sam_storyteller: (Alternate Universe)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2015-11-16 05:23 pm

Marvel: The Pretender and the Prince

Title: The Pretender and the Prince
Rating: Explicit (Bucky/Tony)
Summary: It's the fall of 1967, and Tony Stark is determined to do his father proud as the new head of Stark Robotics. Between his growing relationship with Tony and his new life as a recovering assassin, Bucky's just trying to stay on his feet. Then someone takes a shot at Tony in the middle of a busy workday, and all bets are off...
Notes: This follows a few months after The Soldier And The Hurricane, an AU where Tony was born in 1950 and Bucky was recovered in 1967, rather than assassinating Howard and Maria.
Warnings: Discussion and brief description of PTSD and trauma-related behavior; some brief discussion of period-appropriate homophobia.

Also available at AO3.

***

Dr. Stephen Strange was not a particularly reassuring or gentle man, nor was he very likeable, Tony thought. It was clear that he was only seeing them because Bucky was an interesting case, and because Howard was calling in a favor (and probably paying him a lot of money).

"As far as I can tell, and that's relatively far, there's nothing physically wrong with the boy," he said to Howard, as if Bucky (hardly a boy) wasn't in the room. "Whatever was done to him hasn't left any particular evidence behind, neurologically speaking."

"That's a relief though, right?" Tony piped up. Strange gave him a quelling look, but he'd had worse from Howard. "Means there's nothing wrong with your brain," he said to Bucky.

"How is that possible?" Howard asked. "From what we've been told, there was a physical process in place to tamper with...." he gestured at his temple.

Strange shrugged. "Electrochemical, perhaps, or using some form of undiscovered radioactivity to interfere with the brain's normal memory retrieval patterns. Or he's simply healed from whatever damage was done. The point is there's no brain damage, no lasting traces in his physiology. Though if you ever do find the mechanism that caused this -- "

"No," Bucky interrupted, one of the few things he'd voluntarily said all morning. Strange raised his eyebrows, affronted.

"Well, if you do, you know where to find me. I'm afraid as a surgeon, I can't recommend any next steps, there's simply nothing physical to work with. I can find you a psychiatrist -- you'll want one with a strong neurological background, none of these godforsaken Jungians. I don't really approve of this emotional witch doctor fol-de-rol, but I always like to give my patient an option."

"Thanks, Stephen, we'll take you up on that," Howard said, before Tony could open his mouth. "Tony, Buck, why don't you go tell Jarvis to bring the car around. I need to have a few words with Dr. Strange in private."

"It doesn't mean anything, you know," Tony said, once they were out in the hallway. He lifted his head and sniffed, trying to pick up the smell of coffee.

"That's what bugs me," Bucky said, pointing off to the left. Tony shoved his hands in his pockets, ambling in that direction.

"That it doesn't mean anything?" he asked.

Bucky made a soft, frustrated noise. "That there's...nothing to mean. I don't..." he ran a hand through his hair, recently trimmed back down to the way he'd worn it in photographs Tony had seen from the war. "He can't fix me."

"Because there's nothing to fix. You aren't broken."

"You know that's not true."

"You haven't tried to attack anyone since Zola, and that was justified, plus it was months ago," Tony said.

"Six weeks."

"Okay, a month and a half. Tell the truth, when you jumped me that one time, you were just scared."

Bucky's shoulders slumped. "Doesn't mean it won't happen again."

"But it hasn't. And you only ever went after me once." Tony turned a corner and found a nook with coffee in it. He made a pleased little sigh and grabbed a paper cup.

"You can't keep waiting," Bucky said.

"Waiting for what?" Tony asked, voice light.

"To go back. To Boston. You can't wait for me to be fixed, you have a life."

"And I keep telling you, there's nothing to fix," Tony said. "I'm driving Dad crazy, and both of us know it. He wants me to go back to Boston at this point as much as I want to go. And I'm taking you with me."

"If I hurt you -- "

"You won't."

"You can't know that!" Bucky said angrily. Tony gave him a mild look.

"I don't care," he said, and Bucky blinked at him. "I can take care of myself, but more importantly, nothing in life is certain. You nearly died for me. You broke your conditioning in...days. Do you even remember the Winter Soldier?" he held out a cup of coffee, and Bucky took it slowly.

"Sometimes it...." he looked away. "Feels like a dream."

"Good."

"Maybe it shouldn't. I did things -- "

"No, he did things. You were a prisoner of war, and if you don't remember, I'm glad," Tony said, so fiercely that Bucky blinked again. "Dad says the serum Zola gave you was like Captain America's. You adapt. Which is good news for me anyway because not many people can deal with my very specific brand of...everything," he finished, stirring sugar into his own coffee. "Don't you want to come with me, Bucky?" he asked, eyes big and soulful.

"You're playing me."

"Little bit. Shows how much I want you to come with," Tony said, unrepentant.

Bucky looked down. "I don't want to hurt you."

"Then don't. Come to Boston. If Dad won't let us, we'll run away," Tony said, smiling at him over the rim of his coffee cup. "That'd save Mom the headache of finding me a place that fits all of Dad's requirements."

"You hear the latest? He thinks you should have a rooftop terrace," Bucky said, looking relieved at the change of subject.

"Oh yeah, for all the stargazing I do," Tony laughed. He leaned into Bucky, arm around his neck, and rested his chin on his shoulder. "How about until you trust yourself, I'll trust you for all of us?"

Bucky looked sidelong at him. "Yeah?"

"Swear it," Tony said, leaning back again to down the rest of his coffee. "I'll talk to Dad about Boston when we get home."

***

Bucky suspected that Tony and Howard's discussion of Boston was less talking and more shouting, but he'd come to understand that this was the way they communicated. Jarvis had told him that before his time they'd shouted just as much but been much less effective about it, so Bucky didn't worry too much. He had enough other things to worry about.

At any rate, Howard let Tony go, but he didn't come with them to Boston; he sent Maria to arrange housing matters, with Bucky as driver. Their first full day in Boston they looked at five different places, none of which suited; if it was big enough for Maria, then it was too far from SI Robotics for Tony's tastes. If Tony liked it, Maria would find some kind of fault with the kitchen, or the plumbing, or the other tenants.

"Lucky number six," Tony moaned, as they pulled up in front of a nice-looking town house in the Back Bay. "We're eating after this, right?"

"Yes, dearest, but that doesn't mean we can rush," Maria reminded him. Bucky, whose idea of housing was a wall to put his back to and reasonable cover from the rain, looked up at the house warily. "The entire house is for let, three floors plus the requisite rooftop -- a little more than you need, perhaps, but it's a small three floors, and no more expensive than that penthouse Howard insisted we look at."

"What am I gonna do with three floors?" Tony asked.

"I'm sure you'll find some use for them. Divine for parties," Maria said, waving to the agent who was waiting for them on the front step. They air-kissed, and Tony made a gagging gesture at Bucky.

It was an awfully nice house; back in Bucky's neighborhood, before the war, it'd have held six families at least. Maria deemed the downstairs acceptable for entertaining, the second-floor bedrooms had good views of the city, and the third floor came with a billiards table already installed.

"Well, it doesn't have a doorman or a private chef and I doubt very much you could fit a computer in the basement, but those were Howard's ideas and he is, after all, not here," Maria said, re-inspecting the lounge and wet-bar on the first floor. "Tony, any objections?"

"No, I think this is fine," Tony said. "Bucky?"

Bucky looked up from studying the sightlines from the front windows, startled. "What?"

"You like it?"

It took him a moment to realize he was genuinely being consulted on whether they should rent this place (or buy it, for all he knew). When he understood that he could say no and they would actually reject it and go off for dinner and find somewhere else, he felt something tighten in his chest.

"It's secure," he said, because it was -- good locks on the windows, no covert approaches. "S'too big for you but that never stopped you before," he added to Tony, who grinned. "Sure. It's a fine house."

"Glorious. We'll take it," Maria said to the agent, who beamed and nodded. "Right then! Off to dinner we go. Eat hearty, children, tomorrow we'll need to order some furniture, new draperies of course, and we must replace the rugs in the bedrooms."

Bucky looked to Tony, expecting him to roll his eyes, but he was nodding along. "I need to rewire the kitchen. And the basement probably -- I can fit at least a few racks of IBM tape down there, enough to run Dummy on. You should pick out some fixtures for the kitchen lights. And I'll set up for the electric wine cellar."

"Goodness, darling, I hadn't even thought of wine."

"Jarvis is bringing some up from Dad's collection."

"Oh, that was conscientious of him. Did he give you a list for stocking the kitchen?"

"I got it," Bucky said, patting the pocket where Jarvis's detailed, tightly-folded instructions were stowed. "I'll get that stuff while you do the...house," he added uncertainly.

"Well, you'll need to come with us for some of it," Maria said. "To pick out your bedroom furniture, at the least."

It sounded harrowing, but Bucky nodded. Tony grasped his wrist, squeezed it briefly, and gave him a shy, fond smile before sliding into the car. Bucky climbed into the driver's seat and pulled out into Boston traffic, while Tony and his mother discussed dinner.

***

It was a hell of a week, in the end. Bucky stocked the groceries and carried parcels and mostly stayed out from underfoot, as much as he could. Maria spent most of her time shopping, and Tony was either out with her or in an old boiler suit in the kitchen, ripping wires out of walls with a screwdriver clenched in his teeth. They drove to Cambridge to pack up Tony's old apartment, left standing and unoccupied but still full of his stuff since he'd raced down to Yonkers in the middle of the night to make sure his parents were okay after the Winter Soldier tried to kill them. Tony's friend Rhodey had gone through and cleared out all the food and anything that might start to smell before leaving for the Air Force Academy -- Bucky heard a lot about Rhodey that day -- but they still had to pack Tony's stuff. Which included a robot named Dummy that distinctly did not want to be packed.

At some point, Maria took Bucky to a tailor. He wasn't ever going to recover from that, and he tried not to think about it.

But finally, Friday afternoon, Jarvis arrived on the train with two crates of wine; he installed the wine, inspected the entire house from basement to rooftop, gave Bucky a nod that said he'd done as good a job as any non-professional possibly could, and fed them all dinner from a hamper Anna had packed. After the meal, he collected Maria and the car to take them both home. Tony collapsed on one of the sofas in the downstairs lounge and made exhausted noises.

"Whaddaya want?" Bucky teased, knowing full well that Tony probably wanted a stiff drink. "You want me to put on some music? You want to go out? I bet you know the hot spots for dancin'."

"Nnnnnn," Tony groaned. "I'm never leaving this sofaaaaa."

"Come on, rich boy, all you've done all week is point out where the real working men should put your chairs and curtains," Bucky said, but he went to the bar and rummaged in the little icebox beneath it for a couple of bottles of beer. He poured them out into pint glasses (newly purchased) and brought one to Tony, who sat up just long enough to make room, then slumped against Bucky's arm, feebly sipping his beer.

"I have wrangled my mother all week," Tony pointed out. "And Dad's been calling, asking why we didn't get the place with the doorman, giving me notes for what to do when I invade Robotics on Monday -- "

"Hey, that reminds me, your robot's up on the third floor," Bucky said.

"How'd he get onto the third floor?" Tony asked, vaguely alarmed.

"You're the genius, you tell me. I switched him off till we figure it out, I'm not carrying him down."

"I'll set up a winch or something," Tony sighed. "That and the million and one things I need to do before Monday -- "

"Hey, I was just teasin', you know, about not working hard," Bucky said, slinging an arm around him and pulling Tony's head against his shoulder, the way he used to do with Steve when he was a little fella. "I know how much you did. You don't have to worry about anything tonight."

"I pretty much will anyway," Tony said. "But thanks."

"Howard's got high expectations of you."

"Yeah, well, that's what comes with all of this, I guess," Tony said, waving his hand at the house, the furniture, the...everything. "Can't let the Stark side down."

"You won't. 'Sides, you got me, and you know the last time I sidekicked it was for Captain America, so I have pretty good references."

"You're nobody's sidekick," Tony said, leaning further into his shoulder.

"Nice of you to say, but I'm not the brains of this operation. I'm not the brains of any operation, thank God."

"Bucky -- "

"I'm not complaining. Hell of a lot better than what I used to do."

Tony turned his face up, chin on the ball of Bucky's shoulder. "So you'll look after me, is that it?"

Bucky looked down at him and nodded. "Don't mind if I do."

***

"All right, ladies and gentlemen, I'll keep this brief," Tony said on Monday morning, standing on top of some piece of machinery in the vast warehouse-like open space of SI Robotics' main lab floor, the staff crowded around to listen. Nearly the entire building was really one big, high-ceilinged room, full of desks and machines and tool racks; there were walkways up above but they didn't look like they were used very often. The north end of the building was walled off to make a handful of offices, but otherwise everyone worked more or less in each others' pockets. It made Bucky a little jumpy, but he supposed he'd get used to it, and he tore his attention away from the machines, back to Tony's introduction speech.

"All of you know me," Tony was saying. "Most of you have watched me screw things up at one point or another. And I'm sure none of you think I should be heading up SI Robotics at the tender age of eighteen."

There was mostly silence from the assembled staff -- even to Bucky's eye they were a weird group of tweedy professor types, engineers in coveralls, and hippies. And it was true none of them looked happy.

"Yes, I am the boss's son, and yes, I am aware that my voice broke basically last week," Tony continued. "And yes, I am under a lot of pressure to make us profitable but that will not be at the expense of the innovation that we're engaging in here. I am here to protect you from Stark Industries, not grind you into its gears. You, all of you, take care of your business, make magic happen, and I will make sure that if things go belly-up I take the fall. I think you know I can afford it."

"Well, let nobody say Tony Stark's not a politician," Bucky heard someone say nearby. They weren't wrong, he reflected.

"So for now this is business as usual until I can find my ass without a roadmap," Tony finished. "I'm here to build robots, just like you are. Be ready to explain what you're doing to me, but beyond that I'm not going to throw my weight around. I don't care if it's profitable, I don't care if it's useful, I don't care if it's functional. I only care about whether it's interesting. So what I want from you is hard work and passion. Let me handle the rest. Okay, that's all, managers come to me if you have questions, everyone else go grumble about the new guy."

Tony gave them all a winning smile and Bucky could feel the shift as it happened, see the slight posture changes and the adjustments in facial expression. Angry suspicion was ebbing out, wary calm settling over them as they reacted to Tony's cheerful charm. Most of the staff drifted back to their workstations, while Tony shook hands and smiled at a few who'd come forward to speak with him. Out of habit, Bucky watched them, checking for weapons, for any aggressive gestures.

Tony spent the entire day talking, which was exhausting just to watch. He knew everyone's name and the business of most of them, and Bucky just trailed around behind him, drinking everything in while Tony poked and prodded. He kept a respectful distance, and at one point he went out to the food coach sitting outside the building and bought a sandwich that Tony ate without noticing, but otherwise he wasn't sure what he was meant to be doing.

"They're all interested in you," Tony said to him that night, shedding his coat in the foyer of the townhouse. "They think you're my bodyguard. Maybe my enforcer. I told them you were my secretary."

"Nobody buyin' that," Bucky remarked, heading for the kitchen. He couldn't cook much, but Anna had given him a few lessons while he was staying at the mansion, and stew sounded good. Tony followed him, hopping up to sit on the counter. Bucky took out beef and onions, potatoes, carrots, and put a heavy cast-iron pot on the stove to heat.

"You don't have to actually look after me, you know," Tony said. "I know you like to, but Dad isn't paying you to do that, not really. The money's yours, it's owed to you. I mean, the government doesn't know you exist, you can't exactly draw your pension."

"Well, we both gotta eat, and you can't cook," Bucky said.

"I just mean -- "

"I know, Tony," Bucky said, glancing up at him with a reassuring smile. "Look, I always liked this. I used to look after Steve when he was a little guy, much as he'd let anyone look after him. Tried when he...got bigger, too, but he didn't need it so much then. If I didn't wanna do it, I wouldn't do it, same as you."

