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Bucky is lounging on Tony’s bed, pillow wedged between his back and the wall, a softly snoring Tony’s head in his lap as he lazily flicks through Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Stevie’s second self-published comic book and, simultaneously, part of his application for art school.

It’s real good, and Bucky isn’t saying that because he was the inspiration and model for Cap’s best childhood friend. Well, not only because of that.

He startles when the front door crashes open–-no one but Jarvis the butler is usually at home when Tony brings Bucky around to his house--followed by stomping footsteps coming down the hall, and an impatient, “Anthony!”

Which is enough to rouse Tony, whose face goes ashen as his eyes dart from Bucky to his bedroom door and back before he jumps up, and starts straightening out his clothes just in time for a man to barge into the room.

“Da-- Dad,” Tony stammers, causing Bucky’s eyebrows to shoot up in surprise because if he didn’t know better, he’d think Tony was scared. “I thought you were coming back tomorrow? Sir.”

“The last lecture got cancelled,” the man says absently, not looking at his son, his gaze fixed on Bucky instead. “Who’s this?”

Tony swallows hard, Bucky can see it even from his position on the bed halfway across the room. “Bu-- James, sir. He’s a-- a friend.”

“A friend?” Tony’s dad snorts derisively, finally shifting his attention back to his son. “Where did a good for nothing punk like you find a friend? You paying him?”

When Tony doesn’t reply immediately, the man’s expression grows thunderous. “Answer me!” he growls, making Tony flinch back before he catches himself and straightens his back, wobbling chin lifted stubbornly.

“No, I’m not. We met at school, he’s in my--“

“Workshop, three minutes,” Tony’s father interrupts, apparently having lost interest in Tony’s explanation already. “Let’s see how much progress you’ve made on your projects. Not that I’m expecting much.”

With that, he’s gone, leaving Tony and Bucky in stunned, uncomfortable silence.

It takes Bucky a few moments to compose himself and process what he’s just witnessed, but the instant he does he’s on his feet and pulling his trembling boyfriend into his arms, nose buried in Tony’s hair as he strokes a firm, soothing hand up and down his spine.

He doesn’t ask if Tony’s okay since it’s pretty obvious that he’s not. What he does want to know is, “Is he always like that? How often does this happen?”

Tony stiffens, his voice oddly detached when he speaks again. “He’s having a bad day, that’s all. It’s fine, I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”

Bucky doesn’t believe a word of it. “Tony--“

“You should probably go,” Tony insists, talking right over him. “Dad’s waiting for me. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Bucky wants to protest, ask more questions, shake the truth out of Tony, but he knows his boyfriend, and the way he’s hunching his shoulders and refusing to meet Bucky’s eyes means he’s going into defensive mode. And there’s no getting through to him when he’s like that, withdrawn and distant, so Bucky nods, albeit reluctantly, cupping Tony’s face between his hands.

“I’ll call you tonight,” he decides, not budging on that point, and presses a soft, lingering kiss against Tony’s lips. “I love you.”

The smile he gets in reply to that is small and weak, but genuine. “You too,” Tony says, standing up on tiptoes for another quick peck.

When they skype later, after dinner, Tony is quiet and unfocused, losing the thread of conversation more than once. The next day at school, though, Tony skips up to Bucky and links their fingers as if nothing had happened, chattering away excitedly about the physics paper they’re supposed to get back during third period.

Bucky accepts the behaviour for what it is, a desperate attempt to pretend that everything is all right, and goes with it.

But from now on, he vows to pay closer attention.

* * *

When Tony turns up for school with a black eye two weeks after the incident with his father, Bucky is conflicted. Tony insists it was an accident in the workshop involving DUM-E and a fire extinguisher, and Bucky knows that is an entirely possible scenario.

Tony isn’t clumsy per se, but he isn’t especially careful, either. Bucky has seen him walk into doors when he’s too busy talking to pay attention to his surroundings, has had to escort him to the nurse’s office more often than he’s strictly comfortable with because of chemistry lab mishaps, and has been a victim of DUM-E’s uncoordinated flailing himself before.

Bucky can’t prove anything, so he lets it go. Tony looks incredibly relieved, which makes Bucky think he might have made a mistake after all.

