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The Future Ain't What It Used to Be

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Prologue: April 20th

Bucky is warm.

It’s the first thing he becomes aware of as he slowly drags himself back into consciousness; that he isn’t cold anymore. He can’t remember the last time he was really, truly warm. Not while tracking through snowy forests with a 30 pound pack on his back, or during rainy days spent crouched in muddy trenches, or strapped to that damned table in that godforsaken HYDRA hellhole. Certainly not on the train, clinging to freezing metal with numb fingers, or while falling, falling, falling, before being swallowed whole by pain, surrounded by endless, suffocating darkness.

But now, Bucky is warm. Warm, dry, and unexpectedly comfortable. He’s lying on something that’s much too soft to be his old, mouldy bedroll, and the sharp, slightly tangy scent of disinfectant is hanging in the air, a welcome change from the smell of damp earth, and sweaty soldiers that Bucky has grown accustomed to over his years in the service.

A hospital, then. Blinking open his eyes turns out to be a herculean task, and takes Bucky what feels like half an eternity, but eventually he manages, and his suspicions are confirmed; white walls and sheets, and an array of medical equipment that looks like nothing Bucky’s ever seen before, humming away quietly, almost soothingly. And a pair of feet, propped up on the edge of the bed, tapping along to some rhythm Bucky can’t quite make out.

Bucky follows the feet up two tanned, lithely muscled legs, over a scandalous strip of bare stomach where a shirt with an odd print on the front has ridden up, until he lands on a lightly stubbled face. Plush lips mouthing along to what Bucky now recognises as music—although funny, fast-paced, completely unfamiliar music—coming from a pair of headphones perched atop a head of dark, messy hair, amber eyes framed by delicate lashes, and a button nose scrunched up in concentration as its owner fiddles with some fancy looking gadget.

Art by InnerCinema

Whoever the stranger is, he’s stunningly beautiful. Bucky feels a pang of guilt at the thought, but resolutely pushes it away; what the man doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Or, more likely, Bucky. And Bucky can always blame his staring on whatever drugs they must be pumping into him right now, if worst comes to worst.

As Bucky watches, the man lets out a frustrated huff, glaring at the small screen of the machine in his lap, and ruffles a hand through his hair. He accidentally dislodges the headphones, sending them flying, and Bucky automatically tries to reach out for them, but nothing happens. Frowning, Bucky glances down at his arm, or, rather, at the place where he’s pretty sure his arm used to be the last time he’d checked.

The panic sets in instantly, crashing over Bucky in an overwhelming, merciless wave, making his heart speed up, and his head throb. He goes to sit up, but none of his muscles cooperate, weak from days, maybe even weeks of disuse, and trying to speak doesn’t yield any more success because there’s something lodged in Bucky’s throat, scraping at him, choking him—

“Hey, shit, hey, listen to me, you’re okay, you’re safe. It’s just a tube to help you breathe, you’re okay,” the man says, suddenly standing by Bucky’s side. He smooths one hand over Bucky’s chest, and cups Bucky’s clammy cheek with the other, gentle and careful despite the nervousness clearly visible in the tense lines around his mouth. “You just had to wake up when it’s my turn to sit with you, didn’t you? Not that we’re not glad to have you back, because we are, trust me, I’ve never seen dad this happy before. He’s been here every single day, only ever leaves when mom makes him, really.”

Bucky has no idea who mom and dad are, or the man himself, but the bubbling rush of words, and the man’s thumb that’s absently stroking back and forth over Bucky’s temple are reassuring, somehow. Enough for Bucky to anchor himself, eyes locked with the man’s as he forces his erratic breathing into something calmer, allowing his throat to relax around the intrusion, and air to flow back into his aching lungs.

“That’s it,” the man says, an encouraging smile crinkling the corners of his eyes. “That’s it, you’re doing great.”

The man steps back when a doctor and several nurses hurry into the room, moving away to the door, and peeking out into the hall to call, “Dad! He’s awake! Get back here, come on!”

And then there’s Steve, with rumpled clothes and dark circles under his eyes, but beaming the moment his gaze lands on Bucky. One trembling hand comes up to cover his mouth, but Bucky still hears the disbelieving, relieved, “Buck, oh my God.”

Bucky quirks an eyebrow back at him, which is all he can do while the nurses are bustling around him, then coughs and splutters when the doctor finally removes the tube. His eyes sting, and his throat feels raw, but Steve doesn’t hesitate to shoulder past the medical staff, and slide a hand under Bucky’s neck for support as he brings a straw to Bucky’s lips, helping him to a few sips of blessedly cool water.

The man walks closer again, too, hovering almost shyly just behind Steve now. Bucky glances from Steve to the man, then back to Steve, one corner of his mouth turning up into a small, shaky smile. “Dad?” he croaks, watching Steve’s expression turn almost impossibly fond as he pulls the man against his side. “Guess there’s a lot for me to catch up on, huh?”

Steve lets out a watery laugh at that. “I’ve missed you so much, Buck,” he says, voice trembling. Bucky holds up his hand, and Steve immediately takes it, squeezing it softly, mindful of the IV needle. Then he turns his head to press a kiss to the side of the man’s head, before looking back at Bucky, sounding proud as he declares, “Buck, this is my son, Tony.”

“Hi, Tony,” Bucky slurs through a yawn, sluggishly blinking up at Tony. The stress and excitement of the last couple of minutes seem to be catching up with him, exhaustion setting in now that the adrenalin is leaving his system again. “‘S good to meet ya.”

There’s colour high in Tony’s cheeks, and he ducks his head a little, biting his bottom lip. “Hey, Bucky.”

It’s only when Steve says, “You can go back to sleep, Buck. I’ll be here when you wake up again,” that Bucky manages to tear his gaze away from Tony.

“Okay,” he mumbles quietly, and takes one last quick, curious look at Tony, before closing his eyes.

Bucky falls asleep again to the sound of Steve and Tony talking quietly among themselves, hand still clasped in Steve’s, and feeling safe, comfortable, and warm.


Part I: May 29th

Bucky kicks the door shut behind himself with a tired sigh, toes off his shoes, and drops his gym bag by the stairs to the laundry room to be dealt with later. He rolls his shoulders, grimacing at the twinge in his left one, and starts rubbing at it as he makes his way into the kitchen, where he turns on the coffee machine before hopping onto the counter to wait for his mug to fill.

PT always takes a lot out of Bucky, physically as well as mentally. More often than not, he leaves his therapist’s office angry with his body's new limitations. He’s lucky to have whatever bastardised version of the serum Zola had decided to experiment on him with, Bucky knows that, lucky to even be alive, but he can’t help but feel frustrated. He has lost his dominant hand, which means he has to relearn a lot of basic tasks such as writing, tying his shoes, and eating without dropping half of what's on his fork like he’s five years old all over again. The muscle loss doesn't help, either. The doctors are confident that, with enough therapy and the help of the serum, Bucky will regain his former, post-Zola strength, but for now, Bucky's constantly exhausted, yet simultaneously always on edge, jittery and hyperaware of his surroundings.

His psychiatrist has prescribed him a somewhat staggering amount of pills for something she’d referred to as posttraumatic stress disorder, using a lot of medical jargon Bucky can’t remember—he’s still trying to wrap his head around the fact that he’s being treated, instead of being locked away for having lost his marbles—and they are, as far as Bucky can tell, doing what they’re supposed to do, but the thoughts, the doubts still manage to creep to the surface every now and again.

He feels completely displaced here in what, for him, still seems like a future right out of one of the pulp novels he used to spend his hard-earned savings on as a kid. Steve does what he can to support Bucky in his recovery, but being a commander at SHIELD, the former SSR, is a demanding job, and an important one. Peggy, as the director, is home even less, and as much as Bucky admires her intelligence and her fierce nature, he doesn’t feel comfortable leaning on her so much. He barely knows her, after all, and he doesn’t want to intrude on the rare evenings Peggy and Steve are able to spend together, just the two of them. Mr and Mrs Jarvis are always around somewhere, and they’ve both repeatedly told Bucky to let them know if he should need anything at all, but the idea of having servants is too foreign to Bucky to accept their offer. Or stop doing his own dishes. He’s mostly stopped breaking them, too.