"Well, if you wanted a job at Stark, or anywhere else for that matter, you know you could," Tony said.

"Sure. Maybe someday." Bucky scraped the chopped onions into the pan and stirred, listening to them sizzle.

"What would you like to do?"

"I like what I'm doing now. Not just the cooking," he added, when Tony sighed. "Look, back when, I liked machines. The night before I shipped out we went to see your dad demo the flying car."

"Still hasn't perfected that one."

"That's not the point. I thought I might like to work for Stark someday. Building things. Didn't think I'd be wearing one, but I like Robotics. They seem nice. I can learn there," he said, standing next to Tony and minding the vegetables. "Same as you."

Tony drummed his heels against the cupboards and let his hand drift out to touch Bucky's metal shoulder, palm curving around the mass of it. It was something he did sometimes, Bucky wasn't really sure why, but he wasn't bothered. Worse people than Tony Stark had done terrible things to the arm while he was held down. Tony had never touched it with anything except awe and skill, and his hands were gentle.

"You're always thinking about the future," Bucky said.

"I can't help it. I'm a futurist, like Dad," Tony said.

"But this is where we are, right here, right now," Bucky replied, turning to look at him again. "We only got here last week. We can just be here for a little while. One thing I learned in the war, all that time I spent wanting to run forward, wanting to get overseas, to get into the action -- I could have been looking around where I was instead. This is enough, now. For me. To have somewhere to put my head down at night and someone to look after, who looks after me. Too long since I had that last."

Tony reached over and tipped Bucky's chin up with one hand, and he had a fleeting vision of Tony's face, young and somber, big blue eyes luminous, before Tony leaned forward and down and kissed him.

Bucky locked up, startled by the sudden affection, but then dusty memory took over, and he tilted his head to the side just slightly and leaned in. Tony's lips brushed against his again and again, like he didn't have much experience at this -- more likely that he was hesitant to push further -- so Bucky reached up with his left arm, pressed his palm to the back of Tony's neck, and pulled him into a deeper kiss.

Tony slid off the counter without pulling away, plastering himself against Bucky's chest, and --

"Shit!" Bucky swore, stepping back, and Tony looked heartbroken until Bucky blurted, "The onions!"

He turned and found the cast-iron pot smoking, the onions a blackening mess in the bottom. He hefted it with the metal hand, carried it to the sink, and began filling it with water. He pressed the heel of his right hand to his forehead, annoyed with himself, and then reached out without looking and pulled Tony back into his body, head against his shoulder.

"The way you distract me," he said into Tony's ear.

"I do?" Tony asked, sounding delighted, if a little muffled.

Bucky kissed the edge of his ear. "You do."

Tony leaned back and lifted his face. "I thought you might -- feel that way about...."

"You?"

"Men," Tony said, and gave him a rueful look. "I didn't hope for me."

Bucky tangled his fingers in Tony's short, messy curls, smoothing them down, fruitlessly trying to put them into order.

"It's not something it's all that bright to talk about," he said softly. "But yes, men, and yes, you. And," he said, ruffling the hair and then letting his hand fall, "I want to make sure you get dinner. So let me cut up another onion, or pony up for a meal down at the diner."

"Diner," Tony said promptly, beaming.

"Anna isn't going to be happy with me."

"Just another opportunity for her to overfeed both of us when we visit home," Tony pointed out, popping up on his toes for a brief kiss before heading to the foyer to pull his shoes and coat back on. "Come on!"

Bucky rolled his eyes, muttered "The enemy is us," and followed him.

***

Tony was exuberant at dinner, bounding along as they walked to the diner, locking a foot around Bucky's ankle under the table in the booth where they sat, casting gleeful looks at him when he thought nobody else was looking. Nobody was, much. Bucky had seen the kind of attention Howard or Maria got when they went out, and the attention Tony got when he went out with them, but Tony on his own, in a city far less obsessed with glitz or celebrity than Manhattan was, didn't merit much of a second look.

Just as well, Bucky thought, eating his meatloaf and trying not to smile quite as obviously as Tony. Tony's delight in this new discovery, this fragile little bubble of theirs, warmed him from the inside out, but it wasn't that much safer to go with fellas in the sixties than it had been in the thirties. His first duty, always, was to keep Tony safe; he wasn't about to let his guard slip on that count in public.

Tony rambled about his plans for Robotics, his opinion of the diner's food, and what they ought to do about getting Dummy down from the third floor. Bucky mostly listened, enjoying not having to respond to much, until Tony wound down somewhere around the last few bites of dessert.

"Do you want to go walk on the Common?" he asked, pushing whipped cream around on his plate with his fork. "Or go home? Whatever you want."

"You got a particular taste for going walking?" Bucky asked.

"No, but people do it, it's a thing people do. With people they...want to...walk around with."

Bucky pressed his lips together, hiding an amused smile. "How about we go home and try to coax Dummy down from the third floor."

"Oh! Yeah, that'll be fun!" Tony said, sounding like he meant it.

Walking back, Tony stayed near enough their shoulders touched, and his fingers brushed Bucky's right hand often enough that, if they weren't actually holding hands, it felt like it anyhow.

"You said yes," Tony said, quietly, at one point. "About men. So did you ever...?"

"Once or twice. Got curious, you know. Never had anyone steady. No steady girls either, though, so that wasn't unusual."

"Oh," Tony said, looking down.

"You?"

"Guy I knew in college, Ty. Well, we knew each other before college, our dads are friends, but we didn't hang out until I got to MIT."

Bucky's brows drew together. "You were fifteen in college."

"Only the first year! Besides, I'm old for my age. We just fooled around. I guess we weren't steady either."

Tony's shoulders hunched, drawing away from him a little, and Bucky slung his arm around his neck, pulling him back in.

"We can be steady, if you want," he said. "I got no other interests. Unless you like that nice punch card programmer lady who was makin' eyes at you today -- "

"Bucky!" Tony yelped, outraged. "She was not!"

"Or that fella with the gyroscopes -- "

"No," Tony said sullenly, but he huddled up against Bucky as they climbed the stairs to the front door. "I thought you weren't paying attention to the gyroscopes, anyway."

"I'm always paying attention to everything," Bucky said. He held the door for Tony and let him slip inside, then followed him in, shedding his coat and boots in the foyer. Tony turned to face him, blocking the way into the lounge.

"You don't have to," he said, and Bucky could see what it cost him to say this, not just the heartbreak but the humiliation of it. "It's not like...a condition of living here, or my dad paying you, I mean he'd have fits if he knew anyway -- "

Bucky leaned in and kissed him, because he was willing to bet this was a conversation Tony was well-versed in, the complexities of love when it came to Stark money.

"I know that," he said, when Tony was silent, eyes closed, face tipped up to his. "If I didn't like you I wouldn't have come to Boston. Yeah, I grew up poor, and I...lived through some stuff since. But that means I know I can live without it. I don't need any of this, I don't need money. Nice to have," he added, and Tony opened his eyes, smiling weakly at him. "But not necessary. Not something I'd lie to you for."

"I had to offer," Tony said.

"I know."

"So," Tony said, rubbing his palms on his trousers. "Let's go get Dummy down the stairs?"

Wrestling Dummy back down two flights of stairs to the ground floor took what Bucky was sure was at least two miracles, plus a lot of pulling and pushing and ducking whenever the poor thing flailed, trying to see where they were going. As soon as they got Dummy back to ground level, the mystery of how he'd gotten up in the first place became clear: he rolled himself right back over to the dumbwaiter behind the kitchen, hiked his chassis into it using his arm, and then squeezed his arm in, folding it a number of ways before he managed to fit himself fully into the little box. Tony caught his claw just before it pushed the button to automatically carry him back up to the third floor. With Bucky's help, he pried him out of the dumbwaiter and then closed the hatch; Bucky distracted Dummy in the living room while Tony dug out his wrench and drill and bolted the hatch shut.

"He can use it as much as he likes once I put some security barriers on the stairs," he said, setting the tools aside and joining Bucky in the living room, where he was sitting cross-legged on the floor and playing fetch, throwing a balled-up scrap of paper for Dummy to chase. He patted the housing on Dummy's arm and then flipped the switch on his chassis. Dummy powered down with a betrayed little meep.

Tony settled on the floor, dropping his head onto Bucky's shoulder, hooking his chin over his collarbone. Bucky reached up with his left hand, the metal gleaming as he chucked Tony under the chin.

"Whatcha thinkin', genius?" he asked.

"Thinkin' I'd like to fool around with you," Tony said, imitating the hint of Brooklyn in his voice.

Bucky let himself be kissed, leaning back a little as Tony slid around him, only startling for a moment when Tony kept moving to straddle his legs. He was warm and eager, pushy the way Tony always was, but cautious too, always three steps ahead, thinking out his next move, anticipating Bucky's reactions. Bucky had known some bright bulbs in his day -- Howard of course, and Steve wasn't a slouch in the brains department, and Peggy was the cleverest, most well-educated woman he ever met -- but Tony took the prize.

"This fella you fooled around with before," Bucky said, and Tony leaned back to roll his eyes.

"I don't want to talk about him right now," he said pointedly. Bucky pressed two metal fingers to Tony's lips before he could lean in again.

"How old was he?" he asked.

"I don't know, twenty one, twenty two. He graduated the next year."

"So, my age."

"Yeah, but three years ago. Almost four now."

"He was twenty-two and you were fifteen."

"I knew what I was doing," Tony said, starting to sound annoyed.

"I'm sure you did." Bucky let his fingers drift down Tony's throat, the delicate olive skin, the point of his pulse. He wasn't at all sure Tony had, and he'd like to find this Ty fella and have some words with him, but he'd let that go for now. "You and me aren't in any hurry, are we?"

"No," Tony said, tilting his head. "I mean, I guess not. Actually I'm kind of in a hurry, but it's not like we're on a deadline, I just really -- like you," he finished, a little hapless, eyes searching Bucky's face. "You want to, don't you?"

"Yeah, I do, I just want to have a little time first," Bucky said. "Things moved slower in my day, you know."

"What, all of twenty years ago?"

"Closer to thirty, and yeah. It was a different time. Just...this for tonight, all right?" he said, and kissed Tony quickly.

"Okay," Tony agreed reluctantly. "But...why?"

Bucky shrugged. "Instinct. Little bit of time to learn more about this, what it's gonna be. Lemme take you out to a movie, buy you some popcorn -- take you walking on the Common if you want. Do this properly."

"We can take turns," Tony said, sounding like he enjoyed the idea. "Can I buy you flowers?" he teased, and Bucky grinned at him. "Big bouquets of roses and tulips, orchids for your buttonhole, boxes of chocolate -- "

"No flowers!" Bucky insisted, twisting to the side, knocking Tony off his lap in a controlled fall that brought them both to the floor, lying facing each other on the old well-varnished wood, laughing. Tony was brilliant when he laughed.

I almost killed his parents, Bucky thought, the idea drifting across his mind like an unwelcomed stray, and he pulled him in close, holding Tony's face against his chest, hand protective over the back of his head. Tony went as though Bucky were -- worthy of this, worthy of trust, and it nearly broke his heart how much he didn't deserve it. And it scared him, that Tony might find that out.

"Let me keep you safe for a little while," he said into Tony's hair.

"Yeah, okay, whatever, you big weirdo," Tony replied, and pulled away. He sat up, finger-combing his hair back pointlessly. "But I bought dinner tonight so you have to take me to the movies. On Thursday."

"Why Thursday?"

"Because it's gonna be a long week at Robotics so I'm giving everyone Friday off, since I'm the best boss ever," Tony said, yawning. "I should sleep."

"Probably," Bucky agreed dryly, pushing himself up off the floor with a grunt. "Tomorrow we have to put in the robot-proof stairway gates too."

"Ugh, don't remind me." Tony patted Dummy's arm affectionately as he stood up. "And we need to seal off the second floor dumbwaiter hatch completely. I'm not going to wake up someday at three am and find a robot arm leaning over me, watching me sleep."

"If that happens to me, there's gonna be one less robot arm in this house by the time I'm done," Bucky said. Tony smiled and kissed him, but only quickly, only in passing as he headed for the stairs.

"You lock up," he called over his shoulder. He knew full well that Bucky had to lock up; he didn't feel safe unless he'd seen each lock done personally. But it was a nice touch, Bucky decided, not a taunt, just an order that made his paranoia seem less weird.

Tony was good at that, taking the strange and making it ordinary. Bucky watched him go up with a smile, then went to make sure the doors and windows were sealed for the night.

The last thing he did before going to bed, as always, was to peer into the cracked-open door to Tony's bedroom, to see if he needed anything. He never lingered, but he always checked, just to be sure.

Tony was built on sturdy lines, the same way his father had been as a younger man, with the same thick, useful sort of muscle that must be a condition of being an engineer. He wasn't delicate, at least not in that way. But still, asleep, he had the same sort of childlike fragility Steve used to have before the Serum -- a terrible vulnerability that triggered every instinct Bucky had.

Steve would have hated to be thought of that way, and Bucky was sure Tony didn't much care for it either, but he was helpless against the feeling -- he couldn't stop wanting to defend Tony any more than he could grow a new arm. Especially now.

He'd find a good movie to take Tony to on Thursday -- there was that new Disney flick, The Jungle Book, though it was really for the kiddies -- and if they sat in the back, maybe he could put his arm over Tony's shoulders, pull him in close and enjoy the manic warmth he always seemed to exude.

Yes, that'd work fine for now. He'd deal with the future when it arrived -- he was good at that, after all.

***

Bucky had thought that Tony had spoken to everyone he needed to on Monday -- managers, team leaders, head engineers, everyone who mattered. He hadn't realized Tony was intent on talking to everyone at Robotics, down to the roughnecks in the machine shop who custom-ground parts for the rest of the plant. Bucky liked those guys especially; they treated Tony like a little brother and were very insistent about their coffee and lunch breaks, which meant Tony had to sit for an entire forty minutes, eat food, and not talk about work. It was glorious.

Tony worked his way through every team, Tuesday and Wednesday, drinking untold cups of coffee and eating greasy sandwiches and cups of soup while Bucky loitered and listened. People had long since begun to relax around Tony by the time they stopped shooting Bucky suspicious looks, which was just as well, since on Thursday he did something that, for about five seconds, looked a lot like he was trying to murder the boss.

Tony had woken him that morning and demanded pre-date breakfast be made, which Bucky was sure wasn't a thing in the 1960s any more than it had been in the 1930s, but he usually made breakfast anyway, so he'd obliged with fried eggs and ham. He could tell Tony was looking forward to the movies not just because of the breakfast but because his attention was visibly straying at work -- he'd nod and listen for about two minutes to what his staff were saying, then lose the thread of it for maybe twenty seconds, then snap back into listening-boss mode.

When it happened, just before lunchtime, Bucky moved before he thought. At first he didn't even know why he did what he did. He didn't register what he'd seen until after he'd grabbed Tony around the chest from behind with his right arm, twisting them both back to the right and bringing his left arm up defensively, across Tony's left temple. Even over the horrified shouts of the staff and Tony's own cry of indignation, he could hear the two sharp pings as bullets ricocheted off his forearm, which was jerking downwards automatically to drive them into the floor.

"Everyone down!" he heard himself shout, and except for a few slow-moving gapers, the staff of Stark Robotics threw themselves to the floor, sliding under desks and half-built machines. Bucky kept moving, carrying Tony bodily around the curve of a corrugated steel wall separating two workstations. He threw him to the ground, hand whipping around to hike his shirt and unholster the Stark 9mm that Howard had given him (along with a whole host of other weapons; Howard knew how to arm a man properly) before they'd left for Boston.

