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Ink and You'll Miss It

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“You run out of real estate yet?” Tony asked from his window booth on the edge of the coffee shop. Rain slammed into the glass, outlining him in dancing bubbles of light and shadow. Two of the three other patrons popped their heads up at the disruption, one continued sleeping. Tony waved their attention away, sparing Bucky the effort of Karens, and pushed aside the screen lying face up on the table. The glasses that let him see what the screen projected wound up in his hair so he could run his eyes over Bucky’s exposed skin.

Bucky's tank was soaked and clinging, and his hair dripped where it didn’t stick to his neck. It wasn’t his best look, but Tony’s eyes lingered after scouring his usual line-up of tats.

“Not all of us are pocket sized.” His boots squished against the tile. He did have a new tattoo, but he wasn’t giving it up that easily. “Where’s my coffee?”

“I thought you didn’t like me for my money.”

“You bribed me to be here.” Bucky dropped into the booth. “Besides, I like you for the quiet, and if you’re not mainlining caffeine, you get chatty. Chop chop, billionaire.”

“I’ll remember that.” Tony pointed at him, slipping the glasses back onto his nose. Bucky relaxed, letting his shoulders droop, and his legs sprawl, and his features settle into their neutral, casually hostile state.

“That doesn’t fool me,” Tony said, but he spread his arms wide, anyway. The staff door opened and a pair of baristas emerged bearing serving trays full of cookies and coffee and cake. One of them rolled her eyes when she saw Bucky.

When their table was full to bursting, Tony started pointing. “That one’s from Vienna start there. Cookies from the bakery you like. This stuff,” he gestured at a group of plates with sweets on them, “are from here, I had to buy them or they wouldn’t humour me with the other stuff. Also, I think they charged me double just to shut me up.”

“Is that all it takes?”

“You wound me.” Tony tapped a discordant rhythm against the edge of the table. He paused long enough to take a sip from his black, no sugar, no cream, death-of-tastebuds coffee in its boring white cup, and then started up again.

Bucky did start with the coffee ‘from Vienna’. It would be nice if that meant something sensible, but Bucky had been exposed to what Tony considered reasonable before, and this cup might have been prepared aboard Tony’s luxury jet by private chefs who’d picked the beans themselves. Fuck, it was good.

“Do you”—the tapping stopped—“remember what today is?” Tony’s cup flew back into his hands and he downed the remainder in one go. His eyes rested on the edges of the star curling around Bucky’s left shoulder.

The cup in Bucky’s hand thunked against the tabletop. “Yeah.” He peeled his hand free finger by finger and rested it palm down on the table. A line of ink curled out from around his wrist, spreading like ivy until it tangled around his fingers.

The coffee shop was almost empty, but there were still too many people for this.

“I’m doing better.”

“So you said.” Bucky dragged the base of his palm against the edge of the table, gliding out until he hit the corner.

There probably wasn’t a right thing for Tony to say. He’d been a mess when they’d met two years a ago, leaning out the moon roof of his white limousine. “You look like you’re a good time,” a younger Tony, lips wet and loose with too much drink, purred. He’d been lying across the roof of the car, an uncoordinated collection of limbs, trying to pull himself closer. “Can I sweet talk you or do you only take cash?”

He’d nearly dropped himself into the street.

Bucky’d just finished an eighteen hour shift. He’d intended to ignore Tony like he always did when he rolled by, but a bit of quick math told Bucky that Tony came by a little too often, and if his hazy recollection was clear, that he’d been at least this pissed every night this week.

“Why do you keep coming back?”

“Everybody knows you, Bucky Barnes, I could know you.”

Untrue, dangerously untrue. But if Tony was meeting dealers, who would try and pull that shit—

“And if I like sober?”

Tony had slithered back through the roof and left. But he’d come back again the next day. Sober.

“Nat have any thoughts on this?” Bucky asked, pulling them both back to the booth. He knew what he wanted Tony to say.

“You’re a good friend. I wouldn’t—”

Tony didn’t finish. Not a good sign. They had been pretty good friends. Once Tony was ready, anyway. Once Bucky was ready. “That’s not what I asked.”

Tony backslid gloriously on his one year anniversary. “You put lines on your skin and that’s supposed to make you the fucked up one. I’m too, I’m not, I fucked up, I was going to ask you—”

They’d known each other well by then. Bucky wasn’t a pretty-face on a street corner, and Tony was quirky and charming and clever when he didn’t hate himself.

“I’d let you try again.”

Tony had sighed. “Next year.”

“Next year.” Bucky agreed.

Now Tony’s intentions had Bucky balanced on razor wire. If he wanted to forget it, Bucky would try to be a good friend.

“Like a good sponsor, she’s supportive if I think I’m ready. Like Nat, she wouldn’t let me think I’m ready if I’m not.”

Tipping a little more liquid Vienna down his throat, Bucky worked through that. He was too hot even though his shirt was soaked and chill. He’d done so much not to hope, and now it was thick in his throat, throbbing in his ears.

“Tony, what did you ask me here to say?”

“We can stay friends.” He bit his lip.

Bucky refused to feel anything.

“Or we could try something else. I thought I was getting sober for those lips. I know it was for me now. But I’d still like to kiss you.”

The crack of a starter pistol broke in Bucky’s chest. Fight or flight surged down his limbs. He pushed to his feet and Tony’s face soured before he could school it.

“C’mon.” Bucky held his hand out to Tony, ink crawling down his arms. His palms were bare, but the same spindly ivy lines from before snuck around his fingers, waiting for Tony. Clean and calloused, Tony’s hand grabbed Bucky’s.

“You want to see the new one, don’t you?” Bucky pulled Tony after him and pushed out into the rain.

“You been holding out on me, Barnes?”

“What did you think was happening this whole time?”

Tony’s smile showed too many teeth. He never smiled like that. His eyes crinkled at the corners and raindrops gleamed in his lashes.

“I’ll let you kiss me in a minute, take a look.” Bucky dragged his shirt up and off. In a swirly cascade of stars, a bird made of the night sky curved from Bucky’s hip around his back and up over his shoulder where the beak could meet his star.

“What is it?” Tony’s fingers brushed the curving lines. He’d done it before, with the lines on Bucky’s hands, the star on his bicep. Always with the star.

“A Phoenix metaphor, I guess. But fire burns out and you always liked the star.” Bucky shrugged, craning his neck to try and see Tony’s face. “I’ve got mom on my skin, Becca, Steve. It would be tough to be your friend. Just your friend.”

Bucky turned around. “You still want to kiss me?”

Tony’s eyes danced. “You’ve got me painted on your skin.” And Tony surged up to kiss him. The rain had already started to chill them both and it seeped into the lines of their kiss, clean and messy and perfect. Tony pushed forward like he was trying to climb inside Bucky, and Bucky groaned when Tony tugged at his lower lip.

They pulled apart, uselessly soaked the both of them. Tony smiled, and Bucky thought his own cheeks would crack until—

“Wait till I tell Steve mine’s bigger.” Tony crowed, wrestling his phone out of his wet pocket.

Bucky had to kiss him again.