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Sticks and Stones, Break my Bones

Chapter Text

The problem with having Gym in the morning is that Tony Stark’s next class, Science, is all the way across the building, which means that after dressing out of the gym clothes he has about 1 minute left to get to class. He’s late to his second favorite class nearly every day unless he feels up for sprinting across campus after all the physical exertion which comes with Gym class.

No, thank you.

Tony isn’t particularly athletically talented, mostly because he doesn’t try to be, and this is how he finds himself slumped against the lockers with a sprained ankle 3 minutes after class started, covered in mud.

Great, he thinks, nothing like breaking your fucking leg to make an already bad day worse, eh?

It’s not bad enough he has to sneak out of his house at fucking 6:30 in the morning just to avoid his dad’s ugly face, now he’s gone and done this stupid shit.

They’d been running around the field because Gym teachers were fucking unoriginal, and Tony had been so concerned with absolutely-fucking-nothing that he hadn’t noticed Justin Hammer, a pissy bastard he’d beat out in the science fair last year, had come up behind him until Hammer shoved him into a small ditch on the side of the field.

“Bon-voyage, bitch boy!” Hammer had screamed in laughter, his rabid squad howling like drunk dogs as they kicked dust into Tony’s face.

Usually, he’d have a snappy one-liner to say to assholes like that (something involving first class and the unreasonable amount of money Howard Stark owns), but when he hit the ground he’d felt a blinding pain shock from his right ankle and travel to the rest of his body.

He’d had to bite his lip to avoid screaming, and it takes several seconds to notice he was the tears streaming down his cheeks.

When he puts his injured foot against the ground, in a half-hearted attempt to stand, he almost throws up, the pain is so great.

It’s definitely sprained, if not broken. For about forty seconds, Tony stares at his ankle, thinking fuckfuckfuckfuck over and over, until his pride reaches a point low enough for him to start crawling along the field. The rest of the class is long ahead of him by now, moved on to the football field to play soccer, and nobody notices Tony, crawling broken and alone.

It hurts. A lot. Usually Tony downplays the pain he experiences because of reasons he doesn’t quite want to divulge into without his therapist and the non-disclosure agreement he made him/her (he wonders which one it might be today) sign, but.

It feels like a billion snakes having a field day/buffet on his nerves. He has to stop several times to bite down on his hand, the part that isn’t covered in mud turning from pale-olive to bright red.

At some point, probably when he’s about three-quarters of the way to the entrance to the door, the bell rings and he stops to remove his shoe.

Whether he screams or not is up for debate.

And honestly? He’s justified in shrieking. His foot is bright red and swollen up so much that when he’s removing his shoe he leaves an indent in his own foot. It’s bent at a frankly disgusting angle and he almost laughs at the fact that he’s going to have to tell people he broke his foot being shoved in a ditch.

Tony starts hearing a droning sound, then it shapes into words, then he realizes it’s him speaking, rasping, “fucking hell shit motherfucker,” over and over.

He enters the building through a propped open door just quick enough to see the flash of a person on Heelys skid away, and he swallows the disappointment that threatens to bubble out of his throat.

He worms over to just past the Theatre door before he gives up and shoves himself against the wall, breathing hard and fast, reciting elements under his breath as Tony tries to keep his mind off the overwhelming pain radiating from his ankle. Black is starting to creep into the sides of his vision.

Tony loses track of time for a while, and before he drifts off to the pain, the Theatre door opens next to him and a husky, familiar voice says, “Tony?” Tony’s vision fills with the unfortunately handsome face of Steve Rogers, his most notorious ex.

Just before his eyes roll back, he snarls, “Rogers.”

Then his head lolls into his chest, and he blacks the hell out.


 

When Steve Rogers walks out of the Theatre room, he’s having a pretty good day. His boyfriend, Bucky, had driven to school with him, which meant another successful morning of getting Bucky out of the house early to avoid That Bastard Pierce, Bucky’s adoptive father. The custom of Bucky jumping the fence, all long, thick legs, and long, wavy hair was a guaranteed way to pick up Steve’s day.

On top of that, on the way to school Steve’s phone dinged with a text from Natasha asking if they could pick her up.

She provided no explanations as to why she couldn’t drive her own car, and neither of the boys asked for one, because she was Nat.

So the last five minutes of the drive had been spent on expired pop music and “Did you do the ___ homework?” that of course, Natasha had done (somehow), and equally as unsurprising, Bucky hadn’t done half of.

Add to this already stellar morning the fact that Steve was walking out of a meeting with the Drama teacher in which she finally agree to Steve’s idea for a set backdrop (1940’s typical American house, it’s an ironic statement for a feminist play), and Steve felt like he was bouncing in zero-G.

Then, he sees Tony slumped against the wall, half-passed out and covered in sweat, tears, and mud, and Steve feels like somebody has splashed a bucket of ice water on him.

Tony looks… awful. Not that Tony Stark has ever looked un attractive (nope, not going there, thought train.) but it’s quite obvious that he’s had way too many days of sleeping late and waking early. Of course, being covered in blood and the whole… broken leg… thing… doesn’t help.

“Tony?” Steve blurts, and somehow Tony works up the alertness to slur, “Rogerssssssss,” at him like a drunk.

Then he passes the fuck out.

Chapter Text

Tony's limp body slides down the wall, and his foot hangs at an unnatural angle from his ankle. The scratches that cover his arms and legs have started welling up, and for some reason, Steve's stomach does a twenty-story belly flop, when Tony passes out.

“Tony!” Steve yelps after recovering from his second-or-two of gaping like a dumbass, and he jerks into action, firmly pressing down on the feelings that always struggle up whenever he passes Tony in the halls these days in favor of hoisting his ex into his arms, willing his mind into a blank, calm haze, and carries Tony Stark, arrogant, egotistical (beautiful) asshole to the nurses office.

 


 

When Tony swims back into consciousness, he tries to open his eyes, but they stay stubbornly shut. Stupid eyes.

Voices flutter about him in a calming pattern, and Tony drifts back to sleep.

When Tony wakes again, he’s in a clean, white room. The light blinds his eyes. His leg is held up by a pulley, wrapped up in a cast. A nurse smiles down at him while she’s checking his vitals on a pad.

The brand smiles down at him. It’s a Starkpad, of course. Most hospitals are equipped with them. He remembers designing the prototype for one of these, not that anybody is aware that he is the one that did that, not his father.

But of course, it's not his father. Howard was always more concerned with building weapons.

“Hey there, honey! How ‘ya feeling?”

It takes three tries to force the words out. “‘M good.” Tony’s voice comes out rusty with disuse.

The nurse grins down at him. “That’s great!” She glances at his broken limb in slightly amused befuddlement, “you really did a number to your leg, how’d that happen?”

Excellent question, Nurse Blonde-Highlights. See, Hammer’s a bitch, (a really, really heinous, sniveling bitch) however, as much as Tony would like to see Hammer in the slammer (Heh, that rhymes), he is suddenly very aware that if he makes a move, Hammer’s lackeys will show no mercy.

Next time it’s likely it won’t be a leg, and he’ll have no way to prove it was them. That’s the way the world -but especially Fucking Justin Hammer- worked.

And plus, it’s really embarrassing to say “I, Tony Stark, heir to literally billions of dollars and smartest person in the subcontinent of America, broke my leg because of Justin Hammer, loser extraordinaire.”

So he lifts his eyes to meet the nurse’s, and lies, “I. Tripped. Down the stairs.”

She raises an eyebrow, but seems to believe him, and moves onto the more standard ‘surprise, you’re in the hospital’ questions.

After a few minutes, a doctor comes in, asks Tony some more questions, (‘How are you, where are you on the pain scale, if I poke your leg does it hurt, oh, and would your father be against making a donation to the hospital?”) then she leaves, too.

The quiet almost sinks into Tony’s bones. Nobody comes to visit that day.

The next day, he spends about 2 hours sitting there, watching the TV in the corner half-heartedly, (Ashton Kutcher is apparently still a thing) and then Tony lifts his head to find Howard Stark sitting in a chair in the corner, eyes guarded. His stomach fills with acid and his mouth dries like he's been licking envelopes.

“Dad.”

Howard’s mouth flattens. “Second time this year I’ve had to come to get you in a hospital. Your mother is beside herself.”

“She really shows it by not showing up, huh?” It hurt more than what Tony would admit that Maria Stark didn’t show up. Then again, he’s used to disappointment.

“I told her to stay home.”

Of course, he did. “Of course you did.”

Howard ignores the jab, bustling to a standing position lording over Tony. “How many times, son, will I have to pick you up from a hospital?”

“Not even your fault this time, Dad,” Tony grins, all nasty sneer, ”You must be feeling so proud of yourself.”

When Howard’s lip curls in a displeased expression, Tony relishes in the sick glee it inspires.

“Get in the damn car. You’ve had enough bed rest.”

“Sure thing, mi padre .”

 


 

“Where were you, Steve? I didn’t see you in the halls?” Sam asks when Steve plops his lunch tray down on the table with a huff.

The cafeteria is divided very evenly, between Team Tony and Team Steve. Steve isn’t very happy that the entire eleventh grade is in his business, but he doesn’t really have a say in the matter anymore.

The whole dramatic (and very public) split between Steve and Tony had been about Steve’s best friend Bucky returning from Russia, and Steve had chosen Bucky over Tony, and while Steve doesn't think he necessarily made the wrong choice… he has to admit to the hole pulsing in his heart.

Steve sits down in a huff. “Sam, you’re not gonna believe this shit.”

“What did you do,” Bucky sighs from the other side of Steve, hair pulled back into a bun. Steve kisses his cheek before starting in on the story.

“...and then I open the door, and Tony Stark is there, and you should’ve seen him, he looked awful,” Steve explained, “I hope he’s ok. He passed out and I had to carry him to the clinic. Nurse said his leg is broken.”

Sam's eyes widen. "Shit, is he ok?"

"I don't know. They called an ambulance."

“Wait,” Bucky asks nervously, icy eyes flitting to meet Steve’s, “Tony Stark?”

Steve is very aware that Bucky won’t project a negative emotion unless he wants Steve to see it (Bucky has a very tight grip on his emotions), which means Bucky is aware that he’s being irrational but can’t help it. He leans over and puts a reassuring arm around the brunette’s shoulders, and continues: “Yeah, I know me and Tony had our… differences-”

From down the table, Clint snorts. “That’s one word for it.”

“ But,” Steve glares at him, “I still, y’know, have feelings and… stuff. I don’t wanna see him hurt.”

“That’s noble, man. That’s noble.” Sam claps him on the back.

“I wish I could find a way to call you stupid, but that was actually a good call you made. Good job, Stevie.” Bucky says. Natasha slides in next to him.

“Barnes complementing Rogers in a non-sappy way? Never thought I’d live to see the day.”

“Hey, Nat. Looking good on this awful Tuesday morning.”

Scott snorts from the table behind them. “ This Tuesday morning, he says.”

Nat ignores him. “Hey, Twinkle Toes,” Nat says to Bucky.

Bucky shot an annoyed glance at her. “We go to the same ballet school. ”

“I know. I just like reminding you.”

“Fuck off.”

Sam takes the opportunity to speak, “So you’re sitting with us today?”

Natasha fixes him with a harsh glare. Though, that might just be her resting face. It's pretty hard to tell, with Nat.

“Hey, no beef, just asking.”

