Hot kisses left a searing trail of warmth down along his neck, teeth nipping at his collarbone. He arched his back, pushing closer — wordlessly begging for more while a breathless moan slipped past his lips. The kisses wandered lower, tasting the bare skin on his chest. He felt the feather-light tickle of long, soft hair and his fingers buried in the dark tresses, earning him a pleased, rumbling hum in response.
Hands wandered down his sides, metal fingers trailing over his hip to reach his cock. He hissed from pleasure at the first contact, followed by a moan when that hand started stroking him with a firm, steady pace. His hips rolled with the movement while lips pressed warm kisses against his stomach. There was a slight scratch of stubble that only heightened the sensations, sending a shiver down his spine.
His breaths trembled, catching slightly when those wandering lips went further and further down. There was a torturously slow lick along the length of his cock, sending a jolt of ecstasy straight to his core.
"Shit. Yes." He swallowed, the next word tumbling from his lips like a breathless plea. "Bucky."
Another smooth, teasing lick, followed by an equally smooth drawl. "I've got you, darling."
A warm mouth engulfed him, strong hands holding his hips in place, one metal and one flesh. His chest felt tight, his breaths nothing more than gasping pants while his moans echoed in the dark room. The pleasure kept building, every stroke of that tongue pushing him higher. He threw his head back, his fingers tangled in that beautiful mess of hair.
It felt so good — that sinful mouth, those powerful yet gentle hands, and the heavy, comforting weight of another body so close to his own.
"Bucky," he gasped, part prayer and part warning.
His climax washed through him, a bright, blinding wave of bliss that pushed the air out of his lungs and wiped all coherent thoughts from his mind. For a couple of seconds he felt nothing but glorious contentment.
When he came back to himself he found that his fingers were carding through that long, dark hair. He looked down into sparkling blue eyes and momentarily forgot how to breathe when he saw the tender smile on Bucky's face. A gentle tug and he could kiss those gorgeous lips, a hum of pleasure vibrating in Bucky's chest.
"You're amazing," he whispered reverently. After another kiss he urged Bucky to lie down on his back, straddling those narrow hips with a wicked grin on his lips. "And now it's my turn."
Bucky grinned back, eyes dancing with mirth. A smooth roll of their hips and Bucky let out a delightful moan, reaching up to—
Tony slowly opened his eyes, feeling blissfully sated and relaxed despite the haze inside his head.
"JARVIS, time?" he slurred, blinking the world back into focus.
"Just past 6 a.m., Sir."
Usually, that would have been early, but considering the fact that Tony had gone to bed around eight the night before, he had actually slept longer than he thought himself capable of without some kind of aid. Then again, the Avengers had been caught up in a tiring, drawn-out battle for roughly eighteen hours before he was eventually able to fall into bed, so that might have been why.
He sighed and turned onto his back, grimacing when he sheets stuck uncomfortably to his skin. Tony frowned, momentarily confused — until he remembered the dream. The very vivid and very pleasant dream that had apparently made him come in his sleep like a fourteen-year-old.
Well. That was embarrassing.
The fact that the dream had included a certain Bucky Barnes, well — Tony wasn't surprised. Who could blame him? Bucky Barnes was a particularly breathtaking example of humanity at its finest, and exceptionally distracting to mere mortals like Tony.
In his defense, he had done his best not to think of Bucky in that capacity. First of all, the man was both a war hero and a legendary assassin, and second, well, Tony knew Bucky deserved better. Recovering from HYDRA's brainwashing couldn't have been easy and it was clear that Bucky was still struggling some days, even if he tried to hide it. The last thing the man needed was unwanted attention from someone like Tony.
So, while Tony was certainly aware of how irresistibly handsome Bucky was, he had made sure to keep his involvement in Bucky's life on a strictly friendly basis.
Too bad his subconscious didn't agree.
Tony rubbed a hand over his face and suppressed another sigh. Luckily, it was just a dream. It might have felt more real than any dirty dream he could ever remember having in his entire life, but it was still nothing more than a dream. Tony had had enough fantasies about people he couldn't have to know there was no reason to get hung up on it.
The best solution was to forget about it entirely.
That was easier said than done when he sauntered into the kitchen thirty minutes later after a much-needed shower, only to find Bucky staring sullenly at the kitchen table. Fortunately, Bucky had been kind enough to brew coffee, so Tony focused on pouring himself some while taking care not to look at the silently brooding ex-assassin. If Bucky was anything like Natasha when she was in one of her moods, it was best not to disturb him.
Tony jumped in surprise, almost dropping his coffee; he hadn't expected Bucky to address him.
"Good morning," Tony replied, smiling politely over the edge of his cup to hide the skip in his heartbeat. He leaned the small of his back against the kitchen counter, feeling a jolt of alarm when he noticed the way Bucky was looking at him. No, studying him, as if Bucky was trying to figure something out. There was a soft frown on Bucky's face, a wrinkle of frustration — or confusion, perhaps — visible between his brows.
Tony pushed down his unease, telling himself he was overreacting. There was no way Bucky could know about the dream Tony had just had.
