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Fate Strings Not Required

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“No way,” someone whispered behind Tony in the queue to pick up coffee.

Tony internally groaned. He knew he should have worn a hat or something else besides his sun glasses. He was in tech nerd town, which meant almost everyone knew his face. It could be fun at times, especially if the person who recognized him was a huge but shy fan. It was cute to watch them babble nervously as they asked him to sign something or just try to speak to him for a minute or two.

What wasn’t so fun were the people who recognized him and had decided to hate him just because of some perceived nepotism and/or the reputation he had as a bit of a wild child.

The worst by far though were the people who-

“Excuse me.” The guy who had recognized Tony touched Tony on the shoulder, which made Tony dislike the guy even more (Tony was a handsy person himself, but even he knew better then to go up to a stranger and touch them without permission or some form of social cue). “I know this is sudden, but I think you’re my soul mate.”

God damn it. The guy was one of those people.

Since Tony was a kid, people had claimed to be his soul mate in the hopes of getting something from him.  

Everyone had a soul mate that they could find as long as they could see the red string of fate that tied them together. For most people it was between ages twelve and eighteen that they finally caught a glimpse of their string. It wasn’t unheard of for people to not see their string until they were older though.

Perhaps Tony was too cynical, but he was seventeen approaching eighteen, and his gut told him he wouldn’t see his string until he was thirty.  

“Doubt it,” Tony said to the guy pestering him.

A look of hurt crossed the guy’s features. “Excuse me?” He held up his hand as if Tony should be able to see the string that would tie them together. “Can’t you see it?”

“Can’t you see I just wanted to get a cup of coffee and not deal with another ridiculous claim that someone is my soul mate?” Honestly, the guy could be for all Tony knew, but due to the number of people who claimed to be his soul mate on a daily basis, Tony had to assume otherwise. When Tony finally saw his string he would follow it and apologize to his soul mate then for dismissing them if they happened to be one of the thousands of people who had claimed that title before.

“You would say that to your soul mate?” The guy asked, hamming it up by putting his hand over his heart.

Tony rolled his eyes. This guy definitely wasn’t his soul mate.

“Hey doll,” a new voice said from Tony’s side.

Tony glanced at the person approaching.

Someone was working the rugged, bad boy look. The new guy rocked a leather jacket and blue jeans. A shadow of scruff added that extra nice touch to his chin and cheeks. Shoulder length hair was pulled back in a ponytail with one strand falling out from the band, giving the new guy a hint of hipster chic to go with the biker look.

His blue eyes were lit up with joy as he approached Tony, getting as close as possible without touching Tony. “Something wrong here?” The new guy gave the first guy a once over then turned his full attention on Tony. “You’re looking a little stressed, anything I can do?”

Tony took the hint.

Tony wrapped his hand around the new guy’s elbow. He kept his touch light and breakable in case he’d misread the cue. Tony felt metal underneath the leather jacket, and Tony filed that information away for later. For now, he’d focus on getting rid of his supposed soul mate.

“Just some guy claiming to be my soul mate, babe.”

The new guy’s eyebrows rose to his hairline in surprise. He chuckled and gave the first guy a smirk. “Strange. Last time I checked we were soul mates.” The new guy gestured to himself and Tony.

The first guy sputtered and took a step back. “You are?”

“Yeah, dipshit,” Tony answered.

“Order for Han Solo,” the barista hollered and slid Tony’s coffee across the pick up counter.

“That would be mine,” Tony said and grabbed the drink. He took a sip and mentally sighed in bliss at the strong and bitter taste. Tony nodded in the direction the new guy had come from. “Let’s sit down, babe. Unless you wanted to order something else. My treat.”

The new guy shook his head. He wrapped an arm around Tony’s shoulder and guided Tony to a table. “Nah, doll. I’m good. Just wanted make sure you were safe.”

“Such a prince,” Tony teased.

The new guy pulled out a chair at the table for Tony. “I try to be.”

Tony winked at the new guy as he took the offered seat. “You’re doing a good job.”

“Thanks.” The new guy sat across from Tony. He glanced back at the first guy who had been harassing Tony. When he saw that the other guy had gone back to his group of friends (who were rightfully razzing him for his failure), he turned his attention to Tony and said, “Name’s Bucky by the way, Han.”

Tony chortled. “Tony. Also, no joke. If you want me to buy you something, just ask. You just saved me a bunch of time and drama. You really are my hero right now.”

