Tony has been noticing things - little, seemingly inconsequential things - about Bucky for a while now, none of them particularly noteworthy when observed individually, but all very obviously part of a bigger puzzle Tony is itching to piece together.
Like the way Bucky’s always wrapped up tightly, all burrito style, in one of his blankets on movie nights, no matter how much Tony adjusts the thermostat and likely drives everyone else mad with it.
Or how he absently runs his fingers through the hair on the back of Steve’s neck when he walks past him.
Or the frowny face he makes whenever he has to use the little lump of steel wool to scrub at the pots and pans someone, who doesn’t need to be mentioned by name, dirtied almost beyond saving during mid-nightly cooking escapades.
And yes, okay, maybe those aren’t things that stand out to just anyone, but Tony has a more, uh, personal interest in, aka crush on, Bucky, so. He pays attention.
They’re in a debrief, the atmosphere already not so great after Bucky, despite Steve’s concerned protests and Bucky not actually being an active agent or member of the Avengers, insisted on sitting in because of their target’s potential ties to HYDRA, when Tony finally puts two and two together.
Steve is arguing with Coulson and dear old Nick, both of whom are much more alive than current rumour would have everyone believe, practically forcing Tony to amuse himself by trading kicks with Clint and pulling increasingly silly faces at Natasha in an attempt to make her slip up and change her stoic expression, even if it’s just a twitch of her lips or an arched eyebrow.
He’s not all that successful, though, and Clint eventually stops their game of fight-footsie so he can plant his feet on the arm of Phil’s chair, all stubborn passive-aggressiveness.
Going by the faraway look on his face, Thor might actually be asleep with his eyes wide open.
Which leaves Bucky, since Bruce hasn't de-Hulked yet, who has his hood pulled low into his face and his chin resting on his drawn up knees, the metal hand curled around his legs while the forefinger of the flesh one is slowly rubbing over a worn spot on the wooden table, back and forth, over and over again, his whole body vibrating with nervous tension.
And just like that, everything clicks together in Tony’s head.
The aversion to touching specific things, the well-used hand-me-down clothes from Steve, the meticulous shaving routine; Bucky enjoys softness, in the most literal sense of the word.
Not all that much of a surprise, now that Tony’s thinking about it, given the Winter Soldier’s existence filled with violence and brutality Bucky has only recently managed to fully escape, the seventy year stint of being used and treated as something less than human.
The remaining question now is what Tony can do to help, his mind already running a mile a minute with ideas, ranging from simple to what even Tony has to admit would be outrageous.
For the moment, Tony settles for subtly nudging at Bucky’s hand and, when Bucky’s eyes flicker down to follow the movement, offering the sleeve of his suit jacket.
It takes Bucky a couple of seconds and an uncertain glance up at Tony to gauge his intentions, but then he gingerly grasps the material between two fingers and lets out a quiet sigh, his lips curved up into a tiny smile for the remainder of the meeting.
The next opportunity to put his new knowledge to use arrives two weeks later, although Steve does look at him somewhat funnily when Tony more or less stumbles into the room due to the huge bouquet of flowers that is making it kind of hard to see where he’s going.
But a psychiatric hospital is still a hospital, sort of, and Bucky is currently in it for his bi-monthly check-up and Tony might not always adhere to or even understand social norms, but bringing people in hospitals flowers is definitely a thing, so Steve will just have to suck it up and deal.
Which he does after Tony tosses him a bag of butterscotch candy, old man sweets for the old man, munching away happily as he gets up with the feeble excuse of getting them all some coffee.
It does give him and Bucky some privacy, though, so Tony isn’t about to complain.
“Don’t worry,” he winks at Bucky once Steve is out of hearing range, “I also brought these because some of us actually have taste.”
Bucky’s face lights up as he catches the pack of M&Ms, ripping into it while Tony rummages around the bathroom for a vase and puts the flowers on the bedside table.
“How are you holding up?”
“Okay,” Bucky shrugs, the same answer he gives every time, not quite meeting Tony’s eyes.
