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Third Time's The Charm

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Tony crawled into the bed with all of the weariness of someone who hadn’t slept in 46 hours. He wasn’t sure exactly what time it was but he didn’t care enough to check the clock. Instead he fell asleep immediately underneath the covers without bothering to undress. He slept for sixteen hours and woke up with an idea for an integrated circuit that would be half the size and just as functional as any mass market production. Tony passed through the communal kitchen to grab a cup of coffee and he didn’t notice the looks from the people who were sat eating dinner. He was completely focused as he made his way to the lab. Once he was there he didn’t leave for another 55 hours as he worked.

The next time he woke up was very different. For three weeks he’d done nothing but snack, sleep and work so it was a surprise when he literally walked into Bruce next to the coffee pot. Tony grinned, “Brucie-bear! Where’ve you been?”

Bruce frowned, “On holiday. I told you about it. Are you alright Tony?”

“I’m fine.”

Clint answered, “He’s not” and they looked up to see him perched on top of the refrigerator.

Tony scoffed, “Nobody asked you, Legolas.”

Clint continued to tattle, “He keeps locking himself up in his lab. He didn’t even make a pass at Christine when she was stood right in front of him the other day.”

Tony frowned, “I haven’t seen Christine for weeks.”

Clint looked worried, “Yeah, Tony, you have.”

Tony shrugged, “I have work to do.”

Bruce put his hand gently on Tony’s shoulder, “I was really hoping that you would come out for a drink with us.”

“You want to go out for a drink?” Tony practically bounced on the spot, “I’m always willing to show you a good time. Let’s go baby.”

Tony was slightly annoyed at having to wait for the gang to round themselves up but they were soon on their way into town. Nobody argued with Bruce’s choice so they ended up somewhere quieter than Tony’s usual haunts but he was happy that his science buddy wanted to go out. It didn’t happen often and Tony was too happy to be bothered about losing lab time. His equipment was still running diagnostics anyway.

Their group dwindled down to its core in the end so there was Bruce, Tony, Natasha, Clint, Phil and Pepper left at the table. Tony was at the bar buying the next round when someone bumped into him and he crashed into someone holding a tray of drinks. Tony swore and had to tilt his head worryingly far to look at the person (Adonis?) he’d crashed into.

Tony’s jaw dropped a little gave himself a stern mental reminder not to drool because Pepper had told him that it was unattractive. The guy was at least six feet tall with soft looking blonde hair and muscles he obviously worked for. Tony apologised, “I am so sorry.”

Tony pushed a whole roll of notes into the man’s hands and darted back to his table before he could embarrass himself further. Unfortunately his friend’s had seen the entire incident so, although they allowed him to hide in the corner while Pepper went to get the round of drinks, they teased him mercilessly. Clint was the worst which wasn’t a surprise but Natasha was far too quiet.

Tony learned why when a brooding (HOT!) guy stopped at their table and Natasha said, “Hello Bucky. How’s Steve?”

Bucky answered dryly, “Wet.” Bucky held up the notes Tony had thrown at Steve, “Is this yours?”

Tony may have squeaked a little bit because the guy was hot but rather intimidating. Tony admitted, “Yeah, I hope that it covers the cost of the drinks.”

Bucky’s expression turned from annoyance to confusion, “Covers? This is five hundred dollars?”

“Umm, yeah, is that enough? He can use it to pay for dry cleaning or new clothes if he wants to.”

Bucky looked at Natasha, “Is this guy for real?”

She shrugged delicately and Clint answered from his tipsy sprawl across Phil’s lap, “Tony tends to over tip.”

Phil pushed Clint onto the floor and stood to shake hands with Bucky, “Tony was just trying to apologise in the best way he could think of. I’m Phil Coulson, you obviously already know Natasha. That’s Clint, Bruce and Tony. Pepper’s at the bar and I’m going to go and help her. Please don’t kill each other before I get back.”

Bucky looked at the money in his hands like he had no idea about what he should do with it. Tony took a deep breath, “Trust me, keep the money and have a good night. It’ll be the best thing I could do with that five hundred dollars. I don’t even care if you donate it to a homeless shelter or give it to sick puppies but please do not give it back.”

After a long moment, and an intense, silent conversation involving facial expressions and nothing else with Natasha, Bucky finally pocketed the money and said gruffly, “Thanks.”

Bucky left to re-join his own table and Tony muttered to Bruce, “Have I embarrassed myself enough yet?”

Bruce grinned, “Not quite but if you want to go, it’s okay.”

Tony patted Bruce on the back, “Not yet. We still have to get Clint drunk enough to walk on his hands and Phil needs to smile at least once tonight.”

After a great night Tony woke up the next day hangover free. Nobody else was the same but Tony knew the protocol so he made no loud noises until he was safely locked in his lab and there was no one around to complain. He kept his engineering session to a respectable nineteen hours. He left the safety of the room and was talked into movie night with his friends.

They went out the next weekend with Tony insisting that he could get them all into the brand new club SHIELD. Nobody believed him until they were sitting in a booth with the table laden with drinks. Tony smirked at them all and dismissed the people who were hanging on at the edge of their group, “Go, drink, and don’t get kicked out.”

Most of the group disappeared and Clint dragged Phil and Natasha onto the dancefloor. Tony wrapped his arms around Pepper and his best friend Rhodey who was visiting for the weekend. Rhodey admitted, “That was impressive. How did you know the bouncer?”

Tony grinned, “Happy and I go way back. He used to be my father’s chauffer. I remember a lot of late night trips to the Burger King drive-through.”

Rhodey shook his head a chuckled, “I don’t even doubt that.”

Tony nudged Pepper in Rhodey’s direction, “Take the pretty lady for a dance.”

Pepper narrowed her eyes and said warningly, “Tony…”

Tony winked, “I was talking about Rhodey.”

Pepper rolled her eyes and laughed a little bit. They disappeared among the crowd and Tony was left alone watching the drinks. He ignored the looks from the strangers walking by and he sipped his drink. Bruce wandered back eventually and engaged Tony in a conversation about genetic modification. Their shop talk was interrupted when Clint flopped down into his seat and said, “Nope. You’re not allowed to talk about work.”

Tony smirked, “Fair enough. Where’s Phil?”

Clint shrugged, “Bathroom.”

Tony grinned wickedly, “You’re not there with him?”

Clint blushed and Bruce shook his head at Tony who just shrugged in response. Clint’s crush on Phil was legendary among their group but they’d still not hooked up after two years, five months and eighteen days (there was a bet riding on the outcome so they kept a close eye on any signs of a relationship). Clint rapidly changed the subject.

The group drifted to and from the table and Tony was persuaded to dance by a few strangers and even some couples. Tony headed back to the table as it drew close to midnight and grinned at his friends, “Next round is on me.”

They all cheered and Tony danced across the room to the bar. He ordered everyone’s preferred drinks as well as a round of shots. A deep, warm voice asked, “Are you going to throw those ones on me as well?”

Tony turned around to find Adonis (did Natasha say that his name was Steve?) and Bucky (a.k.a. HOT serial killer) standing behind him. Even in his slightly inebriated state Tony managed to lean against the bar without tripping or making a fool of himself. He grinned at them, “No, but if that’s what you like then I could be persuaded.”

Bucky glared at him and the expression rivalled Natasha’s I’m-going-to-kill-you look. Steve just laughed, “I’ll keep it in mind. I’m Steve and this is James.”

James growled, “Call me Bucky.”

Tony tried valiantly to ignore how hot the growl was and answered, “I’m Tony.”

The drinks were slid onto the bar and Steve offered, “Would you like a hand with that?”

Tony teased, “Don’t you trust me?”

Steve shrugged and responded, “This is a nice shirt.”

Tony accepted the offer (and not just because he wanted to spend more time ogling them) and he returned to the table. Pepper looked at him in surprise and Rhodey shook his head, “Did you order them as well?”

Tony laughed, “They were completely willing.”

Steve put the drinks on the table and to Tony’s surprise he smiled knowingly at Phil, “Hey Phil.”

Phil stood up and they hugged briefly, “Hey Steve. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you around.”

“Yeah, I’ve been pretty busy. You remember Bucky?”

“Of course. Good to see you again.”

Bucky nodded in response and Natasha engaged him in a conversation in Russian. Steve and Bucky slid in seamlessly to the group and after a couple of hours had passed Tony had almost forgotten that they’d not been there since the beginning of the night. Steve and Bucky were in the arts department which explained why Tony had never met either of them before. Steve was an artist and Bucky was part of the English department.

Steve spent a lot of time talking to Phil and Tony could see Clint’s mood dropping. He looked imploringly at Bruce who would have a better chance of fixing what was undoubtedly going to be a fight and Bruce was thankfully well versed in Tony’s panicked expressions.