“Thanks, but I’m good.” Bucky riffled through a pile of papers he had on the table then flipped the top page over so the contents of the papers were hidden.

Tony was a quick reader though and he noticed that the papers were job applications.

Tony scanned Bucky’s side of the table and noted a lack of coffee. Instead there was only a cup of water.

Tony took another sip of his coffee and made a point of humming exaggeratedly in delight. “This is fantastic. Here, try it.” Tony thrust the cup at Bucky. “I swear I don’t have any diseases, and this is too good to keep to myself.”

Bucky hesitated but took the cup and sipped. “It is good.”

“Excellent!” Tony jumped out of the chair. “I’ll get another.”

“You don’t-” Tony ignored Bucky and dashed over to the line for ordering. Tony bought himself another cup of coffee as well as few pastries for him and Bucky.

When he returned to the table with his treasures, Bucky was looking a little nervous. “You really don’t have to.”

“But I want to.” Tony shoved a croissant at Bucky. “Now eat. No hero of mine shall starve.”

The corner of Bucky’s mouth twitched in amusement. “You’re very persistent, aren’t you?”

“When there is something that I want, and right now I want to feed you.”

“Kinky,” Bucky joked.

Tony winked. “I can be.”

Tony spent the rest of the afternoon at the coffee shop with Bucky. Tony really hadn’t planned to spend more than a half hour at the locale, but he started talking to Bucky and the hours just faded away. Bucky was twenty-three, had been in the military, and was currently taking courses at a community college until he could decide on a major. He was also living with three roommates who had no sense of space or quiet, which was why he’d come to the coffee shop that afternoon.

He’s also lost his arm while on a mission, and now had a metal one, which he showed off to Tony.

Tony had recognized the arm from a line of products that he’d developed for Stark Industries. He was excited to see Bucky using the product and to hear how well it was working for Bucky. Tony was half-tempted to tell Bucky that he had designed the arm, but decided to keep that bit of info to himself. If Bucky was shy about Tony buying him coffee then Bucky would probably freak if he knew Tony had built his arm.

Besides, there were plenty of other topic to talk about. Mostly nerdy and geeky stuff, but Tony wasn’t complaining. He was all for arguing about whether Spock and Captain Kirk had really been soul mates or not on the original series and if that translated over into the new movies as well. He was offended though by how much slack Bucky gave the Star Wars prequels.

“They don’t even get storytelling 101 right.” Tony huffed.

“You’re exaggerating.”

“Son, you better have an hour to spare, because I’m about to school you.”

“Be my guest.”

After Star Wars they talked about comic books, both admitting a love for Marvel comics. They then went on to discuss video games, which turned a little one-sided when Bucky revealed he hadn’t been able to play anything new in recent years.

Tony focused on talking about older games.

“So you’ve built a robot?” Bucky asked as Tony contemplated getting another refill of coffee.

Tony nodded. “Yeah. Robots are easy. It's artificial intelligence that’s tricky. I’m close to figuring it out though.”

Bucky gaped. “You’re shitting me.”

“Nope.” Tony beamed at Bucky.

Bucky’s cell phone went off and Bucky scrambled to answer it. “Bucky,” he said into the device. He cursed a moment later. “It’s that late? Sorry, I got distracted. I’ll be there in a bit. Bye.” Bucky hung up and stood.

“Sorry about cutting this short,” Bucky said. “It’s my night to cook dinner and my roommates are starving.”

“Give me your number and I won’t be mad.” Tony fished out his phone and held it up, ready to dial Bucky’s number.

Bucky smiled. “Sure thing.”

Once numbers were exchanged, Bucky took off for home.

Tony remained seated at the table, not quite ready to move from the spot where he’d had hours of interesting conversation with a hottie geek.

Tony couldn’t wait to call Bucky and arrange a date.


“I can’t believe it!” A girl around Tony’s age cheered. “You’re my soul mate.”

Tony internally groaned. He couldn’t even go to the bathroom without someone trying to claim to be his soul mate. At least this time he’d been stopped coming out of the restroom and not before. He’d literally had to shove one guy out of the way once because Tony had to go so bad and the guy was not willing to take a hint and give up.

Tony looked across the coffee shop.

Bucky was bent over a textbook and taking notes.

Oh well, Tony could make do. “Sorry, already got a soul mate.”

“What?” The girl faltered. “But everyone says that you-”

“You going to believe what the media says or listen to the guy who actually can see his string?” Tony asked. He nodded in Bucky’s direction. “Feel free to ask my soul mate though if my word isn’t good enough for you.”