"You're up early," Bucky said, his voice low and rumbling.
Bucky was unusually sociable this morning, but Tony knew better than to say that out loud.
Their relationship was in no way strained, but they weren't particularly familiar with each other either. Bucky kept to himself and remained silent more often than not, even when around the rest of the team. Tony didn't see anything wrong with that, but it did make him wonder why Bucky was suddenly so talkative.
"I've slept for ten hours. That's more than the past three days combined." Tony shrugged. "This way I get an early start on all the repairs I have to do on the armor." He'd taken a couple of hits during the battle, but nothing too severe.
A silence settled and Bucky went back to staring at the tabletop. The morning sunshine was streaming in through the window, glinting off Bucky's coffee cup and the intricate metal plates of his left hand. Tony couldn't help remembering his dream — the way those fingers had caressed his skin and drawn out several panting moans.
He felt a tell-tale stir in his gut and decided to beat a hasty retreat.
"Well, have a good—"
"You think that yellow light did somethin' to us?"
Tony froze mid-step, staring stupidly for a second before he realized what Bucky was referring to.
During the battle — against some cloaked, magic-using aliens Thor seemed to recognize but Tony hadn't bothered to learn the name of — there had been a bit of an incident. Tony had been on the ground for once, helping Bucky and Steve push back the huge, bug-like monstrosities the aliens had summoned out of thin air, when one of the invaders had gotten the brilliant idea to fire some kind of spell at Steve.
Tony honestly hadn't been worried when the flash of red streaked through the air because Steve had already raised his shield and braced for impact. Usually, the shield absorbed or stopped anything thrown at it — bullets, knives, Mjölnir — but magic was apparently not one of those things. Instead there had been a loud crack, unlike the usual reverberating chime, and the red flash had split into several shards of yellow light.
One had hit Tony squarely in the chest, momentarily knocking the breath out of him, while another had caught Bucky in the side and caused a rather ungraceful stumble. For a brief, frightening second Tony had thought he would turn into a hamster or maybe even die — his armor wasn't as effective against magic as he would have liked — but several seconds had ticked by without anything happening. Bucky had straightened, a hand straying to where the ray had hit him, but he had seemed fine too.
A moment later their attention had been reclaimed by the battle.
Both of them had been checked over afterwards, of course — neither of them happy about being poked and prodded by the medical team — but the doctors had found nothing wrong. Tony hadn't felt wrong, either. He probably wouldn't even have remembered the incident if Bucky hadn't pointed it out.
"Uh. No?" Tony frowned and turned to face Bucky. "I haven't noticed anything."
Bucky wouldn't meet his gaze and Tony felt a sudden rush of panic.
"Have you?" Tony took an urgent step closer, tightening his grip around his coffee cup. "Did something happen? Are you okay?"
Oh crap. Oh crap. They should have been more careful and put Bucky under observation. Why hadn't Tony asked Bruce to keep an extra eye on Bucky?
"I'm fine," Bucky snapped.
"Are you sure? We could ask—"
"I said I'm fine!"
Tony flinched, a little surprised by the vehemence in Bucky's voice — and the sharpness of his glare, for that matter. As much as he could understand Bucky's reluctance to be submitted to more medical tests — that had to bring back some pretty horrific memories — he didn't appreciate being snarled at in his own kitchen.
"Have it your way," Tony replied flatly, telling himself not to feel guilty over the chill in his voice. "But I will point out that you were the one who brought it up in the first place."
When Bucky didn't seem inclined to reply, Tony gritted his teeth and decided to leave the kitchen — before he had time to say something he might regret later.
Bucky watched Tony's retreating back and held back a groan; this was not how he had intended to deal with the situation. The problem was just that his kneejerk reaction when he felt confused or afraid was to guard his secrets even more fiercely.
He didn't want Tony to see what he was hiding — he couldn't let Tony know about his dream.
Bucky, like the rest of the team, had crashed straight into bed the moment he got back to the Avengers Tower, tired from the battle and the numerous tests he and Tony had been put through. To be honest, Bucky hadn't been all that worried about being hit by a stray burst of magic. There had been a brief tingle, yes, but after that nothing. He figured that whatever spell the alien had cast, Steve's shield had negated the effect — perhaps because clashing with vibranium changed the resonance.
Either way, Bucky hadn't thought much of it, far more interested in sleeping away the exhaustion from the battle and the lingering discomfort from being pricked by needles and other medical equipment for over an hour.
Except sometime during the night, he started dreaming.
That in itself wasn't out of the ordinary, but the surrounding circumstances certainly were. First of all, Bucky rarely had anything but nightmares nowadays, and the few that weren't were never tangible enough for him to remember afterwards. Second, he couldn't for the life of him figure out how his subconscious could have come up with that dream without some kind of outside influence.
Not that it made more sense knowing that an alien magic spell had him dreaming about Tony.
Bucky didn't mind, per se — Tony was welcome to star in Bucky's dreams if he wanted to — but the suddenness of it confused him. And, admittedly, the content of the dream left an ache in his chest that he couldn't quite get rid of.