Natasha does this Thing- along with T’Challa and the subsequent Wakandan exchange students that follow him- where they bounce from side to side in the whole stupid Stark-Rogers debatical. For Steve, this is a Very Good Thing, because he has a reliable source of news about Tony. Not that he's... checking in or something, like one of those exes, but. Just in case. This also means that if Steve ever wanted to, he could pass a message to Tony through somebody who is very unlikely to beat him up or get verbally eviscerated.

He hopes, at least.

 


 

“So,” Tony starts, “when you’re starting Algebra 2, you might want to start with a sine wave. A sine wave looks like… oh. You’ve already drawn one.”

Peter shrugs. “I read ahead.” In front of him, on the table, sits a notebook with a perfect sine wave drawn on it. Next to it is also a tan wave and a cosine wave. Also perfect.

For the first time in 2 days, Tony has finally been allowed out of the house. Well, allow is stretching it pretty thin, but Howard is gone on a business trip, and Maria Stark is at whatever suits her fancy this week. Tony overheard her say something about aerobics class. Sometimes he almost wishes she paid more attention. He’s heard the term ‘clueless socialite’ floating around since middle school. But- he’s out of the house, at least. Thank fuck the Uber driver let him put his crutches in the trunk.

“What am I tutoring you for, then? You’re really smart, Peter,” Tony says, attempting to lean over the desk, if his stupid fucking crutches wouldn’t stop getting in the way, “so how come your grades aren’t showing that?”

“Well.” Peter hedges, running a hand through his tawny curls. “I… dunno, I guess I get a lot of absences...?”

“How come?”

“It’s really not a big deal, it’s just that May works a lot, and sometimes she can’t take me to school in the mornings and so I miss it. I’m not allowed to ride the subway by myself.” Tony almost face-palms, but he almost falls when he tries.

“Kid. Very simple solution. I’ll drive you.”

Peter’s face does a funny thing where he looks like he’s trying to look grateful but failing miserably. “Thanks, Mr. Stark, but A) I can’t accept that and B) your leg is in a cast.”

Tony ticks off on his fingers while his crutches chafe his armpits horribly. “A) you will accept that because I said so, B) if I couldn’t find a way to get around while on this stupid thing, I do not deserve to make Honor Roll, C) It’s my legal obligation as your tutor to raise your grades. I am a pretty shit tutor if I let this continue, wouldn’t I?”

Peter slowly grins. “Ok, Mr. Stark.”

Tony physically cringes. “Kid. I’m younger than half the people you play Fortnite with. Call me Tony. Please.”

Peter rolls his eyes. “I’m fourteen, not nine. I don’t play Fortnite. Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Wow. Sass.”

They sit in relative silence (except for the goddamn noisy-ass broken AC that won't stop blowing fucking ice cold air directly into Tony's face, one the one day he forgets a sweatshirt. Because his luck is just like that.) before Peter fidgets and asks, "what do you want to do now?"

Tony smirks internally. Free time with Peter is always fun. On the outside, he puts on a vaguely disinterested expression. "Oh... I don't know... Tell me about your crush. What was it, Shuri...?"

"Shuri's my best friend. MJ is the one I have a crush on."

"You met Shuri like, three days ago, Parker. I was there. So was T'Challa. We can testify in a court of law."

"I know that," Peter huffs adorably, "but me and Shuri had a spiritual bond, Mr. Stark."

"Shuri and I, grammar, kid. What about Ted?"

"Ned. He's still my best friend, and he'll always be my number 1, but you can have more than one best friend," Peter explained as if it was common knowledge and Tony was an idiot for not knowing the rules of BFFs.

Tony wrinkled his nose. "Sorta defeats the purpose of the best in the best friend, if you ask me."

"I'm sorry you've been living a sad, close-minded life, Tony."

"Screw you, kid. You're no fun. No juicy gossip."

Peter's eyes twinkle. "That's my life. But you? With what happened with you and Steve Rogers?"

"I take it back. Drive yourself to school."

Chapter Text

“Hey, where have you- what the f - What the hell, Tony, what happened?!”

“Listen, don’t be mad, but I swear I didn’t do this on purpose, Sugarbear.”

Rhodey stares for a good time at Tony’s leg, currently in a cast, while the owner of said leg stands hunched over crutches. After a good few seconds, Rhodey asks carefully, if a little shell-shocked, “So. You… broke your…”

“Foot.”

People stare from the sides of the halls, because Tony Stark just showed up at school after 4 days of radio silence with a broken leg. Peter Quill unabashedly sniggers and snaps a picture.

Rhodey just stares at Tony with an expression of someone who has been tasked with stopping someone from taking a drunk selfie on a railroad in front of a moving train, i.e. very disappointed and vaguely existential. (Un)fortunately Tony is very familiar with the expression and its effects have lessened.

After a nearly imperceptible sigh through his nose, “Come on,” Rhodey says, “We’re going to show Pepper.”

“Wait, what? Why? I’m totally fine?” Tony asks, bewildered.

“Nope. Let’s move. I cannot handle this on my own without the validation of knowing that I’m not the crazy one here.”

“Boo, you rainy-day whore.”

---

Bucky jumps over the fence and climbs into his window 2 minutes before curfew. He collapses on his bed, exhausted.

Not that he cares about curfew, but after last night, he really doesn’t want a repeat of ‘missed curfew’ punishment. The bruises on his back twinge in reminder, and he shifts onto his stomach.

It’s not long until his adoptive father, Alexander Pierce barges into his room, smelling pristine as always. He’s heard stories of drunk parents doing horrible things to their children. But not Pierce. He’s always sober when he does horrible things to his adoptive child.

He kind of wishes that Pierce would be drunk, sometimes. To Bucky, that almost sounds better.

Almost.

“James, you’re cutting it very close today.”

Bucky glances coolly at his adoptive father. “I know.”

“Got something to say?”

Tense silence fills the room as Bucky swivels his head to glare properly.

“My name is not James.” Hasn’t been, not since Pierce took him from his parents’ cold, lifeless bodies.

James , I’ve spent my whole life trying to protect you. I get to call you whatever the hell I want,” Pierce says, kneeling in front of Bucky. “You will shape the new age,” Pierce murmurs. “You just have to work with me.”

“Whatever. I don’t give a shit about your stupid HYDRA bullshit gang.”

“That HYDRA bullshit gang gave you your arm back.” Pierce reminds him, baring his teeth.

Bucky freezes, as he always does whenever Pierce brings up his prosthetic arm. He can’t help but glance at it, how abnormal it looks, and curses the fact that Pierce is right, that he owes Pierce, not just for taking him in, but for giving him his arm.

Distantly, he wishes his room had a lock. Well, it does- just not on the inside.

The lock is on the outside. Which means that at any time Pierce wants, he can lock Bucky in his room. Like a fucking animal.

(Of course, the lock can’t keep Bucky in his room, he’s been jumping out the window for years. It’s the idea of it- that he’s totally subjected to the mercy of Alexander Pierce, full-time asshole- that makes Bucky freeze up and start sweating.)

He must’ve been quiet for too long, because Pierce smiles, pleased. “Yes, James. You give me what I want, and one day you’ll get your reward.” Pierce gets up and shambles toward the door. He stops, looks back at Bucky.

“Would you like some milk tonight?”

Bucky’s mind whites out. He’s vaguely aware of him snarling and leaping at Pierce, enraged. The door closes and the lock snap s into place before his hand closes around the air where is adoptive fathers neck just was. “ Fuck you! ” Bucky screams, desperately trying to claw through the door. (“Right hand, not left, never the left.”) A black oily thing climbs through his throat, closing off his air. He sinks to the floor, and tears fill his eyes as black spots swirl around his vision.

He remains perfectly silent.

---

Tony is lying in bed, willingly , (Steve can’t see any rope and/or other items to strap Tony to his bed, because that’s the usually only way Tony will lie down- which doesn’t mean there isn’t any.) typing furiously and fast on his laptop when Steve sneaks close enough to the Stark house to see into the window. He can clearly see Tony’s leg elevated on some pillows.

This is a bad idea, Steve thinks. And yet he still finds himself jumping over the familiar, yet distinctly foreign fence surrounding the Stark’s yard.

Once he’s directly underneath Tony’s window, he scoops up a handful of small rocks, and pick one out, a smooth beige pebble. He hurls the rock at Tony’s window, and it makes a sharp crack against the glass. Inside, Tony’s head snaps up.

Steve throws two more pebbles before he sees Tony speak something to the ceiling. The windows slide up silently, and Steve shimmies up the wall. He climbs into Tony’s bedroom, which looks exactly like he remembers. He feels a bit surreal, as if watching his body through someone else’s eyes.

Tony stares in unabashed surprise. “Steve? What are you doing here?”

Steve crashed into his body. He suddenly felt too large in the room, too big. What had he come here for? “Uh.”

Tony glances from Steve to his leg then back to Steve as if he’s contemplating running, never mind the whole broken leg thing.

“I- uh. I came to. Check up on you.” Steve stammers.

Tony blinks, looking oddly touched, as if he hadn’t expected Steve to have the decency (or the willingness) to visit his ex after. Everything. “I’m. Fine, Cap,” he says as he awkwardly rubs the back of his neck. “Uhm, Steve- They told me you were the one that… you were the one who brought me to the nurse.”

“Yeah, I- I did.”

Why? Why would you do that for me?” When Steve remains silent, Tony pushes harder, “Is this some misguided attempt to get back together or-”

Wait, what?

Steve almost laughs. Of course. “You think this is me trying to get back together with you?”

“You pulled a High School Musical on me, Steve. What was I supposed to think?!” Tony gestured with the air of a slightly insane person, a small smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. Then, as if remembering that they were supposed to be enemies, the brunette’s face shuttered, and he asked, “What are you doing here, Rogers? Like, for real. Don’t bullshit me.”

Great question. One that Steve needs self-examination time for. “I… really don’t know, Tony.”

Tony withdraws more. “You don’t know.” He says, flatly.

Steve’s temper flared. “I wanted to check up on you? What do you want me to say, Tony? I found you half-conscious with a fucking broken leg , and then you passed out right in front of me , so I think I’m a little justified in wanting to see how you are!”

Tony slowly shook his head. “Steve…”

The blonde heaves a sigh. “I guess I should go,” he says as he turns to the door.

Tony stiffens and says, “Not through the door. You can’t open my bedroom door.”

What? ” Steve asked, confused.

“Rhodey and Pepper got a surveillance camera up in the hallway. They’ll know if I leave, or if you leave, and they will interrogate you.”

That was not the line of reasoning Steve expected, to be honest. “Are you sure? That seems like overkill, even for Rhodey and Pepper.”

“I’m certain.” Tony scowls. “I heard them putting it up when they thought I was sleeping.”

“Wow. What’d you do to get that?”

“...I tried to get into my lab.”

Tony’s lab was one of the rooms on the lowest floor of the Stark manor, right next to Howard Stark’s lab- about 5 times bigger. Nobody was allowed in Howard Stark’s lab, even Steve- who’d somehow made it onto the very short list of people Howard Stark liked. Tony spent more time in that lab than in actual school, doing god knows what.

Well, Steve used to know. And now...

Steve aims a slightly sad smile at Tony. “You know, Tony, you haven’t changed a bit.”

“Get out.”

Steve climbs out of the window and drops to the ground, welcoming the shock that travels up his legs. Behind him, just before the window slides shut, he hears Tony scream, muffled. Turning around quickly, he sees Tony bury his head in a pillow. Steve doesn’t know whether to blame him.

---

Twenty minutes after his breakdown, Bucky is lying on his bed staring blankly at the ceiling. A light catches his attention in his window. It’s Natasha, of course, who lives in the house next to Bucky’s with Nick Fury.

