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Paths Are Made by Walking

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Paths Are Made by Walking


Bucky doesn’t mean to intrude, he really doesn’t, but he’s out of mini marshmallows and going through the trouble of making hot chocolate from scratch without adding mini marshmallows simply isn’t worth the effort.

Besides, Steve said the communal area was open to everyone 24/7 and since normal people are fast asleep at 3:42 in the morning, Bucky had felt safe to venture out of their shared apartment in his search for sugary, gooey goodness.

Tony startles badly when Bucky elbows open the door, yelping in surprise and dropping his tablet, only just able to catch himself on the edge of the table and right his chair to keep himself from toppling over backwards.

He’s clutching one hand to his chest and jerks the other up to rub at his face, sniffling and coughing awkwardly through the blush creeping up his neck and tinting the tips of his ears.

Bucky takes in the rest of him, his red-rimmed eyes and blotchy cheeks, and hurriedly deposits his armful of cooking utensils on the counter, instead grabbing the box of tissues from one of the shelves and setting it down in front of the other man.

Tony stares at them for a long moment, head ducked, but eventually takes one with a hoarse, “Thanks.”

While Tony is blowing his nose, Bucky gets a clean dishtowel and wets it under the faucet, then takes a seat and offers it Tony.

Tony merely frowns at that, caught somewhere between confused and suspicious, so Bucky reaches out and hooks a steadying finger under his chin, brushing some wayward strands of hair away from his forehead before carefully running the towel over his face.

After tensing up at the initial touch, Tony quickly relaxes under Bucky’s ministrations and closes his eyes with a faint sigh, his previously shaky breathing slowly but steadily returning to a calmer, slower pace.

Bucky takes his time, wiping away sweat and a few tears with gentle swipes, lightly pressing the cool fabric to the dark, swollen shadows under Tony’s eyes and over his fluttering lids, scrubs at the smudge of engine oil on his nose and finishes by softly patting him dry again.

When he moves back, Tony is already watching him, his expression achingly vulnerable for just a moment before it switches to guarded, not quite managing the usual pretence of unflappable nonchalance.

“Well,” Tony rasps, winces and clears his throat, “that was something that doesn’t need to be repeated or talked about ever again.”

Bucky recognise the almost desperate plea for a change of topic, so he doesn’t push, goes with, “You want some hot chocolate?”

That earns him a laugh, weak but genuine, and Tony nods, shrugs as if to say sure, why not. He picks his tablet back up, unlocking it with only slightly trembling fingers, and starts tapping at the screen, one corner of his mouth pulled up into a small, unconscious smile.

Leaving him to it, Bucky gets out a pot and, on a whim, rummages through the cabinets for a few extra ingredients, pleased with what he finds, including the desired mini marshmallows.

It isn’t long before a soothing smell fills the kitchen, curling warmly around Bucky and chasing away the remnants of his own dreams, dissolving the memories of cold and dark and the metallic taste of blo-

Shaking himself out of it, which he can do with notably less effort now than just a few short months ago, Bucky turns off the stove, gets two mugs and distributes the steaming beverage, adds the most important part in form of fluffy sweetness and then tops the drinks off with some whipped cream and sprinkles because if he’s going to give himself a sugar high, he might as well do it right and go all out.

Tony looks delighted when he’s presented with his mug and promptly burns his mouth in his impatience, cursing but not giving up and taking another scalding sip, face scrunched up adorably against the sting.

Bucky watches him in somewhat horrified amusement, laughing out loud when Tony’s eyes grow wide at the first proper, non-scorching taste.

“Did you spike these?” he demands, grinning and drinking some more when that only makes Bucky smile sweetly, all feigned innocence. “Baileys? Your Irish is showing.”

“Pretty sure we didn’t have this back in the day. Or a whole lotta chocolate, for that matter,” Bucky muses, using his thumb to swipe some stray cream from Tony’s bottom lip, humming as he licks it off. “Movie? Clint gave me a list. I don’t trust it.”

