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The Soulmate(s) You Are Looking For

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Seven weeks, five days, and eighteen hours, give or take. It’s been almost two months since Tony’s last seen his boyfriend, been able to touch and hold him, which is probably why he’s freezing his butt off out here on the landing pad almost half an hour before Steve’s due to finally arrive home.

Tony looks at his watch for what must be the tenth time in as many minutes at least, huffing out a frustrated breath. How is it that several days can pass in a flash when he’s spending them down in his workshop, but having to wait thirty minutes for Steve feels like a small eternity? It has to be Einstein’s fault, somehow.

He hops from one leg to the other and back to keep himself warm in the chilly October breeze, stomping down hard on the urge to glance at his wrist again. Being separated from his soulmate for this long has left Tony twitchy and irritable, his anticipation laced with a nervous sort of worry. Tony is more than happy, thrilled even, to have Steve back soon, but Steve isn’t coming alone, no. He’s bringing the Winter Soldier, of all people.

Which isn’t entirely fair, Tony has to remind himself, because James Buchanan Barnes neither volunteered for any of the countless atrocities that have been done to him, nor did he do what he did for Hydra out of his own free will. For decades, he was little more than a weapon that got pointed and triggered, a tool to be used, put in storage when not needed.

But that doesn’t magically erase the fact that James, however involuntarily and indirectly, is responsible for the death of Howard and Maria Stark and, more importantly to Tony, Edwin Jarvis, friend and father figure.

It’s not that Tony blames James for any of what happened, he’s not that much of an asshole, but the situation requires an emotional maturity and delicacy Tony isn’t convinced he’s capable of. Add to that the ugly jealousy that comes with thinking about how James will be, already is demanding huge chunks of Steve’s time which would otherwise belong to Tony and, well.

He’s being petty, but Tony can’t help it. He’s always had a possessive streak, and he’s not looking forward to having to share his boyfriend, his soulmate, with someone who’ll need so much of Steve’s attention. And from what Steve’s been telling Tony during their phone calls and the occasional video chats, James will definitely be leaning heavily on Steve for support for the foreseeable future.

Which is understandable, expected really, after what James has been through. Tony knows something about guilt, but it’s hard to imagine what it must do to a person to be used and abused like James was, compared to accidentally causing damage and destruction by being ignorant and spoiled.

The sound of roaring engines thankfully snaps Tony out of his thoughts before they can take a turn for the even more self-deprecating, and when the quinjet finally touches down, nothing can hold him anymore. He’s running the moment the ramp begins its descent, his face breaking out into a goofy smile at the sight of Steve, who’s beaming back at Tony despite the exhausted slump of his body.

“Hey-“ is as far as Steve gets, cutting himself off with a chuckled oomph as Tony barrels into him, actually stumbling back a step while Tony’s busy winding his arms around his neck.

Standing up on tiptoes so he can tuck his nose into Steve’s neck and slide a hand into the short hairs at the back of Steve’s neck, Tony mumbles a heartfelt, somewhat shaky, “Missed you.”

Steve’s hands find their way to Tony’s hips, squeezing gently. He brushes his lips over Tony’s temple, making a quietly contented noise in the back of his throat, and then Tony tips his head up and Steve is right there, meeting him halfway for a soft, slow kiss.

“Hi,” Steve says against Tony’s lips, pecking them once, twice more before pulling back enough to rest their foreheads together. “Missed you, too.”

Tony hums, affectionately bumping his nose against Steve’s before kissing him again, pressing them together from chest to knee, as close as possible. Steve seems more than okay with that idea, hands slipping under the waistband of Tony’s sweats to cup his ass as he kisses back eagerly, nipping at Tony’s bottom lip before sucking it into his mouth to soothe the sting.

For the first time in weeks, Tony feels complete, whole. Their bond is singing, vibrating, sending warmth coursing through Tony’s entire body and excited shivers running up and down his spine. Their moment of reconnecting is ended abruptly, however, when Steve suddenly pulls back, lips shiny and cheeks flushed, hooded eyes flickering over to the man standing awkwardly off to the side and doing his best not to stare.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” Steve says, sheepishly scratching at the back of his neck. James looks up at him at that, then over at Tony, then back at Steve, raises a questioning eyebrow. Steve sighs, his blush darkening. “Uh, Buck, this is Tony. Stark. Tony Stark. My soulmate and, well, boyfriend.”

