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The scrape of wooden chair legs against cheap linoleum has everyone’s heads snap up just in time to see Bucky hurry in the direction of the kitchen and the back alley exit without a single word of explanation.

Not that any of them need one. They’ve all seen this happen on more than one occasion in the past after particularly nasty confrontations with the steadily declining but still extremely determined remnants of HYDRA. The only, although not irrelevant, difference is their total lack of Captain America today.

Steve and Natasha have been in DC, doing whatever it is they do when they meet up with what’s left of the other half of the world’s formerly largest spy agency, for about a week now and Tony has to admit that maybe Bruce had been right to suggest letting Bucky sit this one out.

It’s not like they could’ve stopped the assassin from tagging along without either getting killed or possibly killing Bucky, though, which wouldn’t have gone down well with Steve once he gets back, so here they are.

Bruce shifts uncomfortably in his seat, eyes darting from where Bucky vanished to the rest of the team and back again while Clint scowls at his Burger and Thor manages to simultaneously stuff his face, appear genuinely concerned about his friend and look like someone kicked his puppy all at once.

With a sigh, Tony pushes back his own chair and stands, spreading his arms with his hands palms up when they all turn to gape at him in various states of shock and disbelief.

“What?” he demands, quirking a challenging eyebrow and stubbornly lifting his chin.

Thor is suddenly very interested in his milkshake as he booms, since that really seems to be his default volume, “Do you think this wise, my friend?”

Tony narrows his eyes and repeats, “What?”

“You’re not exactly subtle,” Clint points out equally unsubtly and gives a minute shrug of his uninjured shoulder.

“And he is?” Tony huffs indignantly, gesturing at the God currently dunking his fries in someone’s cup of coffee.

“He is not about to do something potentially stupid. And he knows when to shut up. Mostly,” Clint says and Thor agrees with a somewhat sheepish nod. “Tony, the man’s been through a lot. Give him some space.”

“Who says he wants space?” Tony counters defensively because Steve always goes after Bucky. But Steve isn’t here right now and Steve, for some unfathomable reason, left Tony in charge which means Tony has to go calm down the agitated super soldier before he takes off and ends up hiding in trees and accidentally scaring the shit out of everyone in Central Park. Again.

He’s not sure when he started to actually feel responsible for and protective of his teammates - probably around the time Pepper left him and they were the ones that came to pick up the scotch-soaked pieces - but he does and he is and that’s that.

“Steve knows what’s happened ‘cause Barnes confided in him and not because he read it in some leaked files,” Clint tries. “They’re brothers, they trust each other no questions asked. All we know is that he went through hell and-“

“Well, so did I,” Tony sniffs, trying to sound indifferent and instantly realising that he’s failing spectacularly at it. He plunges on nonetheless. “And what I know is that when it gets bad, being alone might be what I want but never what I need.”

Thor’s mouth is hanging open and Clint actually looks impressed. Tony chances a quick glance at Bruce who smiles encouragingly back at him. Well then. He faces the archer again.

“And since Goldilocks here scares the shit out of him, you were SHIELD and therefore the last person he’s likely to even talk to, and Bruce insists he isn’t ‘that kind of doctor’ and also looks like he’s about to pass out for a month or so, this,” he gestures at himself, “is all we’ve got.”

Satisfied with his debut speech as team leader, Tony carefully ignores the staring diners and the kid with his cell phone camera angled at their little group as he walks through the kitchen and out into the alley.

He doesn’t see him at first and his heart sinks, but then he spots the glowing tip of a cigarette and slowly makes his way over to the figure sitting in one of the dark entryways.

“You’re not wearing shoes,” is what Bucky says, mumbled around his Marlboro.

“Yeah, well,” Tony pulls a face and crouches down to his level, “there isn’t really time for dressing up and grooming when you get an emergency call at unreasonable o’clock in the morning.”

Bucky doesn’t answer, clumsily flipping his Zippo open and closed instead. It’s clearly a nervous tick, heaven knows both of them got enough of those, but it also draws Tony’s attention to his prosthetic arm.

“Giving you trouble again?”

Tony’s been pouring over its designs ever since he got his hands on them. The cybernetics aren’t up to par anymore, at least not compared to Tony’s own tech, but given the fact that HYDRA built the arm back in the fifties, that was to be expected.