The dream hadn't even been a dirty one, which would have been more understandable. Bucky certainly had the required information and imagination for something like that — he might have studied Tony a little closer than a mere friend should the past couple of months — but that was apparently too easy. Bucky's mind had to come up with a scenario so out of his reach that he woke up with his heart in his throat and a pathetic whimper trapped behind his clenched teeth.
Tony had been holding a baby in his arms, with a wide-eyed look of wonder on his face — as if he had never seen anything more captivating than that beautiful, giggling little bundle. The fact that he had been slightly awkward, his posture stiff with nervous tension, had only made it seem more real. Tony wouldn't really know how to handle a small child, no doubt worried he'd hurt her somehow.
Bucky couldn't say why he knew it had been a girl — he just knew.
Tony had looked at him with a soft, breathtaking smile on his face, before focusing back on the baby.
"See there?" he had said, nudging gently until the girl's big, curious eyes had landed on Bucky. "That's your other daddy. He's big and strong and he won't let anyone hurt you."
Tony had placed a tender kiss against the baby's forehead, chuckling when the tickle of his beard had made the little one's face scrunch up.
"We'll take good care of you, I promise." There had been so much heartfelt devotion in Tony's voice that Bucky's throat had closed up. Whoever that baby was, Tony truly loved her.
Except it was just a dream.
Bucky knew that for a fact because that, right there, was something Bucky could never have — not with his past. He didn't deserve a family after what he had done. He didn't deserve to have Tony look at him with such love in his eyes. He didn't deserve a daughter.
It would never happen. Not with Tony — not with anyone.
But the fact that Bucky had seen it — so clearly that he could almost touch it — made him want it so much it hurt.
God, how he wanted to be able to feel that kind of happiness.
The next morning Tony woke up to sticky sheets for the second time in as many days.
He was suitably perplexed.
Sleeping through a dirty dream wasn't as easy as most people thought — the tension and building expectations were enough to wake him most times. Not that he could blame his libido for wanting to get the most out of his clearly overactive imagination, but it was still strange.
Even more so since the part he remembered most vividly wasn't the actual sex, but the sweet, lingering intimacy afterwards. Tony wasn't against cuddling, but he hadn't expected that to be the obvious highlight of his dream. If he focused, he could still feel Bucky's arms around him, sense the metal fingers threading through his hair, and hear the rhythmic, comforting thump of Bucky's heartbeat in his ear. Tony had felt safe and utterly relaxed when wrapped up in a tangle of limbs and warm sheets with Bucky Barnes, their breaths in sync and bodies pressed close.
Tony shivered and rubbed a hand over his face. The surge of longing Tony felt — to have those arms around him again — was near unbearable. If he and Pepper hadn't broken up several months ago, he would almost have accused himself of cheating.
Confusingly enough, he couldn't say for certain whom he would have been cheating on.
Bucky turned onto his side and smiled at the sight that greeted him. The baby lay in the space between his and Tony's pillows, sleeping peacefully, while Tony gazed adoringly at her. There was so much love in his eyes that Bucky had to hold his breath, not wanting to shatter the moment.
"She's so tiny," Tony whispered, both awed and a little frightened. "I'm going to fuck this up. I don't know how, but I know I wi—"
"No," Bucky interrupted, his voice soft — like Tony's — but also more determined. "You won't fuck up." He reached out, his thumb caressing Tony's cheekbone.
Tony looked away from the baby, their gazes meeting. Bucky saw the doubt and fear in him — worry over his ability to be a good father to the beautiful little girl sleeping between them. Bucky didn't share Tony's doubts.
"You'll be a great father, Tony." Bucky smiled when Tony caught his hand and pressed a tender, reverent kiss against the back of Bucky's fingers. "I know you will."
"But what if—"
"I'll be here," Bucky soothed. "Together, Tony — we'll manage this together."
Tony let out a trembling breath, his smile growing stronger the moment his anxiety began to ease. "Yeah." He nodded. "Yeah, we will."
There was nothing Bucky could do but smile back, warm and fond, his chest bursting with happiness. He held Tony's gaze, his fingertips brushing against Tony's lips.
"I love y—"
Bucky woke with a start, breath caught in his throat and heartbeat racing. He was lying on his side, but the pillow next to him was empty and there were no soft, snuffling breaths of a sleeping baby. Pain blossomed in his chest, sharp and ruthless. There was a sting behind his eyelids and he reached out, blindly, his fingers closing around the vacant pillow in aching desperation.
There was nothing there. He knew there was nothing there, but his heart refused to accept that. He wanted the dream to be real so badly that he couldn't think, let alone breathe. His knuckles were turning white, his gaze blurry from tears, and all he wanted was to see Tony's smiling face next to him.
But that wasn't his to have. None of it was real.
Bucky buried his face in his pillow, telling himself the sound that slipped from his lips wasn't a sob.
Tony was an expert at avoidance tactics and diversions. Years of practice in fleeing from everything even tangentially related to responsibility and his own failures meant that he could deflect almost anything.
Ignoring his own dreams proved to be far beyond his abilities.
