Part One: Me
"Are you seriously telling me," Bruce managed, as he and Natasha and Tony awkwardly tried to keep 210 pounds of Captain America balanced upright between them, "that with all the trained marksmen you've got on the premises—"
"You can stop now," Tony gritted out, arms straining as they tugged Cap along.
Steve was looking at Tony and giggling. "Your beard's funny."
"Clint and Natasha and Rhodey," Bruce's glasses were knocked askew, "crack shots all—"
"This is a very unattractive side of you, you know that? " Tony glared at him. "I mean, is it important to you to be right all the time? Because it's not one of your nicer qualities."
"—that you were really the best person to fire a tranquilizer gun?" With a final heave, they shoved Steve toward the gigantic white sofa, except Steve didn't let go of Tony, and so Tony fell on top of him and just lay there, panting. Bruce pushed his glasses up his nose and crossed his arms.
"Seriously, you're lucky you didn't kill him," Natasha said. "Anybody else, you would've killed him," and Tony reluctantly had to admit that was true: the drug Bruce had developed to calm the Hulk in an emergency worked on the big green rage monster for about 15 minutes, tops: a normal person would be have been knocked out for at least a week. Truth be told, he suspected that the dart was going to go wrong before he even fired it, but he'd told himself to buck up and be confident: how hard could it be to hit a green wall? Pretty hard, it turned out, especially with Steve and Natasha and Clint crowding around, trying to talk The Hulk into anger management. Hanging out with so many sharpshooters had maybe given him a false sense of how easy it was to hit targets with precision: all his friends could shoot between the eyes of a hummingbird, though mostly they were touchy-feely animal rights types and wouldn't. Thor might.
Tony had fired at the Hulk and hit Captain America right in the ass. "Hey!" Steve had shouted angrily, whirling around. "What the—?" and then, "Whoa," and then, "Oh, boy," and then Steve's legs had seemed to go soft underneath him and he sank slowly, like he was underwater, until he was sitting dazedly on the floor. "Wow," Steve had said, then: "I feel funny," and then he'd started giggling. Everyone had stopped to look at him, shocked and worried—including, it turned out, The Hulk, who seemed to find a giggling Captain America as disturbing as everyone else.
"Steve?" the Hulk had said in slow confusion, and then everyone had of course looked at him. "Steve hurt?" the Hulk had asked with rising temper, glaring at Tony, but then Natasha had stepped in quickly, hands raised, to say, "No, look, he's fine! Just fine! See?" and Hulk had turned back to Steve, who had gamely smiled, nodding rapidly, and said: "Yeah, I’m good! I feel great!" and then: "C'mere, big guy!" and okay, it was when Captain America started hugging the Hulk that Tony knew he was in big fucking trouble. Steve Rogers could do moral outrage like nobody’s business, and steely determination was always on tap, but hugging was not normally on the menu. Or giggling, grinning, cheer, or anything else resembling evidence of a good time.
Clint turned and gave Tony an incredulous look. Natasha raised her hands and said, "This is on you; this is totally on you, Tony," though at least she stayed to scrape Cap off the floor. Banner helped too once he shrank back to his normal size; who knew hugging could even do that?
"He's still conscious," Banner said now, bending to peer into Steve's blown pupils. "Which is a miracle. His body must be processing it pretty well. I'd try to keep him awake though."
"Great," Tony said brightly. "Why don't we—"
"You," Natasha said, crossing her arms.
"Totally you," Bruce agreed, as Steve started stroking Tony’s beard with wondering fingertips.
"You know," Tony said, trying to pull out of Captain Handsy's stoned grip, "I'd like to point out that I'm not the one with the propensity for turning into a giant green rage—"
Bruce was already heading out of the room. "Try not to kill him," Natasha advised on her way out. "He might just be the best of us," and Tony sank back into the sofa with Steve and gave them the finger as they departed.
Stoned, Steve Rogers turned out to be a really touchy—feely guy, which was weird because he was so closed off and uptight in real life. Now, though, Steve was touching Tony's face like he was blind or something, feeling his cheekbones, nose, lips, then putting his fingers into Tony's mouth.
"Okay," Tony said, twisting his head away, "let's go with Plan A: TV and Doritos. Jarvis! I need a metric fuckton of Doritos—" but Steve held on to him when he moved to get the remote.
"Hey, don't go," Steve said, head lolling back against the cushions. "S'no fun to drink alone..."
Interesting. "Huh." Tony turned, still half—sprawled on Steve's lap, and studied his face. "I had no idea you drank at all," and when Steve Rogers smiled there was something new in it: some sparkle, some twinkle: something a little bit...wicked. Tony stared, kind of shocked; it was a really nice smile. He found himself staring at the way the guy's mouth curved up at one corner.
"Oh, yeah, sure, back in the day," Steve said, with a long, slow shrug. "I was a cheap drunk, too, because I weighed so little. We used to..." and then Steve's mouth tightened into its familiar puritanical lines, like he'd remembered that he was actually no fun at all. "We," he began again, and then, abruptly changing tack: "I can't get drunk anymore. Not since the serum. The war. All that," and Tony frowned and realized that the look he was used to seeing on Steve's face was maybe ninety percent sadness. He just hadn't had anything else to compare it to.
"Well, you're pretty stoned now, so congratulations," Tony said, and stretched over the arm of the sofa for the decanter and a glass. Cap was right: it wasn't fun to drink alone, and it was going to be a long night otherwise.
Five tall whiskeys later, Tony had a brilliant idea. "We could go to a disco," he suggested, flinging his arm out expansively and sloshing booze all over the sofa. "Whoops. Or I could call in a couple of hookers—"
"Oh yeah, that's a great idea," Steve said, he was canting sideways. "Let's do that."
Tony doublechecked to make sure Steve wasn't serious—he wasn't—and then sighed and settled back against him; there was a lot of Steve to settle back against. "Okay, well: I've already suggested TV, junk food, disco and hookers. It's your turn to think of something fun to do."
Beside him, Steve was still thrumming with low-level motion: toes flexing, cheek rubbing against Tony's shoulder. Now his hand moved idly to rub Tony's leg, and Tony totally recognized this kind of high, where you wanted to touch everything, and everything felt good. He poured himself another drink, spilled half of it. He only ever really felt really connected to people when he was drinking, but for some reason people didn't want him to do it.
"I don't know," Steve mumbled. "It's sort of nice just sitting here with you."
"Huh," Tony said, as Steve's hand slid along the inseam of his jeans; he looked down to follow it with his eyes and got dizzy, a little. "Are you hitting on me?"
He'd thought he was poking the bear and waited to see Steve blush, but Steve seemed to take the question seriously. "No?" he said, and then: "Or I don't know—maybe? You feel really nice."