Sighing, Bucky hops back down to the floor, and gets out the can of whipped cream, spraying a portion directly into his mouth before adding some to his coffee. The cream he puts back in the fridge, taking a banana and a bar of chocolate while he’s got it open, and stuffing them in the pocket of his sweats so he’s got his hand free for the mug.

Satisfied with his choice of snack, Bucky makes his way upstairs to the library, where he spends most of his free afternoons catching up on the last four decades. In the three weeks since his release from the hospital, he’s mostly read up on history and politics, interspersed with some fiction whenever things had gotten too serious, or too overwhelming to handle. Reading about Steve dying, even if it obviously didn’t stick, had been especially hard, and while Bucky’d never been particularly close to, or fond of Howard, he’s glad for his determination and stubbornness. Without him, SHIELD would have stopped looking for Steve’s presumed body long before Howard had, accidentally, stumbled over the downed Valkyrie in ‘65, and, inadvertently, stopped HYDRA from spreading further through SHIELD’s ranks, and eventually infest the whole organisation. He’d paid with his life for getting a still unconscious Steve to safety when the majority of the rescue crew had turned out to be working undercover for HYDRA, trying to get their greedy hands on a vulnerable Captain America, leaving behind a soon-to-be mother and unborn child.

Not everything’s all bad, though. Steve’s with Peggy, and they’re as endearingly happy and in love as they look in the photos of their wedding almost twenty years ago. The whole affair had been quite scandalous, Peggy confided in Bucky one evening over some shared kirsch, looking very pleased with herself. Having a child out of wedlock with the notorious playboy Howard Stark because she’d wanted a child without the usual romantic commitment had, apparently, caused a small revolution within SHIELD; according to Peggy, several high-ranking members had threatened to quit if Peggy did not step down as co-director, but few actually did it after both Peggy and Howard refused to react to their, as Peggy called it, childish tantrum. None of them had had the guts to accept Peggy’s invitation to her and Steve’s wedding later that year.

The story never fails to amuse Bucky, and he nearly misses the muffled grunt as he opens the door to the library. Frowning, Bucky pauses, not sure if he’d heard right until there’s a thud of something hitting a wall, a hiss, and a breathless, “Fuck, Ty, give me a moment.”

“Don’t be like that,” comes another voice, cruelly coaxing in a way that instantly raises Bucky’s hackles. “Hold still, just—yeah, that’s it, baby, take it.”

Bucky is moving before he’s made the conscious decision to do so, following the sounds deeper into the library, to the corner with the couches and the old oak desk. The desk Tony is currently bent over, his eyes screwed shut, his teeth gritted, and his pants hastily shoved just beneath his ass to allow the man behind him access.

The two spring apart when Bucky puts his mug down on one of the side tables a little louder than strictly necessary. Tony pales, then groans when the other man pulls out of him, and shoves himself off him hard enough to rock Tony forward, and make him smack his chin against the desk before he can catch himself.

“You said no one would be here,” the man—Ty, Tony’d called him—sneers angrily as he does up his pants. “Shit.”

Ty shoulders past Bucky, rushing out of the room without a backwards glance. Bucky watches to make sure he's really gone before turning back to Tony, just in time to see Tony wince as he straightens up, and fixes his own clothes. His lip is bleeding where he must have bitten it, and before he pulls his shirt down, Bucky spots several bruises on his hips, too dark to be from what Bucky’s just been witness to.

“Sorry about this.” Tony clears his throat, and wraps his arms around his stomach. “I thought you had therapy.”

“Switched to an earlier appointment,” Bucky says, shrugging awkwardly. Unsure where to go from here, he asks, “Are you okay?”

Tony’s eyes, previously fixed on his shoes, snap up to Bucky’s face, searching it anxiously. “Don’t tell mom and dad,” he says, instead of answering. “Please, I—please don’t tell them.”

The fear in Tony’s expression is depressingly, painfully familiar, and the confession, a simple, “I’m queer, too,” is on the tip of Bucky’s tongue, but that’s as far as it gets. Bucky has never, in all the years he’s known, said it out loud, not once. It’s always been too dangerous, wrong and filthy, and words had never been necessary. Wink at the right person, slip the man at the door a few cents, bat your lashes at the rich fellas in the swanky suits down at the club, unbutton your shirt to reveal a teasing hint of collarbone; Bucky knows how to show it, not how to say it. Even though part of him, the part that’s read about riots and revolutions and marches, wants to tell. To take the plunge if it means there’s someone who understands, really understands, waiting for him when he comes back up for air.

“Barnes,” Tony says, a definite hint of panic to his voice now. “Bucky. They can’t know that I’m—that—”

“I won’t tell,” is what comes out of Bucky’s mouth. That, and nothing more.

Tony sucks his bottom lip between his teeth, hesitating for a moment before he nods. “Thanks,” he mumbles, and then he bolts, leaving Bucky standing there, palm sweaty, and heart hammering.

So close. Bucky’d come so close to actually admitting it. Shaking himself, he picks his mug back up, and retreats back to his own room. His hand is trembling, and his mind is reeling, his thoughts stumbling all over themselves, buzzing around in his head like a swarm of angry, very confused bees. Knowing he won’t get any reading done in this state, Bucky grabs his stash of not therapist recommended medication, slings his favourite blanket over his shoulder, and climbs out his bedroom window onto the small porch roof. The cannabis doesn’t do nearly as much for him as it used to, but he still likes it, the way it makes his brain slow down, and everything go soft and fuzzy around the edges.

And it’s not as if the tobacco will screw up his lungs, which Steve tells him is actually a thing for regular folks. Smoking’s unhealthy, and people like Bucky are taking to the streets for the right to suck cock. The future’s fucking weird.

Bucky dozes off eventually, relaxed, and snuggled into his blanket, using the late afternoon sun for warmth. When he wakes up again, it’s to insistent knocking on his door. Yawning, Bucky heaves himself back through the window, rubbing at his eyes as he pads across the room to see who needs him for what. Tony standing out in the hall, freshly showered but still visibly shaken, is not what he expects.

“Look, I know you said you wouldn’t tell them, and it’s not like I don’t believe you, because I do, I swear, but this—this thing? It’s nothing, okay?” Tony babbles, fast enough that it takes Bucky a couple of seconds to catch up. “It’s not like I don’t like women, I like them just fine, they’re great, and I’ll settle down with one, that’s what you do, but really, that’s just another reason why no one needs to know about Ty and me.”

“Tony, I meant it, I won’t—”

“Because it would ruin them, it totally would,” Tony continues, agitatedly running his hands through his already messy hair. “They’re military, government. Can you imagine what it’d do to their reputations if it came out that their son is a fucking freak? I—I can’t do that to them, I can’t.” He takes a deep, much needed breath, then adds, quieter, “They deserve better than m—than that.”

That effectively puts a damper on Bucky’s high. Jeopardising Steve’s career, his happiness, is the last thing Bucky wants to do. “I get it,” he says, but that doesn’t feel right. Doesn't feel like enough. “I don’t care who you sleep with, ‘m not judgin’ you or anythin’ like that. As long as you're happy, and, uh, safe.”

It’s a clumsy, and entirely transparent attempt at asking if Tony’s using protection, but Bucky powers through it. That Ty guy doesn't seem like the most caring person, and Bucky isn’t going to forget what he saw in the library earlier, or any of the headlines about the ‘gay plague’ and people dying by the dozens any time soon. There's some more, less prejudiced information about HIV in some of the SHIELD files Bucky’s pretty sure Peggy shouldn't allow him to peek through, but none of it is particularly good news. And Tony is Stevie’s kid, for crying out loud, he’s basically family. Bucky can’t not worry about him.

