Being in traction was no fun. The pain meds were great, but Bucky wasn’t the narcotics connoisseur of the family. And apart from being physically awkward, there was the added bonus of having everyone you knew come cry over you, or scold you for flying back into a collapsing building (or both). Right now it was the former.
“It shoulda been me, Buck.” Steve was in full weepy mode. “I saw you goin’ back in and I shoulda stopped you.”
“Bullshit,” Bucky told him. “You trusted me to do the job, and you let me do it. Easy as that.”
“Yeah, but then you got hurt.”
“Shit happens, pal.”
“Buck, stop sayin’ that!” Steve’s bony hands were balled into fists.
“Hey, I’ll say it as long as you keep blamin’ yourself. So quit it.”
“I wish Peg was here,” Steve whined. “She’d know how to put it.”
Bucky snorted. “You really gonna wish your wife on me? The dragon lady herself?”
“Yeah!” Steve grinned ominously.
“Some friend you are.” Of course he was joking, but Steve didn’t look so sure. “Hey, my arms still work. C’mere, punk.”
“Shut up, you hambone,” Steve said, leaping up to hug him.
“More like spambone right now,” Bucky smirked.
“Buck, stop sayin’ stuff like that.” Steve looked stricken. Okay, so maybe culinary jokes about your crushed femur were in poor taste.
He chuckled. “Hey, I’d rather laugh than cry about it. Safe to say this is it for me, and I’m not sure how the husband is going to feel about that.”
Steve puffed up, defensive. “He can eat it! If he thinks I’m gonna let you go back out--”
“Watch it there, pal,” Bucky warned. “Neither of you gets to decide what I do or don’t do.”
Steve sagged a little. “Okay. It’s just ‘cause we love you, though, Buck.”
“Alright, alright, don’t get carried away.” Bucky grinned mischievously. “What would your wife say?”
“Shut up,” Steve grumped. It would never be funny to him that his best friend had married someone else when he’d clearly had dibs.
“You kiss my husband with that mouth?” Tony had been practicing the subtle art of sneaking up quietly on conversations about him for years. He was pretty good at it now, when he could actually keep his own mouth shut long enough to do it.
“No,” Steve replied, sullen.
“Glad to hear it.”
Bucky eyed the huge bouquet of flowers in his husband’s arms. “Can you two please pass on squabbling during visiting hours, at least? This is unpleasant enough.”
“He started it!” Steve protested.
“Oh, very mature.” Tony rolled his eyes, unceremoniously dumping the flowers on an unused food tray.
Bucky sighed, squeezing his best friend’s hand. “Stevie, you know I love you to pieces.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he frowned. “I’m goin’. Leave you to your stupid husband.”
“Hey!” Bucky couldn’t help but laugh a little. The way these two got under each other’s skin, sometimes he wondered.
“Tell me what you think of the new comic, okay?”
“You got it.” The great thing about being friends with a professional graphic artist was, you never ran out of things to read. For free--not that Bucky Barnes-Stark needed anything for free these days.
Steve gathered his coffee and his shoulder bag, and stood, attempting to stare Tony down. It was an impressive stare for someone who was a full three inches shorter than his husband, who was no Shaquille O'Neal himself. But Tony was an expert at the ignoring you while you’re in the same room game. Steve snorted angrily and pushed past him to get out.
“How’re they treating you?” Tony asked.
“Well, I asked for a more handsome nurse for my sponge-baths, and the awful hospital food is almost edible.”
Tony perched at the edge of the bed. “A more handsome nurse, huh?”
Bucky grinned. “I mean, I’d ask my husband to do it, but I hear he was heading up the clean-up task force after our little accident in midtown.”
“Accident? Is that what you call it when a seven foot monster from outer space drops a building on your husband?”
“To be fair, I could have gotten clear. It wasn’t really me he was dropping the building on.”
“Yeah, about that. I’ve been meaning to have a talk with you. We’ve gone over this whole rescuing cats from trees thing you like to do.”
“Tony, it was a little girl, not a cat.”
“Okay, but Thor could have totally gotten her and been fine when the building fell on him .”