Bruce started talking to Steve and Tony said to Clint, “Let’s dance Katniss.”

Clint allowed Tony to tug him away from the table and when they were far enough Tony said, “You know that Phil’s not interested, right?”

Clint’s expression shuttered, “Yeah, I got that.”

Tony swore, “That’s not what I meant. I meant that he’s not interested in Steve.” Tony made a decision and consciously gave up any claim he would have to winning the bet. If he was right then Bruce would be the one to win the pot. “Clint, Phil has been to every single one of your archery competitions for two years. He’s the one who sent you your favourite chocolate at Valentine’s Day and he paid for your ticket home at Christmas and blamed it on me. I’m not that nice!”

Clint shook his head, “That doesn’t mean…”

“Oh my god. Clint, trust me, he likes you. He’s just waiting for you to be serious about asking him.”

Clint glanced at the table where Phil was talking to Natasha, “Really?”

Tony squeezed his shoulder, “I have nothing to gain from this. Why would I tell you if it wasn’t the truth?”

Clint squared his shoulders and Tony watched as he marched across the dancefloor, grabbed Phil by the collar of his shirt and kissed him with everyone watching. Tony was impressed and more than a little bit relieved when Phil kissed Clint back and they melted into it. After that Tony had to look away because it looked too good to watch.

Bruce found Tony a few minutes later, “Thanks.”

Tony chuckled, “I didn’t do it for you. I just didn’t want to be kicked out if Clint started a fight.”

Bruce snorted disbelievingly, “Right. I’ll buy you a drink.”

They saw Steve and Bucky again a week later in a small karaoke bar Tony had literally stumbled across two years ago. Somehow they ended up as one large group taking over most of the place. When they first arrived Peggy narrowed her eyes at Tony and asked in a crisp, British accent, “Are you gay?”

Most of the group protested at the blunt question but Tony just shrugged, “Pansexual and a supporter of equal rights. Is there a problem?”

Peggy sipped her drink, “We’ll see.”

Despite the intrusive question that he’d not expected, he didn’t mind the extra people. Clint and Phil were practically sitting in the same seat which was something that had been happening all week. Tony found himself talking to Steve.

Eventually Tony had to ask, “Why is your boyfriend trying to set me on fire by glaring at me?”

Steve looked confused for a moment and then he blushed and ducked his head (Tony tried hard not to think that it was adorable. He failed.), “Bucky’s not my boyfriend.”

“Why not? Are you with someone else?”

Steve shook his head, “No. He’s just my best friend.”

“Best friends don’t usually check each other out. Well, I do, but that’s me and I’m an exception to every rule and not the example.”

Steve shook his head, “He was probably checking you out.”

Tony snorted, “Yeah, that’s why he looks like he wants to kill me. Not that the serial killer vibe isn’t hot in its own way and your boy is obviously hot.”

“I was going to ask you out.”

Tony leaned back in shock, “Right, okay, that’s… good. Fine. Yes.”

Steve smiled hopefully, “Really? Are you sure that you wouldn’t rather ask out Bucky?”

Tony chuckled, “Are you trying to talk me out of saying yes? Yes, you’re hot and didn’t punch me for spilling a tray of drinks on you. If you’re not worried for your safety then I will happily go on a date with you.”

Steve bounced up, “Great. Hey, Bucky, you want another drink?”

Bucky shook his head and Steve left to go to the bar. As soon as he was gone Bucky sat in the vacated seat and Tony was faced with Bucky’s dark glare at close range. Tony wondered if there was something wrong with his survival instincts when his only thought was, I wonder what he looks like with his shirt off.

Bucky growled, “Are you going to hurt Stevie?”

“Stevie? He’s only just asked me out. At least give me a chance to screw up the first date before you threaten me. Unless you want to ask him out and I will totally back out gracefully.”

Bucky sat back in shock, “What?”

Tony rolled his eyes, “I saw you checking him out. You obviously know each other pretty well and I’m not that much of an asshole. If you want your boy then you should go and tell him because he has no idea.”

Bucky growled, “If you didn’t want to go out with him then you should’ve said no.”

Tony had already put a stop to Clint’s years of frustration and he was feeling generous so he smirked and said, “I would happily climb Steve like a tree if I was given a chance. I want to get to know those muscles intimately and I would teach him all of my best tricks. I’m just saying that you obviously want everything with him and only an idiot wouldn’t take a chance like that.”

Steve put his hand on Bucky’s shoulder, “You alright?”

Bucky jumped up and muttered something under his breath before he took off. Steve looked at Tony questioningly who picked up his drink, “He needs to talk to you. Trust me.”

Steve took off after Bucky and Bruce handed Tony another drink, “Why are you cockblocking yourself?”

Tony chuckled humourlessly, “I’ve become wise in my old age Brucie-bear. I am no longer interested in dating people who are in love with someone else.”

Bruce lifted his glass in a toast, “To science.”

Tony echoed the sentiment and his phone buzzed. He bounced slightly in his chair with excitement and the notification was exactly what he’d been waiting for. He threw back his drink and leapt to his feet, “I’ve gotta go Bruce.”

Tony raced passed his friends, strangers, Bucky and Steve. He’d never been more excited to run to his lab on campus. He locked the door behind himself and heard the sweetest words, “Hello sir.”

Tony gazed wonderingly at the streaming lines of code and data for a moment before he let out a whoop, “Fuck yeah!”

Bruce found Tony in the lab a week later and he shook his head at the amount of take-out boxes that littered every surface. He shook Tony awake gently and said, “What happened to healthy eating?”

Tony yawned, “I ate some blueberries.”

Bruce looked at the mangled mess of wires and metal by Tony’s desk, “What’s this?”

Tony looked at it with blurry eyes, “He’s called Dummy. He’s supposed to be a helper bot but he kind of sucks. It’s fine, I’ll fix it.”

Bruce jumped when a British voice emerged from the speakers, “Indeed, sir.”

Tony grinned maniacally and Bruce took a step backwards. Tony jumped from his seat and announced, “I am a genius.”

Bruce half-smiled, “That’s what the tests said?”

Tony pointed at the computer, “Do you know what this is Brucie-bear?”

Bruce pulled on his glasses, “Some of this looks familiar but, I have no idea, sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry Bruce. Do not be sorry because nobody knows what this is. Nobody has done this before. It is unique. I have created the world’s first A.I.”

Bruce’s jaw dropped, “Seriously?”

Tony’s nodded eagerly, “His name is JARVIS. Say hello JARVIS.”

The British voice spoke again, “Hello Mr Banner, acceptable alternatives are Bruce, Brucie-Bear, Science Bro and the Hulk.”

Bruce frowned at Tony, “Did you have to include the last one?”

Tony giggled crazily, “I did it Bruce.”

Bruce grabbed Tony by the shoulder’s to make him stand still and then he hugged him, “Yeah, Tony, you did it.”

After swearing Bruce to secrecy Tony trudged back to the dorm and Bruce steered him towards the kitchen. Bruce insisted that Tony needed something other than expressos and Chinese take-out. It was sort of nice to be fussed over so Tony dozed with his head in his hand while Bruce moved around the kitchen. He didn’t expect Natasha to walk into the room with Bucky.

Tony avoided eye contact and silently pleaded for Bruce to change his mind and let Tony escape to his room. Natasha looked suspiciously at Tony’s rumpled clothes, “Have you left your workshop at all?”

Tony answered defensively, “I was working.”

Natasha and Bruce shared a look that spoke volumes and Bruce put an omelette and a glass of orange juice in front of Tony. Tony looked at the clock and then checked his watch for extra measure, “It’s nine in the morning? What the hell?”

Bruce snickered and passed Tony a fork, “Eat.”

Tony ate dutifully and kept stifling yawns. Apart from taking brief naps at his desk he’d not really slept in the past day and a half. Once he was finished he nodded at them all and shuffled out of the room, “Goodnight.”

Before he could open the door to his room Bucky was suddenly stood in his way. Tony blinked sleepily, “Can I help you?”

Bucky looked extremely uncomfortable, “Did you tell Steve that I liked him?”

It took a minute for Tony to catch up, “I told both of you that. I do that. Just ask Clint if you doubt it. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m about to fall asleep on my feet.”

Tony shuffled around Bucky and was blissfully asleep within moments of his head hitting the pillow. He was awake that evening and he sat with Bruce on the loveseat for movie night. Tony was fixing JARVIS’s code using his phone so he missed it when Steve walked into the room and everyone else forgot about the movie.

Bruce had to elbow Tony in the side to get him to look up. Tony said casually, “Oh, hey Steve. Bucky was here this morning but I haven’t seen him since then if you’re looking for him.”