Right then Bucky looked up from his textbook. He gave a confused blink then smiled. He blew Tony a kiss.

The girl made a choked sound and backed up. “I’m sorry. It must have been a trick of light, or something.” The girl scurried away.

Tony rolled his eyes. He strolled back to the table, which Tony was starting to think possessively as his and Bucky’s table.

It had been a few weeks since Bucky and Tony had met, and while they had gone on a few dates outside of the coffee shop, they spent most of their free time together at the shop. It was a convenient location between their homes, and they could both study there. Not that Tony did too much studying, but he usually brought his tablet with him so he could work on the code for the AI he was designing.

“I still can’t believe so many people try to pretend to be your soul mate.” Bucky shook his head in awe. He used his foot to kick out Tony’s chair for him.

Tony flopped into the seat. “I’ve been dealing with this for years and I still can’t wrap my mind around it. It’s like a reverse Cinderella.” Tony frowned. “No, I take that back. That’s not a good comparison. But you get the gist.”

Bucky nodded. He frowned as he scanned the patrons milling about. “Don’t any of them realize what a dick move that is though? And not just to you but to your soul mate too? You can’t trust anyone who claims to be your soul mate, and your soul mate can’t confess to you without being rejected.”

“I don’t think the people claiming to be my soul mate care.”

Bucky’s cheeks turned red with anger and he glared at the room as if challenging everyone inside to a fight. “They should. It’s fucking heartless to mess with others like that and not give a damn.”

Tony sighed. He agreed with Bucky, but he’d spent so long dealing with the issue that he just couldn’t bring himself to be as furious as he once was about it. It was unfair and cruel, but whining about it would get him nowhere. Plus, eventually it would end. Once he could see his string then he would no longer have to worry or think about any of this.

Tony scooted his chair closer to Bucky’s so their sides were pressed together. He turned himself slightly so he could wrap one arm around Bucky’s shoulders and use his other to hold Bucky’s hand. “If you really want to make me feel better, how about a make out session? My lips are no longer chapped from the last one, and you look like you could use a break from studying.”

Bucky’s arm snaked around Tony’s waist. “Sounds like a plan.”

Bucky captured Tony’s lips in a kiss. Tony hummed in delight as Bucky’s scruff tickled his cheeks.

If Tony could spend hours talking to Bucky, he could spend even longer kissing him.


Tony knocked on the door to Bucky’s apartment. He winced at the intense heat from the pizza boxes he’d shifted to one hand. He quickly shift the boxes back to the other.

The door opened and a blond guy just an inch or two taller than Tony with a pair of purple headphones hanging from his neck poked his head out. “Pizza?” A smile slowly spread across his face. “I think you got the wrong place, dude, but I’ll slip you an extra ten if you accidently leave one of those here.”

“I’m dating Bucky, and the grease of these pizzas is seeping through the boxes and burning my hands. So could you please let me in?”

Blond Guy’s eyes widened and he threw open the door. He grabbed one box from Tony and rushed into the apartment shouting. “Over here. Over here!”

Tony dodged coats and shoes left on the floor as he followed Blondie to the kitchen or whatever.

Tony passed by the living room where Bucky and another roommate were playing video games.

Bucky squawked in surprise and leaped out of his beanbag chair at the sight of Tony.

“What are you doing here?”

“Table, table, table!” Tony ignored Bucky and ran to the kitchen table where Blondie had put the first pizza box. Tony dropped the other two on the table and sighed in relief. He shook his hands to speed the cooling process. “Whew. Sorry about that.” He turned to Bucky and smiled. “I got your text, and I figured there was no reason I couldn’t bring you and your roommates a few pizzas.”

Blondie’s eyes widened. “We get pizza too?”

Tony nodded.

Blondie jumped and punched the air. “Yes! Bucky, if you don’t want him as a boyfriend, I will take him.” Blondie winked at Tony. “Name’s Clint.”

“Tony,” Tony introduced himself.

Clint snagged a slice of pizza and blew Tony a kiss. “Call me.”

Bucky swatted Clint on the arm as Clint passed by. “Lay off.”

“Jealousy isn’t an attractive trait, Bucky,” the roommate Bucky had been playing video games with hollered from the living room.

“Shut it, Sam.”

Sam chortled and went back to his game.

“Too forward?” Tony asked Bucky, keeping his tone light so as not to give away his insecurity.

