“Son of a bitch!” Tony’s curse was nearly drowned out by the music currently pouring out of the speakers in his workshop. He knew better than to immerse himself in a project right after a mission, especially one in which he’d cracked several ribs and quite possibly partially dislocated his left shoulder. But he’d be damned if Barton left his vest behind again because he said it was still too heavy and inflexible. And then Dum-E’s axle assembly was making a horrible screeching noise every time the bot moved, so he had to check that out and with one thing and another, entirely too many hours had passed since food, sleep or (most importantly) his last self-prescribed dose of muscle relaxant and pain pills.
Which explained why he was stuck here sitting on the floor and psyching himself up to actually attempt to stand. He knew it was going to hurt. A lot. So it just figured that the music levels dropped to what everyone else would call “normal” and he heard a voice call out “Stark, are ya in here?” Apparently he’d forgotten to lock down the workshop; that, or JARVIS was plotting against him, again. Ever since Pepper left, JARVIS had become nearly insufferable with his efforts to keep Tony from falling apart. He was a little surprised the AI hadn’t already nagged at him about getting some food, or sleep. Food.. food would be good.
“Over here, in the southwest corner of the shop. Dum-E, wave at the nice visitor.” The robot raised his arm and flailed it about randomly as Tony stretched painfully up to peek over the lab bench to see who was invading his domain. It was Barnes, which meant Cap wasn’t far behind. He really wasn’t in the mood to deal with being yelled at about sneaking out of the medbay when everyone’s backs were turned. Rogers was even worse than JARVIS about mother henning.
But wait... Barnes was alone. Tony wasn’t sure he’d been out of the good Captain’s sight (other than when they got called out on missions) since the two of them had arrived at the Tower about a month ago. They’d kept mostly to themselves, so Tony hadn’t gotten to know his new guest very much at all. Although Tony hadn't been at his most sociable, lately, either. Rogers had gone on and on about good old Bucky while he was tracking his BFF down, but Tony was pretty sure that who he found wasn’t the pal Cap remembered from his youth.
But Tony kinda had a thing for the guy, even as he realized that being physically attracted to a man who was probably the longest-serving POW ever and knew umpteen ways to kill someone was a bad idea. It had been a while since he’d indulged that side of his sexuality; there had been several discreet one night stands during his playboy phase, but he had been faithful to Pepper the whole time they were involved. Tony shook himself loose from dwelling on what he had lost and what he couldn’t have; and as Barnes approached, he asked “Hey, where’s Cap?”
“Sound asleep - after eating most of three large pizzas. Needed to recuperate.” He paused for a moment. “Why are you sitting on the floor?” There was a tenseness in the way Barnes was standing, as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to be there. Considering the man's previous experience with workshops and labs, Tony was a little surprised he’d come in at all, much less without his Captain at his side.
“Working on my robot’s undercarriage,” he replied. “Barnes, this is Dum-E. Built him when I was in my teens. About as bright as a three-year old, but slightly more destructive. If he offers you a smoothie, decline. He can’t always tell the difference between motor oil and chocolate syrup. Dum-E, this is James “Bucky” Barnes, a friend of Cap’s. I know you want to play with his arm, but don’t.” Dum-E lowered his camera and beeped in disappointment. “At least not without asking first,” Tony finished. The camera came back up with a hopeful whirr and Barnes chuckled softly.
“Hey, would you do me a favor and slide those over where I can reach them?” Tony pointed to the pill bottles sitting on the back of the counter. Maybe once he got some meds in his system, he’d be able to get the hell up off the floor and get some food and sleep. Ah yes, sleep... sleep would be good.
Barnes picked up the bottles, read the instructions, carefully shook out the correct dosage and held the pills out to Tony. Fuck it, he hurt too much to get picky about being handed something; it was a stupid hangup, he knew, but couldn’t seem to shake it. Tony took the pills from Barnes and dry-swallowed them.
“So, who sent you to check on me? It was Romanov, wasn’t it? I just wanted to sketch out some ideas for updating Barton's armor when I got sidetracked by Dum-E and kinda lost track of time.”
Barnes shook his head. “Wasn’t sent by anyone. Thought I’d come talk to you about maybe looking at my arm sometime.” Tony had been dying to examine Barnes’ prosthetic for ages, but after a stern talking-to from Rogers, had managed to keep that desire (among others) to himself.
“I’d be happy to, Barnes. Dum-E, come help me up.” The bot reached down to place its claw around his left bicep. “No, not that arm, the other one.” Tony tried to recall the last time he calibrated Dum-E’s grip feedback... this just might leave bruises. The bot clumsily helped Tony to his feet, but left him off-balance enough to stumble right into Barnes, who caught him easily. Had there been an all-too-brief embrace, or was Tony just imagining things? He steadied himself on the edge of the counter as a wave of vertigo washed over him. Surely he’d eaten something today, right? Or was it even still today? Not having windows in the workshop really messed with his circadian rhythm.
“You okay, Stark?” He sounded genuinely concerned, which was not helping Tony’s mindset. No, he was not getting a crush on Cap’s pal. Just... no. Not happening. He tried not to wince in pain as Barnes put a hand on his shoulder, but no luck. “Hold on, is this why you snuck out of medbay?” he asked, removing his hand as if Tony were on fire.
Tony sighed. “I’m fine, I just twisted it a little.” But he wasn’t buying it; he reached back out, gently probing, and discovered the misalignment.