“Oh, no, I was looking for you.”

Tony climbed out of his chair and slipped his phone into his back pocket, “Yeah.”

They walked into the kitchen and Steve said, “You left awfully quickly the other day.”

“Yeah, sorry about that, an experiment worked and it was time sensitive. So, how did the conversation with Bucky go?”

“It went… okay.”

“Okay?”

Tony grabbed a beer each and they sat at the table as Steve explained, “He told me that you told him to say something.”

“Yeah, I did. I keep doing that lately. It’s bad for my reputation. Look, Steve, I think that you’re hot and great but your friend sat down to threaten me five seconds after you asked me out. Some guys just need a push in the right direction and your boy was one of them. So, did you ask him out?”

“Sort of… he’s avoiding me.”

“If you want dating advice you should probably ask anyone who isn’t me. My longest relationship was five weeks and three days.”

“I don’t need advice. I just need someone that I can talk to.”

“I’m not making any promises but you’re good eye candy so I suppose that I can try to focus.”

Steve chuckled, “Thanks Tony.”

“Want to watch a movie with us?”

“Sure.”

Both Bucky and Steve ended up spending more and more time in their building. Bucky was always trailing after Natasha and Steve kept showing up to help Bruce in his efforts to make Tony sleep and eat like normal people. After a few weeks Bruce and Tony introduced JARVIS to Steve. It had the dual purpose of giving JARVIS more data to assimilate and Steve could use Tony’s lab to work on his own projects if he didn’t mind the loud music and constant swearing from Tony.

It was strange but Tony became used to Steve being in his space very quickly. He knew that there was a lot of speculation about why an art student was always in the science department but Tony was used to attention and he barely noticed.

However, Steve did notice and he brought it up one evening in the lab, “Christine asked me if we were fucking.”

As usual hearing Steve made Tony put down his tools and pay attention to his friend who was stretched out on the ragged sofa that Tony and Bruce had appropriated in their first year, “Christine is a gossip. I swear, she should be doing Journalism instead of Chemistry. Besides, why do you care what that harpy is saying?”

“Bucky hasn’t spoken to me for two weeks.”

“Then call him. I don’t have time for your high school drama. Hold up a jukebox underneath his window, send him roses, write a sonnet… I don’t really care.”

“Maybe I should just give up.”

Tony moved across the room and flopped down heavily onto Steve who groaned and shifted so that Tony wasn’t squashing anything vital. Steve put down his sketchbook and started petting Tony’s hair like he was an overgrown cat. Usually Tony would protest but it felt nice and he was tired.

Tony asked seriously, “Do you love him?”

“Love. Yeah, of course I love Bucky.”

“I mean – are you in love with him?”

Steve chewed on his lip for a moment before he nodded and sighed, “Yeah. I am.”

Tony arched into Steve’s long fingers which were tangled in his hair, “Then you should tell him and if he doesn’t say it back then you can come to my room. We’ll get drunk on tequila and fuck until he’s out of your system.”

Steve laughed, “Thanks Tony. You’re a good friend.”

Tony closed his eyes, “I know.”

Tony was napping on the common room sofa three days later when someone grabbed him and shook him awake. Tony yelped as he was pushed onto the floor and he jumped up indignantly. Bucky’s hair was loose, his eyes were red and he looked furious. Bucky yelled, “Stay out of my fucking relationship!”

Tony’s temper snapped, “What fucking relationship? You’ve been ignoring Steve for weeks. I don’t give a shit if he’s in love with you or not… you’ve been a shitty friend and he deserves better than you.”

“Like you?”

“Me? Fuck you. He’s been in love with you since third grade and the one thing that kept him from saying anything was that he was worried you would reject him and cut yourself out of his life. It looks like he could predict the fucking future because that’s exactly what you’ve done. At least he was brave enough to run after you when you were too cowardly to stick around.”

Bucky looked completely floored. Tony scoffed wordlessly and stormed out of the room. He had to find Steve and make sure that he was okay. His phone kept buzzing in his pocket but for the first time in his life he didn’t reach for it. He reached his lab and he breathed a heavy sigh of relief when he saw Steve curled up on the sofa.

Steve was crying which was just wrong. Steve was like an overgrown Golden Retriever most of the time full of excitement and genuine smiles and seeing him cry was heart-breaking. Before he joined Steve on the sofa Tony retrieved his emergency vodka and two large bottles of water. Neither of them spoke but Steve wrapped himself around Tony as soon as he sat down and they didn’t really move for the rest of the night. When Steve was finally exhausted enough to sleep early in the morning Tony grabbed his phone. There were texts from Natasha that he didn’t bother reading and a couple from Clint that just said, WTF and I was sleeping.

Tony texted Bruce, Barnes is a goddamn asshole. Come to lab as soon as possible. Bring alcohol and food.

Bruce showed up a couple of hours later with breakfast burritos and a case of beer. Bruce frowned at Steve and Tony typed out rapidly on his tablet, Will you help me hide a body?

Bruce rolled his eyes and grabbed his own tablet to type, Yes, but I don’t think that is the right solution.

It will make us feel better

Is Steve okay?

Hell no. Barnes threatened me. God knows what he said to Steve.

He didn’t say anything?

Nope. He was crying. CRYING!!! I thought that I was going to have a panic attack.

Bruce handed over a burrito and Tony ate with one hand as the other one was wrapped around Steve’s broad shoulders. Bruce disappeared for a couple of hours for class but he came back to the lab instead of lingering to hover near the girl he had a crush on. When Steve woke up Bruce had to reheat his food and Tony asked him if he wanted a beer.

Before anyone could ask Steve anything else Pepper walked into the lab and handed Tony a pile of homework, “I am not your personal assistant.”

Tony gave her his best charming grin, “But you’d be so good at it.” Pepper looked at him blandly (a trait she obviously learned from Phil) and he shrugged, “I was helping a friend.”

Her expression softened and she kissed Steve on the cheek which made him blush furiously and duck his head. Tony stifled a laugh and Pepper turned back to Tony, “Will that be all?”

“That will be all Miss Potts.”

They smirked at each other and Pepper kissed Bruce’s cheek on the way out of the door. Now Tony had two guys blushing and he shook his head at them both. Tony picked up a beer and sat on the stool at his bench. Steve cleared his throat, “How did you know I was here?”

Bruce shook his head warningly but Tony admitted, “Barnes pushed me off the sofa and tried to threaten me.”

Steve looked shocked and then he looked furious. He jumped off the sofa looking like he was ready for a fight but before he could reach the door Bruce stood in his way and snapped, “Sit down!” Bruce rarely shouted and Steve fell back on the sofa without a word of complaint. In a more soothing tone Bruce sat down as well and asked, “What happened?”

Steve took a shaky breath, “I took your advice, Tony, and went to see him yesterday. He was acting strangely but he let me into his dorm. He wouldn’t really answer anything I asked him. I tried to explain how I felt. I just wanted to know how he felt about me so that I could stop feeling so unsure. He stared yelling, partly in Russian so I didn’t understand those parts, about not understanding something and guilt and he said… he said that I had no idea what love really was.”

Tony scowled, “Asshole.”

Bruce silenced Tony with a look, “It sounds like we’re missing something.”

Tony scoffed and Steve tried to stand up, “It doesn’t matter. I have work to do.”

Tony pushed him back down, “Nope, drink your beer and then I’ll show you the plans for my class project. Then we can teach JARVIS to order the best takeout and I’ll put him on your phone. We will call him MiniJARVIS.”

Steve smiled weakly, “You have work to do.”

Tony scoffed, “I’m trying to revolutionise the way we order delicious take out and you want me to do pointless homework? You have a lot to learn, young padawan.”

Steve chuckled reluctantly and Tony’s dramatics, “Can I at least go and get my sketchbook. Some of us actually like to hand in assignments so that we can graduate.”

Tony texted rapidly, “Sorted. Clint will bring your stuff on his way back from the range. Bring up project 5.5 JARVIS.”

Tony spent the week trying to cheer up Steve and by the end of the week they all had JARVIS installed on their phones. Nobody had asked Tony about what his plan was or why he’d created JARVIS. Bruce knew better than to ask questions Tony wouldn’t answer and Steve was new and distracted. Together they spent most of the week in the lab but when the weekend arrived Tony found them both on the sofa and announced, “We’re going out. I have tickets available at every show in town so pick your poison.”

Steve shrugged, “I think I’m just going to stay in tonight.”

Tony looked at Bruce, “You tell him.”

Bruce sighed, “Just give up. It’s not worth the nagging otherwise.”

Tony clutched a hand to his chest, “Bruce, I’m hurt.”

