted to add, but none of those words left his mouth.

“He hates me, doesn’t he?” he whispered instead and Sam stopped mid-step, milk carton still clutched to his chest. He muttered something—Tony swore it was about Natasha and mercy and idiots—before shaking his head and pouring the milk into his bowl.

“You look like you’re having an aneurism over there, Wilson.”

“I just might be.” With the milk back in the fridge, Sam used one hand to carry the bowl while the other pointed a finger at Tony. “You and Barnes are smart—brilliant, or so I’m told, although I’ve yet to see the evidence—and you two have got to figure this out on your own. Don’t ask me the questions. Talk to him, if you have to.”

“I’m… a little scared to? He kinda looks like he wants to kick my ass and—well, I know James would never hurt me, but come on, if I did something wrong, I’d like to apologize for it. Plus, if he really does hate me now, I don’t want to just corner him. He probably doesn’t want to see me.”

Sam stared at him, a pinched expression on his face like he swallowed lemon juice. Huh. Rhodey looked like that sometimes too and Tony had to wonder about who picked up that expression from whom.

“That… I don’t even know how you came up with that,” Sam said, “but—no, nope. Not talking about this. Stay strong, Wilson, stay strong.”

“What are you—”

“Just trying to preserve my sanity. He’s an adult, you’re an adult. Talk it out—oh, and by the way, Jim and I talked last night. He’s not coming to visit. Instead, I’m visiting him.”

Tony blinked, distracted by the change in topic and by the lost opportunity to see his best friend. He pouted at Sam. “I see how it is. Making your cunning escape early, huh? I’m onto you, Wilson, you just wanna make lovey-dovey eyes at my Platypus without all of us there to tease you about it.”

Sam cocked a brow. “Maybe. Is that a problem?”

Tony shrugged and popped an apple slice into his mouth. “Only if I don’t get to be the best man at the wedding.”

That was enough to get a real grin out of Sam—he was secretly a sap too, Tony was onto him—and it was apparently enough to also lull him into a false sense of security because he walked around the counter to reach for one of Tony’s apples and—

Poof, the mistletoe sprung to life and Tony cackled while Sam groaned in defeat.

“Damn it. I completely forgot about that.” 

“Sorry.”

“You’re a menace, Tony Stark. This is exactly why I’m bailing. You’re not good for my health.”

Tony decided to take pity on him. It was clear Sam didn’t want to talk about Tony’s ‘Bucky’ issues and it wasn’t fair to push him. No one was responsible for Tony’s screw-ups but Tony. 

“Just come here, would you?” he beckoned and Sam shuffled over so Tony could give him a kiss on the cheek.

“There,” Tony waved him away when the mistletoe disappeared, “you have the Stark blessing now. I release thee, go forth and avenge—oh, and tell my Rhodey Bear he should at least come by for New Years. I miss his gorgeous face.”

With a salute and a cheery, “You and me both!” Sam left him too and Tony was all alone again.

Alone and unloved and abandoned by the man of his dreams.

Tony sighed for the fourth time.


Days later, Tony would remain abandoned by the man of his dreams, but to Tony’s utter confusion, the ‘alone and unloved’ part didn’t hold up quite as well.


“Good morning, Antosha,” Natasha appeared out of nowhere at Tony’s side and he squawked in surprise at the same time the mistletoe trilled to life above them.

“Good god, woman, how are you so silent?”

“Practice,” she deadpanned and reached around Tony for the milk, her other hand settling in feather-light over the small of Tony’s back. “Could you hand me the coffee, please?”

Tony brought over the carafe to pour the coffee into her mug, eyeing her dubiously as he put it back down. “Did you forget about the mistletoe?”

She looked up and clicked her tongue. “I guess I did.” It was entirely unconvincing. “Starting my morning with a kiss from the one and only Tony Stark though… I gotta say, I’ve had worse.”

He rolled his eyes. “You’re lucky you’re cute, Nat. C’mere,” he said, ready to give her a kiss, but she beat him to it, sneaking a ninja-spy kiss to his cheek.

The mistletoe disappeared, but Nat didn’t, still standing in Tony’s space as she brushed a thumb over the spot she just kissed. She was smiling too and Tony wasn’t sure if she was just feeling a touch sentimental this morning or if he was about to lose a kidney. You could never tell with all these ninja-spies that lived in his house.

“Nat?”

“Have a wonderful day,” she said cryptically and walked away, right past Bucky who Tony didn’t even see standing on the threshold of the kitchen until Natasha passed him with a murmured, “Don’t stare, kotyenok.”

Tony stayed frozen, trying not to wilt under Bucky’s ever-present scowl. He was probably mad Tony was in here at all, monopolizing the entire kitchen to himself with his stupid mistletoe powers.

“Hey, James, I was just, uh, just about to leave. Sorry,” Tony muttered, already feeling lame for the apology, but needing to say it anyways. 

Bucky seemed confused, as if the words were taking too long to filter through. The scowl disappeared and his face scrunched up adorably.

“What do you—I mean, you don’t have to leave, why would—”

“No, no, got lots of work. Gotta keep out of the way, so I won’t—you know—” Tony gestured at the air above his head. He started for the exit, then stopped, and both he and Bucky had to do an awkward shuffle to avoid triggering the mistletoe while Tony tried to leave and Bucky tried to make his way over into the kitchen.

Tony couldn’t just leave though and he turned back around, unable to help himself. “Am I gonna see you down at the workshop anytime soon? I, uh, I miss you—miss working on your arm, that is.” Tony grimaced, feeling ridiculous and clingy and needy and he didn’t let Bucky be the one to reject him. “Wait, no, never mind, I’ve got the mistletoe, right? You probably wouldn’t want to—no, yeah, better to wait, huh? Let me know if anything hurts though, I can walk someone through the schematics. Anyways, I’ll, uh, I’ll see you later?”

Before he could embarrass himself further with more babbled nonsense, Tony spun on his heel and bolted out of sight.


“I… miss you too.”

Bucky’s words were barely a whisper and he stood there blinking for another minute after Tony disappeared. There was a lot to parse out here, between Tony’s nervous babble and Bucky’s own mess of feelings, and it was far too early in the morning for Bucky to untangle any of it.

He reached for the coffee and tried not to pout as he poured the rest of it into his oversized mug—the mug Tony gifted him months and months ago, when they were still getting to know each other, the one with the cartoon rendition of the Winter Soldier flipping everyone off with the words ‘I do what I want’ scribbled around him. It was so irreverent and funny and perfect, and Bucky remembered the exact curve of Tony’s grin when Tony handed it over and said, ‘This is for you, James. Thought it’d be perfect for the guy who won’t be bossed around ever again’. 

Tony was the only one who got to call him James these days—it drove Steve nuts and he complained with vigor that it gave him flashbacks to Bucky’s mother screaming their full names across the street every time they got into trouble—but Bucky loved the way the name sounded whenever Tony would say it, loved that this small part of the new James ‘Bucky’ Barnes could be Tony’s.

He did pout now, missing Tony to the point of pain, but his expression quickly turned back into a scowl. 

It should’ve been him kissing Tony good morning, not Natasha.

He scowled harder. Damn Russian spies, always so sneaky, so sly, trying to steal his man—

Bucky’s shoulders slumped in defeat. That was the thing though, wasn’t it? Tony wasn’t his.

He put his coffee mug down on the kitchen table and flopped into the nearest chair. 

He had no right to be angry. After all, he was the one who decided to stay away from Tony—because it was one thing to spend time together while Bucky simply loved him; it was an entirely different ballgame when Bucky realized he was in love with Tony.