“It’s fine, we're exclusive,” Tony blurts, then looks mortified about having divulged even that much. Bucky considers pointing out that that’s the exact opposite of what Tony said a minute ago, but lets it drop when he senses that Tony’s gearing up to say more. “Ty isn’t always like that, you know. He usually isn't. He’s just been under a lot of stress lately, but, I mean, he made time to come see me for my birthday, even though he's super busy, so yeah.”

Tony’s acting too defensive for that to be entirely true, especially coupled with the evidence Bucky’s seen first hand. But, then again, Bucky and Tony have exchanged a total of maybe ten sentences before today, and it’s obvious from the way Tony’s chin is jutted out stubbornly that he’s not going to react well if Bucky calls him out on that. So, instead, Bucky focuses on something that’s less likely to blow up in his face. “It’s your birthday?”

“The big two-oh,” Tony confirms, and his smile, albeit small, is relieved.

Bucky fixes him with an incredulous look. “I know I’ve been outta commission for a while, but even back durin’ the Depression, birthdays came with parties.”

“It’s fine,” Tony says, waving dismissively. “Dad woke me up early so we could have breakfast together with the Jarvises before he left for his mission. Then Obie took me out for lunch, and Ty flew down from Cambridge. And I’m going out to dinner with mom sometime next week once Nick’s back, and things have calmed down some at the office.”

“That only leaves me, then, huh?” At Tony’s confused look, Bucky steps back into his room, and gestures for Tony to do the same. “C’mon, we’re celebratin’.”

Tony’s eyes widen in surprise, but he follows Bucky after only a moment of hesitation. He frowns when Bucky clambers back out onto the roof, then grins when he pokes his head out of the window, and sees Bucky’s supplies. “Oh my god, really? Where’d you even get that?”

“The gardener. S-something?”

“Stan?” Tony chokes on a laugh, coming to sit on the blanket next to Bucky. “You’re joking, right? Guy’s, like, eighty.”

The change is startling; Bucky’d noticed Tony, that first day in the hospital, noticed he was handsome, but Tony happy and laughing is something else entirely. It lights up his whole face, makes his body lose some of the tension it seems to be carrying whenever Bucky sees him around the house. Bucky swipes his tongue over his bottom lip, and looks away, picking up one of the small plastic baggies to have something to do with his hand. “The grandson who helps him out with the heavy machinery isn’t,” he says, and doesn’t add, “But gives excellent head,” because Tony doesn’t need to know that. For reasons Bucky isn’t going to think about right now.

“Wait,” Tony says suddenly, slanting a narrow-eyed look over at Bucky. “How do you, without the,” he trails off, a little sheepishly, nodding at Bucky’s missing arm.

Bucky smiles, slow, lopsided, and teasing. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Tony laughs again, and after that, things are easy. They joke around and bicker good-naturedly while they pass a spliff back and forth between them, and when the munchies set in, they relocate back inside to order pizza. Tony is appalled when Bucky admits that he hasn’t gotten around to watching any movies since before shipping out—having a movie night sleepover is, according to Tony, an absolute must after getting high together—and decides that needs to be fixed right away.

Which is how they end up on Bucky’s bed, pizza boxes balanced on their thighs, and Tony giving Bucky a running commentary on Ghostbusters. The movie is unlike anything Bucky’s seen before, and Tony’s chattering and goofing around leave Bucky snorting and snickering.

It’s only when Tony’s been quiet for a whole scene that Bucky glances over, and realises Tony’s asleep on his shoulder. His lips are parted, lashes fanned out over ever so slightly flushed cheeks, some wayward strands of hair falling down over his forehead. He makes a snuffling noise when Bucky goes to shift away, and curls closer, tucking his face into the crook of Bucky’s neck with a contented little sigh.

Bucky swallows hard, focuses back on the movie, and resolutely does not acknowledge the fluttering in his stomach.


Part II: June 19th

Obadiah’s loud, booming laugh grates on Bucky’s nerves, and he has to make a conscious effort to loosen the grip he has on his fork in order not to bend it. One of Obadiah’s hands is gesticulating as he talks to Peggy about one of the weapons contracts he has with SHIELD, and the other is resting on the back of Tony’s chair. Bucky scowls at it until he notices what he’s doing, then stares down at his barely touched dinner instead.

He can’t put his finger on it, but something about Obadiah is rubbing Bucky the wrong way. Obadiah has been perfectly polite since arriving with a bouquet of flowers for Peggy, a bottle of wine for Steve, and a hug for Tony, but Bucky had instantly disliked him. And he’s fairly sure the feeling’s become mutual; Obadiah had snatched the seat next to Tony with a glaringly obvious fake smile at Bucky, and keeps changing the conversation to work related topics Bucky can hardly keep up with.

“What a colossal twat,” Peggy sighs when Bucky walks into the kitchen with his dessert plate, bumping her hip against Bucky’s when he joins her at the sink, looking at him knowingly. “I offered to do the dishes just to get away.”

Bucky chuckles, and grabs a towel, settling in for drying duty. “He seems kinda,” he wrinkles his nose, searching for the right word, “slimy.”

Peggy hums in agreement, and they continue to work in comfortable silence, the only noise Steve’s muffled voice from the office down the hall where he’d gone to take a call. It’s Peggy who breaks it eventually. “Obadiah was Howard’s oldest friend. They met before Howard became successful, when Howard was still living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment with his parents, working several jobs to afford school. I don’t know the whole story, Howard never said, but apparently Obadiah gave him a chance when no one else would. They’ve been inseparable ever since, so I wasn’t surprised when Howard asked him to be Tony’s godfather.” She looks up at Bucky, then, something intense yet simultaneously vulnerable in her eyes. “Steve has done a wonderful job raising Tony, I could not have asked for a better partner in this. But I’ve never made a secret of Howard, of who he is to Tony, and Obadiah is the closest Tony is ever going to get to knowing Howard.”

She pulls the plug to drain the sink, and pats Bucky’s arm before starting to put the cutlery away. Bucky prepares her a cup of tea, accepting a kiss on the cheek when he hands it over, grabs two beers, and goes to look for Steve. If Peggy feels this conflicted about Obadiah, Steve’s sure to have picked up on it, and Bucky suddenly feels the need to go check on him.

He finds him at the bottom of the stairs, Tony a couple of steps above him, his posture rigid, closed off. “I told you, I’m fine.”

Steve’s brows are drawn together, a concerned crease between them. “Tony—”

“Nothing’s wrong!” Tony snaps, turning away, and stomping up the stairs.

Bucky quirks an eyebrow at Steve. “What was that about?”

“I have no idea,” Steve says, blowing out a tired breath. He gratefully takes one of the beers when Bucky holds them out, leading them both out into the back yard where he collapses into one of the lawn chairs, Bucky taking the one next to him. “He thinks I can’t tell something’s up, but I’m his dad, for fuck’s sake.” He takes a big swig from his bottle, and tips his head back, ruffling a hand through his hair. “He’s been quieter lately. Tony’s never quiet.”

“I’m aware, yeah,” Bucky says, too fond, but Steve is, thankfully, too distracted by his worrying to notice. “Was it somethin’ Obadiah did, you think? To escalate things like that?”

Steve, to Bucky’s frustration, shakes his head. “Tony looks up to Obadiah, he loves having him around. My guess is that Obie tried talking to him about whatever’s going on with him, and when I kept prodding he blew up at me.”

Bucky must not look convinced, because Steve grins, and flicks his bottle cap at him. “I don’t like the guy either, Buck, but he is Tony’s godfather. And he’s never done wrong by Tony.” He takes another sip of beer, expression more somber when he lowers the bottle back to his thigh. After a moment, he says, “Tony’s so smart, it scares me sometimes. I haven’t been able to keep up with him since he was six. The last time I helped him with his homework, he was eight, and that was because it was the first week of a new subject. When he was nine, Pegs and I had to go to his school because his science teacher didn’t believe that he’d done his project by himself. I just,” he shrugs, helpless, resigned, “I can’t share that part of his life with him, can’t support him there like he needs me to.”

