Tony pinches the bridge of his nose and takes a deep breath, annoyed with Bucky. “Why do you keep making such a big deal out of this when I have told you a million times that I don’t care?” he asks. This wasn’t the first, and Tony doubted it was the last, time Bucky’s asexuality came up in a context that made it into an issue when Tony didn’t think it was one. Why Bucky didn’t believe that he had no clue. It wasn’t like Tony pressured him into something he didn’t want to do- obviously- and he didn’t make any other real reference to Bucky’s asexuality because he didn’t want to make him uncomfortable or something. Sometimes it was hard to gauge where Bucky’s limits were because he changed them frequently with no perceivable pattern but he was still mindful, which was why he had no idea why Bucky felt the need to do this.
“Because everyone else cares, it’s hard not to pay attention okay,” Bucky says, running his fingers through his hair. A nervous gesture, Tony knows.
“But I don’t care, how come you’ll listen to everyone else over me?” he asks. He likes to think it’s a valid question considering it was their relationship they were currently discussing.
“No offense Tony but your sex drive has made international headlines. It’s a lot of pressure, okay? I’m tired of people asking about our relationship like you’re dating an alien and they’re doing some sort of anthropological study, or people giving me these pitying looks whenever someone even alludes to the fact that you like sex, or when someone brings sex up explicitly and the whole room stops to look at me and say ‘sorry’. It’s hard to listen to the only person who’s telling you it’s okay when everyone else is saying the opposite, hell, the entire culture I live in tells me I’m wrong. How can one person possibly fix that?” Bucky asks, shaking his head sharply.
He opens his mouth then closes it because he knew what that was like though in different situations. “Bucky, people focus on my sex life because they don’t like when I say other things about my life. No one likes when I mention my abusive dad, absentee mom, my mental health, or basically anything else that’s more interesting. My flashy personality and winning smile are more interesting than most anything else- people even talk about my sex life over my scientific progress. You know the media is biased, Bucky, it seems ridiculous to focus on a person’s sex life over the fact that they created an entirely new element in a school basement when bored.” He steps closer to Bucky and reaches out, gently squeezing his arm.
Bucky leans forward, pressing his weight into Tony. He wraps his arms around Bucky gently, rubbing his hands up and down his back. “You know that I love you right?” he murmurs softly.
“I love you too. It’s just hard to believe it sometimes,” Bucky says.
“I know,” he says, “but I do, asexuality and all. I knew that you were ace when we got together and I knew I’d have to deal with the sex thing from day one- I love you anyways.” Truth be told it was difficult sometimes, but he was afraid that if he told Bucky that he’d run off. Science was difficult for him too sometimes, that didn’t mean he didn’t love science still. Difficult or not his sex drive was something he knew he would have to deal with since day one, and even if he didn’t Bucky was so worth his sexual activity being pretty much limited to himself.
“He always takes the cat’s side over mine,” Steve says, throwing his hands up in frustration. Bucky snickers and ducks his head, happy that while he and Tony had issues they weren’t fighting over their cat.
“You know that cats are important to T’Challa and his culture,” Bucky points out. The man absolutely loved cats- more than he and Tony did and they loved cats almost more than each other.
“I get that, I do, but come on, the cat does not need to be fed with a spoon,” Steve says. Bucky snorts and starts laughing because oh yeah, T’Challa so would feed his cat with a spoon.
“Does it really matter if he feeds the cat with a spoon? He does the dishes so it isn’t like you’re cleaning all his cat spoons or whatever. Just let the guy love his cats,” Bucky says. Steve looks so pissed and Bucky is upset that Tony isn’t here to see this. He would have loved to see Steve so flustered over a cat. They hadn’t exactly gotten off on the right foot given that Steve jumped right into the ‘if you hurt him you’ll die’ speech, which Tony took offense to on the grounds that Steve specifically referenced his sex drive. Even Bucky thought that was a bit much. It wasn’t like he had refrained from mentioning that to Tony the second things got a little too close for Bucky’s comfort.