"I do, actually!" Tony spread his thighs provocatively. "You don't even know the half of it!"
Steve grinned, wide and lazy. "I don't, I really don't," he agreed, and then—well, shit, Steve took him up on it, sliding his hand up between Tony's legs, cupping and squeezing him through his jeans. Tony was thirsty for it by the end of the first stroke, and then Steve shocked him by muttering, "Kiss me. C'mere and—" Steve leaned in and kissed him, and crap, it was a really good kiss: just the right amount of wet and hard and sweet. "Oh gosh," Steve murmured, cupping his cheek, "you taste like cold whiskey," and Tony shoved him down and tried to take control of things, because maybe he couldn't shoot worth a damn, but if anybody was going to school anybody in kissing around here it was going to be him. But Steve just moaned and opened his mouth for him, just as sweet and sexy as all goddamn.
"Okay, wait," Tony gasped, breaking it off, and Jesus, Steve Rogers had a face like summertime, like green grass and picnics and apple pie—and now his long eyelashes were fluttering and his hips were rocking up gently and he was rubbing himself against the seat of Tony's jeans.
"I thought you wanted me to have an idea," Steve said breathlessly.
"An idea, sure—something you guys did for fun. Pinochle. Croquet—"
"Monopoly," Steve contributed generously, his hands warming Tony's sides.
"You had Monopoly?" Tony asked.
"Oh, sure," Steve said. He melted back into the cushions, his hands sliding up over Tony's chest, and then damn if Captain America didn't circle his nipple with his thumb. "It's fun and all, but—"
Tony ground down helplessly against him, and they both groaned softly. "I thought you were a virgin," he said, almost accusingly, and watched as something painful stole across Steve's face.
"You think a lot of things," Steve said.
"And guys. You never said you did guys—" Steve pressed his fingers against Tony's lips and shook his head, shutting down the entire line of inquiry, and this time, Tony opened his mouth for them, licking and sucking. Steve's fingers were long and strong, and Tony ran his tongue impulsively over the perfect ridge where his finger pads met his nails.
"Oh," Steve said, seemingly fascinated. "Yes," and then Steve was tumbling him off the sofa and onto the floor and getting on top of him—and Jesus, Captain America was going to do him on the rug in front of the television. Tony, gasping, had some vague sense that this was a bad idea, except for how he couldn't get his clothes off fast enough. And the old guy turned out to be really good in the sack, who'd'a thunk it, maybe because he was so damned earnest about it. Steve didn't make love like someone who'd been doing it in back rooms or up against an alley wall; he was all focused tenderness, curling around Tony and kissing him, pushing two fingers inside him and jerking him off slow, slowly. It should've been corny, but it wasn't; Tony lay there, shaking and gasping, refusing to beg Steve to let him come. But he could maybe die of this: getting endless sweet kisses as Steve twisted fingers deep inside him.
"Oh," Tony gasped, "oh, fuck—" and Steve tightened his hand and let Tony pump hard into it, and then Jesus, he was coming, and Steve held him close and whispered, "It's okay, it's okay, let it go," and hell, he was letting go all right, coming all over himself, coming so hard he saw stars.
"You," Tony said breathlessly, pointing at him, when he could speak, "are a sex machine wrapped in an enigma," and he grabbed Steve and hugged him hard when Steve ducked his head shyly and smiled. "Christ, I can't wait to see what happens next," Tony exulted. "Do you want me to suck you? Do you want to fuck me—'cause you can totally fuck me. What would you normally do? What does he like to do after?" a stab in the dark that surprised him by coming out a little jealous, but Steve just laughed warm against his neck and murmured, "Usually he likes to do me, but…" and Tony hated being right, hated hated it, but he'd totally known there was a ghost in the room.
He rolled on top of Steve and, grinning to distract him from what he'd just said, muttered, "I want to suck you. I want you to fuck my mouth, come down my throat—I want to know what your come tastes like," and Steve trembled and closed his eyes, flushed pink to the ears, and Tony slid down and got to it, wrapping his fist around the base of Steve's cock and fitting his mouth over the heavy, blood-engorged tip.
It was one of the many things he was really good at, and he wasn't surprised at the muffled noises Steve began to make into the crook of his elbow, or the moment when Steve began to gasp openly. We'll see who makes who beg around here, he thought, pleased. Sincerity counted for a lot, but practice made perfect. He'd bring Captain America to his knees. And then he was into it, falling into the pleasure of it, bringing Steve to the edge over and over again. He twined his fingers into the long fringes of the rug they lay on, gripping on.
By the end, Steve was gasping and bucking wildly beneath him, and Tony gripped his thighs and sucked him roughly off. For the record, Captain America's come was clean-tasting and only faintly salty, like eating a pretzel by the seaside. Tony licked up Steve's abs and up his sternum and then kissed him, hot and deep, to give him a taste. Steve roughly clutched the back of Tony's head and kept the kiss going for a long time, which made Tony feel incredibly smug until he finally pulled back and saw that Steve's eyes were faintly blurry, a little damp.
"You're good, you're very good," Steve said gently; he looked wrecked. "That was really—I've never had anything like that."
"Thanks." Tony scraped Steve's sweat—damp hair back from his forehead. "It's an experience, I've been told. Still, you know, I believe in taking pride in your work."
"Oh, I can believe it," Steve replied, and Tony grinned and snugged down beside him, gratified when Steve's arm slid almost absently around him. He hooked a leg over Steve's; Steve was still wrapped up in sensation: nosing his hair and rubbing circles on Tony's arm with his thumb; craving touch, Tony supposed. He was still enjoying his own post-coital, post-prandial, post-brandial glow.
He didn't remember falling asleep, and when he woke, he came up flailing in a blind panic, because Banner had said—Banner, Steve—don't let him fall—but Steve was awake and sitting beside him, his plaid shirt back on and buttoned nearly to the top. He'd already covered Tony with one of the blankets from the sofa. "Hey," Steve said softly. "It's okay. Uh, good morning," and Tony fought the urge to groan and pull the blanket up totally over his pounding, aching head.
"Here," Steve said, turning and coming back with a tall, clear glass and two aspirins, "drink this."
"This better be vodka," Tony warned, and Steve laughed then and said, ruefully, "Afraid not."
Tony took the aspirin and chugged all the water before speaking. "How's your head?"
"Fine. Better than yours, it looks like," Steve said wryly. "Look, I'll let you get back to sleep. I just uh," and oh my god, they were having a morning after conversation. "I just wanted to say thanks, I guess. I—you know. Enjoyed it."