And maybe if it were only the physical aspect that mattered, this whole situation would’ve been less daunting. Fall into bed with a gorgeous, willing man, have an amazing night, get it out of your system, move on with your life.

But no, the new James Buchanan Barnes didn’t do things by halves either. He didn’t just want to see Tony naked—although he did want that, very much, in many different contexts—no, no, he wanted more. Flowers and dates and going steady and commitments and pledges of undying loyalty and—

Everything. He wanted everything and if someone didn’t stop him, he’d do something stupid like get down on one knee and proclaim his love for Tony right then and there.

The Avengers were all a bunch of enablers though and he’d get no help there, so it had to be him, his own self-control that would stop him from doing something that would ruin their friendship. 

So Bucky decided to put some distance between them until he got his feelings under control, but he didn’t realize just how miserable it’d turn out to be. It hurt to see Tony so spooked and uncertain around him and he missed Tony so much. 

Tony, who was generous and kind and so damn smart that it took Bucky’s breath away. He was one of the first people to make Bucky laugh too, over something completely silly, some irreverent joke or one of Tony’s terrible puns, Bucky couldn’t even remember. What he did remember however was that light sensation in his chest that turned to warmth as he laughed, as he watched Tony’s eyes crinkle because he was laughing too, and it wasn’t one of those fake, media laughs he offered to the rest of the world. No, it was real and it was Bucky’s to witness and treasure.

They haven’t laughed like that in a while though and Bucky didn’t have anyone to blame but himself. 

It was still the right thing to do though. Tony deserved better. Tony, who was so full of life, who always looked to the future and lived in the moment, deserved someone who wouldn’t hold him back, someone just as energetic and outgoing, someone who didn’t get tongue-tied when trying to give the man of his dreams a simple compliment. Someone who lit up the world.

That person wasn’t Bucky, not when he was just a lonely, broken, needy ex-assassin, hastily put back together, while Tony was everything bright and warm and good in the world. 

No, he would make sure to keep his feelings bottled up tight, to learn to be around Tony again without wanting more

He was so bad at trying to pretend he didn’t love Tony though and he couldn’t help but think about the workshop, about following Tony down and settling in next to him at one of the work benches. About the mistletoe popping right up above them and keeping them close, about him tilting Tony’s chin gently with his metal hand, watching Tony’s eyes flutter closed and his lips part. He thought about the way he would lean in to kiss Tony proper—

Bucky groaned and drank the scalding hot coffee in big gulps just to distract himself from the fantasies.

It would’ve been true enough on a normal day, but with that mistletoe spell, Bucky had no choice but to stay away.

Because if he got to kiss Tony once, he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to stop.


It was movie night, but because Tony was too busy lamenting his fate—Bucky had chosen the furthest seat from him, again—he missed his opportunity to pick the movie. It didn’t matter, he told himself. He wasn’t going to pay much attention anyways, but maybe he could take a nap instead, catch up on some sleep—

Oof,” he grunted when a whole damn archer landed right in his lap. “What the hell, Barton?”

Clint wrapped one arm around Tony’s neck for balance and used the other to poke at the mistletoe. He jabbed the thing and it swayed, but didn’t disappear.

“Huh, it feels real enough,” Clint remarked, then diverted his attention back to Tony. “Hello, handsome.”

“Get off me, you’re heavy,” Tony complained and tried to shove Clint off and back onto the couch. To Tony’s surprise, Clint cooperated, but he didn’t go far—he couldn’t, technically, not without a kiss, but Clint looked far too comfortable snuggling up into Tony’s side for this to be just a mistletoe thing.

“Ah,” Clint exhaled happily, “this is nice. For a skinny guy, you’re very comfortable. Very cuddly.”

“I am not skinny—and I am not your pillow!” He jabbed a finger into Clint’s ribs, but it didn’t earn him so much as a flinch. “There’s plenty of room on the couch.” 

“Sorry, the mistletoe says I can’t leave. You’re stuck with me forever.”

“Clint,” Tony all but growled the name, tried to make it as threatening as he could, but Clint’s dumb grin remained both endearing and infuriating. He wiggled even further into Tony’s space, threw both arms around Tony’s neck, and smacked the loudest kiss possible on Tony’s cheek.

The mistletoe went poof and Clint’s dumb grin turned into a pleased smile.

“You smell nice. New cologne?”

“Go away, Bird Brain.”

“Well, aren’t you a grumpy goose tonight?” Clint grumbled, but at least he complied and let Tony go, although the victory was short-lived when Clint decided to curl up on the other end of the couch and plant his socked feet in Tony’s lap. Tony would’ve made a bigger fuss—this was their thing, really, to pretend they were annoying each other, because it was easier than admitting their respective pasts made it difficult to open up and accept friendly touches and that these interactions were a gift to be thankful for—silently, while pretending to be thoroughly inconvenienced—because it took them a long time to get here, to this point of friendship and trust.

Still, all the warm and fuzzies aside, the bickering was the best part, but the rest of the Avengers ruined the moment by finally showing up and taking their respective seats.

The lights dimmed, JARVIS started up the movie, and in the end, it really didn’t matter that Tony didn’t get to pick the movie. He didn’t even watch whatever they did pick, didn’t notice Clint passing out halfway and starting to snore. No, Tony was too busy tracking the way Bucky’s metal fingers tapped furiously against the arm of his seat, the staccato constant and tapped out with laser precision, each tap a perfect encapsulation of Bucky’s severe expression, punctuated only by the clench of his jaw visible in the light of the explosions on screen.

Of course the occasional glare in Tony’s direction was the worst part and Tony decided, if there was going to be an angry assassin out to get him, he was definitely using Clint as a shield.


“Thor, you’re doing this on purpose.”

“Nonsense,” Thor said, not even bothering to sound convincing. They were blocking the exit out of the meeting room, the mistletoe hanging right above them in the door frame. “I was simply trying to leave—and look at that, so were you. A simple accident.”

Poor Bucky was trying to leave too, but now he was stuck standing and staring at Tony and Thor in the doorway. Tony supposed they could’ve shuffled out of the way with some coordinating, but Thor didn’t seem eager to budge at all.

Unlike Natasha’s early morning sweetness or Clint’s ridiculous antics, Thor took his mistletoe duties very seriously. Every time they got too close—and the frequency of these ‘accidental’ run-ins was become increasingly suspicious—there was always a hand on Tony’s waist, holding him like he was some swooning maiden—and okay, this was Thor, he could make a statue swoon, but no matter how nice and warm that big palm was, Tony was a taken man!

In his heart. Where his feelings lived. Definitely not in reality, where Bucky looked two seconds away from stabbing someone.

Thor hummed, seemingly oblivious to the glaring super soldier nearby, and he took his sweet time admiring Tony before leaning in to place the softest of kisses on the apple of Tony’s cheek.

“There, we are free from our magical prison,” he murmured with his usual pleased grin. “Now, would you like to—”

“Are you done?” Bucky snapped, arms crossed over his chest, foot tapping. “Because some of us have places to be and—”

“My apologies, my good friend, I didn’t meant to inconvenience you. I was simply too distracted by the sight of Tony’s eyes. They are quite beautiful, aren’t they? Like gleaming gems—”

Tony darted to the side and out of the way, allowing Bucky to stride through and for once, that murder strut was more frightening than enticing.

“Sorry, I was afraid someone was gonna get stabbed if I didn’t get out of the way.”

“Oh dear. I fear friend Bucky may have misinterpreted my playful jests.”