It’s all he says, but Tony expected no different and besides, he’s perfectly capable of talking for the both of them, catching Bucky up on the latest Avengers gossip and bantering good-naturedly with Steve until visiting hours are over.
Bucky is content to listen, but it doesn’t escape Tony’s notice how he tugs one of the pussy willow shoots out of the bouquet to play with the catkins , holding them in his palm or rolling them between his fingers, expression steadily growing calmer and more serene.
Tony hides his proud smile and marks the whole experience down as a success.
“Try this,” Tony says and chucks the bottle of shampoo at Bucky, who catches it effortlessly in one hand and goes about actually reading the label before looking back at Tony.
“Why?” he asks, sounding genuinely confused and no, Tony tries to tell himself, that little frown line between his eyes isn’t even all that cute, nuh-uh. “What’s wrong with soap?”
Tony chalks it up to being preoccupied with committing all the nuances of Bucky’s impressively expressive face to memory that it takes a while for Bucky’s words to sink in properly. Once they do, however, he raises a deeply unimpressed eyebrow at Bucky.
“We’ll just go ahead and ignore everything you said in the last thirty seconds,” Tony decides, moving closer so he can turn Bucky around and start shoving him toward the locker rooms. “You’ll love this stuff, trust me.”
He leaves Bucky at the showers, resolutely stomping down on the part of himself that wants to go right ahead and follow him, and relocates back up to the penthouse where he feels too guilty to jerk off to the image of sexy, panting, post-workout Bucky.
Which he is incredibly glad about when JARVIS announces that Bucky is in the elevator on his way up only fifteen minutes later because wow, that would have been awkward.
“Thanks,” Bucky smiles, a little shyly but Tony will take it, when Tony opens the door and gestures him inside.
Tony waves dismissively, stepping over to the bar. “It was nothing. Can I get you anything?”
They eventually settle on the couch with a big bowl of pop corn and a beer each so Tony can show Bucky the original Star Trek movies before Clint gets to him with the shitty new ones, pointing out things and generally chattering all through the first half hour until he realises what he’s doing and clamps his mouth shut, feeling his cheeks heat.
But Bucky doesn’t mind, even says, “I don’t mind,” and somehow, although Tony can’t for the life of him recall how when he’s lying in his bed later, they end up with Bucky sitting with his back to Tony’s chest, humming happily through Tony first brushing and then braiding his now very soft and shiny hair.
Bucky doesn’t look thrilled about the bright orange of the fuzzy socks, but he pulls them on nonetheless, rubbing his feet together with an appreciative grunt before rewrapping himself in his blanket.
Steve’s been gone on a mission for nearly two weeks now and it’s plain to see that Bucky’s struggling without him here.
“You okay there?” Tony asks anyway, unsure what else he’s supposed to do, and Bucky nods faintly, face half-hidden in a cushion.
“I, uh-“ Tony starts, cutting himself off when he realises he has absolutely no idea what to say, either. Eventually, he goes with, “Do you need anything else?”
Bucky considers this for a moment, nose scrunched up adorably, then he heaves himself up into a sitting position, rearranging the blanket so he can hold one edge up in invitation.
And that, acting as a cuddly body pillow for a little while, that Tony can do.
Bucky leans into Tony’s side, head on Tony’s shoulder while Tony curls an arm around him, resting his chin on top of Bucky’s head, their feet tangled together on the coffee table because what Steve doesn’t know won’t hurt him.
Their socks, Bucky’s orange and Tony’s neon green ones, however, are a total eyesore and clash horribly.
It’s not so bad, though, when pointing that out makes Bucky grin into Tony’s neck.
It’s entirely worth the speculative headlines in every shady gossip rag the next morning for the way Bucky’s eyes light up when Tony presents him with the teddy, one of those almost impossibly soft ones for babies - hence the rumours.
Bucky traces its ears and feet and nose while Tony works on his arm, still tense but grounded enough that they only have to pause twice, a new record low.
The hug he gets afterwards is enough to put a goofy grin on Tony’s face for the rest of the day.