“The suit should have been able to handle the pressure. It was just bad luck, bad angle, bad i-beams.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Sure. Blame the building for falling on you when you shouldn’t even have been inside.”
“Little girl, sweetheart, and Thor was busy keeping the green guy from knocking down a second building in retaliation.”
Tony took his hand, some of his anxiety coming through for a moment. “I should’ve been right there next to you.”
Bucky shook his head. “Everyone had a job. You were doing yours, and it didn’t involve being my bodyguard.”
“Maybe it should have been.” Tony looked like he might be going for just as upset as Steve had been.
“Right. Because undermining my ability to act alone is key to a healthy marriage.”
“The Avengers aren’t about our marriage!”
Tony paused mid-rant. “Wait, back up, rewind. I feel like I missed a step.”
Bucky took a deep breath. This was going to hurt. “Okay. I have a couple things to say, and you’re probably not gonna like all of them.”
“Should I see if the bar across the street does Door Dash?”
“Because a cocktail in the hospital is a great idea.”
“I think outside the box, what can I say?”
“You just keep it up, you’re gonna be further and further outside.”
“Aww, c’mon. It made you smile.” Tony lay down next to Bucky on the bed.
“It really didn’t.” Bucky had been to enough AA and NA meetings with Tony over the years that jokes about substance abuse just weren’t funny anymore.
“What can I do to make you smile, then, sugar?” He seemed to have a few guesses of his own, starting with soft lips applied to the curve of Bucky’s shoulder. Few articles of clothing were easier access than a hospital gown.
Bucky frowned. “Get me out of here.”
“I know, baby, I know,” Tony cooed. “I hate it, too, but doctor says at least two more days.”
“I have to pee in a bag, Tony. Do you know how much I had to bribe the nurses NOT to put a catheter in me?”
Tony sat up suddenly. “Okay, that’s where I draw the line. Nobody puts anything up my husband’s dick but me.”
That did make Bucky laugh, although he wasn’t sure that had been Tony’s goal. He lay back down, pouting. “Hey, like I said. I got them to do the easy version instead.”
“I still hate it,” Tony grumped, sliding one arm around Bucky.
He sighed, closing his eyes. Part of the awfulness of being in the hospital was not getting to sleep next to his husband. It was lonely. “Stay here tonight?” He knew Tony wouldn’t, but he still had to ask.
“I have a meeting in D.C. first thing tomorrow...promise to wake me up early?”
“I promise.” Bucky craned to kiss his forehead. “Least I haven’t slept more than a couple hours at a time yet, so oversleeping is doubtful.”
“My poor Buckaroo,” Tony frowned, stroking his jawline.
Bucky sighed. “I’ll live.”
“Can’t wait till you’re back home.” Tony snuggled close, starting to kiss his neck again.
He smiled. “I’m still gonna be trussed up like this for a while. And I doubt sex position roulette is going to work with doctor’s orders.”
“What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” Tony slid a hand down Bucky’s hospital gown, looking for all of his favourite body parts.
Bucky started to squirm. “Tony, stop.”
He got a beard-tickle for his trouble. “Alright, but you’re the one who wanted a sleepover,” Tony told him with a threatening look of more to come. “Just you wait until the lights are out, Mr. Barnes-Stark.”
“I’ll hold you to that, Mr. Stark,” Bucky said, kissing his cheek.
Tony snuggled in a bit more platonically. “So. Go ahead and tell me what I won’t like. Let’s get it over with so we can move straight on to sex later.”
Bucky snorted a laugh. “Because sex with you is always straight.”
“Zing! Score one for the husband. But continue.”
Bucky took a deep breath. “Tony, can I ask you to sit at the bedside table? I want to be able to see your face while we talk.”
“Oh no.” Tony looked up. “You’re really serious.” Bucky nodded. “Well, let the record show, I’m only prying my hands off you under duress, and to make my beautiful husband happy.”
“Thank you, honey.” Bucky kissed him as he stood and went to sit at the table. He let Tony get settled, then waited another minute to get his thoughts in order. “I think we both know it’s time.”
“Time for what?” Tony happened to glance down at the top magazine on the stack fanned across the table. It was a catalog. His husband wasn’t much for shopping when he was bored, so what had he been up to?