“Huh?” Bucky frowned in confusion. A moment later Bucky’s eyes lit up with understanding as his brain figured at that Tony had switched conversation topics on him. “Oh, the pizza and stuff.” Bucky scratched the back of his head. “I mean, it’s nice and all, but I...uh… don’t really want you think that I’m dating you just for money, so I’m just really confused right now.”

Tony internally winced. He had a feeling that might be the case, but when he had gotten Bucky’s text about needing to cancel their date due to him having spent all his money on rent, Tony had wanted to do something nice for Bucky.

“I guess I’m just worried that my text made you think that I wanted money from you or something,” Bucky mumbled.

“It didn’t,” Tony promised. “I just really wanted to spend time with you. And besides, it sucks when you don’t have money, which—surprise—I do know something about. Howard is a sucky dad, but he does actually try to parent, so since I was thirteen he’s had me pay for most of my stuff.” Tony rolled his eyes. “I even had to sell some tech designs to Hammer. It crushed my soul.”

Bucky chuckled. “I think your experience is still a little different than mine, but I appreciate that nonetheless.”

Tony could admit that was a fair assessment. Even if he hadn’t been able to make any money at age thirteen, he would have still had his home and food.

“So can we eat pizza and do dating stuff like kissing?” Tony asked.

“Only cuddling and three second kisses are allowed in shared spaces,” Sam chimed from the living room.  “Apartment rule. You’ll have to go to the bedroom for more, and I think Steve’s in there working on something for his art class.”

Bucky huffed. “Guess it’s the living room then. You fine with just cuddling?”

Tony grinned and hugged Bucky around the waist. “Sweetie, I’m a cuddling fiend. Grab whatever food and drinks you need, because once we settle in, I’m not letting you go for at least an hour.”


Bucky was struggling with finding a job. It hadn’t taken Tony long to discover that. He had kept the information to himself, not wanting to upset Bucky by bringing it up. However, lately all of their dates had been at Bucky’s apartment (which was awesome since they were pretty good at sneakily breaking the house rules about PDA), and Bucky’s section of the fridge was always low on food.

It wasn’t as if Bucky wasn’t applying  for jobs or not getting interviews. Tony had seen enough applications scattered around Bucky’s bedroom to know Bucky spent a large chunk of his free time job hunting. Tony had also seen scribbles on Bucky’s wall calendar that showed Bucky had been on interviews. For whatever reason though, Bucky just couldn’t get hired.

Tony wanted to help, but he also didn’t want Bucky to think he was pitying him, so it was with trepidation and caution that Tony slid an application into one of Bucky’s piles.

Bucky didn’t say anything for three days.

Tony was snuggled up against Bucky’s side and enjoyed a movie on the ten-year-old TV in the living room. His finger mindlessly traced the tattoo on Bucky’s flesh arm. Shades of gray, black, and blue formed the image of a broken hourglass wrapped in thorny vines as the sand that poured out of the timepiece created an eye. It was as Tony’s finger mapped the cornea that Bucky said, “So why do I have an application to be your bodyguard?”

Tony stiffened for a moment then forced himself to relax. “Because my parents have wanted me to have one for years, but after I chased away the ‘best bodyguards money could buy,’” Tony air quoted, “Howard decided to save himself the stress and not bother. There hasn’t been an attempt on my life in years, and he said arguing with me about it was going to send him to an early grave. The position still exists though.”

“That still doesn’t answer my question.” Bucky ran his fingers through Tony’s hair, encouraging Tony to rest his head more on Bucky’s shoulder as Bucky gave him the best scalp massage ever. “Why do I have an application?”

Tony moaned as Bucky’s fingers found a glorious spot that made Tony’s toes curl. “Because you have military background, and because you’re one of the few people I can stand to have around me for long periods of time. There are still a few things to work out, but as far as I’m concerned you're qualified for the job.”

“Tony, we’re dating.” Bucky withdrew his hand from Tony’s head and shifted so he was facing Tony. “Don’t you think that’s a conflict of interest?”

“No. You want my not-quite yet legal ass, don’t you? Well, you can’t get it if I’m dead, so that’s perfect motivation.”

Bucky chuckled. “Cute, Tony, but I’m serious. There is a whole list of reasons this won’t work. Besides the fact that we are dating, I’m a student, which means I can’t protect you 24/7. Also, we’d have to live together if you wanted round the clock protection, and since we haven’t even talked about if we are boyfriends yet-”

“You’re my boyfriend,” Tony stated. “And as long as you want me to be, I’m yours.”