"If you send me a thank you card..." Tony warned, opening one eye and squinting at him. "Okay, you're welcome. It was totally my pleasure. I'm sorry—" he began, but the rest seemed too much like hard work: I'm sorry I wasn't who you really wanted to be fucking, I'm sorry that everyone you love is dead, "—I'm sorry I shot you in the ass," he said finally, and Steve grinned good-naturedly. "I'm gonna give the tranquilizer gun to Natasha next time, I swear to God."
"I'm not sure I find that reassuring," Steve said doubtfully.
"Come on, she's smoking hot," Tony pointed out. "And you like her more than me."
"Sure, but that's true of almost everybody," Steve said, and then startled him by leaning in to kiss him on the cheek.
It took everything Tony had not to drag Steve down to the carpet for a second round, except for how that was obviously a terrible idea. He was still sweating when Steve left, and weirdly grateful he was going—it was crazy, but he could fall for a guy that earnest. He felt he'd had a very narrow escape.
Part Two: Him
"Sir," Jarvis said, for what Tony sleepily realized was not the first time, not by a longshot. "Sir—"
"All right, yeah, what?" Tony groaned and waved a hand, and the lights came on in the bedroom.
"Captain Rogers is broadcasting Code Delta," and crap, Tony was shoving the furs off his bed, fighting with his sheets and looking for pants, because even when he was handing out those stupid emergency codes, he'd been sure that Cap would never use his: say what you wanted about the guy, he wasn't a whiner. And in fact, Steve hadn't so much as called to say hi, let alone ask for backup, so Jesus, Code Delta—Tony looked up at the clock—at 4:12 a.m.
The lights came on just before him as he headed out, bare chested and barefoot, into the kitchen. He drank half a glass of water then threw the rest on his face. "Where is he?"
"Transmitter beacon at 56th and Park, heading south at a rate of—"
Tony's head jerked up. "He's coming here? ETA?"
There was the tiniest pause before Jarvis answered. "He's headed for the service entrance; ETA six minutes,"—the service entrance? "What the hell," Tony said and headed for the elevator.
The empty concrete delivery bay was brightly lit by fluorescent bulbs—which flickered and went out just as Tony stepped out of the elevator. "Jar-vis?" Tony singsonged, touching his ear, just as he heard the sound of an approaching engine. It wasn't a motorcycle. "Our security cameras are having a brief power failure," Jarvis reported, "at the Captain's request," and just then a brown truck sped in and jerked to a stop.
The driver, a black guy wearing a UPS hat crammed on askew, leapt out and ran around to the back. Tony followed. "Not gonna ask you to sign for this," he said grimly, flinging the door open—and Jesus, Rogers was there, one eye half—swollen shut and covered in blood, bent over—a guy with a metal arm. "Oh, fuck," Tony said, and pushed his fingers through his hair.
"Stark, help me," Steve said in a terrible scrape of a voice. "I need help. Please." Tony hopped into the back and bent down, pushed the guy's eyelid up with his thumb, checked for a pulse. Even in the dim light from the dirty overhead lamp he could see that the guy was too pale, almost green. He was also too cold, despite the sweat dampening his hair and beading along his upper lip.
"Cap," Tony said, looking up, "this guy needs a hospital. Hell, you need a—"
"No hospitals," Steve insisted; he was dragging the metal arm over his shoulder, trying to haul the guy up.
"But—" Tony protested.
"Hospitals keep records, they file reports; they'd find us, take him. But even if they guess we came here, they'll need a warrant, right? There's still that, isn't there?" and Tony winced at the despair in Steve's voice; he was guessing that Steve Rogers's confidence in institutions was at a low ebb. "You wouldn't just let them in the door—"
Tony went back to what he saw as the crucial point: "I'm not a doctor! I don't know how to—"
"You're a genius. You can figure it out," and Tony groaned and hauled the guy's other arm over his shoulder, and together they hauled him down out of the truck toward the elevator.
"Sam," Steve said, twisting to look back over his shoulder at the driver, and Tony scoured his brain for the Falcon's last name; Wilson, he thought: Sam Wilson, "are you—"
"I'm good," the Falcon said, slamming the truck doors. "I'll get rid of the van and meet you back here. I'll lead them a merry chase, don't you worry," and then he looked at Tony and muttered, "Man, I hope you're all that."
"I am all that," Tony shot back. "I am all that," but Steve was steering them into the elevator.
"Don't move until the lights come on!" Steve called to Wilson. "For continuity in the security—"
"I know, I know!" Wilson yelled and got back into the truck. "You worry about your end, I got this!"
The delivery bay lights came on just as the elevator doors closed. Steve fell silent as the elevator rose, adjusting his stance and bracing himself to take the guy's entire weight. Tony gratefully stepped away and circled his aching shoulder; the pale guy hung limply from Steve's neck, his black hair long and stringy. He had blood around the mouth, a face like a bruise, and Steve was clutching him protectively, holding on to him like he was the most precious thing in the world.
This is the guy, Tony thought, and punched in the code for sickbay. This is the guy; holy shit.
"I'm sorry," Steve said quietly. "I didn't know where else to go. Stark—Tony. This is Bucky."
Tony knew who he was—The Winter Soldier, maybe the most lethal man in the world. But not to Steve Rogers. This was who Captain America loved; this guy, a rabid dog who might bite.
When the elevator dinged, Tony lifted the Winter Soldier's human arm and tugged it over his shoulder again, so that he was hanging between them. "Come on," Tony said, "let's get him flat somewhere," and together they dragged James Buchanan Barnes down the hall to the surgery and lifted him up, onto a gurney. Here, under the bright lights, Barnes looked even worse, and Tony put an emergency blanket over him and immediately started drawing out tubing for oxygen, IV fluids, a couple pints of blood.
"I thought you said you weren't a doctor," Steve said, almost accusingly.
"I'm not a doctor," Tony replied irritably. "This is an oil change. You don't know his blood type, do you?"
"A," Steve said immediately. "Mine too," he added, a second later, "if you need some—"
"Me three," Tony interrupted, "not that it matters. I've got 'em all. In there," he added, gesturing awkwardly with his chin as he rigged up the IV tubing. "I've got a lot of accident-prone friends." Once he'd got Barnes set up, Tony scrubbed at his face and then took a closer look at him: he was still green and sweating, heart and respiration rates erratic.
"I am not a doctor," Tony said again, pre-emptively, and Steve waved his hand impatiently, "but if I had to guess, I'd say he's in some kind of withdrawal: maybe more than one kind. Let me get Banner. He is a doctor, and besides that, he's fucking smart; if anyone can guess the chemistry of this—" Steve's face clouded. "You gotta trust Banner," Tony told him. "He's part of us—and that's why you came, right? Because it's us?" Steve stoically jerked a nod.
"Here," Steve said, reaching inside his bloodstained jacket and pulling out a brown folder. "You'll need this. Natasha got it for me. I trust her." He took a breath and looked Tony in the eye. "I trust Doctor Banner. I trust you."