He had expected Tony to run like hell given his very, uh, active sex life according to the media but instead Tony’s eyes got all bright like they did when he discovered something new. He had a million and one questions, some bordering on offensive, but he was a quick learner and he seemed undaunted by Bucky’s being actively repulsed by anything sex related. And he didn’t think Bucky was immature, repressed, had a hormone problem, a mental health problem, or a dick problem. More than that there was a strange lack of pressure for sex that made Bucky nervous. He wasn’t an idiot, he knew Tony had a pretty high sex drive, obviously he had like urges or whatever so why the lack of pressure? The obvious answer was respect for Bucky’s boundaries but he’s never encountered that before so it made him nervous that it was something else and he couldn’t handle being cheated on.
“Bucky,” Steve says, drawing his attention back to Steve’s relationship issues, “he dropped a class because the prof said that animals might not have a personality and he was offended that the prof implied that his cat lacked what is basically personhood. This is ridiculous.”
“That prof was a dick, of course animals have personalities. Have you met my cat? His personality is asshole.” Smokey liked to knock stuff off his shelves at night and whine and cry for food at four a.m like clockwork even if Bucky fed him literally two minutes before but he still loved the cat. It was better when Tony was around, at least, because Smokey was on his best behavior with Tony around for whatever reason.
Steve pinches the bridge of his nose, “why do I even talk about these things with you?” he asks even if he doesn’t really mean it.
“Because I’m your best friend,” Bucky says, grinning. They talked about almost everything together minus Bucky and Tony’s relationship issues. Steve kept pointing out that Bucky was picking at things that weren’t really there and he knew it was true, but he didn’t like hearing it. What if it was wrong and he was right the whole time and then what was he supposed to do? Acknowledge that everyone was totally ignorant to Tony cheating on him? It was better this way, really, because then at least Bucky could pretend maybe Steve didn’t know and then he’d still trust him. It was unfair to Tony, he knew, but he couldn’t shake the anxiety.
“You’re a crappy best friend,” Steve mumbles at him, giving him a glare with no real malice behind it.
“Sure I am, but you love me anyways. Tell T’Challa I think his cat has personality.”
Bucky runs his fingers up and down Tony’s back gently and Tony sighs in pleasure. “I had a rough day in the lab today. Bruce and I just about killed JARVIS with our latest project but we got ULTRON under control in time thankfully. JARVIS is pissed at us now,” Tony says. His voice is unaffected but Bucky knows how much JARVIS means to Tony, how much all of Tony’s work meant to him. He was so invested in his tech, so invested in it helping other people. That had been how they met- Tony was working on prosthetics for some reason or another and Bucky didn’t have a left arm so he had sent in an application not thinking he’d hear back.
That led to months of working closely with Tony on his new prosthetic that was shockingly well made. It worked almost as well as his organic arm, which was what Tony had intended. When Bucky had admitted that he liked the prosthetic because it made his body feel balanced but experienced a type of dysphoria around the limb Tony did his best to make it move like the rest of him did. It was highly personalized, designed specifically to fit Bucky’s body and movements, which made Bucky feel bad because he didn’t wear it most days now. He eventually got used to feeling off balance and try as he might Tony never did figure out how to make the arm comfortable to wear. It was exceedingly more comfortable than his last prosthetic but it was still painful to wear for long periods of time.
“I’m sorry about JARVIS, I’m glad you got the ULTRON thingy or whatever fixed before anything went too wrong. So what are you doing with ULTRON now? Revising?” he asks. Bruce was generally not in the kind of science Tony was but they were each taking electives in the other’s field to challenge each other. They had a weird friendship but Bucky was fond of anything that gave Tony that bright-eyed look he got when he was passionate about something and Bruce did that.
“No, we’re scrapping ULTRON,” Tony says and that’s all that Tony needs to hear to know that Tony is far more shaken up about this than he was letting on.
“Hey,” he says softly, pressing his hand into Tony’s side, “are you okay?” Tony wasn’t fond on giving up on anything; it was one of his best and worst traits.