Her lamp is on, and she’s standing in the window, looking at him in concern. Natasha is his best friend, has been since he moved back from Russia with a missing arm and severe attitude problems, so she knows the signs of a bad night.

They’re more similar than Bucky thought would be possible, thanks in no small part to Natasha. When she’d found out he’d lived in Russia for 5 years, she -being a Russian-born immigrant- decided to blackmail him into literally all the extracurriculars she was in -mainly ballet and MMA fighting.

Why hasn’t he quit? Don’t ask him.

Natasha's hair catches the light, blonde streaks buried in the characteristic red of her hair, which sounds like an unappealing combination, but manages to look as great as always on Natasha. If he didn’t think of Natasha as strictly family, and if she wasn’t already dating Hope van Dyne, he suspects he’d find her attractive.

As it is, his phone chimes with a text from her.

blkWidow: Are you ok?

ZimaSoldat: ...

blkWidow: stop moping, comrade. Call me so we can make Russian jokes without my phones keyboard having an aneurysm.

ZimaSoldat: …

ZimaSoldat: tthks

blkWidow: u’d do the same for me.

---

In the morning, Steve’s car (a 2005 red Honda Accord) pulls up exactly 20 feet from Bucky’s front door, across the street. Right on schedule, Bucky leaps over his fence, using his prosthetic to grip the bars and jogs over to Steve’s car.

“What up, jerk?” Steve grins when Bucky enters the car.

“Cat videos and these waffles are the only things I have going for me right now, so don’t fucking talk to me until I’m done, punk.” Bucky slides into the passenger seat, never taking his eyes off his phone screen as he stuffed a syrup-covered Eggo waffle into his mouth. Golden syrup dripped out of Bucky’s mouth. Steve should’ve found it gross but just dopey affection and endearment bubbled up in his chest.

“Rough day?” Steve asks as he shifts out of Park and drives out of Bucky’s street.

“You would not believe . I fuckin’ hate Pierce.”

“Well, you’re not alone.”

They drive in comfortable silence for about 2 minutes before Steve speaks up again, changing the subject with practiced ease. “You’re getting syrup on my dashboard, and that’s disgusting, frankly.”

“‘theve. I’m ‘tharving .” Bucky says, mouth clogged with his waffle. Steve’s eyes were drawn to the way his pink lips stretched around the pastry.

“Is it weird I find this slightly arousing?”

Bucky’s face distorted in delighted disgust. “That’s actually the perviest shit that has ever left your mouth.”

Steve aimed a sappy look at him. “You love me.”

“That just proves that I have bad taste.”

---

“I’m willing to do a lot of things, but admitting that I am cold after Shuri and Okoye told me to bring a jacket is not one of them,” T’Challa explained, shivering. The meager front grounds of Shield High are a popular place for whoever gets there first to talk if it’s not the home ground for drug deals and other shady things on whatever day. Standing in the court, there’s no protection from the suburban New York winds. In the cold month of January, it can suck pretty badly to be stuck out here with no jacket.

“Steve,” Bucky ginned, hitting Steve’s abdomen, “give ‘im your jacket!”

Steve aimed a mock-hurt glare at Bucky. “What so it’s ok if I freeze, but not T’Challa? You do know he already has a girlfriend, right?” Steve watched in amusement as Bucky played along, mouth turns down in a fake scowl.

“You know that’s not what I fuckin’ meant,” Bucky hisses. “I just wanna look at your chest in those ridiculously small shirts you always wear. Don’t twist my damn words.”

“Yes, objectifying my body is so much better.” Steve laments, nevertheless taking off his jacket and handing it to T’Challa. Bucky waves him off with a cheery smile as the long-haired brunette heads to class.

T’Challa thanks him, and when the Wakandan turns around he nearly topples over Stephen Strange, who glares up from the carpet he’s meditating on. Really, T’Challa should’ve expected to see him here; Strange has been claiming a spot in the courtyard since he came back from vacation having experienced a ‘spiritual awakening.’

Steve tries not to judge.

Behind Strange sits the entrance to the 3-story school, in front of which Wanda and Pietro, pretty much the only sophomore twins at Shield High, were crossing their arms and pouting at a piece of paper taped to the front door.

Well, Wanda was pouting. Pietro was trying to pull his sister inside before the bell rings. The female twin catches sight of Steve when she turns around, and she waves at him frantically.

“Hey, I think Wanda is trying to get your attention,” Mantis calls over to Steve from where she’s talking to Gamora.

“Thanks, I noticed,” Steve says, if a bit dryly, and jogs across the courtyard to where the twins are standing. “What’s up, Wanda?”

STEVE! Have you read this?!” Wanda cries, a bit too dramatic for 8:30 if you ask him.

“What is it?” Steve asks, leaning in to inspect the paper.

“Principal Thanos just made a new rule; they’re tightening the rules. At the rate they’re going, half the school will be suspended or expelled!”

 

Chapter Text

 

~Last Year~

 

The first job Steve ever took was a newspaper delivery boy, back when that was popular, at age 11, along with Bucky, who was still only his best friend at the time. Steve’s neighborhood had been hit with a bad recession, plunging the vicinity into a crushing debt. The Rogers were forced to put Steve to work as early as possible- which caused a good amount of fights between Sarah and Joseph Rogers.

 

After the recession, (and after Bucky) it turned out summers got really boring without something to fill his time, and as it so happened, a coffee shop 2 blocks away had an empty spot. So Steve applied and got the job.

 

One day, during the mild heat of New York summer, Steve was wiping down the tables, 10 minutes away from closing time, when a boy about his age stumbled in.

 

Steve glanced at his coworker, Peggy Carter, and back to the boy as he slumped over the counter. “Um. Can I… help you?”

 

The mysterious boy mumbled something into his folded arms. He looked disheveled. Even more so than some of the other customers that frequented the cafe. His dark brown hair curled in unruly patterns into his eyes and he wore a hoodie that seemed ten times bigger than his short figure, which, well, Steve could remember that feeling. Strangest was the high-tech watch Steve could see glowing through his sweater paws. He probably stole it. He did look a bit… shaggy. Wouldn’t be the first time Steve had accidentally helped steal something, being friends with Bucky Barnes back then.

 

“Pardon?” Peggy asked when the boy made no move to clarify whatever he just said.

 

The boy said deadened, “Can I please get a Cocoa Cappuccino with 12 shots of caffeine.”

 

“Are you ok?” Steve blurted, alarmed. “That’s too way much caffeine for one person.”

 

Just then, another boy, this one tall and black, rushed into the shop with a slightly manic energy. “Tony!” He cried, grabbing the wrist of he other boy. “C’mon, man, Howard’s gonna flip!” The tall boy glanced apologetically at Steve, “I’m so sorry, he hasn’t slept in three days.”

 

“Three days?” Peggy asked with a horrified tone in her lilting accent.

 

“It’s ok, he does this a lot,” the boy assured her, dragging Tony away from the counter, with the smaller boy stumbling cutely, figure dwarfed by the sweatshirt he wore.

 

Tony’s head drifted up slowly until his eyes (they were a really appealing brown, actually. Whoever said brown eyes weren’t attractive was a bald-faced liar.) landed on Steve, raking over his body in a half-attracted, half-exhausted manner. Steve felt his cheeks start to burn. Tony let a tired whistle fall out of his pink lips.

 

“You’re really hot. Like, really hot. Like, porn star-”

 

Okay, time to go, ” Tony’s friend pushed him out of the shop, pausing to holler, “THANKS!” over his shoulder as he practically carried Tony down the streets, until they were out of Steve’s sight, which is good for Steve because he's pretty sure his face is as hot as the coffee they're making.

 

Peggy let loose an elegant English giggle. “Well. That just made my day. My week, even.”


 

 

As it turned out, Steve happened to bump into Tony later that month, when school started up, which was good because he’d have been lying if he said he wouldn’t wanna see him again.

 

Unfortunately, bumped means bumped, in the quite literal term- as in crashing into the smaller boy on his way to art class.

 

“Whoa!” Steve fumbles for his books, and Tony spills his laptop out of his arms.

 

He looks… better, if the standard is the coffee-and-depression haze he’d stumbled into the coffeeshop with. The dark circles under the small boy’s eyes have, if not faded, then abated. The tradeoff is that his expression has settled into a bitchy, “I-hope-the-fuck-you-do” look, rather than a “I-want-to-die” one.

 

“Watch where you’re going, asshole,” Tony snaps, much more lucid than before.

 

Steve furrows his eyebrows and draws himself up to his full height, using every inch that puberty gifted him way too late. “Maybe don’t walk down the halls like you’re the protagonist of a horse girl movie?”

 

Do you know who I am? ” Tony asks superiorly, barely glancing at him in favor of snatching his laptop off the ground and inspecting it. It looks fine to Steve.

 

“No?”

 

Tony’s expression turns jeering. “You’ve got bigger problems than you know about. Maybe put that porn star body to good use and let the smart kids handle things, Captain Flawless.” Tony sidesteps and practically shoves Steve out of the way, literally tossing the laptop in the trash can.

 

Bastard.


 

Tony Stark is having a really fucking bad day.

 

You’d think that a fucking genius, dammit, and the son of Howard Stark would be able to take a little life-threatening from time to time.

 

But no, one really ( really ) vulgar letter detailing exactly what Obadiah Stane thought of how useless he was and what he thought of Tony's body, ( “Pretty lips, loose hole, just a whore with a little brain and a big mouth, that’s all you are.” )

 

Sucking in big breaths and trying desperately not to cry, Tony nearly trips over himself trying to reach his father's office.

 

“What is it, boy?” Howard Stark demands, lips curled in a displeased sneer.

 

Tony shoved the letter at him. “Read what your beloved advisor put in my pillowcase today.”

 

Howard’s eyes skimmed the page. His expression remained unconcerned. Finally he glanced up, and shrugged. “Well, you can’t exactly say he’s wrong.

 

Tony flinched back, refusing to let the betrayed get to him. A hot flash passes over his body. There would be time to cry later over how unfair it was, that he had all the money in the world, but his father would never believe in him, never love him, but he had a mission. “Fine,” he said shortly, “but can you fire him, or something? All those CEO options in front of you.”

 

“Tony, I’m not firing my best advisor. Now go… make something in your lab, I’m busy,” Howard said, already moving on to another holographic document.

 

Holding back tears, Tony snatched the letter from his father's desk, and ran down to his mother's parlor. “Mom,” Tony hands her the paper, voice distressed, “I found this in my pillow.”

 

Maria Stark reads the paper, and a angry blush takes over her face. “Did you tell your father.” She says, deadly calm.

 

“No. What’re you going to do?”

 

Maria faces ahead, enraged. “We’re telling the press.”


 

Three days later, headlines run with the news: Breaking:Tony Stark threatened by SI head advisor; Howard Stark refuses to press charges.

 

The kids at school stare at him, and whispers float down the hall when he walks by. Rhodey and Pepper are the only ones who sit by him at lunch that week. Nobody else seems to want to touch him with a 10-foot pole.

 

It always happens this way, whenever the Stark family has a new scandal, so it’s lonely, but familiar. Tony’s “friends” will be back by the next week.

 

But Steve fuckin’ Rogers comes up to him, when he’s walking to class with Pepper, with Natasha, Clint, Thor, and Bruce towing along, a seemingly random assortment of generally good people, looks in his eyes and apologizes sincerely, “I’m so sorry that happened to you, Tony. Are you ok?”

 

Tony’s mouth dries and his eyes water inexplicably. “Y-yeah. I’m good. I’m always good. I’m Tony Stark.”

