Stop, Drop and Roll (With Me)
Bucky isn’t actually on call when the alarm goes off, but staying at the bar without Sam and Steve doesn’t hold all that much appeal, so he quickly chugs the rest of his beer, alcohol-free out of solidarity, and gets ready to leave as well.
“Man,” Sam whines as Steve nudges him out of his seat, shooting a forlorn glance at his mostly untouched wings and fries. “Every single time.”
Steve grins around his mouthful of burger. “You’re a slow eater, is all,” he accuses.
“And you’re a pig, Rogers,” Bucky says, grimacing, and flicks Steve’s cheek. “Close your mouth, for fuck’s sake. No one wants to see that.”
Being the annoying little shit he is, Steve opens his mouth even wider and sticks out his tongue, laughing triumphantly when Bucky makes a noise of disgust and jumps away from him, seeking cover behind a fondly resigned Sam.
Despite the bickering and teasing, the three of them make it out to the truck quickly enough, Bucky taking the wheel so Steve and Sam can change into full gear in the back.
“Dispatch, this is Barnes,” Bucky radios in while pulling away from the curb. “Where are we going?”
“I’m not paying you overtime,” Fury warns immediately, followed by an address and, “Barton and Romanov will meet you at the scene. Kitchen accident, oil fuelled fire, no boilover so far. Make sure it stays that way.”
“Yes, sir!” Bucky chirps happily, practically able to hear his boss roll his eyes at him before Fury disconnects.
When they arrive at the upscale Manhattan apartment, the situation is mostly under control, which is in no small part due to the owner of said apartment having reacted correctly, and tried to cover the pot of burning oil with a lid instead of throwing water on it. He may have set the curtains, a cupboard, a table and the fruit bowl on fire in the process, but all in all, everything could have ended much worse for everyone involved.
Natasha and Clint are in the basement, making sure the gas is off and they don’t all end up fried after all, and Steve and Sam are carrying around charred furniture while Bucky lingers around the living room a little awkwardly, his skinny jeans and V-neck not really the ideal sort of clothing for dealing with any of this. Besides, Fury would have his head if Bucky managed to get himself banged up while not technically on the job.
At least there’s the unlucky cook for Bucky to ogle, and Bucky likes what he’s seeing. He’s on the shorter side, perfect to be tucked under Bucky’s chin, with tousled dark hair and bright, honey-coloured eyes. A little older, maybe in his late thirties, lithely muscled under the expensive shirt and slacks. And his ass is to die for, deliciously plump yet impressively firm, two good handfuls.
In short; he’s gorgeous and exactly Bucky’s type.
But, as Bucky watches, the guy starts twitching, goes to stuff his hands in his pockets only to suddenly bring them back up in front of his chest almost protectively, muttering erratically to himself.
“Hey, are you okay?” Bucky asks, wincing when the other man startles and flinches, nearly stumbling over his own feet as he whirls around to face Bucky, obviously not having been aware of Bucky’s presence before. Bucky smiles apologetically. “Sorry about that. But are you? Okay, I mean?”
Some owlish, uncomprehending blinking, and then a shaky, “Fi- fine. I’m fine.”
Bucky, somewhat sceptical about the truth of that statement, scrutinises him more closely, eyes widening when he gets his first proper look at the man’s hands. “Your palms are blistering,” Bucky points out. “And I don’t know about you, but where I come from, that’s not what we call fine.”
“Oh,” breathes the other man, peering down at the injuries as if noticing them for the first time. “Huh.”
“Right,” Bucky says slowly, definitely worried now. Is this shock? Bucky doesn’t know how to treat shock; Sam’s the one with the medical background. And where the fuck is Sam, anyway? “Okay, uh, right. Right. What’s your name?”
The man narrows suspicious eyes at Bucky, as if trying to find an ulterior motive Bucky doesn’t have, but eventually he says, “Tony.”
“Nice to meet you, Tony. I’m Bucky,” Bucky says, giving a dorky little wave he instantly regrets because wow, very smooth there, Barnes. But Tony’s lips are twitching ever so slightly, and amused by Bucky’s lack of game is a huge improvement from the vacant staring, so Bucky pushes through his embarrassment to ask, “Do you have a first aid kit somewhere around here?”
Tony, it turns out, does not only have a first aid kit, but an unexpectedly well-stocked one.
