The first time he saw Steve’s the two of them were in the kitchen. Calling it ‘the’ kitchen was probably a misnomer - there were lots of kitchens in Avengers Tower, but in the two weeks since he had arrived at the Manhattan skyscraper he hadn’t left Steve’s apartment so, for now, Steve’s kitchen was the kitchen.
Steve was frying eggs on the stove while Bucky watched from his spot leaning against a wall. He noticed the words then, tucked into the crook of Steve’s right elbow. Those are new, he thought. It was hard sometimes, sorting out which memories were real, especially the ones from his previous life that Hydra had tried so hard to erase, but he was pretty confident that Steve hadn’t had that particular set of words when he knew him before.
He leaned over to peer at the mark more closely. “Hey…Capsicle?”
Steve turned to look at him, smiling, as he always did when Bucky managed to say anything more than a curt ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but also a bit confused. “What did you say, Buck?
Bucky grunted and gestured at Steve’s arm; talking was still hard, and anyways Steve usually knew what he meant. Steve looked at where Bucky was pointing and laughed. “Oh hah yeah, that’s from Tony, he gives strange ones. Honestly it could be a lot worse, just ask Natasha sometime.”
Bucky nodded and went back to leaning against the wall. Steve resumed his cooking, but a hand came up to rub at his shoulder briefly. Bucky frowned, knowing that used to be his spot, where the golden words he spoke as a child sat. They faded sometime while Steve was in the ice, while Bucky was being turned into a different person entirely. Bucky rubbed at the spot on his chest where Steve’s ‘I’m here for you, Buck’ had appeared just a few days earlier. He wasn’t ready to give Steve new words yet, but having his mark made it a little easier to think he would be some day.
As the weeks went on he left his self-imposed exile and explored more of the tower, although he was still wary and tense more often than not. He had begun to interact with the other Avengers sometimes, which is how he wound up on this particular day sharing a training room with Natasha. She had offered to spar with him, but, no, he didn’t quite trust himself enough to do that yet. Thankfully, she accepted his ‘No, thanks’ without any pressure to discuss the issue. Bucky liked that about Natasha. He liked a lot of things about Natasha actually, including the way she had shrugged off his apologies for shooting her.
“Avengers house rule number one,” she had stated, “it doesn’t count if you were brain washed.” He had thought her eyes had slid to Clint in that moment but if any of the, admittedly hazy, memories he kept getting were accurate then he had to wonder if she was talking about herself.
They had been doing their separate exercises for a half hour before he remembered the comment Steve had said about Natasha’s mark. It was another half hour before he managed to bring it up.
“Um…” On the other side of the room Natasha turned and looked at him expectantly. “Um…Steve said…you…he said to ask about your mark? From Stark? It’s….strange?” Natasha smirked and pulled up her shirt, exposing her stomach which was almost completely covered in writing. Bucky walked closer and examined the scrawling script.
Look, you've got to stop hiding knives all over the place. I mean, trust me, I love it when you freak out our guests by seemingly pulling them out of thin air, but I keep finding them in our cereal boxes which can't be safe and why are you grinning like that?
By the he got to the end Bucky’s eyebrows were nearly to his hairline and Natasha’s smirk had continued to grow. “He talked for so long that I actually started to feel the words coming in before he had finished.” Marks forming always burned just a little bit. They also usually came in a few seconds after the speaker was done talking, but clearly that wasn’t always the case. After now having spent some time around Stark it didn’t surprise Bucky that he managed to leave such a lengthy mark.
“But how is that a love statement?” He knew that the marks rarely directly said ‘I love you,’ but this seemed more of an admonishment than anything else. “Tony’s complicated,” Natasha shrugged, pulling her shirt back down, “and we didn’t start off on the best foot. Who I was, what I did, it bothered him for a while. This was when he finally moved past that.” He was starting to get up the nerve to ask her about the other mark he could see, the little bit of red peeking out from her shorts, but apparently the conversation was over because Natasha was turning back to her workout. He really did like Natasha.
He still wasn’t sure that he should be cleared for shooting practice, but no one else seemed to share his worries, and Clint was pretty calm in the lane next to his. It was routine at this point, spending time with other residents of the tower. He hung out with Tony in his workshop, meditated with Bruce, and now apparently shot targets with Clint.