Now, Tony doesn’t know James very well yet, but the yeah, obviously implied by his eyeroll comes across loud and clear. Wordless sarcasm; that’s definitely a point in James’ favour.

“Yeah, I figured,” James drawls, voice full of goodnatured humour. “Seriously, Stevie. I’m outta commission for a coupla decades and, what? You decide to try dick, find your soulmate, and forget your manners, or why’s this the first I’m hearin’ about any of this?”

“Buck, c’mon,” Steve groans, embarrassed, hiding his burning face behind one hand, and flicking Tony’s ear with the other. “Stop laughing, jeez. You guys are the worst. Talking about being queer wasn’t a thing we did back then, all right?”

Tony snatches the hand tugging at his ear, kisses Steve’s knuckles. “Aw, babe. We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you.”

Steve shoots him a flat look. “Do you see me laughing?” The effect is completely ruined by the grin he’s only just able to bite back, though.

“Still a terrible liar, I see,” James says, smirking. “Some things do stay the same, after all, huh?” Steve flips him off, and James laughs, turning to Tony and holding out his hand for a shake. “Mister Stark.”

“Manners and looks!” Tony exclaims, accepting the offered hand. He glances over at Steve, giving him a leering onceover, winks, then adds to James, “A man could get used to that.”

It’s simultaneously impressive and terrifying how quickly James’ expression goes from amused and teasing to shocked, then utterly blank, his grip on Tony going slack all at once.

Steve picks up on it, too, of course, brows creasing into a concerned frown. “Buck?” he asks, face falling when he reaches out only to have James flinch away and protectively wrap his arms around himself. “Hey, no. Tony’s just making fun, he didn’t mean anything by it. Right, Tony?”

Tony confirms this, even apologises and means it, but it’s no use. James remains silent during the tour of the penthouse, hastily vanishing in his new room once they’re done, a tense, “‘M not feelin’ so great, gonna take a nap or somethin’,” thrown over his shoulder.

Steve winces at the slam of the door, and Tony hangs his head, pressing the balls of his hands into his eyes. Shit. That did not go well, not at all.

“I’m sorry,” he sighs, chancing a glance up at Steve, who looks sad and stricken but, much to Tony’s surprise, not pissed or angry. “I didn’t think that, well. I didn’t think. Fuck.”

Steve shakes his head, holding up his arm for Tony to snuggle under, which Tony does gladly. “It’s not your fault. He’s not- he wasn’t ever one to beat on someone for being different. We grew up in Brooklyn, for crying out loud, there was a bathhouse right down the block.”

“Maybe he just needs time?” Tony suggests, kissing Steve’s jaw. “I know he didn’t actually miss the last seventy years, but I don’t think educating him on social issues was a priority. Then again, who knows? This is 2015, maybe being a crazy fascist and part of the LGBT community aren’t mutually exclusive anymore. The future’s unpredictable like that.”

“You’re terrible,” Steve snorts, hiding his smile away in Tony’s hair.

“You love it.” Tony nudges him back a little, ignoring the ridiculously cute pout that earns him, and starts guiding him down the hall. “Let’s get you out of this uniform, and for once there’s no ulterior motive behind me saying that. You look tired.”

As if on cue, Steve yawns, his “I love you,” soft and slightly slurred.

Tony pauses at that, lightly kisses the corner of Steve’s mouth. It’s been years, but hearing Steve say it so casually, without a hint of hesitation, still makes Tony’s heart speed up every single time. “Love you more,” he quips back, laughing at Steve’s outraged gasp, and finally pushes him through the door of their bedroom and into the master bathroom.

By the time the tub is filled and Tony has stripped them both, Steve is half asleep, content to let Tony settle into the water first, then curl up against him, back to chest. Tony draws him in close, tucks Steve’s head under his chin, hands resting on Steve’s stomach, and thumbs stroking slow, calming circles into Steve’s skin.

