“He’ll recognize me. But that’s the point, ain’t it?”
“Exactly the point.”
Bucky dropped the tablet back onto the table and looked at Fury. “I’m supposed to remind him of his dad? Annoy him into playing nice?”
“Just a little illustration of there being more things on heaven and earth than Tony Stark has dreamed of.”
“And he tells everyone I’m alive?”
“Everyone important knows the Winter Soldier works for us. We order Stark not to tell that Bucky Barnes is still alive, and we find out who he talks to when we tell him not to.”
Well, yeah, the fact that the Winter Soldier worked for SHIELD was known by just about every intelligence agency and serious bad guy in the world. But the fact that the Winter Soldier was Bucky Barnes wasn’t common knowledge, and frankly, Bucky preferred it that way. It wasn’t important from an intelligence point of view, it was just... hell, he didn’t like people knowing how low he'd sunk compared to who he was before. So he didn’t try very hard to disguise his annoyance at being paraded around like some war souvenir. But he knew why Fury was doing this. He’d screwed up badly on his last mission in Turkmenistan (though there had been a lot of external circumstances screwing him over at the same time), and this was punishment. It probably amused Fury to be able to get two guys pissed in one efficient action.
So he was sprawled on Stark’s couch when the guy walked in. Not a bad recovery from seeing Fury unexpectedly in his house, and, huh, more attractive in real life than on TV, and he was pretty hot on TV.
Fury introduced himself, but not Bucky. A nice touch, get Stark interested enough to give Bucky a good look. Stark didn’t go for it at first, the guy was smart enough to know when he was being played. But Bucky could see the curiosity and the dawning recognition as Fury explained the Avengers Initiative.
“This Exhibit A for your initiative? You cloned Captain America’s sidekick?”
“Not a clone. The original.”
Bucky grinned at Stark.
Stark checked him out, which Bucky was fairly certain was just intended to make him feel uncomfortable. “Looking good for ninety.”
Thing was, Bucky didn’t just get in people’s pants for fun, but for work too. He was a damn professional at this shit. He let his grin spread, checked Stark out thoroughly, top to toe. A good lingering look at his package, finally ending up with his best ‘fuck me’ eye contact. “I work out.”
He could tell that had put Stark off his stride for a moment (no-one ever expected the guy from the forties to swing both ways), but only for a moment. Fury wasn’t reacting to it at all. Hell, Bucky wouldn’t have put it past him that this had been his plan in the first place.
“Got Captain America stashed somewhere as well? Wait, no, no point bringing the sidekick if you have the real deal.”
Bucky had known that was coming and had prepared himself for it. So he didn’t react at all, even though it scratched the old scars of his grief for what felt like the millionth time.
Stark was still talking. “Sorry, Fury, but I’m not a joiner. However many hot pensioners you have on staff.”
“Oh, but you have joined, Mr Stark. Whatever you may care to think about it. And everything you have heard tonight, everyone you have seen, is classified top secret.” Fury started to walk to the door, and Bucky stood up to follow him. “We’ll be in touch.”
“And I’ll be upgrading my security.” As they got to the door, Stark said, “But hey, Barnes, you ever want to come round for a workout-” Stark grinned at him and Bucky grinned back.
Taking up Stark on that offer would be a terrible idea, which was why Bucky was finding it so appealing.
In the car Fury said, “I will remind you that any interactions you may have with Tony Stark will require a full report.”
“That’s not ‘don’t do it’.”
“It doesn’t compromise any current strategies.”
“Is it part of any current strategies?”
“If we could get to Stark through one of his conquests, we’d have done it already. And don’t give me any wiseass bullshit about them not being you, Barnes.”
Bucky smiled. “Sir.”
So the next night , having checked Stark’s schedule, Bucky broke into his house again. He only bothered disabling any security measures that might prove fatal. He could stand to announce his presence, he had been invited after all.
As soon as he got through side door into the house, Stark’s creepy AI said, “Good evening, Sergeant Barnes. I have alerted Mr. Stark to your presence. He will be with you presently.”
Bucky was heading straight to the bar he’d noticed the previous night. “He say anything about not helping myself to his booze?”
“Good.” Bucky picked a bottle of whiskey at random and poured himself a generous glass, then dropped onto the couch. The whiskey tasted odd, which either meant it was very expensive or very cheap, and given the surroundings he’d guess the former.
Or Stark had poisoned the whole bar. Bucky looked at his glass. He could clear some poisons without much problem, but there were still things out there that could kill him, especially in high doses. Nah, nothing in Stark’s profile suggested he was that paranoid. And he was enough of an alcoholic to consider booze pretty sacrosanct. Someone else could have tampered with it, but then he’d be up for a fucking commendation for saving the bastard’s life.