Finally off autopilot, he could see what had set him off -- the glint of a muzzle from the gantries, well above the bright white floodlights the workers used, barely visible in the dim glare from the unwashed windows. He fired back, but he couldn't see a person, just flashes of metal. Whoever it was, they were running now.

"Stay down!" he bellowed, hoping Tony would listen, and took off in the direction the shooter was running. He was ready when the next shot rang out from above, deflecting it away from his forehead with his wrist, and then there was a brief square of light in the wall of the building as the shooter made it outside through an access door. Bucky raised the gun and fired, but all he saw was a flash of blue and a streak of red before the door slammed shut.

Robotics' security guards, who admittedly didn't usually have much to do, were pouring into the entrance Bucky needed to get out of, slowing him down; by the time he got outside, cursing and cursing, whoever it was had long since vanished. He did a quick lope around the perimeter just to be sure, but he could see the skidmarks where a motorcycle had peeled out. Clever getaway vehicle.

Nobody had much reason to kill Tony Stark. He'd talked it over with Howard one evening, because they both had worries about Boston, but on different angles.

Tony was leading an insignificant, unprofitable division of a much larger company. Howard's rivals weren't the murdering kind, either, or at least the ones that were weren't the kind to kill the prince before the king. Tony wasn't involved in SHIELD at all, and even Howard wasn't usually hands-on anymore, especially not since Hydra had been purged -- Peggy had taken the reduced agency in hand and was cleaning house thoroughly, and Howard was content for her to manage things.

Neither Stark was much of a target, but any rational person would be after Howard. Which meant either a run-of-the-mill disgruntled employee or a Hydra hardcase who hadn't been caught yet, out for revenge.

He hurried back inside, where nearly everyone was still huddled under tables, and nearly got shot at again by one of the guards.

Two of the more quick-thinking security officers were huddled around Tony protectively, but Tony pushed them away and stood up when Bucky approached. His hands shot out and caught Bucky's left arm, turning it up so that the light fell across the gouges in his arm where the bullets had hit.

The movement jarred him, and a dull ache like a minor cramp in his shoulder became a sudden, sharp stab of pain. He hissed, right hand rising to clench the seam where metal met flesh, thinking perhaps the housing had been wrenched -- but the tips of his fingers, curled over his shoulder, came away bloodier than he'd expected.

"Go and get Dr. Blake," Tony said to one of the guards, face white, lips bloodless as he peeled Bucky's jacket off. "Jesus, I knew I heard four shots -- "

"Four?" Bucky asked, confused, but he followed Tony to a chair and let himself be guided into it, straddling it backwards, bent forward over the chair's back. When Tony picked up a pair of shears from the table he flinched away instinctively, but Tony's hands were gentle as he slit Bucky's shirt down the back and peeled the fabric away. The wound began to burn unpleasantly, and Bucky fought the urge to curl away from it, knowing it wouldn't help.

"Looks like it bounced off the edge of the housing," Tony murmured. "Glanced off the shoulder, went straight into the muscle. Jesus. If you hadn't been there it would've hit me in the neck."

"Get it out," Bucky managed. "Before I heal up around it."

"Doctor's on his way, I promise."

He'd been shot before, of course -- back in the war, and after, he had vague memories of being shot, of being annoyed about being shot -- the Soldier hadn't cared about pain, which in some ways would be preferable to the searing agony he was in now. He panted through his teeth and tried not to think about how easy it could be to be the Asset again, to just passively let the pain wash through and around him while he got on with the job --

"Bucky? Bucky, look at me," Tony ordered, and Bucky managed to make eye contact, managed to hold onto himself with the tips of his fingers. "You're gonna be fine. Dr. Blake's used to pulling metal out of people. The way you heal, we can still see The Jungle Book tonight, huh?"

Bucky managed a smile. Lord, how like Howard he was, parading around his self-absorbtion to hide his panic. He could see it in his eyes, though, knew it was an act.

The doctor arrived then, with a sharp scalpel and a pair of forceps, and a needle full of something that didn't really numb the pain for long. Bucky pressed his head against the ridge of the chair's back and breathed through it, muffling a shriek with his right arm when the pain got to be too bad, right before there was a wet popping feeling and the clatter of a bullet onto a tray. That sound was familiar too, and if it hadn't been for Tony's hand finding his as the doctor packed the wound with gauze, he might have panicked and lashed out. They used to patch him up before they put him in the machine, on the assumption that he wouldn't remember the pain later, but he'd started to, and now he remembered it all, even if it was through a haze. And his body was waiting for the chair now, his brain scrambling not to panic.

With the metal out of his shoulder, the pain receded, and he felt the familiar itch of the flesh beginning to knit together again. He slumped down, exhausted, and felt Tony's hand smoothing his hair.

"Security," Tony said, and then clamped a hand on Bucky's good shoulder when he started to get up. "Has anyone called the police?"

"Should we, boss?" someone asked.

"No. Stark Industries is a defense contractor, that makes this a federal issue. You need to call SI headquarters in New York and ask to speak to the head of security there, John Coulson."

There was a waver in Tony's voice that made him sound very young, but he didn't stammer or hesitate as he gave orders.

"He'll send SHIELD agents here, they have a field office nearby. I want you to get the entire staff together, sit them down in one place so nobody's wandering off, and tell them not to talk to each other until SHIELD arrives to take statements. Here..." Tony's hands left his shoulder, and Bucky turned his head to one side to see Tony peeling bills off a roll of cash. "Buy everyone lunch. Call the sandwich place that sends the cart up here sometimes, get enough for the whole staff."

"You got it, boss," one of them said, and Tony pulled Bucky's head back into his stomach as the thump of boots told him that security was leaving.

"You're getting into the habit of saving my life," Tony said. "Probably shouldn't find that as romantic as I do. Took a bullet for me just now. And they say chivalry is dead."

Bucky opened his mouth, but he couldn't think of a wiseacre remark or even just a response to make, so he closed it and pressed harder into Tony's stomach.

"That's it, take a breather. SHIELD's on its way, they'll take over. You just rest here," Tony said softly. "That was great, Bucky. That was really amazing. I mean, I just about wet myself when you grabbed me, but you moved so fast. You were a blur."

"Did you see?" Bucky managed.

"Who was shooting? No. Did you?"

Bucky shook his head, still pressed into Tony's body.

"Then don't worry about it right now. SHIELD'll put a guard on me until they figure it out. Between dad and Aunt Peggy, probably all of SHIELD and most of the Army'll be on the case. Besides, it was probably someone Dad fired before I got here, looking to take it out on me."

"No," Bucky said. "It was Hydra."

"I thought we got them all -- "

"It was Hydra," Bucky insisted. "Too organized. Too good a shot."

"Okay, well, even if it was, they won't last long. And they can't have been very high up in the organization if they didn't know what you were capable of. Should've waited until you weren't standing next to me."

"Unless they were aiming for both of us," Bucky said. Tony's hand, which had been stroking his hair, stilled.

"Even if they were, they should have known you don't go down so easy," Tony said. Bucky nodded, but he didn't reply, and they stayed that way until SHIELD showed up.

***

They didn't make it to the movies that night. Bucky was scabbed over and well on his way to being healed up by the time SHIELD let them leave, but with a security detail escorting them and Howard calling every ten minutes to threaten to come up to Boston, it wasn't really a very romantic evening.

"Dad, no, I -- Dad, it's fine, Bucky's here. Yeah, just what we need, both Starks in one place so we can both get shot at. Yes, it was sarcasm! Well, guess who taught me that? Could you for once just admit I'm capable of -- oh well thanks," Tony growled. "No. No, I'm hanging up now, Dad. No, don't put -- Mom, hi," Tony said, rubbing his eyes with his fingers. Bucky, sitting at the kitchen table with an ice pack slung over his shoulder, gave him a sympathetic look. "No, I'm fine. We're both fine. Yeah, he did. Well, I think he's a hero too."

Bucky managed a weak imitation of a preening smile.

"You try reasoning with Dad. Okay. Yes, I will. Yes, I'll make sure. Okay. Love you too."

He hung up and let himself flop over the phone, frustrated. "Mom says you're a hero and we should remember to feed the SHIELD security detail."

"Howard must have a direct line to God to have got her and kept her," Bucky informed him.

"Don't encourage either one of them," Tony sighed. "At least Dad's probably not going to catch the midnight express up here. How's your shoulder?"

"Stiff. Be fine by tomorrow."

"How's the rest of you?"

Bucky shrugged his right shoulder.

"Not gonna Winter out on me, are you?"

"No."

"Good," Tony said, shuffling up into him, until Bucky lifted his right arm and wrapped it around his back. "Thank you."

"Can't let some two-bit punk take you out now, when you're just getting interesting," Bucky said, and Tony poked him in the ribs, mock-outraged.

"I've always been exceptionally interesting. Too interesting for most people."

"Keep believing that," Bucky said, dropping a kiss against his temple. "You should sleep."

"We both should," Tony replied.

"I thought I'd sit up with the agents on duty for a little while."

"Bucky, you were shot."

"I healed," Bucky insisted.

"You need to be fresh for when the agents go off shift. Look, we got a guy on the roof, two in the lounge, and one across the street. Someone has to make them breakfast tomorrow and they don't deserve to try to eat what I'd manage on my own."

Tony had a point. Bucky had never been much of a tactitian; he favored brute strength. Steve had always been the one with the plan. He nodded, and Tony looked faintly triumphant.

They completed their nighttime rituals more or less as usual, though Bucky found himself moving to stand between the bathroom window and Tony while he brushed his teeth and Tony washed his face. When he got back from checking the locks he heard Tony moving around, even through the thick wall that divided his bedroom from Tony's. He could hear him undressing, the creak of the bed as he climbed into it, and finally silence. Even from here, he could hear the footsteps of the agent on the roof, pacing a circuit every few minutes, and the muted conversation of the agents on the ground floor. He could hear Tony's breathing, and the soft rustle of the hedges in the little patch of garden in front of the house.

The latter were normal sounds, things he heard every night and which usually lulled him to sleep, gave him a sense of continuity and kept most of the worst dreams at bay. Tonight, they rasped across his nerves -- every shift of foliage a possible attack, every silence between breaths stretched long. Not to mention the unending footsteps.

Finally he got up and left the room, telling himself he'd just check in on Tony and then go back to bed. When he hovered near the door, peering through, he heard movement.

"Bucky?" Tony called. "You still up?"

Bucky tucked a hand into the space between door and jamb, widening it a little. "Just checking the locks," he lied. Tony sat up in bed, a soft, faded STARK EXPO '62 t-shirt visible in the dark.

"I can't sleep either," Tony admitted. "I keep thinking about all the ways he could get in."

"Not that many."

"I have a very vivid imagination," Tony said with a self-deprecating grin. He looked at Bucky, and then down at his hands. "You want to come in? Grab your blanket, bed's plenty big enough for two."

"Don't wanna keep you up."

"I wouldn't mind it. Feel safer with you here, to be honest." His gaze was a little too knowing for Bucky's comfort. "You'd be happier too, wouldn't you? Knowing you're really between me and harm."

Bucky nodded. "I'll be right back."

He collected his blanket and pillow from the bed, then wondered if he should disarm. He didn't wear a lot of weaponry to bed, usually, but there was the ankle strap with the throwing knife, and the special "invisible" holster around his waist, holding the 9mm in the small of his back. He didn't normally wear that (it made for uncomfortable sleeping) but tonight he'd felt a need for it.

He decided on a compromise; he ditched the knife and took the clip out of the 9mm, placing it in the ankle strap before putting the gun itself back into its holster. It'd take him longer to respond if someone did show up, but there was no chance of danger to Tony from him, at least, this way.

Tony had shifted over in the bed to make room for him, and Bucky shook his blanket out over them both, crawling between his and Tony's, a reasonable facsimile of propriety. Tony turned onto his side to look at him, and Bucky lay on his good arm, letting the left shoulder rest some more.

"Not as sexy as I hoped," Tony said.

"Good. I'm not here to entertain you tonight," Bucky told him.

"You always entertain me," Tony replied with a grin. "Very first time I saw you, I was entertained."

"Yeah, I was real funny shackled to a table in an interrogation room."

"Well, Dad and Peggy were pretty funny, arguing about you. And you had your moments. Your face when I got you to speak English, that was a riot. Keeps me warm at night."

Bucky huffed, his memories of that time distant and vague. He did remember being shocked when Tony tricked him into a response in English, and looking back it was pretty funny, but at the time it had been gut-wrenching, bewildering. And the cold, desperate hope that followed, that if he served this master well he might not go back to the last one...

Tony's hand came to rest on his face, thumb pressed gently against his cheekbone.

"I know you won't let anything happen," he said. "But SHIELD's got us covered. Sleep."

Bucky nodded, raising his hand to hold Tony's where it was, and closed his eyes.

***

Tony's planned Friday-off-for-the-workers turned into an involuntary plant shutdown that morning, as SHIELD continued to comb through the building for clues. Bucky cooked breakfast for the SHIELD agents, saving leftovers for their shift replacements, and when Tony came stumbling down in his pyjamas, he pressed a cup of coffee into his hands.

"Phil!" Tony said, surprised, when he sat down at the table. Bucky looked at him inquiringly, but one of the day-shift agents -- a little older than Bucky, with close-cropped hair and a forgettable sort of face -- smiled and nodded.

"Hey kid. How are you?" he asked, looking pleased to be remembered.

"I'm fine. What're you doing here? I thought you were overseas."

"I was. Finished my hitch with the Rangers, Dad got me a job at SHIELD."

"Seriously? Do I have to call you agent now?" Tony said with a grin, and Phil laughed. Bucky coughed. "Oh, sorry. Buck, this is Phil Coulson. His dad's ex-SHIELD, runs security for SI now. Guess we're both profiting from nepotism these days," he added.

"Honor to meet you, sir," the agent said, offering his hand.

"Phil's a Captain America fan," Tony said with a grin as they shook. Coulson shot him a glare. "He has all the comic books. Used to lend them to me when I was a kid."

"Yeah, I never got some of them back," Phil said pointedly.

"Well, have a look around for them while you're -- what?" Tony asked, as Coulson got up without a word and went to the kitchen door, drawing his gun. Bucky craned his neck and saw someone coming up the alley walkway between houses, hair slicked back, wearing a cheap suit of the kind Bucky knew all too well. He squinted and recognized one of the machinists from Robotics.

"It's okay, he's staff," he said to Coulson, who nodded but didn't put his gun away. Bucky opened the kitchen door.

"Mr. Barnes," the man said, stopping in surprise, still a good eight feet away. "Is Mr. Stark in?"

"He's at breakfast," Bucky said, casually blocking the doorway. "You need something -- Carl, right?"

"Yessir. I'm a machinist at Robotics, sir."

"I remember."

"I got something to tell Mr. Stark."

"You think anyone's getting very close to him today?" Bucky asked, eyebrows raised.

"It's about the shooting," Carl said. He didn't look especially sly or coy, just determined, like he was doing an unpleasant duty.

"What about it?"

"I saw who did it, sir. Sort of. I kept my trap shut before because -- " Carl looked around. "We do this inside? Feeling a little exposed out here, you get my drift."

"Did you tell SHIELD what you saw?" Bucky asked, not budging.

"I..." Carl seemed to gather himself up a little. "I would have, but it sounds a little crazy. Mr. Stark seems like the kind of young man would understand the crazy better than a cop, specially a fed cop, you know."

Bucky weighed this, considering it, but the sheer lack of finesse on Carl's part insisted he was trustworthy. Anyone trying to con them would be slicker about it.

Bucky stepped aside and gestured him in. The two SHIELD agents in the kitchen eyeballed him; Tony blinked owlishly at him over the rim of his coffee mug.

"Can you ask, sir...." Carl said, nodding at the agents.

"Give us a minute, fellas?" Bucky said. Coulson exchanged a look with the other one, eyebrows raised. "I'll be here, I got my piece."

They left wordlessly. Bucky poured out a third mug of coffee.