“Yeah, Thor, about that…” Tony looked around to make sure they had the privacy and no one else would interrupt. “You’re like the sweetest guy in the world and you know I don’t mind the occasional flirting—but I’m not sure I can tell whenever you’re serious or not anymore.” Thor waited patiently while Tony rubbed the back of his head. Letting anyone down easy was never actually easy. “If you are being serious, I hate to say it, but I’m not the right guy for you, because I, uh—well, because my—”

“Because your heart already belongs to another?”

Tony sputtered. “What? No, that wasn’t—”

“It’s perfectly alright.” To Tony’s surprise, there was no hint of hurt on Thor’s face. His smile only softened. “I admit, I may have come on too strongly.”

“Well, you are a god, big guy, nothing about you is subtle.”

“No, but I am sorry if I have made you uncomfortable.”

“No, no, it’s not that,” Tony reassured and really, it wasn’t. He loved Thor and there was nothing wrong with small kisses and casual touches, but Tony didn’t want there to be more misunderstandings. “I just—yeah, you know what, why am I beating around the bush? You’re right, my heart is stuck on someone else and I don’t want to send you the wrong message in case you were hoping for more.”

“I will admit, you would make an admirable partner, Tony, and I would be lucky to have someone as brave and honorable as you to stand at my side, but I understand completely and have no doubt you will sweep the object of your affections off their feet. Perhaps if you two simply talked?”

“Yeah, that’s—that’s a great idea right there. Might, uh, might have to give that the good old-fashioned try.” Tony didn’t bother explaining that the ‘object of his affections’ stomped away not a minute ago and didn't seem eager to discuss Tony's clinginess and outlandish fantasies of domestic bliss. 

He patted Thor on the arm and made an excuse about needing to finish a project before taking off, hoping there were no more Avengers ready to pounce on him.

Normally, he wouldn’t mind all the love, but when the one man he wanted to kiss avoided him like the plague… Well, the rest of the kisses didn’t seem quite as sweet anymore.

Stupid mistletoe.

Stupid Loki.

Stupid, ridiculous feelings.

Chapter Text

Expense reports were not a fascinating read, but staying on top of paperwork was the least Tony could do now that he was missing several big galas and charity events—the official excuse was a ‘regretfully inconvenient’ case of bronchitis—and it was never a bad move to keep Pepper happy by making her life easier. Shoes only got a man so far, after all.

He gave the report his full attention—and completely missed the Dorito-shaped super soldier coming down the hallway until he bumped right into Steve’s solid chest.

How Steve missed him remained a mystery, but Tony was too busy rubbing his bruised forehead and groaning at the stupid mistletoe that popped up above them to consider that mystery further. 

“Damn it, sorry, I gotta watch where I’m going.”

Steve shook his head, nice enough to keep Tony upright with a solid grip on his shoulders.

“No, no, entirely my fault, I should’ve been paying attention too.” He patted Tony’s shoulders a little awkwardly, but still didn’t let go, not even when he looked at something behind Tony, trying to be sneaky about it—and failing, but this was a man who wore a baseball cap and called it ‘undercover’—but before Tony could turn around to see for himself what Steve was pretending not to notice, Steve planted an equally awkward kiss on Tony’s cheek.

“There,” Steve said and already there was a blush rising to the tips of his ears. “Problem solved. No harm done. You, uh, look nice today, by the way. Very—very handsome, as always, and—oh, hey, Buck, didn’t see you there. Wow, what are the odds, huh? How are you?”

Tony wondered if even Natasha’s expert spy lessons would stick with this one. He heard a low growl—familiar, usually sexy, recently disheartening—and when he did turn around, he wasn’t surprised to find Bucky’s narrowed eyes and unimpressed expression.

Bucky wasn’t close enough to trigger the spell, but he was close enough to ensure the glare of death he was aiming at Steve was glaringly obvious.

“Hello, Steve.”

Tony opened his mouth to say something, but Steve beat him to it. 

“Hi, Buck. I was just telling Tony here how great he looks today.” Steve’s hand was still suspiciously stuck to Tony’s shoulder. “Doesn’t he look great in a suit?”

“Tony always looks great, glad you finally noticed,” Bucky muttered, and even though it was said through clenched teeth—and Tony had no idea what the hell was going on with the super soldier duo—he couldn’t help but preen at the compliment. This suit really did do great things for his backside. 

He would’ve made a playful comment about said backside, but there was still all that intense eye contact between the Brooklyn duo and Bucky was glowering and Steve was smiling the least innocent-looking smile Tony had ever seen—and Tony promptly decided that was his cue to skedaddle.

As smoothly as he could, he shook Steve’s hand off and stepped out of his reach. “Thanks, boys. Suits do look great, don’t they? You both should try them more often. No one here would deny wanting more eye candy. Anyways—I gotta go. Pep’s waiting and the least I could do is show up on time—err, mostly on time.”

“Right, right, of course,” Steve said, “say hello to her for me.” 

“Sure, sure, will do,” Tony gave the distracted reply, but his eyes remained on Bucky and he got to witness the change for himself when their eyes met. Bucky’s expression lost its sharp edges almost immediately, the glare all but disappeared, and he smiled, just a tiny, shy thing, but it transformed him from an assassin with an axe to grind into a puppy looking for head scratches.

Tony vaguely registered Steve trying to stifle a snort behind him, but he was too distracted by the swoosh in his stomach at the sight of that smile and was it too sappy to say he had missed it? 

“Hey, James.”

“Hi, Tony. You, uh, you do look nice today.”

“Thank you.”

“That color is great on you and—” Bucky drummed his metal fingers against his thigh and looked away. “Sorry, I shouldn’t keep you. I hope your meeting goes well.”

“Right, right. I’ll, uh, see you around?”

Bucky nodded and Tony probably threw the most pitiful and hopeful of glances his way—but Bucky looked a little bit like he missed Tony too and maybe that meant he wasn’t really mad at Tony and maybe Tony could just—

Tony turned around and left before the urge to throw himself into Bucky’s arms got too strong.


Bucky watched Tony scramble away and he knew his own face must’ve looked like a lovestruck mess, but the way Tony looked at him… He looked sad and all Bucky wanted was to go over there and wrap his arms around Tony, hold him close, tell him everything would be alright, and then kiss him for days, no mistletoe needed.

“Wow, that was just bad. How do you live with the embarrassment, Buck?”

Steve stood there, trying not to grin like an idiot, reminding Bucky of his general existence and the utter gall of it all.

The glower returned in full force as he stalked towards Steve. 

“You’re an ass, Rogers. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Hmm?”

“What was that?”

Bucky’s would’ve felt bad for his tone, but Steve didn’t even have the good graces to look ashamed.

He just stood there, mildly sheepish, and two seconds away from laughing.

“I’m not doing anything,” he tried to say, unconvincing in the slightest. He ran his hand through his hair again, mussing up the blond spikes, a dead giveaway for guilt. “I was just talking to Tony, saying hello—”

“Don’t act like I’m dumb, Stevie.”

“I’m not, I was just—you know—”

Flirting with Tony?”

Steve gasped and put his hand on his heart.

“Why would I—I would never—”

“Because if that was flirting, Rogers, I’m the one embarrassed for you.”

Steve dropped the affronted facade and snorted. “Hey, okay, you don’t get to judge here. Sure, I’m rusty, but if you don’t stop looking at Tony like that—I mean, I get it, he’s your whole damn world, you’re in love—but he might just get a clue about your ‘well-guarded’ secret.”