* * *

They get back a French literature quiz a couple of days after that, and Tony freaks out.

“You got ninety-seven percent right, dude,” Clint points out, incredulous, holding up his own piece of paper with a big, red fifty-three and a frowney face stamped onto it. “What’s your deal?”

“I’m not stupid,” is all Tony manages to choke out through his increasingly panicked wheezing, turning wide, fearful eyes on Bucky. “I’m not!”

“Of course not,” Bucky reassures gently, carefully running his fingers through Tony’s hair, and brushing his lips over Tony’s forehead. “Did you take your meds this morning?”

Tony nods, face buried in the crook of Bucky’s neck, hands curled into Bucky’s shirt. It’s another sign of how not okay he is that he isn’t snapping at Bucky for babying him and being annoying about his heart medication, that he isn’t grousing that not everything’s always about his bad heart.

“Here,” Steve says softly, holding out a bottle of water.

Bucky takes it from him when Tony doesn’t move and continues to cling, crying quietly. He stays with Tony when the bell rings and the others go back to class, eventually driving him home.

The next day, Tony has a split lip and a bruise on his jaw.

When Bucky outright asks if his father has anything to do with the injuries, Tony flees and proceeds to ignore Bucky’s calls and texts for nearly a week.

After that, Bucky’s too scared to broach the topic again.

* * *

“Aren’t you hungry?” Natasha asks, her tone challenging, making Bucky glance up from his own meal to see Tony push his lunch listlessly around his still full plate.

Tony has a complicated relationship with food, Bucky has learned that over the last eight months of their relationship, sometimes either forgetting to eat or being unable to when his meds make him dizzy and nauseated.

Which wouldn’t be a problem if Bucky didn’t suspect that Tony is actually pretty happy about the effects his irregular, almost sporadic eating has on his body. Bucky has caught him standing in front of a mirror, shirt rucked up and poking at his stomach with a devastated expression on his face more than once in the past.

What worries Bucky the most about this, especially after witnessing firsthand how Tony’s father treats him, is that it doesn’t seem to be Tony who has issues with how he looks. Tony comes across as vain to people who don’t know him well, but Bucky does know him, and he knows that Tony couldn’t care less about his styled hair or expensive clothes, knows that they’re a shield, a layer of protection Tony puts between himself and the rest of the world because he is, deep down, almost painfully shy and self-conscious.

“You wanna trade your nuggets for my salad?” Bucky offers and Tony, even though he’s shooting him a glare that says he knows exactly what Bucky is doing, gratefully dumps his chicken nuggets on Bucky’s plate, and scoops up Bucky’s bowl of veggies.

He ends up eating about a third of it which, Bucky figures, is better than nothing.

* * *

Tony hasn’t been to school in four days, and Bucky’s starting to go crazy.

He can’t reach Tony, all his calls immediately go to voicemail, and his emails end up unanswered. Their friends don’t have any luck, either, not even Pepper and Rhodey.

On the fifth day of Tony’s absence, Bucky has enough and decides to drive over to the Stark house. He parks in his usual spot and gets out, hearing raised voices long before Jarvis opens the front door for him.

“What’s going on?” he demands, scared, trying to push past the butler and groaning in frustration when Jarvis grabs his upper arms, holding him in place.

“Master Stark has had too much to drink,” he warns before he lets go again, gesturing in the direction of the study. “Be careful.”

Bucky runs, rounding the corner just in time to hear Tony’s father yell, “--she is gone and all I have left is you!”

Neither Tony nor his dad see him when Bucky steps into the room, or hear his shocked gasp. Tony’s father is holding Tony’s wrist in one hand, an almost empty bottle of scotch in the other, his face red and contorted in anger as he shakes Tony, making him stumble around, trying to stay on his feet.

“You think I don’t miss her? You think I don’t miss my mother?” Tony cries, his eyes puffy and his cheeks wet, his whole body shaking with the effort to hold back his sobs. “But it’s not my fault she isn’t here anymore, I didn’t crash the car, I was five, for fuck’s sake! I wasn’t the one who drove her away with his drinking and sleeping around and--“

It happens so quickly, Bucky doesn’t even realise what’s going on until it’s too late.