Bucky was about half-way through his glass when Stark walked in.
“Didn’t think you’d come.”
Bucky gave a lazy, sleazy smile. “Haven’t yet.”
“This a mission?”
“Anyone who thinks you can fuck information out of someone is a fucking idiot. I ain’t on the clock. But you want to give me a spare one of those Iron Man suits, I ain’t saying no.”
Stark nodded at Bucky’s metallic arm. “I’d have to go for a completely new design with your arm. That’s too much like commitment.”
Sparkling conversation had not been on Bucky’s agenda for the evening, so he put his glass down, stood up and kissed Stark. It was a little strange to lean down to kiss him, as Stark gave off the impression of being taller than he actually was . Stark kissed him back, then unexpectedly pulled away as soon as Bucky slipped his tongue into his mouth.
Stark picked up the still half-full glass and sniffed it. “JARVIS? You let him drink the Glen Garioch?”
“You did not instruct me to prevent this, sir.”
Stark looked at him. “That costs over two thousand dollars a bottle.”
“So I ain’t a cheap lay.” He took the glass from Stark and knocked back the rest of the whiskey.
“And you looked like such a nice boy on the newsreels. Or were you just polite for Captain America-”
Bucky cut him off. “You want this evening to go anywhere, you stop mentioning Steve.” He could see that Stark was about to say something, and cut him off again, “Rules, Stark, I don’t talk about him, I don’t listen to people talk about him. And I ain’t explaining myself to you.”
“Call me Tony. What do I call you anyway? Don’t tell me it’s still-”
“Bucky. Yeah. It is. It’s my name. Problem? You prefer Sergeant?” He kissed Tony again, a little bit of aggression in there, trying to work out what pushed Tony’s buttons.
When Tony drew back he said. “Military chic is out this year. Just don’t expect me to yell your name in bed without snickering.”
“That means we get to your bed, right?”
“Of course. You are ninety, anything too athletic and you’ll break a hip-”
“I’m good, it’s just if I accidentally break you then SHIELD garnishes my pay.”
“Nickel a week. You ain’t all that.”
“I am all that. And more. You wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
Bucky knew when he was beat. He smirked at Tony and said, “Lead on, Iron Man.”
He’d expected some questions about how he’d lost the arm but no, Tony was an engineer first and foremost. He was openly fascinated with the metal arm, how it moved and reacted. “Crude, but beautiful in its own way. If I could look inside-”
“Thought not.” And then Tony’s attention entirely switched, ignoring the arm in favor of the rest of him.
Bucky had been half-expecting Tony to be less than impressive in the sack. Guy had looks, money and power, he could be a lousy lay and still get people into bed with him. But seemed that Tony took sex as seriously as engineering, and was almost as good at it.
They were fucked out on the bed when Tony said, “Not bad for a cheap lay.”
“Fuck you, Tony.” Yeah, a damn good fuck if it had screwed all the comebacks out of him. But that was pretty awful from Tony too, so he’d given as good as he’d gotten.
He got up and started cleaning himself up and redressing.
Tony watched him for a few moments before saying, “So, does all this go in an official report to Director Grumpy?”
“I knew it was one of the seven dwarfs-”
“And yeah, it does. I’m giving you an 8 on technical execution and a 7 on artistic impression. Gonna have to check see where that puts you in the rankings.”
“Eight? Tell them they need to send more judges.”
He might as well reinforce Fury’s message while he was here, see if Tony was capable of keeping his mouth shut. “I know you ain’t gonna pay any attention to this, but I wasn’t here, you ain’t ever met me. I’m dead.”
“I was looking forward to telling Rhodey I’d fucked a SHIELD Agent. I think we agreed that was worth at least twenty points-”
“Tell him you fucked a SHIELD Agent. But no names. No hints.”
“You’re a nameless, faceless, inhuman operative of governmental interference, got it.”
Bucky finished lacing his boots, grinned, and said, “That’s the job description. Night, Tony.” And he walked out.
Honestly, he expected that to be that. A great night, reinforcing his instinct to follow through on all his terrible ideas, but nothing more than that.
Tony, apparently, had other ideas.
The next morning he opened his e-mail, and in amongst the usual SHIELD garbage was one that was titled ‘Hi Bucky’ from what he knew to be Tony’s personal email account. He knew he probably shouldn’t open it, what with email exploits and all that crap. But if Tony had hacked SHIELD enough to get Bucky’s email address they were well beyond that point.
The email just said, You break into my house, I break into your systems. You going to break in again?