Were the air quotations really necessary? “Maybe if you stopped bumping into him on purpose and acting like an idiot—”

“But where would be the fun in that, kotyenok?”

Both of them startled as Natasha popped into existence behind Bucky and sauntered past him. She took a sip from her cup, probably some fancy overpriced latte from the place down the street, herself a picture-perfect image of holiday cheer with rosy cheeks and a festive scarf, wrapped up in Clint’s reindeer sweater and looking far too smug for her own good.

“You!” Bucky jabbed a finger in her direction, hoping no one else had noticed she had just snuck up on him without a smidgen of effort. Hell, he was so far gone though, Steve could sneak up on him. “You’re not off the hook either. Kissin’ up on Tony every morning. Let the poor man get his damn coffee first, would ya?”

She shrugged and took another leisurely sip. “Are you trying to say Antosha doesn’t deserve more love and affection in his life?”

“I—No, of course not—” Bucky ground his teeth together, knowing exactly what she was doing and hating that she was right. Of course Tony deserved all the love in the world, what kind of stupid question was that? “It’s not about that. You could at least have the damn decency not to look me in the eye when you do it.”

“And why is that such a big deal, Buck? They’re just little kisses on the cheek. Perfectly innocent ways to greet someone.” Steve sounded smug too and that was not a good look on him. “It wouldn’t be because seeing us kiss Tony all the time is making you jealo—”

“I am not jealous.” Bucky interrupted. “You two have no idea what you’re talking about.”

He wasn’t jealous, really—because jealousy implied some sort of claim on Tony’s heart and he certainly had no such thing. No, he just hated seeing everything he was missing out on everywhere he went, he hated knowing his teammates were doing this on purpose because they were all well-meaning idiots, and he especially hated knowing he had no right to blame them. He did this all to himself after all.

Still, enough was enough. The Avengers were normally an affectionate bunch, sure, but this was downright ridiculous, what with their sly little looks and perfectly timed accidents and with the way Thor was two seconds away from outright proposing to Tony and whisking him away to Asgard. 

There must’ve been something in his expression to finally make them realize he wasn’t just being dumb for the fun of it.

“Bucky, hey, I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to upset you,” Steve began to placate, hands raised as if offering a truce. “Most of this was in good fun and we were just trying to show you that, hey, now’s the time to act on your feelings.”

“Right,” Natasha added, “and if you don’t quit stalling, someone else might snatch Tony up.”

“Why is this any of your business anyways?”

Steve crossed his arms over his chest, adopting his trademark ‘lecture mode’ face, which coincidentally did not work on Bucky at all, mostly because he’d seen far too much of a tiny, asthmatic Steve getting into fights with bullies and trashcans to ever take that face seriously.

“You were the one who told me about your feelings for Tony when you didn’t know what to do,” Steve said.

“And then you told me,” Natasha added, “when Steve didn’t know what to do either—and he also doesn’t appreciate Tony’s behind like we both do.”

Bucky threw a half-hearted glare her way, but it wasn’t as if he was allowed to ogle Tony’s behind either. “I shouldn’t have talked to either of you. Don’t think Tony would appreciate some washed-up murderer with nothing to his damn name gossiping about him.”

“That is not what you are and that’s not what you were doing,” Steve said. “We’re your friends and we just want you to be happy. You and Tony.”

“It’s not that easy, okay? Just because I have feelings for Tony doesn’t mean I should act on them—and I don’t need a damn parade of everything I can’t have thrown in my face every day.”

Natasha titled her head to the side. “And why can’t you have it?” 

Bucky opened his mouth to deliver some scathing retort, but he clicked it shut as his shoulders slumped and the fight drained out of him. 

Natasha delivered that question so casually, like asking about the weather, like this wasn’t this huge, insurmountable thing that made Bucky’s chest feel too full and his heart beat too quickly, that made every part of him light up when Tony was around and ache when he was gone. It was so much bigger, so much more important than her tone suggested, but he knew she was goading him into an answer. Bucky didn’t know what answer she was looking for, but the real one was simple enough.

“Because he deserves better than me.”

The words made him flush, his insecurities sharp and heavy like this. He trusted Steve and Natasha, but it didn’t mean he wanted to lay his soul bare on some unremarkable Tuesday afternoon.

“Buck, hey,” Steve tried, the soft, cajoling tone of his words unsurprising, but Bucky just shook his head.

“Don’t start in with the platitudes, Stevie. I appreciate that you keep trying, that you always see the good in me, but you still see too much of that old Bucky. That guy, he would’ve been a great fit for Tony, sure. He was charming and clever and fun. He looked at a crowd and saw a party, spent nights with a girl on his arm. I see a crowd and count out potential threats and spend my nights tossing and turning. S’just—different now. I like what Tony and I have. To risk him finding out and seeing me differently… To risk him wanting nothing to do with me…”

“That’s not going to happen,” Natasha murmured. She’d dropped the smug spy act and Bucky knew she was being sincere, but even that wasn’t enough for Bucky to believe her.

“You don’t know that. It doesn’t matter anyways. Tony deserves the world. He deserved a guy like—like Thor,” Bucky couldn’t help the bite in his voice. Sure, Thor was a teammate and a good man and a friend—but he was also getting handsy. Still, it didn’t change the indisputable facts. “Tony deserves a prince, not some walking disaster and if all I have of Tony is his friendship, that’s more than enough. S’really not that big of a deal. I’ll just—get over it. S’fine.”

“It’s not fine though,” Steve said and the stern edge to his voice had Bucky looking up at him. “I’m tired of seeing you moping and glaring and acting like the world’s going to end—and frankly, I’m offended on Tony’s behalf, because I don’t think you’re giving him nearly enough credit.”

Bucky furrowed his brows. “Excuse me?”

“All those things you just said? You think Tony would mind that?”

“He would think—”

“No, he wouldn’t and last I checked, he doesn’t know that Bucky. He knows you, the guy you are now, and newsflash, but he happens to adore you.”

Bucky flushed again, for an entirely different reason. For Steve to just come out and say that, like it was some simple fact of life—

What the hell was Bucky supposed to say to that?

He didn’t get the chance to say anything though. Apparently Steve wasn’t even done. 

“Tony is a great guy,” he said, with the sort of confidence only Captain America could pull off, “and he wouldn’t expect you to be anyone but yourself. If you care about him, if you love him, you have to let him be that great man and decide for himself. Distancing yourself, acting like a big ol’ grump every day, that’s only going to make things worse.”

Some stubborn part of Bucky wanted to argue that it wasn’t that simple, but it was harder to keep the rest of the thoughts back now—the ones full of guilt over pushing Tony away and upsetting him. The ones now clinging to some inkling of hope.

Because what if Steve was right? If Tony was as great as Bucky thought he was—and Tony was great, no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ about it—then maybe Tony wouldn’t mind that Bucky wasn’t some perfect, successful, effortlessly charming boyfriend the world would expect to stand by Tony’s side.

At worst, Tony would still be kind enough to let Bucky down gently and then, maybe, they could go back to how things used to be and Bucky could still be a part of Tony’s life.

He still worried, of course, and the old fears still lingered, because they were the sort that didn’t just disappear after one impassioned Captain America speech. Tony could still look at Bucky and see someone unworthy, someone who disgusted him—or Tony could pretend to see something worthy just to be kind, just to spare Bucky the pain of rejection.

Now though, with Steve’s words and Natasha no-nonsense expression and Bucky’s own thoughts—and so many good memories of Tony himself—those worst-case scenarios were starting to look less like reality and more like his typical, over-exaggerated nightmares.