 

Pepper glances at him with knowing eyes, but Steve smiles amiably and walks away, with the rest of his friends.

 

“You’re not ok, Tony,” she says a bit forcefully, once Rogers is out of sightline.

 

“I have to be, Pep.”

 

“No you don’t. You just think you do. And I swear to god, Tony, I wish I could kill your father for making you think that.”

 

Tony looks up at her, eyes betraying the sheer exhaustion that weighs him down.


 

“Fuck,” Steve swears, eyes trained on the sky, where the ticket he’d been holding onto disappeared into the breeze. Tony watched him from where he was concealed in the crowd waiting for the Metro Train to carry them into the Bronx, and pity battered at the walls of his heart. Tony frowned. It really wouldn’t do for him to start feeling things for people.

 

It hurt even more when people left.

 

Nevertheless, from Tony’s limited moral standpoint, it seemed pretty douche-y to just let Steve marinate in his defeat, which the blonde was getting dangerously close to doing, by the look of his face.

 

So Tony walked up to Steve and shoved his ticket at Steve’s chest, almost losing his concentration when he felt hard firmness underneath his palm. When Steve’s expression contorted into a confused hope, Tony said lamely, “Just take it. I’m Howard Stark’s son, there’s no way anyone’s gonna ask me for a ticket. Howard practically owns this place,” His voice came out in a low tone, lest anyone overhear the conversation.

 

Steve hesitated, clearly deciding between his morals and his desire to get wherever-the-fuck. Finally he closed his hand around the ticket.

 

Steve said tentatively, “Thank you, Tony.”

 

“Whatever. Thank me by getting laid, Jesus,” Tony grumbles, turning on his heel sharply to hide his blush.

 

He misses the way that Steve’s face curls into a happy smile.


 

Tony: this is nice and all,,, but what exactly are we calling this little groupchat of ours???

 

Natasha: go to sleep. or i will exact my revenge for keeping me awake.

 

Clint: revenge,,, vengence,,, avenge,,,, avengers,,,, lmfao

 

Bruce: Avengers? Where did that come from?

 

Clint: idk m borde

 

Thor: AND SO IT IS NAMED. THE MIGHTY AVENGERS

 

Steve: Why am I here, again? Why is this my life? I swear I was pretty normal.

 

Natasha: i know i said i was going to sleep but have you seen parks and rec. I swear andy is like a dead ringer for peter quill

 

Tony: RIGHT!!! I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY O N E ! ! !


 

“Spin the bottle?” Natasha suggests at a party one day as her and Clint watch Tony and Steve exchange little glances when the other wasn’t looking.

 

“I was thinking more Seven Minutes in Heaven,” Clint says with a grin some might describe as evil. “Less variables.”

 

Natasha gave him a friendly pat on the head.“See, I knew there was a brain somewhere in there.”


 

Later, after Thor boomed the game throughout the house, all the partygoers gathered round the living room, with Steve hanging in the back and Tony front and center, at home in his party scene.

 

Natasha explains the game for anybody who doesn’t know what it is, which is nobody, and they start off with shoving Sam and Mariah Hill in the  little closet. After 7 minutes they walk out smiling, and Sam’s cheek has lipstick smudges on it.

 

Then, Thor selects Tony and Steve.


 

“So…” Tony giggled cutely, and maybe a bit tipsy, drawing Steve’s attention to his blush, subsequently going down to the brunette’s mouth. “What are we gonna do for seven minutes?”

 

“Uh,” Steve smiles awkwardly, reaching up to scratch the back of his neck, “I’m… not really sure?” Steve doesn’t miss the way Tony’s eyes trail the action, when Steve’s shirt lifts just enough to uncover hard muscle. Deep brown pupils dragging along Steve’s exposed waistline.

 

The temperature seems to jump five degrees.

 

“Fuck it. Spirit of the game,” Tony mutters and crashes their mouths together in a fiery kiss.  It’s hot and hard and messy and exactly everything Steve imagined it would be. He grins against the inventors mouth, and feels him grin back.


 

When Pietro pulls open the closet door, Steve and Tony crash out of the door, one after the other, Tony landing on Steve. The weight isn’t a problem, really, Tony is about as heavy as a bunch of grapes, but it’s the surprise of the whole situation really that causes Steve to utter a loud, shocked grunt.

 

It’s impossible to miss how disheveled they are, and a few whoops travel through the room, and Nat and Clint exchange high-fives. Steve blushes and stands up, offering a hand to his (boy?)friend.

 

Tony accepts it, then tugs him away from the center of the crowd, muttering happily, “C’mon, Capsicle. Loki owes me a drink.”


 

“Is it bad that I have a science boner right now?” Tony asked Steve as they watched Bruce take apart the small frictionless (working!) airplane model the Tony had invented offering critiques in that quiet voice that characterized the small boy.

 

“As long as I’m the only one who gets to see it,” Steve replied, only faintly blushing.

 

“You’re such a romantic. My true soulmate, Crap tain America.”

 

“Stop calling me that.”


 

Sam says, “Look at their little faces, man! So eager for knowledge and shit!”

 

“They're so innocent!” Natasha coos, evil grin stuck firmly in place.

 

Tony looks up from his phone, laying against Steve’s chest. “The freshman are here, hm? I can't wait to destroy their hopes and will to live.”


 

“If I accidentally invented a murderbot A.I., what would you say?”

 

“Tony, what did you do?”

 

“Hey, Bruce was there too!”


Tony, I don’t think you quite understand what I’m saying right now.”

 

Steve, I don’t care! You can’t tell me what to do like you’re the god of everything!”

 

“I’m trying to keep you safe!”

 

I don’t need you to!”


 

“Peter is so smart, like, he’s like me, but like, totally different!” Tony babbles.

 

Rhodey looks over to where his best friend has collapsed on his bed, phone forgotten on his stomach. Tony’s expression morphed into pained loss, and he sighed, “Steve would’ve liked Peter.”

 

Rogers, you son of a bitch.


 

“Did… did you just throw a stick of butter at me?!”

 

“You said you wanted to see a butterfly, Mr. Stark!”

 

“Rule number 3, kid?”

 

“No sass back until I hit freshman year,” Peter parrots dutifully. “That’s just like, a year away, though.”

 

“Shut up and tell me the foci of a damn hyperbola. And don’t call me Mr. Stark. It gives me hives.”


 

Bucky comes back with a shiny left arm, shoulder length hair, the entire Russian language chilling on his tongue, and enough psychological problems for 70 decades.

 

By some miracle, he ended up in the same high school as Steve did, moving with his new guardian, Alexander Pierce. At first, he’d avoided Steve, sticking only to the barren edges of the social plane, interacting pretty much solely with Natasha, until she forcefully dragged him into Steve’s presence.

 

For a while he’d stuck to his insistence that he’d never be the same Bucky as before, not Steve’s Bucky, and Steve stubbornly firmly said he didn’t care, and anyway, he wasn’t Bucky’s Steve anymore (definitely not a skinny, weak asthmatic anymore, that’s for sure.) in an exhausting loop nobody had time for. After a small intervention, Bucky finally agreed to stop hiding from Steve.


 

“Tony, I love you too!”

 

The genius looks up into his eyes, tears swimming in his gaze. “Not like you love him .”

 

“He’s not my boyfriend.”

 

“Neither am I, now. I see how you look at him. Go get your boyfriend, Steve, you don’t need to worry about me anymore. I’ll see you around, Cap.”


 

Steve looks up from where he’s sketching Bucky, lounging on the couch. Steel blue eyes meet his gaze coolly, and the pose, (the one that Steve picked, but, semantics) head tilted back, showing off the delicate stretch of Bucky’s neck, his half-lidded eyes, the way his legs open suggestively, one arm strewn in front of his crotch, the way his pink mouth, slick with spit, is quirked in a alluring smirk.

 

The hot flush that crosses Steve’s body sets every hair on edge.

 

Before he knows it, Steve crosses the floor in three strides and tilts Bucky’s chin up, kissing him sweetly.


 

Scars crop up, sometimes. Scars on Bucky’s back and thighs. Scars on Tony’s wrists, on his face. Sometimes Steve stumbles home with a ring of bruise circling his eyes, and Bucky will bandage him up. (“I’m not drunk,” Steve mutters. “Just angry.”) Sometimes Steve opens the front door at 12:37 in the morning and Bucky will collapse into his arms, crying silently and bleeding from his back and thighs, threadbare shirt dripping with milk and Steve will beg Bucky to let him call the police. (Bucky always says, “No.” There’s no point. Pierce is a World Security Council member, he’ll never go to jail. This is the way the world goes.)

 

And sometimes, on some nights, Howard Stark gets drunk and sad and angry, and calls Tony down to his office, and closes the door. When it opens again, the man walks out, leaving Tony to trudge up the stairs pitifully, dripping blood and tears down on the expensive flooring, mind whirring between convincing Tony he’ll never be good enough and trying to find a way to please his father.

 

When Tony collapses on his bed and bleeds brokenly, nobody bandages him. But he's not bitter.

 

He knew this would happen anyway.

Chapter Text

“I’m bored.”

 

“Recite the periodic table.”

 

It was only two minutes before Tony spoke up again. “I’m so lonely.”

 

“You have me, Tony.” Bruce reminded him, for like, the fifth time.

 

“M’kay, but I want real human interaction, you get it?”

 

Bruce glanced at Tony from where he was wrist-deep in a bowl full of… whatever. It didn’t matter. Tony was a mechanic, not a biologist. “Why don’t you invite Peter over?”

 

Because , I was with Peter yesterday ,” Tony pouted. He always got like that when he had a bit too much coffee and not enough sleep. Unfortunately, that made him much easier to manipulate. He had to think over inviting Peter way more than he usually did, but part of that was just his exponentially growing fondness for the kid.

 

Bruce eyed him critically. “Why don’t you get some sleep?”

 

“I don’t need sleep,” Tony said irritability, “I need socialization. I can feel myself becoming a hermit.”

 

“What are you gonna do,” sassed Pepper as she breezed into the room, presumably to pull Tony into bed, “throw a party?”

 

Tony paused, thinking. Then he shrugged and smiled. “Why not?”

 

“Wait, what?” Bruce asked, carefully setting down his test tube to stare at the other genius.

 

“Thought you could keep up, Four Eyes,” Tony flicked a hand at him dismissively, eyes trained Pepper, slow grin crawling across his face.

 

Pepper’s cheekbones worked, annoyed. “Tony, no.”

 

“Oh, yeah.”

 

“Tony, just wait for one second-”

 

Tony double-taps an icon on his watch and holograms appear all around his person, floating past his head in varying levels of urgency. He hums to himself, tuning out what was probably a very reasonable lecture from Pepper, turning around, managing to pull off brisk even though he’s maneuvering around two uncooperative crutches. “JARVIS, initiate ‘Party Rockers Program,’ grazie .”

 

“Tony! Your leg is in a cast!”

 

He stuck his tongue out, and yeah, it was childish, but he was feeling in-denial today. “Doesn’t matter. I’ve already sent out the invites.”

 

Pepper gripped her hair, a little maddened. “ Goddammit , Tony, no one has time to watch you get blackout drunk and have sex with three different people!”

 

Tony stopped and swiveled around. “Are you calling me a whore?” he asked, disbelievingly.

 

Bruce pursed his lips almost audibly. “You call yourself a ‘bubble-butt, party slut’ every time we’re in science,” he points out. “And your morning alarm is set as “Rise And Shine, Thots!’ And your favorite t-shirt says, ‘It’s over for you hoes.’”