“Stevie, c’mon.” Bucky waits until Steve’s looking at him, then raises both his eyebrows in exaggerated incredulousness. “A blind man could see how much you love your kid. And how much he loves you back. You didn’t even think about steppin’ up, you were there for Tony from day one. You’re doin’ great. In fact,” he quips, throwing the cap back at Steve’s dumb face, “Peggy told me so. Two against one, pal, you’ve been overruled. Ain’t nothin’ you can do ‘bout it.”

“Sure,” Steve grumbles, but the corners of his mouth are twitching tellingly, a faint blush spreading across his cheeks. “Gang up on me, I see how it is.”

“So, that science project,” Bucky says, smiling to himself when Steve lights right up, eager to share. “What was it he made that had the teacher so sceptical?”

Something that had nearly set the gym on fire, it turns out. Not that Steve seems particularly put out by the damage Tony’s experiment has caused, no; he sounds proud that Tony’d managed to build something complicated enough to malfunction so spectacularly.

They sit outside, Steve talking—gushing, really, not that Bucky blames him—about his family and Bucky content to listen, until Peggy pokes her head out through the door, announcing that she’s turning in for the night. She steps out onto the porch, and leans down to kiss Steve, groaning when she straightens up again, and rubbing the small of her back. “Making an old woman bend like that, Steven. Shame on you.”

Steve catches one of her hands, kissing the back of it apologetically. Peggy rolls her eyes, swats at him, and squeezes Bucky’s shoulder before heading back inside. Steve watches her go almost wistfully. “She asked me to move on, once she’s gone,” he says, hoarse. “Said she’d understand if I wanted to leave before that, even.”

Bucky snorts, and Steve laughs quietly. “Yeah, I know. I’d never. She’s my—she’s Peggy.”

“But you’re not gettin’ any older, physically,” Bucky finishes. He turns sideways in his chair, propping his feet in Steve’s lap, and poking his toes into Steve’s stomach, happy to find that Steve’s still ticklish there. Waving a hand at Steve’s face, he adds, “The beard’s not foolin’ anyone.”

Steve digs his thumb into the sole of Bucky’s foot in retaliation. “Shuddup. Makes me look roguish.”

“Keep tellin’ yourself that, buddy.”



They hold eye contact for a few seconds after that, then burst out laughing. “I’m glad you’re back, Buck,” Steve says, once he’s caught his breath. “Missed you. So much.”

“Never knew what to do without me around,” Bucky sniffs haughtily, before growing serious again. He snatches the sleeve of Steve’s shirt, giving it a tug. “‘S good to be back, Stevie.”

Bucky shoos Steve upstairs half an hour later when Steve starts yawning, and Steve pulls him into a tight, lingering hug before vanishing in his and Peggy’s bedroom. Bucky slips into his own room, not really surprised to find Tony passed out on his bed, a VHS copy of Alien on the nightstand. Movie nights have become something of a regular occurrence ever since Tony’s birthday, especially when Tony’s in need for some comfort, and can’t voice it in any other way than showing up at Bucky’s door with a movie and snacks.

Quietly, as not to wake Tony, Bucky tiptoes into the ensuite to change. He gets the second blanket from where it’s draped over the loveseat in the corner, tucking the pliant Tony in properly before flopping down on the other side of the bed.

Once, during the night, Bucky half wakes to Tony wrapped around him, his damp, open mouth pressed against Bucky’s skin as he snores softly into Bucky’s neck. In the morning, Tony’s gone, and Bucky tells himself he isn’t disappointed.


Part III: July 9th

Tony’s hands, one resting lightly on Bucky’s ribs, and the other curled around Bucky’s bad shoulder, pause when Bucky shivers. “Sorry, I know. I keep the heat turned off in the ‘shop, it’s bad for the machinery. I’m almost done, though, just a few more minutes, okay?”

“Uh,” Bucky says, mouth dropping open, and eyes fluttering shut when Tony’s warm breath ghosts over the back of his neck. “I’m. Sure, yeah. I’m fine.”

Tony hums absently, already back in full work mode, rotating Bucky’s shoulder this way and that, gently prodding at Bucky’s stump. Bucky concentrates on that, on the strange feeling of Tony’s fingers tracing the surgical scars, and the cool measuring tape being wrapped around his arm, aggressively stomping down on any and all inappropriate thoughts caused by having Tony this close to him while he’s half naked.

Which works until his brain, the fucking traitor, decides to imagine what it would be like to have Tony half naked as well while he takes Bucky’s measurements, his chest brushing against Bucky’s back every now and—

Forcing his eyes open, Bucky looks around the workshop, trying to find something, anything to distract himself from what’s happening behind him. Tony is a tactile person, likes cuddling up to Peggy on the couch, or dozing against Steve’s back when Steve paints sitting on the floor of his studio, or, as of late, being all over Bucky; dragging him along by the wrist, plopping his head down on Bucky’s thigh to demand head scratches, or falling asleep using Bucky as a pillow. And, usually, Bucky doesn’t mind, because he’s a pretty affectionate guy himself. But, usually, Bucky isn’t still riled up from PT, all his senses on high alert, or on day eight of not getting himself off due to back to back doctor’s appointments and constant nightmares, or half naked.

It’s a terrible combination, and the steadily growing crush he has on Tony is only making matters worse.

“What’s that?” Bucky blurts, embarrassingly high-pitched, and nods his head at the first thing that catches his eye; an approximately basketball sized piece of metal and wires on one of the workbenches, glowing a bright blue, and droning quietly. “That’s new, right? Haven’t seen it before. What’s it do?”

He breathes a sigh of relief when Tony lets go of him, and quickly pulls his shirt back on before following Tony over to the table.

“It’s an Arc Reactor, an entirely clean power source,” Tony explains excitedly, bouncing up onto his toes. “Well, a miniaturised one. The original was supposed to be bigger, like, house-sized, but, I mean, that’s just impractical, right? So I made it smaller. Obie brought me the blueprints, he found them in one of Howard’s old notebooks, said Howard never got it to work right, and thought maybe I’d have more luck with it.”

Bucky, unable to help himself in the face of such pure enthusiasm, but also hearing the unspoken need for reassurance, puts a hand on Tony’s back, and shoots him a bright smile. “‘Course you did, genius,” he teases, making sure to keep it light, encouraging even.

The back of Tony’s neck flushes, but he looks pleased, chest puffing out a little. “There was some loss of efficiency during the miniaturisation process, but not as much as I’d expected. Once I’ve fixed that problem, there’s nothing standing in the way of making it even smaller. Just imagine, practically unlimited power without any carbon monoxide emissions, or radioactive waste, all from a device that fits into the palm of your hand.”

“That’s amazin’, Tony,” Bucky says, impressed. “SHIELD sure could use somethin’ like that. Or the military.” He immediately knows he’s said the wrong thing when Tony tenses next to him, mouth tugging down at the corners. He pulls Tony closer, giving him a squeeze. “Hey, no. Hey? What’s wrong?”

Tony shakes his head, thumb coming up to his mouth so he can worry at the nail. Bucky makes a noise of protest, and gently pulls the hand back away, surprised but not about to discourage him when Tony links their fingers.

They stand there, in the middle of Tony’s workshop, silently holding hands for a long moment before Tony admits, “That’s what Obie says. He wants me to do that, to perfect it, and sell him the rights so he can use it to improve his weapons. It’s what Stane Industries does, always has done even when it was still Stark Industries, but I—I just don’t know.” He glances up at Bucky, shy and uncertain. “Howard probably would’ve wanted me to, right? Do you think I should?”

Bucky shrugs. “Howard ain’t here. You should do whatever you think is the right thing to do.”

“I want to help people,” Tony says, without hesitation, but then grimaces, and chuckles self-deprecatingly. “It’s stupid, I know. Everyone says that. I want to help people, want to make the world a better place, peace for everyone, yadda yadda. It’s not profitable. Not something the future CTO of SI should waste his time on.”

