Tony Stark is a genius, there is no doubt about that. You only have to look at his track record—MIT at age fourteen, built an arc reactor in a cave with a box of scraps, built Iron Man—and you realize that he’s one of the smartest people in the whole damn universe. Nevertheless, despite being so goddamn smart he sometimes gets headaches from thinking too much, Tony still has no idea how this happened.
And by this, Tony means being in relationship with Steve and Bucky. Together. The three of them. All at the same time.
See, just thinking it like that is enough to make him squint at the idea, wonder if he’s had one too many and start asking JARVIS to bring up all their conversations and moments together to see if he can figure out how in the name of Einstein this happened.
Obviously, and this shouldn’t even need to be said, Tony is not complaining. He’s simply confused.
He’s had a ridiculous crush on Captain America practically since the day he was born, and even though he and the real deal didn’t get off on the right foot, it wasn’t hard to realize Steve more than lived up to the legend. Tony wished he could lie and at least say his affection started off as a small, innocent crush that grew over time, but the reality is that one day he woke up and the thought hit him with the force of a sledge hammer.
‘I’m in love with Captain America. Fuck, scratch that. I’m in love with Steve’.
Steve, who was Captain America and so much more. He was the epitome of strength and loyalty, stubborn to a fault and so brave it made Gryffindors look like shit. Steve was chosen to become the world’s very first super soldier because of how inherently good he was, and everyone else—Tony very much included—paled, to not say something worse, in comparison.
Tony would have drank himself comatosed if given the time after this wonderful realization, just to see if he could erase it from his mind, but then they discovered the Russians had found another Capsicle in the ice, only this one was named Winter Soldier-sicle (Winter Lollipop? Winter G.I Joe? Frozen Soldier?), had had his mind wiped and was now a secret assassin with a mechanical arm and boy, was that one hard to deal with.
Tony hadn’t been around much—because no one had called him and if Fury thought Tony was going to forget that anytime soon he was sorely mistaken—and before he knew it the real Bucky was back, and Steve was one step away from bursting into tears every time he so much as looked at the man. And, well, Tony was not dumb. He saw what Steve looked like when he was after his buddy turned death merchant, saw how Steve looked at him afterwards, like he couldn’t for the life of him believe he had his best friend back, his —shit, Tony didn’t even want to think about what else they might be. The point was Tony saw the looks Steve gave Bucky, and he saw the looks Bucky gave Steve—a little more guarded but just as heated—and he knew it was game over for him before the game even started.
His heart, however, refused to get with the program. Tony went back to his drinking stupor plan, which worked phenomenally until one night Bucky showed up at his workshop—stupid spy assassin with stupid door breaking skills—and told him to get his shit together or Bucky himself would kick his ass to the ground. Apparently, his behavior was affecting team morale and hurting Steve’s feelings. After Bucky said that, Tony stared at him for so long he actually got face cramps—he didn’t even think the team liked him—but that was beside the point.
Next morning, after a a couple of painkillers and a scalding shower, Tony decided to be a mature adult. He called Bucky down to his shop so he could start work on making him a new arm, because the thing he was using now was ridiculous and so painfully bad it made Tony want to cry (“What is this? Iron? Are we in the dark ages or something? Sit down, I need to get your measurements.”). Also, he wanted Steve to be happy, and making Bucky happy would help him achieve that and Pepper would never get to call him emotionally stunted again because you didn’t get more mature than this, not by Tony’s standards at least.
And then, because his life was a bad SyFy movie that ran at three a.m. every other Thursday, he discovered that Bucky was absolutely nothing whatsoever like Steve and Tony loved that—as in he loved, loved that.
In many ways, Bucky was like Tony himself. Full of charm with a silver tongue and a sinful smile, he had a wicked sense of humor and a more cynical view of the world, which meant he and Tony shared many of the same opinions.