 

“And a whore gets paid,” Pepper said, as if she’s had this argument many times before and it gets less funny every time, which is. Accurate. Maybe Tony needs some more material in his comedy arsenal.

 

Or not. He’s a fucking genius.

 

“Ok, ok, all fair and valid points,” Tony lifted a finger as if he’s considering their logic, (he’s not) “but, consider this; I do what I want,” he snarks.

 

“I’m calling Rhodey,” Pepper threatens as she glides gracefully (it’s how she does everything, really) out of the room.

 

“You can’t stop me!” Tony cries cheerfully after her. His watch stopped projecting the holograms, and he stuffed his hands in his pocket.

 

Bruce sighs. “You’re gonna kill someone, Tony.”

 

“Perhaps,” Tony grins, “but first I’ve gotta borrow a book.”

 


 

“Fuck!” Bucky snarls, yanking on a big sweatshirt that dwarfs his (sizable) torso over the shorts that he slept in. And they’re not respectable shorts. Definitely not the type of shorts one wears when trying to project: Don’t mess with me or I’ll shove your ass up your throat. Probably more: I’ll call you Daddy if you want. Frankly, it’s a ridiculous getup.

 

He runs out of the door and flips Pierce off when he waves at him from the front door, watching cheerily, no evidence of the malicious glint from last night. Fucker.

 

Bucky’s hair is still in a messy bun, and he’s wearing the most ridiculous thigh-high socks ever , no shoes (in his defense, the socks were the closest things he could find).

 

“Shit,” Bucky curses as he slides into the street, narrowly avoiding a collision with a taxi. God, he really is his own worst enemy. He fell asleep after school, probably the best nap he’s had all year, because he’s been riding on little snatches of one or two hours of sleep every night, praying that he won’t pass out.

 

He’d arrived home, dead tired, and just passed out on the couch, only pausing long enough to take off his skinny jeans and put on the aforementioned booty shorts before he’d collapsed.

 

And he’s almost late for ballet practice. He can only hope Natasha hasn’t left yet, or he’s toast.

 

As if summoned, Nat’s blood-red car pulls up next to him. The window opens, revealing his best friend’s face. “The fuck are you wearing, James?”

 

“I fell asleep, ok,” he growls, jogging over to the passengers' side of the car, yanking the door open (right hand, not the left, never the left), and sliding into the seat. “I haven’t slept a full night since winter break.”

 

“You dumb bitch.”

 

“Отправляйся, you little vixen.”

 

The drive there is filled with comfortable, harmless insults in a Russian-English hybrid language as they masterfully weave through New York traffic. It’s a little weird that Nat has a car, most people; especially kids, that Bucky knows don’t have one; it’s impractical in the crowded New York streets, but some guy owed Natasha for some thing and now they’re here. And, after all, most things about Natasha don’t exactly add up. Bucky just thanked the lucky stars he’d kept his dance clothes in his locker at the studio, not at his house.

 

Their ballet studio is on top of a CVS and a Dollar Tree, not the most prestigious, but it’s a good school, so.

 

The unfortunate thing is; their ballet studio is right next to an Under Armour shop, which makes it a hotspot for dudebros to hang out, smoke weed, and hit on people.

 

When the pair slides out of the car, the dirty street corner erupts in low whistles that set Bucky on edge. They’re for Natasha, but his hair stands up anyway.

 

Usually, they’re not too bad, but today they seem particularly insistent, drunkenly catcalling Natasha disgusting names and pervy lines about her body.

 

Bucky feels, rather than sees, Natasha tensing up, sliding almost imperceptibly into a ready stance. Taking MMA fighting since age 4 has been really helpful for her sometimes.

 

Heyyyyy , pretty, why don’t you come over here,” One slurs.

 

Bucky snaps. “Why don’t you fuck off?”

 

The dudebro’s eyes traveled grossly down Bucky’s body. His mind began to send danger, danger, down his spine. He curses himself for wearing booty shorts and his signature bun today. Bucky currently looks like every stereotypical white straight girl ever. You’d think he’d learn.

 

“Wow, you’re pretty. You sure you’re a boy?” The dudebro sneered.

 

“Bro, that’s gay ,” his friend laughed. Bucky bristled, annoyed. He’s never tolerated homophobia.

 

“A hole’s a hole, man.” He said, stepping in front of Bucky, blocking his escape. The alarms in his head grew from a subtle mutter until they full-on screamed . He took a step back and found that he and Natasha had been surrounded by the crowd of boys. Dudebro Number 1 caught Bucky's (left) arm and crushed him into his personal space. His friends laughed like hyenas, and Bucky couldn’t breathe anymore.

 

Too close, too close, too close.

 

Bucky lashed out instinctively, shoving the dude roughly backward, blowing past the circle of guys. Natasha instantly fell in behind him, never quite turning her back to the disgusting crowd.

 

He doesn’t stop until he gets into the studio, gives a frosty, fake wave to Mrs. Porter at the barre , and runs straight into the men’s dressing room, and keels over a bench. It’s only there that Bucky lets the oncoming panic attack clutch him fully. Inky, oily black claws across his vision. He feels his breathing speed up, distantly, and hears Nat come through the door, totally disregarding the sign that says, “MENS DRESSING.”

 

“James,” Natasha murmurs, patting his face worriedly as she kneels before him.

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“No, you’re not, Яша.”

 

No, he’s not. “Don’t tell Steve,” Bucky gasps.

 

Thankfully, Nat looks as if she understands why, though it’s tinged with sour, subtle objection. If Steve found out about this…oh, God. Bucky shivers. He doesn’t even want to think of what Steve would do if he found out about today. Probably something rash, like scour all of Brooklyn, and Bucky doesn’t need the added stress of stopping Steve from his justice run. The longer Steve doesn’t know about stuff, the better.

 

Which. Doesn’t mean Bucky’s stomach doesn’t drop disappointedly when he thinks about keeping stuff from his boyfriend. He’s Steve Rogers , for chrissakes, he doesn’t deserve to be lied to.

 

God, he loves his boyfriend, but Steve can be a dumbass sometimes.

 

Sharp knocks assault the door, and Natasha rises onto her feet, prepared to flee at a moment’s notice. She never breaks eye contact. “Bucky? You’ve got two minutes before учитель comes,” a novice’s voice sounded.

 

Bucky panted shortly, “Thanks, Andrew,” and grabbed his duffel bag full of ballet equipment. Nat watched him cautiously for a minute, then slid out of the room silently, leaving him alone with his thoughts.

 

He changes as fast as he can.

 


 

 

Tony finds Thor’s little sibling sitting on top of some college dude’s lap; which, ok, Thor would probably have something to say about Loki hanging around these douches. The gloves Loki wears are blue today, which is his symbol for, “I’m a boy today, talk shit and I’ll split your insides.” The way Loki symbols when they’re gender changes is by the color of his gloves. Tony feels like it’s a bit showy, but then again, he’s showed up to interviews (he is Howard Stark’s son, after all) in bi flag colored suits before, so he can’t exactly judge.

 

To be fair, he can see the attraction to the dude, even though College Guy Creeping Around a High School doesn’t sound like Loki’s typical type, College Guy kinda looks like Jeff Goldblum.

 

“Loki,” Tony calls mildly, but Loki still glares at him like he’s smashed him through a 93-story building. Bastard. The college kid distractedly plays with Loki’s long hair

 

“What is it, Stark?” He glares, all open hostility.

 

Tony rolls his eyes. “Alright, drop the attitude. I wanna offer you a deal.”

 

Loki’s face perks up at the mention of ‘deal’, and he bends to press a kiss to his boy(friend??)’s cheek and hops off his lap.

 

“This better be good,” Loki warned.

 

“Relax, Trixie, you don’t wanna threaten an injured person,” Tony reminds him smugly, shuffling his cast. Loki stared at him unimpressed, and Tony dropped the act. “I need you to sneak me into the Downtown Brooklyn library. Tonight.”

 

Loki sniffed at him. “You’re insane, Stark.”

 

“Maybe. But you know you’ll do it.”

 

“Deal.”

 

 


 

The first part of getting into the library is easy. Really, if he tried, he probably could’ve gotten into the library without breaking and entering, but it’s an ‘adult’s library’ and for people 21 and older only. Therefore; the library has an unexplainable booze bar, and he’s heard and tasted amazing things. (The liquor Howard owned in his locked cabinet was better, but the first and last time he’s stolen booze from his father ended in fists and black eyes that were pretty hard to lie about to Rhodey, Pepper, and Steve.

 

Jesus. Steve. His ex.)

 

The second part turns out... not so good.

 

“I’m telling Thor!” Tony screams through the closed door of the elevator when Loki somehow locks him in.

 

“Go ahead, slut!” Loki cackles back. Tony should’ve known Loki would double-cross him. It was their nature, like they couldn’t help it. Somehow, he felt sorry for Thor’s brother, even as he pounded on the doors of the elevator.

 

Why does everyone keep calling me a slut!” Tony makes to kick the door of the elevator but remembers his cast and the pain he’d be in if he actually kicked something right now.

 

A quick examination of the door shows it’ll take too much time to override it, and he doesn’t really have many tools to do so. Tony’s sorta on a time limit.

 

“Jesus. You’d think a genius wouldn’t trust the least trustworthy person in school,” Tony muttered to himself as he dug out his phone and called the second contact on his favorites list.

 


 

Rhodey, frankly, doesn’t have time for much relaxation time. It’s really a product of eleventh-grade homework and choosing to associate with Tony Stark, and Tony obviously needs him.

 

And if he really enjoys Tony’s presence too, well that’s ok.

 

Subsequently though; he doesn’t have much relaxation time. Which is why when his phone rings at  8 p.m., he doesn’t answer the first time. Or the second. Then it rings again , and at this point, it’s either urgent or a very determined telemarketer.

 

“It’s Rhodey,” He says, not bothering to check the caller ID.

 

“Hey, Honeybear, if I asked you to come pick me up, would you be mad at me?”

 

Speak of the Devil. Tony. Rhodey could already feel a headache battling with the bubbling fondness. The headache won out. “I’d be pretty pissed, Tony. Where are you?”

 

“Funny story actually-”

 

“Y’know what, tell me when I get there. Specifics first; where are you?”

 

“Trapped in the elevator of the library in Downtown Brooklyn that adults always go to.”

 

“...What the fuck, Tony.”

 


 

Steve Rogers was an artist, that’s true. He was also the head Quarterback of the football team. If this was 2006 and High School Musical , that would be weird, but it’s not.

 

The problem with being an artist is that there are what Steve calls ‘good art days’ and ‘bad art days.’ The thing is that this particular day is indisputably a bad art day . The canvas in front of him looks like a kindergartener playing with watercolors. The longer he looks at it, the more he hates it.

 

It’s so bad it makes him almost angry . Art has always been the way he expressed feelings and emotions, and yet today it’s just not working . He grabs a thick brush, coated with glistening red, and violently slashes a large red line across his canvas.

 

Sam glanced up from where he’s sitting on Steve’s bed, pretending to be studying a geography textbook while he texts someone. “Jeez, white kid, why don’t you be a little more messy, huh. Just get paint everywhere.”

 

“Sam…” Steve almost pouts.

 

Sam flicks a pair of finger guns at him. “Nah, man, it’s cool. Just keep doin’ your art shit. I support you.”

 

“Just- Nevermind. Who’re you texting?”