Steve is making low, lazy noises of pleasure, hands massaging Tony’s thighs. He nuzzles Tony’s neck, shifting his hips just enough to bump the head of his rapidly hardening cock against Tony’s little finger.

Tony gives his shoulder a playfully scolding bite. “I’m trying to be good here.”

“Didn’t ask you to be,” Steve says, opening one mischievously twinkling eye that falls back shut again when Tony wraps a hand around his cock, giving it a couple of experimental strokes. Steve shudders, cranes his neck to slot their mouths together, whispers a breathless, “Tony, please.”

“Ssh, relax. I got you, honey. Relax.” Tony tightens his hand, thumbs Steve’s slit, teasingly brushes his free hand over a nipple, then across the soulmark over Steve’s heart, slowly tracing the words. “Let me take care of you. Going to take such good care of you, Steve, going to make you feel so good.”

Steve moans, open and raw, seeking out Tony’s lips again. Tony takes his time, tugging and squeezing unhurriedly, relearning Steve’s body, mind hazy with the amount of happy, blissful emotion Steve is sending along their bond.

Steve gasps his climax against Tony’s cheek, shaking and trembling, and Tony nurses him through it, through the aftershocks until Steve’s too sensitive and weakly batting against Tony’s hand. He washes them both, digging his fingers into the tense muscles of Steve’s back, carefully scratching them over his scalp and running them through his hair.

He doesn’t bother with pyjamas, tells JARVIS to turn up the heat instead as they climb into bed together, sliding under the sheets. Steve wriggles around until he’s got an arm and a leg slung over Tony, cheek against Tony’s collarbone, his breathing already beginning to even out.

Tony kisses his forehead, cups the back of his neck, and closes his eyes.

***

In the mornings, Steve and James go running together. They spar, wander around the city rediscovering their old neighbourhood, watch movies, and go out for drinks. Or, at least, that’s what Steve is telling Tony, because Tony hasn’t actually seen James in more than passing since their disastrous first meeting almost two weeks ago.

Tony tries not to take it personally, he really does, but it’s kind of hard when the avoidance feels this, well, personal. He’s doing his best to give James room to breathe, to settle in and catch up with Steve, but patience has never been one of Tony’s virtues.

Besides, the more time passes, the more Tony’s convinced James is overreacting. Sure, not everyone’s a fan of Tony and his often ill-timed attempts at humour, but flat out ignoring him because of one stupid joke? It seems a little extreme. And it can’t be the bi thing either, because James, apparently, has no problems talking about it with Steve, is downright curious about it, if Steve’s to be believed.

Bi-curious. Heh.

Rolling his eyes at himself, Tony rounds the corner from his workshop into the staircase, and literally crashes into his elusive new houseguest. For a second, he thinks James is about to bolt, but then James visibly forces himself to still, meeting Tony’s eyes with a hesitant little smile.

“He lives!” Tony crows, mentally whacking himself over the back of the head because really, brain? Way to break the ice.

James, however, doesn’t appear to be bothered by Tony’s momentary lack of eloquence, if his snort and the amused, “Get fucked, Stark,” are anything to go by.

“Maybe later,” Tony says before he can stop himself, utterly betrayed by his brain-to-mouth filter once again. “If I’m lucky.” He grimaces. “Yeah, sorry. Pretend I didn’t say any of that. I swear I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable on purpose-”

“You’re not makin’ me uncomfortable,” James interrupts, strangely adamant about it, his gaze intent. He bites his bottom lip, ruffles a hand through his hair. “There was somethin’ I didn’t know about Stevie, and I reacted badly when I found out. And then I was an asshole about it. For what it’s worth, ‘m sorry.”

Tony gets the feeling there’s more to it than that, but he isn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. This, he can work with. “It’s forgotten,” he says, dismissing the whole topic with a wave of his hand. “Start over?”

James’ smile widens, turns more genuine, less anxious. “Sounds good to me.”

“Where are you headed?” Tony asks as they resume walking, then frowns. “And why are you up anyway? It’s- JARVIS, what’s the time?”