Had they just been dirty dreams that would have been fine — sheets could be laundered, showers could be taken, and Bucky was none the wiser — but ever since that second night, they had taken on a distinctly different tone. By day five, there was no sex involved whatsoever; just sweet, innocent touches and gently whispered words of trust and devotion.
As if that would ever happen.
The dreams returned without fail, every single night, and Tony was slowly going crazy. It wasn't that he didn't like them — oh no, it couldn't be that easy.
He loved them.
Before he had been able to suppress his attraction to Bucky fairly easily, but now — when Tony spent his nights wrapped up in his arms, sharing lazy kisses — it was almost impossible. His dreams felt so real that he had to stop himself from instinctually kissing Bucky whenever seeing him. Sometimes, Tony wasn't even sure if he was dreaming or not until he had already woken up.
He was well aware that the Bucky he saw in his dreams wasn't the same one he faced during the day, but that didn't change the fact that he adored them both.
A part of him wondered if he should start avoiding Bucky, but he couldn't bring himself to do that. First of all, Bucky deserved better — Tony didn't want Bucky to think he'd done anything wrong — and second, Tony wasn't very good at denying himself things he wanted. If anything, he found himself picking seats a little closer to Bucky during movie nights, and that he smiled and talked to him more often. Never so much that his longing was made obvious, he hoped, but enough to carry him through the day, at least.
Perhaps he was torturing himself, but he couldn't help clinging to whatever Bucky was willing to offer him. Bucky seemed awkward at times but clearly didn't mind the slowly decreasing distance between them. More than once Tony even saw Bucky look guilty, of all things, as if he somehow didn't deserve the attention he was getting.
They never touched and barely spent any time together in private, but Tony still felt them grow closer. Perhaps he was confusing reality with his dreams — those confusing, painfully vivid dreams — or perhaps it was just the next natural step in their friendship.
Tony hadn't told anyone about the dreams he was having, and he doubted he ever would. They made him feel raw and vulnerable, as if his deepest, darkest desires were being laid out before him, and he wasn't prepared to share that with the world just yet.
He was barely ready to face them himself.
So he kept quiet, he kept dreaming, and he kept inching closer and closer to Bucky, helpless to deny himself that small pleasure.
Tony realized that he might, despite his best efforts to avoid it, be falling in love.
"Hey, are you okay?"
Bucky looked up from the book he had been staring at, too far gone in thoughts to actually be reading. Concern laced Steve's voice, matching the slight wrinkle between his eyebrows.
"Yeah, I'm good." Bucky could hear the hoarseness in his own voice, though, and Steve no doubt noticed the brief moment of hesitation before he replied.
"You've been distant lately." Steve took a seat next to him on the couch. He didn't ask why or urge Bucky to talk about it, but the offer to listen was there all the same.
Bucky swallowed, looking down at his lap. "I've been, uh... thinking."
That was an understatement. When he wasn't busy dreaming about Tony, he had been trying to figure out why he was dreaming about Tony.
Bucky was willing to blame the ricocheting spell, but he wasn't sure of its purpose. Then again, if his theory of the spell having been disrupted by Steve's shield was correct then there was no telling what the purpose was — it was a misfire, nothing else.
Frustratingly, Tony was unaffected, or had at least said so when Bucky had asked. Why was Bucky the only one with weird dreams? And why did he see the things he did?
He'd been having the dreams for one and a half weeks by then, and while they had completely pushed back his usual nightmares, sometimes he couldn't help wondering if they were just another kind of nightmare. To be able to have so much happiness — to feel that he belonged and was loved unconditionally — and then wake up alone was more painful than several torture methods he had been submitted to.
"Thinking about?" Steve urged, kind and patient.
There was no way that Bucky could tell Steve about the dreams he'd been having — not when some of them had begun to include him and Tony having sex with each other — but there were things he could admit to.
"Family." Bucky had a hard time keeping his voice steady.
Steve waited for a second before speaking, his tone soft and understanding. "You can still have one, Buck."
It was almost frustrating how well Steve knew him sometimes. Bucky didn't even have to explain the exact circumstances and Steve still knew what was bothering him — how afraid he was that his time with HYDRA would have made him unworthy of that kind of future.
"Can I?" Bucky met his gaze, teeth clenching. "With so much blood on my hands? With nightmares and flashbacks and a fucking metal arm? How could anyone want that? How could anyone want me?"
Steve regarded him calmly, his expression serious and, thank God, void of pity. "Someone will. Perhaps not tomorrow or even a year from now, but someone will, Bucky. When the time is right." Coming from anyone else, that would have sounded like a meaningless platitude, but Steve managed to give it actual meaning. He smiled, placing his hand on Bucky's shoulder. "My guess is when you've decided to forgive yourself."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Bucky grumbled.
"Everything. Because you won't let yourself have a family until you know you can give them everything you've got. And you won't be able to — not until you've come to terms with the fact that what HYDRA did to you wasn't your fault." Steve held his gaze. "You deserve the happiness of having a family, Bucky. You're the only one who thinks you don't."