Bruce snorted, “Give me five minutes to get dressed and no, Tony, we are not going to a strip club.”

Tony shouted after him, “You have no sense of culture!” He turned back to face Steve and grinned, “Come on. If you don’t have fun I’ll give you a hundred dollars and we’ll call it quits.”

Steve chuckled, “Alright, I’ll go. Keep your money.”

They ran into the rest of the group that night when they ended up at SHIELD. The group had expanded to include Steve’s friends but Tony was still surprised to see them all. Quite a few of them looked guilty and Tony remembered every single one of them. Bucky and Natasha were missing which was interesting but even Pepper was sat at the table next to Peggy.

Steve’s expression fell slightly although he tried to hide it, “Oh, hi. Happy Birthday Gabe.”

Gabe nodded uncomfortable, “Thanks Steve.”

Tony brazened it out and announced loudly, “Come on honeybuns. I need a cocktail and Bruce needs shots.”

Tony dragged them both across the room and Steve slumped miserably against the counter. They snagged a couple of stools and Tony asked, “Did you know that they were coming out tonight?”

Steve shook his head. Tony patted him on the back and Steve sighed, “Maybe I should just go home.”

Tony protested, “No. You liked the art gallery, didn’t you?”

Steve smiled, “Yeah, it was great. Thank you for doing that.”

Tony shrugged, “Pepper’s always trying to tell me about art. She thinks that I need to be more cultured. I wanted to go out of self-preservation.”

Steve’s mouth curled into a soft smile, “Of course, Tony.”

Tony looked past Steve and smirked, “Watch this.” Tony slipped around Bruce and Steve to tap a brown haired girl on the shoulder. She turned around in surprise and chuckled, “Tony?”

They hugged briefly, “Hello Betty. It’s been a while.”

“Yes, blown up any labs lately?”

“One or two, but nobody can prove it.”

Betty laughed, “Are you here by yourself?”

“Not at all.” Tony grabbed Bruce by his collar and pulled him in front of Betty, “Bruce is here helping me try to cheer up a friend. Bruce is such a good friend. You two are in the same Chemistry class, aren’t you?”

Betty smiled softly at Bruce, “Yes. I actually wanted to talk to you but, I didn’t see you the other day.”

Bruce blushed, “Ah, yeah, well…”

Tony interjected, “I had an emergency. Sorry about that, but you two can talk now.”

Tony slipped away before either of them could argue and Steve was looking at Tony with a strange expression, “Do you always do this?”

“What?”

“So far you’ve set up Clint, tried to set up me and now you’re trying to get Bruce together with that girl.”

“Not on purpose. It’s all completely coincidental.”

Steve ordered and handed Tony his drink, “You’re a good guy Tony.”

Tony shook his head, “I’m really not.”

Steve leaned in until they were only a couple of inches apart and they could hear each other clearly, “Don’t argue with me. You don’t give yourself enough credit.”

“You’re too nice.”

“I don’t have to be.”

“Tease.”

“Not if I intend to follow through.”

Tony jerked back, “Right, right… well, good, that’s fun. Oh, look, alcohol!”

“Sorry.”

“Sorry? Do you apologise for everything? What are you apologising for?”

“I thought I read you right but, obviously not. It’s alright.”

Steve tried to stand up but Tony grabbed his arm and pulled him back down onto his stool, “Steve, what do you want? If you really want Bucky…”

Steve smiled sheepishly, “Can I have both of you?”

Tony burst out laughing, “That is not what I expected. Normally, I would have jumped you by now but I don’t want your serial killer friend to stab me.”

Steve curled his hand around Tony’s shoulder, “You’re awfully worried about him.”

Tony rolled his eyes, “Keep you fantasies to yourself.”

Steve grinned wickedly, “Are you sure that’s what you want?”

Tony chuckled, “Ask me again later.” He glanced past Steve at Bruce who was being pressed against the bar by Betty who was kissing him confidently. Bruce’s hands fluttered restlessly until he settled them around her waist and Tony grinned, “Finally. He’s been crushing on her since the beginning of the semester.”

Steve finished his drink, “Now I’m really going home. Are you going to walk me back?”

Tony sighed, “If you insist but, don’t expect me to be a perfect gentleman.”

Steve leaned in close and hummed, “Do you promise?”

Tony pushed him back gently, “Time to go home. That’s an order.”

Steve chuckled, “Roleplay? Fun.”

In the morning Tony called Pepper, “Good morning, the apple of my eye. Are you having a fun hangover? It looked like you were having a good time last night.”

She groaned, “What do you want?”

“An explanation would be nice. The lack of an invitation really hurt.”

“You’ve been spending an awful lot of time with Steve lately.”

“I’m supporting a friend who is going through a crappy time right now. A friend who seems to have been abandoned by his other friends by the way.”

“Tony…”

“Yeah, that’s not why I called. I wanted to tell you that Bruce and Betty got together last night and I bought some paintings so you can pick one as a gift for your mother. I’ll send you an email about it.”

Tony hung up without saying goodbye and he thought about Steve. He was willing to admit that he had a crush on the guy but, Tony had literally seen a girl drop her coffee because Steve walked past so he felt completely justified in liking the guy. Plus, as Tony had discovered the night before, Steve was funny as well as sexy. Unfortunately, he hated the thought of dating Steve when he was still hooked on Bucky.

Tony’s thoughts turned to Bucky and he frowned. He wanted to help Steve but there was only so far he could go without intruding on Bucky’s privacy. It wasn’t usually a deterrent but he kept thinking about Steve’s reaction and he doubted that it would be positive. There was also the fact that Bucky had already threatened him just for telling Steve to tell Bucky how he felt.

Tony’s phone rang and he picked it up. A deep male voice said smoothly, “Anthony.”

Tony paled, “Mr Stark. How can I help you?”

“You could at least call me ‘dad’.”

“Yeah, I doubt that’s why you called. What do you want?”

“I was talking to Obie and he persuaded me to consider the benefit of offering you a position in research and development. It’s not as if you really need an education, after all and your mother wants you to come home.”

“That was a low blow and she’s perfectly capable of picking up the phone. Thanks for the consideration but I’ll have to say no. Goodbye Mr Stark.”

Tony hung up, getting the rare last word and he kicked his way out of bed. He left his phone buried underneath the covers and he stormed out to the kitchen. A few students loitering around the kitchen scattered when they saw him and Tony scowled as he reached for the coffeemaker. When his mug was full he turned to see Bucky sat at the table with Natasha at his side.

Bucky commented dryly, “Nice tantrum.”

Tony snapped, “Fuck off, asshole.”

Bucky looked genuinely surprised and Natasha spoke, “Don’t say another word Tony.”

Tony scoffed, “Oh, right, because the Ice Queen really needs your protection. Spare me the fucking lecture because I don’t give a fuck.”

Phil walked into the room, “Watch your language.”

Tony sneered, “Right, because you’re always perfect.”

Tony stormed out of the room and didn’t speak to anyone for the rest of the day. It was finally Pepper that tracked him down in the gym. He didn’t go to regular classes but he knew enough mixed martial arts to get by and he was boxing with a blind guy named Matt who was more than skilled. Tony liked to tell Matt that he would need him when he graduated to become a lawyer and Matt always answered that he didn’t doubt it.

Pepper waited until they were finished and then she handed Tony his phone, “Everyone’s been looking for you.”

Tony snorted, “I seem to be popular today. Well, you found me. Thanks for my phone.”

“I know that your dad called you.”

Tony unwrapped his hands, “Yeah, he offered me a job and I turned him down as usual. I have better plans than working for the devil.”

Pepper frowned, “What are your plans?”

Tony pulled off his shirt, “I’m not ready to share them but I’m sure that you’ll be one of the first people I talk to.”

Pepper didn’t look pleased, “Tony, are you alright?”

“Of course I am. I’m always alright. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting.”

Pepper watched him go with a worried frown and called Bruce. She was being kept out of the loop and she didn’t like it.

Tony didn’t go back to his dorm for three days. He’d missed classes and he looked rough when he stumbled into the common room kitchen. The hems of his dress trousers were dusty, his shirt was crinkled and partially unbuttoned, his best suit jacket was missing and his hair was a complete mess. He was met with wide-eyed surprise.

Clint swore, “Fuck. What happened to you?”

Tony rasped, “I would kill for a doughnut right now.”

Bruce handed him a glass of water, “Where have you been? We’ve been trying to call you for days. Pepper almost reported you as missing.”

Tony yawned, “I was at a business meeting.”

“For three days?”

“I was in Canada.”

“Canada!”

“Yeah, but I think that my phone is in Chicago. They have the most amazing pizza there.”