Clint’s arms were bare today, and Bucky could see several sets of marks littering his skin. It wasn’t that Clint normally wore sleeves or anything, but he did tend to be covered in bandages and tape, which meant that this was the first time all of his skin was on display. Bucky was able to pick out Natasha’s words, only because of their recent discussion about all of her marks. He was a little surprised at first that she had shared that with him, but she placed her words on his ankle not long after that so it was maybe less strange than he had first thought.
On Clint’s left forearm directly under Natasha’s golden mark was a red set of words. Clint hadn’t mentioned having anyone, and if he normally kept it wrapped up then it was probably not something Bucky should ask about; loved ones were weaknesses, and if Clint wanted to keep his private then that wasn’t something Bucky would mess with. There was another set of words, though, that Bucky was pretty sure he knew the owner of even without being told.
“Tony?” He said, reaching over and tapping at the archer’s bicep. Clint looked down and grinned, “Oh yeah, no idea how you were able to figure that out.” Sarcasm. Bucky was getting better at sarcasm. Part of the reason he had guessed it was Tony’s was because it was another reprimand like Natasha’s, but really who else would be saying something like that to Clint.
“I was repelling from the roof, trying to see if I could get past JARVIS that way, when Tony comes running out onto the balcony screaming, ‘Damn it birdbrain stop hanging off the side of my building!’” Clint chuckled as he traced the words. “When I got back inside I got a twenty minute lecture about not doing stupid shit and how he wasn’t going to scrape me off the sidewalk if I fell. Which, psh, like I don’t know how to climb a building, c’mon Stark, but I can appreciate that he was worried.”
“Is it weird having an insult on your arm?”
“What, birdbrain? That’s not really an insult, that’s just Tony, he’s snarky. Hey, Tony Snark!” He snorted at his own joke. “Ah sorry that was bad, but seriously, you should hear how he talks to people he doesn’t like. I think a lot of people assume they’re in that camp until they watch him absolutely destroy some douchebag with, like, two words. Nah, it was hard to figure out before the mark appeared, but birdbrain is a fucking term of endearment.”
That was…something, at least. Bucky had started to get worried the inventor didn’t actually want him around, just wasn’t cruel enough to kick him out of the workshop. According to Clint he’d most likely never hear any obvious confirmation of friendship, but it was a more significant sign that he hadn’t been outright rejected. He could work with that; Tony probably just took a while to warm up to people.
Bucky had been living in Avengers Tower for three months before he finally met Thor. The god arrived on the landing pad in a flash of light and a clap of thunder, striding into the team common area and announcing his presence with a booming voice as if anyone hadn’t noticed a crazy rainbow portal deposit an alien on their doorstep.
Everyone loved Thor, and it wasn’t hard to see why. He was easy to talk to, easy to listen to, fun to be around, just an overall enjoyable person. That was probably why it only took Bucky a few days to ask him about the words on his neckline. “’Make sure you visit next time you decide to slum it with us mere mortals.’ I’m guessing that’s from Tony?”
“Aye.” Thor nodded and smiled. “I was pleased to be given them so quickly, it was a good sign. Warriors should be able to build bonds easily with those they fight alongside.”
Bucky was frowning at this point, one of his earlier theories beginning to crumble. “Quickly?”
“Indeed. After bringing my brother home, I visited Midgard several times to see my Lady Jane. The Avengers were eventually called upon again, and once we had vanquished our foes Anthony gave me these words. Since then I have tried to be more balanced in my social visits, although I admit I am more frequently with Jane.”
He had thought that Tony just took a long time to accept people, but his mark on Thor essentially boiled down to the result of two interactions, really just a few days if he was remembering the battle stories correctly. It was possible though that it was just because it was Thor. Hell, Bucky was already half in love with him; the guy was just that approachable. It made sense really that he won respect and friendship so easily if he was supposed to be king of an alien realm someday and oh boy, that wasn’t something he had quite managed to wrap his head around yet. He let the conversation drop then. One person’s experience wasn’t enough to disprove his theory as to why he didn’t have Tony’s words yet.