Bucky decided to write his report first. SHIELD had templates for everything, including recreational or accidental contact with a person of interest. It didn’t have a rating scale for sex. He would have been tempted to add one if there was even the slightest chance it would get a reaction from Coulson. He attached the e-mail to the report and sent it.
Then his phone buzzed. Text message from an unknown number: I know you read my email. Not even a little praise for such a thorough takedown of your security?
He sighed and walked over to Coulson’s desk. He waved his phone at Coulson. “Add to that report that Stark’s got my phone number as well.”
Coulson nodded. “I already ordered you a new sim as a precaution.”
“And the email?”
“It’s a potential avenue of compromise, but Mr Stark can be persistent. You may reply if you wish.”
“Still not part of an operation?”
Bucky wasn’t sure if this was true or not. He could well be being played. But if he was having fun, then what the hell.
He went back to his desk and replied to Stark’s e-mail, Only if I get the good whiskey.
A reply a few moments later, Rebottling cheap garbage into expensive bottles as we speak.
He was about to reply when he realised that he could spend most of his day doing this. Which would not get him back into Fury’s good books after Turkmenistan, and if he didn’t get back into Fury’s good books he’d be stuck on the most shitty, boring, uncomfortable missions. All SHIELD email was closely monitored, and Coulson (and thus Fury) would know damn well that he wasn’t working.
But it was completely okay to email Stark at lunchtime. Timestamp on the emails would show it was lunchtime, and he was allowed a break when he wasn’t in the field. He wrote, Didn’t know you cared.
From Tony, My expensive whiskeys and I have a long, deep and enduring relationship.
Bucky smirked to himself. Your whiskey didn’t want to be drunk, it shouldn’t have made itself so available.
From Tony, You don’t get away with slut-shaming my booze.
Bucky smirked again. Whatcha gonna do about it?
He looked at the time. End of lunchbreak, back to reality, ignore Tony’s emails until he was off the clock and at the nameless motel that he was staying in while he was on the west coast.
Which turned out to be a damn good thing, as Tony’s reply had been lengthy, detailed and completely filthy. He’d read that at work and he’d have either had to spend the rest of the afternoon with a hard-on, or go jerk off in the bathroom. And if you worked with covert agents all the damn time, they’d damn well know you were jerking off in the bathroom as a result of an email from Tony Stark, and fuck, no, that was not something he wanted to deal with.
So he had two options. One, a good, lazy, satisfying jerk off to a reread of the email, dignity still vaguely intact. Or two, go straight back to Tony’s like he couldn’t get through twenty-four hours without fucking going back for more. Option two was obviously the worst option, so he was already heading to his car.
He broke in the same way he had the previous night, but this time Tony was sitting on the couch in the living room, tablet on his knees and whiskey in his hand.
“Going to install an Agent-flap on that door. Course, you’ll have to wear a magnetic collar. I don’t want stray Agents coming in.”
He sat on the couch next to Tony. “You fed me booze. Feed an Agent booze and they just keep coming back.” He leant in and kissed Tony. Then in one smooth movement he took the glass of whiskey out of Tony’s hand, pulled back from the kiss and downed the drink.
“That was much less expensive.”
“I can tell, it tasted better.”
Tony winced. “Low standards are one thing-”
“I started drinking during Prohibition. You won’t believe how low my standards are.”
“You coming back a second night, does that I mean I get to know anything? Like why you don’t look ninety, why you’re even alive, who built that arm-”
“Nope. Play nice with Fury and he might tell you. Might.”
Tony made an exaggeratedly disappointed face. “Guess we’ll just have to fuck then.”
The next morning Bucky deliberated for a few minutes before writing his report on the previous night’s activities. Eventually he settled on one line “Please see yesterday’s report, but for all occurrences of ‘twice’ substitute ‘three times’.”
And somehow, without even thinking about it, it became routine. They’d snark and flirt at each other over email and whenever they were in the same postal district they’d fuck. Bucky never told Tony where he’d be ahead of time, he hadn’t gone completely stupid, but he had access to Tony’s calendar. Sometimes Tony wasn’t where he should be, but a simple email informing him of the fact that Bucky was naked in his bed was usually enough to remedy that.
The fact that SHIELD could read all of this didn’t concern Bucky in the slightest. Perhaps if he spent some time with Tony cooking up some seriously elaborate system they could have some form of communication that SHIELD couldn’t monitor. But it was probably better this way. It meant they couldn’t ever argue that they didn’t know how compromised he was. So whatever the fuck they would lay on him concerning Tony in the future, it was officially Not Agent Barnes’ Fault.