“Sit. I can fix this.” Tony did as he was told, straddling the bench. The momentary jolt of pain made him see stars for a moment, but it quickly receded to a dull ache, better than it had been before. Then he felt Barnes sit down behind him, hands skilfully rubbing his shoulder, and then the rest of his back. “Used to do this for Stevie when he’d get spasms from a coughing fit”, he explained.
The analytical part of Tony’s brain was fascinated by the action of the prosthetic, the pressure and movements synchronized to that of Barnes’ other hand. How the hell did they set up the biofeedback mechanisms, anyways? The rest of him, however, was slowly melting into a puddle, only slightly abashed by the quiet moans that the physical contact was wringing out of him. Yes, his meds were definitely kicking in. Total loss of inhibitions (and then consciousness) in 3-2-1....
“So... if the whole sniper assassin thing doesn’t pan out for you, Barnes, I suggest you pursue a career as a masseur. You could name your own price - gold, diamonds, sexual favors. I know I’d pay with any of the above.” Wow - the things that you’ll say while on really good drugs, Tony thought.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence. But back in my neighborhood, suckjobs came cheap, at least during the Depression. Supply and demand and all that. Not that they weren’t worth it.” Tony’s jaw dropped. There was no fucking way that Bucky Barnes, sidekick to Captain goddamn America just said the word “suckjob”, much less was that familiar with them.
“You did not just say.... no. Holy hell, Barnes, you’re not at all like Rogers, are you?” Tony’s words came out a bit slurred. He could tell he was going to crash any minute, but that was okay. Sleep would be really, really good right now.
“The sooner everyone learns that, the better.” Tony vaguely heard Barnes reply as he rested his head on the table in front of him, for just a minute or two...
He sat there on the bench for a moment. Stark had slumped forward onto the table, and was gently snoring. This had not been a good idea, not at all. Steve had warned him that Stark wanted to get his hands all over the hunk of machinery he now had to call his arm, and that had given him pause. Going into the workshop, with its resemblance to the labs where HYDRA had put him through hell, seemed risky at best. But the damage done during those terrible fights - the Soldier versus Captain America - was getting worse, and he couldn’t fix it on his own.
And it wasn’t just the arm he couldn’t fix. While he was thankful beyond words to have his best friend, his brother in all but blood, back in his life again, the pressure to be who he had once been was overwhelming at times. His memories were slowly coming back, but he was never going to really be Steve’s Bucky again. Too much had happened in the intervening years.
There was so much Steve didn’t know. Hell, he’d kept secrets from the little punk even when they shared an apartment back in Brooklyn. Steve had seen Bucky going out with the girls in the neighborhood, but didn’t know who he was also meeting in dark corners and deserted alleys, sometimes for money (gotta make the rent), sometimes just to satisfy desires. He’d found a few fellas of like mind in the Army too, willing to “lend a hand”, so to speak... and sometimes more than hands. And while he never truly felt ashamed of his appetites - he didn't believe Steve could possibly understand.
He knew Steve wouldn’t understand his life as the Winter Soldier, either. How they had taken him apart and remade him after every mission. Just how much blood was on his hands. The satisfaction it had given him, to complete a mission. That was what truly terrified him now. He had wanted to please his handlers, to do their bidding, to earn their praise. Steve thought getting his memories back was a good thing. But he would give anything to have nearly all of the past sixty years wiped out of his mind forever.
And then there was Stark. Tony Stark: so much like his father - attractive and brilliant - yet definitely his own man. With all the free time he’d had on his hands the last few weeks, he had done a little digging to find out more about this billionaire playboy philanthropist. Quite the checkered past, it seemed, but mostly reformed. He’d even put the “playboy” label aside, apparently, as all the gossip rags showed were photos and stories about him and his lovely CEO and partner, Miss Potts. It seemed a bit odd that they hadn’t actually met her, that she hadn’t stopped by the personal quarters area of Stark Towers when she was in town on business. He guessed he didn’t understand how relationships between the rich and powerful worked. Or how relationships worked, period.
There was something about Stark that had gotten to him. And it wasn’t just the physical attraction - although that definitely played a part. He liked his men dark, handsome and on the wiry side, and Stark checked all those boxes. And the two of them had actually had seemed to hit it off this evening, despite having barely spoken to each other at all in the preceding weeks. He thought he’d messed it all up with the pills - he’d completely forgotten Steve’s warning about not handing anything directly to Stark, but it didn’t seem to be an issue. Then there was the whole catching the guy before he went ass over teakettle... it had been surprisingly hard to let him go.
And speaking of surprisingly hard... what he had (mostly) meant as a soothing gesture after popping Stark’s shoulder back into place turned into something else. Something treacherous. Stark’s moans of pleasure had been music to more than just his ears, and damn, if he still wasn’t at least at half-mast now. And the comment about sexual favors - well, his inner smartass just had to one-up that, didn’t he? He wasn’t sure whether he hoped Stark wouldn’t remember the tail end of their conversation, or if he hoped he would. Either way, he couldn’t leave the guy sprawled over the table like some sloppy drunk.
He spotted an old couch in the corner with a few ratty blankets tossed over it. The engineer apparently made a habit of late nights in the shop. “Hey, Stark ... wake up... let’s get you a little more comfortable.” He shook the man’s uninjured shoulder and got no response. Sighing, he picked Stark up and carried him over to the couch. Dum-E beeped and rolled towards them, raising his arm as if to defend his creator. “It’s okay, buddy. I’m just putting your boss to bed. I'm not gonna hurt him. Promise.” The robot continued to complain, but let him walk past unhindered. He set Stark down, and pulled the blankets over the sleeping figure. He then retrieved Stark’s meds and a bottle of water, placing them within easy reach before quietly slipping out of the room.