Tony shifts himself carefully, mindful of Bucky’s body. “This right here is why I think no sex is worth it,” he says. Bucky frowns because Tony never brought this up- actually he seemed to avoid the subject entirely, which worried Bucky more than if he addressed it. What if he avoided it because he secretly resented Bucky for being disinterested in sex? “Normally when I’m in relationships, what few I’ve been in, intimacy looks like sex and it was enjoyable don’t get me wrong, but I’m not sure we ever took the chance to get to know each other. It took years for Pepper and Rhodey even to notice how I treat my tech and my work. It took you less than a month. With you intimacy is something else entirely and it’s forced me to rethink a lot of things I thought were universal truths of relationships and life and you disrupted all of that. But it was so worth it,” Tony tells him.
He can tell Tony means it because he’s making eye contact and he only does that for long periods of time if he’s either serious about something or pissed and he clearly wasn’t angry. Normally he was too busy moving around, using hand gestures, or pointing to certain parts of his research. Eye contact meant that something was different about the conversation. “Do you regret it? Having to relearn stuff?” There were things to him that were meaningless- like nudity- that were heavily loaded for other people. When he still lived with Natasha she had enjoyed that she could lay around in her bra and underwear and Bucky wouldn’t think anything of it because it was hot. Others, apparently, took it as a weird come on. Why he had no clue, at least not when her undergarments weren’t very pretty or special and it was hot enough to want to take your own skin off in an attempt to cool down. That was senseless to him, but others assumed nudity was related to sex regardless of the context.
“Of course not, you know how much I love to learn, break boundaries,” Tony says with a grin. “With you it can be… well it can be a right pain in the ass, sex is way better than masturbation as far as pleasure goes but all the other stuff? There’s a whole wealth of things I’ve learned or realized because you see stuff so weird- in a good way,” he throws in. “Like with me and tech- people don’t see what I do and they tell me that something is wrong or impossible but I still managed to miniaturize that arc reactor and I still managed to make an element out of nothing and I still managed to make a semi autonomous AI system. My view of sex and relationships was limited and you helped expand that and learning and gaining knowledge is important to me. It’s intimate in a way I didn’t know it was until I met you so no, I don’t regret having to rethink everything I thought I knew. I’m happy for it.”
This was all new information to Bucky- he hadn’t thought Tony put much thought, if any, into his being asexual and how that affected their relationship. He just assumed there wasn’t much to think about on his end. “What kinds of things have you learned? I… to be honest I didn’t think you had to think of anything when it came to my asexuality. I figured that was just me.”
Tony snorts, “when you’re entire knowledge base of romantic relationships hinges on them being sexual you have no choice but to rethink everything you thought you knew when that’s off the table. So yeah, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what intimacy is, what it means to you, and what it looks like in our relationship. Your asexuality doesn’t just affect you, that doesn’t even make sense. It affects me just as much as it affects you and I’m fine with working with you, I like the results,” he says.
Bucky considers that for a moment, considers the effects that Tony mentioned that had nothing to do with sex. He hadn’t much considered that, that his asexuality was even relevant outside of a sexual context. “How else does this affect you outside of sex?” he asks, curious more than anything.
“Lots of ways. For one my friends keep asking stupid fucking questions, something you’ve noticed too. I told them to either Google their offensive questions or shut up because I’m tired of them asking ignorant things and causing you anxiety when they haven’t been listening to our answers anyways. Yes, I have a high sex drive, yes sometimes it really really sucks that you aren’t into sex, no that isn’t going to make me dump you. Simple as that so they should stop asking. And like I mentioned- intimacy was something I had to completely reconsider. Things that I didn’t consider intimate have whole new meanings now- like when you cook for me. And touch, that was a big thing. Most touch was to get to sex before, but now it’s like a whole new thing and I am loving the changes. It’s less pressure sometimes, like when I’ve been in the lab all day. But sometimes it also sucks because I’m only human- one with a sex drive,” he throws in when he realizes how that sounds.
“You like when I cook for you?” he asks.