“Shortly after four in the morning, Sir.”

Tony quirks an eyebrow at James. “Why are you up at shortly after four in the morning?”

James shrugs. “Nightmares,” he says, surprisingly honest and forthcoming about it. “Rather not see myself killin’ innocent people again tonight.”

And yes, now that Tony properly looks at James, he can see the dark circles under his puffy eyes, the twitchiness and the strain etched into his drawn face. On a whim, he holds up the Widow’s Bite he’s improving for Nat, offers, “Wanna go electrocute shit?”

“‘M not s’pposed to handle weapons,” James says, more for appearance’s sake than anything, it seems, clearly intrigued. “Was one of the conditions for me stayin’ here.”

Tony blinks, all faux-innocence. “Well, no one briefed me, so. What do you say?”

James grins. “Lead the way.”

It was meant as a distraction for James, but running around the training area, shooting the moving targets popping up randomly, not only turns out to be fun, it’s actually helps Tony solve the range problem he’s been stuck at for days now. James is an excellent marksman and decent strategist, his input and running commentary while he plays around with the Bite eventually making the pieces fall into place perfectly.

They order celebratory pizza, no vegetables and extra meat because Steve’s not there to lecture them about unhealthy eating habits, sprawling out on the living room couch with their food and a couple of beers.

“You okay over there?” Tony asks, poking James’ leg with his toes when James flexes his left arm with a pained grimace. “You hurt?”

James shakes his head, then reconsiders and nods, huffing. “Maybe? Dunno. It’s been actin’ up ever since Washington, feels like somethin’ got stuck.”

Tony hisses sympathetically. “Want me to have a look at it?”

“No.” James shakes his head again, but shoots Tony an apologetic half-smile. “It’s not you, a’right? Can barely touch it myself now without freakin’ out. Fuckin’ sucks.”

“I get it. Trust me, I do.” Tony’s hand automatically comes up to touch his sternum, feeling the raised, knobbly scars even through his shirt. “Everyone has their shit, don’t worry about it. Let me give you some tools, though, okay? Just in case.”

James closes his eyes, takes a deep, steadying breath before opening them again. He catches Tony’s ankle, squeezing lightly, the gesture full of silent thanks. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”

***

After that night, James starts coming out of his shell around Tony more and more. He makes sure to join Tony and Steve for meals and movie nights at least once a week, and spends hours at a time down in Tony’s workshop, entertaining the bots or tinkering with one of Tony’s cars.

Steve’s ecstatic about that development right up until he realises that Tony and James are a little too similar for comfort, but he takes their combined teasing and the doubled amount of filthily inappropriate humour in stride. Most of the time, anyway. And if he does get annoyed, Tony’s long ago found out that physical activity always goes a long way to calming Steve down, and Tony’s the last person to pass up some heated make-up sex.

All in all, things in the tower are looking up. Steve’s happy that his boyfriend and best friend are getting along, Tony’s happy that Steve’s happy, and James is just happy to have his sense of self back.

In short; everyone’s doing remarkably well and things have gone back to as normal as they ever get with them, which is why Tony’s confused, grumbling his irritation and displeasure when Steve carefully rolls Tony off his chest to sit up hours before usually gets up for his run.

“Wha’s goin’ on?” Tony mutters, squinting at Steve in the low light of the bedside lamp. “Wha’s happenin’?”

His question is answered in form of a muffled cry coming from the corner of the room, which instantly pulls Tony into alertness. “James?”

“Sorry, ‘m sorry,” James chokes out, hiccuping wetly and rubbing at his eyes, cradling his metal arm close to his chest. “I woke up an’ it hurt so bad. I didn’t know what to do, ‘m sorry. I- I don’t- I think it’s causin’ the dreams, I keep rememberin’ that day, Stevie, I nearly killed you, I- I can’t-”

He’s cut off by another sob, all but collapsing into Steve’s arms when Steve reaches for him, clinging to Steve and weeping. Somehow, Steve manages to manoeuvre them both onto the bed, James curled up into a tiny ball of misery in his lap while Steve strokes his hair and whispers reassurances, promises that he’s fine, that they’re all fine, that everything’s going to be all right.