“Uh,” Tony squeaks, blinking rapidly for a few moments before he nods, still looking a little thrown. “Yes, movie. And no, Clint is not to be trusted when it comes to these sort of things, he’s terrible, a menace, but he watches kid’s shows with rainbow-coloured horses, so what can you expect, really? Is Star Wars on there? That, you need to see. Not episodes one through three, though, there are no episodes one through three, where did you even hear that? Also-“

Chuckling, Bucky follows the excited rambling over to the big living room couch.

***

Steve had ordered at the team’s regular Thai place after a particularly taxing confrontation with Doctor Doom two days ago, Bucky knows, gotten everyone’s favourites as a little pick-me-up.

Not that Bucky’d joined them for the meal, a room full of noisy people is still a little too much most days, but he had heard Steve on the phone.

He frowns at Tony’s khao man kai and nam sup now, still sitting untouched on a shelf in the fridge, wrinkling his nose at the condensation water clinging to the lids of the containers.

But the crisper is full of fresh produce and there, behind something of Clint’s Bucky is pretty sure is about to grow sentient, is a carton of eggs and some leftover bacon.

Vegetable omelettes are quick and taste good, hard to mess up. Bucky adds a couple slices of buttered toast, the bacon, a bowl of yoghurt, a small bag of assorted nuts and a bottle of water, arranging everything on a tray for easier transport down to the workshop.

Tony glances up at Bucky when JARVIS lets him inside, gaze flickering to the food before being fixed on his screen full of calculations again. “Not hungry.”

“Bullshit,” Bucky snorts, shoves the lunch tray at Tony and minimizes all open windows, then drags away the hologram of the suit he’s working on and sends it flying to the other side of the room with a flicker of his wrist. “Eat. Drink. Don’t be difficult.”

“Where’s Cap?” Tony pouts but is already shovelling some of the omelette into his mouth, chasing it with a sip of water. “He’s my favourite, never touches my stuff, thinks he’ll break something.”

“You do not want to eat Steve’s cooking, trust me,” Bucky says gravely and shudders as he perches next to Tony on the workbench. “Anything fancier than a sandwich or canned soup is beyond him. He burned pasta once. Don’t ask.”

Tony’s face does something odd, fork hovering halfway between his plate and mouth. “You made this?”

Bucky quirks an eyebrow at him. “Problem?”

“No, no problem. It’s just-“ Tony cuts himself off, shakes his head and lets out a somewhat frustrated huff. “It’s fine. It’s good. Great, actually. Thank you.”

He waves for the hologram to come back but Bucky bats at his hand, pointing at the food. “This first,” he insists, then adds, smirking knowingly, “Or what do you think, JARVIS?”

“I believe that would be a wise course of action, Sergeant Barnes.”

“Traitor,” Tony mutters, glaring first at the closest of the AI’s cameras, then at Bucky who grins back at him and snags a piece of bacon.

***

“You have a fever,” Bucky accuses the moment he spots Tony, jumping up from the couch to step between him and the door when it looks like Tony might decide to flee.

Tony suppresses a cough, sniffles and wheezes, “No, I don’t.”

“Oh, please,” Bucky scoffs, pressing the back of his hand against Tony’s forehead, graciously not mentioning how Tony sways into him for support. “You think I don’t know a cold when I see one? I grew up with the king of hiding being sick behind transparent excuses over there, in case you forgot.”

“Hey!” Steve protests over the rim of his paper and gets ignored.

“Bed. Now,” Bucky orders and slides an arm around Tony’s waist, pulling him against his side. The fact that he misses the perfect opening for a lewd comment or dirty joke only proves Bucky right. “When did this start?”

The glare Tony levels at him loses most of its efficiency when Tony sneezes and makes himself trip over his own feet. “Couple of hours,” he admits dejectedly, leaning his full weight on Bucky now that he has obviously decided to accept his faith.

He’s already half asleep by the time they reach the penthouse and snoring softly before Bucky has finished tugging the blankets over him.

It’s a bit of a struggle with his metal fingers acting up again but Bucky manages, perching on the edge of the bed once he’s done, using his good hand to rub and press at the aching joints. There’s no actual discomfort, Bucky knows that, but apparently the rest of his body hasn’t gotten that particular memo yet.