Bucky choked on his surprise. “Jesus, Tony.” His cheeks pinked. “You gotta be so forward?”

“You mean honest.” Tony wrapped his arms around Bucky’s neck and hugged him. He nuzzled his cheek against Bucky’s, enjoying the rough feel of Bucky’s scruff. “I really like you, Bucky. So yeah, I want to be your boyfriend.”

Bucky’s metal hand settled on Tony’s lower back and rubbed gentle circles there. “I like you too.” He turned his head to kiss Tony’s cheek. “And yeah, I want to be your boyfriend too, but I’m not sure I can be that and your bodyguard.”

Bucky sighed. “I know what this is, and I appreciate the help, but I’d feel like you’d just be paying me to be your boyfriend if I took the job.”

“Even if Howard had to be the one to officially hire you?” Tony asked.

Bucky mulled over the question. “It would help my conscious a little if he was the one who hired me, but I don’t know, doll.” Bucky slumped against the couch. “There’s just a lot of ethical shit involved. Plus, we’d have to set up some clear rules and boundaries. It’s one thing if you ignore my advice as a boyfriend, but if I’m acting as your bodyguard and I tell you to do something, then I’m going to need you to obey.”

Tony cocked his head to the side. “Wait, a moment. Have you acted as a bodyguard before? At least in some capacity?”

“I’ve done escort missions.”

“Then you’re perfect!” Tony cheered.

“Tony,” Bucky sighed his name in exasperation.

Tony kissed Bucky on the cheek. “Sorry. I got excited. Just… think about it. Apply for the job, and if you are hired we’ll write up a contract that should cover everything such as working hours and conduct between us when you are on the job. I’m gonna to have to tell Howard that you are a friend though, so that he knows you’ll have a custom made contract instead of the standard one. It will affect your pay rate since you won’t be working as much as a normal bodyguard, but trust me: you’ll never have to worry about rent again.”

“I’ll think about it,”Bucky said.


Bucky rolled his eyes and held up his pinkie. “You want to pinkie promise?”

Tony laughed and looped his pinkie around Bucky’s. “Of course.”

 “I know I’m on bodyguard duty right now, so I say this as your boyfriend: stay away from that Tiberius chump.” Bucky cast a sinister and calculating look Tiberius’ way. “That’s three times tonight I’ve seen him go for your ass.”

Tony wanted to kiss Bucky so bad. Bucky was hot and Tony would happily spend an afternoon or an evening showing Bucky just how much he enjoyed Bucky’s bod just because it was that amazing all on its own. Now, however, not only was Tony dealing with a hot boyfriend but a bodyguard as well—a very protective and thorough bodyguard.

Tony may have discovered a new kink shortly after Bucky had been hired as his bodyguard.

“I’ll try. As your client I give you permission to use whatever force you need to in order to keep his hands off me.”

Bucky nodded an affirmative.

Bucky eyes slid over Tony’s form.

Tony spotted the spark of attraction in Bucky’s gaze, and Tony internally groaned in frustration.

This publicity event for Stark Industries was boring as hell, and the perfect cure for his boredom was standing in front of him in a suit that was cut to perfection on Bucky’s body.

Tony couldn’t stop himself from envisioning peeling off the suit jacket to reveal even more of Bucky’s physique as well as the two guns holstered under his arms.

Yeah, Tony had discovered a number of kinks since Bucky’s employment.

“You’re only scheduled as my bodyguard at this event tonight, right?” Tony asked. “So once we’re in the car-”

“Negative. I’m your bodyguard on the way back to your place too. Once I have ensured that you are safely locked away in your home though…” Bucky trailed off and let his gaze linger on Tony.

Tony moaned, the sound an accident.

“I know the feeling,” Bucky said, his own lust leaking into his voice. “Don’t get too crazy though. I still ain’t breaking the law with you.”

God damn age consent laws. Just a little more than a month now and Tony could finally have Bucky in all the ways he wanted him. “But we can still bend it a little,” Tony teased.

Bucky smirked. “Of course.” Bucky stepped up beside Tony. He grabbed the back of Tony’s suit jacket and yanked it down, his hand brushing along Tony’s bottom. “I’m all for bending the rules. Your jacket had ridden up, by the way. I hope you don’t mind that I fixed it.”