“My friend insisted,” Tony explains, allowing Bucky to guide him into the bathroom and down onto the closed toilet, and obediently holds out his hands for Bucky to inspect. He twitches at Bucky’s assessing touch, as if he’s about to pull away, but visibly forces himself to calm down and stay put. “After the last ‘workshop incident’.”
Bucky raises an eyebrow, ripping open a packet of sterile wipes and slipping on a pair of gloves. “Do I want to know?”
Tony purses his lips, considering, and Bucky fails completely at not staring at Tony’s beautifully shaped, enticingly pink mouth.
“There might have been a minor explosion,” Tony admits grudgingly, hissing and jerking a little when Bucky starts dabbing at the worst of the burns with one of the wipes. “Emphasis on minor.”
“Sorry to tell you this, pal,” Bucky can’t help but laugh, despite being somewhat horrified by Tony’s casual mention of making things go boom like it’s an everyday occurrence, “but I don’t think explosions, however minor, are something bandaids and iodine can fix.”
Tony’s eyes crinkle, which Bucky probably shouldn’t find as adorable as he does, but he doesn’t get the chance to reply before Steve appears in the doorway.
“You guys okay in here?” he asks, going to lean against the frame but then thinking better of it when he realises he’s covered in soot from head to toe. “Buck, we’re just about done in the kitchen, heading out soon.”
Bucky glances down at Tony’s hand in his, frowning at the way Tony’s hunching his shoulders and studiously refusing to look at Steve. “It’s okay,” he says to Steve, wrinkling his nose in mock-disgust and gesturing at Steve’s general messiness. “I’ll take a cab. Go get debriefed and take a shower. You need it.”
“Fuck you too.” Steve grins brightly, flipping Bucky off over his shoulder on his way out.
Something’s seriously wrong with his friends, Bucky thinks, resigned. Or with him, because he’s the one picking and sticking with them, after all.
Tony’s pulse is speeding up under Bucky’s fingers, eyes huge and a little panicked. “Don’t worry about Steve,” Bucky tries to reassure him, not sure if it works when Tony keeps his gaze locked on a point somewhere by his feet. “He’s a total asshole, but also the nicest person ever. He was just kiddin’ around, being dumb.”
People who don’t know him are often intimidated by Steve at first, either because of his sheer size, or the frequent and completely unashamed swearing. But they, unlike Bucky, haven’t seen Steve literally helping elderly people cross the street or, on one memorable occasion, fulfilling every fireman stereotype ever by climbing a tree to save a little girl’s kitten.
“It’s not-“ Tony begins shakily, then has to clear his throat before he’s able to continue. “I just- I kind of forgot, about the- the kitchen. And he reminded me that, fuck, that I nearly burned down Pepper’s house, and I- I don’t know- know what-“
“Hey, easy, slow down,” Bucky says, hooking a finger under Tony’s chin, forcing him to meet his eyes, and shoves away the totally unjustified jealousy that flares up at the mention of a potential girlfriend. “It’s okay.”
That is obviously the wrong thing to say. “It’s not okay,” Tony shouts, a disconcertingly hysterical edge to his voice, lower lip wobbling dangerously. “Someone could have gotten hurt, I could have hurt someone, killed someone! I- I ruin everything I touch, I’m poisonous, I-“ His breath hitches, and he mumbles, quiet and vulnerable and broken, “I thought I could do this, but I can’t. I- I can’t.”
Honestly, it’s not one of Bucky’s finer moments, he recognises that even as he blurts, “Well, a fella as smokin’ hot as you was bound to start a fire eventually.”
Bucky’s used to all kinds of reactions to his cheesy, over-the-top flirting, the most common being laughter with some disbelieving groaning thrown into the mix, but he’s never actually had anyone burst into tears because of his cheering up techniques. Well, not until now.
“Shit,” he curses, hands fluttering helplessly in front of Tony before he decides fuck it, and slowly, carefully places them on Tony’s shoulders.
Which Tony takes as permission to collapse against Bucky, arms hanging limply at his sides, his face pressed into Bucky’s neck as he cries, the ugly sort of crying that involves snorting hiccups and a running nose and everything.
“No, no, no, fuck, no,” Bucky says, almost pleads, pushing up from his kneeling position between Tony’s legs to have better access, and wraps Tony up in a hug, one hand cupping the back of Tony’s neck and the other stroking soothingly up and down his spine. “Hey, no, ssh, Tony. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, please don’t cry, I’m sorry. Shit, fuck. I didn’t mean to, uh, offend you or anythin’? I’m real sorry, I swear, I was just tryin’ to lighten the mood, c’mon, it’s all right, I’m sorry.”