 

“Nice subject change. Natasha, she told me Tony’s throwing party this weekend? Imma go, wanna come?” Sam mentions casually, but Steve can see Sam’s brown eyes cataloging his reaction carefully.

 

And honestly, that’s a good idea, because the idea of Tony throwing a party right now, when he’s in a cast for god's sake- fills Steve with panic he doesn’t particularly want to look into right now.

 

“You mean, Tony Stark?” Steve swallows, “but he’s in a cast. He broke his leg.”

 

“Well, apparently, when you gotta party, you gotta party,” Sam says, if a bit grim. “Wanna come?”

 

Steve almost gives himself whiplash nodding. At least, if he’s there, someone who cares about Tony will be there too, because Lord knows Pepper and Rhodey will have a very hard time making sure Tony both stays alive and still has a house in the morning. He can help with the first one, even if he might have to watch Tony get his throat assaulted by someone other than Steve.

 

But. Bucky.

 

“Actually, I don’t know, Sam,” Steve says once he’s thought it over. “What about Bucky?”

 

“Bring him too. Not like you’re making out with anybody but him, with how married you guys are,” Sam joked.

 

Steve flushed red and happy. It’s cheesy, but Bucky fills a hole in his heart that he hasn’t let himself feel since Bucky left for Russia way back when. He could never love anyone like he loves Bucky. It’s just impossible. He loves waking up next to his boyfriend, a taste in his mouth that’s disgusting and fingers tangled in long brown hair. He craves it, almost.

 

He’s not gonna cheat on Bucky for Tony, even though they both mean a lot to him. He couldn’t stand it if he made Bucky sadder than he already was, living in that house with that demon of an adoptive father, if Pierce could be called that.

 

Satisfied with his soul-searching (no more for at least the next year), Steve nods once, firmly. “I’m going,” Steve decided.

 


 

“The fact that we’re in this situation is embarrassing. You should be embarrassed.” Rhodey admonishes when he’s finished prying Tony out of a fucking library elevator and then stealing ten pounds of beer and alcohol. Then, Tony remotely hacks the mainframe easily and deletes the footage of them being there. Rhodey makes a mental note to check up on how many ‘break-into-places-for-shits-and-giggles skills Tony has later.”

 

“I would be,” Tony quips sheepishly, “if I hadn’t been in much worse situations.”

 

Rhodey heaves a huge sigh. “I guess so, but don’t get used to me saving you. At some point you’re gonna have to wise up.”

 

Tony rolls his eyes, because Rhodey’s made this speech several times, and even he, hearing himself, knows that he would never abandon Tony if he could help it.

 

They’re ride or die, like it or not.

 

“Why do you need so much alcohol for this- unapproved by the way, don’t think I forgot- party?” Rhodey asks him later when they’ve snuck into Tony’s house

 

"Well," Tony says imperiously, "Stark parties are either blackout drunk ones or pleasantly tipsy ones, and I really shooting for the former."

 

Rhodey feels his eyes twitch. "Tony, this party of yours- are you sure it's a good idea? You know Pepper and I are gonna try our hardest to stop you, right?"

 

Tony nods seriously. "I get it. But," He smiles softly, "I need to do something. I’m so sick of being pent up inside. It’ll be fine."

 

Maybe Tony thinks if he says it enough, Rhodey will stop worrying.

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

Sometimes Bucky wondered if he was cursed, a long time ago as a baby. Maybe he was just such a fucking nightmare to watch over that his guardian angel just fucked off somewhere, because no normal luck is this fucking bad.

 

Seriously.

 

He sat, squished and trapped by That Bastard Pierce, across from Howard and Tony Stark, in the most pretentious rich-people restaurant ever.

 

“So, Howard,” Pierce greeted, “please, tell me more about this ludicrous idea of a partnership between our two companies.”

 

That afternoon, Pierce had barged into his room, pulled him off his bed from where he was texting Steve (thank god Pierce didn’t care if Bucky was gay; he didn’t think he could handle giving Pierce any more reasons to lord over him.) and dragged him into the car without a word as to where they were going.

 

“Howard,” Pierce had greeted warmly when they walked in, all traces of his ‘icy foster father’ expression dissipating immediately.

 

“Why don’t you two boys stay here while me and your father,” Howard now tipped his head towards Pierce, smirking, “go talk about this outside.” Howard calmly got up and led Pierce away, exiting the room.

 

“Not my father,” Bucky couldn’t resist muttering to Pierce’s retreating back.

 

Tony slumped forward as if he’d been cut free from a string hold his spine straight. Bucky felt himself do the same, and although he was still aware that he was sitting across from his boyfriend’s ex, Tony was much less intimidating than Howard Stark and Pierce.

 

“So…” Tony said when the recovery silence became too awkward, “what’s up?”

 

Bucky glanced dryly at him. “I’m sitting across from my boyfriend’s ex because my fucking mob boss bastard of a foster dad is arranging for the goddamned mafia to give Howard Stark tax breaks over an extremely light meal of fish eggs.”

 

Tony shrugged and nodded. “That’s fair. I deserved that. Nice quip, by the way.”

 

“Thanks,” Bucky said, not letting down his guard for a second. He could see the genius doing the same, in the tenseness in his shoulders.

 

After a brief stare-off, Tony masterfully flicked his gaze away to his watch. Bucky crosses his arms over his chest and waited him out.

 

Tony let a sigh escape. “Look,” he said, avoiding eye contact, “you seem like a nice person. I’m already dealing with a lot of crap right now. I’m angry with Steve, not you.”

 

Bucky allowed him a slow dip of his head. His hair flopped into his eyes with the action, and he blew it back with a huff.

 

Tony barely waited for the acknowledgement before he steamrolled on. “And obviously we’re in the same boat in terms of father figures.” Bucky doesn’t question how Tony knew. There are some things people in their shared experience just sense . “So I’m willing to break the stereotype of hating your ex’s partner, or whatever.”

 

“Get to the point, Stark. What are you saying?”

 

“I’m saying, I’m offering you a truce. Extending the ol’ olive branch.” Tony stuck out a hand. Bucky stared at it from under his bangs before he made careful eye contact and shook his hand. Tony’s mouth quirked up.

 

“This food is garbage , though. Rich people suck, no offense,” said Bucky, changing the subject to something a bit less feelings-related skillfully.

 

“None taken. We really do,” Tony said. “I’d prefer even fucking Sonic over this bullshit.”

 

Bucky cringed. “ Sonic? That’s for straight white girls to blend up and shove in their giant cups. Wendy’s is the best fast food, and you’re joking if you think differently.”

 

“I see your genius and raise you this: McDonald's.”

 

“I can’t even tell if you’re joking, Stark,” Bucky said, horrified.

 

‘What can I say? After so many rounds of strip poker you kinda pick shit up,” Tony shrugged, smirking.

 

Bucky opened his mouth to retort, but Pierce and Howard appearing, walking back to their table. He can see in the expressions both men wore that the whatever deal definitely didn’t go through.

 

Bucky felt himself withdraw upon the arrival. He and the young mechanic shrank into themselves in an almost synced slumping movement, whatever warmth that was starting to congregate in the area long gone.

 

When the two men reach their table, Howard clamps a hand down on Tony’s shoulder, smiling despite the flinch that Tony fails to suppress. “C’mon, figlio, your mother is waiting at home.”

 

“Don’t call me that,” Tony said with pinched lips, getting up from his seat.

 

He glanced back, though, and mouthed, “ don’t tell Steve about this.”

 

Bucky nodded, albeit reluctantly. Just another lie to add to the pile of junk he’d told Steve.

 

What a great boyfriend he was.

 


 

Walking out of the restaurant, Bucky pondered his new relationship with Tony. They weren’t friends; far from it, but they definitely weren’t enemies anymore. The night air chilled him, the remnants of New York winter, and wrapped around him, diving into his bones in a familiar bite.

 


 

“Do you remember your sister, James?” Pierce asked later, when they’re driving home. The question chilled Bucky’s bones, and his blood turned to ice. He put on the stoniest mask and responded, “I remember you taking me away from her room in the middle of the night. I remember you bribing my family into giving me away.” Right away he could tell he was playing right into whatever verbal trap Pierce has set up in this conversation.

 

Pierce smiled smugly. “I wouldn’t speak so carelessly. Remember that I’m still paying for their lives right now. I didn’t have to do that. I still don’t.”

 

Bucky grit his teeth so he won’t say anything he’d definitely regret.

 


 

-Eight Years Ago-

 

Tuesdays are the second worst day, in nine-year-old James Buchanan Barnes’ mind, because they follow right after Mondays.

 

Also, Tuesdays are so boring. They’re routine; Wednesday is for Engineering Club in the dingy library, Thursdays are for visiting Steve, Fridays are pretty obvious, and the weekend is for doing whatever he pleases without the confines of school.

 

It happened to be a Tuesday when the last dregs of the local depression in James and Steve’s neighborhood sapped the last of the Barnes family’s savings. Coincidentally, it also grabbed Mr. Dalton’s money, and their landlord was forced to sell the building James’ lived in his whole life.

 

It’s such a Tuesday, the following week, when Mrs. Barnes ran out of friends willing to house six extra people. The Rogers apologize profusely, but they just don’t have enough space or money to house all of James’ family. After selling the absolute last of their furniture, they spent one night in a freezing McDonald’s (They might’ve been better off actually sleeping outside) before pretty much all hope dissipated.

 

At the last minute, a man sought them out, dressed in a sharp outfit that put the Barnes family- literally clothed in pretty much rags- to absolute shame.

 

“Hello,” He’d said, kindly ignoring the fact that they all stunk to high hell. Nine-year-old James didn’t like him. His skin was wrinkled so badly it almost made noise as he spoke. Becca, who was four years younger than him, tried to disappear behind him.

 

“You’re George and Winfred Barnes, correct?” The man said.

 

His ma nodded cautiously while his dad glared in open hostility.

 

“I’m so sorry, I’ve heard what happened to you through an old friend of mine, Arnim Zola, James’ old teacher. I’d like to help you.”

 

The second James heard the name “Zola,” he startled so quickly the bones in his back groaned in protest. He remembered Mr. Zola, his old 2nd-grade teacher, who used to force him to stand in a corner until he practically drove himself crazy, then made him put on a dog collar like an animal during his class, who kept a knife in his back pocket. Who made James stay during lunch sometimes, who made little cuts on the upper part of his left arm, covered by his shirt sleeve, who threatened to cut the whole arm off if he told anyone. He was always saying something like, “everything that I do is for the betterment of my student’s minds,” until Steve famously stormed into the front office and demanded that Zola be fired.

 

James never found out what happened to him.

 

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” the ginger-haired man said, “My manners seem to have disappeared. Allow me to introduce myself; I’m Alexander Pierce, CEO of HYDRA. I’m offering you a deal. Please accept. Look: f you move back to Romania, I’ll pay for your price of living. But I only request one thing;

 

“Leave your son here. With me.”

 

Of all the things that came out of the man’s mouth, that was definitely not one James had expected to hear.

 

There was a moment of silence in which James’ mouth dried up completely. Then his dad boldly laughed in Alexander Pierce’s face, and the tiniest bit of oxygen allowed itself back into James’ lungs. Becca’s grip on his hand tightened impossibly further.

 

His ma’s face had twisted in rage. “If you think for a second,” she spat, “that I’m even considering-”

 

“I understand,” Mr. Pierce held up a placating hand. “It sounds crazy. But please think about my offer. Your family gets to move back to your country of origin, totally for free, I promise. The only reason I ask the high price of your son is that my colleague Zola saw a huge potential in him. I beg you to not let James disappear into the hordes of children on drugs and paying for their bills by prostitution, if at all.”