“Not at all. Although,” Tony ran his hands up and down Bucky’s chest, “we really need to find you a better shirt. This one is supposed to be wrinkle-free, right? Obviously someone mismarketed it, because I see wrinkles everywhere.” Tony continued to run his hands over Bucky’s chest, delighting in the feel of muscles.

“You might want to stop. Someone’s coming over.”

“Still so many wrinkles though.” Tony smoothed over the shirt one last time before turning around and plastering a smile on his face for whichever of Howard’s business associates was approaching him.

Yes, bending the rules was fun.


Tony brushed a stray strand of hair out of Bucky’s face. He could hear Bucky’s roommates moving around in the apartment and getting ready for work. It reminded him that he would need to thank Steve for sleeping on the couch last night and letting Bucky and Tony celebrate Tony’s eighteenth birthday the way he’d been hoping to for weeks now. Tony knew it would have been more convenient for him and Bucky to celebrate at his place instead, but Tony had a soft spot for Bucky’s apartment.

Plus, he’d gotten to celebrate with Steve, Sam, and Clint before his private party with Bucky, and the three had made sure he’d have a night he’d never forget even without his night of sex with Bucky.

“Are you really admiring my sleeping face after a night of sex?” Bucky grumbled.

Bucky’s metal arm around Tony’s waist pulled Tony closer.

“Well, you’re lying half on top of me, so I didn’t have much of a choice unless I woke you. I thought you might appreciate that I let you sleep, seeing as I kept you up all night.” Tony kissed Bucky. The smell of morning breath and vodak invaded Tony’s senses.

Bucky’s eyes fluttered open and suddenly there was a hand in Tony’s hair, gripping the curls tightly. Bucky turned what was supposed to be a chaste kiss into something slow and demanding. Tony had to breath out his nose as Bucky moved their lips in a sensuous dance.

When they parted, Tony sucked in a deep breath.

“Told you I’d give you whatever you wanted.” Bucky kissed the corner of Tony’s mouth.

Bucky’s lips trailed down Tony’s throat, leaving kisses. He pressed one into Tony’s jugular then breathed huskily. “Tell me what you want now, doll.”

Metal touched Tony’s hip, and with barely any force, pushed Tony’s thigh open.

Tony swallowed hard. His interest rising.

“I really, really want more sex, but I need to pee. Also, I smell waffles and I want some, but I think my legs are broken, so...”

Bucky burst out laughing. His forehead fell on Tony’s chest. “God, I love you, you dork.” He kissed Tony’s sternum then sat up on his knees, the sheets pooling around his legs and showing off just how interested Bucky was in a little morning sex. “You’re still going to have to tell me exactly what you want though.” He winked.

Heat spread through Tony’s body as memories flooded his mind with all of the things he’d requested from Bucky the other night and just how enthusiastic Bucky had been to fill those demands.

Tony held up his arms. “Carry me?”

Bucky smiled fondly down at Tony. “Of course.” Bucky kissed Tony on the corner of the mouth. He then crawled off the bed and went over to Tony’s side. He slid his arms underneath Tony and hoisted Tony into a bridal carry.

Tony held Bucky for balance and pointed at the bathroom. “To the toilet!” He shouted like a battle cry.

Bucky laughed and carried his boyfriend to the bathroom as commanded.

 “I’m going to have to ask you to calm down and give Mr. Stark some space.” Bucky stepped between Tony and the latest in a string of people claiming to be Tony’s soul mate.

Tony mentally thanked Bucky and breathed a sigh of relief behind his boyfriend/bodyguard.

Tony was attending the Stark Expo his father was hosting this year, and he had decided to go off on his own before attending the events that his father had marked as mandatory for him. He liked exploring the expo and checking out all of the inventions on display that had been brought in from other companies. It was also how he managed to sell some of his first designs and programs (by chatting up the booth workers, who in turn connected him with the right people).

The only downside to the Expo (besides being at his father’s beck and call) was that he got three times the number of people claiming to be his soul mate, and the people were more aggressive and adamant about their declarations.

The guy Bucky was currently keeping away from Tony was a few inches taller than Bucky and built like a brick house (what the hell happened to scrawny and meek nerds? Where had the buff nerds come from?). Muscle-Nerd sneered at Bucky and tried to step around him. “I tell you, he’s my soul mate.”

Bucky side-stepped into Muscle-Nerd’s path. “And he says otherwise. Now respect his wishes and back off.”