"Right," Tony said, after a moment; taking the folder. "Well, good, then," and then, "Wait, c'mere, you're a mess—" and then he dragged Steve over to the basin and did a quick and dirty triage on Steve's eye, his bloody, dirt-smeared face. "This here," Tony added, gesturing to the blood on Steve's jacket, "is this you, or…?"
"The other guy," Steve said.
"Barnes?" Tony asked unthinkingly, and Steve jerked away and said, "No. No. Bucky's not—There were guys after him. Hunting him. We—got away from them."
"How did you find him, anyway?" Tony asked curiously.
"He came to me," Steve said thickly, then turned away fast.
Tony quickly tossed away the gauze and the antibiotic ointment and went to wake Bruce Banner up from a sound and hopefully peaceful sleep.
Banner came out of the elevator, shirt buttoned up wrong and hair sticking up every which way, just as there was a crash and a shout from the exam room. They found the gurney overturned, equipment smashed—and the Winter Soldier on the floor with Rogers beside him. It took Tony a second to realize that they weren't fighting each other: Barnes was convulsing and throwing up into a bucket, and Rogers was holding him steady, boot braced on the floor, trying to keep him upright. Barnes had pulled out his IV and oxygen, and when he finished puking, he sort of curled in on himself, forearms pressed hard to his guts like they were going to spill out onto the floor.
"Hurts," he gritted out, and Tony tried to decide if he should get a tranquilizer gun or a plane ticket to Pamplona, because seriously, this was the season for the running of the bulls, and he'd never done that. He could take a helicopter to the airport, have the jet fuelled and ready. There could be flamenco, and sangria. Suckling pig.
But Banner was wading in, crouching down and saying, "Sergeant Barnes? I'm Bruce Banner, Steve's friend. Let me help you." Barnes turned his face up to Bruce's and Jesus, James Bucky Barnes was so young—his body had a raw, unfinished quality even with pain lines etched into his face and dark hollows around his smeared, bloodshot eyes. He was holding on to Steve like a drowning man, constantly checking his reactions, looking for reassurance in Steve's eyes.
"Please," Barnes said finally, moaning as something cramped in his gut. "It hurts," he said, and then, quiet and defiant: "I'm not an animal," and Bruce sighed and said softly, "Of course you're not. Of course you're not."
Bruce looked back at Tony. "Let's get him upstairs," Bruce muttered, "into a real room, with a bed and—you know, human things. Maybe that yellow room closest to the lab?" and Tony opened his mouth to protest—the yellow room was in his house, near his lab, his personal lab—and then he looked at Steve's face.
"Okay, yeah, all right," Tony said.
Tony made himself scarce while Steve and Bruce got Barnes situated upstairs—he was in enough pain that it was difficult moving him, even after Bruce got him warmed up and cleaned up and provisionally patched up. Tony had retreated to his living room with Barnes's USSR file, a fascinating read, until he glanced up and saw Rogers and Banner talking in low voices outside the yellow room. Rogers, he saw at a glance, was listing to one side. Tony tossed the file down.
"... drugs, painkillers or sedatives," Banner was saying. "I know he's suffering," Banner continued, "I can see it, but until we understand the interactions…"
"I understand," Steve said faintly.
"But he's strong, Steve. He's going to pull through this. I can already see how strong he is."
"He is." Steve's jaw tightened. "You don't know—you can't know—but he was always strong. Before he was captured. Before the war, before anything. Bucky's the best man I know."
"I believe you," Bruce said.
"What he did, what they made him do—it's an obscenity," and Steve was so angry, Tony thought he might do a Thor and punch a fist through the wall. "The perversion of that kind of strength is an obscenity," he said, trembling with it. "The perversion of moral character is an obscenity—"
"Yes," Bruce replied seriously. "Yes, I know," and of course Bruce did know.
Tony took Steve by the arm and said, to Bruce, "See your patient, Doc. Let me steal Cap for a second," and Steve reluctantly let himself be pulled away. Tony dragged him into the kitchen, then silently set out bread, sandwich fixings, a bottle of orange juice and a glass on the off chance that the trembling was low blood sugar as well as anger. "Eat something before you fall down," Tony told him, and then: "Jarvis? Get me some old man clothes for the old man—because, no offense, Cap, everything you're wearing has to be set on fire."
Steve looked grateful. Tony leaned against the countertop and watched as Steve began to pile everything into a huge sandwich. Maybe he'd been blinded by the terrible clothes and the reek of moral authority, but now he saw that Rogers was young, too; only a young guy could eat like that. Seeing him next to Barnes, his contemporary, had made it obvious: Rogers and Barnes were closer in age to Natasha than to him or Banner or Barton. What the hell had they done to boys back then to make them grow up so fast? Tony supposed a world war or two would do it.
Steve went still, suddenly, staring down at the plate, at his hands. "I don't have the words, Tony. I know that thank you isn't enough," and Tony had the sudden, overwhelming urge to shove him back against the counter and kiss him, and might even have done it—he wasn't used to suppressing his impulses—except he was dead-gut certain that Steve would immediately pick up his ailing killer-assassin boyfriend and split, global manhunt be damned.
"Don’t worry about it," Tony said, and then, pushing away off the counter: "Pick a room, I'll get you set up—"
"I'll share with Bucky," Steve said, leveling his eyes at Tony—and ok, fine: message received.
Steve disappeared into the yellow room and a few minutes later, Banner came out, collapsed on a stool at Tony's kitchen counter and drank a pot of coffee while he read the Winter Soldier's file.
"Oh my God," Banner said slowly, every few minutes, or sometimes "Holy…" or "I can't—"
"Did anyone ever tell you that you're really cute when you're confronting philoscientific moral-ethical horror?" Tony braced himself on the other side of the counter and started reading along upside down. "Did you get to the part with the microelectrical blood implants?"
"I'm still stuck on the conjunction of sub-aural frequency blasts with scopolamine," Banner replied. "It's so primitive, but what a number it could do on your head. It would fuck with memory, neural connectivity—"
"I think," Tony interrupted, "that they were using microelectrical implants along with electroshock. At least since the seventies. Which you've got to admit is brilliant—although obviously totally unethical and, well, evil," he added, belatedly.
"We'll know from the bloodwork," Banner muttered, "I hope we'll know from the bloodwork..."
"And tissue samples—we should take tissue samples. Think about it: they started in the '40s with this guy trying to duplicate the super serum, so if we find traces of that we might be able to carbon date his entire toxicology. I figured you'd know more about that part of it than I do."
"Yeah. I—yeah," Banner said absently, still turning pages, and then: "Jesus, this is a hell of thing to face first thing in the morning."