"Carl says he saw the shooter," he told Tony, who set his mug down and sat up straight.

"You tell SHIELD?" he asked.

"I didn't like to," Carl said. "Seemed like they'd laugh. But I got to thinking and -- it kept me up at night, knowing what I knew, not having told you, Mr. Stark. I know you're a stand up boss and SI's always run a good fair union shop. You won't laugh when I tell you what I saw."

"Well, I'll do my best," Tony said.

"What'd you see?" Bucky asked.

"I saw him running after he shot you, Mr. Barnes," Carl said. "Not much light up there but I was up on the big feeder chute when it all happened, so, closer'n most, I think. Well -- it looked an awful lot like Captain America," he blurted. "I know it sounds nuts, but I could swear -- he had the red boots and gloves, and the blue uniform with the red and white stripes and the white star, you know, like in the clips they show on TV on Veteran's Day. I know it can't be him, sir, but he was in the costume and -- just like on the TV, and in the comic books my boy reads."

Bucky glanced at Tony, who looked intrigued more than anything. He could feel blood draining from his own face.

"Can you tell me what kind of rifle he was carrying?" Tony asked, as if the Captain America part didn't matter at all.

"I'm not an expert," Carl admitted. "Long. Really long. Thick barrel, with wood on it. And the stock had cutouts. Looked lightweight."

Tony looked at Bucky. "Sounds like a Dragunov. Good sniper rifle."

Bucky got up and put his head into the lounge, where the agents were on high alert.

"Radio in," he said. "Check on ballistics. Find out if the bullet they pulled out of me had rifling."

He hadn't favored a Dragunov himself, but every Hydra soldier he'd known had used Soviet equipment for preference. It lay somewhere between a tradition and a calling card.

"No rifling, sir," Phil said, after a few seconds on the radio.

"Steel jacket, steel core?"

"Looks that way."

Bucky nodded and leaned back into the kitchen.

"Does it help?" Carl asked anxiously. "Knowing what he looked like?"

"Yeah, it does," Bucky said.

"Thank you, Carl," Tony said.

"You want me to tell SHIELD?"

"No," Bucky said, before Tony could speak. "Don't tell anyone. If anyone asks, tell them you came here to talk over a union matter. Safety procedures for shootings in the workplace, or whether you'd be paid for the shutdown today, something like that."

Carl tapped the side of his nose. "No flies on me, Mr. Barnes."

"You are, by the way," Tony said. They both looked at him. "Being paid for the shutdown. Tell your friends."

"Thank you, Mr. Stark!"

"Go out the back, just in case," Bucky added, jerking his head at the hallway off the kitchen that led to the tiny, screened-in back porch. Steps down from the porch would take him through another alley and out onto a wholly different street.

"We're all glad to see you're all right," Carl said to Tony. "The fellas send their regards," he added to Bucky.

"Tell them thanks," Tony said. Carl gave them a stiff nod and slipped out the back.

"Should we put SHIELD agents on his home?" Tony asked.

"Probably draw more attention than just leaving him alone would. Nobody's after him. Someone in a Cap getup for a sniper job?" Bucky shook his head. "That's a pretty specific message. Carl the Robotics Machinist isn't part of their plan."

"What's their plan?" Tony asked. "I know you think this was a rational, planned attack, but the Captain America costume screams head case to me, Buck."

"Did SHIELD every try to put someone else in the uniform?" Bucky asked.

"No clue. Dad would know, or Aunt Peggy. Why?"

"I'm thinking," Bucky said, rubbingh is face with his right hand. His left clenched, whirring softly. "What'd they do with the Hydra files?"

"What Hydra files?"

Bucky looked at him. "Whatever files they found from -- from Zola."

Tony shrugged. "They didn't find much. A few things that Hydra soldiers had on them or in their desks, whatever was in Zola's office, a couple of reels of computer data from his fake Zola AI thing. I heard Dad say he thought Zola hadn't kept much on paper."

"No, there were...." Bucky trailed off. There had been files, dozens if not hundreds. In the room with the chair, the room where they used to wipe him clear before they put him in the freeze. The secret office Zola kept, with the files. And the chair, in the little back room.

He'd checked carefully, after they purged Hydra from SHIELD. Zola had known about the chair, and one or two others, but the others who knew had all died in the fighting. He and Zola were the only ones who knew, and Zola was in a pit, a deep dark pit with no sunlight and no-one to hear him speak. Howard and Peggy had promised him that.

He was the only one who knew where the chair was. Which meant he was the only one who knew where the files were. Files on the super-soldier project that he knew Zola had been working on, because he'd used Bucky's blood. He'd drawn so much blood. Sworn a lot, too, Bucky recalled. Killed a few Hydra recruits. And there had been one man -- he'd survived, at least Bucky thought he had. Zola had said he was going to give him a new partner, but then the new partner had never appeared, and the next wipe had ensured the Soldier wouldn't notice.

"Buck?" Tony asked, and Bucky twisted sharply, startled. Tony didn't flinch. "Hey, you went away for a second."

"Thinking," Bucky said.

"You want me to ask Aunt Peggy about Captain America?" Tony asked.

"No, I will," Bucky said. "I'll -- call her."

Tony squinted at him. "What's going on?"

Bucky swallowed. He couldn't leave Tony here, and he couldn't take Tony with him if he went to get the files -- he didn't even know if he could go there again, let alone keep Tony safe if something...happened. But he'd be protected under Peggy's eye, and New York was at least closer to -- it was closer than Boston.

"We should go to New York," Bucky said. "This weekend. Right now. It'll be safer there."

"Bucky, the investigation is here, I can't just..." Tony spread his hands. "I have responsibilities here, as horrifying as it is to say those words out loud."

"Just for the weekend," Bucky said. "If we leave now we can be in New York before dinner. Come home on Sunday. I'll drive."

Tony stared at him for a second, then sighed.

"I guess it'll mean fewer SHIELD agents to babysit me, more for the case. Dad's got a car in Boston that's nicer than the Robotics company truck," he said. "It's at the yacht club. If we go to New York, you have to promise me you'll tell me what this is about."

"I will. After," Bucky said.

"After what?" Tony asked, but Bucky was already bounding past Dummy, up the stairs to the second floor to pack. "This better be good if I'm gonna miss Star Trek tonight for it!" Tony yelled after him.

***

They arrived in New York earlier than expected, mainly thanks to Howard's car and Bucky's driving, both of which could be described as fast. Tony had called Maria to say they'd be home for dinner, but they had another stop to make first.

"Hey, Squirt," Angie Martinelli said, when they knocked on the door of the narrow house in Brooklyn where Peggy lived. "Hiya, Handsome," she added to Bucky, who gave her an uncertain smile. He'd met her a couple of times in the months he'd spent in New York, and he was pretty sure he understood why she lived with Peggy, but he hadn't wanted to inquire -- and Peggy had a husband (a retired SHIELD agent, who he hadn't yet met) and kids, so...

"Aunt Angie," Tony said, giving her a hug. From further inside the house there were yells of TONY! and a pair of girls came running into the foyer. Lilian, a few years younger than Tony, threw her arms around his neck; her little sister Sofia grabbed his arm and clung to his sleeve as he swung her back and forth.

"Girls," Angie said sternly, and Lilian let go of Tony's neck, but Sofia kept clinging on.

"It's fine, Angie. Hey, Sof, whatcha know?" Tony asked Sofia, who giggled and hugged his waist.

"Peg went to HQ, she said she was getting some stuff you asked for," Angie said to Bucky. "She should be -- there she is," she interrupted herself, peering over their shoulder as a cab stopped in front of the house. Peggy got out, a dusty file box under her arm, and waved.

"Hi Mum!" Lilian called around Tony. "Look who's here!"

"Yes, dear, it's Trouble and his companion, Mischief," Peggy said, giving them a tired smile. "Inside, everyone, Anthony's a wanted man."

"Yeah, what'd you do this time?" Angie asked, leading the crowd into the kitchen. "You want some lemonade or a beer or something?"

"We won't be long," Bucky said.

"Girls, why don't you take Tony off and play?" Peggy suggested. Tony looked annoyed at being cut out of the adults' discussion, but he let Sofia drag him up the stairs.

"You want me here or gone?" Angie asked, with the patience of someone who has spent a long time living with a spy. Peggy looked to Bucky, who shrugged.

"I doubt it'll be terribly interesting, but I don't think any of it's especially sensitive," Peggy said, as she took the lid off the box and pulled out a slim stack of files from inside. "I'm actually not sure myself why you wanted these files, James."

"One of the union guys at Robotics saw the guy who took a shot at Tony," Bucky said, seating himself next to her at the kitchen bar.

"Really? The initial reports I got from the branch office didn't mention an ID," Peggy said.

"He didn't tell SHIELD. I told him not to. Just in case," Bucky said. Peggy nodded. "He said he saw a guy who looked like Captain America, in a Captain America uniform. And I know from what I saw that he moved fast -- so I was wondering."

Peggy's fingers curled around the files, tightening. He saw Angie rest a hand between her shoulderblades.

"That's why I asked for the files I did. I need to know if SHIELD ever tried to put anyone else in the Captain America uniform," Bucky continued.

"I see," Peggy said.

"I'm sorry, Peg -- "

"No, I'm...it must be worse for you," she said. "It's been more than twenty years for me. For you..."

"Still hurts," Bucky said with a shrug. Peggy gave him a brief nod, then continued briskly.

"Well, officially it was decided it would be counterproductive to try and put someone else in the uniform, especially once the war was over," she said, sorting the files into two even thinner stacks. She pressed a palm over one of them. "The idea comes up at SHIELD about every five years or so, usually suggested by some blue-flaming young idealist who thinks nobody's ever thought of it before. Their suggestions are noted and gently declined." She pushed the stack towards him. "Everyone who's made the suggestion and their proposals."

Bucky took the pile, flipping through it. "Anyone seem especially unstable about it to you?"

"SHIELD was built by people who knew Steve," she said quietly. "It...naturally attracts people who find the symbol appealing. Especially those who were young during the war. Seems like most of our agents in their thirties have a hidden box of Captain America comics in a closet somewhere. The latest to suggest it was a fellow named Burns or Burnham or something. Everyone's file is there."

"And the Serum?" Bucky asked, nodding at the other stack.

"The military has tried to get funding for new research since before Steve went to Europe. Practically since the day Erskine died," Peggy said. "Howard holds half the dossier on the technology, so he has a standing agreement with the Senate subcommittee that handles such things. All research on the Serum goes through SHIELD. I think at this point it's actually considered treason to research the subject without SHIELD oversight."

"SHIELD done anything recently?"

Peggy pursed her lips. "No. It was...brought up in some staff meetings."

Bucky frowned, and then the penny dropped. "Because of me."

"It has been pointed out that we have access to a new source of, if not Erskine's Serum, then a seemingly functional replacement," Peggy said.

"By who?"

"Doesn't matter. Howard shut them down, and if he hadn't, I would have. Even Howard knows better than to mess about with it after what you've been through. One reason he's kept you out of reach of the government."

Bucky nodded. "I didn't realize."

"Intentionally. It would have done us no good and you potential harm, if you realized what they wanted from you. You might have run. We couldn't risk that, either."

"You're telling me now."

Peggy smiled. "You're not the man you were six months ago, James."

He nodded, more to himself than to her.

"At any rate, none of the research ever made it to human trials. Without a proper war on, there's less urgency, and they can't play quite as fast and loose with the rules about human experimentation."

Bucky flipped through the top folder in the second stack, curious. "Was Zola involved?"

"In the research? He might have asked to be copied on it. Why do -- "

She paused, eyes going wide.

"Was he researching the Serum in secret?" she asked. "He'd come up with a working formula once -- "

"He got lucky. With. With me," Bucky managed, closing the folder. "He was. Working on it, I mean, but he...everyone he tested it on died," he said. Angie put a hand to her mouth, her other hand still resting on Peggy's back. "Almost everyone. I can't remember...he might have had another, uh. Success."

"Zola's been in prison for months. There's no way he could be giving orders from the box he's in," Peggy said.

"But there are still a few Hydra we can't account for," Bucky replied. Peggy nodded. "Tony thinks whoever did it is a head case. But they're not totally irrational. Revenge is one of the only things that explains why they'd go after him and not Howard."

"How can I help?" Peggy asked. "You have SHIELD's resources at your disposal on this."

"I gotta...there's something I gotta find," Bucky said, closing the file, stacking the two piles together. Peggy offered the box, and he placed them carefully inside, closing the lid and winding the string around the closure discs to seal it. "Won't take long, but with someone running around trying to snipe Tony..."

"That's why you brought him with you from Boston."

"Wasn't like he'd let me go alone anyway," Bucky said ruefully. Peggy smiled. "We're having dinner with his folks tonight, staying over. I'm gonna leave late and go...find what I'm looking for. I'd appreciate it if someone kept an eye on the mansion tonight. On the quiet."

Peggy nodded. "I have a local team I trust. I'll put them on it."

"I'll make some snacks for them," Angie told her, kissed her cheek and then winked at Bucky.

"I'll get Tony," Bucky said. "Just up -- ?"

"Up the stairs and to the right," Peggy said.

Upstairs, he found Tony sitting on the windowseat of what was probably Lillian's bedroom, given the Beatles and Monkees posters on the walls. Lillian was sitting across from him and Sofia was leaned up against him, reading dramatically to him from a comic book. He noticed with relief that it was Batman, and not Captain America.

"Get what you came for?" Tony asked, as Bucky lurked in the doorway.

"More or less. Ready to go?"

Tony bent over and hugged Sofia, then let go so he could give Lillian a punch in the shoulder.

"Remember, MIT likes weirdos," he said to Sofia, and got to his feet, following Bucky down the stairs.

"Not recruiting Lillian for MIT?" Bucky asked, collecting the box. Angie gave them a wave and tossed Tony a brown paper bag.

"She's already decided she's going to Vassar. Lillian's still mine to mold," Tony said.

"Meddle lightly, she's got Peg's temper," Angie said. "Not to mention her aim."

"Well, until she's got Aunt Peggy's actual firearm, I'll be okay," Tony said. "Thanks, Angie."

"Anytime, Squirt. Don't be such a stranger."

"So, light reading?" Tony asked, nodding at the box as they got into the car. "You want to tell me what Peggy gave you?"

"Tomorrow," Bucky said.

"Why not now?" Tony asked, easing them out into traffic.

"Still got some work to do."

"Why can't you tell me?"

"Not anything to tell yet, not really," Bucky said, but something in his voice must have given him away. Tony grunted.

"It's something to do with Zola, isn't it?" he asked. "You only sound like that when it's about him."

Bucky watched the road, jaw tightening.

"But you'll tell me tomorrow?" Tony asked, and Bucky could hear the hint of the insecure boy under the bravado of the man.

"I just gotta work it out first," he said. "Tomorrow. Promise."

"Well, I'll hold you to that, and you're sleeping on the couch for a week if you break it," Tony said, a forced lightness in his voice. "And I'll tell Anna and you'll be in her bad books forever. Speaking of which, I bet Angie gave us cookies. Hers are even better than Anna's, but don't tell Anna I said that."

***

Bucky spent most of dinner very quietly. Howard wanted a full report on Robotics, and Tony loved to talk about it, so for once the pair of them had a peaceful conversation, probably helped along by the amazing dinner Anna had started on as soon as Tony had called home to say they were coming. Maria caught Bucky's eye and gave him a pleased smile as he got himself a third helping of brisket.

"Thank you for bringing him home this weekend," she said, while Tony and Howard bickered, for once good-naturedly, about some aspect of the business or other. "I don't think I slept a wink last night, knowing someone out there has it in for Tony. We owe you so much, James."

"Isn't anything," Bucky shrugged, uncomfortable with the gratitude. "Not as much as I owe Tony, anyway."

"Well, he's not one to call in debts, and anyway he's taken such a shine to you."