Pepper stormed into the room, “Where the hell have you been? I can’t believe how irresponsible you are. Nobody knew where you were.”

Tony flinched back and ran a frustrated hand through his hair, “I just said, I was in Canada for a business meeting with some investors. I think it went well.”

Pepper scowled, “A business meeting?”

Tony’s eyes drooped, “Alright, I need a nap and then I’ll tell you. Umm, Pepper, Clint, Phil, Bruce, Steve and… oh, can someone find Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson, Peter Parker and Wade Wilson. Meet at my lab tonight at eight.”

Without explaining anything else Tony trudged to his room. Before he could fall into bed he was startled to find Steve snoring lightly underneath Tony’s red and gold silk sheets. Tony felt momentarily guilty but he was too tired for anything else so he stripped down to his boxers and crawled onto the narrow space at the edge of the bed and fell asleep.

He was woken up rudely as he fell off the bed. He blinked blearily at Steve who was staring at him. Tony yawned, “Oh, hey, Steve.”

“Hey Steve!? Where have you been?”

“Canada. We’re meeting at my lab at eight so that I can tell you all about it. Can I get back into bed now?”

Steve helped him up and shifted nervously, “Sorry.”

Tony shrugged and closed his eyes, “Stop apologising. You didn’t do anything wrong. Although I do want to know why you’re in my bed once I’m caught up on sleep.”

Before Steve could slip out of bed Tony rolled over and put one leg across Steve’s thighs and his arm across his broad chest. Steve relaxed eventually when Tony didn’t move and Tony fell asleep again. He woke up more calmly a few hours later and smiled against Steve’s shoulder.

Tony muttered, “Are you awake?”

“Yeah, I’m awake. How are you feeling?”

“Better. Investors really know how to party.”

“Investors?”

“Just wait until the meeting. Sorry I didn’t call but I lost my phone. Thank god it wasn’t the phone with JARVIS encoded.”

Tony enjoyed the warmth of Steve’s skin against his for a moment before he crawled out of bed and found his other phone. There were a lot of missed calls. He flinched guiltily, “Sorry.”

Steve sat up, “We were all really worried Tony.”

“Yeah, these past few days haven’t all been good. I did think about calling you but there was no phone on the helicopter and there’s not a lot of signal in the Canadian wilderness.”

Steve shook his head, “If anyone else was telling me that I wouldn’t believe them.”

Tony grinned, “Thank you baby.”

Tony and Steve showed up to the lab together where everyone was gathered. Tony grinned excitedly at them all and said, “Thanks for showing up. Okay, first things first, I’m starting my own business. I have a full business plan, investors, start-up capital and all of that boring stuff. For these past three days I’ve been convincing a group of business investors to take a chance on an unestablished business and it was not easy but it worked. I have just over one year left before everyone here graduates which should be enough time to get started.” Tony pulled a colour coded file from his desk drawer and handed it to Pepper before he continued, “There are jobs for all of you if you want to be a part of this.”

Pepper said sceptically, “Tony, this is a ten year business plan and most of us have never had a full time job before. Not to mention the lack of experience, the struggles of a start-up business and the idea that you want to be in direct competition with Stark Industries within two years.”

Tony sat down in front of Pepper and focused on her, “Do you trust me?”

Pepper looked at him for a long time in silence and then, “I need time to think about it.”

“Go ahead. Take all of the time that you need. I am going to do this, Pep.”

“It’s crazy but, I believe you. Let me look over the business plan and I’ll get back to you.”

Tony grinned at the rest of the people in the room. Tony gestured wildly, “All of you should take your time and think about it. I have genuine jobs for all of you and this is a genuine offer.”

Nobody accepted immediately apart from Wade but Tony wasn’t surprised. He talked to each of them as they came to him with questions. Eventually most them left and Tony could sprawl on his sofa and talk to Steve who’d remained on the side-lines.

Steve asked, “A job for everyone.”

Tony nodded, “I’m going to need a graphic designer. I’d be willing to hire you on a freelance basis which will give you plenty of time for the rest of your life.”

“You have everything planned out.”

“Not everything but I’ve been planning this since I was eleven years old. My dad always expected me to take over his company but I always had bigger plans. I’m going to make him and his company obsolete.”

“That’s… ambitious.”

“You don’t have to be delicate. I know that most kids don’t despise their father’s but we’ve always had a very unique relationship. He wanted me to be his heir and puppet but I wanted something else. I haven’t seen him since I left high school. My mother phones me once a month to check that I’m donating to the right charities.”

Steve looked unsure for a moment and then he grabbed two beers from the mini fridge and handed one to Tony. Tony took a long drink and sighed, “Do you think that I can do it?”

Steve smiled wryly, “Yeah, Tony, I think that you can do it.”

Tony closed his eyes and smirked, “Cool.”

A week later Bruce was getting back from staying over at Betty’s dorm when a black limousine pulled up outside of their building. Bruce swore colourfully but quietly and hit speed dial, “Pepper. Code Stark.”

Pepper swore, “Shit. Can we stop him?”

Bruce watched helplessly as a tall man walked confidently in through the door as Christine walked out. Bruce ran for the door, “No. Is Tony in? Please tell me that he’s in his lab or something.”

“He’s in his dorm.”

Bruce ran up the stairs instead of waiting for the painfully slow elevator. He panted, “We need to do something.”

“I’ll text everyone. I’m on my way.”

Bruce burst into the living room and Clint and Phil sprang apart guiltily even though all of their clothes were on. Bruce panted, “Code Stark. He’s in the elevator.”

Phil walked calmly into the kitchen while Clint grabbed his archery bow. Bruce rolled his eyes and Clint shrugged in response. Bruce checked his phone to see the emergency signal Pepper had texted and asked Clint, “Have you seen Steve?”

Clint shook his head, “Not since last night.”

At that moment Tony shuffled out of his room with Steve following him. Tony yawned, “Hey. What’s with all the yelling?”

The elevator pinged and Bruce watched helplessly as Tony froze. His dad, Howard, stepped through the doors and Tony’s expression shut down. Steve looked slightly confused until Bruce mouthed, “Tony’s dad.”

Steve scowled and Bruce wondered what Tony had said for Steve to have that sort of reaction. Howard sneered at Tony’s oversized AC/DC shirt and pyjama pants that looked long enough to belong to Steve. Eventually Tony broke the silent stand-off, “What are you doing here?”

“I came to see my son. I wanted to tell you that I’m impressed. Jefferson is not an easy man to sway but he can’t say enough good things about you.”

Tony answered coldly, “He likes Chicago pizza.”

Howard smiled but it was the smile he used for uncomfortable interviews or senate hearings, “I was thinking that we could get together and talk about your future.”

Tony shook slightly with rage and everyone was surprised when Steve put his hands reassuringly on Tony’s shoulders and Tony relaxed slightly. Steve stepped around Tony and he shook Howard’s hand. Steve was shirtless and he had charcoal dust on his fingers. His smile was perfectly innocent as he said, “I’m sorry sir, but Tony’s taking me out for the day. I’m sure that you wouldn’t want him to neglect his boyfriend. Tony’s so busy working that we don’t get to spend a lot of time together.”

Howard looked flummoxed which was how everyone else was really feeling. Bucky and Natasha walked into the room but instead of being embarrassed or horrified, Steve just grinned at Bucky and leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. He muttered just loud enough for Bucky to hear, “Go with it and I’ll explain later.” Steve draped himself over Bucky’s shoulder, “Good morning darling. I thought that you were going to be at work today.”

Bucky shrugged, “I swapped shifts.”

Steve beamed, “Great, now Tony can take both of us out. He’s been promising us a trip to the art museum for ages.”

Bucky groaned, “Not another one. There’s only so many weird sculptures a guy can see, Stevie.”

Howard backed slowly towards the elevator, “Right, well, Tony I’ll call you later. Perhaps we can arrange a meeting for another time.”

Tony waved a hand dismissively, “We’ll see.”

Once Howard was gone there was a long, drawn out moment of silence and then Tony started jumping up and down and laughing, “Oh my god! That was perfect. He was horrified. He might never speak to me again. Steve you are a genius.”

Tony kissed Steve with a lot of tongue involved and then he kissed Bucky in the same way before anyone could stop him. When Tony pulled back he patted Steve on the shoulder, “Did that break your brain? Sorry.”

Steve was looking at Bucky’s slightly swollen lips with glassy eyes but Tony snapped him out of the spell and he blushed furiously and he escaped to the other side of the room. Tony was still praising Steve’s genius. Bucky frowned, “What was all of that about?”

Tony grinned wildly, “That was dear old dad and Steve might’ve scared him off in a way I never could. Seriously, both of you, thank you so much for doing that. It was… important.”