It’s solid, strong and as good as indestructible which is their main problem at the moment. It weighs more than a human, even one on super steroids, can carry around for long before it becomes seriously painful. Comfort and the Winter Soldier’s continuing health obviously weren’t HYDRA’s biggest concerns, what with never having their asset out of cryo for more than a few days at a time.

But Bucky isn’t a weapon or the Soldier anymore and he definitely feels the consequences of having a piece of metal attached to his spine and ribs despite Tony’s best efforts to smooth out the roughest edges. Both figuratively and literally.

Bucky eventually holds out his arm and Tony pulls it into his lap so he can reach the small maintenance console. It’s a bitch to open without tools, he learns, though he manages after a bit of fumbling. “All right, shoot.”

“Fine motor skills are fucked,” Bucky mutters grudgingly, blowing a few loose strands of hair out of his face only to have them fall right back over his eyes. Tony tucks them behind his ear without looking up from the now exposed mess of wires. “Thanks.”

“Anything happen during the fight? I can’t see any damage, but I guess pressure could have messed with the circuitry, knocked some small screws or bolts somewhere out of place.”

“Could’ve, yeah, but this happens sometimes,” Bucky sighs and grimaces, chucking the butt of his cigarette into a nearby puddle where it extinguishes with a short hiss. “When I get tired or stressed. The more my shoulder hurts the less my fingers cooperate.”

Tony hums absently, already pulling Bucky’s collar out of the way. He can’t do much apart from checking the connection between metal and flesh which appears to be in about the same state as the last time he saw it; red and puffy and swollen and making Tony wince in sympathy.

“We’ve got a new prototype ready, we-“

“Only have to figure out how to get this thing off of me without paralysing me or ripping out half my torso in the process?” Bucky cuts him off with a dry, humourless chuckle. “Yeah, I know. So you said.”

They’ve had this discussion a dozen times already, that’s true. Creating an improved arm had never been the problem, getting rid of the old one without maiming Bucky, however, is an entirely different matter. Tony has consulted and harassed doctors, surgeons and specialists left and right but, alas, no luck so far.

“Sorry,” Bucky breathes shakily, rubbing the hand of his free arm over his face. “Sorry. You’re helping and I’m being an asshole.”

Tony snorts and waves dismissively. “I wasn’t exactly Little Miss Sunshine when I first got this.” He raps a knuckle against the glass casing of his Arc Reactor and they both watch the faint blue glow through the thin cotton of his tank top. “It keeps me alive, led me to some of my most amazing scientific breakthroughs and I still hate the fucking thing. It’s everything I can’t stand about myself wedged into my chest for everyone to see and there’s no way to remove it without leaving me permanently vulnerable and broken. Or more broken, I suppose.”

That startles a surprised laugh out of Bucky and Tony looks up briefly to wink at him.

“Anyway. I’m not saying it’s the same because it’s not. What I’m saying is that I get that the situation blows, that you’re frustrated and pissed. I won’t lie to you and tell you that everything is going to be fine, we both know that’s bullshit. It won’t even necessarily get better. But it will get easier. Find something worth holding on for. Getting laid a lot helped in my case,” he jokes in order to release some of the tension, relaxing a little when Bucky grins lopsidedly and shoves at his knee.

They lapse into a companionable silence after that while Tony makes sure everything’s working as it should be, doing what little he can outside of his workshop and without his machines.

“Okay, let’s see,” he says after a couple of minutes of tinkering, clapping his hands together. “Wiggle your fingers for me, T-800.”

Bucky rolls his eyes at the nickname but does as he’s told. “Better,” he acknowledges with a small, genuine smile that turns into a hiss and then a content hum when Tony shuffles closer to press his thumb into the fleshy part of Bucky’s bad shoulder.

Tony is busy kneading the knots out of Bucky’s muscles and nearly doesn’t catch the whispered “It’s so ugly.” through his calculations of how much pressure to apply where without either causing more discomfort or getting reflexively punched in the throat by triggering some repressed memory or other.

“Vanity is one of the big ones, you know,” he teases but sobers the instant he glances up at Bucky and notices the moisture gathering in his eyes. Without giving it a second thought - and because seeing people cry makes him cry and he’s not an attractive crier - Tony wraps his arms around Bucky.