“Wha’s wrong?” Tony slurs from behind him, pawing at his hip, and Bucky realises he’s been sitting here, lost in thought, for quite a while, has slumped against the headboard without realising it.

He sighs, turns and threads his fingers into Tony’s messy hair instead, absently smoothing it out. “Phantom pains,” he says, rubbing a thumb behind Tony’s ear and smiling at sleepy moan the action brings with it. “Doctors say the more I use the new arm, the better it’ll get.”

“You can just keep doing this,” Tony hums, one corner of his mouth curving up into a lazy grin. “Strictly for exercise purposes. I’m selfless like that.”

“How noble of you,” Bucky says, totally deadpan, and gives Tony’s cheek a playful flick before heaving himself up, pinning Tony with a stern look. “You stay. I’ll make you some soup.”

He’s almost at the door when Tony speaks up again, an uncharacteristic shyness to his voice. “Why?”

Bucky’s pretty sure his face conveys how stupid of a question he thinks that is. “Because that’s what you eat when you’re sick?”

But Tony doesn’t bite, doesn’t banter back at him. “No, I mean,” he begins, gaze fixed on his own hands and nowhere even near Bucky, “why are you doing this? All of this? Why are being nice?”

“Why wouldn’t I be nice?” Bucky asks, completely dumbfounded, tentatively moving closer to the bed again.

Tony shrugs with forced casualness, more of a twitch than anything else. “I-“ he says, then stops himself by chewing the inside of his cheek, gesturing about helplessly.

“Tony?” Bucky prompts and Tony visibly composes himself, swallows back down whatever it was he actually wanted to say, and when he lifts his head, the moment has passed.

“It’s nothing, just me being stupid,” he dismisses with a smile that almost, but not quite, reaches his eyes. “Can you check if there are some crackers to go with the soup? Please?”

A big part of Bucky wants to call him out on his deflection, but then again, Bucky knows how he himself reacts when Steve gets pushy, so all he does is nod and give Tony’s wrist a gentle squeeze before straightening up again. “Sure thing.”

Tony seems relieved and Bucky figures that if he wants to talk, he will whenever he’s ready.

***

Bucky has commandeered the two-seater, sprawling as much as physically possible and filling the remaining space with a bowl of pop corn to discourage anyone else from joining him.

He can acknowledge that his therapist has a point, that he can only make so much progress locked away in his and Steve’s apartment - with occasional visits to the common kitchen to steal food or the workshop level to bug Tony into eating - and actively avoiding most of the tower’s other residents, but that doesn’t mean he’s got to get all up and close with everyone.

But it’s movie night and Bucky’s here, with only some badgering on Steve’s part, which already feels like a huge achievement and that’s something, at least. Bucky isn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

“Aw, man!” Clint exclaims, chucking the remote at a smirking Natasha and flopping down on the couch face first. “You cheated,” he accuses into the cushions, “I don’t know how, but you did.”

“Other people learn their lesson after the first eighteen times,” Bruce deadpans without missing a beat, not even lowering the book he’s still got his nose buried in but huffing a little when Thor laughs and claps him on the back rather enthusiastically.

Thankfully, Steve arrives with everyone’s drinks and gives Clint his disapproving face before Clint can throw his handful of chips at Bruce and they all settle down while JARVIS lowers the lights and Natasha, having won control over Netflix from Clint, selects a movie.

No one seems surprised that Tony’s missing and since it would require speaking up and drawing attention to himself, Bucky doesn’t mention it either.

They’re half an hour into some comedy Bucky isn’t following when he notices the man in question slink into the room, then hesitate for a moment before lowering himself to the floor next to the coffee table with a wince, one hand braced against his ribs, ignoring the empty seats next to Bruce and Thor.

Careful as to not disturb the others, Bucky gets up and jogs down to his quarters, grabbing and filling the hot water bottle from under the sink and snatching the extra warm comforter from his bed on his way out.

Tony is still in the same spot when Bucky gets back, although he goes willingly enough when Bucky manoeuvres him to ‘his’ couch and tucks the bottle against his side, humming contentedly when Bucky squeezes in next to him and wraps the blanket around them both.