The nature of being a SHIELD agent meant that there could be weeks when he couldn’t even check his email. And Tony would go off the grid for a few days at a time when something really interesting or important caught his attention. But that didn’t seem to matter. It was like one single conversation, however much it was interrupted.
It had been going on a few months when he met Rhodey and Pepper. Of course, he’d heard all about them from Tony, and the fact that they were just about the only two people in the world that Tony was regularly positive about had made Bucky ask, “So why aren’t you dating either of them?”
“Perhaps if Rhodey wasn’t the straightest guy on the planet, and Pepper wasn’t the gayest woman. Or lesbianest. Is lesbianest a word?”
“Pepper’s a lesbian?”
“Apparently the dungarees are optional. And I’m not allowed to ask to watch.”
“That was the first thing you said when you found out, right?”
“Maybe. And she might have resigned after the third time I asked.”
Bucky was grinning, because he could just imagine it. “You had to beg to get her back.”
“I do not beg. I merely offer very competitive employment packages.”
From the way he talked about them it sounded like Pepper and Rhodey were pretty special people. So, to be honest, he’d rather have been introduced to them in a context that wasn’t them walking in on him fucking Tony over a table.
Though this had probably happened before, from the way that Pepper turned on her heel and said, “JARVIS, remember I told you to specify why Tony didn’t want to be disturbed.”
“Sorry Ms. Potts, Colonel Rhodes.”
Tony shouted after her, “Be with you in five!”
And that meant “don’t stop”, which Bucky was more than okay with.
Five minutes later he was clean and presentable and smiling his most ingratiating smile at Pepper and Rhodey. And kicking himself for getting too damn lax about things, to allow the two of them to get a look at his arm uncovered. Too late to cover it now, but damage control was in order.
“Pepper, Rhodey, this is Agent I’m Not Allowed To Tell You His Name.”
“Hi.” He could feel Rhodey’s attention on the arm. There were wheels turning there. He knew that the Winter Soldier’s most memorable feature was common knowledge in intelligence, but didn’t know if that held for the military. Fuck, of course it did. There was enough crossover of personnel, and the military was worse than a mothers’ meeting for gossip.
Pepper smiled brightly. “Tony’s told me a lot about you. However often I told him I really, really didn’t want to know. Apart from your name, of course.”
And that meant that Tony had told her his name. But had managed not to tell Rhodey, otherwise the attention he was getting would have been different. He could go for subtle, but they were kind of beyond that.
“Something you wanna say, Colonel?”
“You’re the Winter Soldier.”
Bucky looked him in the eye and deadpanned, “Who’s the Winter Soldier?”
Tony looked between the two of them. “If this is some military porn thing-”
Rhodey cut him off, evidently practiced in this. “The Winter Soldier was a codename for an assassin. Or assassins. Worked for the Soviets, then for the Russians. He was almost a myth, they said that if he wanted to kill you, he’d kill you, didn’t matter how good you were, how much security you had. There was a rumour he’d defected a few years back. And the one thing that the myths agreed about was his left arm. They said the star was red, but I’d understand a defector getting a repaint.”
If he’d worn a larger t-shirt, rather than one that was deliberately, provocatively tight, then the white points of the base of the star would have been hidden under it. Yeah, he’d gotten careless around Tony. Just a good thing that he was paying for it this way, rather than something fatal.
“Under Section 35 of the Strategic Homeland Defense Act, sharing any information pertaining to a SHIELD Agent without clearance can be considered an act of treason.”
“So you are the Winter Soldier.” said Rhodey.
“Did I say that?”
Tony said, “Stop the spy bullshit. JARVIS, tell me about the Winter Soldier.”
“Almost entirely rumour and hearsay, sir. As Colonel Rhodes said, an assassin and covert agent in the service of the Soviets and then the Russian Federal governments, whose only distinguishing feature was noted to be a metal left arm. Linked to Department X and the Red Room, both of which are thought to have been part of the scientific wing of the KGB. The Russian government formally denied that either agency ever existed in 2000, but most intelligence analysts reject this. Also linked with the assassin known as the Black Widow. The Winter Soldier is posited to have been active from approximately 1950 to at least 2002, leading to the assumption that it was a codename for multiple agents. Estimates of the Winter Soldier’s kills vary widely, but most believe the number to be around 800. Rumours of the Winter Soldier’s defection surfaced in 2005, in connection with an incident in Gdansk.”
“JARVIS, why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“You didn’t ask, sir.”
Tony looked at Bucky.
“What, you thought I worked at a kitten sanctuary?”
“There is a whole world of difference between a SHIELD Agent and an assassin with a kill count of over 800.”
Bucky shrugged, picked up his jacket from where he’d thrown it over the couch, and said, “Nice knowing you, Tony.” before turning to leave.