Bucky felt a twinge of guilt at that; if you only knew.

"A mother worries, but I do feel better knowing you're looking out for him. Howard," she added, turning away. "Stop baiting your son and see about dessert. I think Anna said something about a cake."

"I'll go," Tony said, rising and setting his napkin aside. He knew perfectly well there was a cake; they'd stopped at the kitchen to see Anna and Jarvis before even going to find the Starks. As soon as he was through the door, Howard turned to Bucky.

"SHIELD's updating me regularly, but they don't seem to know much," he said, without preamble. "What do you know that they don't, Buck?"

"Howard," Maria said, sounding appalled.

"He's here for a reason, hon, and it's not so that Tony could see his mother," Howard replied.

"One of the staff saw the shooter," Bucky said. "I already talked to Peggy about it. I'll handle the investigation."

"Why not hand it over to SHIELD? No offense, but we've got manpower you don't."

"Lots of ears," Bucky said. "Lots of loose lips."

Howard raised his eyebrows. "What exactly did this man see?"

"Not now," Bucky said; he could hear Tony's footfalls, and he didn't want either of the older Starks to react to the news in front of Tony.

"Well, if it leads to anything, pass me this tipster's name, I'll make sure he gets a bonus," Howard said, and Tony burst back into the room, carrying a tall, golden-brown cake with fresh icing oozing down the sides.

"Compliments of Anna," he said, handing his father the cake knife.

"You must come home at least once a month, Tony," Maria said. "Anna pulls out all the stops when you do."

"Well, if you'd stayed here and joined HQ -- " Howard began, then twitched, as though he'd been kicked under the table. Maria smiled sweetly at him.

"Cake," Tony said.

"Patience," Howard replied, but he cut into the cake and edged the first slice out onto a plate. Bucky reflected on the surreality of his life, and waited for a slice to make its way to him.

***

It was near midnight by the time the Starks were in bed, and Bucky gave it a little time before he slipped out of the guest room next to Tony's and gathered up the pack he'd prepared, creeping down the front staircase (to avoid going past Jarvis and Anna's rooms at the back of the house) and into the garage. He took the least conspicuous of Howard's cars, not that any were particularly subtle, and set out for Washington.

It wouldn't be a short drive, and he wouldn't be back before the rest of the household woke up, but hopefully he'd have intel to offer that would make up for it. He'd left a note on his pillow, so that Tony wouldn't be upset when he found him missing.

It also gave him ample time to prepare for his visit to the vault. He was confident he could find the room with the chair in it again -- he'd returned to it on autopilot often enough -- but he could also feel his pulse rising the closer he got, his muscles tensing, the anticipation of pain strong even though he was aware nobody would make him get into the chair, nobody would be there to force him down.

The urge to return was so automatic, so unconscious, that he was shocked when he pulled the car to a stop and realized he was already there. The last ten miles of the trip didn't even exist in his memory.

He sat in the car for a long time, breathing and trying to steady himself, before he could open the car door. He trotted across the street, darted into a shadow near the entry out of habit, and took the crowbar from a loop on the pack, ready to pry the door off its hinges if he had to.

The door swung open when he tried the handle. Zola hadn't even locked it the last time he'd left.

He stepped inside, ignored the concealed keypad for the false wall, and simply pushed until it creaked and groaned and warped open. Behind it was Zola's office, tidy and, by this time, dusty. The typewriter on the desk had a fresh sheet of paper in it, and there were sharpened pencils lined up next to it. The bulb in the lamp had burned out.

He reached for the bottom drawer of the desk, ripped the front off when he found it locked, and pulled out everything inside. A thick piece of paper the size of a playing card fluttered down and he picked it up, shoving it into a slit in the wall, concealed along one edge of a light switch touchplate. The bookshelf swung open and he descended into hell.

The air was murky, and as always it had a metallic tang to it. The lights flicked on when he reached out without thinking to thumb the switch, and he did a sharp turn as he came through the door at the bottom of the stairs, just in time to avoid seeing the chair. It sat in the middle of the floor like a hulking beast, shadow always in the corner of his eye, but he had work to attend to first.

There were no walls here, not as such, just endless safety-deposit boxes, the locks drilled out of most of them, filled with files in a haphazard kind of order. Here were the personnel files; he rifled through them, plucking out any names that matched the names off a list he'd made from the files Peggy had given him. Here were mission briefings, divided not alphabetically but by type: assassination, bombing, blackmail, framing, incitement, infiltration. He skimmed through the infiltration files, frowned, plucked a few out, and put the rest back.

Further on, he found what he was looking for -- Zola's scientific notes, starting in prewar Switzerland, moving to Berlin, northern Africa, Italy, back to Germany, then losing the black swastika stamp on the front as the folders began to contain notes from his time with Schmidt. He skipped ahead to the early 1960s, sure that it had been at least '63 when --

Here they were. Two blue folders and a cardboard binder. One had a list of the names of the dead stapled to the front; inside were medical record sheets for each dead Hydra soldier, sacrificed on the altar of the Serum, poisoned with Bucky's own blood, or at least something extracted from it.

The other had a name and photograph attached to the front, and a full profile inside: record sheets, evaluations, memos, two mission briefings, and page after page of notes in Zola's handwriting. The photograph caught his eye -- a square-jawed man with sandy blond hair worn in an old-fashioned side part, face a little narrower than Steve's, nose a little thicker, but with a clear resemblance, like a brother or a cousin. It seemed artificial somehow, like the face wasn't the right shape for the head it was attached to, the features didn't quite fit together.

The binder had chemistry notes in it, analyses of gamma radiation experiments, dozens of attempted compounds. There were three distinct sets of handwriting, one photocopied -- Howard Stark's initial diagrams for the radiation machine. Everything humanity knew about the serum, neatly organized and filed away in this dim little cavern.

He tucked the folders into his pack and set the binder on the floor, taking a small canister out of one of the pack's pockets. He poured the canister's contents over the binder and then, from the canister's lid, flipped up a little panel and took out a glass capsule, snapping it between his fingers and dropping the contents onto the binder.

It burst into satisfying purple flames, smokeless, odorless, and quick-consuming. As scraps of ash drifted away, he ground them into inky smears on the floor with the heel of his boot.

When the fire died down, he stomped it out, stirred up the pile of cinders with his left hand, and broke every last one into powder.

"Sorry, Howard," he said softly.

Then he stood up and turned to the middle of the room.

The chair had always towered over his consciousness, a million feet high, black and all-encompassing, the center of his world. Now, with the distance of months and some freedom from the Soldier, it seemed small, almost insignificant. Smaller than a dentist's chair, not much larger than the amusingly expensive executive chair in Tony's office at Robotics, if you took away the two half-circle arms that stood above it.

He had the crowbar, of course, and two hammers, three chisels, a kit of screwdrivers and another canister of acid in the pack. He had three guns and five knives. There were myriad ways he could destroy it. He'd thought he might take it apart, meticulously, piece by piece. Down to its components, which he could then burn to slag before he went upstairs again, out into the world, and called Peggy to tell her where to find the files. SHIELD needed this intel, but nobody needed the chair.

There was something sitting on the seat, a little inocuous object, smaller than his palm. He crouched in front of the chair and picked it up, turning it over in his hands. The bite guard, the one they put in his mouth to keep him from biting his tongue or chipping his teeth when they wiped him.

He felt something snap and looked down. He'd ripped one of the footrests off the chair, and now it sat in his left hand, the metal twisted at the breaking point. He shifted the mouthpiece in his right hand and fitted the curve of it around the base of his thumb. He pressed the ball of his thumb against the molar edge of the guard and the brittle resin broke apart neatly.

Rage rose up inside him, bitter and violent and uncaring, and his vision narrowed down to the chair, to the steel blur of his left hand and the clenching, rippling muscles of his right. Pain crackled through his flesh fingers and he could feel muscles twisting across his back where he was using his body as leverage on his left arm, but he didn't care; sweat dripped down into his eyes as he pulled the thing apart inch by enraging inch. The metal screamed and tore as easily as the leather of the seat, cords and shackles snapped, delicate components broke into fragments and fell under his feat as he assaulted the thing, ripping it apart the way he'd wanted to rip Zola's limbs from his body, his lying tongue from his mouth.

What stopped him, finally, were the bolts in the floor. He'd torn the thing to pieces down to the cast iron base, bolted into the cement of the vault. He found himself kneeling in front of the base, unable to pull up the heavy ring that had supported the chair, unable to look away from the stamp of the skull and tentacles in the iron. But he couldn't let go where he gripped it, either. Hot tears were rolling down his face, and blood from a scrape on his arm dripped onto the floor.

He curled in on himself, pressing his chest to his arched wrists, and wished and wished that Tony were there.

"Bucky?" someone said, and he jerked upright, one hand yanking his sidearm out of its holster. Nobody should be here, nobody should know --

It was Tony.

Oh God, he'd finally lost it entirely. Hallucinations. Delusions?

"So that was it, huh?" Tony asked, quiet and calm. His eyes swept the wreckage, assessing.

"How are you here?" Bucky asked, lowering the gun. "Are you real?"

"Followed you," Tony said. "I knew you were plotting something. I actually made it to the garage before you did, wasn't hard to track you after that. Sloppy. I know you're better at shaking a tail than that."

He hadn't even thought to. Nobody knew where he was going, nobody cared what James Barnes did.

Irrational amusement welled up in him. No delusion of his would be like this. "You took the motorcycle Howard said you couldn't ride, didn't you?"

"I wore a helmet," Tony said.

Bucky let go of the chair's base with his left hand, saw finger-shaped dents in the iron.

"We can slag it," Tony continued, voice still carefully even. "Put it all in a box, find the nearest foundry, dump it in. Enough cash, you can buy anything in New York this time of night, even a blast furnace. Turn it into a brick." He kicked a nearby piece of glass, watched it skitter across the concrete and crumble. "Doubt even Dad could rebuild it from this, though. Pretty thorough, Bucky."

Bucky set the gun down and pushed it away from him, and Tony took the hint; he stepped into the room, crunching over the remains of the chair without bothering to pick his way around them, and dropped to his knees next to the chair base, pulling Bucky's shoulders forward, into him. His whole body heaved, and he kept his left arm clear, in case he gripped too hard and hurt him.

"It's okay," Tony said, cradling his head against his shoulder, hiding his eyes from the room. "You got away. You shook it off. You escaped and now you're free forever."

"You saved me."

"Technically Dad saved you," Tony said, and Bucky laughed around a sob. "But you pulled yourself up and out. You never have to come back here, ever. We'll buy the building, bulldoze it to the ground. Put a nice park here. Little fountain, some ugly piece of public art."

He guided Bucky's head up, pressing their foreheads together.

"Zola's files are here," Bucky managed. "I found files on the shooter, I think. And I need to tell Peggy about the rest."

"Okay," Tony agreed. "Let's get the fuck out of here, it's creepy."

He let Tony gather up the gun and his pack and then lead him up the stairs and out, across the street to where the car (and, he saw, the forbidden motorcycle) waited. Tony sat him down in the passenger's seat, crouching on the sidewalk to wipe his face with a cloth scrounged from the car's repair kit, then cleaned off the wounds on his arm with a first-aid box from the trunk.

"So you found something about the shooter?" Tony asked as he taped gauze over the worst cut, which was already healing anyway. Bucky still let him do it; it felt nice.

"Zola made another super soldier," Bucky said. "Couple of files are in the bag. Pretty sure it's him. Dunno how to find him yet, but the files might have that somewhere."

"How's he getting orders from Zola?" Tony asked.

"He probably ain't. Either he's gone off on his own or Hydra's got a new head."

"You know, the most famous part about that story isn't the hydra," Tony said, packing up the first-aid kit. "The whole point of the myth of the hydra is how to defeat it."

"How's that?" Bucky asked.

Tony smiled up at him. "Hercules was supposed to destroy it as one of his labors. He had a companion, Iolaus. When Hercules smashed one head, Iolaus would cauterize the wound with fire so two new heads couldn't grow."

"Sometimes works," Bucky mumbled. Tony glanced around, then leaned in and kissed him, slow and gentle.

"The last head was immortal, so they chopped that one off and buried it," Tony finished, standing up. "Let's find this guy and bury him. Help me strap the motorcycle to the back of the car and I'll ride shotgun. Sounds like I have some reading to do."

***

"Man," Tony said, two hours later, finally coming up for air from the files Bucky had collected in the vault. "This is some messed-up stuff. I mean, you know, I think SHIELD's kind of messed up to begin with, but this is like Dante's Inferno, nine-levels-of-hell, rings-within-rings messed up."

"I lived it," Bucky pointed out. He was feeling more level, now that they were out of Washington, away from the vault. He felt clean, in a way he hadn't since...maybe since before the war. There was an odd, almost floating feeling that seemed to be attached to the outpouring of emotion; he was having trouble even being embarrassed about how violent that had been. "I know it's not right."

"The fact that you only refer to this as not right just proves what a giant mess it all is," Tony said.

"So what do we know?"

"Well, I don't know what you know already," Tony said. "But here we have a whole bunch of guys who all died trying to help re-create the Serum. Why do you think you and Steve Rogers survived it, anyway?" he asked.

Bucky shrugged.

"Maybe something in the water in Brooklyn," Tony mused. "Anyway, Zola's got deaths starting the same year he arrived in the US and going all the way up to 1965, when he just shuts it down entirely, and this file ends." He held up the death file, then set it on the dashboard. "Which is weird, because why would he stop? He knows it can be done, he's done it before, so why does he give up?"

Bucky glanced at him, then turned back to the road.

"Because of this file," Tony finished, holding up the second one. "The last test subject."

"Who used to be a SHIELD agent," Bucky said. "He resigned in '65."

"You knew him?"

Bucky shook his head. "Not that I recall. He was the last person of several to suggest reviving the Captain America uniform with someone new inside it. Peggy gave me a bunch of files on people with potentially unhealthy fixations on Captain America. His was one."

"Well, that's not shocking," Tony said. "He joined SHIELD in 1958. As far as this goes, he was flipped to Hydra in 1961. Zola tested the serum on him in '65 and he seems to have survived it. There's creepy naked before and afters. Guy was already a musclehead so not much changed there, at least."

"What about the notes?" Bucky asked.

"That's where it gets interesting. Zola did the science, for sure, he did regular readings and tests and for about six weeks everything seemed functional. Heightened senses, accelerated healing, augmented speed and strength. Then the new super soldier starts failing the cognition tests. Zola administers some basic psychiatric tests and he fails those, too. Zola thinks he's showing signs of real insanity. This...honestly? It kinda seems like he liked it. Zola, I mean. Outside of failing cognition tests because he's hearing voices, the fake super soldier's delusions are totally buying him into Hydra's party line. Everyone's out to get him, the Reds are conspiring with civil rights leaders and filthy liberals to bring down the government...but he's not quite functional for what Zola needs, because he also thinks the television is sending him coded messages about aliens. So Zola keeps poking him and testing him, shoots him up, drugs him way down -- "

Bucky shuddered. Tony glanced at him, a worried expression flitting across his face.

"Anyway, long story short," he said carefully, "his new Captain America is too unstable to actually be of any use, and that's pretty much his last straw. He decides to throw in the towel on the super soldier project and dedicate his energy to other pursuits, like building a terrifying monster computer to house his consciousness and trying to kill Mom and Dad."

"That's not in the file," Bucky said.

"I'm embellishing, but I'm not wrong." Tony closed the file and set it on top of the other one, sliding both of them into the pack. "He's gotta be our guy. Sane enough to keep from getting caught, crazy enough to put on a Captain America costume and try and off the heir to the Stark empire."

"William Burnside," Bucky said. "He's our shooter."

"William Burnside," Tony agreed. "I think so."

"I need to tell Peggy about the file room, so she can retrieve what I left," Bucky said. "She'll have ideas for finding Burnside. Someone shooting that kind of breeze has to have an audience, or an arrest record."