Those words, Bucky can tell, aren’t Tony’s. It isn’t difficult to guess whose they are, either. “Don’t mind me sayin’ so, but you’re not exactly short on cash. You got the brains, the funds, and the will to try and do somethin’ good, so why not go for it?”

“I don’t trust them. The military, SHIELD. Which is a shitty thing to say, considering what my parents do, but,” Tony says, trailing off with a wry smile up at Bucky. “You’ve read up on HYDRA, haven’t you? They were everywhere, the government, SHIELD, politics, secretly pulling the strings, and no one had a clue for the longest time. The Tesseract, the thing they used to power their freaky weapons and tanks back in the war? Howard found it in the ocean after dad crashed the Valkyrie, brought it back to SHIELD. HYDRA’s had access to it for years before they were discovered, and I just—I don’t think I could live with myself if something like that happened again, if I practically handed the Arc Reactor over to the enemy on a silver platter.” He huffs, frustrated, and goes to run his hands through his hair, only to realise he’s still holding Bucky’s. Blushing again, he let’s go, and walks over to the ratty couch in the corner, flopping down on it, and throwing an arm over his face. “I don’t know what to do. I haven’t even told mom and dad that I got it working yet.”

Bucky joins him, pulling Tony’s feet into his lap to make room for himself. “Well, look at the bright side,” he says, grinning when Tony peeks up at him. “You already know I’m aces at keepin’ your secrets.”

“Ha. Yeah,” Tony says, but his smile doesn’t reach his eyes, and vanishes after just a moment. Bucky curls his hand around one of Tony’s ankles, rubs his thumb over the bridge of his foot, and waits patiently. And, sure enough, after a few minutes Tony heaves a huge sigh, and mumbles, “We’ve been fighting more recently. A lot more. Like, constantly.”

He’s obviously desperate to talk to someone about Ty, because once the floodgates are open, Tony can’t seem to stop. “And that sucks, of course it does, but now he won’t even answer my calls anymore, and that’s never happened before. It’s not like I’m innocent, I know he’s busy working on his thesis, and I get clingy, which he’s told me he doesn’t like. But,” he swallows hard, Adam’s apple bobbing, voice turning bitter, “he’s started having these flings on the side, just sex, nothing serious, and I told him it was okay because I know we don’t get to see each other as often anymore as we did when I was still at MIT, too, but. It’s—it’s complicated.”

Closing his eyes, Bucky takes a few deep breaths, and silently counts down from ten. He’s biased when it comes to Ty, he recognises that, but every time Tony opens up and offers some insight into his relationship, Bucky feels more justified in his anger. Tiberius Stone is an asshole, simple as that. An asshole who’s great at sniffing out Tony’s weaknesses and insecurities, and shamelessly using them to manipulate Tony into staying with him because, Bucky assumes, it’s comfortable to have him on standby. There might have been real feelings once, and there definitely still are on Tony’s side, but Ty isn’t treating Tony right, and it makes Bucky furious. And incredibly, possessively jealous.

“If you’re unhappy—”

“I’m not!” Tony exclaims, much too fast to be true. After a second, he amends, “I’m not happy with how things are at the moment, but you don't quit just because something’s difficult. That's not how it works. And besides, who else would put up with all my crap?”

It’s meant to be a joke, but Bucky can’t laugh about it. “A relationship’s not supposed’ta be about puttin’ up with someone. If you're with someone, it should be ‘cause you love them.”

Tony scoffs. “The majority of people doesn't marry for love. It's all about connections. Especially in business and high society. Obie was so pissed when Sunset and I broke up, you have no idea.”

Bucky’s going to regret asking, but he does it anyway. “Sunset?”

“Sunset Bain. Her father is friends with Obie, owns Baintronics Incorporated. We sort of dated during my senior year, but it was never really serious.” Going by the way his expression turns dejected, Bucky severely doubts that. “She wanted--well, let's just say we wanted different things. It didn't work out.”

Using the hold he still has on Tony’s foot, Bucky yanks, and pulls Tony close enough to be able to lean down, and hook a finger under his chin. “You’re a good person, Tony,” he says, eyes boring into Tony’s startled ones. “You deserve to be happy. You deserve to be with someone you love, with someone who loves you. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, you hear me?”

Tony’s face crumples at that, and Bucky's shocked to see his eyes turn damp, lower lip wobbling. “What if the person I want is someone I can't have?” he whispers, breath hitching.


“Tony, darling?” Peggy calls from upstairs, making Tony blink, and then scramble off Bucky, aggressively wiping at his face. “Dinner’s ready.”

“Tony—” Bucky tries again, confused, but Tony shakes his head, and flees.


Part IV: August 3rd

Peggy and Steve’s twentieth wedding anniversary falls on a beautifully sunny Saturday. Bucky spends the weeks leading up to the big day helping out wherever he can—licking stamps, folding invitations, taste tasting for Mrs Jarvis, rolling his eyes while calming down Steve whenever he freaks out about the speech he’s writing—and while he’d like to say that he’s doing it out of the good of his heart, that’s not entirely true. He’s happy for Steve and Peggy, of course he is, but staying busy is also a good way to avoid thinking about his own love life. Or, rather, the complete lack thereof.

Bucky hadn’t realised how much of his free time was dedicated to Tony—movie nights, lounging around in Tony’s workshop while Tony tinkered, going out for junk food—until Tony had started to withdraw from him. It’s Bucky’s own fault for sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, and prying into the Ty issue, but it hurts nonetheless. Not that there had been anything more than friendship between them, but now that even that is on hold, hopefully only temporarily, Bucky is slowly becoming aware of how lonely he is.

He’d tried doing something about it exactly once, after that impulsive one time deal behind the tool shed, with minimal success. Finding an establishment that catered to his tastes had been much easier than back in the day, and Bucky’d even gotten some proposals by simply sitting at the bar and nursing his one beer, but it hadn’t felt right. Bucky wants stability, he wants commitment, someone to fall asleep with and wake up with the next morning, and a quick fuck in a grimy bathroom isn’t going to change the fact that the person Bucky wants that with isn’t available.

Which doesn’t stop Bucky, masochist that he’s apparently become, from watching Tony as he sways with Peggy on the impromptu dance floor under one of the gazebos in the sprawling back yard. He’s got his chin on Peggy’s shoulder, Peggy’s head is tipped against Tony’s, and they both have their eyes closed, wearing matching expressions of serene, carefree happiness that make Bucky’s heart swell with joy, but also an aching kind of longing.

It’s an amused, “Très subtil, mon ami,” that snaps Bucky back into the here and now, and he snarks back, without missing a beat, “Bite me, Frenchie.”

Then, when the rest of him catches up with his mouth, he whirls around, gaping, and staggers into the laughing Jacques’ waiting arms. Jacques oomphs, but clutches Bucky right back, bumping their heads together. “Ça va?”

“Shit,” Bucky says eloquently, fingers digging into Jacques’ back hard enough that it must be painful, but he can’t make himself let go, and Jacques doesn’t ask him to. “Ça va? Really? That’s all you gonna say to me after forty years, you bastard?”

“Eh,” Jacques says as he steps back, all feigned indifference. “Cap already did the unfreezing act, the novelty’s worn off.”

The English startles Bucky for a moment, but then he moves in for another hug, mostly to hide the tears he can feel at the corners of his eyes. “Fuck you.”

Jacques clicks his tongue, somehow making it sound smug. “Me? Es-tu sûr?”

This time, it’s Bucky who pulls back, glancing around furtively to make sure no one’s overheard. “Jacques—”

“No one else saw you looking,” Jacques interrupts, face kind, and Bucky sags in relief. Jacques nods his head in Tony’s direction, grinning, and waggling his eyebrows. “What’s stopping you? I don’t remember you being this reserved with Henri.”

“You’re the worst,” Bucky complains half-heartedly, but offers Jacques his arm—because Jacques is in his seventies, and Bucky’s ma raised him right—and leads them over to one of the empty benches.