“Ever think maybe it is the end of the world?” He muttered with a purposefully sulky expression. “That’s the only explanation I have for you making so much damn sense, Stevie. Unnatural is what that is.”

Steve exhaled, visibly relieved by the obvious teasing. “Well, you know, I do have my moments.”

“Definitely shoulda stuck with your speeches then instead of all that dumb kissing. You’re way better at one than you are at the other.”

“Yeah, yeah, I suck at flirting, what else is new? Gotta get new material, Buck,” Steve said, playing along, but the relief was making him grin like an idiot. 

The corners of Natasha’s eyes crinkled when she smiled as well. “But it’s so fun to watch you flounder, Steve. Don’t deprive us.” 

Steve huffed and puffed and pretended to be affronted, mostly to keep Natasha smiling. Some of the tension from before lifted, but Bucky still wasn’t ready to revel in the camaraderie. Not yet. He had a lot of thinking to do and it was the sort of thinking a man needed to do alone.

“Whatever happens—and I’m not saying something will—but just, keep this to yourselves, okay? If Tony finds out about this, so help me god—”

“Got it, we got it, Buck,” Steve raised his hands in supplication. “It isn’t our business.”

“Damn straight it isn’t.” Bucky chewed on his lip, so sure about this last part, but struggling to say it anyways. “Keep—keep up all the dumb kissing though. Tony loves the attention and he deserves it. Just stop giving me those stupid looks and maybe kiss him when I’m not in the room? That’d be real swell.”

He didn’t wait for the inevitable teasing before turning around and walking away—not to brood in his room, no matter what anyone said. He just needed to sit in the dark for a while, sharpen some knives, sort out his feelings, and figure out a path forward.

Which was entirely different from brooding. Somehow.


The Tower was mostly dark, with only dim pinpricks of emergency lights lighting the hallways. Bucky meandered from room to room, automatically checking the perimeter with no particular destination in mind to carry his feet forward. Contrary to popular belief, brooding—thinking—in one’s room wasn’t all that enjoyable. Give it enough time and it just got dull, so Bucky decided he could get a walk in while he continued to gather his thoughts.

He neared the family room and found it dark as well; quiet too, save for the hum of ever-present technology. It took his eyes a moment to adjust before he spotted a lump on the couch.

It must’ve been Clint, passed out after coming back home and despite Bucky’s desire to string the archer up by his toes for that display at the movie night, he wasn’t enough of a jerk to wake him up after a grueling mission.

He softened his steps as he walked by the couch and—

Stumbled. He honest to god stumbled over thin air when his whole body hit an invisible wall.

Oh no.

He swung around to take another look at the lump—and it spoke volumes for his distracted state that he mistook Tony for Clint.

Because it was Tony sprawled on the couch, face smooshed into the cushions, a tablet still in his hand, snoring softly and lost to the entire world.

From experience Bucky knew it’d take a nuclear apocalypse—or Pepper Potts—to wake Tony up in this state, but he still stood there frozen, irrationally terrified that Tony would sit right up and accuse him of doing this on purpose, to tell him his presence wasn’t wanted.

Logic kicked in quickly enough, dispelling the terror, reminding him Tony wasn’t the sort of man to do that. Steve was right. Tony was a good man.

Still, Bucky couldn’t help but glare at the damn mistletoe hanging here like some cheap parlor trick, mocking him.

Stupid magic. Bucky didn’t appreciate the ‘mystic forces’ they were forced to fight on a good day and he loathed them even more when they taunted him with his inability to get away.

Bucky’s face went through every emotion available before it settled on resignation. Not because he had to kiss Tony—good god, that part starred in every one of his fantasies on a perpetual loop—but because this wasn’t exactly how any of this was meant to go.

He exhaled, letting the resignation out along with his breath; this wasn’t the end of the world, he reminded himself. Careful not to make any other noise, Bucky kneeled by the couch and took one of Tony’s hands into both of his own. The skin-to-skin contact sent shivers down Bucky’s spine, but Tony didn’t so much as stir, his breathing still even, his face still relaxed.

Bucky closed his eyes and brushed a kiss over Tony’s knuckles. The mistletoe chimed a strange, new tune, but Bucky paid it little mind, his whole focus on the warmth of Tony’s skin, the feel of it where he let his lips linger too long, wishing the seconds would stretch out into infinity.

This was the sweetest sort of torture, to have the tiniest taste of everything he wanted… but when he pulled away, still holding Tony’s hand, when he watched the easy rise and fall of Tony’s chest, studied the mess of his curls and the sharp lines of his jaw, the fan of his eyelashes… 

Maybe this could be something more, something he could actually have.

Admitting that Steve was right—again—was physically painful, but maybe if he just talked to Tony… Sat him down over a nice, warm dinner, emergency coffee and blueberries on hand, and just… said his piece, made it clear how important their friendship was, how he had no expectations, how nothing would have to change, how much… 

How much Bucky wanted things to change, just a little, just to allow for something more between them.

Sharing the same space as Tony again reminded Bucky why he missed him so much, why he always tended to gravitated towards Tony in the first place. With Tony right here, with the warmth of his hand still so real, the world didn’t seem quite as scary and reality became kinder, more hopeful. The proximity and the echo of Steve’s words—that Tony adored him—was enough to make Bucky’s stomach swoop pleasantly. 

He really hoped JARVIS wasn’t up there somewhere judging him for kneeling next to a sleeping Tony while holding his hand and smiling like an idiot, but he couldn’t help it.

JARVIS would judge him however if he let this go on for much longer, so Bucky let go before standing up, intent on making himself useful. He carefully pried the tablet out of Tony’s grasp to move it aside and looked around until he found a blanket—Tony’s favorite, soft and fluffy and big enough for two. He grabbed it and draped it over Tony, tucking the ends to make sure Tony stayed warm.

This time, miraculously, Tony did stir, sleepy eyes blinking up as he tried to push himself up on his elbow.

“Wazzthat? James? S’that you?” Tony slurred, but Bucky shushed him and pressed a hand between Tony’s shoulder blades.

“S’just me, yeah. Go back to sleep, sweetheart. Everything’s fine.”

Tony, who had invented brand new machines in this state and didn’t remember a lick of it, wouldn’t remember much of this either, so Bucky allowed the endearment to slip.

Tony nodded weakly and flopped back down, burrowing into the blanket and curling himself up into a tiny ball.

Sleepy, but stubborn eyes remained trained on Bucky however.

“You’re smiling,” Tony mumbled into the blanket, squinting up, his gaze remarkably penetrating in its scrutiny from a man who was two seconds away from falling asleep. “S’nice. Missed that.”

Bucky kept the smile firmly in place despite the flair of unpleasant ache in his chest he knew was well-deserved. “I know. I’m sorry, Tony.” He made a mental note to apologize again, to a fully awake Tony who would actually remember it. “I’ve been kind of a jerk lately, haven’t I?”

“Jus’ broody.” Tony wriggled around until he freed one of his hands and reached for Bucky—to boop his nose and add in a soft whisper, “Broody, sad soldier.” He tapped the tip of Bucky’s nose once more. “My broody, sad soldier.”

Tony let his hand drop, curled in on himself again and promptly fell back asleep, leaving a bewildered Bucky to process.

What?

Tony had always been adorable like this—and lord help Bucky on that memorable occasion a half-asleep Tony walked around the kitchen babbling in Russian while Bucky wanted nothing more than to scoop him up in his arms and steal him away forever—but this bout of sleepy babbles turned out to be both adorable and… reassuring.