Tony, however, doesn’t seem to hear Bucky, doing some stuttering babbling of his own. “They don’t say it, but I know they don’t trust me anymore, and they’re right not to. I’m a mess, look what happened today, I can’t even take care of myself, I’m fucking worthless. I can’t work, can’t concentrate, ever since coming back from- ever since coming back. I can’t stop thinking about it, it just won’t stop. I want it to stop, please, I just want it to stop, I can’t- it’s- please, I- I-“
That’s as far as Tony gets before another wave of sobs makes talking impossible. Bucky isn’t entirely sure what all of this is about, where Tony has been or what’s happened to him, but it’s apparent that Tony’s in no condition to be left alone right now.
“Is there someone I can call for you? Someone you want to come over and stay with you for a while?” Bucky asks. “Maybe your girlfriend? Friend? Pepper?” He’s a little ashamed of how glad he is when Tony says that there’s no one, giving Bucky the ideal excuse to be the one to make sure Tony’s going to be okay.
And so Bucky holds him, rocks them both back and forth as much as their positions allow, gently scratching his nails over Tony’s scalp and humming softly, the first melody that comes to mind, offering a comforting shoulder to lean on.
When Tony pulls back with a shuddering sigh, Bucky automatically reaches out to wipe the tears away from his face, freezing mid-motion once he realises how intimate of a gesture that is. But Tony graces him with a wobbly smile, turning his cheek into the touch and letting his eyes flutter shut.
Brushing his thumbs over the dark circles under Tony’s eyes, Bucky asks, “When’s the last time you slept?”
“Can’t sleep,” Tony whispers hoarsely, Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallows thickly. “Keep dreaming. Don’t want to dream.”
Bucky grimaces in sympathy. He’s no stranger to nightmares himself, still suffers from some pretty intense ones every now and again, even if they’re not nearly as disturbing or nerve-wracking these days as they were when he first got home, one arm short and with a shitload of new issues.
“Fair enough,” Bucky allows, running a hand through Tony’s hair to unstick it from his sweaty forehead. “Let me just finish this,” he says, gesturing at the open kit on the floor, “and we’ll figure the rest out later, all right?”
“You don’t have to,” Tony croaks, but he doesn’t protest while Bucky finishes cleaning and bandaging his burns, all cried-out and exhausted, yawning and blinking sleepily by the time Bucky’s done.
After depositing Tony on the couch and wrapping the blanket he finds folded over its arm around him, Bucky ventures into the kitchen in search for anything salvageable. The teabags have survived, and there’s some chocolate in the pantry, so Bucky grabs both, two mugs and the water cooker, and carries everything back into the parlour, where Tony has turned on the TV and is staring at the screen unseeingly, still sniffling but much calmer.
Tony’s movements are sluggish, and it takes him a couple of tries to take a successful sip of his tea. “Thanks,” he murmurs, shyly ducking his head. “But you don’t have to- you- you probably have better things to do.”
Bucky hands him a piece of chocolate. “Nah, I’m good. You have all the premium channels and Netflix. I’m totally staying.”
Halfway through the third episode of Babylon 5, Tony starts tipping sideways, too tired to stay upright any longer. Bucky bites back a grin, opening his arms. “C’mere,” he says, making exaggerated grabby hands when Tony hesitates. “It’s fine. Science fiction and cuddles? I’m so up for that.”
“You’re ridiculous.” Tony chuckles disbelievingly, but tentatively inches closer until he can slip under Bucky’s arm, drawing up his legs to tuck his whole body against Bucky, head on Bucky’s chest and one hand curled loosely into Bucky’s shirt.
They get through the better part of another episode before Tony’s breathing begins to even out, his hold on Bucky going slack and-
With a jolt, Tony shoots back up into a sitting position, panting hard and looking around dazedly, eyes huge and damp, his lashes sticking together with unshed tears. “Sorry.”
“No need to apologise,” Bucky says, honest and heartfelt, and pulls him back in, resting his cheek against the crown of Tony’s head, and rubbing at the back of Tony’s neck. “I get it, trust me. I get it.”