They'd had the conversation about Bucky's feelings of guilt many times before, and it was no less depressing no matter how often it was brought up. Sometimes Bucky wondered why he was even trying — if Steve was right, the easiest solution might just be to give up on it all. Why struggle so much for something he might not get anyway? Why make the effort? He didn't want it that badly, did he?
Unbidden, Bucky remembered the soft, awed smile on Tony's lips when he cradled their little girl in his arms.
Bucky sighed and rubbed a hand over his face.
He did want it that badly. Godammit all to hell — he really did.
He knew Tony was way out of his league — hoping that he of all people would want Bucky was laughable — but Steve was right. Bucky wouldn't have anything at all if he kept wallowing in his own misery.
"Fine. I'll try," he mumbled sullenly, glaring at Steve. "Happy?"
Steve squeezed his shoulder. "It's a start," he replied cheekily.
Bucky hit him in the face with one of the throw pillows.
On the thirteenth night, Tony dreamed of a baby. But not just any baby — his and Bucky's daughter.
Tony startled awake, inexplicably disappointed to find that he didn't have a cooing infant in his arms. That, right there, had to be a sign that he was going insane. Tony shouldn't be allowed anywhere near kids, let alone raise one of his own.
He could handle the sex dreams and even the domestic, cuddly ones, but a child? How was he supposed to deal with something like that? He knew nothing about taking care of a small baby. He was a walking disaster and could barely keep himself alive — how was he supposed to protect and nurture a defenseless, miniature human? He was going to fuck up spectacularly and scar the poor thing for life.
It took him several minutes to realize that he was panicking over the care of a baby he didn't actually have. She was just a figment of his imagination. He and Bucky weren't together and there was no baby.
Tony swallowed the lump in his throat, telling himself that the emotion coiling in his chest wasn't grief — of course not. He couldn't mourn something he didn't even have to begin with.
There was no baby.
Bucky didn't know how he knew, but her name was Madeleine.
Arms wrapped around him from behind, metal fingers sneaking in under his black tanktop. Tony relaxed into the embrace, leaning back against the strong body behind him. He groaned in pleasure, both because of the tender kiss placed just under his ear and the satisfying pop in his spine when he straightened for the first time in far too many hours.
"Working hard?" Bucky murmured, his nose nudging Tony's ear, playful and achingly intimate.
"Mmm... well, I was, until you came and distracted me," he pointed out. Despite the reprimanding words his hand slid down to join Bucky's, their fingers lacing together.
"You've been in the workshop for hours, darling — you need a distraction." Bucky's smooth, tempting drawl was enough to cause a delightful stir in Tony's gut.
"Oh? And who will offer this distraction?" Tony asked, smiling widely when Bucky nipped his ear.
"Our daughter," Bucky replied. "It's your turn to put her to bed."
Tony let out a soft laugh. Perhaps he should have been disappointed that he wouldn't be getting the sex Bucky's husky tones had teased him with, but the thought of Madeleine was, as always, an even bigger motivation to get out of the workshop.
As Bucky very well knew, the bastard.
"Fine." Tony turned his head and pressed a quick kiss against Bucky's cheek before disentangling himself from the embrace. "I'll go and pry her out of Steve's clutches."
"Hey, Tony," Bucky called, when Tony was halfway to the door. His smirk was crooked and downright filthy — which never failed to set Tony's blood alight. "I'll be here, if you need further distractions."
There was no mistaking the invitation lacing those words.
Tony grinned, his heart rate spiking. "I look forward to it."
Bucky kept smiling and—
This time, Tony woke with a sigh. He was getting used to feeling love and happiness crash into loneliness every time he opened his eyes. He wasn't sure what he had done to deserve this, to be honest — he was no saint but this was cruel beyond imagination.
He turned onto his back, staring up at the ceiling.
Three weeks. For three weeks he and Bucky had been a couple in Tony's dreams, sharing everything from passionate, mind-blowing sex to Madeleine's diaper changes.
Tony had no idea how he ended up missing both almost as much.
Tony had never thought he would want a family. Someone to share his life with, sure, but children? He hadn't allowed himself think that far, to be honest. And now that he did, well, he was surprisingly hopeful. He knew that his dreams were a poor way to judge how well he'd handle raising a child in real life, but they definitely made him want to try — with Bucky, preferably.
Which was another can of worms that Tony wasn't sure how to deal with.
At this point, Tony wasn't sure if he could picture himself with anyone but Bucky. What they had in his dreams might not be real, but it felt real. His heart fluttered whenever Bucky stepped into a room and he felt more comfortable in his presence than he thought he would, seeing as the majority of their interaction took place in his dreams.
His very one-sided dreams.
Except Tony had started suspecting that might not be the case. The dreams had started after their last big battle — the one where he and Bucky had been hit by those stray bursts of magic — and Tony didn't have to be a genius to figure out they were in all probability related. And that Bucky was also experiencing some kind of side effects. Bucky had asked Tony if he'd noticed anything wrong the morning after, but at the time Tony hadn't thought so — having a dirty dream about one Bucky Barnes wasn't exactly a shocker.