“Of course. Most people didn’t pay attention to most of my likes and dislikes with food but you always notice. I appreciate that you went out of your way to learn how to cook all my favorite Italian dishes, and I like that you notice when I’m overwhelmed and I need some time away from my work, and that you also know when to just leave me there. Sometimes, at least for me, it’s easy to be distracted by sex. I used to use it as a method of pushing people away actually, because most people like it and it was a good way to distract from real issues. Didn’t really end well. You kind of force me to deal with stuff while eating whatever awesome Italian thing you cooked that day,” Tony says, attempting at a smile to soften the weight of his words.
“So what you’re saying is that you used sex as a way to break up your relationships because you never actually dealt with stuff? Man, that is a bizarre inversion of the typical ‘but if you don’t have a sex life you aren’t in a healthy relationship’ shit I’ve been hearing my whole life.” He never considered that sex could actually end a relationship; all he knew was that a lack of it was a death sentence for sure. It hadn’t occurred to him that the reverse could also be true.
“Basically. I used a lot of feel-good shit to avoid my issues- drugs, sex, alcohol, parties, anything to avoid dealing with the fact that I actually have feelings like a normal person. So when I met you and you said you were ace I kind of freaked out because I couldn’t do that with you and I knew it from day one. I’ve learned that people don’t even believe in mental health issues let alone help people with them. I love Rhodey and Pep but they suck at that stuff and then you come along and you actually knew what panic attacks were and how to deal with them. So then it was sex or someone who knew how to actually support me. By the time we actually started dating it was kind of a no brainer, even if it was a crappy one at times.”
This was the first time Tony ever mentioned that he had any sort of issues with the sex thing. Bucky assumed he did have problems with it, everyone did, and Tony’s not mentioning it freaked him out. It was another sign, at least to him, that he was failing somehow because if Tony wasn’t complaining about the sex thing he was off getting it elsewhere. Which was unfair and cruel to think of Tony that way but that was all that Bucky knew. Shaking that off was more difficult than he anticipated. "You have trouble with the sex thing sometimes?" he asks. Obviously he did but he never brought it up so this was new. “Sometimes yeah, you are like adorably oblivious to how attractive you are- you can gauge other people okay, but yourself? Not at all. Sometimes I kind of want to maul you but that’s just weird even by the sexual person’s standards so I just stick to fantasies. Definitely not as good as the reality sex wise, but the rest of our relationship is way better than anything else I’ve had so I feel like it balances well.”
“Oh. Well I guess it’s flattering that you find me sexually attractive,” Bucky says for lack of anything better.
“Bucky, everyone with functioning eyes thinks you’re hot. Shit, Matt doesn’t have functioning eyes and even he thinks your hot but that’s more based off your voice. I mean he also thinks Foggy is hot so he’s not so good a judge but he still proves my point mostly,” Tony says.
Bucky smacks Tony’s arm playfully, “leave Foggy alone, I think he’s cute.”
“You and Matt can bond over it,” Tony says, snickering when Bucky smacks him again.
“Please feed her twice a day at ten and seven, she will get very cranky if you do not do that. And she prefers the wet food, and-” T’Challa would continue, probably forever, but Steve interrupts.
“They know how to feed cats, they have a cat,” he points out.
“They feed it dry food,” T’Challa says as if this was a bad thing. He and Tony were both in school; it was easier to fill a dish. God knew how the hell T’Challa managed to spoon feed his cat with his own busy schedule but here they were, now taking over T’Challa’s cat until he and Steve could work out how to deal with their relationship issues. The cat was with them because the cat was the source of the relationship grievances.
“There is nothing wrong with dry food, T’Challa,” Steve says. T’Challa goes to open his mouth but Bucky cuts him off before he ends up offending him and irritating Steve more.
“Just go on a date or something, we’ll feed the cat wet food at ten and seven and clean the litter daily, just go,” he says, shooing them away. T’Challa gives his cat a long look before Steve finally drags him off, mouthing ‘thank you’ to Bucky as he goes.
“We might have issues but at least they aren’t because of a fucking cat,” Tony says, leaning into him. He wraps his arm around Tony and pulls him closer into his side.
“Ten bucks says T’Challa is back at three a.m like Steve won’t notice that he’s gone,” he says.
“He’ll be back before the night is out,” Tony agrees.