“They don’t blame you,” Bucky whispers because they don’t, the Avengers are probably the most forgiving people alive, Bucky knows that much from personal experience. Accidents happen during battle and no matter how hard he tries, Tony can’t be everywhere at once. Bucky rests his chin on Tony’s shoulder and bumps Tony’s cheek with his nose, adds, “And neither should you.”

Tony keeps staring at the screen, so Bucky digs around for his hand and links their fingers, rubbing a thumb over Tony’s knuckles until Tony sighs and tips his head against Bucky’s.

Bucky curls his free arm around him, tugs him firmly against his side. “And don’tcha go thinking for even a second that I won’t yell at you later for crawlin’ around on the floor with two cracked ribs. Genius my ass.”

Tony’s sudden bark of laughter is followed by a chorus of very pointed shushes.

***

Forty-six hours.

It takes them forty-six hours to find Tony and bring him home.

For the first six, Bucky hovers anxiously outside the rec room made operations centre, listening to the others form plans and strategies, argue and shout and sound scared and desperate the whole time.

Five heads swivel around in eerie unison when he finally steps inside, nearly dissolving his already pathetically lacking resolve until Steve shoots him a small, encouraging smile, flips one of the maps around and asks, “Any ideas, Buck?”

By hour fourteen, Bucky and Clint have tracked the van Tony was abducted in to a tiny, private airfield in the middle of a lot of nothing somewhere in New Mexico and after another four, the Avengers plus Bucky are in a Quinjet headed for Bolivia.

Bruce, apparently, knows people from his travels and they, in turn, know people who know people with the ability to get their ragtag group across borders undetected and without fuss.

Natasha vanishes somewhere around hour twenty-four to do whatever it is she does best, checking in hourly after that, more often than not with new Intel. No one knows how exactly she obtains the information she then relays to the team, but the unspoken agreement is that everyone’s better off not knowing anyway.

It’s during hour thirty-one that Steve socks some drug lord gone kidnapper in the jaw hard enough to even make himself grimace, though not before extracting enough details to get them moving in the right direction again.

Colonel Rhodes arrives three hours later with the Warmachine armour, which is definitely appreciated considering the arsenal of weapons it brings with, but makes progressing stealthily a lot more complicated.

And Tony himself doesn’t sit idly by either, by hour forty Rhodes’ suit receives a series of Morse messages via its HUD interface and while no one has any idea how he did it, it’s clear who’s behind them.

When they finally storm the warehouse where Tony is being held, Bucky is right beside Steve, doesn’t even hesitate, Thor and Rhodes providing air support while Natasha and Clint are in position somewhere out of sight and Bruce waits on standby in case they need Big Green.

In the end, Tony mostly rescues himself by blowing up one of the meth labs which starts a chain reaction, taking down the entire complex, and walks away from the resulting explosion looking the most upset about his ruined shoes, whining something about expensive Italian leather before collapsing into Bucky’s waiting arms.

Tony remains unconscious the whole flight back to New York, a group of medics fussing over him, hooking him up to a IV line and making him as comfortable as possible on the narrow cot.

They land on the roof of the tower and Tony is wheeled down to the infirmary, Bucky hot on his heels. One of the nurses tries to stop him from entering the private room, says something about family members and next of kin only, but backs off quickly when Bucky sneers and bares his teeth at him.

That seems to be that, because one by one, the rest of the Avengers and Rhodes arrive and arrange themselves on the armchairs and window sills, bringing food and water and, in Steve’s case, a fresh set of clothes for Bucky since he refuses to leave in order to get showered and changed.

No one questions Bucky’s place at the end of Tony’s bed, sitting cross-legged with his feet wedged under Tony’s legs while they eat and talk, and no one objects when he stays behind long after they all leave, exhausted, to get some much needed rest.

Bucky reads on his tablet, one of the books from the list Tony made for him after he officially banned Clint from giving Bucky any sort of entertainment advice, and every once in a while a doctor or nurse comes to check something, some of them giving Bucky updates on Tony’s condition.

It’s Tony wriggling around and digging his heels into Bucky’s stomach that wakes him hours later, eyes snapping open to Tony’s pale but smiling face.