Unsure what else to do, Tony leans against Steve and takes James’ flesh and blood hand in both of his, trying to offer some comfort. He doesn’t know how long they sit like that, huddled together and holding on to each other, but eventually James begins to calm down, sniffling and taking huge, gulping breaths.

“Feel free to say no,” Tony says quietly, rubbing James’ back, “but I think now would be a good time for me to find out what the fuck’s going on with your arm, buddy.”

James laughs, hoarse and little hysterical, but nods, his face still buried in Steve’s neck. “No anesthesia. Please? I don’t- I don’t want to wake up and have things be different, again, it’s not- I can’t-” His breath catches, and Steve’s quick to hush him, hug him a little tighter.

Tony starts rubbing James’ back again. “I’m not going to do anything you don’t want me to do, I promise. And I’m going to tell you everything I do while I’m doing it. Okay?”

It’s a little tricky to do this in their bedroom instead of the workshop with the proper tools and JARVIS to run diagnostics, but Tony’s worked under worse conditions before. James jerks and cringes a couple of times when Tony touches some of the more sensitive inner workings of his arm, but eventually Tony finds the broken gear that has been pressing down on one of the nerves in James’ upper arm, removing it and closing the prosthetic back up again.

The change is instantaneous. James’ whole body sags in relief with a shuddering half-moan, half-sigh, head lolling limply against Steve’s shoulder.

Steve chuckles, untensing as well. “Thank you,” he says in place of James, who seems to be drifting off fast now that his pain has been eased. “Tony, seriously. Thank you.” He leans in, capturing Tony’s lips in a brief kiss. “Thank you.” He pecks the corner of Tony’s mouth again, then his cheek as he draws back.

James whines in his sleep when Steve tries to stand. Steve stills, looking conflicted.

“Don’t wake him up,” Tony says, answering the unasked question. “Here, just. Lie back, come on.”

They end up with Steve on his back, and James and Tony tucked snugly up against his sides, Steve and Tony’s faces close together on the same pillow, the two of them exchanging languid, sleepy kisses until Steve drops off. Tony is almost asleep as well when a hand comes fumbling for his, James blinking back at him when Tony pushes himself up on one elbow.

James doesn’t say anything, just holds Tony’s hand, his face open and full of affection. Tony swallows hard, stomach flipping funnily, but before he can decide how to react or what this means, James’s eyes flutter shut, fingers twitching once around Tony’s before he’s asleep again.

***

Tony glances up from the tablet and the baby sloth videos he’s showing James when Clint whistles, finding both him and Natasha waggling their eyebrows and pointing at something above Tony’s head. “What?”

“Mistletoe,” Steve supplies helpfully as he breezes past them with a tray full of steaming mugs of hot chocolate. “Gotta kiss. Them’s the rules,” he says with a cheeky wink.

“You’re a menace during the holidays, you know that, right?” Tony informs him, nonetheless accepting his own mug. “The sweaters, the party, the cheer. Disgusting.”

In reply, Steve, being the mature leader of a highly trained team of specialised individuals that he is, pokes his tongue out at Tony before skipping away, whistling happily to himself.

“He’s always been like that,” James says, fondly amused. “Glad it’s you now who’s gotta suffer the worst of it.”

“Thank you for you compassion, I really, truly appreciate it,” Tony deadpans, giving James a friendly punch in the shoulder when the ass just laughs. “And we don’t have to. Kiss, I mean. It’s just a stupid tradition.”

James shrugs, shyly ducks his head. Then, using his unfairly quick super soldier reflexes, he brushes his lips over Tony’s cheek. And normally, that would be it, but something inside Tony shifts at the contact, causing him to suck in a breath and turn his head, firmly slotting their mouths together.

They stay frozen for a shocked few seconds, then part their lips in almost eerie unison. Tony’s eyes fall shut of their own volition at the first touch of their tongues, a deep, possessive moan rumbling in his chest. James whimpers in return, melting against Tony, pressing up against him, hands in Tony’s hair, tugging gently.