Having Jacques walk in on him on his knees, mouth full of cock, in a back alley behind some pub in the French countryside had been one of the most embarrassing, and simultaneously terrifying moments of Bucky’s life. Henri, the local baker, had gathered his wits first, and gently pried Bucky off his dick when Bucky’s limbs had refused to cooperate, already offering Jacques money for his silence before Bucky’d so much as gotten his feet under himself.

Henri and Jacques had started talking in rapid fire French, then, too quick and accented for Bucky to follow. But, after a few long, tense moments, Henri had relaxed minutely, and even smiled a little as he helped Bucky up before vanishing back inside the pub. Bucky’d stared at Jacques, blood rushing in his ears, until Jacques had tipped his head, informed him that Steve was looking for him, and walked off.

After that, Bucky’d been nervous and twitchy for days, waiting for the inevitable fallout, and trying to figure out how to explain the blue ticket to his mother. He’d nearly jumped out of his skin when, on day three after the incident, Jacques sat down next to him during watch, spreading a wrinkled photo out on his leg for Bucky to see.

“Mes parents,” Jacques had said, pointing at the older couple sitting on a couch, then moving his finger to the younger couple standing to their left. “Ma sœur et mon beau-frère.” At last, he’d pointed at the three men on the right. “Moi, évidemment, mon frère, et son copain.” He’d stood again, clapping Bucky on the shoulder with a casual, “Tu vas bien,” before rejoining the rest of their team by the fire. And that had been that.

Now, though, Jacques elbows Bucky in the side, and demands, mock serious, “What are your intentions towards my nephew, Sergeant Barnes?”

Bucky considers denying everything, but then sighs, and drops his face into his hand. “Nothing’s goin’ on,” he says truthfully.

Jacques hums noncommittally. “Why not? Toine likes men, you like men, Toine talks about you, incessantly, whenever he calls, and you look at him like he hung the moon. Alors, qu'est-ce qui ne va pas?”

“He does?” Bucky asks, taken aback, before he remembers Ty. “I mean, sure. ‘Course he does. We’re friends. He’s with someone else, anyway, so. It doesn’t matter if—if I, hypothetically, eh. You know.”

“That doesn’t mean he doesn’t like you,” Jacques says, and Bucky suddenly feels the urge to laugh because what are the odds of both Bucky and Tony, over four decades apart, getting found out by the same uncannily intuitive, sneaky Frenchman? Or maybe cry, because Jacques obviously knows about Tony and Ty, and that brings them right back to the original problem.

“Even if Tony did like me. Like that. Which I ain’t sure is true,” Bucky says, but can’t help the hopeful surge of warmth the thought comes with. “‘M not gonna ruin his relationship. That wouldn’t be fair. And,” he adds quickly, when Jacques looks like he’s about to protest, “he’s young. Or I’m old. Older than him. That might not be what he wants. ‘Sides, I’m friends with his dad, that’s gotta be weird, for him. And he wants to take on some high position in Howard’s old company. It won’t look good if he’s with a—with a man. And! And Peggy and Steve, it would reflect badly on them, too, it would—”

“I think,” Jacques cuts in, “that you’re making up excuses because you’re scared. I think,” he says, somewhat relenting, “that some of those excuses are valid concerns. But I know that Margaret and Steven can take care of themselves, and that you should not make decisions for Toine. Because that is not fair, either.”

Bucky sighs, bending forward to rest his forehead against his knees. The rational part of him knows that Jacques is right, that it isn’t okay to patronise Tony like that, that Tony has a say in all of this as well, since it concerns him just as much as Bucky. But then there’s the bigger, obnoxiously insecure part of him that makes him keep wondering, what if? What if Tony really doesn’t feel the same? What if confessing to Tony ruins what’s left of their budding friendship? And even what if, against all odds, Tony does actually like Bucky back?

He doesn’t know how long he’s silent for, but eventually Jacques pats his back, and starts talking. About his family, his wife and three daughters, what the other Howlies are up to these days, the lack of decent bread in the States. That one turns into a rant about food in general, and soon enough, Bucky is arguing right back, comforted by the familiarity of trying to find the most blatantly American things to offend Jacques with. By the time they part ways, and Jacques goes to find his wife, the knot in Bucky’s stomach has loosened, and he has a been invited to the annual Howling Commandos get-together, which, Jacques tells him with a wicked smile and a wink, consists mostly of reminiscing, and everyone drinking a lot more than they probably should.

Still feeling raw, Bucky takes the long way back inside, walking around the house to the side door to avoid most of the guests, only to nearly run straight into Tony when he rounds the corner. He’s about to make his excuses to Tony and the man he’s talking to, but then Tony shifts subtly, and smiles, shy and unsure. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Bucky echoes, moving closer. A weight he hadn’t even been consciously aware of is lifted off his chest when Tony knocks their shoulders together, and stays there, leaning against Bucky. Bucky places a hand between Tony’s tense shoulders. “You a’right?”

“Sure,” Tony says, but doesn’t make an effort to hide that he’s lying. He just sounds tired. “Bucky, have you met my Uncle Nicky yet?”

The man in questions arches one supremely unimpressed eyebrow at Tony, and holds his hand to Bucky. “Nicholas Fury, assistant director at SHIELD. Pleasure to meet you, Sergeant.”

Bucky shakes the proffered hand. “Likewise.”

Fury turns back to Tony, and his expression softens minimally. “Think about it, Anthony,” he says, and then, with a curt nod at Bucky, and a swish of his ridiculous coat—who wears a black leather trench coat in summer?—he’s gone.

Which leaves Bucky and Tony standing there awkwardly, until they say, in near perfect unison, “I’m sorry.”

Tony snorts, and Bucky rolls his eyes, gesturing for Tony to go first. “I’ve been a dick to you the last few weeks, and I’m sorry.”

“I shouldn’t have pushed the thing with Ty,” Bucky says. “And I’m sorry, too.”

“No, that’s not—” Tony begins, cutting himself off with an exhausted huff. “It wasn’t your fault. Just. Can we go back? To before I freaked out, and ignored you like a total asshole?”

Bucky wants to ask what it is that wasn’t his fault, but if there’s one thing he’s learned about Tony over the course of the last several months, it’s that pushing him never actually works. “Sure, like before,” he says, and that elicits the first genuine smile from Tony. “Wanna ditch this party?”

Tony’s smile widens. “Thought you’d never ask.”

With the help of Mr Jarvis, they manage to gather snacks and beers without being seen or interrupted, and take them up to Bucky’s roof. Tony spreads out a blanket and gets pillows while Bucky rolls a spliff, and then Tony lights up while Bucky opens the beers. They lie back, shoulders and hips touching, and smoke in comfortable silence, Tony’s face turned up into the sunshine, and Bucky watching as Tony relaxes, unwinding slowly.

“Jacques is here,” Bucky remarks after a while. Tony rolls onto his side, and Bucky does the same so they’re facing each other. “It was good’ta see him.”

Tony takes another drag of the spliff, snickering as he blows the smoke at Bucky. “Did he complain about our bread?”

Bucky swats his hand at Tony, and Tony catches it, still grinning. Bucky tugs it back to run his fingers along Tony’s ribs where he’s most ticklish, making Tony squawk and fail. They tussle, pinching and poking each other, and somehow, Bucky’s hand ends up on Tony’s bare stomach where he’s cut off his shirt, and Tony settles his head on Bucky’s pillow, their noses touching, both of them smiling, and panting.

And then Tony closes the distance between them, brushing the lightest of kisses against Bucky’s lips. Bucky gasps, and Tony takes the chance to suck Bucky’s bottom lip into his mouth, giving it a sharp nip before he lets it go, and pulls back a little. Bucky chases him, and Tony returns willingly, one hand splaying across Bucky’s chest, and the other tangling in Bucky’s hair as they kiss, and kiss, and—

“Fuck,” Tony hisses, using his hand on Bucky’s chest to push himself away. “Fuck, I didn’t—shit.”

He clambers to his feet, swaying for a moment, then turns to climb back through the window.