Muscle-Nerd scowled. He reached around Bucky to touch Tony.

Bucky seized Muscle-Nerd’s wrist and twisted it.

Muscle-Nerd hissed in pain.

Bucky twisted the wrist more. “You do not touch him without permission. You either leave right now, or I will have you escorted out.” Bucky titled his head just enough to show off the earpiece he was wearing, making it abundantly clear that his threat wasn’t idle.

Bucky released the Muscle-Nerd’s wrist.

Muscle-Nerd cradled the appendaged and scowled at Bucky. Once he saw that his scowl had no effect on Bucky, he muttered a few insults then stormed away.

Tony sighed and hugged Bucky’s arm. “Sorry to get clingy, but I just need a moment. I was starting to think you’d have to fight him.”

Bucky enclosed his hand over Tony’s and squeezed it comfortingly. “It’s okay, and don’t worry. I would have happily fought that asshole.” He grinned mischievously. “Isn’t that part of the job?”

Tony scoffed. “I think the goal is to restrain, not punch the living daylights out of him. And that’s only if he gets violent.”

“Yeah, but I can punch him a little before restraining him. Also, you’re wrong. The goal is to keep you safe. Anything else is secondary.”

Tony smiled. He slipped his hand out from under Bucky’s and placed his hand over his heart. He sighed wistfully and exaggeratedly. “Oh be still my heart. You’re as much of a prince as the day I met you.”

“I don’t know,” a teasing lilt entered Bucky’s voice. “I’m thinking I’m more of a knight and you’re the prince.”

“Bah! Don’t ruin the narrative that I’ve got going.”

“Yes, dear,” Bucky said sarcastically. Bucky pulled out his phone and checked the time. “We better get going. We only got twenty minutes before the next event you’re required at, and you already know how long it takes to get anywhere in this crowd.”

Bucky didn’t need to say more. A walk that should take less the five minutes took at least ten because of how packed the expo was. Even with access to private routes, it’d take Bucky and Tony a while reach their destination.

The crowd was good for one thing though; it gave Bucky and Tony the perfect excuse to press up close together.

When they reached the backstage of the event where Howard would be revealing his newest weapon for the military, they were met by Howard and the make up artist applying blush to his cheeks.

Howard glanced their way then snapped his fingers. “Tony, here. Jeremy will take care of your make up. You remember where you will be standing.?”

“Yes.” Tony had to stop himself from rolling his eyes. Howard and him had been over this a dozen times already. Tony would join Howard on stage for the presentation, but wouldn’t say or do anything. Howard just wanted Tony there to show the world that they were a united front and to give off the appearance that Howard was a family man.

After all, who could hate a family man?

Tony would be more upset if he didn’t admire Howard’s tenacity and how he controlled his public image so thoroughly.

Tony was made up and reminded where to stand again.

He waited beside his father on the podium hidden under the stage.

Loud music played from above.

Tony glanced at Bucky.

Bucky gave Tony a thumbs up then turned to make his way upstairs to take his post just off stage.  

Tony took a deep breath and listened to the music.

The podium began to rise and Tony plastered on a smile that mirrored Howard’s.

The music’s volume seemed to jump ten decibels when the stage opened up to allow the podium to rise. The crowd cheered as fireworks went off.

Lights near blinded Tony.

Howard blew kisses out to the crowd in greeting and chortled to himself when the volume of the cheers rose.

Howard held up his hand for silence and the music lowered, bringing down the crowd’s volume as well. “Consider yourselves lucky. Today you get a glimpse of the future!”

The crowd roared.

Tony snorted in amusement at the reaction even as he took mental notes of Howard’s performance.

A sound came from off stage.

Tony kept his showman smile in place as he stole a glimpse at what was happening off stage.

Tony yelped and jerked back when he saw Bucky barreling towards him.

“Gun!” Bucky threw himself at Tony.

Tony didn’t hear the gunshot over the crowd, but someone must have fired because suddenly there were screams, and Bucky was on top of him.

Howard’s own security had shown up and was yanking him off stage. A few of the security team grabbed Bucky and hauled him off of Tony, but the podium began to lower before the security team could drag Tony and Bucky off stage.

Tony shook off one of the men who’d grabbed him to take him to safety and rushed to Bucky who was lying on the floor with the other security member kneeled over him.

“Bucky! Bucky! Are you okay?” Tony cupped Bucky’s face, which was scrunched in pain.

Tony froze in shock.

Tied to his pinkie was the luminescent red string of fate.