"Really, really cute," Tony said.
"Don't make me angry," Banner said.
Tony offered to run the samples and went to hide in his lab as a matter of strategy, knowing that the first 24 hours would be the worst. And they were—he heard Barnes screaming even through the whirring of centrifuges and his favorite heavy metal playlist. Banner came in, grim-faced, and they looked at the slides and had an impassioned argument about strategy. Finally they decided to pursue both their ideas: Banner worked up an injectable reagent that would neutralize the toxins in Barnes's muscles while Tony designed a drug to bind the microeleectricals. Banner also tried concocting a number of specially made painkillers; none of them worked.
Tony's drug was done first, but he didn't want to administer it. "I don't like pain," he told Banner. "Or assassins. Or boyfriends, actually," and Banner looked at him sideways but went to administer the binding agent himself. Tony relaxed by playing a couple of games of Galaga—he'd lost his taste for more realistic video games after the Battle of Manhattan—and tried to pretend he wasn't anxiously waiting for Banner to come back with some fucking news already.
He saw it immediately on Banner's grinning, frowzled face. "Yes," he hissed, pumping the air with his fist, "I knew it. Don't worry, Banner; I'm sure your little idea will help too. Tell me what happened, tell me everything," and Banner said, "I pushed it through the IV, and at first I thought that nothing was going to happen, but then he just sort of relaxed and went to sleep. He's sleeping now—real sleep, first I've seen. I thought—" Banner cut himself off, then thought better of it, and said: "I thought Steve was going to cry, he was so relieved."
"Oh God, let's do everything we can to avoid that," Tony said, horrified. "That's just—"
"I know," Bruce said. "It's—we've got to tread carefully, Tony, because that guy's still waters are beyond deep. Cap is all in on this. This is ground zero for him—"
This was suddenly too much. "Well, what about me?" Tony demanded. "My waters are deep—I mean, I know that none of you are much for the rapid processing of information, but the assassin currently living in my spare room likely killed my parents as well as a hundred other people."
Banner sat down on one of the lab stools, yanked off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He looked tired. "Okay, well, obviously this situation is complicated," he said, "because the possibility of terrible consequences multiplies exponentially the more superheroes you put in a room. If Fury had had any sense, he'd've dispersed us all over the globe, one continent each—"
"I call South America," Tony said.
"I call Antarctica," Bruce replied wearily, "but that being said, do you want to know what I think?"
Tony didn't answer, but then Bruce didn't say anything. "All right: fine; yes," Tony said finally. "What do you think?"
"I think that that guy," Banner pointed toward the door with the earpiece of his glasses, "hasn't made a decision since he enlisted, let alone since Hydra got him, about your parents or anything else. In fact," he added, squinting, "James Barnes didn't enlist, right? Rogers enlisted; Barnes was drafted. So I don't know what the last decision was that that poor bastard made. Probably ordered pie over cheesecake in 1941."
"Pretty sure cheesecake wasn't invented in 1941," Tony said.
"Cheesecake was absolutely invented in—" Banner began, and then seemed to realize he was being messed with. He swiveled the stool back to the bench. "I'm going to work on this a little more. I'm really close," he said.
"Fine. I'm going to catch some zzzs," Tony said, and he hadn't really planned to go past the yellow room, but he found himself there anyway. The lights were off, but the door was open, with a couple of monitors positioned so their readouts and waveforms were visible from the hall. But in the dim light, Tony could see that Rogers and Barnes were entwined in—not so much a hug as a death grip, arms wrapped around each other almost too tightly, like they were freezing to death. Barnes had shoved his face into the crook of Steve's neck, and even from here Tony could see the terrible scarred puckering across his shoulder where the metal arm was attached. Steve's arms were like steel bands around him, his massive shoulders curved in protectively.
"Greatest generation, sure, but what have you done for me lately?" Tony said, and gently closed the door.
Part Three: The Other Guy
Sam Wilson turned up the following afternoon and was impressively gobsmacked at Tony's apartment on his way in to Steve: Tony liked him immediately and kicked up redesigning the wings from 63 to 21 on his personal to-do list. Wilson disappeared into the yellow room to meet the monster and somehow managed to drag Steve out with him for a run, which was impressive: Tony had assumed that Cap and the Winter Soldier had been fused together by now. When they got back, Wilson glanced in Tony's fridge and then ordered four pizzas and a case of beer.
"See," Tony said, going for a slice with ham and pineapple, "now, him I like—what, he wasn't available?" Steve rolled his eyes, then took an entire pizza for himself and went in to Barnes.
"You can have the blue room," Tony told Wilson, "it's nice, it has an extra-large Jacuzzi."
Wilson sat back in his chair and looked at him assessingly. "Thanks but I don't need it. I don't have many friends that would judge me by the size of my…Jacuzzi."
Tony gestured at him with his beer bottle. "You need more fun friends."
That night, Banner was finally ready to try out his injectable, though he seemed to be having opening night jitters. "Come on," Tony said, "what's the worst that can happen?" and for a tense second there, it looked like Banner was going to let the big guy explain it to him in small words.
But the worst didn't happen; or maybe it did. "I don't know," Banner mumbled afterwards, when Tony asked, "Nothing so far, but it's intramuscular, so maybe I underdosed. I made more than one dose, anyway—figured I'd try every couple of hours. He's better, though, even without. Your drug really helped—I think he's almost ready to move from clears to solid food."
"Great. Tomorrow, the world!" Tony said and then: "No, scratch that: he might actually do it."
Natasha showed up a day later, and she and Steve hugged so hard and for so long that Tony found himself wondering if Captain Artless had slept with absolutely everybody. Natasha also ventured briefly into the yellow room, though she came out muttering to herself in Russian, and then later, Tony stumbled upon her and Steve having an actual, honest to god argument:
"—intelligence? Or do you only care about the truth when it doesn't impact anyone you genuinely care about?" she was saying, and there were actual tears in Rogers's eyes, he was so frustrated and angry. "What he knows, Steve…" Natasha said, eyes widening to show the magnitude of it. "He's got to be formally debriefed."
"Now, now," Tony said, wading into it.
"She's right. You're right. Just—give me time," Steve said. "Please. I need—he needs—"
"It's time-sensitive," Natasha said implacably. "Georgia. Belarus. The Ukraine," and Steve gritted out, "Yes. I know," in a voice more like a snarl than Tony would have ever imagined him using; well, if anyone could make a grown man cry, it was Natasha Romanoff.
"If you want formal," Steve said forcefully, "you'll just have to wait, but if you have urgent questions, you can ask them—a few at a time—if I'm there and—"
"Okay," Natasha said, abruptly giving way in that way she had. "That's fair," she said, and they seemed to have made it up between them by that evening, because Tony found Steve and Natasha and Sam sitting close together after dinner and talking in low voices. He decided it was time for cocktails, and pressed chilled vodka martinis into everybody's hands.