“Time for me to say goodbye.”
Tony’s heart nearly stopped.
“To the Avengers.”
He gasped, feeling it start beating again, just barely. “Well, I mean, obviously. I’m not gonna let you fly around in the suit with a crushed leg.”
“I mean for good, Tony.”
“Oh.” He watched his husband digest this, saw the surprise, uncertainty, disappointment.
“We’ve played the superhero game for a couple of decades now, Tony, and I think it’s time to let the rest of the team take over. We’ve done our part.”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Now Tony looked really unhappy. “What’s with this ‘we’ stuff. You want me to retire, too? For good?”
“Honey, I’m not saying we can’t keep the suits around for an emergency, but we have freaking gods on our team now. We’re not as needed as we were in the early days.”
“Speak for yourself!” He straightened his shoulders, the haughty prince.
Bucky sighed. “Tony, there are things we can do that don’t put us in the direct line of fire. And being on the front lines...it doesn’t give us much time for us. To do something for ourselves.”
“Now, I’m gonna disagree with you there. Me, personally, all my altruism is self-serving. I mean, I’ve always done this for me, for the thrill, and because it feels good to do good. I mean, you’ve known that, right? Your husband is a selfish bastard.”
“My husband spends his life making and doing things that help other people live better and safer,” Bucky corrects him. “He does have an addiction problem, the thrill, yes, is a thing. I’ve known this. And I let it go. But now it’s my turn.”
“It’s my turn to be selfish, Tony, and I want my husband back. Not Rocket Man or Iron Man, but Anthony Edward Stark, the man I married for a different sort of adventure.”
“Okay?” Unhappy was the only way Bucky could describe Tony’s expression right now.
“Look, if I retire from the team and you don’t, what’s gonna happen?”
Tony thought about it, and Bucky watched the gears turning in his head. He loved to watch his husband think. “I’d...probably end up spending a lot more time with Steve and Thor than I would with you.”
Bucky shrugged as if to say, ‘Exactly.’
But Tony was shaking his head. “I don’t know, baby. I don’t know if I can do it. I mean, to give it up cold turkey.” He went on shaking his head. “It’s gonna be a lot harder than it was to give up the other stuff. And you remember what a hoot that was.”
“Hoot and a half,” Bucky said, earning a wry smile from his husband.
Tony combed fingers through his hair, making it stand up in little tufts. “You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?”
“As a heart attack.”
“I don’t know, cupcake.” He was shaking his head. “Can I think about it? Do I have to give you my answer right now?”
Bucky smiled. “Oh, you thought you had a choice?”
That was when he got it: the full force of his husband’s stubborn glare. “Sorry, but I’m not doing this on my own. I can’t. I’m gonna need your help, lover.”
That put Tony off for a second. “You need my help to retire?”
“No,” Bucky said, patient. He nodded toward the catalog in front of Tony. Watched his husband really look at it, register what it was for the first time. It was a baby catalog, folded open to the strollers section.
“What--you mean--” Tony looked at him, his eyes showing both fear and excitement. “Are you saying you’re finally ready? We’re doing this?”
Bucky smiled. “Tony, I’ve been ready for a few years now. But do you honestly think I was going to raise a baby in Avenger’s Tower?”
“Okay, I’ve got it. Here’s what we do--” Bucky could see Tony was halfway through planning it all out, how it was going to work having a small, vulnerable human being around daily world crises and ridiculously dangerous people.
“Here’s what’s gonna happen,” he interrupted his husband before he got on a roll. “You are gonna give me what I want. And then it’s up to you if you wanna be part of it.” Tony was about to speak, but he held up a hand for silence. “I know this is a hard decision to make, but I’ve gotta put my foot down--” He eyed his cast ruefully. “So to speak.” Bucky took a deep breath. “You can have a family with me, or you can stick with your super-family. Those are your two choices.”
Bucky shook his head. “Both just aren’t going to work, Tony. I’ve thought about it and thought about it, and it just can’t work.”
Tony swallowed. “So you’re saying….I can have you, or I can have this. This operation. This team we’ve put years of our life and money into.”