Tony hitched up his pants, grabbed a cup of coffee and sang Thunderstruck by AC/DC as he strutted back to his room. Pepper walked into the room with a large travel sized cup of coffee and a bag of doughnuts. She asked Bruce, “Is he gone? What happened?”

Bruce shook his head, “Yes, he’s gone and I have no idea what just happened.”

Pepper gave Phil a doughnut and in exchange he told her everything. When he was done she nodded and lifted her chin as she stormed into Tony’s room armed with beverages. Bruce sidled over to Steve and muttered, “Thanks. I don’t know what Tony’s told you but you did a really good thing. You’re a great friend Steve. He’s lucky that you’re there for him.”

Steve blushed, “I wasn’t the only one. Aren’t those yesterday’s clothes?”

Steve wasn’t the only one who was blushing. Bruce answered hastily, “Yes, well, thanks. See you later.”

Steve chuckled and Bruce escaped so that he could change his clothes. Steve grabbed a smoothie from the fridge and was happy to keep his head down. Natasha and Bucky had a hushed argument on the other side of the room and everyone else scattered. When Steve lifted his head he was alone in the kitchen with Bucky.

Steve started awkwardly, “Thanks for going along with that. That guy is sort of a jackass.”

“Oh, yeah, it’s fine. I’m glad that I could help your boyfriend.”

Steve grimaced, “Yeah, he’s not really my boyfriend. It’s kind of… complicated.”

Bucky frowned, “Have you asked him out?”

“A couple of times, actually, but he wants me to sort some things out first.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, Buck, I’m sorry that I made you uncomfortable. I shouldn’t have pushed and… I miss you. We’ve been friends since I can remember and I feel awful that I pushed you away. I should’ve just let it drop.”

“Pushed me away? Shit, Steve, you didn’t push me away you dumbass. I’m the jerk who cut you out when my life turned to shit. You deserve a hell of a lot more than me.”

“Don’t I get to decide what I deserve?”

“I dunno. You make some stupid decisions Stevie.”

Steve smirked, “Only when you’re there to egg me on. Are you gonna tell me what I’ve missed, because Bucky, I’m here ‘til the end of the line.”

They sat down at the table and Bucky looked down at his hands, “I’m adopted. Brock isn’t my real brother and Alex isn’t my real father. They’ve also been arrested for a doing a lot of bad shit.”

Steve’s jaw dropped, “What? You’re a bastard for not telling me this. What the fuck?”

“I was mixed up Stevie and angry. I didn’t mean for you to get caught in that but…”

“My mother is gonna kick your ass so hard when she finds out about this.”

Bucky flinched, “Aww, jeez, Stevie, threatening me with Sarah is just cruel.”

“It’s justified. How many times has she told you that you’re a part of our family?” Steve took a deep breath, “I take it that Natasha knows.”

“Yeah, we have the whole adopted-by-crazy-psychopaths thing in common.”

Steve sat back heavily. His mind raced. He’d never been particularly fond of Bucky’s family although he’d never had any reason to dislike them as he’d grown up. When they were kids Bucky had spent hours at Steve’s house helping his mother and doing homework. Steve had to ask, “Do I want to know what they’ve done?”

Bucky shook his head vehemently, “Definitely not. Do not go and look it up Rogers. The police have it handled and their lawyers suck. They’re going away for a long time.”

Steve stood up and announced, “Alright, we’re going to Dean’s. You need pie and I want a chocolate milkshake.”

Bucky smirked, “Shouldn’t you put a shirt on first?”

Steve blushed again, “Oh, right, I’ll be back in a minute.”

Steve disappeared into Tony’s room and Natasha emerged from around the corner to say to Bucky, “I told you.”

“Yeah, you were right as usual. It doesn’t mean that everything is automatically going to be okay.”

Natasha smirked, “What would be the fun in that?”

Steve appeared again as Natasha disappeared. He was dressed in a clean shirt and he grinned, “Are you ready to go?”

Bucky nodded, “Yeah, let’s go.”

As they walked to the diner Steve asked, “How’s your coursework?”

“Not bad. They gave me a bit of leeway during the trails.”

“Trials?” Bucky glared and Steve backed off, “Right, I’m not asking. Sorry. Did you talk to the guidance councillor?”

“Yeah, she seems to think that I’d make a good teacher.”

Steve smiled, “Is that what you want to do?”

Bucky shrugged, “Maybe. How was your art show?”

“Good.”

They lapsed into silence for the rest of the way. Sam Winchester was working behind the counter and he looked at them both in surprise before he directed them to a booth and grabbed their usual order. Usually they were at Dean’s once a week so Steve supposed that the surprised expression was warranted since that they’d not been there for a while. Sam approached them and slid their food onto the table.

Steve smiled, “Hey Sam. How’s Dean?”

Sam rolled his eyes, “He’s flirting with the health inspector.”

Bucky snorted, “Is she pretty?”

Sam grinned wryly, “Yeah, I guess that you could say he’s pretty.”

Steve was startled enough by the pronoun to laugh and Sam chuckled as he made his way back to the counter. Bucky shook his head and grunted, “Dean’s girls are gonna weep.”

Steve snorted, “Or throw a party.”

Bucky scooped a forkful of pie and moaned at the burst of cherries and pastry, “I’m never going so long without coming here again.”

Steve ducked his head and asked quietly, “How long?”

Bucky wouldn’t meet his eyes as he answered, “You know that I only ever come here with you. It’s our thing. Besides, I’m not introducing Natasha to Sam.”

Steve chuckled, “She’d be fine.”

“She’s not the one I’d be worried about.”

Dean and an unfamiliar man in a trench coat emerged from the kitchen. The stranger was kind of cute and he looked close to Dean’s age. Dean was pouting prettily as he shook hands with the man. Steve couldn’t hear what he said but the stranger jumped and pulled his hand back quickly. After the man had escaped Bucky started clapping and Steve couldn’t hold back his laughter.

Dean glared at them both, “Very funny, assholes. He’ll be back.”

Sam sighed and Bucky went back to his pie. Dean joined them at their table, “We haven’t seen you for a while. Did you two break up or something?” Neither of them could look at each other because the comment hit too close to home. Dean grunted, “I didn’t realise that you would break up with us as well.”

Bucky glared, “Just be glad you have a customer who is willing to choke down this disgusting pie.”

Dean smirked, “My pie is perfect and you know it.”

Bucky smirked back and Steve had to avert his eyes. Watching Bucky flirt was usually one of his favourite pastimes but he wasn’t sure that he could handle it at that moment. Thankfully Sam grabbed his brother’s attention and Dean was pulled away from their table. Steve focused on his milkshake and checked his phone.

Bucky knew that the moment had grown tense although he wasn’t sure why Steve was avoiding looking at him. He was willing to admit that he wanted his friend back. He didn’t know what to make of Steve sleeping in Tony’s room but not going out with the guy. He didn’t know what that morning had really been about. He had no idea what Tony had been thinking when he’d kissed him. Despite his questions, he was afraid to ask in case Steve actually answered. He wasn’t sure that he was ready for that.

Natasha had called him an idiot when she’d found him slumped in front of her door with a mostly empty vodka bottle in his hands. He’d told her the entire story in a messy, drunken tirade and she’d shoved him into the shower with all of his clothes still on and turned on the freezing cold water. When he was sober she’d pinned him to the sofa with a glare and made some calls. Thanks to Natasha Bucky was completely in the clear and he had no idea what to do with his freedom.

He no longer had to associate with his adopted family and he was long past the age of adulthood. Knowing that had been a surprising belief but on the heels of that emotion was panic. Natasha had spent weeks trying to get him to talk to Steve but not even her threats could bring Bucky to push past the panic that clawed at his throat.

Then Steve had kissed him on the cheek and sounded so happy when he referred to Bucky as his boyfriend. Even knowing that it was fake couldn’t stop Bucky from feeling warm at the thought. It was the same warmth he’d felt when Tony had kissed him and that had been worrying. Steve was always honest about himself – he used words like bisexual and polysexual and demisexual and Bucky had trouble keeping up but it was clear that Steve was happy when he was in any sort of relationship.

Steve cleared his throat, “How is Peggy?”

“You haven’t seen her?”

“No. I haven’t spoken to any of them for a while.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. They haven’t called. It was Gabe’s birthday the other day.”

“Yeah, I know, I was invited but I couldn’t make it.”

“Oh.”

“Wait, you haven’t spoken to them? Did you go?”

“I wasn’t invited. We ran into them when I was out with Bruce and Tony.”

“What the fuck? What is going on?”

Steve tried to joke, “Maybe they thought that you got them in the divorce.”

Bucky sucked in a sharp breath, “Bullshit, Steve. You’ve known most of ‘em longer than I have.”