“Morning,” he croaks, then pulls a face and makes grabby hands at the bottle on the nightstand.

“Spoilt,” Bucky says without heat, helping him sit up and rearrange the pillows behind his back before handing him the water. He throws him a pack of M&Ms Clint brought in, too.

Tony makes an appreciative noise as he rips it open. “It's the middle of the night and I’m in hospital, I don’t think I’m supposed to have candy,” he muses, nevertheless popping a handful of the little chocolates into his mouth. In an overly dramatic voice he adds, “Tell me, how bad is it? Will I live?”

Bucky purses his lips and glares, hard, and Tony sighs, prods at him with his one of his feet again.

“I’m sorry,” he mutters sullenly, “though it’s not as if I asked to be kidnapped.”

“What did they want?” Bucky asks, threading his fingers through the gaps between Tony’s bare toes which makes Tony squeak and Bucky gasp in mock-shock. “Could it be that the great Iron Man is ticklish?”

“Shut up,” Tony grouses, poking his tongue out at him. “An improved, more stable, less likely to blow up in their faces energy source for their labs which, yeah, kind of ironic, considering.”

Bucky doesn’t laugh. “You were gone for almost two days. We couldn’t find you, at first, we had no idea what was going on, anything coulda happened, an’ then, when we finally found you, you nearly killed yourself an’-“

“Hey, hey,” Tony hushes, grabbing at Bucky’s sleeve and tugging until Bucky gets the idea and moves up the bed, plastering himself against Tony’s side with an arm slung across Tony’s waist and his nose pushed into the hollow of Tony’s throat. Tony sounds surprised, almost awed, when he mumbles, “You were really worried.”

“’Course I was fuckin’ worried,” Bucky snaps, half-hearted at best. Then, because it warrants saying, “Dumbass.”

“Yes, insult the poor man in the hospital bed, that’s real nice, Barnes,” Tony complains, but he turns his head just enough to nuzzle the top of Bucky’s head. Bucky can feel him grin as he says, “Hey, at least you made friends with the rest of the team, though, right?”

“I will take away your morphine and it will be painful,” Bucky threatens, making Tony inhale sharply and accuse, “Cruel. You are cruel and not my favourite anymore!”

“I was your favourite?”

“Don’t be stupid, you know you are,” Tony snorts, rubbing his cheek against Bucky’s hair and giving a pleased hum when Bucky takes his hand, laces their fingers together.

“Go to sleep.”

“Yessir!”

***

They’re in Steve and Bucky’s apartment, lounging on either side of the couch with their legs tangled in the middle under a blanket, the TV on in the background because Tony is still wired from that morning’s fight and, ironically enough, getting worked up about mindless drivel actually helps him calm down.

Bucky likes watching him gesticulate incredulously and make little indignant noises at the screen, so he’s not complaining about Tony’s unusual idea of leisure time activities. Until;

“That is not dancing!” Bucky exclaims, genuinely offended on behalf of a beautiful art form, glaring at the twenty-somethings pretending to be adolescents rubbing themselves all over each other to the headache-inducing thumping of something that is not music.

Tony quirks an eyebrow at him, his expression turning mischievous, demands, “J, baby, give us some tunes!” and then they’re off.

They start with the ones Bucky knows, lindy hopping around the living room, laughing through a Charleston, jiving, and upending the coat rack with a very enthusiastic jitterbug, a sign that it’s probably time to slow down.

Bucky pulls Tony close against his chest, both breathing hard as they sway more than dance now, leaning heavily against each other.

One of Tony’s hands is still on the small of Bucky’s back while the other has migrated up to the side of his neck and Bucky follows willingly when Tony guides him down, eyes fluttering shut just before their mouths meet.

Bucky’s own fingers find their way into Tony’s hair, thumbs stroking the sensitive skin behind Tony’s ears as he swipes his tongue across the seam of Tony’s lips, pecks the corner of his mouth, his cheek, both his eyelids and the tip of his nose before moving back down, taking full advantage when Tony exhales shakily to sneak past the barrier of his lips.

It’s good, warm and comfortable, and Bucky presses closer, deepens the kiss which is more than just good, heated and urgent, almost needy on both ends.