But in other ways, Bucky was quite different from him. Tony had began to cultivate a public persona since the day he was old enough to stand in front of the cameras. His charm was a tool with many uses, and Tony knew how to use words as weapons, whereas Bucky was strictly a punch first, talk later kind of guy. Now that he had his memory back, he was also wary of the twenty-first century—maybe because he was a man out of his time, maybe because he was a man with a past he couldn’t change—and it showed in every one of his movements. Bucky was ready to flee at any moment, while Tony had long made peace with the reality that there was nowhere in this world he could run away to.
After making him an arm that could make lesser engineers weep, Bucky, unlike Steve, began to grow on Tony. It started as small crush that quickly turned into something bigger and scarier while Tony’s crush—yes, he was calling it a crush, no way was the word ‘love’ coming out of his lips in this context—on Steve stayed right where it was.
Tony had a lot of experience dealing with weird shit, which was basically his job’s summary, but he did not have any experience dealing with having two separate crushes on people who were together—or about to get together, anyhow. He had no idea how to deal with this, ended up running from the room whenever Steve or Bucky were there because when he didn’t, his eyes strayed, and with them his thoughts, and Tony didn’t call himself a control freak for no reason.
It wasn’t easy. For a tower as big as Stark Tower (“Call it Avengers Tower one more time, Barton, and I’m kicking you out through the window.”) it seemed infinitely small when you needed to hide from people. Tony found himself bumping into Steve or Bucky—or both of them, and wasn’t that always a party—more often than not, and while he tried to run away every damn time, there were only so many excuses he could make on why he suddenly needed to leave. If Tony said he needed to pee one more time, he was probably going to get a phone call from Fury asking him if he’s getting old. Fuck that.
So Tony tried to keep it casual. He always stopped himself from smiling too wide or laughing too loud or staring for too long. He figured he wasn’t doing a very good job from the way the others sometimes looked him like they knew exactly what was going through his head. That was more embarrassing than painful, if he was honest, but at least Steve and Bucky never gave any indication of sharing the same knowledge.
On most days, Tony was grateful for this. He didn’t need a rejection from not one, but both of his crushes, laced with so much pity he’d choke on it. There were other days, however, when he thought he’d caught Steve or Bucky staring at him for too long, where he wished they’d do something. Tell him they knew, tell him to stop being a pervert, tell him he’s a complete fuck-up and they’ll never look at him the same way. Anything would do if it helped Tony to move on from where he was right now because this? This sucked. Having a crush on one person was shit, having a crush on two people was shittier, but having a crush on two people who were practically together? That was just fucking ridiculous.
None of this explained, at least not to Tony, how, after two years of meeting Cap, seven months after meeting Bucky, the two came up to him and shyly—shyly? Steve he could understand, but since when was Bucky shy?—asked him if he wanted to be with them. As in being in a relationship. Together. The three of them. At the same time.
Tony figured his confusion was understandable, but none of that stopped him from asking, “Are you sure?” and smiling like a goddamn lunatic when they both said, “yes,” immediately, not wavering, not in the slightest.
And then Tony said, “Yeah, I’d like that,” because what else was there to say? No? He might be a little bit crazy, but he was not an idiot. When Captain America and the Winter Soldier—the two people you’ve fallen for like a dumbass—asked you if you want to be in a relationship with them, you said yes, and that was it. Even Pepper would have to agree with Tony’s logic on this.
Speaking of Pepper, Tony still hasn’t called her to tell her about this. Rhodey he was simply going to text a picture of himself with Steve and Bucky alongside the caption ‘jealous?’ and then avoid his calls for two weeks until Rhodey flew over and cornered him, but Pepper… There’d probably be shouting, maybe some crying if they were feeling emotional. Who knew? Maybe Tony would even make out of it alive. It didn’t hurt to wish so, anyway.
What would he even say to her? ‘Hey, so last week I was invited into a polyamorous relationship by Cap and Bucky. I said yes. Hope you still love me, bye’?