Steve shrugged, “I’m sure it wasn’t really that. So, how is Natasha?”

Bucky looked unhappy, “She’s good.”

Steve suddenly laughed and ran his hand through his hair, “We used to better at this.”

Bucky chuckled, “It is a bit awkward. So, does Tony’s reputation live up to the hype?”

Steve blushed furiously, “It’s not like that. We just… sleep.”

“Sleep? Really?”

Steve smirked, “Yes. Not that I haven’t offered.”

“He turned you down after hearing you talk dirty? Damn, Stevie, I think that you’re losing your touch.”

Steve scoffed, “I have not. Besides, when have you ever heard me talk dirty?”

Bucky blushed, “Umm, you remember that summer we went camping.”

Steve started blushing again, “I thought that you stayed the night in that girl’s tent on the other side of the site.”

“Nope. You put on quite a show.”

Steve shook his head and tried to bite back an embarrassed smile, “I guess that we’re even then.”

“Even?”

“Peggy’s sixteenth birthday party. You and her cousin in the bathroom.”

Bucky’s eyes widened, “You know about that.”

Steve snorted, “Bucky… everyone who was at that party knows about that. Well, except for Peggy.”

Bucky flinched, “She’d kill me.”

Steve nodded, “I had to bribe every person there to stop them from telling her.”

“Thanks.”

“I just didn’t want to have to carry your body when she buried it.”

“Thanks asshole.”

Steve grinned, “No problem.”

Bucky had another bit of pie and asked, “Do you want to sleep with him?”

Steve toyed with his drink straw, “Yeah, but you already knew that. He knows… maybe we should talk about something else.”

Bucky sighed, “Come on Stevie. Just get it out in the open.”

“He knows that he’s not the only one I want to sleep with.”

“He’s okay with that?”

Steve laughed, “He had some creative suggestions. It’s cool and we’ve talked about it so it’s not something he’s worried about.”

“Now I feel like an asshole.”

“Why? I should’ve realised that something else was going on and backed off.”

“Steve, I didn’t tell you anything. How could you have known? Tony was right. I’ve had a thing for you since I was thirteen but I never said anything.”

“You had a thing for me?”

“You were tiny but I liked it. Anyway, when Tony was so blunt about telling you I panicked and, well, you know the rest. It’s just damn unfair that you woke up one morning with muscles with the same fight-the-world attitude.”

“What are you saying, Buck?”

“I’m saying that I want to be your friend and I want another slice of pie.”

Steve relaxed, “Fair enough.”

Steve’s phone chimed. He swiped his thumb across the screen and chuckled at the message. Bucky raised an eyebrow questioningly and Steve explained, “Tony’s kidnapped Bruce for science purposes, apparently. Pepper will take care of it.”

“You seem like good friends.”

“They’re pretty cool. Tony’s ambitious and Bruce is brilliant and there is everyone else as well, of course. I like them.”

Bucky’s phone rang and he answered, “Hey. No, I haven’t forgotten. Alright, I’ll see you there.” He ended the call and grimaced, “Sorry, I’ve got to go.”

Steve smiled, “Don’t worry about it. So, see you back here next week?”

Steve looked hopeful and Bucky hesitated, “I’m not doing anything tomorrow. We could catch a movie.”

Steve nodded, “Sure, let me know what you want to see.”

Bucky left and Steve answered the real text that Tony had sent, It went okay. He’s gone now.

Tony texted back immediately, Bring me a smoothie.

Steve continued to sleep some nights in Tony’s bed when he couldn’t be bothered to go back to his own dorm but he was back to hanging out regularly with Bucky. It was good although they were both avoiding certain issues. Tony tagged along a couple of times when Bruce was busy with his girlfriend and he had nothing to do in the lab. Steve and Bucky were back to hanging out at Dean’s once a week and it was Bucky who first suggested that they should invite Tony.

They’d never invited any of their other friends before but, it wasn’t much of a surprise when Tony and Dean competed for the attention of one of the waitresses. Thankfully she wasn’t startled as she’d known Dean for a long time and Sam kept an eye on all of them. Tony draped himself across the booth with no sense of personal space and Bucky found that Tony teased him as much as he teased Steve.

Every time Tony leaned far into Bucky’s space Steve’s cheeks turned pink and he looked away. Bucky knew that he was interested by the implication. However, he was still avoiding that conversation. A couple of weeks wasn’t long enough to make up for treating Steve like shit because he didn’t want to admit that he’d not seen what his supposed family had pulled right under his nose.

Just like the first time it was Tony who pushed him into talking about it a few days after they’d gone to Dean’s together. Tony sat down in front of Bucky in the library and said, “You’re hot.”

Bucky frowned, “Okay?”

“I just thought that I’d get that out there. When we met the first time I wondered what you would look like with your shirt off. I still want to know by the way. Plus, the whole bad-boy-leather look really works for you. Do you have a motorbike?”

“Steve’s the one with the motorbike.”

“What? He’s been holding out on me. Damn.”

“Why are you telling me all of this?”

“Well, you were looking at the textbooks like you wanted to set them on fire so I figured that it was a good time to interrupt. I’m telling you that you and Steve together are one of my top five fantasies because I have nothing to lose.”

“Top five?”

“Don’t be greedy. That kiss was the second best kiss I’ve had for months.”

“Second best?”

“Have you ever kissed Steve? You should really try it.” Tony’s phone buzzed and he jumped up from his chair, “See you later, Barnes.”

Bucky watched him go and shook his head when he found himself watching Tony’s ass. Even as he turned his attention back to the paper he was writing a part of him was thinking, Not bad, not as nice as Steve.

Bucky went to Steve’s room that night and slumped into the desk chair, “Tony hunted me down in the library today.”

Steve put down his sketchpad and stretched lazily, “He does that. Did you finish your paper?”

“Yeah. I might’ve told him that you have a motorbike.”

“Is that important?”

“He seemed to think that it was. He said that you are a better kisser than I am.”

Steve laughed, “There’s a first time for everything.”

“Kiss me.”

“What?”

“I want to know.”

“Bucky…”

“Come on, Stevie. Just a kiss. I genuinely want to know how good you are.”

Steve rolled his eyes and stood up, “Alright but I refuse to take the blame for any of this.”

“Fair enough.”

Bucky stood up as well and they stood apart in the middle of the room. When Bucky didn’t move any closer Steve rolled his eyes and laughed. He reached out to grab Bucky’s wrist and tugged him closer. Steve waited for a moment, waiting for Bucky to pull away laughing or pull him away, but when nothing happened Steve leaned forward and brushed his lips against Bucky’s lightly. The light pressure lasted for a few seconds and Steve didn’t press for anything more when Bucky didn’t respond.

Steve backed off and shrugged. Bucky narrowed his eyes, “That wasn’t a kiss.”

Steve flopped down onto his bed, “Maybe you should’ve been more specific.”

Bucky reached down and tangled his left arm in the collar of Steve’s shirt. He tugged just enough to meet Steve’s lips with his own and he kissed Steve like it was the last thing he was ever going to do. Steve melted under the onslaught and his fingers curled into Bucky’s hair as he tried to get closer. Bucky lost track of time and Steve couldn’t care less. The angle started to hurt but as Steve slid back Bucky followed him. They ended up lying sideways across the bed with Bucky on top of Steve.

Steve’s phone buzzed and they both jumped apart. Bucky stumbled shakily across to the desk chair while Steve reached for his phone and answered. Steve’s voice was rough and unsteady and Bucky had to look away. Steve cleared his throat and said, “Hey Tony. I’m a little bit busy right now. Okay, I’ll see you later.”

Steve ended the call and the silence was oppressive in the small room. Bucky kept his eyes away from Steve and Steve was busy staring at the ceiling and replaying the kiss in his mind. Steve grinned, “Clara was right.”

“About what.”

“That you’re a good kisser.”

“You talked to my ex-girlfriend about that.”

“What else was I supposed to do while you were at summer camp?”

“God, I hated summer camp.”

“Me too. Three weeks of sitting at home bored out of my mind.”

“What else did Clara say?”

Steve chuckled, “I was sworn to secrecy but it was… enlightening. I liked Clara.”

“So… that kiss wasn’t horrible.”

“Thank you for the kind review.”

“Two stars. Would consider trying it again.”

Bucky heard Steve shift. Steve tried to tamp down his hope, “Really?”

“Yeah.” Bucky joined Steve on the bed so that they were lying side-by-side looking up at the plain ceiling. Bucky sighed, “This is probably a bad idea.”

Steve reached out and tangled their fingers together, “It could be the best idea I’ve ever had.”

Bucky rubbed his thumb along Steve’s skin, “Shut up, punk.”