A moment later, Tony nearly falls flat on his ass with the force of James’ shove, only staying upright because Steve’s suddenly there to steady him.

Steve. His boyfriend. His soulmate. Steve. Steve!

“What-” Tony starts weakly, trembling all over, at the same time as James curses, a violent, “Fuck!” before he turns on his heels and flees.

Steve’s face, once Tony’s gathered the courage to look up at him, is unreadable. “Steve-”

“I’m going to check on him, make sure he doesn’t do anything dumb,” Steve interrupts, all business. “Then we’ll talk.”

Tony nods mutely, and drops his face into his hands.

“Tony?” Natasha asks, tone unusually soft. “What was that?”

“I-” Tony says, gesturing helplessly, exchanges a confused look with Clint. “I have absolutely no idea. Excuse me.”

He’s simultaneously numb and feeling like every last cell in his body is trying to rearrange itself as he leaves the living room, has to lean against the wall in the elevator because his knees have gone weak, threatening to give out at any moment.

Tony has absolutely no idea what’s happening, why what was supposed to be a friendly, joking peck turned into this, making his heart race and his palms clammy with sweat. His bond feels different as well, changed, and that, more than anything, finally makes Tony panic because he can’t lose Steve, not Steve, anything but Steve. He gracelessly lowers himself to the floor, legs folded up and head between his knees as he fruitlessly tries to breathe, to get enough oxygen into his damned lungs.

He vaguely registers the elevator doors opening, but it takes him a moment to place the sudden noise, to identify it as Steve and James’ raised voices. Then, strong arms wrap around him, pull him against something warm and solid, a hand splaying over his chest.

“Breathe with me, Tony, ‘kay? C’mon, slow an’ steady, you can do it. Easy.” Tony breathes in shakily, coughs. “Hey, no. Don’t go rushin’ yourself, take it easy.”

“Can’t,” Tony croaks, whimpers miserably. “Can’t.”

“Yes, you can.” Big hands cup Tony’s face, and Tony peels open his eyes, meeting Steve’s worried gaze. He smiles a little, small and strained, when he sees Tony looking at him. “Hey, there you are. You’re going to be fine, sweetheart, okay? We’ve got you, you’re going to be fine.”

Steve keeps talking, low and soothing, thumbs caressing Tony’s embarrassingly damp cheeks, while James holds him, breathes with him.

Tony must drift off, tired out by the emotional overload, because the next thing he hears is the end of a question, Steve hissing, “-were you thinking? Why didn’t you tell me?”

James snorts, more angry at himself than Steve, if Tony’s reading him right. “When? How? No, Stevie, seriously,” he nips whatever Steve was going to say in the bud, hands absently stroking up and down Tony’s sides. “‘S not like you told me about enjoyin’ dick either, is it?”

Steve lets out a heavy sigh, audibly deflating, reeling himself in.

“And how,” James continues, agitated and nervous and scared, “the fuck are you s’pposed to tell your best friend that you’re his boyfriend’s soulmate, that you’re head over heels in love with the guy, huh?”

“I don’t know,” Steve admits quietly, brushing some hair away from Tony’s forehead, thumb lingering. “I don’t know, Buck, I-”

“Tony?” James asks, undoubtedly feeling Tony’s heart pick up speed again. Tony reluctantly opens his eyes, tips his head back to peek up at him. James smiles, blinks against the tears that are clumping his lashes together. “Hi. How’re you feeling?”

“Like I really want to know what the hell the two of you are talking about,” Tony says, glancing over at Steve, who immediately shuffles closer to kiss the top of Tony’s head. “James can’t be my soulmate. I don’t have his words, I have Steve’s.”

Steve actually has the gall to look amused by that. “Think, genius.”

Tony scoffs, offended, and scowls, touching his fingers to where he knows his soulmark, the first words Steve ever spoke to him, is resting on his hip. Mister Stark. Two words, nothing fancy or extraordinary, simple and-

“Oh,” Tony says faintly, remembering. The landing pad, James teasing Steve, a handshake, Mister Stark. “Oh God, oh my God. Really?”