The bottle goes flying and Tony, thankfully, manages to duck, but then his father yanks at his arm again and Tony trips over the edge of the carpet, hitting his head on the edge of the sturdy oaken desk on his way down, unable to catch himself or cushion his fall, landing on his wrist with a pained yelp and the unmistakable snap of breaking bone.

Bucky sees red, stalks right up to Tony’s father, and punches him square in the face with his prosthetic fist because it’s metal and he wants this to hurt, only taking enough time to make sure he isn’t getting up again before he hurries over to crouch down at Tony’s side.

“Hey, baby, come on, open your eyes for me,” he pleads, tears of relief springing to his own eyes when Tony blinks up at him, dazed and unfocused but awake and more or less lucid. “There you are, sweetheart, hey. I’m here, I got you, baby.”

“Buck?” Tony slurs, confused, then adds, “Gonna be sick,” before throwing up all over the both of them.

Bucky doesn’t care, though, just brushes the sweaty hair away from his forehead and, once he’s finished, holds him close and lets him cry, whispering soothing nonsense until he can hear sirens, and then Jarvis leading the paramedics into the room.

They load Tony into one of the two waiting ambulances, and Bucky is about to climb in after him when Jarvis’ hand lands on his shoulder, making him turn around again.

“Master Anthony is a good boy and a loyal son,” Jarvis says, mouth twisted up in displeasure. “Too loyal, at times. The police will meet you at the hospital, and if you can, Mister Barnes, convince him to talk to them this time around.”

The implication behind Jarvis’ words makes Bucky sick to his stomach but he nods, getting into the car and taking one of Tony’s hands between both of his, squeezing softly and kissing his knuckles.

It’s not only the police waiting for them in the emergency room, Bucky’s whole family is there as well, and he’s unspeakably grateful for their presence, almost running into his mum’s open arms and pressing his face into her shoulder, finally allowing himself to let go and cry.

His dad stays with him while Bucky gives his statement to the two officers, Fury and Coulson, and then his sisters swarm around him once they’re back in the waiting room, Charlie climbing into his lap and Katie leaning against his side while Becca holds his hand, offering silent comfort and support.

Jarvis arrives with man from child services who smiles and tells everyone to call him Sam while Tony’s still in surgery, listening patiently as Bucky explains what’s happened today, and tells him about his other suspicions about Tony’s father, most of them confirmed by Jarvis.

By the time he’s done, the doctors are finished with Tony and inform everyone that he will be fine, that the break was clean and that he has a concussion, but that Bucky’s allowed to go sit with him while he wakes up.

Tony’s only half conscious but his gaze zeroes in on Bucky the moment he walks into the room, his lips curving up into a tired smile, and sitting with Tony ends up being cuddling with Tony because even while high on pain medication and barely able to talk, Tony still knows how to work those puppy dog eyes of his.

“I love you,” Bucky whispers, Tony settled against his chest, and tenderly kisses the top of his boyfriend’s head.

“Yes,” Tony sighs contentedly, snoring quietly a moment later.

* * *

While Bucky and Tony sleep off the stress of the day, Bucky’s mum and Jarvis get busy.

Bucky’s mother is friends with Sarah Rogers who, as it turns out, had been part of the Stark’s cleaning staff for years, and is able to tell them the name and last known address of Tony’s uncle, Maurizio. With a little help from Sam, they’re able to track him down, and after explaining the situation, Maurizio immediately agrees to come to New York and see Tony.

Tony cries again when his mother’s brother arrives, but they’re happy tears this time. Maurizio doesn’t hesitate when Sam tentatively asks about taking Tony in, going so far as to call his boss and ask about a transfer to the firm’s Manhattan office when Tony gets a little panicked at the prospect of moving away.

Bucky barely has to coax him for Tony to talk to the police, and by the time Tony is discharges from the hospital a week later, Maurizio has found an apartment for them both in Bucky and Steve’s neighbourhood, and moved all of Tony’s belongings from the Stark house into his new home.

Tony’s just glad he doesn’t have to see his dad again, and that the man doesn’t give them any trouble when Sam contacts him about custody arrangements.

And Bucky?

Bucky’s happy that Tony’s safe and only lives a two minute walk away now. And that Maurizio isn’t as strict as his own parents when it comes to sharing a bed when Bucky stays over for the night.

The homemade Italian food is nice, too.