Now, though, after three weeks of consecutive dreams about nothing but Bucky and their imaginary daughter?
Yeah, something was definitely up.
But Tony couldn't be sure that Bucky was also having unexpected dreams — the magic could have affected Bucky differently, what with him being a super soldier. And even if he was dreaming, there was no guarantee that they were even remotely similar to Tony's, or that he wanted them to be real as much as Tony did.
There were far too many variables and far too many question marks for Tony to draw a firm conclusion, so in the end he did nothing.
He couldn't risk his and Bucky's friendship — slowly growing stronger as it were — on a hunch. He just couldn't. He might never get what he had in his dreams, but he was not going to let go of what he did have, even if it was less than he wanted.
Tony couldn't risk it.
Bucky wasn't sure if he was masochistic or just dumb. He knew that keeping his distance from Tony would probably be easier than constantly being reminded of what he couldn't have, but somehow, he just couldn't do it. Mostly because Tony was clearly attempting to get to know him better and Bucky didn't want Tony to think his initiative was unwanted. Even if it hurt a great deal to be that close to Tony while knowing he wasn't allowed to touch, Bucky also treasured their moments together.
The first time Bucky made Tony laugh, his heart soared.
The frustrating part was that Tony was such a difficult man to read. Bucky had no idea if the slow advances were an invitation to something more than friendship — Tony flirted seemingly on instinct and it was impossible to know if he meant anything by it. Sometimes, Bucky thought he saw a flash of longing in Tony's eyes, strong enough to make Bucky a little breathless, but it was gone before he got the chance to ask about it.
Besides, that might just be his own wishful thinking.
By then, the dreams had become just another part of his everyday life. Bucky didn't fight them. In fact, sometimes he found himself longing for them, simply because he wasn't sure if he would ever be able to have — or give — that kind of happiness in real life.
After his conversation with Steve, Bucky had realized that one big difference between his dream self and his awake self was that his dream self smiled a lot more. At first Bucky had simply attributed it to his dream self being happier — which was certainly true — but it took Steve's words to realize why.
It wasn't just the existence of a loving partner and a daughter to spoil — his dream self had forgiven himself.
He talked and moved with a relaxed ease that Bucky didn't have, and he never shied away from touching others, afraid that he'd hurt or sully them. Dream Bucky was at peace with himself. How on earth he had accomplished that feat was still a mystery to Bucky, but he couldn't deny the results. So after over three weeks of having watched his dream self smile and laugh and love, Bucky decided that Steve was right.
It was time he forgave himself.
Bucky had no idea how to go about it, but he was finally ready to give it a try.
Tony yawned and shuffled into the kitchen, giving Steve a half-hearted wave in reply to his disgustingly cheerful morning greeting. Clint and Nat were there too, heads bowed together while they talked in low voices over their respective breakfasts. There were smiles on their faces, though, so Tony assumed no one was about to get murdered in their sleep. Or, alternatively, someone was going to get spectacularly murdered — you never really knew with those two.
Bucky was by the stove and Tony automatically drifted closer, still half asleep and vaguely disoriented. He rubbed his cheek against Bucky's shoulder with a contented sigh, the metal cool against his sleep-warmed skin. Bucky responded accordingly by pressing an empty cup into Tony's hands and nudging him towards the coffee.
"Thank you," Tony mumbled before following Bucky's brilliant suggestion.
"Uh... you..." Steve sounded confused.
"I was up all night, except for a two hour nap this morning," Tony explained while pouring himself some coffee. He took a sip before opening the fridge to pull out the carton of eggs, which he placed in Bucky's waiting hand without looking. He closed the fridge door and glanced at Steve, who was staring at him — rather rudely, Tony might add. "I think I might have gotten somewhere on improving the durability of your uniform without limiting movement."
Steve didn't reply, his expression a mix between shock and astonishment, which didn't really make much sense to Tony — he did upgrades on their gear all the time.
The sizzle of frying eggs made Tony's stomach grumble. He stifled another yawn.
"Toast?" Bucky asked softly.
"Toast," Tony confirmed and took Bucky's place in front of the frying pan while Bucky loaded the bread into the toaster. Tony took a huge gulp of coffee before turning down the heat on the stove. "Steve, you should come to the workshop later today," he continued, gaze focused on his eggs. "We need to do some tests."
"O... kay," Steve replied hesitantly.
"There's only so much I can do without seeing it in action." Tony moved out of Bucky's way when he felt a gentle nudge against his hip, opening the nearest cabinet to retrieve an empty plate instead. Bucky diligently closed the cabinet door while Tony headed for the toaster.
He placed his near-empty cup on the counter, smiling fondly when Bucky took it upon himself to fill it with more coffee.
"I don't usually miss things, but what the hell is going on?" That was Clint, sounding both confused and insulted.
Tony gave him a frown. "What? You have something against Steve testing his new uniform?" The bread popped and Tony loaded the two pieces onto his plate. "I haven't finished your arrows yet, but I'm working on—"
"No, not that," Clint interrupted before gesturing towards Tony. "I meant all this."
That made even less sense.