“So you’ve been secretly sitting on the opinion that I’m cheating on you? That’s pretty shitty and honestly I’m offended that you’d think that I’d do something so low,” Tony says, sounding and looking hurt.
Bucky curls into the couch in an attempt to avoid Tony’s gaze and fails. “It… I wouldn’t have held it against you, I know people have needs,” he says honestly. “You wouldn’t have done it to be malicious or whatever.”
Tony pinches the bridge of his nose, something he only does when he’s either annoyed or stuck on a project, which Bucky supposes are the same thing. “I get where you’re going with that, I do, but I’m not a sex crazed beast. Yeah, some days going without fucking sucks but I can control myself. Its honestly a little offensive that you’d assume that I can’t,” Tony says.
“Sorry for being told my whole life that people can’t possibly go without sex ever and that I’m basically useless in a relationship because I won’t indulge. You start to believe it when you’ve heard it every fucking day since puberty,” he snaps, irritated with this. It wasn’t his fault that people acted like they’d die without sex, that their lives were horrible if they were in a dry spell or whatever. Eventually you just believe it because everyone else thinks it’s true, why wouldn’t you? “One time I was told that I was basically a golden retriever because all romantic relationships center around sex and if I wasn’t putting out I was just like a loyal dog. Sorry for thinking you’d stray after being told something like that and a lot worse. It isn’t a low opinion of you, it’s a low opinion of me.”
Tony softens at that, sitting next to Bucky on the couch and pressing into him. Bucky would like to curl up around Tony but he doesn’t because he’s worried that it’ll all go wrong if he thinks something is going okay for once. “There’s more to that and I should probably hear it. What else has led you to believe I’d just go sleep with someone else? Why hold onto the opinion when we’ve been together for almost two years and I haven’t done anything like that?”
“Because,” Bucky says quietly, “if I think everything is okay that’s always when it goes wrong. Every time. It’s just easier to assume everything is falling apart all the time because then it doesn’t hurt so bad when it actually happens.” And it always happened, no matter whom he was with. People have needs, just accept it. So he had, he got it, no one cared about his needs, just their own and he got that. His needs weren’t normal and everyone else’s were.
“Oh Bucky,” Tony says, shuffling a little closer and wrapping his arms around Bucky. “That’s horrible and believe it or not I get how that feels. People don’t do a very good job accepting a genius, especially when he’s way smarter than you. They’re just mad because you’re existence is proving them wrong and they don’t like having their assumptions about things disrupted. It makes them uncomfortable to have to think that everything they know is wrong so they tell you that you’re wrong when there’s nothing wrong with you at all. It’s their narrow minds that make you an issue, not anything you’ve ever done and I’m so sorry that people have made you feel like you have to change.”
He sits there for a moment unmoving before he reaches out and pulls Tony into his lap, pressing his face into Tony’s thick hair. “Are people really that cruel to you because you’re smart? Seems more like something people would like you for.”
Tony shake shakes his head, “no, not really. I’m literally too smart to understand social rules. Not that other people don't understand and question social rules, but they don't do it in the way I do. And usually they can play along in a way I can't. My brain is really good at picking up patterns and inconsistencies and when I point out the uselessness of social rules to people they freak out and tell me to just play along with them because that’s what’s ‘proper’ or whatever. Doesn’t matter how contradictory what they’re saying is. So when you started pointing out all the contradictory and hypocritical opinions around sex I got how you felt. You’re just too asexual to even understand why people think the way they do because you can’t understand why people believe seventeen contradictory things- like the way I view social rules. Except I eventually decided playing the game was useless and made my own board to play on- and people loose every time on my level. But you didn’t do that. You’re still trying to play a game that was never meant for someone like you, even when you’re trying to escape the board.”
Yeah, Bucky supposed that was at least a little bit true. “It’s hard to make a new game when people keep telling you it can’t exist because they can’t play it.”