Tony couldn’t believe it. Now? Now! He could see his string, right when Bucky was shot. What kind of sick, twisted-

Bucky’s hand covered Tony’s and attached to the pinkie was the end of Tony’s string of fate.

“I’m fine,” Bucky said through gritted teeth. He puffed out a few breaths to manage his pain. “Going to pass out now though.” He chuckled and just as promised fell limp and unconscious.

The podium finished lowering and the medical team rushed to examine Tony and Bucky.

The medics’ voices were distant, and Tony couldn’t make out a thing they said. He saw them poke and prod him, but couldn’t feel their touch. He watched as they shined lights in his eyes and ran all of their tests.

He wasn’t sure what happened in those moments, but suddenly he was seated on a couch in one of the private rooms. His mom was there and fretting over him, and he was wrapped in a shock blanket.

Tony choked on a sob and doubled over.

“Oh, Tony.” His mom threw her arms around him.

“W-where’s Bucky?” Tony managed to say through sobs.

“It’s okay, Tony. He’s fine. He’s at the hospital being treated. What about you though? How do you feel?”

Tony buried his face in his hands and didn’t answer.

He didn’t know what to say or feel.

 “You knew, didn’t you?” Tony asked after a few tense seconds seated beside Bucky in the hospital.

Bandages peeked out from under the collar of Bucky’s hospital gown. The bullet had hit him near the shoulder. He would need to undergo physical therapy and he’d be in pain for a while, but he’d heal.

“Doll, you’re going to need to explain. I’m kind of high on painkillers right now. Like so high that I want to call you kitten in Russian; I don’t even speak Russian, but a part of me is deeply convinced that I do. It’s the same part of me that thinks you should be wearing one of these gowns too, because then I’d get to see your ass when you have to leave.”

Bucky fiddled with the buttons that controlled the incline of his bed. The top half of the bed lowered and Bucky chuckled. “Awesome.”

“You knew we were soul mates, didn’t you?” Tony clarified.

Bucky stopped playing with the bed’s incline. He blinked then slowly turned his head toward Tony. He blinked again. “Yeah. You mad?”

“Yes, but not for the reason that you probably think.” Tony crossed his arms over his chest. “I get why you didn’t tell me; if you had told me right away I would have dismissed you. You’ve also made it quite clear that you don’t ever want to give off the impression that you’re using me, so even though I probably would have been more open to the possibility after dating for a while, I understand why you didn’t tell me. And honestly, if you had confessed, I would have agnsted for weeks about whether or not I should believe you.”

Bucky pouted. “So why you mad?”

“Because! You’re my soul mate and you took a friggin’ bullet for me.”

“That’s what soul mates do?” Bucky asked in such an innocent manner that Tony was positive it was the drugs talking.

“No! At least not like that. Not when… Damnit, Bucky. You could have died, and I wouldn’t have known until just then that you are my soul mate. You would have slipped right through my fingers before I could-”

Bucky reached out with his good arm and touched Tony’s cheek. He smiled like a goofball. “Before you could what? Get to know me? Get to kiss me? Fuck me? Say you love me?” Bucky’s hand slipped behind Tony’s head and pulled him closer to Bucky so Bucky could push their foreheads together. “We’ve done all that, doll. It’s why I didn’t mind that you didn’t know. You still wanted to be with me even though you didn’t know. You still loved me.” Bucky frowned. “You do love me, right? That didn’t change?”

“Of course I love you, you drugged up idiot of mine.” Tony stood up from his chair so he could hug Bucky (being ever mindful of Bucky’s wound). “Which is why you are fired. I’ll write you an excellent recommendation letter, but you are never jumping in front of a bullet for me again. You hear me?”

Bucky scowled. “I’ll jump in front of bullets if I want to.” He hugged Tony with his good arm and burrowed his face in Tony’s chest. “I’ll protect you if I want to. Kiss you too. Make love to you in this smelly hospital room too.”

“You got lube?” Tony asked.

“I got spit.”

“Then you got nothing.”

Bucky groaned in defeat.

Tony smiled down at his drugged and disappointed boyfriend. He brushed his fingers through Bucky’s hair and kissed the top of his head. “I love you.”

“You lube me?” Bucky asked in confusion, misunderstanding Tony.

Tony laughed and ruffled Bucky’s hair. “God, I’m so glad you’re mine.”

Bucky smiled up at Tony. “I’m glad you’re mine too.”