He doesn’t bother with meaningless platitudes, doesn’t tell Tony that it will get better or easier, because that’s something Bucky has absolutely no control over, something he can’t promise. What he can do, however, is act as a distraction, so he hugs Tony a bit tighter against himself and asks, “So, that workshop of yours. Used it to build anything cool lately?”
Tony turns just enough to squint up at Bucky, as if he’s waiting for something more. When Bucky only raises an encouraging eyebrow, Tony settles again, snuggling into Bucky’s side as he starts talking.
Bucky follows about a fifth of what Tony’s saying because Tony, Bucky learns, is not only devastatingly handsome, but also genius-level smart. It’s okay, though, Bucky’s fine with his part in the conversation being impressed ohs and ahs as long as Tony’s expression remains open and happy like it does when he raves about his projects, inventions, and the helper bots that cause more chaos than they actually prevent, but which he clearly adores despite, or, maybe, because of their faults and glitches.
There are two more incidents of Tony almost drifting off only to jerk himself awake again at the last moment, scared and confused, but eventually Bucky’s slow, steady heartbeat under his ear, and Bucky’s fingers playing idly through Tony’s hair do the trick, and Tony falls into a heavy, much-needed sleep.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Bucky is dimly aware of the creepiness factor involved in watching someone while they’re unconscious, but he can’t seem to help himself when it comes to Tony. Because like this, stress-lines around his eyes smoothed away and mouth slack, Tony looks relaxed, really relaxed without any underlying tension or twitchiness, for the first time. And it’s almost unbearably sweet, seeing him snuffle and drool a little.
Yeah, Bucky’s got it bad already. But if there’s one surefire way to make Bucky stick around, it’s to kick-start his protective mother-hen instincts, either by being too stubborn to back down from a back alley fight with terrible odds like a scrawny, six-year-old Steve did, or by nearly burning down an apartment and going into shock about it.
It’s kind of an unusual strategy of acquiring friends and loved ones, but, funnily enough, it has worked out pretty well for Bucky so far.
Even if Steve is a stupid asshole who only sends back a winking smiley face in reply to Bucky’s message that he probably won’t be coming home tonight.
“Fuck off,” Bucky mutters, and texts the same to Steve before putting his phone away, arranging the blanket more snugly around both him and Tony, and shifts his attention back to Londo and his shenanigans.
Bucky wakes up with a painful crick in his neck, and Tony’s pensive face hovering right over his own. “What the fu-“
“You’re still here,” Tony interrupts, sounding genuinely surprised. “I didn’t think you would. Be here. Still.”
“What?” Bucky teases, using the arm he has around Tony’s waist to lightly jostle him. “Expected me to sneak out in the middle of the night?”
Tony’s mouth twists and Bucky realises, his playful grin fading quickly, that he’s hit the nail right on the head with that one. That’s not how Bucky rolls, however, not even with the occasional one-night stand, and definitely not with Tony, whom Bucky likes much more than is probably appropriate for someone he’s known less than half a day.
Or maybe he should’ve left? Yeah, this has to be super weird for Tony, having a virtual stranger make himself at home in his friend’s apartment without even asking. Shit. Bucky has definitely overstepped here.
Before Bucky gets the chance to voice any of this, Tony, clearly desperate for a change of topic, bursts out with, “Does it hurt?” He’s gesturing at Bucky’s shoulder, where the V-neck has slipped down a little to reveal part of the scarred connection between the metal prosthetic and what remains of Bucky’s flesh and blood arm. Then, with a contrite wince, Tony adds, “Not that you have to talk about it. If you don’t want to. Sorry, that was a really fucking insensitive thing to ask, ignore me, I’m being nosy, sorry, I-“
“Not hurt, exactly,” Bucky interrupts the nervous rambling. He’s unable to keep the butterflies in his stomach from going crazy at the slight flush creeping up the back of Tony’s neck, colouring his cheeks and the tips of his ears a lovely shade of rose, relieved that Tony doesn’t seem to be uncomfortable with him having accidentally spent the night. “Most of the sensation’s gone, anyway. I mean, I can feel pressure and heat, I guess, but nothin’ advanced. It itches, sometimes, but hey, I’ve got two fully functional arms again, so I’m not complainin’ here.”
Much to Bucky’s dismay, Tony’s doesn’t smile at the way Bucky’s wriggling his fingers and shifting the plates on his forearm, though. Quite the contrary, Tony actually looks pained, downright devastated as he watches Bucky show off, choking out a strangled, “I’m sorry.”