"Vashe zrodovye." Natasha took a sip and licked her lips like a cat. Steve just stared at his.
"I still believe in God, is that ridiculous?" Steve asked, not looking up.
"No," Sam said. "No, man."
Natasha shrugged, smiled. "I'm the wrong person to ask."
Steve surprised him by looking at him directly. Tony thought he'd try Banner's trick of just waiting him out, but Steve was more patient than he was. "I'm with Feynman," Tony said finally, with a tight smile. "God was invented to explain mystery. It's not my idea of a satisfying explanation, in fact, it's a terrible explanation, because it accounts for absolutely—"
Banner had come up behind him; now he put a hand on Tony's shoulder. Tony stopped talking. "What's funny," Banner mused, "is that Arthur C. Clarke once suggested that scientists just ignore religion. He said that nobody had ever bothered to disprove the existence of Thor." He shrugged and said: "So that didn't work out too well. Is there any martini left in the shaker?"
As if summoned, Thor himself turned up the next day and installed himself in the part of the tower reserved for heads of state and visiting royalty, which was about right. Heimdall had informed him of the fall of Hydra and the near-collapse of western civilization, and Thor turned up to see if throwing a hammer could help. It couldn't, but he grasped Steve's situation right away and approached it with unexpected sympathy: Thor was a guy who understood that sometimes people you loved killed a lot of other people. Plus Wilson loved Thor and liked to wind him up to say hilarious things, which made dinner more fun than it usually was.
It turned out that Barton had been there all along, which Tony only realized when he nearly tripped over the guy meditating on the terrace. One by one they came—they all came—for Steve, Tony realized, a little irritably. Steve Rogers's milkshake brought them all to the yard—and with an entire household of Avengers, Tony found himself quadrupling, and re-quadrupling, and then re-re-quadrupling the household food order. They were everywhere: the kitchen, the terrace, the rec room, and—especially—the gym. "It's like the fucking Big Chill in here," Tony grumbled.
Thor frowned at this. "I find the temperature quite pleasant."
"Oh my God, say it again!" Wilson said, laughing.
Tony hid in his lab as much as possible and wondered if it was becoming obvious that everyone had visited the yellow room except him. Banner, he knew, was still regularly injecting Barnes with antitoxin, and Tony had developed yet another drug almost as a side project: designed to strengthen white matter damaged by years of electroshock. Banner was impressed with it anyway, and made vaguely complimentary noises about what a great chemist Tony would have been, as if. So he was totally doing his bit for the Winter Boyfriend—hell, more than his bit, considering he was not only architecting his treatment but also supporting the support crew. Maybe Barton could be all hand-holdy about how terrible it was to be controlled by evil and forced to do inexcusable things and blah blah, but had Barton developed not one but two customized wonder drugs? No! He just made those terrible yogurt smoothies, and with Tony's yogurt, in fact.
"You should meet him," Steve said, appearing out of nowhere when Tony just happened to pass by the yellow room at 4 in the morning.
"I met him," Tony said. "I met him first, in fact."
"You carried him across the floor while he was unconscious," Steve pointed out.
"My point exactly," Tony said. "Greater love hath no—speaking of which, since we're actually alone for a moment," he added, "I wanted to say—you know, explicitly: for the record—that I absolutely don't want you."
"Oh, I know," Steve said, with sincerity. "I didn't think you did."
"Well, I don't. Not that I would throw you out of bed. Obviously. Since I didn't."
"Right," Steve agreed.
"But because what would I even do with you. There's so much of you. And all your stuff, your issues, which are so totally not my issues. And then," Tony said, "despite the whole baby-faced angel thing you've got going, there's the tremendous ego. You don't fool me; I can see it."
"Well, I do personify America," Steve said, and gestured to his massive self with both hands.
"Right. See, and then you reveal yourself to have a snarky sense of humor and I'm totally smitten." Steve opened his mouth and Tony raised a hand and said, "I'm actually not. Seriously. For reals, all joking aside: I don't want you. But…" and suddenly he was lost for words, derailed, but Steve tilted his head to the side and just waited, so endlessly fucking patient. "Okay," Tony said finally. "The thing is: I kind of wanted to be the kind of guy who would want you."
"Yeah," Steve said levelly. "You should meet him. He's in there," and he tilted his head toward the yellow room. "I really think you'll like him." Steve hesitated for a moment and then sighed and leaned his shoulder against the wall. "Did I ever tell you he took me to a girl—a prostitute?"
"I don't know, because that's just the kind of story you'd tell and I'd forget," Tony said.
"It was in…I don't know, the late '30s. My father was dead, you see, and so he thought… Her name was Molly. She was real nice, Bucky always had good taste in girls. We went there and he…" Steve trailed off, mouth still working, like he was trying to figure out how to tell the next part, how to say it or even whether. Tony, entirely captivated by the story, suddenly had an intuition about where it was going: what Bucky Barnes would do.
Tony let out a low whistle. "He let you watch," he said, and the look on Steve's face told him he was right. "He went first and he let you watch."
"Yeah. I. Yeah," Steve said softly. "I watched. God, it was beautiful. But afterwards I told him, you know, that it wasn't Molly I wanted." He smiled ruefully, a little sadly. "He—Bucky indulged me, like he always did. He was always so good to me. We couldn't always—we had to be careful. But we found a way, like people do when they really want something…"
Steve, lost in memory, drifted away, his face settling into a familiar look of sadness that Tony hadn't seen for a while: he felt he now knew a hell of a lot more about where that look came from. "Well it sounds like he had a lot of style," Tony offered graciously: a distraction.
"Style, yeah," Steve said absently, and then he rubbed his eyes and seemed to come back to himself. "He did. Does."
"No doubt why he reminds you of me," Tony said, and bristled only a little when Steve laughed.
"Right," Steve said, failing to conceal his amusement. "Sure. A little, maybe. But I honestly think you'll like him. And I think Bucky's going to like you as much as I do."
Tony crooked a smile. "That little, huh?"
"Or even less," Steve replied, and warmly clasped Tony's shoulder on his way into the bedroom.
Tony woke to the smell of bacon and wandered out to find most of the Avengers in his kitchen—there were plates and coffee cups everywhere, greasy fry pans, crumbs. Thor was making what looked to be his 19th batch of chocolate chip pancakes. "You let him use fire?" Tony asked.
"He's good with fire," Natasha shrugged.
"He makes really amazing pancakes," Banner said, mouth full, and Thor beamed proudly and handed Tony a stack of them covered with what had to be a half a pound of bacon.