Their relationship was still brand new and Tony wasn’t sure of his footing yet, didn’t think any of them were. They’d talked, not so much that Tony became uncomfortable—emotionally stunted and incapable of talking about his feelings, a voice that sounded too much like Pepper said in his head—but enough to make sure that everyone understood everyone else and they were all on the same page.
Unfortunately, before they got to talking, if you caught Tony’s drift, Hydra decided that week was the week to try to take over the world and kill Captain America—again, as if they ever did anything else—so they hadn’t had much time alone yet, but when they did, well, let’s just say Tony was quite looking forward to the moment where they all found themselves in the same bed.
Tony must have jinxed himself, that’s the only explanation he can think of, because when that moment finally comes, in Steve’s bedroom, a little before dawn, with a few stray rays of light illuminating the room and their soot covered outfits, they are all too tired to do anything about it.
It says a lot about how deep the exhaustion runs in Tony’s body that he isn’t even freaking out about going to bed—to actual sleep, which is as nerve wracking as sex—with Bucky and Steve. They’d gently pulled him with them after their debrief with SHIELD and Tony went without any protests, knocking shoulders with Bucky as he walked, which made the other man throw an arm around him without second thought.
Tony reckons the way he feels, comfortable and warm and right where he should be, entirely the fault of Bucky’s arm around his shoulders and Steve’s hand around his wrist, isn’t normal. He shouldn’t feel like this. He should be frightened and nervous and impossibly scared, but maybe because of his exhaustion, maybe because there is nothing frightening or unnerving or impossibly scary about this, Tony feels comfortable and warm and happy, and right now, that’s all there is to it.
“We should shower,” Steve says when they finally get to his room. Tony ignores him completely in favor of flopping down on the bed, while Bucky groans and slaps Steve on the back of the head.
“Shower later, we need to sleep.”
Tony grunts his approval at Bucky’s wisdom, too tired to use real words. He can feel the faint hands of sleep already tugging him down, but Steve’s hands on his hips, turning him around so he’s lying on his back, bring him back to the real world.
“You can’t sleep like this,” Steve says. Tony lifts his head to catch Steve kneeling down in front of him and pulling Tony’s shoes and socks off him. When he casts back his thoughts, the last person he remembers doing this to him was Pepper. After a few seconds of thinking, Tony decides Steve helping him take off his clothes is a good thing, and flops back on the bed.
He catches Bucky looking at them, and no matter how hard he searches, Tony finds there is nothing remotely resembling jealousy in his eyes. Instead he looks amused, fond even. There’s a little smile tugging at the corner of his lips and he’s staring at them like he can’t look away, wouldn’t do it even if he could.
Tony decides that’s a good thing too.
When he stands up, Tony sees Steve waver. He looks at Tony’s jeans, then at Tony’s face before his gaze drops back to the jeans again. Tony grins and decides to help Steve out by pushing down his pants himself. His shirt stays on. He knows that eventually they’re both going to see the arc reactor, but that’s one inevitability Tony doesn't want to rush.
Steve’s shirt stays on as well, while Bucky’s is discarded carelessly on the floor. Next thing Tony knows, he’s being pulled underneath the covers as human perfection number one and human perfection number two settle in next to him, on both his sides.
It’s around this time that Tony discovers most beds were not made to fit three grown men comfortably.
“JARVIS, make a note to buy Steve a bigger bed,” Tony says as tries to find a comfortable position.
It doesn’t occur to him until after he’s spoken that he might be assuming things already, might be shoving himself where he doesn’t belong, but Bucky just laughs and says, “Agreed,” while Steve chuckles, so Tony figures he’s not messed things up yet.
He ends up shifting around for a couple of minutes, too tired to realize there is no way they can sleep comfortably if they all lie on their backs. When he does realize this, his brain immediately presents a solution, and Tony doesn’t question it before he puts it in practice. His brain is usually good at coming up with solutions.
He turns on his side and, as calmly as one would pick up the remote or order a pizza, settles back against Bucky.
