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Bitter and Sweet

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Tony’s mouth is sweet and sticky and tastes like overripe cherries.

Steve hums into the kiss and stretches as he blinks awake. It’s still dark, the city lights a soft glow through the windows. He tries to look at the clock, but Tony wants another kiss and that seems so much more important.

"I need your help," Tony says a few long, sweet, moments later.

"Bucky?" Steve asks. He’s awake now and the cherries only taste slightly less sweet for knowing where they came from.

"He’s okay. Rough day in the trenches. You know how it is."

They both did. They all did. “How come you didn’t come get me?”

Tony drops a kiss on his forehead and stands. He’s wearing black silk pajama bottoms and nothing else, and on an other night Steve would catch him by the wrist and tug him back down to the bed and lick the sugary sweetness out of his mouth. “He was being stubborn. Didn’t want to be a burden.”

It doesn’t hurt anymore. It had in the beginning. “I’m glad he let you stay.”

Tony shrugged. “You can’t be a burden to Tony Stark. I only do what I want, right? So I must want to stay.”

"He hasn’t talked about being a burden in a while," Steve said. He threw back the blankets and stood. Tony’s eyes lingered deliberately on his skin, but Steve didn’t let himself enjoy it much. Not tonight. Or, at least, not right then.

"I think," Tony said carefully, "that he’s had a lot of pretty good days. And now he’s having a bad day that’s slightly worse than the bad days he’s been having. So he’s a little down on himself right now. But he’s got it under control."

Steve drags on his jeans and tugs one of Tony’s over-sized hoodies over his head. “Let’s go get our boy.”

The whole mansion smells sweet, filled with the aroma of baked goods. It makes Steve’s stomach grumble and Tony laughs softly as they pad barefoot through the halls, their arms brushing against each other.

Natasha slips into her room as they pass and she flashes them a quick smile as she bites into a red velvet cookie, then her door is closed and they don’t see another soul until they reach the kitchen.

Every light is on and Steve has to narrow his eyes a little while they adjust. He blinks into the glare and feels his eyebrows trying to climb over the top of his head.

Tony’s fingers touch the back of his hand and Steve bites back the worry. “Damn, Buck. Tell me, did you leave any sugar at all for Clint’s coffee?”

"Not a fucking grain," Bucky says with a cheerful satisfaction. His shirt is streaked with flour and several different types of pie filling. The sink is piled high with dishes and the table and every inch of counter space is covered with platters of cookies, trays of cupcakes, and nearly a dozen pies.

"I bought more," Tony said. "And that’s when Bucky decided our lives would not be complete without a meringue. Or three."

Bucky’s grin is sheepish but unrepentant. There’s chocolate frosting on his cheek and Tony leans in and licks it off.

"Leash your man," Bucky says, but he doesn’t push Tony away and that says it all.

"I’m not stupid enough to respond to that," Steve says. "Come on, we’ll help you clean up."

"Eh, leave it." Tony yawns into his fist. "We can get the dishes after breakfast. Or we can bribe Clint and Peter into doing them for us if we offer them pie."

"That’s my pie," Bucky objects. He gives the sink a considering look though.

"Bed," Steve says firmly and they both subside with matching easy smiles.

"I can sleep in my own room," Bucky says casually. He’s definitely watching for Steve’s reaction, though. "It’s not that bad, Steve."

"Okay," Steve says easily, because Bucky really is so much better than he was. "But you don’t have to if you don’t want to." He doesn’t check for Tony’s reaction, but he knows he doesn’t need to. Tony’s easy acceptance of Bucky’s place in Steve’s life wasn’t what made Steve fall in love with the man - that moment had come and gone years before Bucky came back to him - but it may be what made Steve know he’d spend the rest of his life with him. "God knows the bed is big enough anyway."

"Don’t pretend," Bucky says. "Stark just gets off on having me pressed up against him."

"Not in front of Steve," Tony hisses and Bucky laughs.

He loves them both so much, he really does.

"Did you make macadamia cookies?" he asks as he catches Tony by the elbow and nudges him toward the door.

Bucky blushes, just a little. “Maybe.”

"Four dozen."Tony’s voice clearly communicates his disgust. "He wouldn’t even put white chocolate in them. A waste of perfectly good cookies."

"Shut up," Bucky says. He comes without resistance when Steve puts a hand on his shoulder. "I made you peanut butter chocolate chip."

"You made me one.”

"Not my fault you were being an asshole."

“Steve, Bucky called me an asshole.”

"Well, he would know," Steve said and they both cracked up. "Come on. Bed. Buck, you coming with?"

The kitchen is bright and warm and sweet-smelling, and the darkness that lurks in Bucky’s eyes sometimes is only a memory tonight. “Yeah, what the hell. Your pillows are nicer anyway. But no fucking.”

"Bucky," Steve says, slightly scandalized. "We wouldn’t-"

"Stark would," Tony and Bucky chorused, then paused to high-five each other.

"Bed," Steve says firmly. He pauses in the doorway to survey the piles of carefully arranged baked goods. It’s worse than it has been in a while, Tony was right. But dear God, it’s so much better than it used to be. If this is as bad as it gets… Something tight and hot makes his throat clench and he swallows against it as he flips off the lights and turns to follow the men he loves.

"Tony why are there flour handprints on your butt?"

Bucky’s laughter rings loud enough to wake a few of their teammates, but no one complains.