None of them stopped him. He didn’t expect them to.
What he hadn’t expected was how bad he felt. And kept feeling worse, every day getting a little more morose. It had been fun, a wild ride, and he expected to miss that. But this was something else. He seriously, honestly, missed Tony.
At day three post-breakup (because it damn well had been a breakup, fuck his dignity, Tony Stark had dumped him and he was going to mope over it, fuck what the world and SHIELD thought), Clint turned up at his apartment with a rucksack full of booze.
“What are you, fourteen? You’re getting the department down. Or was it true love?”
“Right, you’re going to get drunk and you’re going to cry or whatever the fuck you need to do to get your shit together. Unless that means getting laid, because I’m not offering. Because you should not be off your game this much over a guy. You’re supposed to be better than this.”
“Fuck that. Winter Soldier’s supposed to be better than that. I’m not the fucking legend.” Clint had opened the bag, and Bucky grabbed the first bottle, opened it and took a swig. Crappy vodka, good choice.
“Yeah, thought this was going to be a pity party. You know how long Stark’s longest relationship lasted?”
“You’re gonna tell me.”
“You already know, because that was the longest relationship Stark’s ever had with one person.”
“What?” He’d known that Tony had a reputation for sleeping around and being linked with every beautiful woman (and a good few handsome men), but Clint had to be bullshitting him.
“When he was thirty, he went out with some starlet for six weeks. Papers called it a mid-life crisis. Apart from you, that was his longest relationship. I think you’re the first person since then he’s nailed for more than one night. You got him for months. So, be thankful, and see it for the aberration that it was.”
“You ain’t making it better.”
“Less pathetic than you. When Natasha told you she needed space you were more of a mess than this.”
“So we’re even.” Clint pulled another bottle out of the bag, and clinked it against Bucky’s bottle.
Clint got him thoroughly, deeply drunk. He didn’t cry, whatever Clint said. Perhaps he couldn’t remember the whole of the evening, but he wouldn’t have fucking cried over Tony fucking Stark. And yeah, he turned up to work the next morning hungover, but it was an admin day, he could do paperwork hungover. Anyone who wasn’t him would have been in the damn hospital, that had to count for something. But he could tell from Coulson’s expression that this was going to be one of the many things that turned up in ‘areas of concern’ in his stupid annual performance review.
It had been worth it. Cathartic. And he was back on his game again as soon as he’d stopped puking. Back to normal.
That was until sixteen days after they broke up (not that he’d been counting), he got an email from Tony. It just said, Bucky Barnes has a confirmed kill count of 104.
He replied, That sounds about right. Your point?
Point, I always knew you didn’t work in a kitten sanctuary.
So what now?
Not even in the same timezone, Tony. Bucky hesitated for a second before writing the next sentence. Would rather be in your bed.
Soon as you get to the same timezone, you get here.
It was a week later when he finally ended up in close enough to Tony to drop in, an expensive hotel suite in Frankfurt. He found Tony sitting with Pepper in the lounge of the suite, obviously being hounded into doing something important.
Before Tony could get a word in edgeways, Pepper said, “Fifteen minutes and he’s all yours.”
Tony made a face, and Bucky just smirked and sat on the couch. Seemed that running a megacorporation was just as dull as Bucky thought it would be.
Finally, Pepper definitively shut the case on her tablet. “Done. I just need to sort some of these papers and I’ll be out of your way.”
“So...” said Tony.
“Are we dating?”
“You’re dating.” said Pepper, pleasantly. “Or you’re in a relationship, whichever you’d prefer.”
Tony inclined his head to her. “She’s usually right.”
“So, you’re okay with dating an assassin.”
“Looks like it. My moral depths are plumbed again.”
“I’m a reformed character.”
“Only people who need killing for the safety and security of the world.”
Pepper stood up and said, “Tony, you have a meeting at nine tomorrow morning, which you are going to attend. Goodnight.” She walked out.
“I get any special benefits if I’m your boyfriend?”
“My dick and my booze not enough for you?”
Bucky laughed. “Yeah, I’m good. But I gotta ask - does Tony Stark do monogamy?”
Tony paused for a moment. “Guess if I don’t want you screwing around either. But you don’t have breasts. I need breasts in my life.”
“So screwing around’s okay if it’s women?”
“How many were you intending on screwing?”
Tony made a face. “No, don’t like that either. Okay, monogamy but if either of us feels the need for a woman, we ask the other first. Pre-arranged, consensual infidelity only.”
“Sure. I’ll copy Pepper in if I need to schedule some pussy, right?”
“Never say that ever again.”