 

His ma’s face had tightened, especially when Mr. Pierce had said “prostitution.”

 

James reminded himself to look it up later.

 

“What about Becca?” His father demanded.

 

“She has not yet entered the school system,” Mr. Pierce explained. “She’ll have a much easier time transferring into the Romanian school system. I promise, there is nothing behind my intentions but a genuine care for your family. And,” he said, a glimmer in his eye, “you know how hard school can be without the added stress of struggling for a home.”

 


 

“I’m sorry, dear,” Winfred said, tears in her eyes as she caressed his cheek. His father pressed their small family together from behind, silently mourning.

 

James’ chest compressed with sorrow and barely-held-together panic.

 

“I don’t wanna go with Mr. Pierce.”

 

“I know, baby. But this is the best thing for all of us,” his mother said. He didn’t know if he wished she would sound like she meant it.

 

Becca didn’t hide her loud sobs. The other people in McDonald’s barely glanced at them.

 


 

“James?” Becca asked him when they went to sleep in a hotel room probably as big as his old apartment. Mr. Pierce had smiled so widely when his parents had accepted his offer. James would leave tonight with Pierce. His parents would leave tomorrow with Becca.

 

(James’ mom had cried when she saw the hotel Mr. Pierce had bought two rooms for them in. James did not think they were happy tears.)

 

“Yeah, Beck?” He answered.

 

He could hear her voice breaking. “I don’t want you to leave.”

 

He lay silent for a while, and Becca’s breath deepened as she fell asleep. Hours later, he finally whispered to the dead room.

 

“I don’t want to leave either.”

 


 

He didn’t sleep that night, which is why he heard when the door creaked open in the darkest part of the night. He laid as stiff as possible, pretending to be asleep. After a few seconds, his ma’s lips embraced his forehead, followed by his father’s steady hand sweeping through his hair.

 

Then his dad picked him up carried him through the small room and out the door. Into the elevator, out of the hotel. Every step jostled him, placed him in a car, and closed the door.

 

James’ eyes popped open, just in time to see his mother bury her head in his dad’s arm and give into a sob. The front door opened and Pierce slid in next to him, aiming a too-bright smile at James. The car drove off, leaving his family there.

 

That was the last time James had ever seen his family.

 

He never actually got to say goodbye to Steve-

 


 

“There are going to be some changes around here, James,” Pierce said calmly as he inspected the broken vase, not sparing Bucky’s bleeding fist a single glance.

 

Bucky trembled, but held his ground. “My name isn’t James anymore.”

 

“From now on, disobeying me means one less dollar to your parents,” Pierce ignored him, kneeling down so he was eye level with the young boy. “You don’t want that do you?”

 

“I hate you,” Bucky whispered.

 

Pierce grinned. “That’s ok.”

 


 

Bucky entered the operation room, screaming and crying. The boy who was wheeled out was perfectly silent. His blue eyes blinked lethargically, as if he was drugged. He could not remember what had happened.

 

Ever.

 

His arm glittered and shifted slightly, covered in metal plates. He could not remember how he got it. Perhaps it had always been there. Truly, a prosthetic masterpiece, almost like a true arm.

 

Almost. The scarred skin on the torso and shoulder could become a problem.

 

They called him зима, Winter. He was not to speak. He was an object. He was a thing to fix, to enhance. They told him to never use your left hand, always the right.

 

Winter could not help but to hear phrases such as, “medically-induced amnesia,” “to make sure he does not fight or try to get back to his old family,” “-need compliance-” and “electroshock therapy,” but he did not know what it was. They told him to smile, and he did. They told him to laugh, and he did. They said, “go to school,” and he did. They said, “speak proper Russian,” and he did.

 

They never told him why.

 

(Why? Why would you do this?)

 

There was a man with blonde hair and wrinkles in his skin, and everyone listened when he spoke. Winter did not know why, he knew The Man had done something bad, something very wrong, but Winter could not help but to listen, as well.

 

The Man told him that his Other Family had been very bad to him, that he was safer with him. He could not remember this, but The Man was always right.

 

Always right- no- yes- stop, please- зима.

 

When Winter swallowed the bitter pills that made his mind blur and his vision swim, he couldn’t help but wonder.

 

Until one day, they moved to New York.

 


 

After everything was unpacked (he did not own much), Winter was walking through a park across a coffee shop. It was his first time ever truly unsupervised, outside of the Russian academy The Man had enrolled him in. The summer air was strange to him; in Russia, warmth was a concept rarely experienced. A sharp, wet grass smell slammed into Winter's nostrils every time he inhaled. Then, through the windows he spotted a teenage boy working there, probably more-or-less his age.

 

Winter didn’t think he knew him, certainly didn’t remember him, but something about his face shape tugged something loose in his mind and made the brunette walk closer. The way his blonde hair swooped in perfect, definitive lines, nothing like Winter’s own hair, flopping chin length.

 

The boy was wiping up counters pleasantly, then he looked up and their eyes met.

 

His blue eyes passed over Winter dispassionately, then snapped back a few seconds later, burning with surprise and intensity. Winter almost startled. Nobody had ever looked at him that way.

 

They stared at each other, then the boy snapped into motion, quickly making his way outside. Just not quick enough to catch up to Winter as he allowed himself to drift along in the crowd. He'll be damned if some American boy trips him up.

 

But he still heard the name the boy called when he shouted, “Bucky?”

 


 

Bucky.

 

More than anything, that sounded the alarm bells in Winter’s mind, that the name (Was it a name? Who was it?”) was familiar to him. Rarely was anything familiar to him, and he could not, for the life of him, place from where it came from.

 

Faster then he realized, he stood outside The Man’s closed office door. He watched as his body moved, like an out-of-body experience, and turned the doorknob.

 

“Winter.” The Man greeted coldly, like the sharp blues of his eyes. He didn’t look up from his papers. “What is it?”

 

“I don’t want to take the pills anymore,” he said. The words floated out of his mouth. He did not know that was what he wanted until he said it, and suddenly it became all that he wanted, a bigger priority than food or water.

 

The Man looked up, and his face did a very strange thing. His mouth curled up, and his eyes crinkled. Winter got the sense that on anyone else, the motion would look pleasant, but The Man just looked predatory.

 

“I was wondering if you would break out. I’m so proud of you,” He murmured. Winter felt particularly hunted. His foot slid behind him. He did not know why.

 

“Of course, Winter. You never have to take another pill again,” The Man promised.

 

True to his word, no pill waited for Winter the next morning. Or the next.

 

When he walked into school a month later, Bucky could remember exactly what happened to him.

 

And he was definitely ready to talk to his old best friend again.

 


 

 

-Present Day-

 

Steve was walking down the hallway toward the end of the day when perfectly manicured hands grabbed his arm and pulled him into the janitor’s closet. Bewildered, he stopped about an inch from Pepper’s dry expression amid her freckles.

 

“Uh,” Steve said awkwardly, “If this is what I think it is, I’m not really interested.” He internally slapped himself. Really, Steve? Really?

 

Pepper rolled her eyes. “You dumbass . I’m a lesbian.”

 

“Oh. Right.” Steve’s relief permeated the air and only managed to make the situation more awkward.

 

Pepper sighed. “Look, ok, I hate to do this. But, Rhodey and I are at the moment the only real friends Tony has at his back right now. You know this.” Steve nodded. He did know this. “So I need to ask you a favor,” Pepper continued.

 

“Me?” Steve blurted.

 

Yeah , ok. I wouldn’t be doing this if my hands weren’t tied right now,” the redhead said. Her eye twitched, and Steve got the distinct impression she was already blown way past her rope’s end.

 

“Um, ok,” he said. “What do you want me to do?”

 

“I know you’ve heard of the party Tony’s throwing on Saturday. I need you to watch him while he’s there.”

 

Steve almost gave himself whiplash nodding. Never mind that he’d already planned on stalking Tony at the party, the fact the Pepper reached out and asked him was either really bad for Tony or really good for Steve, and he wasn’t sure if it wasn’t both.

 

“Can’t you just tell him not to throw the party?” Steve asked. “If it’s taking this much effort to manage?”

 

“Tony doesn’t mean to be an inconvenience, he’s just awful at human emotions cause his jackass father just throws money at everything instead of being a person.” She backtracked. “Rhodey and I will sneak you in, cause if Tony sees you, I don’t think he’ll be very happy.”

 

“Right. Of course.”

 

Pepper’s eyebrows slid down. “Alright. See you there, Steve.”

 

When Steve leaves the closet, trying and failing to look inconspicuous, he barely took three steps before he almost ran into Clint.

 

He wore a calm expression, and a bright purple t-shirt reading ‘Hawk’s Eye Archery.’

 

“Clint? What’s up?” asked Steve.

 

The smaller boy shrugged. “You going to Tony’s party?”

 

“Y-yeah. I am.”

 

Absently, Clint said, “That’s good.”

 

“Sure. What did you really want to ask me?”

 

Clint looked back at Steve with eyes he could’ve sworn looked mournful. “I miss the days when we were all friends. And did stupid shit like changing your name in the groupchat to ‘capslock.’”

 

“That was you guys? ” Steve blurted. “Tony tried to convince me that it was always my name and I was going crazy.”

 

“Nah, that was us,” Clint said casually. “Thor asked us to do it ‘cuz he didn’t know how to.”

 

“Son of a bitch,” Steve grumbled.

 

Anyway ,” said Clint, “ just… think about it. Making peace with Tony. I don’t know man!” Clint exclaimed impatiently when he saw Steve’s expression pinch.

 

Steve begged, “Can we please move on?”

 

“Right. If T’Challa comes by here to ask where his gymnastics stuff is, I was never here,” Clint said, grinning.

 

“What does that mean?” Steve wondered aloud, but Clint scampered off before he could hear.

 


 

“Hey, Stevie,” Bucky greeted as he slid into the empty space beside Steve on the sidewalk as they started the trek back home.

 

“Hey, Buck,” Steve greeted warmly. He cupped Bucky’s cheek and slotted their mouths together. Bucky’s hair got in his face and Steve pulled away, laughing. A feeling he couldn’t describe bubbled up, giddy and light.

 

Bucky tried to pout, but his mouth tugged up without his consent. Steve laughed again at his boyfriend’s face. He looked slightly constipated.

 

“What’s up?” Bucky asked easily.

 

“Nothing,” Steve said. Even though some pretty weird conversations had happened over the course of the school day, he couldn’t bring himself to really focus on them, not when Bucky glowed happily at his side.

 

“Would you happen to remember the homework?”

 

Steve rolled his eyes. “What do you do all day, sleep?”

 

“Bite me.”

 

Steve licked his cheek, despite Bucky’s hand smushed against his face too late, trying to deter him. “Steve, you gross fucker!” Bucky crowed, wiping at his face.

 

A guy behind them complained, “Move, assholes, some people are tryin’ to walk, ” but they resolutely ignored him. Maybe they purposefully walked slower. Wasn’t like it was illegal.

 

Steve soaked up the calm while it lasted. Come the weekend, ‘calm’ wouldn’t exactly be in the agenda.

Chapter Text

The day before the party, Tony’s dad calls him.

Correction: Howard calls Tony’s mom, and has a loud conversation with Tony over the speakerphone that is mostly comprised of his dear old father shouting at him.

It’s fine. Not like it’s anything Tony’s not used to.

“If I catch word of you doing any shit this weekend, Tony, I swear. All my other colleagues can leave a 17-year-old at home without having to read the riot act, and yet my own son, my heir-”

After ten minutes of this, Tony snarks scathingly, “Why don’t you just go? Not like you’re calling to say bye to your son.