"I'd look at news stories about civil rights protests in the last year," Tony said. "He's the kind of guy to throw bottles."

The thought welled up in him from somewhere, unbidden: Steve would be horrified. The idea of Captain America, or even just someone who admired Captain America, attacking the innocent, going after the vulnerable and the disenfranchised, bullying people -- Steve would be horrified and enraged. He could see his expression, plain as day -- half kicked puppy, half hunting wolf.

"Nobody likes a vigilante," Bucky said, shaking off the image. "But I say when we find Burnside, we give him a running start and I get four shots at him, same as he took at me."

"You didn't get a running start," Tony pointed out.

"That's true, but I want to see him run," Bucky said grimly.

"I mean, don't get me wrong, I do too," Tony said. "But if someone is handling him, if someone aimed him at me and pulled the trigger -- he might not be any more in control of what he's doing than you were. We can't discount the idea that Hydra's running him."

"He joined Hydra in 1961," Bucky said.

"Thereabouts, yeah."

"He volunteered for Hydra. He volunteered to become the new ubermensch. My sympathy is limited."

"Well, if it's him or me, definitely kill him," Tony said. "I'm just saying, if you can, try and tie him up so we can interrogate him instead."

"You got it, boss," Bucky said. Tony drifted out a hand and let it rest on Bucky's wrist, thumb rubbing his pulse point. He left it there as the road spooled out behind them, the sun rising just after they crossed the bridge into Manhattan.

***

Howard was waiting for them when they pulled into the garage.

"I know, I know," Tony said, before Howard could open his mouth. "I left without leaving a note, I took the motorcycle, I'm sorry, I'll buy my own."

"You'll buy your own when hell freezes over, I won't have you terrorizing your mother with worry -- "

"Yell later, you're gonna want to see this," Tony said, holding up the files. "Bucky found Zola's intel stash. He thinks he knows who the shooter is."

"You bring the stash back with you?" Howard barked, still annoyed.

"I gotta call Peggy to collect it. Too many files to carry. It's secure," Bucky added, leading the way back into the house. It was a fairly effective method of breaking up Stark fights, distracting and relocating them. He passed in through the kitchen, where Jarvis was sitting at the table doing a crossword while Anna kneaded a ball of bread dough.

"Breakfast in the oven," she said to him, and he ducked down to open it, taking out two warm plates, each with an omelette on it. He carried them into the dining room and set them down, digging into one hungrily while Tony briefed his father on what he'd found in the files around bites of his own breakfast. At the end of it, Howard looked thoughtful.

"This vault," he said to Bucky. "That where the chair is?"

"Not anymore," Bucky said, daring him to take issue with it.

"You think we should make finding Burnside a priority."

Bucky nodded. "Tony has some ideas."

Howard ran a hand over his face. "Peggy's better equipped to handle this than I am, at this point. I'll pass the intel on to her and be in touch if she finds anything. Are you two heading back to Boston?"

"Not today," Tony said. "We haven't slept, and Bucky's been driving basically since last night."

Howard's eyes dropped to the bandages on his arm, but he didn't say anything. "Okay. Go, sleep. This is not the end of our discussion about the motorcycle," he called, as Tony stood up and Bucky followed him down the hall.

"I wore a helmet!" Tony yelled back. He gave Bucky an eyeroll as they climbed the stairs. "You'd think I stole a jetpack and took it to the moon."

"It was dangerous," Bucky said. "Following me. You didn't know where I was going."

"No, but I knew you shouldn't go alone," Tony said.

"I'm trying to protect you."

"Yeah, you sure are doing a lot of that," Tony replied, sounding annoyed. Bucky stopped on the landing, scowling at him. "I know you're indestructible or whatever, I know I must seem tiny and fragile to you, but I'm not. I'm not Steve Rogers," he added, and there was an odd hint of bitterness to his tone as he leaned on the banister. "Either version. I'm strong and I know how to fight and to handle a gun. And I know my limitations, I know I'm breakable. But I'm not fragile, Bucky."

Bucky glanced down the stairs, saw Maria cross the foyer, saw the kitchen door swing open and shut. He took a chance and stepped closer, boxing Tony up against the banister and the wall.

"I know that," he said, head bent close, and Tony rested his palms against Bucky's abdomen, not stopping him, just grounding him. "Don't forget, I saw you shoot a man when Hydra tried to take SHIELD."

"Three," Tony said. "I shot three of them."

"Fine, three," Bucky agreed. "But you are just about the only good thing I got in this world. I'm tryin'a preserve a shoebox's worth of happiness, Tony. It's all I got. And it's all in you. So will you please, please just -- "

"No," Tony said, and Bucky blinked at him. "Not like this, I won't, actually. You want me to let you protect me, then you be honest with me. You know I can look after myself if I have all the facts but you won't let me have them. Next time you tell me where you're going, and you let me decide what's safe for me and what's not. I will let you protect me from bullets and bad guys and I will let you protect yourself from -- from things like what we saw in the vault," he said, hands squeezing on Bucky's stomach. "But you don't get to protect me from information. Data can't hurt me. Lack of data can."

"You haven't spent much time in politics," Bucky said.

"And thank God," Tony agreed, his tone still sharp.

"If I do this, will you listen when I tell you it's not safe?" Bucky pushed.

"Are you gonna try and wrap me in cotton wool?" Tony pushed right back.

"No. But I need to know you trust me to make certain calls you don't have the experience to make."

Tony leaned up, leaned into him, using his braced hands as leverage, and kissed him. Bucky let himself indulge for a few seconds, then separated them before Jarvis or, god forbid, Howard could come across them necking on the second-floor landing.

"I trust you," Tony said. "Trust me back, huh?"

"You got it," Bucky said, feeling a little dazed.

***

When Tony woke that afternoon, it was to Jarvis setting a tray on the desk in his room, and the smell of hot soup from under the silver tray cover. Jarvis never did anything by accident, so he must have meant to wake him.

"Dinner is not until eight," Jarvis said, uncovering the soup and taking the saucer off the top of a cup of hot coffee. "Anna thought you might like an afternoon nosh."

"Anna thought right. Thanks," Tony said, sliding out of bed. "How long did I sleep?"

"Long enough," Jarvis said. Tony grinned. "Mr. Barnes is already up and about; he's been fed as well. Sir has invited Mr. Stane for dinner, hence the lateness of the meal."

"Obie's coming? Nice. I haven't seen him in forever."

"Yes, your father's under the impression he'd like to speak to you about Robotics."

"Christ." Tony gulped some coffee. "Can't he stick to blowing things up?"

"I'm sure I couldn't say," Jarvis replied. "Madam has requested you wear a suit for dinner. I have already laid out one of your spare suits for Mr. Barnes."

"I'm sure he's thrilled about that."

"I think you may be pleased by the results," Jarvis said, and Tony looked up at him sharply. Jarvis busied himself taking one of Tony's suits out of the closet, brushing it down.

"What do you mean by that?" Tony asked.

"It's none of my business, to be sure," Jarvis said. "But I was young, once, you know, and I know what young love looks like."

"Jarvis, you can't tell -- "

"Master Anthony," Jarvis said, inspecting the coat and apparently finding it wanting, putting it back and taking out another one instead. "I have been an acquaintance and, I daresay, a friend of Agent Carter and Miss Martinelli for these past many years. And I did attend an English boys' school." He shot Tony a dry smile. "If you require a confidante, or if Mr. Barnes does, I am not just your father's servant."

Tony's breath caught in his chest. "So you don't care?"

"I wouldn't say that. I care very much who you choose to keep company with, and another sort of man would have a very frosty reception in this house indeed. But Mr. Barnes is a war veteran, a friend of the family, and an upstanding young man. You're far more likely to hurt him than he is to hurt you."

"I wouldn't."

"Well," Jarvis said, with an amused look. "Good."

"I want the grey with the red plaid," Tony said. Jarvis considered the closet, then nodded.

"Appropriate. A little loud, but Mr. Stane himself favors loud patterns. And your mother likes that one."

"How did you know Anna was the one for you?" Tony asked. "I mean, I think Mom and Dad practically had a yenta. I don't think either of them had much choice once Dad got to the this is just embarrassing stage of bachelorhood."

"I didn't."

"But you -- " Tony bit his lip. Jarvis raised his eyebrows. "You risked your life for her. Aunt Peggy told me about what you did during the war."

"I made a leap of faith," Jarvis said, setting out an appropriate shirt and tie. "Eat your soup, Anthony."

"Pretty big leap," Tony said, seating himself at the desk.

"No bigger than this one is for you. To be different is a difficult thing, but I have no complaints." Jarvis bent and kissed the crown of his head, surprising him. "I hope when you're my age, you won't either."

"Yeah, well, Bucky can't make kreplach."

"I'm sure he can be taught. Or you could, and make it for him. Mind you brush your hair before dinner," Jarvis said, and left him to his meal and his thoughts.

Tony hadn't seen Obie in a couple of months, and as far as he knew, he'd never met Bucky. Obie wasn't part of SHIELD at all, and when Howard was busy with SHIELD, Obie was the one who minded the shop at SI. He was a big, cheerful bear of a man with a bald head and an impressive beard, and he always smelled faintly of tobacco. He called Tony "sport" and "kiddo" and Tony liked him, if warily; he knew as well as anyone that the head of a multinational firm had to at least pretend to like his business partner's children. Obie kept threatening to take him golfing.

"Hey there, sport," Obie said, when Tony came down to the living room at quarter to eight. Tony was briefly enveloped in a hug that ended with a painful back-slap, and then held back at arm's length. "How's Boston?"

"Hazardous to the health," Tony said, and Obie laughed.

"So I hear! You kids, always looking for excitement. Hope they reopen the building soon, though; Robotics isn't making much money as it is, you can't afford to pay all those scientists to sit around on their asses."

"Knowing our people, they're probably working at home," Tony said.

"Good. Ought to be. Well, if anyone can make it work, I guess you can. Say, are you thinking of doing a business degree? Harvard's right there, after all."

"Not just yet," Tony said. "Dad says -- "

"Anything you need to know about business you can learn from us," Howard said, off Tony's cue, and Obie beamed.

"True enough, but you meet people, you know. Network. Though your father never had any problems making friends, I don't suppose you will either. Speaking of which," Obie said, as Bucky lurked into the doorway. He did look very nice in one of Tony's suits, Tony had to admit.

"Obadiah Stane, James Barnes," Howard said. "Bucky, this is Obie Stane, my partner at SI."

"I think we met once, very briefly, during the war," Obie said. "I was passing through Howard's shop on my way east with a communications unit."

"The Fighting Telephones," Howard supplied. Obie laughed.

"Yeah, that's what they called us. Good to see you again. Quite the man of the hour," Obie continued, shaking Bucky's hand. "Heard about what you did at Robotics. I'd love to get a look at the arm sometime," he added, eyes drifting covetously to Bucky's metal hand.

"I'm afraid Tony's proprietary about it," Howard said, as Bucky tucked the hand in his pocket. "You'll have to go through him first."

"Well, we'll see. Ah, Maria," Obie said, when she followed Bucky into the room. He took her hands and kissed one of them before letting her go. "You look delightful."

"Sweet talker," Maria replied, patting his arm. "It's good to see you, Obadiah. It's been too long. Dinner's almost ready -- would you walk me in?"

Tony caught Bucky eyeballing Stane as Maria took his arm, and made a note to ask about it later.

There was a subtle tension at dinner that night which confused him, but whenever he looked to Bucky for an answer, Bucky's gaze was calm and even, so he kept his peace, if not his silence. Howard was uncharacteristically quiet, so Tony filled the space, which maybe was what Dad wanted; you never knew. Maria looked happy about it, anyway.

And Tony was head of a division now, part of the family business in a way he never had been before even when he was a designer for R&D. There were missiles and firearms and production machines with his name on the plans, but that had been piecework, to train him and keep him out of Howard's hair. Now it was different. He was managing not just resources and machines but people -- and the reputation of Stark was partly in his hands. He'd have to learn to work with his father and Obie as an executive.

Well. That ought to be....fun.

He wondered if Howard would make him go to board meetings. Howard hated them, but Tony had enjoyed watching social mechanics at work, the few times he'd been allowed near a meeting (if not in them). He liked the idea of bringing Bucky and asking him to stand in the back of the room with his arms crossed and glare at whoever was talking. Bucky would probably get a kick out of that.

"So, the two of you are heading back to Boston tomorrow?" Obadiah asked, as dinner wound down. "Kicking the investigators out and reopening Robotics, I hope?"

"Yep," Tony said. "Tomorrow afternoon, Buck?"

Bucky nodded. "No point going early, traffic won't be much either way," he said. "Early afternoon, though. Be back in Boston around four."

"You taking 95 or 84?" Obie said. "84's a lot prettier this time of year, and you won't have to go around Providence."

"Hadn't thought about it," Bucky said. "Probably open 'er up a little more on 84, too. Tony?"

"Doesn't matter to me, I have reading to do," Tony said. "Scenery is just what you see when the car's not going fast enough."

Bucky gave him a grin.

"Not too fast," Maria said. Howard grumbled something about a motorcycle, but Tony ignored it.

"Well, I oughta be getting along," Obie said, setting his napkin down. "Excellent as always, Maria."

"We must have you here more often," Maria said. "You won't stay for brandy? I'm sure Howard has shop talk for you."

"Nah. Monday, I'll see you in the office," Obie said to Howard. "Need to make an early night of it. Hey, save some of the brandy for next time, though. About time we taught Tony to enjoy a cigar, too."

Tony made sure Obie didn't see him roll his eyes. Howard caught it, though, and gave him a half-tilt of a smile.

"I'll walk you out," Howard told him, and guided Obie towards the door.

"I'm going to go put my feet up, darling," Maria said, kissing Tony on the cheek. "Don't stay up too late; it's a long drive tomorrow."

"G'night, Mom," he replied. "See you for breakfast."

"Master Anthony," Jarvis said, emerging from the hall once Maria had ascended the stairs. "I wonder if you might have a look at the oven. Anna's convinced the temperature isn't true."

Tony spent the rest of the evening, or at least about an hour of it, elbows-deep in the oven. It wasn't difficult to pull it to pieces and work out what was wrong, but it was a satisfying task, like changing the oil on an engine or debugging Dummy's operating code. By the time he had scrubbed the oven grease off and accepted a goodnight hug from Anna, he was ready for a night of sleep and a slow Sunday brunch in the morning.

He was just pulling a pyjama shirt on, wondering if he wanted to creep down to the library for something to read before bed, when there was a knock on the half-open door, and Bucky put his head in.

"Still up?" Tony asked. "Figured you'd be in bed."

"Waiting for you," Bucky said. Tony frowned. "We have to talk about tomorrow."

"What about it? You think we should take the coast after all?"

Bucky shook his head. He closed the door and sat down on the chair next to the bed, hands lightly clenched between his knees, incongruous given he was wearing red flannel pajamas with the SI logo on them. Tony sat on the edge of the bed, confused.

"I'm expecting an attack on the car tomorrow, during the drive to Boston," Bucky said, and Tony sat up straighter.

"Why?" Tony asked. "Who even knows we're here, outside of family?"

"Obadiah."

"No way," Tony said. "He's half of SI, why on earth would he want to -- "

He shut his mouth then, because of course there were two great reasons: Howard and Anthony Stark, owner and heir of Stark Industries.

"Howard has apparently suspected Obie of double-dealing SI for a while," Bucky said carefully, still looking down at his hands. "He thinks Obie's been selling to North Korea."

"North Korea?" Tony demanded. "That's practically selling to -- "

"The Soviets." Bucky nodded.

"How long?"

"Since I was recovered," Bucky said. "Zola sent me to kill him. I remember that. But Zola had no reason to kill Howard."

"Obie did," Tony said. "He kills Howard, he takes over, because I'm not eighteen."