Bucky sighed. “I’m not saying we wouldn’t or couldn’t still consult, but we can’t be going out there on the front lines every day with small children at home.”
“Children?” Tony asked. “What happened to a baby?”
“Well, you generally do start with one, I mean…”
“So we’re talking about a surrogate.”
“Adoption, then. You’ve already looked through agencies, picked a country?”
Bucky shook his head. “I really wanna leave that to the foundations. It’s a good cause, Tony, but I want your babies. Not someone else’s.”
That seemed to throw Tony for a loop. “Well, not saying my swimmers aren’t up to the task, but if we’re not using a surrogate then...is there something you haven’t told me?”
“Oh, aren’t you hilarious?” Bucky rolled his eyes.
“I like to think so, generally, yes.”
“Don’t be upset, Tony.”
He was immediately suspicious. “Why?”
“I’ve been talking with Hope Pym--”
“No, I said this is Hope, not her dad.”
Tony snorted, crossed his arms over his chest, and started muttering about traitors in his midst.
Bucky pressed on. “And...they’ve been doing some really interesting things with gamete combination. She thinks pretty soon it won’t need to be sperm and egg anymore. And I wanna volunteer.” He could already see Tony starting to object. “Come on, Tony. How much sperm do we waste in a week?”
Tony looked defensive. “I’d hardly call it wasted.”
“Okay, but if you could trade a teaspoon or two for babies? For our babies? Wouldn’t that be worth it?”
Tony sat back in his chair. “Your children...ours. Do you really think she can do it?”
Bucky reached for his phone. “I’m gonna email over the research she let me read, and you tell me.”
“She knows I’m seeing this?”
“I may have forged your signature on a non-disclosure agreement.” Bucky hit send. “But you’re my spouse. I’m allowed to sign for you.”
Tony was not about to argue. He got to read a competitor’s work without doing any corporate espionage? Damn right he was on board.
Tony was only half-listening, already speed-reading the first study. “Yeah, uh-huh?”
“I mean it. Give me what I want.”
Tony flipped to the next page, not even looking up. “And what’s that?”
“Look up.” It took Tony a minute, but he did, finally glancing over at his husband. Bucky pointed at the catalog in front of him.
“You want...a baby stroller?” No. This page was full of pint-sized buses. Toddler buses meant to hold 6 or more. “You wanna start a daycare? Sugar, these are meant for herds of children, not singles.”
Bucky looked at him meaningly.
“You want to have a herd of children?” Tony said it in disbelief.
“That one’s just a six-seater,” Bucky told him.
“Six?” Tony looked stunned. “Six children, all in this age range…?” He was doing the math.
“Hope says that twins are a common product of the process.”
Tony glanced up at him, feeling personally attacked. “Six babies, angel. Six toddlers...six!”
Bucky shrugged. “I figured we’d start small.”
“Small?! Are you planning on starting the Stark army? Because I guarantee you, this is not what my father had in mind.”
Bucky laughed. “Good, because I was not planning on bringing him back from the dead to scar his grandchildren like he did my husband.”
At that, Tony looked really concerned, hurried back to the bed. “Is this really a good idea, though? I mean, it’s me. Do you really trust me with your children? Is it gonna be okay?” The fear of being a terrible father was very real for Tony.
Bucky touched his cheek and took his hand. “Yes, I know, of course I do, and yes. It’s gonna be okay, Sunshine. I promise.”
Tony lay down, sharing Bucky’s pillow, feeling like maybe he needed an overnight stay in the hospital for different reasons now. “I can’t believe it. We’re actually doing this?”
“Only if you agree,” Bucky told him gently. “I can’t do it alone, Tony. And if both of us aren’t on board, it wouldn’t be fair--”
“Sugar, what are you talking about?” Tony turned to face him. “Of course I’m on board! I wanna have your babies--our babies. You can’t just tell me about this and then take it back.”
Bucky smiled, remembering why he’d fallen in love with Tony. “You sure?” He reached out to touch his hair, gently teasing the strands.
“Yeah.” Tony wrapped both arms around him and buried his face in Bucky’s shoulder. “I don’t wanna stop. I can’t lie to you--I know, I’ve tried. But I want this. I want...us.”