"All what? All me? You're going to have to be more specific than that."
Without looking, Tony took the offered cup from Bucky and held out his plate so that Bucky could add the eggs. Tony smiled when he felt a kiss press against his temple, murmuring a soft, "Thank you," in return.
"That!" Clint exclaimed. "That, right there."
Both Bucky and Tony froze.
Tony's mind whirred, replaying the last couple of minutes inside his head. He couldn't think of anything out of the ordinary. He and Bucky had made breakfast together countless times in his dreams, most of them looking more or less like this. Well, minus Clint's outburst.
It wasn't until Tony considered the implications of the baffled surprise on Steve's face, the slight touch of puzzlement on Natasha's, and Clint's outright frustration that he even realized what was wrong.
This wasn't one of those dreams.
This wasn't a dream.
His gaze snapped to Bucky, taking in his hunched shoulders and carefully averted gaze. Tony wanted to curse himself — he should have paid more attention. He knew this might happen eventually since he'd had a hard time differentiating between dream and reality ever since the former turned domestic rather than perverted. Now he'd ruined everything with his carelessness.
Bucky's previous relaxed contentment was nowhere to be seen, replaced by guilt and a heartbreaking undertone of panic. Not disgust, though, which was a bit of a surprise.
Except maybe not.
Tony realized Bucky had moved just as effortlessly as he had — as if he, too, had done this countless times before. But they hadn't, not in real life, at least.
Tony's breath caught.
Bucky had the dreams too. There was no other explanation. Bucky had also spent the past three weeks getting to know Tony not as a friend or teammate, but a lover and partner, to the point where they moved so seamlessly that it was difficult to tell where one ended and the other began.
Bucky had the dreams too.
Except now he was inching away from Tony, probably afraid of the repercussions of having kissed Tony's temple seemingly out of the blue. Except it wasn't out of the blue — at least not to Tony — and he honestly didn't care about Steve, Nat, or Clint's opinions at that point. All he cared about was Bucky and the bright burst of hope and yearning in his own chest. This, right here, might be the moment when Tony could get all those things he'd been longing for the past three weeks.
And give it to Bucky in return.
But Tony's hands were full, plate in one hand and coffee cup in the other, so he couldn't simply grab Bucky and reassure him that everything was fine — better than fine, even. There were so many things Tony could say, urgency and eagerness making them tumble over each other into a jumbled mess, until he didn't know which one to pick. But then he realized that he only needed one word to make Bucky stop looking so afraid.
One word could explain everything.
Bucky's head snapped up, his eyes meeting Tony's, wide from disbelief and shock. For a second, everything seemed to still, then a trickle of hope replaced the surprise in Bucky's gaze.
"You..?" His voice was breathlessly soft.
"Yes." Tony swallowed. "Me too."
Bucky let out a relieved breath. "Do you..?"
"Yes," Tony replied. "So much."
"Oh God, yes."
Without hesitation Bucky framed Tony's face with his hands and leaned down to kiss him. It was chaste and breathtakingly sincere, Bucky's lips soft and warm and familiar — but at the same time not familiar at all. Sparks lit under Tony's skin and he leaned into the kiss, desperate for more.
"What the fuck is going on?"
Tony decided to ignore Clint's bewildered outburst. All that mattered was Bucky's lips against his and the overwhelming joy threatening to burst through his chest. He never thought he'd get to have this — he never thought Bucky would want it as much as he did. Tony could tell that Bucky did, though, in the tender way he cradled Tony's head, and the shiver that went through him when the kiss deepened.
This was really happening.
They eased back eventually and Tony couldn't help smiling when he saw the awed look on Bucky's face.
"That was even better than in my dreams," Tony murmured.
"Yeah," Bucky agreed, his thumb stroking Tony's cheek. "Much better."
Tony closed his eyes when Bucky leaned their foreheads together, soaking up the warmth and affection he never thought he could have. But there was no doubt that this was real — this was really happening.
There were probably a hundred things they should be discussing, but Tony didn't care. They could be practical and responsible later. Right now he wanted nothing more than to revel in the closeness between them.
Tony leaned in for another kiss. No words were exchanged — they didn't need them — and that was fine by Tony. The love shining in Bucky's eyes was more than enough.
This was so much better than any dream could ever hope to be.
Bucky wasn't surprised when Steve came to find him later that day. Steve crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the door frame leading into Bucky's room, a fond smile on his lips.
"As happy as I am for you both, an explanation would be nice," Steve said. "This feels very sudden for the rest of us."
Bucky smiled back and shrugged. "I'm not sure if you would believe me even if I told you."
Steve seemed to think on that before nodding, pushing away from the door post. "Perhaps you're right."
He walked closer, stopping in front of Bucky, who automatically turned to face him. Steve didn't say anything; he studied Bucky's face in silence — as if he would find his answers just by looking at him.
And maybe he did, judging by the relief in his eyes.
"You're sure?" Steve asked.
Bucky nodded. "He's the one."
Steve pulled him in for a tight hug, his words a soft whisper next to Bucky's ear. "That's all I need to know. I'm so happy for you, Buck."