"And because if your parents die, especially the way things were, you wouldn't be paying a lot of attention," Bucky said.

"But now Dad and I are getting along. And I'm about to become an executive. The Starks are edging him out. Power wouldn't pass from Howard to him. It'd pass from Howard to me," Tony said.

"That's the theory."

"But -- it's Obie," Tony said. Obie was a little weird but he wasn't a killer, he couldn't be Hydra. "We don't have any proof. It's not like tonight proved anything."

"No, but the phone call half an hour ago did," Bucky said. "Howard had his phone tapped while he was here. He got home and called someone. He told them where we'd be and when we'd be there and he said to make sure they hit me first."

"And Dad didn't tell me any of this."

"He told me to tell you. I am here, telling you," Bucky said.

"Why wouldn't he? What's wrong with me that he never wants to -- "

Bucky put out a hand and touched Tony's lips, hushing him gently. After a second of study, he slid out of the chair and knelt in front of him, hands going to his thighs.

"He and I come from the same time, the same generation," Bucky said. "And it's hard. To talk about these things. To show care. We were taught not to."

"You do."

"I adapt, and I'm still young. Even so..." Bucky grimaced. "Well, we've had that fight already. The point is, I can. He can't. Give him a longer leash, Tony. He's doing the best with what he's got."

"So am I," Tony pointed out rebelliously. Bucky brought a hand back up to his face, cupping his cheek.

"You are doing great," he said. "Top notch. Howard knows, even if he can't say it."

"You don't know that."

"I do. I can see it. From the outside it's easier to see. I know he's harder on you than he oughta be, God knows I know better than most. But I promise you, he's proud of what you've done, what you're doing to do. And it doesn't matter, anyway -- "

"Doesn't matter?" Tony asked, outraged. His father mattered, everything about his father mattered, Howard Stark was king of Tony's whole existence.

"Because you're a grown man, and you can do whatever you want. Howard's opinion of you doesn't change anything, even if it's a good one. Everyone who meets you can see how bright you shine," Bucky said, and it looked like it cost him something to say it aloud. Tony swallowed. "The folks at Robotics love you. Lilian and Sofia think you hung the moon. You are going to be a respected man, a great man. And anyway, tomorrow this will be over," he finished, "and we can go back to Boston and you'll get back to business."

"So what's the plan?" Tony managed, though all he really wanted to do was lean into Bucky's hand and, if possible, crawl into his lap.

"Howard and Peggy are working on that now. So the plan is for us to sleep."

Tony bent and kissed him, covering Bucky's hands with his own. "I don't want to sleep."

"Tony -- "

"I know, okay, I think your idea to wait is stupid but I know, I just...."

Bucky butted his head against Tony's forehead. "I don't want to scare you off."

"Uh," Tony said. "Have you known me to be particularly easy to frighten? Do you not remember how we met?"

"That was different."

"Not...materially," Tony said, perplexed. "Bucky, all that talk about keeping me safe, about going slow, was that because you think I'm gonna bolt?"

Bucky was still for a few seconds, but then he nodded. "Some of it."

Tony kissed him again, fiercer this time.

"Stay here tonight," he said.

"This is your parents' house -- "

"And my room. The door locks. It's across the building from their room. Stay here. Stay with me, please, Bucky," Tony asked.

Bucky let himself be drawn up on his knees until their chests were pressed together, lips just barely touching, and Tony smiled in satisfaction as Bucky swayed into him, arms going around his shoulders.

Tony leaned back, slowly, kissing him the whole time, light touches of lips and a hint of teeth. Bucky followed, climbing up on the bed when he couldn't reach him anymore.

"Menace," Bucky murmured, weight settling on him. "Never met anyone who was as much trouble as you are, and I been in a war -- "

"I'll take that as a compliment," Tony replied, drawing one leg up, hands sliding down to undo the buttons on Bucky's shirt. Bucky's muscles jumped and twitched under his hands but his eyes were clear, and he didn't pull away. Tony pushed his shirt off completely and reached for his belt buckle, though he kept getting distracted by Bucky's mouth.

"Tell me if I hurt you," Bucky said.

"You wouldn't -- "

"Tell me," Bucky insisted. "I wouldn't mean to. Doesn't mean I won't."

Tony reached up, touching his face, looking for a way to make his thoughts clear.

"I still trust you," he said. "I always trusted you. And you know me," he added lightly. "I always complain really loudly when I'm hurt."

Bucky kissed him, keeping his eyes closed, so Tony let him do what he needed, take a little comfort, until his body relaxed. Tony slid his hand under Bucky's left hand and curled his fingers through the steel ones, letting the metal warm under his touch. He ran his other hand up Bucky's hip, under the hem of his shirt, and touched leather.

"Really?" he said, eyebrows raised. Bucky reached down to unbuckle the holster and set it aside.

"Careful with my right ankle too," he said, and Tony rolled his eyes. Bucky lifted his hand away and tugged on Tony's shirt instead, wrestling him onto one side as he stripped him with an almost breathtaking efficiency.

"Thought you said you didn't do this very often," Tony said.

"Spent some time thinking about it," Bucky admitted, shifting so Tony was not only naked but on top, looking down.

"Oh? What'd you decide?" Tony asked, grinning, inching backwards to both push his pants down his hips and grind down on a very promising erection. "What do you want, Buck?"

"To make you happy," Bucky said, hips rising and rolling under him. "To feel good again. Been a long time since I -- since someone was this close and wasn't tryin'a kill me."

Tony bent and kissed his chest, smiling against the skin when he felt Bucky's hand come to rest on the back of his head. He slid down, nuzzling the smooth pectorals and the dips of his abs, powerful and sleek. His stomach jerked when Tony tugged on the band of his pyjamas, and his hand tightened in Tony's hair.

"You don't have to," Bucky murmured, propping himself on his other elbow to look down at him. "Only if you -- "

"I want to," Tony said. He did, too; he'd liked the sense of power he took from it, putting Ty at his mercy for once. He didn't want Bucky at his mercy, not in the same way, but he knew it felt good, and he didn't want to overwhelm him all at once.

Bucky sucked in a sharp breath as Tony took the head of his cock in his mouth, letting his teeth just barely graze the skin. "Toh -- Tony -- "

Tony tilted his head forward, taking him deeper, careful not to choke but pushing as far as he could. This had taken some time to master. He slid a hand between his own legs and gripped himself tightly to alleviate some of his own urgency, to bring the edge down. Bucky moaned softly, like he was trying to keep quiet, and the muffled desperation of the noise was just -- just beautiful.

It felt like everything since the very beginning, since the minute Tony walked into the interrogation room months ago, had led to this. The instant sense of connection, the way Bucky's eyes had fixed on his when he heard him speak Russian, the hours spent lying on either side of a set of prison bars, repairing his arm, the days and weeks since spent slowly coaxing him back to himself. All of it gaining momentum, culminating in the desperate, pleased cries that kept catching in Bucky's throat, barely making it past his lips.

He felt a tug on his hair and one of Bucky's knees bumped his ribs gently; when he straightened a little and raised his eyes, Bucky jerked his head to gesture him up. Tony stretched out on a long span of warm skin, folding his arms across Bucky's chest, and kissed him.

"You called?" he said, and Bucky smiled. "I can finish the job, you know."

"Sure you can," Bucky agreed, kissing him. "Still not in any kind of rush."

Tony bucked his hips down against Bucky's and began a slow, luxurious rub, nuzzling into Bucky's neck as his legs rose to bracket Tony's hips. Bucky's left arm wrapped around his waist and his right hand came to rest on Tony's ass, gripping the curve of it, urging him down harder.

It felt good -- it felt amazing -- and Tony let Bucky guide him, well-aware that the strength in Bucky's frame could rip him apart, but wouldn't. The danger should have added an edge, he supposed, but he'd never managed to think of this man as dangerous. Powerful, yes, and capable, but also fragile under the skin, as much in need of Tony as Tony was of him. He wanted to blanket Bucky with his body, pull their bodies together and shelter him, and at the same time let Bucky care for him, if only because it seemed to make him so happy.

"Thought you'd have a smarter mouth in bed," Bucky teased, as Tony's hips moved faster, the hot pressure of their bodies and slick sweat easing the way.

"Just you wait," Tony managed, biting down on his collarbone. "Show you a smart mouth -- "

"Tony," Bucky interrupted, rolling them to pin him down, kissing him, and Tony might have gone a little crazy as he bucked and jerked through his orgasm, a spectacular spike of pleasure rolling up his spine, tingling out to his fingertips. Bucky made a high, sharp whine and went still, then thrust against his belly, losing his rhythm as he came. Tony clung to him, arms around his shoulders, and he didn't realize he'd caught Bucky's head in his hand and was twisting his fist in Bucky's hair until Bucky reached up to gently release himself.

"You're amazing," Tony said, lowering his hand to Bucky's damp shoulders.

"Coulda been better at that," Bucky breathed, chest heaving. "Been a while for me."

"It was fine. It was great, even," Tony said, because if that wasn't Bucky's best, he couldn't wait. "I'm not going anywhere, Buck."

"Better not, it's your bedroom," Bucky said, smiling shyly. He hitched his hips up, sending a gentle aftershock through Tony's belly, and sat back, reaching for a discarded pair of underwear (probably Tony's) and cleaning up the worst of the mess. He held it in his hand and got a frankly hilarious look on his face.

"We can't put this in the laundry," he whispered, and Tony burst out laughing. "Well, we can't! Jarvis or Anna -- "

"They don't do the laundry," Tony said. "There's a service."

"That's not much better."

"Well, if you want to take it back to Boston with us..."

Bucky groaned, and Tony took it out of his hands, tossing it aside. "Deal with it later. Stay with me now."

"You think you can sleep now?" Bucky asked, easing himself down, then shifting as Tony wriggled under the blankets and threw them over Bucky's shoulders too.

"Yeah, maybe. Yeah," Tony said, tucking himself under Bucky's arm. "You? You don't sleep as much as you should."

"I'l sleep," Bucky promised. He reached out and, to Tony's surprised, traced a soft line down his nose, forehead to lips. Tony smiled against the touch. "The most trouble," Bucky told him.

"Yeah, but I'm also the best looking, aren't I?"

Bucky laughed into Tony's hair. "Sure. You are. Sleep now if you can."

Tony, warm and secure, shut his eyes. He was just going to pretend, so that he could bask some more in the smooth skin and heat surrounding him, and he was just congratulating himself on his sneaky ruse when it occurred to him that he was so, so tired....

***

Tony fell asleep easily, breath slowing and evening out, eyes sliding shut without effort. Bucky watched, memorizing it, content to lie still and watch. There'd be time enough for fighting tomorrow.

He found himself thinking more and more of what Steve would think, how he would react to this world and the people in it. He might still, one day, find out; he knew Howard and Tony were planning an arctic trip for next summer, another search when the weather was right for it, more urgent now that they knew Steve might be capable of surviving the ice.

Steve would like Tony, he was sure of it. Perhaps not immediately -- Tony and Steve were very alike, something he tried not to think about too closely, and they'd take a while to shake out. But he would, he'd like Tony's spirit and stubbornness and loyalty. He'd never been a jerk about the fellas who went with fellas in their neighborhood, not the way some guys had. Even before he'd known Bucky might be one of those fellas.

"But I thought you liked girls," Steve said, his pinched and pale face furrowing in confusion.

"Well, I guess I like both," Bucky answered defiantly, ready for Steve to throw a punch or walk away (because Steve was right, Bucky always underestimated him).

"Oh. Suppose that's all right," Steve said, and they never really talked about it again.

Maybe Steve had never noticed which fella in particular Bucky liked. Or maybe he'd known about Bucky's sad crush and gently ignored it. Maybe it didn't matter now. Bucky loved Steve and always would, dead or alive, and he had no illusions he'd get to keep Tony forever. But Tony made him happy. Tony was what he wanted. And he got to have him, at least for now.

Tony snuffled, face pressed into Bucky's shoulder, and Bucky raised a hand to smooth his hair, soothing him. Tony sighed, enormous and dramatic even in sleep, and stilled.

Sitting at dinner tonight, knowing Obadiah Stane had possibly tried to have the entire Stark family killed at one point or another, it'd been all he could do not to choke the man to death. It wouldn't have been hard. Howard might have tried to stop him but he wouldn't have been able to. Not before the light went out of Stane's eyes.

It wasn't just that he'd tried to kill people Bucky cared about, people who had been good to him, better than he'd deserved. If Stane asked Zola to let Bucky out, to kill Howard, that meant Stane knew about him and had used him for his own ends. Stane was one more man who had stood by while Zola sent Bucky out like a murderous puppet to do his dirty work. And, when Zola had been brought down, Stane had smoothly stepped into his place. They'd nearly pulled Hydra up by the roots, but clearly they hadn't, quite.

Well, that would change tomorrow. Between the cache of files in the vault and the trap they were laying for Burnside, the fake Captain, he'd put paid to the last of Hydra for good. And then he would take Tony home and keep him for as long as he got to have him.

***

"Bulletproof glass," Howard said the next morning after brunch, rapping on the windshield of the car they'd driven down from Boston. "Installed it this morning. Put some steel reinforcing panels in the roof and around the engine block too. It'll heat up like crazy but it shouldn't burn out before you get to Boston."

"Kind of a jerry-rig, isn't it?" Tony asked.

"Yeah. Made me nostalgic for the war," Howard said, a distant glint in his eye. "Anyway. It handles like a tank now, but you'll be as safe as anyone ever is in a car with James Barnes behind the wheel."

"I'm a good driver," Bucky groused.

"In certain situations and for some criteria," Howard agreed.

"I'm a good driver!"

"There will be a team in a car ahead of you -- don't worry if you don't see them," Howard continued. "They'll be scouting forward for snipers or roadblocks, anything unusual. If you see a flare from the forward team, stop, turn around, get out of there. You've got a flaregun too; if you get jumped, shoot off the flare. The team following you will show up with reinforcements. Buck, you got all the guns you need?"

"Yeah, I brought a few," Bucky agreed.

"Tony?"

"I know where he keeps his," Tony said.

"Okay. If you have to stop and fight -- "

"Sir," Jarvis said, appearing in the doorway. "Mr. Stane is here."

"Sonofa -- "

"Anna is stalling him in the foyer. Shall I send him in?"

"No, we'll go to him," Howard said. "You two all packed? Good. Face front. Tony, let me do the talking."

"Story of my life," Tony muttered, but he followed them out of the garage and into the foyer, where Obie was standing, a box tucked under one hand.

"Thought I'd see you boys off," Obie said, smiling genially. "And I brought you some training wheels," he added to Tony, offering him the box. It was lightweight wood, and burned into the top was a legend: OS TO AS: BREATHE DEEP. Tony lifted the lid and found neatly stacked, foil-wrapped cigars inside, with a little steel end-clipper on top.

"Try one out in the car," Obie said in his ear, and Tony very carefully did not recoil.

"Next time you see me I'll be a regular aficionado," he said.

"That's the spirit, my boy. You all loaded up?"

"About to head out," Bucky said.

"Come on, you can help me wave them off from the front," Howard said, and guided Obie away towards the front door before anyone could speak. Tony tucked the cigar box under his arm and trotted after Bucky towards the car.

"Bye, Anna!" he called, as they passed through the kitchen. "Call you from Boston if we don't die on the way!"

"Don't you dare!" Anna called back. "I forbid it!"

"Do my best!" Tony said, and ducked into the garage, flinging himself into the passenger's seat. Bucky turned over the engine as Jarvis pushed the button to raise the door. Tony gave him a salute as they passed.

His father, who had never in his life waved him off before, smiled and waved and nodded at Obie like none of this was happening.

"You'd think, given what a good liar he is, he could act like he likes me," Tony said, as they pulled out into Manhattan.

"Howard loves you."