A couple of seconds—comfortable seconds, Tony wants to add—pass before Bucky asks, all fake indignation, a lot of amusement and a hint of confusion. “Are you trying to spoon me, Stark?”
Tony huffs. “Yes, I am, so shut up and spoon with me, Barnes.”
Bucky does, turning on his side as well and quietly fitting himself behind Tony. Lying like this, it’s like having a radiator pressed against his back, with another, even warmer radiator lying on his other side, right next to him. It’ll cut the heating bill, but Tony hates to think how summer nights will be. If they got to summer, that is. Tony avoids thinking about that.
This thing that they have is still all too new and fragile, and there’s a little voice in the back of his head that keeps whispering to him about how he is going to screw up everything, but Bucky and Steve know him, knew what they were getting into when they started this, and that has to count for something in the long run. If it doesn’t, what does?
Tony’s about to fall asleep when he notices something in this picture is wrong. Nothing hurts—well, nothing hurts more than usual—and both Bucky and Steve are fine, not bleeding or in pain, and they’re all lying down comfortably now and nothing feels weird, but there’s something that’s not right. Something he’s missing, something…
“Are you kidding me?” Tony huffs again and reaches a hand behind him so he can pull Bucky’s arm—Bucky’s mechanical arm, which has probably been lying awkwardly on the guy’s side for the past couple of minutes as Bucky tried to figure out what to do it—and drape it over his own waist. “Bucky,” Tony uses his nickname because he’s trying to prove a point, but he’s pretty sure his sleep addled brain isn’t going to make finding the right words easy, “do you really think I mind having your arm on top of me? I’ve got a boner for cool tech you can see from space, and your arm? Is the coolest tech ever. I love your arm.”
Bucky lets out a small, shaky laugh against the back of Tony’s neck that’s still too guarded, too nervous, and Tony gets it, he does. He gets what it’s like to have something foreign suddenly become part of your body, something cold and heavy that makes you stand out like a sore thumb. He gets what it’s like to not be you anymore, to be forced into changing, and even though his foreign bit is not as noticeable as Bucky’s, he still knows how the metal in their bodies can consume them, how it can become something much bigger and scarier every time you refuse to look at it, and like hell Tony is letting Bucky go through that.
He puts a hand over Bucky’s and squeezes, just once, because he knows Bucky can feel it, he made damn sure of it when he built the arm. Bucky squeezes the fabric of Tony’s shirt and doesn’t let go for a little while, until he finally does, with a deep shiver that goes through Bucky’s entire body and has him finally resting the full weight of the arm on Tony’s waist.
And now the picture is almost right, one small step away from perfect.
Tony opens his eyes and finds Steve staring at him. He doesn’t have to say anything, he simply smiles, small and slow and as honestly as he can. Steve smiles back, a little brighter, always a little brighter. Steve rolls on his side so that he’s facing Tony and Bucky, and throws one massive arm around them both, so that they’re all basically smashed together like the most comfortable cocoon the world has ever seen.
“You two are like human saunas. I think I’m getting a heatstroke,” Tony says. He tries to sound serious, but he’s smiling like an idiot, so he doubts he’s succeeding.
“Shut up, Tony, you love it,” Bucky says, using Tony’s first name just because he can and because he’s that sort of asshole who latches on to stuff like this—not that Tony minds, not really. For good measure, he hugs Tony tighter, until Tony is kicking him away. The pressure doesn’t fully ease off. Tony doesn’t complain.
“Are you really—” Steve tries to ask, always attentive, always caring, but Tony cuts him off.
“No, no,” he says, and yes, his smile is still there. He wonders if it will go away anytime soon. “I’m good.”
Steve kisses Tony’s forehead, and Bucky kisses the back of Tony’s neck, both light pecks that should mean nothing but end up leaving traces of warmth on Tony’s skin for the rest of the night and yeah, Tony’s definitely good.
The art you see above was drawn by the awesome Charmaine.