“Their games don’t exist to you because you can’t play it- it’s the same thing- they’re just pissed that they aren’t understanding what you’re doing and they take it out on you. Fuck them, you’re fine the way you are and I wouldn’t have you any other way. I like learning new ways of doing stuff with you, we get really creative sometimes with how we exchange affection and I like it. It’s like a challenge, trying to figure out ways to make you feel pleasure in a way that doesn’t involve sex. Some days I find that way more stimulating because it involves a kind of thought process that sex doesn’t and I like that. You know how I feel about all things thinking,” Tony says, grinning.
That was true, Tony was damn good at the thinking thing and Bucky had long ago noticed the way Tony reacted to new knowledge. He always got that bright look on his face as he closed in on the new concept, asking questions and processing the information before doing research and coming back with more questions. It was always something more with him, learning something new and different. Tony was always willing to learn something outside the bounds of ‘normal’ because so much of his tech was outside normal boundaries. Bucky figured that Tony thought that if his tech could be so far off the ‘normal’ mark other things could too so he wanted to learn about it. And he was fucking nosey about it too.
“Glad I could be of service to you,” he says, snickering. Tony would find a weird sort of pleasure in finding new ways to make Bucky feel happy and loved that didn’t involve sex.
“For fucks sakes, Steve, T’Challa loves his cat s get over it. T’Challa, I get that you love cats but letting your cat slowly ruin your relationship is a bit much so maybe take a step back,” Tony says, throwing his hands up. “God, and I thought my relationship had issues,” he mumbles.
“What issues?” Steve snaps, eyes narrowing at Tony.
“None as stupid as yours. You two are arguing about a fucking feline to the point where you had friends take custody of the damn cat so you can stop fighting about it. You two have issues,” Tony tells them.
“I have no issues, I simply love my cat,” T’Challa says, nose in the air.
“You should love your cat a little less. You’re a helicopter cat parent,” Bucky says. “They’re self sufficient animals, you don’t need to video call them to make sure they’re okay throughout the day.” He leaves out that he and Tony do the same thing because that’s counter productive to the argument. Plus they just liked to see Smokey’s little nose poking at the camera by his dish because that was too damn cute.
“See? Bucky thinks you’re fucking nuts,” Steve says.
“Do not, I just think he can take a step back. That doesn’t make him nuts or whatever. Does anyone want hot dogs?” he asks in a poor attempt to change the subject.
“See? Bucky does not think I am mentally ill for loving my cat so you should not either. Case closed,” T’Challa says, nose still in the air.
Tony and Bucky sigh as T’Challa and Steve start arguing about the damn cat again. “Think they’ll ever get over this?” Tony asks.
“Probably. They’re both really damn stubborn, they’ll stick it out until one of them finds a solution to their problem.” Stevie in particular was a right stubborn ass, he’d fight anything till it’s either dead or resolved- including T’Challa’s love for his cat apparently. T’Challa, Bucky felt, would probably budge a little when Steve did but he’d be waiting a hell of a long time for that to happen.
“The solution is to stop arguing about the god damn cat and accept that it isn’t about to go anywhere. Aren’t cat’s important to T’Challa’s culture anyways?” Tony asks, frowning a little as he tried to recall information.
Bucky, however, sees the solution to T’Challa’s woes. “Steve, stop complaining about the damn cat, they’re important to T’Challa’s culture. You just sound like a culturally insensitive ass,” Bucky points out. Steve deflates immediately, probably feeling bad for being insulting even though he probably had a little bit of a right to be annoyed with T’Challa’s somewhat extreme love for his cat.
“Finally,” T’Challa says.
“Stop feeding the cat off spoons. The cat can eat out of a dish like a normal cat and I’ll leave you alone. And stop video calling it.”
“Just get him a dog that he can video call and feed off spoons,” Tony says, rolling his eyes.
“Can we get a corgi?” Steve asks, eyes lighting up at the suggestion. T’Challa looks like someone suggested getting a rectal exam for fun but he reluctantly agrees because Steve looked so enthused about it.
“If I hear one more fight about that god damn cat we’re kidnapping it and moving to Fiji,” Tony says.
“We can kidnap Steve’s corgi when they inevitably start arguing about dog hair,” Bucky says, grinning.
“Uh, I hope not. Lets just hope they get over themselves.”