Of course, Bucky wasn’t foolish enough to take any of it seriously, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t wonder and hope and continue smiling like a love-struck fool. 

My soldier. 

Tony’s.

Right then and there, Bucky decided he’d stop being a coward and talk to Tony. Maybe not right this second, maybe not tomorrow, but soon. He’d give himself a few days to gather his courage, find the right words, pick out the most tantalizing meal he could make—the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach and all—and then he would throw caution to the wind, sit Tony down, and talk.

Steve would never, ever, let him hear the end of it, Natasha would be far too smug, Sam would walk around all righteous and self-satisfied, but every last bit of teasing would be worth it if it meant getting this whole thing off his chest and getting Tony back in his life.

And maybe, just maybe, if the stars aligned just right and karma paid back a small fraction of what it owed to Bucky, Tony would feel the same way… and then they could spend the next decade or two kissing each other in every corner of the Tower as petty revenge for the nonsense Bucky had to live through in the past few weeks. 

The smallest of concerns, of course, but it still felt good to indulge in that tiny fantasy.

Bucky nodded to himself, determined and a little bit scared and nervous and finally hopeful. 

Before he could leave the beautiful sight of Tony behind, he allowed himself one more indulgence. He swept the curls away from Tony’s forehead with a brush of his fingers and placed a feather-light kiss to his brow. Just in case the mistletoe had any bright ideas of coming back right that second.

Chapter Text

“What do you mean, ‘it did not work’? Of course it did.”

“I’m afraid not. Tony has hidden himself away in his workshop completely and Norns only know where Bucky could be hiding. Whatever they’re doing, they’re certainly not doing it together.”

“But the spell broke. They kissed.”

“Have you considered that your spell may have been—how shall I put this? Defective?”

Loki’s eyes narrowed dangerously, in that particular way that usually spelled disaster and an assortment of daggers buried between Thor’s ribs, but this time, Thor got away with no more than a disgusted hiss before Loki stomped through the kitchen and let out an angry growl Thor was certain Loki had learned from their father.

He’d never say that out loud, of course. 

“I should’ve gone with a different plan. I don’t know what went wrong, but whatever did is entirely your fault, you oaf.”

“In my defense, I overestimated their stubbornness and it isn’t fair to blame me—”

“Do you know the amount of energy it took to set that spell into motion?”

“I do not, but I hear there are some fascinating stories about you and mistletoe, brother.”

“The mortals have an over-active imagination—which is beside the point because I’ve been maintaining this spell for weeks and for what? I should kill each and every one of you for this failure. Painfully. In increasingly deplorable ways so that your deaths would spoken about in shameful whispers for generations to come.”

Thor tried to appear appropriately chagrined. No one was going to believe his contrition of course, but he could certainly try; from his perch at the breakfast nook, he watched Loki continue to stomp around the kitchen, both of them sequestered in this sunny apartment in the middle of Los Angeles.

“I’m sorry you’ve been spending so much of your energy then. My friends, they are—well, they are—”

“Stubborn, inconsiderate fools!”

“—could stand to learn to find their self-worth, but sure.” Loki’s assessment wasn’t far off the mark either. “Again, I must remind you, brother, this was your idea.”

Loki’s glare was downright poisonous now. “Yes, but my mistake was coming to you for help.” Another angry snarl reverberated through the kitchen. “I should’ve gone with my initial plan.” A cupboard door slammed shut. “Drop them both in the middle a frozen hellscape. Force them to help one another in order to survive. Isolate them, frighten them, until they have no choice but to turn to each other for comfort. Did you know they’d have to share body heat to survive the cold? Those mortal bodies, so inconvenient—and fragile.”

“You really think that would’ve worked out any better?”

“Yes! Oh, do not give me that look. Midgardians don’t function the way we do, nothing about them makes sense. These last few weeks have certainly proven that. Besides, I have read up on this extensively. There is literature from Midgardian scholars claiming to have conclusive evidence. Putting two people in peril while restricting their access to food, warmth, and bedding is an effective way to get them to confess their foolish, ridiculous feelings—internet, by the way, very useful, and makes my shameful banishment here a smidgen more tolerable.”

“Sure, not to mention the clothing and the weather and those little chocolates—oh, and coffee drinks you love so much.”

Loki threw another disgusted look at him and harrumphed before he continued his dramatic stomping—in what was apparently an expensive pair of boots—to arrive at another cupboard.

Right, of course. Thor wasn’t allowed to remind Loki that Earth had turned out a far better fit for him than Asgard in so many ways. To be honest, Thor tried not to dwell on that either, nor all the implications it carried.

“Stranding my teammates would not have been a better plan.” It was never wise to argue with Loki, but Thor always did, because that was half the fun of visiting his little brother. “However, I must admit, I still don’t understand the need for this plan in the first place. If you wanted to do a good deed, you could’ve helped a lost child find their mother. Rescued a kitten from a tree. Gone a week without causing trouble. All of those would have counted too.”

“Oh, please. This has nothing to do with doing good deeds.” Loki spat the words out like a vile curse and continued to violently rummage through his cupboards. “There is nothing selfless about my intentions.”

He pulled out a bottle of Midgardian ale and two glasses. Thor hummed and tried to hide a pleased smile when Loki began pouring out the amber liquid.

“You really are quite the romantic, Loki. I’m surprised, but very pleased. It suits you.”

This glare was surely meant to be deadly, but Thor’s memories of a tiny Loki running around the palace shouting war cries without so much as a stitch of clothing on tempered the effect.

“Keep your observations to yourself, Odinson,” Loki bit out, but placed a glass of amber liquid before Thor all the same. “I am not a romantic. This is simple strategy. If the Man of Iron and the Soldier are too busy fawning over each other, they’ll be too busy to stop my nefarious plans.”

“Right. I should have thought of that.”

Ever since Loki had been brought home after the Battle of New York, healed from the damage done by the Mad Titan, and ‘banished’ to Midgard (to keep him safe and under Thor’s watchful eye), Loki’s ‘nefarious’ plans were mild inconveniences at best.

Really, Loki spent less time on mischief these days and more time protecting the Avengers from other villains, all under the guise of ‘stopping those scoundrels from encroaching on Loki’s territory’.

At this point, Thor considered every battle their version of brotherly bonding.

“Besides,” Loki went on after having a leisurely sip, “if I must see them staring at one another one more time—and with that disgusting, forlorn look on their faces—I swear I will scream. Do they not understand everyone can see them? I really don’t appreciate being ignored when I’m causing doom and destruction. I will destroy some sacred Midgardian monument as petty revenge if it doesn’t stop. There’s only so much I can take, you know.”

Thor took his own sip, enjoying the heat of the beverage. Most of Midgard’s brews were weak and gave him no more than a pleasant buzz, but many, particularly those favored by Tony and Loki, were smooth as silk when they ran down his throat and quite pleasurable to consume.

Of course Thor also knew a poorly-disguised excuse when he saw one. After all, despite all the posturing and protests, Loki did have a soft spot for both Tony and Bucky. He saw kindred spirits in both, went out of his way to both provoke and protect when the situation called for it. It wasn’t a far stretch to assume Loki wanted to see them happy and was trying to help, in his own, admittedly convoluted way.

Not that Thor would admit any of that on the pain of death—and he had little high ground since he was a co-conspirator himself. Who could blame him though? He loved his teammates as well.

“For once we seem to be agreement. It is difficult to see two people who are so obviously in love misunderstand each other so thoroughly—and avoid each other so effectively.”

“Do not remind me of your failures. The spell worked. There was a kiss. You must be mistaken.”