Bucky could do nothing but nod, his throat too tight to speak.
Six months later...
Tony touched down just outside the perimeter, first responders rushing past him towards the explosion site. The worst was over — the crisis averted and the bad guy apprehended — but a lot of damage had been done before that.
Several people had died.
Tony swallowed back the bitter taste of failure and focused on scanning the nearby area instead. Last he heard, roughly five minutes ago, Bucky had been shepherding civilians to safety. Now, however, he was no longer replying over the comms, for one reason or another. The immediate danger had passed so Tony wasn't worried — well, much — but would prefer to have eyes on his boyfriend to ease that anxious little squeeze in his chest.
"Sir, two buildings down, on your left," JARVIS said, perfectly poised as ever.
There, some distance from the rest of the commotion, on the steps leading into one of the apartment buildings, sat Bucky. He was covered in dust from the explosion, his uniform a little worse for wear, but that wasn't what caught Tony's eyes.
Bucky was holding something — no, cradling something in his arms — and seemed completely unaware of what was going on around him.
Tony frowned and stepped out of the suit. He weaved his way through the chaos of police officers, ambulances, and shaking civilians, heading towards Bucky. He was about five steps away when he finally realized what Bucky was holding.
A baby, swaddled in a pale yellow blanket.
A thousand possibilities rushed through Tony's head, some worse than the others. He prayed the kid wasn't dead. There were certain things Tony never wanted to experience, and seeing a shocked Bucky cling to a dead infant was pretty high on that list.
Bucky didn't even look up when Tony approached him — he just kept staring down at the child he was holding.
"Hey, Bucky, are you—" Tony cut himself off when he glanced at the little bundle in Bucky's arms, his breath catching in his throat.
He knew that face. Most babies might have similar features, but that was a face Tony knew as well as his own — he had kissed it and nuzzled it and cooed at it more times than he could count. Madeleine's big, innocent eyes stared up at Tony, blinking curiously while her tiny, uncoordinated hands opened and closed, as if reaching out for him.
Tony's knees buckled.
He braced his hand against Bucky's thigh but couldn't look away from Madeleine.
"It's Madeleine." Bucky sounded dazed, which Tony didn't blame him for in the least.
Tony could barely breathe.
It was Madeleine.
"I saw her mother die," Bucky mumbled. He raised his hand, gingerly touching Madeleine's small, chubby fingers. She responded by grabbing Bucky's finger in turn, not seeming to mind that it was made out of metal.
Tony swallowed and forced his brain back on track. "Uh, is she okay? Did the paramedics—"
"Yeah, they looked her over." Bucky's smile was achingly soft. "She's fine."
"Okay. Good. That's good." Tony took a slow breath. He couldn't help that his hand strayed, his thumb stroking reverently over Madeleine's forehead. As much as he didn't want to speak the words he was about to say next, he knew he had to. "She's not ours, James."
"I know." There was a slight quiver to Bucky's voice and Tony could tell that Bucky was fighting an urge to hug Madeleine to his chest.
Tony's heart nearly broke at the sight — at the desperate longing in Bucky's eyes.
Tony didn't dare to ask why Madeleine was there — how on earth they had managed to dream about raising a baby together and then somehow found her — but he knew better than to let the opportunity go. He didn't believe in fate, but he did believe in making his own future and shaping it into what he wanted it to be.
It was clear what Bucky wanted, and after weeks of dreaming about it and longing for it — so did Tony.
"We can look into it," he offered gently. "If her mother died there's a chance that..." Finishing the sentence would have been disrespectful to Madeleine's newly deceased mother, but at the same time Tony hoped she would have felt comforted knowing that there was someone who wanted to take care of her daughter when she no longer could.
They would adopt Madeleine in a heartbeat.
Tony swallowed. "There are legal issues and proper channels we have to go through and forms to fill in and—"
"Yes," Bucky whispered, finally looking up at Tony, his expression as close to pleading as Tony had ever seen it. "Please."
After a calming breath Tony managed to smile, gently bumping his forehead against Bucky's. "Okay," he said, voice low in the narrow space between them. "We'll try."
Bucky closed his eyes and nodded mutely, clearly trying to curb his emotions. Tony reached out, his fingers carding through Bucky's hair.
"Sssh. It's okay." He kissed Bucky's temple, hearing the slight hitch in Bucky's breath and noticing the tremble in his shoulders. "It's okay. We'll look into it — I promise."
Bucky nodded again, with a hint of desperation this time, but Tony knew it was mostly due to hope. Somehow, they had found Madeleine. And maybe, just maybe, she could be theirs. Tony had never thought they would be that lucky, but he wasn't going to hesitate now that they were given the chance.
She wasn't their daughter, but depending on the circumstances, perhaps she could be.
Four months later, she was, and Tony would never forget the look on Bucky's face when he held little Madeleine Stark for the first time — or his own breathtaking joy, for that matter.
"So much better than my dreams," Tony mumbled reverently, Madeleine's tiny fingers squeezing one of his.
"Yeah, definitely," Bucky agreed, sounding just as awed as Tony. "So much better."