“What the hell for?” Bucky asks, bewildered by the apology coming completely out of left field. “Sure,” he tries to joke, using his free hand to cup Tony’s face, tilting it up so Tony can see he isn’t upset or bothered, “I’m sorta hazy on the details, but I know for a fact that I didn’t see you ‘round our base camp anywhere the day shit hit the fan. Trust me,” he leers exaggeratedly, grinning goofily, “I woulda remembered you.”
Tony’s blush deepens, but he isn’t deterred. “I-“ he says, licks his lips, and when he goes on, Bucky gets the impression he’s holding something back, “I supported the war. War in general. Not anymore, but for a long time it was pretty much all I did.”
“Lots of people do or did,” Bucky shrugs, still not entirely following Tony’s self-flagellating train of thought. “Fuck, I did, why’d you think I went over there in the first place? Yeah, I got screwed, but there’s no point in blaming anyone; not myself, or whoever buried that mine under that road, or the people shovelling money into the war effort, or the companies supplying the weapons, or the politicians makin’ it sound like best thing since sliced bread. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, is all. If it hadn’t been me, it woulda been someone else. That’s just how life is, sometimes.”
The noise that escapes Bucky when Tony brings their mouths together for a chaste, all too brief kiss gets caught somewhere between an embarrassingly high squeak, and an equally awkwardly timed moan, before turning into an almost petulant whine when Tony pulls back again much too soon.
Tony’s expression, once Bucky’s gathered enough of his wits together to focus on anything other than the faint taste of Tony on his lips, is heartbreakingly sad and resigned. “Sorry,” he says, breath hitching, “but I’m a selfish asshole, and I really wanted to do that before, well. Before.”
“You didn’t need to stop,” Bucky whispers, softly bumping his nose against Tony’s. “Absolutely no stopping required, nope, nuh-uh.”
But Tony is already moving away, bringing more space between them, fumbling his phone out of his pants pocket. He taps at it for a few moments, then squares his shoulders and turns it around so Bucky can see the article he’s got pulled up. It’s a Wikipedia page, dedicated to Anthony Edward “Tony” Stark with a helpful picture in the top right corner and-
“Oh,” Bucky says, gaze jumping back and forth between the Tony in the photo, and the real Tony still kind of straddling him, which is incredibly distracting but not at all unwelcome.
Tony had seemed familiar yesterday, but Bucky hadn’t spent much time dwelling on it, written it off as Tony just having one of those faces everyone always thinks they recognise from somewhere. Which makes sense, now that Bucky knows who he’s spent the night snuggling with.
Tony Stark. So, really, the only question Bucky’s nerdy, sci-fi-loving heart allows him to ask is, “Did you really develop the world’s first successfully running artificial intelligence?”
A beat of silence. Then, “That is what you want to talk about? Are you fucking serious right now?” Tony demands incredulously, but he comes willingly when Bucky tugs him in close again, bracing one hand on Bucky’s good shoulder, and using the other to tuck some errant strands of hair behind Bucky’s ear.
And yes, granted, that’s probably not the kind of thing Tony’s been asked about a lot lately. Not since he got kidnapped and held captive for months before escaping with a self-made jetpack, if the papers are to be believed. Not since the news about one of his most trusted employees double-dealing with known terrorists came to light. Not with everyone busy speculating about his mental health since he announced Stark Industries would stop manufacturing weapons.
“Well.” Bucky smirks, deliberately going in the exact opposite direction because he cares about Tony, about getting to know the wonderful, brave, adorable man he’s seen glimpses of over the last couple of hours. “We can always talk about you allegedly going twelve for twelve with the Maxim girls last year? ‘Cause even my very passionately gay self can appreciate the effort and dedication that musta gone into that. Pun totally intended.”
Tony laughs, happy and free and without holding himself back anymore. “You’re something else,” he says, so fucking gorgeous as he beams down at Bucky, open and adoring. “Have dinner with me?”
Bucky makes a show of thinking it over, hands settling on Tony’s hips. “I have two conditions. No models, no one else if we’re going to do this. I know it’s bad first date etiquette to bring up cheating exes, but.” He grimaces, but Tony nods agreeably, understandingly, stroking his thumb over Bucky’s cheek. “Good. That’s good. Second; you’re not cooking, I hate bringing work home with me.”
“Oh, shut up,” Tony chuckles, and kisses Bucky again.