"Sure, but he could act like it, is what I'm saying," Tony said, fingers dancing along the edge of the cigar box. "You got a knife?"

Bucky drew one out of his shirt, flicked the blade out and flipped it so he was holding it by the blade, then passed it over, handle-first.

"Well, that's not extremely attractive in a way that makes me feel self-destructive," Tony murmured, flipping the box over. He slid the knife between the joins at the bottom of the box and pried the bottom off. "Huh."

"What?" Bucky asked.

Tony looked down at the box. There was a small block of solid explosive and a tangle of wires with what looked like a radio-activated fuse. "Itty bitty bomb."

"What?"

"Disarmed," Tony added, snipping the ignition wire neatly with the knife. "Wouldn't have done much. Maybe taken off a hand?"

"Oh, not much," Bucky snarled.

"Well, you do all right."

"That's not funny."

"No, I guess not. I bet he didn't mean to blow me up, though. Probably he assumed I'd toss it in the trunk and it'd just be a distraction when Burnside made his move."

"Throw it out the window."

"For some kid to find? It's stable, it won't blow up without a heat source," Tony said, yanking the fuse out. "That wasn't even subtle. He must really be desperate."

"He knows we'll catch on if this try fails," Bucky said.

"I hope Dad's got a briefing ready for the shareholders when SHIELD hauls Obie's ass away," Tony said. "He's got the second-largest stake in the company after Dad. Wonder who gets his shares."

"Are you planning on him dying?"

"Stark Industries has a morality clause. If you're convicted of a certain range of crimes, your stake is voided. But you choose who it goes to."

Bucky frowned. "How do you know?"

"I'm contracted too. I have a stake. Not a very big one," Tony groused. "Mom's my beneficiary. What do you think -- for Obie, I mean. Attempted murder, for sure. Conspiracy? Maybe treason. I mean technically killing me isn't treason, but if he's part of Hydra, that's treason...ous, at least, right?"

"I'm not a lawyer," Bucky said. "Next bridge we cross, throw the bomb out, I don't want anything volatile in the car."

"Whatever you say, Granny. Eyes on the road, let me handle the explosives."

***

It wasn't the worst drive of Bucky's life, or the most nerve-wracking; it didn't really even hit the top five, especially for someone who'd spent three days at the head of four hundred soldiers, marching through enemy territory behind Captain America. He'd spent most of the march at the wheel of a transport truck (Cap's orders, to give him time to rest; boy was the shoe on the other foot then) so technically it counted as a drive, anyway.

Still, it wasn't the most relaxing, either. He had no way of contacting the spotter car in front of him; he just had to drive and look sharp for a flare, and hope the spotters were any good at their job. He kept his right hand on the wheel and his left arm on the ledge of the door, so that if he had to, he could use it to block a sniper's bullets. Tony, in the passenger's seat, dissected the bomb's detonator to its component parts and then fell asleep. Easy for some.

They were coming up on the interchange to 90, which would take them the rest of the way to Boston, when Tony woke up and began groggily digging in the lunch Anna had packed for them.

"I think she packed the rest of the cake," he said.

"Eat your sandwich first," Bucky told him.

"I have room for both," Tony replied. He said something else, probably something smartassed, but Bucky didn't pay attention. There was a -- a sort of shift in the air, or maybe in the ambient sound of the world around them. Some new absence...

In the distance, brakes screamed, and there was the sound of crunching metal at the very edge of his hearing. Bucky braked and turned into the skid just as the flare went up. Tony braced himself against the dash with one hand and clung to the lunch sack with the other. Bucky glanced behind him briefly as he swung the car towards the southbound lanes, but the spotter car had been around a curve, and they weren't his concern -- protecting Tony was.

They were almost straightened out and he was starting to pick up speed when something landed on the roof of the car with a crunch. Bucky braked sharply and a man in a blue suit with silver star accents on it went head-over-ass down the windshield, scrambling for purchase on the hood, catching himself with fingers in the crevice where hood met windshield. He brought a gun up and Bucky pulled Tony down, over his lap, as he fired.

The bullets spiderwebbed the windshield, but the glass held. Bucky shoved Tony into the footwell and got his feet under him on the seat, driving his left fist forward. The glass shattered and he went through, headfirst into the assassin's chest.

They flew off the hood and into traffic, rolling over and over; a horn blew as a car swerved wildly around them. The flare would have summoned the reinforcement car, but he couldn't depend on that; clearly Burnside had booby-trapped the road ahead to -- well, to either cause a crash that would slow them down, or take out the spotter. Probably the former; there was no way Stane could have known they'd have a lead car. It wasn't impossible he'd taken out the car behind them, either, without meaning to -- just clearing the road for some private time with the two of them.

All this raced through Bucky's head as he was trying to throw Burnside off, to get him onto his back at least, preferably his face, with Bucky above him. The man's blue eyes were red-shot and crazed, but he wasn't irrational; he was a hell of a fighter.

"Go down, you fuckin' Commie," he hissed.

"Eat shit," Bucky told him, head-butting his nose. There was a crack and a spurt of blood, but Burnside barely reacted. The grapple continued, and a second car swerved around them.

The man had a disc on his back, painted like the shield, but it couldn't be the shield; that had gone down with Steve. Bucky brought one elbow up against Burnside's cheekbone, and when he ducked away Bucky twisted his arm and grasped the disc, yanking it free.

He swung as hard as he could and the disc collided with Burnside's head with a satisfying crack. It dented and Burnside rolled to the side, dazed.

Bucky flung the disc away, rolled to his feet, and kicked him in the face, knowing it wouldn't do more than keep him stunned another few seconds, but it at least got them onto the shoulder of the road. He checked the car, but either Tony had taken off running or he was still hiding in the footwell. No sign of reinforcements --

Burnside surged up and tried to plow into him but Bucky managed to twist and stay on his feet, dodging. Burnside found his balance and began circling, fists raised.

"You're a cheap knockoff, Burnside," Bucky said, because the man looked like he was one pointed comment away from total berserker. Bucky could work with berserker. A big guy with no head was ten times easier than a normal man with a clear mind. "Where'd they dig you up from?"

"I know about you," Burnside spat. "Fuckin' Soviets' pet."

"Hey, I came from Zola same as you did."

"Bullshit," Burnside roared, and swung. Bucky dodged and jabbed, but punching him was like punching cement. It reminded him of teaching Steve to fight -- not the uncoordinated, frustrating lessons from before, when he'd had to be careful not to hurt him just showing him how to punch, but the way he'd tried to teach Steve to use his new body, once they were overseas.

"Do I sound like a Russian to you?" Bucky asked. "Come on, what the hell."

"You think that means anything?"

"I fought next to the real Captain America," Bucky said, darting forward, trying to cut across his jaw. Felt like it would have broken his knuckles if they hadn't been steel. "I know a fake when I see one. You got the shoes wrong."

"You gonna do something about it, little man?" Burnside sneered. Bucky feigned with his left and swung with his right, but Burnside turned at the last possible second and grabbed his arm, wrenching it around, halfway to dislocating it. Bucky kicked out and knocked him flat, but Burnside got his legs up and locked them around his thigh, twisting, and Bucky went down again.

Burnside rolled with superhuman speed and knocked him onto his face, planting a knee in his back.

"Gonna snap your neck, been a fuckin' thorn in my side -- " Burnside began, but before he could get his arms around Bucky's head, there was the sound of a gunshot, and the dirt sprayed up over Bucky's shoulders.

Burnside froze. Bucky turned his head. Tony was standing across the road, a Dragunov rifle mounted on one shoulder.

"Think this is yours," Tony said, waggling the barrel. "It's a nice gun."

"Sonny boy, you don't wanna mess with that much firepower," Burnside said, tone instantly ingratiating.

"Please," Tony said. "I was building missiles while you were still choking it to Captain America comics."

The way he said it, the little emphasis on choking, was lost on Burnside, but not on Bucky.

"You little bastard -- " Burnside began, but Tony fired again, and this time the bullet hit the meat of his shoulder, throwing him to one side, off Bucky's shoulders. Bucky scrambled away as Burnside rolled to his feet. The other man shook himself and grinned.

"That all you got? I've had worse from a dog," he said.

"Figures dogs don't like you," Tony replied.

"Tony, car," Bucky said tersely, and Tony fired a third time, into the other shoulder, knocking Burnside back for just long enough for a car to pass between them. By the time it was past, he had the gun tightly aimed again. Bucky subtly rolled his shoulder, twisting his wrist in just the right way. A small, soft object fell into his palm from his sleeve.

"You can come quietly, or I can put the next round between your eyes," Tony said.

"You haven't got the stones," Burnside snarled.

Tony fired. Burnside's ear burst into a bloody mess.

"Try me," Tony said calmly.

Burnside raised a hand to his head, palm pressed over the wound where his ear used to be. He held his other hand up, palm towards Tony.

"Okay, kid," he said.

"Stay right where you are," Tony said.

"You got me, okay?" Burnside said, wagging the hand not held to the side of his head.

"I told you to stay where you are -- Bucky, now!" Tony yelled, as Burnside leapt forward, headed straight for Tony, hands outstretched.

Bucky's wrist flicked, arm extending, and the garotte shot out -- he'd done this before, many times, and he tried not to think about how many times he must have done it to be so good at it.

The little weight on the end of the steel wire whipped around, circling Burnside's thick neck and tangling with itself, tightening like a noose. Bucky yanked and Burnside's legs flew out from under him, his whole body jerking in shock. It was, actually, really funny looking, he thought, as he dragged Burnside backwards.

The big man kicked and tried to pull the garotte off, but Bucky kept pulling with sudden, irregular jerks, keeping him off his feet. His struggles got slower and slower as he choked himself silent, and eventually his eyes rolled up, and he stopped moving completely.

"Tony, the kit," Bucky yelled, but Tony was already running across the empty freeway, carrying a case with a needle full of industrial-strength sedatives inside it, enough to kill five or six ordinary men. Bucky pinned Burnside's arms just in case, while Tony jammed the needle into Burnside's neck, pushing the plunger all the way down.

Once the needle was out, Tony sat back on his heels, then toppled back onto his ass. Bucky slumped sideways, throwing an arm around his neck, pressing his forehead to Tony's temple.

"Well," he said, staring at Burnside's unconscious body. In the distance, people in SHIELD uniforms were running up the road, probably from the reinforcement vehicle. "That wasn't extremely attractive in a way that makes me feel self-destructive."

Tony laughed, high and nervous, and collapsed against him, the Dragunov's strap sliding off his shoulder.

***

"So, what do we do with him?" Howard asked that evening, joining Peggy in the observation corridor. In the room on the other side of the glass, William Burnside was on a continuous sedative drip, and he was still managing to keep his eyes open, growling angrily every so often.

"Can you build something to hold him?" Peggy asked.

"Sure, but that seems like a patch job." Howard rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "He's resourceful. Insane, granted, but not irrational. He set up traps for the cars around Tony and Buck's car, just to keep the road clear. Nearly took out Bucky, which takes some doing. He planned it very carefully."

"Howard -- "

"We could use a man like him."

"Don't even think about it," Peggy warned.

"I can't help it. He's strong, fast, well-trained. If we could break him of his more...damaging delusions..."

"You don't want to rehabilitate him for his own good," she said. "You want to put him to use."

"Wouldn't be bothering with rehab if I didn't," Howard said. "I suppose you're right, though. Awfully dangerous, having a man like that around."

"I can't help but think what was appropriate for Arnim Zola would be cruel to this one, though," she said. "Hydra he might be, but nobody signs on to become violently psychotic."

"You think we should try? Even if we can't put him to work?"

"I think a lot of doctors are going to have to look at him while you get that holding cell ready," she said. "How's Tony?"

"Tony's fine. SHIELD took him and Buck to Boston, they're getting an early night. With Burnside in custody we can open up Robotics again, not that it's much more than a money pit at the best of times." He exhaled. "Obadiah?"

"Took him into custody as soon as Burnside was secured," she said gently.

"How'd he take it?"

"Very dignified. Very smart. Requested a lawyer before anyone could even ask him a question. It won't be easy getting a treason conviction," she said.

"Tell me what you need and you'll have it," he told her.

"I'll hold you to that, when the time comes. SHIELD's accountants are going through your company's books now. I'd better not find anything other than Obadiah's misbehavior."

Howard clutched his chest. "I'm wounded. I pull a lot of shenanigans, Peggy, but I never mess around with the company."

"Good, then you have nothing to fear." She patted his shoulder. "Go home and get some rest, Howard. When the story breaks tomorrow morning that Obadiah Stane's been sleeping with the enemy, you won't get much downtime for a while."

"Let me handle Stark Industries."

"I intend to. You never know, you've got an opening now -- you might think about taking on a new partner. Stark and Son has a nice ring to it," she called over her shoulder, as she left.

***

Bucky woke on Monday morning to a series of mild aches and pains, but mostly to Tony, in his boxers, straddling his chest. Tony was looking down at him very seriously. Bucky blinked, perplexed.

"Why are you sittin' on me?" he asked. He sniffed. "Why do I smell smoke?"

"I tried to make some soup," Tony said.

"Is the house on fire?" Bucky demanded, sitting up and dislodging him.

"No! The soup was but I put it out. It's mostly me, probably," Tony said, turning his head to sniff his shoulder. "Yeah, that's me."

"Lord in heaven," Bucky managed. "Why?"

"I thought it'd be nice if you didn't have to make breakfast, and soup seemed good, seeing as Fake Captain America beat you up yesterday."

"Fake Captain America did no such thing."

"I'm gonna learn to make kreplach for you," Tony continued, crawling across the blanket and wrapping himself around Bucky, pulling him back down. "Anna can teach me."

Bucky smiled and stroked his hair, kissing him. "Well, far be it from me to stand in the way of your plans." He lay there for a few seconds, until Tony twitched against him. "Tony, do you want me to make breakfast?"

"I'm really hungry," Tony said hopefully.

Bucky kissed him. "You only had to ask."

He pushed Tony off the bed in a tangle of gangling limbs, then climbed out after him and pulled on a pair of pants and an undershirt, tipping his head back and forth to crack the aches out of his spine. Tony trailed him downstairs and into the kitchen, sun-filled and warm and still smelling faintly of smoke.

He clocked the dirty dishes and smoldering pot in the sink, then took a few eggs from the fridge and began breaking them into a shallow bowl.

"Slice off some of that bread, then scrub your blasphemy out of the pot," he said, pointing at the nice loaf he'd bought from the bakery the previous week. It had sat in the breadbox all weekend, and was probably just stale enough to be perfect. Tony sawed a few slices off while Bucky beat the eggs and added a dash of milk and some cinnamon. He threw a knot of butter into the last surviving clean pan, soaked the bread in the egg while it was heating, and flipped them into the butter.

Tony, having finished chipping soup out of the pan, drifted over and leaned on Bucky's shoulder, arm snaking around his waist from behind. He let a kiss fall just on the metal side of the join where arm met shoulder.

"Does this hurt?" he asked, breath sliding over the seam between the metal arm and flesh.

"No," Bucky said.

"Can you feel when I kiss you there?" Tony asked.

"You know the arm as well as I do."

"Maybe I like to hear you say it," Tony said against his neck.

"Yes, I can feel it."

"Feel what?"

Bucky rolled his eyes. "Needy little boss," he said, covering Tony's hand with his. "I can feel it when you kiss me there."

"That's so cool," Tony said. "Do you like it?"

"Yeah," Bucky said, rocking a little just to feel Tony's weight move with him. "I do like it."

"You coming to work with me today?"

"Sure I am. Gotta keep an eye on you," Bucky told him, sliding the bread out onto a plate. "Now, sit and eat."

Tony took the plate and hitched himself up onto the counter, smirking. Bucky leaned against the counter next to his hip.

"Looking after me," Tony said, around a mouthful of food.

"Of course," Bucky said, and basked in Tony's pleased smile.

END

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