Steve smiled, “Make me, jerk.”

Nothing changed in particular after that night except that Bucky kept asking Steve to kiss him when they were alone and Steve could never refuse. Tony knew because Steve had told him about it. Tony didn’t pressure him to define what he was doing and Steve was glad because he wasn’t sure that he wanted to. Steve still slept in Tony’s bed occasionally and spent a lot of time in Tony’s lab.

They were in the lab one evening when Tony asked, “Do I still get to kiss you?”

Steve put down his pencil, “Do you need an invitation? I haven’t stopped liking you just because I’ve been kissing Bucky.”

“Is Barnes okay with that?”

“I haven’t asked him but he knows.”

Tony crossed the room and dropped down onto Steve’s lap. He kissed him, “Are you going to tell him about this?”

Steve wrapped his arm around Tony and pulled him closer. He grinned, “Are you going to give me something to tell him about?”

Tony growled playfully and started a long make-out session. Steve did tell Bucky that he was interested in both of them the next time he saw him. Bucky surprised him with his answer, “You’re not the only one who is interested in him.”

Steve dropped a forkful of pie in his milkshake, “Really?”

Bucky shrugged, “He did suggest that he was interested and I know you’ve been thinking about it.”

Steve blushed, “You can’t blame me.”

“I didn’t say that I did. I want to talk about this Steve.”

It wasn’t easy and Tony teased them both mercilessly but, somehow, it worked. Tony invited Bucky into the workshop and introduced him to JARVIS. Bucky talked to Steve about the progress of the trial. Steve smiled a lot at them both.

The holidays were approaching and Tony invited them to visit him at home. Bucky couldn’t go home and never wanted to again but it only took one phone call for Steve’s mother, Sarah, to order Bucky to go home with Steve. Steve invited Tony as well but Tony answered jumpily and avoided the subject. Bucky just told Steve not to push the issue and they agreed to fly out and stay with Tony after staying with Steve’s mother for a couple of weeks.

The end of year exams were hell but over quickly and then Steve and Bucky were saying goodbye to Tony at the airport. Tony kissed them both deeply, “Don’t get into too much trouble without me.”

Steve pulled Tony close and hugged him tightly, “Call us when you land.”

Bucky stepped in and hugged Tony when Steve moved, “Don’t blow anything up.”

They parted reluctantly. Tony was going home to Miami while Steve and Bucky went back to Brooklyn. The first few days were filled with phone calls and Sarah overfeeding Bucky while Steve laughed at him from behind her back. She insisted on them sleeping in separate rooms but Steve kept sneaking in to Bucky’s room every time he was feeling lonely. Sarah pretended that she didn’t notice so long as they were just sleeping.

After a couple of weeks at home they flew out to see Tony in Miami. Steve was quiet about the obvious fact that Tony was richer than they’d expected but Bucky said enough for both of them as he joked about becoming Tony’s kept man. Thankfully, Tony was far from offended and he replied with domestic housewife jokes from where he was sitting on Steve’s lap.

They went to bed together for the first time on their third night at Tony’s house. After a full day on the beach and a night at home eating take out and playing video games Tony had grabbed Steve by the collar and kissed him furiously. After about four minutes Tony pulled away and sighed happily, “God, I missed that.”

Steve blinked, “Um, wow.”

They were sat on the sofa so Tony rested his cheek on Steve’s shoulder and put his feet in Bucky’s lap. Tony was surprised to find a familiar bulge when his feet moved and he looked at Bucky with a sly smile, “I didn’t mean to leave you out.”

Bucky practically pounced and Tony hummed happily as he braced himself against Steve while Bucky kissed him. Steve’s fingers were stroking through Tony’s hair and he would’ve been quite happy to stay there all night except Steve leant closer and murmured in Tony’s ear, loud enough for Bucky to hear, “You look good like that. Nip his bottom lip, he likes that.”

Tony made a pleased but surprised sound in the back of his throat and followed Steve’s instruction which made Bucky jump, moan and pull away just enough to growl, “He’s fine without your help Stevie.”

Steve grinned unrepentantly and pulled Tony onto his lap. Tony wriggled in place with Steve at his back and huffed unhappily, “Why is no one kissing me?”

Steve chuckled, low and dirty, “Do you want something to suck on?”

Tony bit back a moan, “Fuck you Rogers.”

Steve laughed and tugged on Tony’s earlobe with his mouth, “If you like.”

Tony turned just enough to see Steve’s smile, “Really?”

Steve nodded, “If Bucky is okay with it.” They both looked at Bucky who looked torn. Steve nibbled on Tony’s neck, “What do you think Bucky? Should I let Tony fuck me.”

Tony was on board with that plan but he offered, “You can go first if you want.”

Steve bit Tony lightly, “Hey, my ass is not a ride.”

Tony purred, “I love to ride.”

Bucky swore, “Jesus, you two are gonna break me.”

Tony crawled off Steve’s lap so that he could climb onto Bucky’s, “That would be no fun.”

Bucky recovered quickly and put his hands firmly on Tony’s hips, “If you’re gonna fuck Steve then we should probably go to bed.”

Tony grabbed one of Bucky’s hands and one of Steve’s so that he could pull them both up from the couch, “What are we waiting for?”

Like Steve had suggested he ended up in middle of the bed with Tony on his left and Bucky on his right. He didn’t need to pinch himself and check if he was dreaming because Tony was biting lightly along his jawline while Bucky pulled impatiently at Steve’s remaining clothes. Steve was a happy bottom so he was thrilled that neither of his boyfriends wanted him to top like some of his previous encounters. Tony and Bucky were quick to get everyone naked while Steve chased eager hands and tongues.

Tony chuckled against Steve’s nipple, “You’re eager.”

Steve shrugged and pinched Bucky’s ass since that it was within reach as he’d leaned over to reach the lube. He felt no shame in wanting to be fucked and he had the feeling that none of Tony’s boasts were empty words. It was true that he’d waited longer to be fucked by Bucky but he figured that he could be patient and they were Tony’s guests after all. Steve rolled onto his front as soon as Tony had leaned away far enough for him to move and he spread his legs, “Come on. Someone fuck me.”

Tony grinned sharply and started kissing Bucky where Steve could see over his shoulder while Bucky slicked up his fingers. Bucky prepped while Tony split his attention between the two of them and Steve couldn’t stop smiling into the pillow. Steve jerked when Bucky bumped his prostate and both Tony and Bucky sniggered at the sharp yelp.

Steve glared at them both over his shoulder, “It’s not too late for me to leave.”

Tony kissed him in apology, “It’s surprisingly cute.”

“Goddamn it Bucky! Get on with it or I won’t suck you.”

Bucky jumped and moaned, “Oh god. You want to suck me?”

Bucky spread his fingers again just to check that Tony wasn’t going to hurt Steve and then he shuffled away on his knees so that Tony could take his place. Bucky rolled the condom on Tony and hid his grin at Tony’s mix of curses and praise about Bucky’s fingers. As Tony pushed in he groaned loudly, “Oh god. I’m going to rim you later. Your ass is so fucking hot.”

Steve relaxed now that Tony was finally sucking him and he stretched underneath Tony who smacked his ass lightly for moving before Tony was ready. Steve chuckled shortly and then reached out for Bucky, “Come on. I’ll suck you now.”

Bucky’s eyes widened, “Now?”

Steve sighed, “Yes. Do you think that this is my first time?”

Tony’s hips stuttered and Bucky looked completely shocked, “You’ve… done this?”

“That time in the tent was more than one person Bucky.”

Tony interrupted, “I want to hear that story later.”

“Condom?”

Steve rolled his eyes, “I was with you at your last check-up. I know for a fact that you’re fine. Stop worrying and come here so that I can put my mouth on your dick.”

Bucky shuffled so that he was sitting against the headboard and Steve lowered his head to lick across the crown of Bucky’s dick. It had been a while so Steve had to work his way up to deep-throating but Bucky seemed to have no problem with Steve’s technique judging by the noises he was making.

Tony complained, “I need to see that later.”

Steve pulled his mouth of Buck briefly to reply, “I’ll give you a practical demonstration.”

Tony’s thrusts picked up, “Oh god.”

Tony came first but he reached around to tug on Steve’s dick and Steve swallowed when Bucky came just before he was tipped over the edge himself. They all pretty much collapsed in a sweaty, languid pile and nobody suggested a shower as they basked in the afterglow. Bucky moved in for a sloppy kiss from Steve until Tony whined and Bucky pulled himself across the bed so that he could kiss Tony and get him to shut up. Steve watched them kiss from behind lowered lashes and he smiled to himself. Two boyfriends was not as much of an impossibility as he’d feared.