Tony poured himself a giant mug of black coffee, took the plate, and went back to his bedroom to eat in peace. "Somebody better clean this shit up!" he yelled back over his shoulder.
He settled himself in a big chair by the window, rapidly skimming some articles on the topology of space-time and eating pancakes until he was nearly sick. When he went back for more coffee, the kitchen was empty—and spotless—all shining chrome and glass, but the refrigerator door was wide open. "Jesus Christ, people," Tony muttered, heading around the counter to shut it, "can you please make an effort to—" He stopped short.
There was a man standing there, drinking a glass of milk. He turned, the carton still in his hand.
"Hey, I'm sorry. I was hungry. And Steve—" He shoved the carton of milk back into the fridge and shut the door, then came forward. "I'm James Barnes," he said. His eyes were guarded.
He was a big man, bigger than Tony had imagined, and imposingly strong even without the totally badass metallic arm coming out of the left sleeve of his t-shirt. He was barefoot and wearing sweatpants, his long hair pulled back at the nape of his neck.
"Tony Stark," Tony said. He didn't offer his hand.
Barnes twitched a little. "Yeah. I—Thank you. I'm sorry." He sighed. "That's pretty much all I got for you: thank you and I'm sorry," and how the hell had Tony ever thought this guy was young: he was ancient, he was as old as the hills. He looked better then when Tony last saw him—he could hardly have looked worse—but the shadows on his face looked permanent and behind the wariness Tony could see horror—or was it terror—in his eyes. "I can't fix anything," Barnes said with a quick, despairing smile. "I wish I could. I'll do what I can—Barton and Romanoff have some ideas, though Steve—he's worried I'll do hard time." He laughed: a terrible sound.
"Barton and Romanoff know a thing or two about atonement," Tony said. "Steve not so much."
It was like a little light had come on in Barnes now that they were talking about Steve. "Yeah," he said fondly. "He's just so clear in his own head. He was always like that, is the thing. Back in Brooklyn, where we grew up—there were these guys, you know? Neighborhood guys, guys on the block, guys you could count on. Like if someone was hassling your little brother, or if a guy was beating his wife: you know. Help an old lady put in the storm windows, open a hydrant on a hot day for the kids. All of us, we wanted to grow up to be these guys. But Steve—" and now Barnes was smiling but also trembling a little, and he put the milk glass down with a hard crack on the marble countertop, "little Steve, he always acted like was gonna be that guy for the entire country. The balls on him, you can't imagine. So what was I supposed to do?" Barnes drew his metal arm across the front of his body to steady himself. "Do you know what it is to be steamrolled by history?" but then he looked hard at Tony and answered himself in a surprised voice: "You do, actually; I can see that you do."
"I do, yeah," Tony said. "A little bit. My father. Global terrorism. You."
He was selfishly gratified when Barnes flinched. "Look, I know that everything you've done, you've done for Steve, but it's meant you've been good to me too and I know you can't be thrilled with that. All I can say is—believe me, I have no idea how I got here."
Tony sighed, rolled his shoulders, swung his arms. "Yeah, that's what Banner said. He said you weren't driving this train. He said the last decision you made was probably for pie."
Barnes smiled wryly. "The last decision I made? I just told you." He slowly tilted his head toward the door, and Tony turned to look. "Here he comes."
Steve looked tentatively happy, and more than a little wary, to see them talking together; he was wearing his blue uniform and he had soot smeared across one cheek. Barnes, Tony noted irritably, had immediately ceased to notice that Tony was in the room; possibly he'd already forgotten Tony's existence entirely. "Out saving kittens?" Barnes asked Steve.
"A fire, actually." Steve came into the kitchen and bumped Barnes hard with his shoulder as he passed. Barnes bumped back, and there was some serious eyefucking going on before Barnes dropped his gaze to the floor. "In a high rise across town. An electrical fire—turn on the TV," Steve said, washing his hands and face in the kitchen sink. "It's all over the news."
"I assume everything's all right?" Tony asked, louder than he might have otherwise.
"Oh yeah," Steve said. "There was some people trapped in the elevator, and an old lady stuck in her apartment. Sam got her: he went with her to the hospital. She was fine," Steve said, turning to Barnes, "she was just anxious, is all. Sam's a really soothing presence. How're you feeling?"
"Good," Barnes said. "Better. I was just thanking Mr. Stark for his hospitality."
"He was just telling me about the Queer Sex-capades of 1936," Tony deadpanned, and Steve, obviously taken aback, flushed pink. But Barnes didn't.
"I wasn't," Barnes said slowly, and Tony began to think it had been a bad move to tease Steve in front of Barnes, who was obviously the Winter Soldier somewhere deep just like little Steven Rogers had always been Captain America, "but I could. What is it that you wanted to know, Mr. Stark? I'm always happy to give a few pointers to the next generation." He smirked.
Tony smirked back; this was so fucking dangerous; he just loved it. "I only wondered," he said innocently, blood thrumming, "whether banging Captain America was the most fun you could have that was legal." Steve's flush darkened, but Barnes just bit his lip and stepped forward.
He put his mouth close to Tony's ear. "It wasn't legal," Barnes said softly, "but yeah," and god, the guy was a firecracker. Tony laughed and looked at Steve and said: "You're right, I like him. I totally like him," but Steve just blew out a breath and shook his head.
Everyone came together for dinner that night, and afterwards Natasha, Clint, and Sam got into some kind of cocktail-making competition—blenders whirring, mint and coconut everywhere. Wilson made something called a Stinger, and Natasha made a deadly looking thing she called a Witch Hunt, and Clint made Kentucky Smashes. Tony saw that Barnes was looking sort of longingly at the whiskey, and sat on the arm of the sofa next to him: "Don't you want a drink?"
"Like nobody's business," Barnes said, "but I haven't been able to feel it. Not since the war…"
"Hm," Tony said; he'd heard this terrible story before. "Give me ten minutes," he said, leaping up, "…and three limes. Banner!"
Three of his ten minutes were spent convincing Banner to go along, but Tony argued that a moderate oral consumption with tequila and triple sec was superior to a Hulk-sized hypodermic in the ass, and if anybody really needed a drink in Stark Tower, it was James "Bucky" Barnes.
"Okay," Bruce said finally, "but not triple sec. Cointreau. And remember that you have to use the agave—do you have a reposado?"
"Oh my god, you're a tequila snob. And here I thought I couldn't love you more!" Tony said.
They collaborated over the cocktail shaker just like they did in the lab, and then Tony brought the pitcher over to Barnes with a cry of "Super Soldiers! Green pitcher for Super Soldiers only, I'm not kidding, people!" but this time it was Steve who stopped him.
"What is this?" Steve asked suspiciously, looking to Banner for reassurance.