And then he gives a rather undignified yelp when he’s yanked forward and ends up straddling Bucky who proceeds to bury his face in Tony’s neck and hold on for dear life, shaking with silent sobs as Tony somewhat awkwardly rubs his back and pets the back of his head.

“I don’t want it anymore,” Bucky chokes out, sounding incredibly small and frightened all of a sudden, reminding Tony that despite everything, the war and HYDRA and the assassinations and now his collaboration with the Avengers, Bucky’s not even thirty yet, barely out of his mid-twenties. “I want it gone.”

“Working on it,” Tony reminds him softly, the words mumbled into Bucky’s hair and followed by a chaste kiss he hopes will be taken as the silent reassurance he means it to be. “We’re geniuses, you know, Bruce and me. There’s nothing we can’t do between the two of us.”

Bucky nods weakly, his breath hot and humid where he exhales shakily against Tony’s skin, making Tony shiver and Bucky cling tighter and let loose a low, desperate whine.

“Right here and not going anywhere,” Tony promises automatically and lightly ruffles a hand through Bucky’s already mussed hair, resting his chin on top of Bucky’s head. “Take as long as you need.”

And Bucky does. His hands twitch every so often around his fistfuls of Tony’s top and Tony can hear him shuffle his feet and feel him blink and wrinkle his nose against the tears. So Tony waits.

He loosens his grip a little when Bucky starts pulling back, lifting both hands to brush them over his wet cheeks. “You’re surprisingly comfortable,” he quips with a leering grin and waggles his brows, pleased when it has the desired effect and makes Bucky snort out a laugh and duck his head.

When he lifts his gaze again and their eyes meet, Tony instantly knows what’s about to happen. Bucky allows him a moment to decide, to say no, but Tony can see the determination and the unvoiced challenge to tell him this isn’t something he wants, to take away his choice, in the stubborn set of Bucky’s jaw, and he leans in, their mouths meeting halfway.

Tony tightens his arms again and Bucky practically melts into the embrace, a complete contradiction to the demanding tongue probing at the seam of Tony’s lips and the sneaky fingertips wriggling under the waistband of his sweatpants.

Carding his own fingers into Bucky’s hair, Tony tilts his head back and admires the taut muscles of his stretched neck for a moment before attaching his mouth to it and scraping his teeth over the stubbly skin under Bucky’s jaw.

Bucky growls in response, sliding his hands further down Tony’s pants and coping a quick feel of Tony’s underwear-free ass, then firms his grip and stands, pushing Tony up against the nearest wall in one fluid move.

“Bad for your shoulder,” Tony comments, nonetheless wrapping his legs around Bucky’s hips and worming a hand down between their bodies to pop open the button of Bucky’s pants.

“Noted,” Bucky breathes, brushing their lips together and rubbing his nose against Tony’s until Tony sighs and parts his lips to grant him access.

Their tongues meet, tentatively at first, and Tony submits, letting Bucky explore while he pulls down his zipper and discovers that he’s not the only one going commando. He hums, struggling with the limited space for a second, but eventually manages to curl his hand around Bucky’s warm and already half hard cock.

That earns him a rumbling moan and has Tony move back a fraction so he can actually see the merchandise. Bucky makes a noise of protest at the loss of lips, attacking Tony’s collarbone instead which is more than all right with Tony.

“Yeah, okay,” Tony’s breath hitches as Bucky’s mouth wanders higher to nibble at the juncture of his neck and shoulder. “I definitely need this inside me,” he decides, giving a few experimental strokes and throwing his head back with a groan when he feels Bucky twitch and grow in his hand.

It seems like it takes a monumental effort, but Bucky shifts so they can properly look at each other. “I don’t have anything,” he confesses and bites his bottom lip, blinking at Tony from underneath heavy lids. Tony has to swallow hard at the level of debauchedness in front of him and Bucky grins a proud, shit-eating grin at him.

“Hand,” Tony demands hoarsely, tugging at his flesh arm, and Bucky complies readily, readjusting the metal one to keep Tony pinned in position.

Never breaking eye contact, Tony takes Bucky’s hand and brushes a gentle kiss over his palm before licking a bold stripe up along his middle finger and then sucking its first digit into his mouth. Bucky moans again as Tony moves down, being deliberately messy in retaliation as he adds a second finger and pushes his tongue between the two.