Bucky rested his chin on top of Tony’s head. “You don’t know how bad I want this, Tony.”
Tony looked up at him. “What, you don’t think I’ve noticed the way you look at your nieces and nephew? You don’t think I can see when my husband is heartbroken over something he can’t have?”
Bucky shrugged, not wanting Tony to feel bad. “It just wasn’t the right time before.”
Tony reached up and stroked his cheek. “You think I’m gonna say no when I can finally give my angel something he’s been aching for?”
Bucky shut his eyes. Ache was a good description for what he’d been feeling.
“I hate when we run into something I can’t give you.” Tony kissed his eyelid. “You know that.” He kissed the other. “It’s very rare.” He kissed Bucky’s brow. “And I’m not used to it.” Kissed his cheek. “I usually build my way around it.” Kissed his other cheek. “But if Hope Pym’s done the work for us this time…” He kissed the tip of Bucky’s nose. “I guess I can’t really protest too much.” Finally, he kissed Bucky on the lips. “And babies…”
Bucky opened his eyes, seeing the wonder in Tony’s.
“ Our babies.” Bucky nodded. Tony hid his face against Bucky, holding him tight. “I want that.” Tony was getting choked up.
“Aw, honey.” Bucky stroked his hair.
Tony looked up at him. “Six, though?”
“Just to start,” Bucky reassured him.
Tony did not look reassured. “To start ?”
Bucky smiled. “I told you I couldn’t do this alone.”
“What are you, some kind of sperm vampire?”
“Well if that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black…”
Tony grinned wickedly. “Is it lights out yet?”
Bucky chuckled. “Do you see the lights out?”
“I could turn them off,” Tony offered. “I’m helpful like that.”
“I’ll just bet you are.”
“I could do it without even getting out of this bed. Wanna see?”
Bucky snorted. “No, I believe you. But the nurse will be in to check on me in another fifteen minutes.”
“The more attractive nurse you asked for?” Tony pouted.
“You realize that was a joke, right?”
“Well I didn’t think it was very funny.” So pouty.
“Why do I need a sponge bath when I can get a tongue bath from my very own husband?”
That perked Tony up a little. “Sure you don’t want a more attractive one?” he teased.
“Nope, I like this one,” Bucky kissed him. “No backsies.”
Tony chuckled. “No backsies. Not bad, Barnes.”
“That’s Barnes-Stark to you.”
“Hnnn. I like the sound of that.” There was some unsubtle grinding going on all of a sudden.
“Don’t look now, Peaches, but I think you’ve got a roll of quarters in your pocket.”
“Quarters?!” Tony said, indignant. “At least give me gold dollars.”
Bucky laughed. “How many are in a roll of gold dollars?”
“How should I know? That’s chump change.” Tony snuggled up close. “Got a special delivery for you, though, Bucky bear.”
“Tony. I am in. traction.”
“No one ever said love was easy.” As Bucky laughed, the lights went out.
“Honey, you have no idea.”
“I dunno, babe, it’s been twenty years.”
“That sounds like a challenge.”
“Why do I feel like the nurse is going to get an eyeful?”
“Because your powers of deductive reasoning were honed by the best?”
“The most humble, too.”
“I’m gonna stop talking now.”
“Well that’s a fir--Jesus!”
“He can’t come to the phone right now, but if you’d like to leave a message…”
“Okay, we’ve talked about making me laugh during oral sex, right?”
“Oh, right. I forgot.”
“Right. Because you forget.”
“Humor me. You want six. SIX children!”
“Just for starters.”
“For starters! So I figure we’d better practice.”
“ Fuck! Admit it. You’re just trying to get me thrown out of the hospital so I can come home early.”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full….god…”
“You are so lucky I can’t reach you right now.”
“That can be arranged.”
“So you want a spanking?”
Tony thought about this for a moment. “Maybe? But the paddle’s at home.”
Bucky laughed. “Guess I’d better think of something else to do with my hands, then.”
Tony whimpered, curling up against him eagerly. “You know what they say: practice makes perfect.”
They didn’t get thrown out of the hospital, but the nurse stopped checking on Bucky. And could suddenly afford that family cruise he’d been saving for.