"It's my entry into the Avengers cocktail wars," Tony said. "I call it The Summer Soldier—or in Spanish, El Soldado Del Verano," and then he added meaningfully, "You've had it before."
Steve just stared at him for a moment, and then he blinked. "Oh," he said. "Oh," and then he turned to Barnes and said, "That's powerful stuff. You'll see pink elephants," and leaned over to murmur something in his ear.
Barnes's smile widened as he listened. "Sounds just what the doctor ordered," he said, and then he also glanced up at Banner, which was enough to give a guy a complex. "Right, doc?"
"Hey, we took the toxins out of you, you should trust us to put a couple back into you," Tony said, which didn't sound as reasonable as he had hoped, but Banner was nodding and pouring Barnes a glass. "Salt on the rim, salt on the rim," Tony chided, handing him a lime wedge.
Barnes took the cocktail, then looked at Steve. "Come on, pal," he said. "It's no fun to drink alone," and Steve smiled then and said, "All right. Hit me," and Banner poured him one too.
"Cent'anni," Tony said, as Barnes stretched out to clink his glass against Steve's—and he was surprised when both men yanked their glasses back without toasting and stared daggers at him.
"Jesus Christ," Barnes cursed.
"Don't even," Steve warned.
"God, that's horrible," Barnes muttered, and the glitter of terror was back. "He's right," he said to Steve, "it could happen. Likely will happen—Christ, a hundred years. I don't want to see 2114."
Steve's hands were stretching out to grasp Bucky's arm, Bucky's shoulder. "Don't buy trouble," he said firmly. "We've got plenty already. Whatever happens, we'll deal with it. We'll deal with it. Drink up," he said, and raised his glass. "Here's mud in your eye."
This made Barnes smile. "Right. What was the other—? Here's to Prohibition, the devil take it—"
"—they've stolen our wine, so now we make it," Steve finished, and they both took long pulls.
"Whoa," Barnes said, jerking back and blinking. "That packs a wallop. I like it," and then Natasha was grinning and frantically waving them over to the conversation pit, because Thor had started them playing some ancient Asgardian dice game that was like craps but worse, and the pot now included some kind of magic amulet, three poisoned arrows, a pair of flight goggles, and a message in a sealed envelope that Natasha swore would be "worth your while."
"What the hell," Tony said, and unstrapped his watch.
He won the goggles and the envelope after a string of good throws—Natasha was grinning and tugging a small gold ring off her pinky finger—and it wasn't until he threw snake eyes and lost his turn that he realized that the clear, golden sound in the room was Bucky Barnes laughing. Barnes had his arm hooked around Steve's neck and was kissing his face, giant smacking kisses on his cheek, his nose, his forehead—half affection and half a mugging. Steve was flushed and squirming and laughing: he was happy, so happy. Tony just stared.
"Hey," Natasha yelled, and Tony blinked and tossed the dice over to her. She had a great run, and then Bruce had a terrible run, and then Thor had an even worse run and broke a stone end table and part of the wall. Tony sprawled back happily on his giant white sofa and, looking around at them all, thought: I love you guys. It then occurred to him that he was stone cold sober: between one thing and another he hadn't had anything at all to drink himself.
The next time he looked over at Rogers and Barnes, they'd moved from canoodling to actively making out, slouched together in the corner of the sectional and kissing open-mouthed. "Get a room, you guys!" he shouted. "I've only given you 93 goddamned floors to choose from!" but then Bruce raised a skeptical eyebrow and shook his head and Tony admitted the futility of trying to move not one but two drunk and horny super soldiers.
"Okay, fine," he said, "let's give them the room," and then he was cupping his hands to his face and shouting, "Come on, people! Movie marathon, who's with me?" He shepherded the rest of the Avengers to the screening room, where Wilson convinced them to watch The Lord of The Rings after telling Thor with a straight face that it was a documentary.
Thor was loudly sobbing over Boromir's death when Tony slipped out and down the hallway to the command center. All was quiet in the halls of Stark Tower aside from the grieving Asgardian and the two super soldiers boffing in the living room. Steve had tumbled Barnes down on the rug in front of the television and crawled on top of him, and now he was clutching his face and kissing him like he meant to eat him. Barnes just lay back for it and let him. He indulged me, Steve had said, and suddenly Tony could see it. Steve Rogers (little Steve, polite Steve) was the alpha dog—but Barnes had told him that already, hadn't he. What was I supposed to do?
Barnes rolled Rogers onto his back and straddled him, grinning down, hair escaping from his ponytail and fluttering around his face. He bent and pressed his mouth against Steve's throat, sucked, laid hard kisses down his body like a man intending business. He unbuckled Steve's belt and unzipped him, and Steve, breathing hard, lifted his hips to help.
Tony leaned forward as Barnes rolled Steve over again, onto his belly, and began to kiss the freckled skin between his shoulder blades, the narrow small of his back. Usually he likes to do me, and Tony swallowed and muttered, "Christ, I think he's going to do him right here."
He nearly jumped out of his skin when Bruce said, "You're not—Tell me you're not."
Tony slumped back in his chair and laced his fingers over his chest. "Are you kidding? This is the most expensive pay per view porn ever. Do you understand the money and the technology involved? It's the genetically engineered perfect fuck." As if to underline the point, Steve let out a moan of exquisite erotic agony. Tony gritted his teeth and forced himself not to look.
Bruce sat down in the chair beside him, shook his head, and switched off the monitor.
"Oh well," Tony sighed, but he was kind of relieved, too: he wouldn't have had the willpower to turn it off himself, because human, and Jesus, Rogers and Barnes were good-looking boys. But here was Bruce, to save him: Bruce who didn't give a shit about anything he said, and who was only impressed by his chemistry. Tony felt a sudden, profound gratitude for him: Bruce who was brave in a whole other way than he was.
Tony swiveled his chair toward Bruce and said, slowly: "Do you think I'm ready for a real adult relationship? Because I'm thinking maybe I am."
Bruce just stared at him. "I don't know why you keep thinking I'm your therapist," he said, frowning. "You know who's a therapist? Wilson's a therapist. Me, I'm a—"
Tony put a hand on Bruce's arm and left it there. "That's not why I'm asking," he said.
"Oh." Bruce took off his glasses and polished them on his bright green shirt. "Well, hm."
"I'm thinking, you know—" and then Tony leaned in and kissed him, trying to make it as sweet as what Steve would do. Bruce looked shocked and overwhelmed, so hey, that worked. "I'm thinking," Tony repeated, a little breathlessly, "you know: morally-compromised scientific genius looking for same. Hot sex and green-ass-baddery a plus. What do you think?"
"What do I think?" Bruce considered this for a long time. "I think I've had worse offers," he said, a little grumpily, but Tony grinned and wasn't fooled for a minute.