“If there was a kiss, it led to no romance. Tony has hidden himself away while his beloved is alone elsewhere.” It was Thor’s turn to give into his frustrations. “I must admit, this was not how I pictured things would go either.”

“And it is painfully embarrassing, for all of you.”

“Don’t act like you’re not involved.”

Loki harrumphed. “Did you try making one of them jealous at least? Even someone like you should’ve been able to follow that part of the plan.”

“I did! Bucky was livid with me, if you must know! His eyes gleamed with vengeance each time I got too close to Tony. At one point, I really thought he would rip off one of my appendages.” Thor narrowed his eyes when Loki sighed dreamily. “What?”

“Oh, nothing. Just fantasizing.”

“About?”

“The Soldier ripping your arm off and beating you with it.”

“Loki.”

“Have you tried making him even angrier? Perhaps you should’ve taken Stark’s clothes off and copulated right then and there in everyone’s sight.”

“That doesn’t seem appropriate.” 

Loki rolled his eyes and scoffed. “Where was this restraint when we were children? Fine, fine, your strategy has obviously failed and my spell—well, my spell failed because you failed—”

Loki.

“And now you’re telling me they’re not even talking?”

“Yes, I’m afraid we may have made things worse.”

“I swear, by Allfather’s beard—”

“Loki, cease that, we haven’t given up yet.” 

“No, we have not. I should’ve known better than to trust the likes of you to get this done. Truly, how hard is it to get two mortals together?” Loki threw his hands up, made another frustrated noise, and grabbed his glass of whiskey before downing the whole thing in one dramatic swoop.

He slammed the glass down onto the granite countertop, but instead of a glare, a peculiar gleam appeared in his eyes, one that meant Loki had a plan and nothing, absolutely nothing, would bode well for anyone involved.

“This is personal now. I will not be thwarted by two ridiculous mortals who cannot see past their own noses. No, I will do this right.”

“Loki, no, whatever you are planning to do—”

Thor did not get to finish before Loki disappeared in a plume of green fire, his cackling echoing between the walls of the now-empty kitchen. 

Thor sighed, propped his cheek against his fist, and took a slow sip of his whiskey, wondering how he was going to explain this whole thing to the Captain.


Tony only realized he was no longer alone when a short message from JARVIS popped up, informing him of his visitor.

The loud classic rock blasting over the speakers prevented the AI from simply saying so and given that Tony had officially quarantined himself and refused to be disturbed unless it was something truly important, the message probably meant this was either Pepper with SI business, Steve with an Avengers emergency, or—

When he glanced up, Bucky was standing on the other side of the glass doors, one arm holding take-out, the other giving Tony a little wave.

Tony grinned and waved back from his spot half buried under machinery. He waved away the holograms too, not wanting them to obstruct his sight of Bucky, and gave J the signal to turn down the music and put the audio through to the hallway.

“Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?”

Bucky ducked his head, making Tony’s heart skip a few beats—love-induced arrhythmia was unlikely to be good for his bad heart, but Tony thought it was a worthy sacrifice. He really did miss seeing that smile and Bucky seemed to have worked through whatever dark cloud had settled over him before. Tony still had questions about whatever it was he did to upset Bucky, but he wasn’t ready to rock that boat just yet. It was good enough to simply savor the easy smiles for now.

Unfortunately, Tony hadn’t actually had the chance to relish the change. Days ago, after he woke up in the living room and realized he passed out on the couch and could have easily trapped someone under the mistletoe, he decided enough was enough and took an official leave of absence—or rather, he scribbled on a bright pink sticky note that there would be ‘no more kisses. in the workshop until further notice’.

If nothing else, quarantine turned out to be productive and Tony threw himself into three new projects and two he should’ve finished weeks ago. Thankfully no one had complained—too much, after an initial attempt or two to drag him back up to surface—and instead the team paid their penance for the excessive, slightly belligerent kissing by bringing down offerings of food at regular intervals. Nat and Steve usually had something homemade, Clint brought him pizza from the corporate cafeteria, and sometimes…

“Got something for ya,” Bucky said, lifting the package to show it off. 

“Please tell me that’s from Los Tacos. You would be my hero. I mean, yesterday, Steve and Nat fed me salad. Salad, James, can you believe it? I drink my green smoothies, that should be enough. How many more vegetables does a man need?”

Bucky looked a gorgeous mix of shy and proud. “No vegetables here, promise. Just tacos from ‘The Tacos’, exactly as you like ‘em.”

“Hey, a place doesn’t need a clever name when it makes the best tacos known to man.”

“Can’t argue with you there. I got more than enough, so eat as much as you want, okay?”

Tony rolled his eyes, but the grin on his face made the gesture entirely fond. Mother hens, all of them.

He wriggled out of his spot, pushing away the engine, and wiped his greasy hands on his work pants, making his way over.

He stopped abruptly, a move that was still thoroughly awkward as he remembered why he was sequestered down here in the first place; he gestured to the air above his head with an apologetic look.

“I feel like I’ve got some contagious disease, I swear. I know, I know,” he grumbled before the protests could begin in earnest, “I was the one who quarantined myself, I shouldn’t be complaining, but I could not take any more weirdness. I’m a good-looking guy, I get that, but let me get my coffee first, you know? Plus, I just felt bad, realizing someone could’ve stumbled into me without meaning to.”

Bucky nodded and looked apologetic as well, a little too apologetic given he was the only one who hadn’t proverbially tackled Tony to the ground to lay one on him—or not so proverbially that one time Clint appeared out of nowhere and wrestled Tony to the ground to pepper his face with kisses.

“I’m sorry you feel like you have to keep yourself locked away,” Bucky said. His gaze darkened. “If the others made you that uncomfortable, I swear I will break every single one—”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Tony waved his hands to dispel any assumptions. “They’re weirdos, but you know, they’re my weirdos and I still love ‘em.” He rocked from foot to foot and squinted at Bucky, his smile playful. “It is kinda cute though that you’d be willing to swear vengeance on them to defend my honor.”

Shyness morphed into outright bashfulness and gods, it looked good on Bucky. Tony itched to get closer.

“I didn’t say I was going to ‘swear vengeance’, you know—but I would absolutely do that, yes. You just say the word. Barton won’t know what hit him.”

God, you’re adorable, was right at the tip of Tony’s tongue and only the thought of making Bucky uncomfortable kept Tony from saying it. He didn’t want to ruin a good thing. They were talking again and joking again and Tony couldn’t have been more grateful.

Bucky set the take-out bags by the door. “I should let you eat before it gets cold,” he said, but he seemed reluctant to follow through on his words.

How funny. Tony was just as reluctant to see him go. “I, um—you don’t have to leave. We could talk. Maybe?”

Bucky’s expression was a mess of contradictions before he gently rapped his knuckles against the glass. “Hard to do with an inch of this between us—not that I wouldn’t want to!” He hurried to clarify. “Just isn’t ideal, you know?”

“Well, maybe we can do a video chat? That way you can settle in somewhere more comfortable and tell me all about your day. Or—or I could let you in and maybe—I know the mistletoe’s annoying, but it’s just a kiss, right? Awkward, I know, but you can pretend I’m Nat or something—”

“Tony, that’s not—Wait, Nat, really?”

“What? It was an educated guess. I don’t know what your type is.”

“A nerdy brunet with clever hands and a killer smile.”

“So… Bruce then?”

Bucky looked like he didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry—but even that odd expression still looked good on him.

“Let’s just… let that one go. The whole mistletoe thing though, that’s not a problem. I promise.”