James shifts Tony a bit off to the side so he can shove down his pants, just enough to bare the top of his thigh, and there it is, solid proof in ten words; Manners and looks! A man could get used to that.

“Thanks for that, by the way,” James grumbles, Steve shaking his head and laughing. “Simple hello not good enough for you, is it?”

“What can I say, I’m an individualist,” Tony drawls, but quickly sobers again. Shit. He’s got two soulmates. Is that even possible? Well, it certainly seems so, but, “What are we going to do?” He looks at Steve imploringly. “I love you. I swear, Steve, I love you, I didn’t even know about this until a couple of minutes ago, fuck. I love you so much, I don’t-”

“Do you love Bucky?” Steve cuts in, not unkindly but not exactly happy either.

Which, as it turns out, isn’t as easy a question to answer as Tony thought it would be. Had Steve asked yesterday, or even just this morning, he would have laughed it off and told him not to be stupid, but now? Soulbonds are weird and sneaky like that, they don’t equal love at first sight, no matter what Hollywood wants everyone to believe. Tony and Steve are the perfect example for that, that bonds need time and closeness to form, to establish themselves.

And Tony can feel it now, next to his connection with Steve, a weaker but no less important string that tethers him to James, binds them together.

“No,” Tony says honestly, but leans into James a bit more to take the sting out of it. “Not yet. I could, I think. No, I know that I could. If I let myself.”

Steve surprises them both, going by how James jolts behind Tony, with, “You should. Allow yourself.”

James clears his throat. “Steve-”

“You’re soulmates, Bucky. There’s no denying that.” Steve swallows hard. “My feelings don’t really matter when it comes to your bond. They don’t change anything.”

“So, what?” James demands disbelievingly. “You’re telling me you would be okay with me and Tony, I don’t know, kissing again? Fucking? Making love?”

At that, Steve looks down and away, fists clenching.

“Do you love James?” Tony suddenly wants to know, an idea forming in the back of his mind. It might be selfish, or maybe not, depending on Steve’s answer, on how he and James react. “Steve, do you love James?”

“I- I-” Steve stammers, perplexed. “Of course I love Bucky. He’s my friend, my family.”

Tony quirks an eyebrow at James, and James nods, says, “Same.”

Looking at James, then at Steve, Tony asks, serious as he ever is, “Do you think that’s enough to start with? Including all three of us?” He points an accusing finger at Steve when Steve opens his mouth. “And don’t lie to spare my feelings, Steve, don’t make that face, I know you. Cut the crap, be honest.”

James speaks first. “He ain’t too hard to look at, I guess?” he says, going for joking but sounding uncertain, more than anything. His eyes are on Steve as he continues. “I’d be lyin’ if I said this was somethin’ I’d considered before, but I do love him, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. I always knew that much, even when I knew nothin’ else.”

“Bucky’s been the most important person in my life for years,” Steve says softly, takes James’ metal hand, stroking his thumb over the back of it. “That hasn’t changed, it never will. I just have more than one most important person now.”

Tony nods approvingly, hope blooming in his chest. “Kiss. See if it’s weird and we have to work out something else.”

After a beat of silence, both Steve and James burst out laughing, wrinkling their noses at each other. But when James tugs at Steve’s hand, Steve goes readily, bringing their mouths together with purpose, like he does all things he isn’t sure how to feel about.

James sucks in a breath, stays completely still for several seconds before moving his lips, slow and a little unsure. It’s Steve who deepens the kiss, never one to hesitate even in the face of the unknown, bringing his free hand up to cup James face. James makes an appreciative noise at that, eyes fluttering shut, Steve’s following suit.

It remains chaste, closed mouths and no tongue, but when they part, they’re both smiling, neither of them seeming grossed out or like they’re about to turn tail and bolt.

Tony clears his throat, tries to discreetly adjust himself. It doesn’t work, going by the identical, pleased grins spreading across James and Steve’s faces. “Yeah?” he squeaks.

James and Steve lock eyes, and Tony has to swallow at the wicked smirk they share as they say, sure and certain, “Yeah.”