Bucky sits up as well, reaching out towards him, confused, but Tony ducks away. “Tony, what—hey, Tony, wait.”

But Tony runs. Again.


Part V: August 4th

Bucky is pacing, and anxiously biting his nails. He curses when he accidentally catches and rips off a bit of skin, shaking his hand as he casts another glance over at the clock. 3:27 AM. Sucking his stinging thumb into his mouth, Bucky walks across his room, again, and opens the door, peering out into the dark, empty hallway. He strains his ears, listening for a moment, but everything is quiet. Tony isn’t home yet.

Tony tends to come and go as pleases, and this is far from the first time that he’s stayed out all night, but after what happened earlier, Bucky can’t help but worry. He has a gut feeling that something’s wrong, that something’s happened, and being unable to do anything about it is driving him out of his mind. He could go through the address book Steve has in his office, and try to find Obadiah or maybe even Ty’s phone number, though he isn’t sure if that wouldn’t do more harm than good.

Guilt churning his stomach, Bucky stalks over to his bed, flopping down on it face first. He never should have allowed that kiss with Tony to go on as long as it had, not with both of them tipsy and on their way to high, and especially not without talking about it first. About his feelings for Tony, feelings which—and thinking about that still sends a thrilled shiver down Bucky’s spine—Tony might even return. Or not. Frankly, Bucky isn’t sure what to think about the whole thing; getting kissed within an inch of his life points to Tony at least thinking he’s moderately attractive, but Tony running off immediately after like the devil himself is after him? Probably not a good sign.

The shrill ringing of the phone makes Bucky jump, first metaphorically, then literally, up from his bed, nearly sending him flying when he stumbles over his own feet in his hurry to answer it. There are exactly four people who call him; two are sleeping a few rooms away, one is his therapist, and the other is Tony. He holds his breath as he picks up, his voice barely above a whisper. “Hello?”

For a terrible moment, all Bucky hears are hoarse, heart-wrenching sobs, but then Tony slurs out a choked, “Bucky.”

“Tony.” Bucky’s knees give out, and he lets himself sink to the floor, taking the receiver with him. “What happened? Are you hurt?”

Tony tries to speak, but he’s crying hysterically, his words garbled beyond recognition.

“Hey, Tony. Listen to me, listen to my voice,” Bucky says, as clear and calm as he can manage through his fear. “C’mon, sweetheart, can you do that for me? Can you breathe with me?”

It takes agonising minutes of coaxing and crying before Tony’s able to tell Bucky where he is, but as soon as he does, Bucky is on his way. He runs down to the garage, grabs the first set of keys he can find, slides into the appropriate car, and steps on the gas, hurtling out onto the street at a speed that’s definitely inadvisable for a one-armed guy without a licence, who’s only ever driven military jeeps and the occasional stolen HYDRA tank in the battlefield.

But Bucky can’t think about that right now, doesn’t have the brain capacity to do so. All he’s able to focus on is Tony; Tony scared, Tony crying, Tony alone, Tony needing him. The drive is a blur—Bucky is dimly aware of honking and screeching tires—and Bucky’s stumbling out of the car in front of a 24-hour diner what seems like only moments, but also hours later.

Art by Liondragon

He spots Tony right away when he pushes open the door, but the only one who looks over at the jingle of the bell is the lady crouched next to him. She’s in an apron with a nametag pinned to it, in her late fifties if Bucky had to guess, and is stroking Tony’s hair, nudging a glass of water against his hand.

“Honey,” she says, brushing the back of her fingers over Tony’s cheek. “Your friend is here.”

That finally prompts Tony to look up, making Bucky’s breath catch in his throat. Tony’s still in the same clothes he’d been wearing to the party, the jeans shorts and one of his cropped tops, shivering violently despite the addition of his leather jacket. His hair is a mess, and his eyes are red and puffy, welling up again at the sight of Bucky.

Bucky’s feet have carried him over to Tony’s booth before he’s even realised he’s moving, and then he’s sinking into the seat next to Tony, and Tony throws himself at him, and holds on for dear life. He lands half in Bucky’s lap, his arms around Bucky’s chest, and his flushed, damp face buried in the crook of Bucky’s neck. Bucky, immediately and without a second of hesitation, hugs him back, not caring that they’re in public, that anyone can see, only relieved to be touching Tony, to know he’s here, and relatively unhurt.

“I’ll give you boys some space,” the waitress says. Bucky musters up a weak smile for her, and she pats his hand. “Maybe some coffee for you, and another glass of water for your friend.”

“Thanks,” Bucky says quietly, but the waitress is already bustling away.

Tony, when Bucky buries his face in his hair, stinks of alcohol. Bucky squeezes his eyes shut, and tightens the arm he has around him. “‘M here,” he whispers, “I’ve got ya, sweetheart.”

It’s the second time the endearment has slipped out, but Tony doesn’t seem to mind. He only burrows closer against Bucky, still sniffling, and curls a hand over the back of Bucky’s neck, leaning into Bucky as much as he can.

“Nick told me he suspects Obie’s stealing from me, today at the party,” Tony croaks eventually. “Well, not only me, but that doesn’t really make me feel better, to be honest. The only people I told about the Arc Reactor technology were Nick, Obie, and you, so when Obie turned up at SHIELD and showed Nick something that looked very close to my reactor, Nick got suspicious. I—I didn’t believe him, or maybe I just didn’t want to. Because it’s Obie, he’s—he’s my—”

Bucky moves his hand up to Tony’s hair when Tony’s voice begins to wobble, threading his fingers into Tony’s hair. “Ssh, take your time.”

“I went to see Obie, after the—the thing. On the roof. I wanted to—to ask him, about Ty, and about you. Because he knows, he figured it out. And I thought,” he laughs, a humourless, pained thing, “I actually thought he’d care. That he’d help. But you know who I saw, when I got to Obie’s house? Ty. Fucking Ty.”

Something inside Bucky grows cold at that. Rightfully so, as it turns out once Tony continues.

“They’re not even supposed to know each other. Like, I know Obie knows about Ty, that he probably researched him after I admitted I was seeing him. But that’s not all he did, oh no. Obie tracked Ty down, and he offered him money. To stay with me. Because Ty wanted to—to break up. Months ago. But he didn’t because Obie paid him to stay around, to—to spy on me, and report back. And—and Obie said, or implied, that Ty might—that he might be po—positive. Obie knew that, and he—he—fuck, I—”

“Tony,” Bucky whispers, horrified, but Tony shakes his head, obviously not done yet. Bucky swallows around the lump in his throat, and strokes the back of his head in encouragement.

“After Obie confessed to the whole Ty thing, I asked about the thing Nick told me. And Obie, he just—he just laughed at me. Just told me that, yeah, he was secretly taking pictures of the reactor whenever he could. That he’d given me the blueprints in the hopes that I would get it to work. But when I said that I, maybe, didn’t want to weaponise it, he just decided that—that I wasn’t worth it anymore. That—that I was expendable or something. I—I thought he cared. Stupid. So, so stupid, I really thought he—”

Gently, carefully, Bucky guides Tony back enough to see his face. “You’re not stupid. No, sweetheart, you’re not,” he insists when Tony tries to avert his eyes, holding him in place. “You’re terrifyingly smart, you’re funny, and sweet, and kind. You’re amazin’, Tony, a’right? You trusted the wrong people, yeah, but that ain’t your fault. They’re to blame, not you. Do you understand? This is not your fault. It’s not.”

Predictably, Tony doesn’t seem convinced. He doesn’t raise any protests either, though, and Bucky decides to count that as a victory. Wiping at his eyes, Tony shifts back a little more, and fishes a small device out of his jacket pocket. “It’s another one of my projects. Surveillance. I recorded everything Obie said. Maybe—do you think I could get him to resign? Hand the company back over to me? With this?”

“I’m no lawyer,” Bucky says, “but I’m pretty sure that’s something he can’t wriggle his way out of. See? Told ya. Fuckin’ genius you are.”