“Felt like it was. You’ve, uh, been avoiding me. For a while now. Not that I blame you! I just thought…”

“I’m sorry about that, Tony. Real sorry. That was… me, trying to get my head on straight. It wasn’t about you and it definitely wasn’t about not wanting to, uh, to kiss you under the mistletoe. Really wasn’t.” 

Bucky took a deep breath and Tony’s heart skipped another beat as he watched Bucky brace himself for something. He braced himself as well, but despite the butterflies in his stomach, this didn’t feel as scary as it should’ve been.

“James?”

“Listen, Tony, the other night…”

“Yeah?”

“I was taking a walk, doing a lot of thinking—a lot of very important thinking—and there’s something I gotta tell you. I’m—I was wondering if you would—”

Whatever Bucky said next was drowned out by the blare of the Avengers alarm.


Tony swore in the most colorful language he could recall, livid beyond all belief, frustrated with himself and the Avengers and the whole universe.

Bucky was about to say something—something Tony wanted to hear, something Tony wanted to know; in his gut, he knew it was going to be important and maybe this would be his chance to finally confess too—

“It’s Loki again,” Cap’s voice came through the overhead speakers, interrupting Tony yet again. Tony resisted the urge to tear his hair out from sheer frustration. “He’s on the roof of the Tower.”

“Ranting as usual?” Tony asked, eyes glaring daggers at the innocent speaker.

“No. He’s… mostly just scowling. Said he had unfinished business. He isn’t armed though and doesn’t seem to be doing any damage yet, but we should assemble anyways.”

“Give me one minute,” Bucky growled, already in full Winter Soldier mode. “I’ll be right there. Gonna break the damn bastard’s face.”

“I don’t think we should start off with—”

“I will break his face, Stevie.”

“…Alright. You just… do what you gotta do, Buck.”

Tony promptly decided it was outright phenomenal to have Bucky’s general growliness directed at other people again while Tony’s Bucky was his normal charming, charmingly bashful, and sweet-as-sin self.

This way, he could enjoy the Winter Soldier mode as it was meant to be enjoyed—channeled into pummeling second-rate villains.

Tony was not going to miss a second of it. 

“Cap, I’m suiting up too.”

“Is that really a good idea? Did you forget about the—”

“Yeah, yeah, the mistletoe, I know. Who do you think gave it to me? Don’t worry, I’ll stay up in the air. No need to get within kissing distance of anyone.”

A momentary silence, then a sigh echoed through the speakers. “I suppose that’s best. Everyone else is out anyways, so it’ll be just the three of us against Loki.”

“Eh, we can take him.”

“Probably, but if you get too close and have to kiss Loki, I’m not responsible for anything that happens afterwards.”

Tony and Bucky scrunched up their faces in unison, then looked at each other and didn’t need a word to communicate their shared displeasure.

No, thank you.

“So, Buckaroo, how about we go kick Prancer’s ass and then—we can still talk?” Tony tried not to sound too hopeful, but it came off as such nonetheless. He also tried not to let the heat in his cheeks show too much when Bucky’s face turned hopeful as well, but it was nice to see the enthusiasm wasn’t one-sided. “I’ll share the tacos? They’ll be a little cold, but nothing a microwave couldn’t fix—or we could just go to Los Tacos again, get more and—”

“Yes.”

“...To?”

“Everything. The tacos and, uh, the talking. And just… the time together. With the two of us. I’d like that. I miss it.”

That stammered-out response had to be the most beautiful thing Tony had ever heard; he made himself a bet right then and there. 

He’d kick Loki back to his hidey hole in under two minutes and be back right here, with Bucky and tacos and talking, in just under four.


The first thing to ping an alarm in Tony’s head was the lack of that saccharine, stupid-looking smirk on Loki’s face. The second was Loki missing his equally stupid-looking, Asgardian warlord get-up. Instead, he was wearing jeans—and a button-down and boots Tony was certain at one time appeared in his own closet—and he stood there, on their roof, in his stupid designer boots, glaring.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Iron Man,” he spat as soon as Tony flew into view. Tony flipped him off.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the low-class magician who cursed with me with a Christmas decoration. In case you didn’t get the memo, pal, Christmas was months ago.”

Loki’s eyes darted away when Bucky made his presence known too, strutting in with all the grace of an assassin—and all the subtlety of a pissed-off one—but it didn’t take more than a moment for Loki’s attention to swing back to Tony. 

Tony’s HUD zeroed in on Loki’s face just in time to see his eye twitch.

“You mortals, so not worth the effort.”

“Hey, now, no need to get hurtful.”

“Even when you are given a gift, you manage to squander it. I don’t know why I bother, but I do hate to leave things unfinished.”

“What are you even talking about? You cursed me!”

“Pathetic. All those brains, wasted.”

“Okay, excuse you—”

“Iron Man, can we cut the chatter? I don’t think—”

“No, Cap, this is personal now. Do I show up on his roof, interrupt his lunch, and then insult him right to his face? No, I do not. Seriously, some of us had things to do, places to be—”

“Places indeed. If I must force you to act in your self-interest for once—”

“What does that even mean—”

“Then I shall send your precious Soldier—”

“Oh, don’t you dare!”

“—somewhere you’ll have no choice but to follow!”

“What the—!”

Steve tackled Loki a moment too late, just one moment after a startled yelp echoed as Bucky dropped through the dark clouds and sparks sputtering out of a magical portal that appeared beneath him as a perfect, otherworldly ring carved right into the concrete of the roof. 

Tony’s world stopped, tilted as his heart filled with fear, and spun back into motion when a flood of anger came next. He landed with a punishing thud.

“I swear, I will kill you—”

“Stay down, dammit it!”

It took Tony a second to realize Cap was speaking to Loki, who he had in an impressive chokehold.

“Where did you send him?” Cap demanded and Tony stomped closer as well.

“Oh, unhand me, mortal!” Loki tried to elbow Steve, but to no avail. “Your Soldier is unharmed. Probably. I simply did what I had to—”

“Where is he?”

“If you two would’ve just talked—” That Loki directed at Tony.

“Talk? About what? What does that even mean?”

“Do you not love your precious Soldier?”

“Of course I do!” Tony blurted out, all but shouting in Loki’s face now. Loki had no right to look as unperturbed as he did with Captain America two seconds away from choking the life out of him—and Steve had no right to look so damn surprised by the outburst.

Tony’s cheeks had no right to feel so damn warm either. “What the hell does that have to do with anything?”

“Well, if you claim to love him, why don’t you tell him?”

“I was going to!”

Loki opened his mouth, then blinked and closed it again. “When?”

“Three minutes ago—literally three minutes ago. You know, before you showed up.” It was mostly the truth. There was a possibility. Maybe. If Tony worked up the courage.

Loki blinked again and titled his head. “Huh. Really?”

“Yes! He was—he was going to say something! And you just—”

“Oh. Well, now I just feel silly—”

“Bring. Him. Back!”

“Oh, no can do. Spell doesn’t work like that. Portal’s still open though.” He gestured at the churning void, still looking far too comfortable with Cap’s meaty arms around his throat. “Care to play the dashing hero? No reason to waste the opportunity.”

“If anything happens to him,” Tony growled as he jabbed a finger at Loki, “I am going to make you regret this.”

It wasn’t the most clever threat Tony could’ve made, but there was no time for witty remarks. He blasted his repulsers, flew up, and dove straight into the portal, ignoring Cap’s warnings to be careful and Loki’s obnoxious, “Let us hope you’ll be busy doing someone—ahem, something else!” following right behind.