Bucky lets his head fall forward at that, nuzzling at Tony’s cheek and temple. Tony redoubles his efforts, generously coating Bucky’s fingers and teasing him into full hardness with his other hand, his own cock swelling at the string of breathless noises pouring out of Bucky.

He stretches one of his legs and Bucky catches on quickly, helping him out of his pants before they switch and free his other leg, too. As soon as Tony releases his hand, Bucky goes for Tony’s now exposed cock and grunts when he’s batted away.

“Do not waste that,” Tony chides half-heartedly and Bucky sticks his lip out to pout, humming appreciatively when Tony runs his tongue along it. “Get on with it, RoboCop.”

“Shoulda known,” Bucky snorts but dutifully inches his hand lower, sliding his slicked fingers between Tony’s cheeks and experimentally rubbing the pad of one across his entrance, “this wasn’t enough to shut you up.”

The witty retort dies on Tony’s lips when Bucky pushes the tip of one finger inside him, slowly moving it in and out, going a tiny bit deeper every time. Never one to be idle, Tony flickers his thumb across the head of Bucky’s cock, swiping away a bead of precum.

They apparently have the same idea the next moment, teeth clinking against teeth when they both move in for another, much more frantic and less coordinated kiss.

Bucky inserts a second finger with his next thrust, causing Tony to whimper into his mouth and then level him with the most unimpressed glare he can muster under the circumstances when Bucky stills and hesitates. He pushes down against Bucky’s fingers, pulling them in deeper, and tightens the hand on Bucky’s cock at the same time.

“Come on, babe, give me more,” he urges, licking his lips and digging his heels into Bucky’s back, spurring him on.

Bucky starts scissoring his fingers and Tony groans his approval, relishing the stretch and the slight burn for a couple of moments before he gets impatient.

He cranes his neck to peck Bucky’s lips, then leans back and stretches both arms above his head, arching his back and angling his hips. “Now, come on.”

“Yes, sir,” Bucky pants, his pupils blown wide as he removes his fingers and lines himself up, causing both of them to moan. He grabs Tony’s upper thigh with his flesh hand and uses the metal one to secure his wrists against the brick behind them. “Yeah?”

All Tony can do is nod, his mouth falling open with a hissed “Yes!” when Bucky pushes inside him, his bare toes curling as he tries to adjust. Bucky keeps going until he’s fully seated, his hair hanging over his glazed eyes and his whole body trembling as he presses his lips against Tony’s, softly and almost reverently.

“Move, you can move,” Tony rasps and he doesn’t have to say it twice.

Bucky pulls out almost fully before snapping his hips forward again, soon turning more forceful and having Tony sing silent prayers to super strength, only dimly aware of the rough wall scratching at his back or the bruising hold on his wrists that’s definitely going to leave marks.

He cries out when Bucky hits his prostate and immediately changes the angle of his thrusts so he does it again and again, the sensation coupled with the friction Tony’s cock, nestled firmly between their bellies, receives sending Tony dangerously close to the edge in no time at all.

Tony is babbling nonsense, he realises, half-words, throaty grunts and keening moans, though Bucky seems to understand and smears their mouths together.

“Tony,” Bucky whimpers urgently which is what finally does it, sending Tony crashing into his climax and spilling between them with a shout of something that might or might not have been Bucky’s name. Tony doesn’t have enough brainpower left to tell for sure.

“So good,” he gasps against Bucky’s lips, nipping gently. “So good. Come on, your turn. Come on, babe, let go.”

He keeps up a string of praise, showering Bucky’s cheeks and closed eyes with kisses, nosing along his ear and giving it a few teasing licks. “Gorgeous, babe, so beautiful. Perfect, honey, come on.”

Bucky bites down on Tony’s shoulder to muffle his shouts when he comes, pushing his face into Tony’s neck while he struggles to regain his breath and shudders through the aftershocks.

“Purely hypothetical,” Tony wonders eventually, tugging at Bucky’s hold so he gets his hands back and can card one into Bucky’s hair and cup his neck with the other. “You’d have heard it if one of the others decided to come out here and see what’s taking us so long, right?”

Bucky is still for a moment, then shrugs as much as his position allows. “Probably,” he says, trying to hide his grin by licking some sweat away from behind Tony’s ear.

“Probably,” Tony agrees and turns his head, smiling when their lips meet again.