Steve’s friend Sam from DC comes for a visit and really, the guy has mechanical wings, so Steve’s half amused, half exasperated eye rolling when Tony kidnaps the guy down to his workshop is completely unnecessary and exaggerated, okay?
Sam apparently hasn’t had the chance to build up any immunity against Cap’s pouting face because somehow, not only he but also Tony get roped into going out for lunch and it’s one-hundred percent Sam’s fault.
Not Tony’s, though.
But Bucky tags along as well, which is nice. He’s quiet, although that’s nothing out of the usual for Bucky, especially not if he’s surrounded by people he doesn’t know well, so Tony doesn’t think much of it, squeezes into the booth that’s much too small for two beefed up super soldiers, an equally ripped fly boy and Tony and his flaring inferiority complex beside him.
It’s only when Tony leans back in his seat, full and lazy, that he notices Bucky’s still mostly untouched burger.
Without hesitating, Tony presses his thigh against Bucky’s under the table to get his attention, flickers his gaze to his tie hanging back over his shoulder to keep it ketchup-free when he has it, and gives Bucky an encouraging nod.
It isn’t much, but Bucky looks so grateful as he slides his hand up Tony’s back to curl his fingers around the fabric that Tony has to look away in order to hide his sudden blush.
The arm around his shoulders on the way back to the tower, however, Tony doesn’t mind that at all.
“Shit!” Tony yelps, startled, only just manages to grab a hold of the towel around his waist to keep it from slipping.
Bucky is lounging on Tony’s bed, leaning on one elbow with a tablet propped up against one of the pillows, his chest bare, pants hanging deliciously low on his hips and hair up in a messy bun with a few wayward strands clinging to his face.
He’s a fucking wet dream and Tony swallows hard, trying to adjust the growing problem between his legs without being too obvious about it and then wincing when Bucky’s eyes snap down to his crotch, making it painfully clear that Tony failed rather spectacularly.
“You bought me pyjamas,” Bucky says after a moment, much to Tony’s confused surprise, glancing back up at Tony with an unreadable expression on his face. “You bought me a lot of presents lately.”
Tony clears his throat, croaks, “Yes?”
Bucky just keeps staring at him.
“Do you- didn’t you like them?” Tony ventures carefully, hands twitching nervously, fruitlessly searching for something to fidget with before gesturing at Bucky’s silk sleeping pants, his latest gift. “Something wrong with those?”
“No, I like them just fine ,” Bucky hums, chewing his bottom lip as he ponders something. “Doesn’t seem like somethin’ you’d get for a friend, a platonic friend, is all.”
Bucky knows. Bucky knows and is here to let Tony down gently, to give him the old ‘I’m flattered, but’ line because, and Tony is honest enough with himself to admit this, Bucky is completely out of his league, is young and gorgeous and clever and sure, he’s in recovery still, but that doesn’t matter, not compared to Tony and his issues, Tony who’s on the ugly side of forty and-
“And, you know,” Bucky interrupts Tony’s descent into downright panic, “I was hopin’ it wasn’t. Platonic, that is.”
Tony, of course, does the eloquent thing and squeaks out a strangled, “Nngh?”
“Go change,” Bucky chuckles, sounding amused but also relieved, “and then come join me? I mean, it’s your bed, but…” he trails of, shrugging a little, eyes hooded as he looks up at Tony.
Tony nearly stumbles over his own feet in his haste to comply and if he chooses a pair of his silk briefs and colour coordinates them with what Bucky’s wearing, well, then that’s no one’s business but his own.
And Bucky approves wholeheartedly, metal fingers threaded into Tony’s hair and flesh hand cupped over Tony’s ass and stroking slowly, thumb wriggled cheekily under the waistband as they kiss and kiss and-
Tony wakes up with his face tucked against Bucky’s chest in the middle of the night, brushes his mouth over the seam between metal and skin - which makes Bucky snuffle tiredly and tighten his hold on Tony’s rear - and goes back to sleep with a smile on his face.