Tony’s cheeks are already flushed from a mixture of booze and crying, but they darken a little more at that. “Shut up,” Tony mumbles, hiding his face back away against Bucky’s neck. A moment later, he’s crying again, shoulders shaking, and hands trembling where they’re holding onto Bucky’s shirt, but he nods when Bucky urges, “I think we should get you to a hospital, sweetheart.”

The waitress insists on giving them some pie to go, and Tony nibbles at his before he falls asleep in the passenger seat. At the hospital, after Bucky explains the situation—and manages to get out of Tony what he’d drunk on his way from Obie to the diner—they’re led to a private room, and a nurse comes in to take some blood. Tony is quiet, shuddering with another bout of tears every now and again, but otherwise impassive, eyes trained on the floor as he’s checked over.

Bucky excuses himself, taking the opportunity to go and call Steve while someone’s still with Tony. It’s not a pleasant conversation, and leaves him drained once he slips back into Tony’s room. A doctor has joined them now, throwing Bucky a questioning look, but continuing with his explanations—what they’re going to do with Tony’s blood sample, how long it will take, what options they have should he turn out to be positive—when Tony says it’s okay.

As soon as the doctor and nurse are gone, Tony breaks down again. Bucky’s at his side in a heartbeat, letting Tony curl up against his chest as he heaves in big, wet, raspy breaths. Bucky rubs a soothing hand up and down his back, chin resting on the crown of Tony’s head.

“I’m sorry,” Tony says through his tears, surprising Bucky when he pulls back, and sits up. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I swear. About this, and for not being safe with Ty, for believing Ty and Obie, and for being so stupid. And for—for forcing myself on you, God, I don’t—I don’t even know how to apologise for that, but I’m so, so sorry, I—”

“I kissed you back,” Bucky says loudly, over Tony’s increasingly panicked babbling. “In case you missed that. I kissed you back, sweetheart. Okay? Tony, it’s okay.” He cradles Tony’s face in his hand, thumbs stroking over Tony’s tear streaked cheeks. “I kissed you back because I like you. I didn’t mind kissin’ you, and wouldn’t mind doin’ it again. I like you, Tony.”

Tony looks dazed, completely taken aback. As if he’d never even considered the possibility that Bucky might have feelings for him, too, and even though Bucky’d done the exact same stupid thing, the thought of Tony thinking he’s not good enough is almost unbearable.

“I like you, and I’ll keep tellin’ you until you believe me. No matter how long it takes. No matter if you’re sick or not,” he adds, because that needs to be said as well. “I’m with you, no matter what. If you want me.”

“If I,” Tony splutters, shaking his head even as he tilts his head up, and meets Bucky halfway for a kiss. “Of course I want you. You have no idea how much I want you.”

Bucky chuckles against his lips. “I think I might.”

“Okay, whatever, come here,” Tony laughs, giddy still with disbelief, and lies back, pulling Bucky after him, arching up for another—

“Tony!” Steve exclaims as he crashes through the door, wild-eyed and frantic, and Bucky has to give him credit for barely even faltering in his stride at the sight of his son and his best friend in bed together, mouths only a hairsbreadth apart. “What happened? Are you all right?”

“Dad,” Tony rasps, disentangling himself from Bucky, but taking Bucky’s hand instead, not letting go entirely. “I—I screwed up, dad. I screwed up bad, I’m sorry.”

Steve perches on the edge of Tony’s bed, and strokes back Tony’s hair, hand lingering against Tony’s cheek. “With Obie? Bucky said on the phone to call Nick, that he’d know what to do. Your mom had to go with him to take him into temporary custody. But I’m not sure I understand, I—”

“Obie stole my arc reactor design, and tried to sell it to Nick’s department as his own, but Nick saw right through him because I’d already told Nick about working on the reactor. Obie’s also been paying Ty to give him information about me, because he found out I was sleeping with Ty, but I didn’t know that when I kissed Bucky and freaked out, so I went to see Obie since he’d also found out and confronted me about liking—about liking men, but Ty was with Obie, which is how I found out Obie’s been paying Ty in the first place, and then Obie implied that—that Ty might be HIV positive, and I freaked out more, and then I got drunk, but eventually I called Bucky to come get me because I really, really like Bucky, and I was afraid you and mom would be disappointed if you found out about all this, and I didn’t want that,” Tony rushes out, and then he claps his free hand over his mouth to stop himself, what’s still visible of his face completely ashen.

Bucky is holding his breath while Steve blinks, and blinks, and sees the exact moment all the pieces come together in Steve’s head. “Oh, Tony,” Steve says, voice full of anguish. “Tony, I—we love you. We love you so, so much, Tony.”

If the circumstances were different, Tony’s expression of utter bewilderment as Steve folds him up in a hug would be hilarious. As it is, it damn near breaks Bucky’s heart when Tony starts crying all over again, confused and overwhelmed, while Steve keeps rocking them both gently, repeating over and over again that Tony’s loved.

Trying to give them some privacy, Bucky starts pulling his hand away from Tony’s, only for Tony to twist around, and grab his wrist instead. “Stay. Please?”

As if Bucky could deny him a single thing. “‘Course, sweetheart,” he says, and kisses his forehead. “For as long as you want me to.”

And he does. He stays even after Tony’s fallen asleep, cried out, whispering his own apologies to Steve with Tony tucked against his chest. He stays when Peggy arrives in a flurry of righteous fury that melts into concern, and ends with even more tears when Tony tells his story all over again. He stays while the nurse comes in to check the equipment, and while the doctor explains to Steve and Peggy what’s going to happen, and what their options are.

Through it all, Bucky stays.


Epilogue: December 13th

Bucky mumbles a sleepy protest when the book is pulled out of his slack grip, blinking blearily. But his mouth curves up into a smile when Tony tisks at him, fingers fumbling with the straps of Bucky’s prosthetic.

“Told you not to sleep with it,” Tony chides, opening the clasps. “You’re going to be sore tomorrow.”

The sensation—not pain anymore with this model, but intense nonetheless—of the prosthetic detaching from the surgically implanted receptors in what’s left of his arm makes Bucky gasp and shudder, his skin breaking out in goosebumps. Tony sets the prosthetic aside, then leans in close, peppering soft, soothing kisses over the sensitive areas where the strap had dug in.

“Was waitin’ up for you,” Bucky says through a yawn, turning his head to nose through Tony’s hair. “Or tryin’ to, anyway. How’d the meetin’ go?”

Tony groans, and stretches out on top of Bucky, pressing a kiss to the tip of Bucky’s nose. Bucky wrinkles it, and Tony laughs, kissing him properly.

“It could have been worse,” Tony says when they pull apart, and props his chin on Bucky’s chest. “The board is still pissed at me for stopping weapons production, but there’s not much they can do. Then, after, I had a supremely awkward conversation with Hansen about his gay second cousin. Well, he talked and I felt awkward, but he tried, so points to him for that.”

Bucky settles his hand on the small of Tony’s back, thumb slipping under the hem of his dress shirt, seeking out skin. Awkward attempts at being supportive from random board members are a definite step up from the abuse that had been hurled their way for the first couple of weeks after Tony had taken over the newly renamed Stark Industries, announced the new and completely different direction the company would be going in from now on, and come out of the closet, all in one big, dramatic, so very Tony swoop.

He likes to act as if none of it gets to him, but Bucky knows better. It’s going to take a long time for Tony to process everything that’s happened; Obadiah and Tiberius’ betrayal, the days of waiting for the negative result of the HIV test, establishing himself at SI, Obadiah’s trial. But that’s okay. Bucky has his own baggage, his own hang-ups, and he’s working out how to deal with them, just like Tony is figuring out how to deal with his. And they’ll manage, Bucky’s convinced of that, because they have their family, and each other.

“I’m so proud of you,” Bucky says, tugging Tony up for another kiss. “I’m so, so proud of you, an’ I love you.”

Tony flushes, like he always does at those words, but there’s no more hesitation, or uncertainty in the way he kisses Bucky back, and murmurs, “Love you, too.”

Yeah. They’ll be just fine.