He traipsed down the stairs to Bruce’s lab, punched in his code on the keypad and walked inside. Tony hadn’t been in his workshop, and this was the most likely other place he could be found. Bucky stepped easily around the stacks of books and tables with strange chemicals on them. He was more familiar with Tony’s workshop, but he had spent a fair amount of time in here watching the two ‘do science’ as Tony might say.
As he rounded the edge of a desk and reached Bruce, the man looked up from whatever he had been scribbling in his notebook. “Oh, hey Bucky, are you looking for Tony?”
“Yeah, have you seen him?”
“I think he said he was going to talk to Clint, something about new arrows?”
“Sure thing, see you later.”
He turned halfway around and then stopped, deciding now was as good a time as ever to ask. “Hey, Bruce, do you know…Thor said he got Tony’s words really fast…is that normal? For Tony, I mean.”
Bruce snorted. “Oh, most definitely.” He pulled up his pants leg, revealing first a set of red words, ‘I’m glad you came back,’ but then higher were Tony’s, ‘How's my favorite science bro!,’ exclamation point and all. “I had barely gotten settled in this lab before he came barreling in and gave me these. Pepper says he’s always been like this. It’s gotten him in trouble before, making the wrong choices about who to let in, but,” he shrugged, “he can’t help that he cares about people.”
Bucky did some kind of a nod in acknowledgement, trying not to react strangely to the conversation. “Alright, thanks again.” As he turned and maneuvered his way back out of the lab and up the stairs, he finally admitted to himself that he was hurt. Out of everyone in this century he considered Tony to be his best friend. Well, other than Steve, but that was different.
He and Tony were always hanging out together, talking, laughing, and he had thought it was good. Now he wasn’t sure what it was. At this point he had words from Steve, Natasha, and even Clint, and alright so maybe he hadn’t been able to give them to anyone other than Steve so far, but it didn’t seem like Tony took having words as a prerequisite to giving them.
If Tony was showing Clint new arrows they were probably in the shooting range. Bucky walked past the door that would lead him there and instead headed towards his room.
After hiding out for a few days, Bucky couldn’t take it anymore. He marched into the workshop to finally confront the engineer who was currently hunched over a table tinkering.
“What the fuck is your deal, Stark?!” His shout was loud in the basement room, causing Tony to jump. He put down the wrench he had been using to work on…something, and turned to look at Bucky, clearly very confused.
“I just don’t get it!” Bucky continued to shout while walking to him, “Everyone in this tower and half their families have your words! Apparently it takes you all of two seconds to decide you care about someone, even if you do leave the weirdest fucking marks. I’ve been hanging out down here, thinking we were having a good time, thinking that if you hated my guts you would’ve gotten rid of me a long time ago, but I just don’t know anymore! I could see you not liking me when I first got here, that makes sense, I was a mess, but I have other people’s words now so clearly I’m not completely unlovable. And alright, getting Steve’s words wasn’t really a shocker to anyone, and Natasha and I have a history, albeit a weird as shit history, but I even have words from Clint now! I’m not saying I don’t like Clint, I do, but I don’t think I even spend half as much time with him as I do just sitting on your shitty couch, so I don’t understand why I have his words and I don’t have yours!”
Tony was staring at him like a deer stuck in headlights, and it was really understandable because Bucky was pretty sure that was the most he had said at one time since coming to the tower. The minutes stretched on and Tony continued to stare. He kept opening his mouth like he was about to say something but then didn’t. Bucky scowled and moved to turn away.
A hand shot out to grab his wrist. Brown eyes stared up at him from a nerve-wracked face. With a voice so quiet it almost couldn’t be heard, Tony whispered, “Mine will be red.”
A moment passed, and then Bucky began to feel the familiar heat work its way across his sternum. He tugged open the collar of his shirt and peered down. The angle was too harsh for him to read the words, but they were definitely there, and they were a bright, brilliant red.
“Oh, thank God.”
Tony didn’t move for a second, but then he looked down and watched the red words creep across his wrist. The tension drained out of his body and he grinned up at Bucky. At the same time, Bucky pulled him straight into a searing kiss.
A lot of people had unusual words from Tony Stark, but Bucky thought his were the best.