And then Tony is jerking away, stumbling back with a hand over his mouth, eyes wide and breathing erratic for all the wrong reasons.

“Tony?” Bucky questions, reaching out but dropping his hand when Tony flinches away from it, walking backwards and away from Bucky until his back hits the nearest wall, thumping his head against it, repeatedly and not gently either. “Hey, Tony. Tony. Hey, what-“

“I’m sorry,” Tony blurts, choked, “so sorry. Shit. Fuck! I didn’t- I- sorry, I didn’t mean to, Bucky, I’m so- what are you do- Bu- Bucky?”

Bucky follows, crowds him, cradles the back of his head in one hand, his cheek in the other, mumbles a quiet, confused, “Talk to me, Tony.”

Tony wriggles and whines, the look on his face one of complete devastation, giving a weak attempt at shoving Bucky back before slumping into his hold with a strangled, pained groan. His eyes are fixed on a point somewhere over Bucky’s left shoulder when he speaks again, carefully avoiding Bucky’s worried gaze.

“He talked about you, constantly, before you came back. Steve, that is. Like, all the time. Bucky this, Bucky that. Bucky was great, one time Bucky did that and it was swell, Bucky and the dames, not the fellas-“

“The internet says it’s considered rude to out people,” Bucky interjects, amused despite himself, but Tony doesn’t seem to hear him, talking right over him.

“-and then you did come back and hey, look at that, Steve wasn’t exaggerating, you are pretty awesome and not too hard on the eyes, either-“

“Thanks, I think.”

“-and you’re nice which, no, people aren’t nice, not unless they want something. Money, mostly. But you’re nice and it’s not fair, you do all these things, little things, nice things, that make me like you-“

“You’re not so bad yourself.”

“-that make me like you so much it hurts, because that’s not how you like me, see? People don’t like me like I like them, usually they don’t like me at all, but then there’s you and you’re nice and kind and so hot, God, did I mention smoking hot? And it’s not fair because I want you, so much, and I’m bad at people, I can admit that, I know that, but I also know when people want me and you don’t and that sucks, sucks so fucking much, and it’s not fucking fair and I’m so, so sorry, I swear-”

Bucky kisses him again, light and chaste, to shut him up. “Breathe,” he reminds him and Tony does, sucking in a huge lungful of air, whimpering when Bucky brushes his lips over his forehead.

“I would appreciate it if we could pretend none of this ever happened,” he pleads eventually and he sounds so broken, Bucky can’t help himself, ducks down to press their mouths back together, Tony keening against him, the hands on Bucky’s shoulder unsure if they want to push away or pull closer.

“This,” Bucky whispers, nudging Tony’s nose with his own, “us, dating in general, wasn’t a priority, not something I considered much after- after I was found.“

“Yeah,” Tony agrees and nods even as his face crumples. “I know. I understand, really, I do-“

“-but that doesn’t mean I can’t want it. That I don’t want it. Don’t want you,” Bucky interrupts, cupping Tony’s cheeks so he’s forced to look at Bucky, to watch him as he continues, putting as much sincerity into his words as he can. “Took me a little longer to get with the program, is all. Shoulda kissed me ages ago, you sap, ‘cause it seems like I’m pretty gone on you, too.”

All Tony does for a long moment is blink owlishly. Then, “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Bucky leers and slides his hands up under Tony’s shirt, caressing his stomach, stroking up his sides, “oh.”

“Don’t be smug,” Tony tisks loftily but there’s no hiding the pure joy in his eyes or the shudder that runs through him when Bucky nips at his jaw. “It’s not a good look on you.”

“You like me anyway,” Bucky shrugs, unconcerned. “In fact, you think I’m pretty awesome, you think I’m smokin’, you-“

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Tony snorts and then he’s kissing Bucky, pinching him with the hands he’s somehow snuck into the back pockets of Bucky’s jeans and greedily swallowing Bucky’s laughing protests, pulling back only to waggle his eyebrows and grin, “That’s my job now, hot stuff.”

“By all means,” Bucky allows and ignores the outraged squawking of the man thrown over his shoulder as he walks them to the closest bedroom.