On the other side of the line, Howard Stark goes deadly quiet. From her couch, Maria Stark rapidly pales.

Heart pounding in his ears, Tony continues, words bursting out as if they’ve been bottled up for centuries. “Maybe if you’d paid some fucking attention to me at all when I was growing up, we wouldn’t be in this situation, would we,” he snaps.

After a very tense silence, Howard grates out, “I don’t have time for this. We will talk when you can control yourself.”

The line clicks and goes dead. Maria’s hands flutter around her blouse. “You really shouldn’t agitate him, bambino.”

Tony watches her for a while. To any other person, she would’ve appeared as the epitome of control, beauty, and poise, but Tony can see through the act. He knows full well Maria only stays with Howard because of the public attention their split would cause.

“Whatever,” Tony says. “I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.”

Hurt flashes across his mother’s face. “Ok,” she whispers.

They sit in silence until Maria recovers enough to leave for aerobics class. She doesn’t bother to kiss his forehead.

Or even say good-bye.

---

Steve pulls up to the party a little earlier than is strictly incognito, but it doesn’t matter anyway. The vast and kinda-pretentious Stark garages (plural) are already full of cars, even though Steve can’t imagine how many people that Tony knows even have a car. At least half of them have to belong to college kids.

Electing to leave his actual car home turned out to be the smart decision, because his sleek, black bike barely manages to fit on the side of the road, where cars pile like a junkyard for rich kids and middle-class kids alike.

His Dodgers cap stays firmly on his head, until twenty minutes in when he realizes he’s probably gotten more attention and suspicious glances looking like a low-budget drug dealer in a school assembly presentation video than going as ‘Steve Rogers, football team captain, and Tony Stark’s ex.’ He tosses it on the ground somewhere.

EDM music pounds through speakers, and the crowd of people and hormones writhe to the syncopated beats. Steve’s never been a party person, but even he has to admit that Tony definitely knows how to throw a party.

He sees flashes of Pepper and gets to see Rhodey practically wrestle a guy’s drink out of his hand, but Tony is a very elusive snake. He wanders around the house twice, and for a house that big, it’s a pretty long walk. Anyone he asks says they haven’t seen Tony all night.

It seems like Tony isn’t even at his own party until-

Who wants to sign my cast!?” Tony yells from atop a coffee table into the pulsating crowd, grinning widely as he receives enthusiastic cheers in return. A party hat dons his dark hair, and he’s wearing a simple outfit of jeans and a sleeveless shirt that screams money.

Steve tries his best to ignore what that outfit does to him.

Tony moves fluidly through the crowd like a fish through water, truly in his element. It seems like he talks to everyone, and the number of drinks that pass through his hands is increasingly alarming. The random names in sharpie that gather on Tony’s cast increase exponentially in the next five minutes. Steve recognizes about half of them.

Steve trails Tony for a good amount of this time, stopping only to say hi to people he recognizes or who recognize him. Gamora chills on a couch, dark skin appearing almost green under the flashing lights, with her motorcycle helmet tucked under her arm. She lifts an arm coolly in greeting. Beside her, T’Challa arm-wrestles his cousin, but they seem to be locked in a tie.

Following Tony, Steve doesn’t see his best friend until Sam practically crashes into him. “Steve!” Sam announces loudly, pretty much falling into Steve’s arms for a loose hug. Steve shushes him frantically, but Tony doesn’t turn around. The genius is kinda oblivious that way.

“You’re here!” Sam crows, not at all quieter.

Steve hisses back disbelievingly, “Are you drunk?”

“Yeah, man!” Sam slurs, “‘S really gooooood…”

Steve attempts to get a better grip on him, but Sam punches his chest (repeatedly) insistently. It doesn’t hurt, but for Sam’s sake, Steve stops and asks, “What?”

“I wanna play pool!”

“What?”

Sam stares at him like he’s being a complete idiot. The effect is ruined by Sam’s eyelids drooping slightly. “Pool, white boy. I know you know what it is.”

“No, but I’m actually… supposed to be watching… somebody…”

“C’mon man,” Sam nudges him, probably harder than he intended. “What’s the worst that can happen? Just one round of pool.”

There really isn’t an easy way out of the situation. Steve has never been able to think his way out of things as easily as Natasha or Clint. Grimacing, Steve follows the dark-skinned boy as Sam stumbles his way towards the pool table.

---

“If you can get this ball into the socket, you win,” Sam promises, leaning hard against the pool table, pawing at the red 3-ball clumsily.

Steve shakes his head and grins. He’s just a little tipsy. “And when I win, you have to sit down, Sammy. Don’t know why anyone ever let you near a drink.”

“I dunno, man.” Sam says, ignoring the last part of Steve’s sentence entirely, “you’ve had a couple a’ drinks. Don’t think I ain’t see that.”

Steve rolls his eyes and lines up the cue. “Says you. You know I’m not a lightweight anymore, and I only had one drink.”

Sam raises an eyebrow. “Suuure, Cap.”

Steve scoffs. He really had taken only one drink, and it hadn’t even been very strong. He was trying to keep one eye on his target- namely, the slightly promiscuous mechanic he called his ex.

He hits the 3-ball and it, in fact, does go in. Sam stares at it as if it had personally betrayed him. 

Steve prompts, “You have to sit down now, Sam.”

Pouting, the dark-skinned boy slinks over to the couch, one that happens to be occupied by Bruce and Thor, and they strike up a loud conversation and Sam doesn’t seem at all surprised that Thor is cradling Bruce on his lap.

Steve decides to ignore... that and find Tony again.

---

The bright lights and bulk of his cast eventually start to wear on him, so Tony sits down. In the midst of the party, with the dancing people and out-of-control-drinkage, he finally feels … in control.

Damn his father, and damn his mother too, for doing nothing about Howard. Maybe Tony can’t fix his parents or their relationship, or his fuckfest life, but he can build shit and throw a pretty fucking awesome party. He almost feels…

It doesn’t matter what he felt because then it all goes to shit anyway.

“Tony Stark, in the flesh.”

A sickeningly familiar voice behind him makes him jump and spin around. There, blond hair as disgusting as ever, is Aldrich Killian, although he’s much taller and bulkier than before.

Tony’s heart starts pounding. Hard.

“I didn’t invite you.”

“I figured my invite got lost in the mail.” Killian shrugs, infuriatingly calm. The blond is … so much taller now.

Tony curses his height, or lack thereof, and grits his teeth. Killian strides forward, forcing Tony back about two steps. “Everyone knows I send my invites through text,” he tries to deflect, even though he could tell it was useless.

Killian was one of Tony’s old enemies, as one is wont to have, being a child genius and billionaire. Like a certain captain, he’d been born with a number of disabilities, but the similarities end there. While Steve had been gut-punched with a glo-up later in life, Killian spent years trying to science his way around the human body. At one point, he’d asked Tony to help him, and he’d said no.

After Killian threatened Pepper to get him to agree, Tony got him expelled instead.

Killian might hold a bit of a grudge. Blood pounds quickly in his ears, and his hands shake.

Killian slowly slides into arm’s reach. Tony’s back hits the wall. Though the room seemed packed before, it’s near empty now. The air steals out of his throat, and all he can do is let out a feeble whine.

As if he’s tasting every word, Killian murmurs, “Bet you regret what you did now, Tony.” He says Tony’s name as if they were close, too close, and underneath his skin, a nauseated chill runs down Tony’s spine.

All of a sudden, Steve Rogers, the glorious bastard, clamps a hand on Killian’s shoulder. “I think,” he growls, “Tony said he doesn’t want you here.”

Killian whirls around, but Tony lets a relieved snort leave his mouth at the startled expression on his face.

The two blonds face off, and the temperature in the room increase under the weight of their combined aggression.

Killian breaks first, and abruptly lashes out with a punch to the gut that pretty much bounces off Steve’s hard muscle.

Swiftly, Steve slams a heavy fist right into Killian’s face, and he drops like a stone.

---

Tony stares at him, eyes unfocused. “Why- why are you doing this for me?” he asks in wondrous suspicion. Steve’s chest hurts as if he still has asthma.

“Because I still care about you,” he says honestly. Tony still gapes at him as if Steve were the last good thing on earth. After a few seconds of awkward silence, Tony wobbles to his feet. The cast on his leg makes that mission particularly difficult, aside from the fact that the young billionaire is drunk.

“Whoa, what are you doing?” Steve panics, trying to keep him on the couch, but Tony slips out of his hold while fighting his way to a stand. Tony leans into Steve’s personal space, hand wrestling Steve’s shirt so that the blond is forced to bend down.

The second he comes in range, Tony messily slots his mouth against Steve’s.

---

Natasha stares at him, smirking widely.

Bucky glares back, channeling all of his ‘scary Russian dude’ energy as they face off. “No, Natalia.”

Nat only smiles wider.

“No,” he growls.

“Yes.”

Bucky throws his hands up. “I’m not going to Tony Stark’s stupid fuckin’ party with you!”

“You will,” she gloats.

“You can’t make me.”

Nat holds up her phone. “I have blackmail.”

“Like hell you do,” Bucky snarls and lunges for her phone.

She sidesteps and trips him up. Then she laughs while he pouts on the floor. Talk about insult after injury.

Leaning down, Nat offers Bucky a hand to help him up. He glares at it from under his hair and gets up by himself. The redhead shrugs it off and says, “We’re going to be late if you keep slowing us down.”

Bucky pouts and crosses his arms. “Good, ‘cuz I’m not going.”

“James. Yasha. This will be the best party ever,” Nat says seriously. “Can you really pass up this opportunity?”

“Oh yeah, the best party ever. Not like Stark throws one every three weeks.”  Bucky shrugs uncertainly. “Natasha, just because I had one conversation with the guy doesn’t mean we’re best friends. He might still, I don’t know, attack me when I walk in.”

Nat stares at him, unimpressed. “You’re being a coward, James.”

“So what? Wouldn’t be the first time.” Bucky frowns back at her.

“Bitch boy. Pussy. Gutless piece of spineless rat carcass.

Bucky grits his teeth. “You don’t intimidate me,” he lies through his teeth.

“Fucking American,” Natasha insults, grinning victoriously. The silence intensifies, and every muscle in Bucky’s body is pulled taunt. He opens his mouth to respond-

---

“I fuckin’ hate you,” Bucky complains from the passenger seat of Nat’s car.

“That’s ok,” Nat says blithely, pulling out a makeup bag, illuminated by the red of the traffic light in front of them. “Put your hands somewhere useful and help me with my makeup.”

“You’re going to get run over by the guy behind you when the light turns,” he warns, but the brunet shifts to help Nat anyway. Really, the only thing he’s good at is eyeliner, because anyone who’s spent more than ten minutes around an eyeliner pen can do eyeliner, but most of the time he’s spent ‘helping’ is just him insulting Natasha’s, realistically, amazing makeup choices.

Admittedly, not the worst way to spend his time.

The light flashes green, and indeed, the fucker behind them tries to blow their ears out with his horn. Natasha very, very slowly leans onto the gas, wasting almost ten seconds.

Aforementioned asswipe damn near runs them over making an illegal turn, and Bucky lets some truly foul words exit his mouth, but Nat silently swerves the car into another lane.

One day he’ll see an expression other than a smirk on her face, Bucky swears.

Calmly, Natasha turns into an alleyway and jabs her pokey-makeup-things right into Bucky’s face.

“What the fuck are you doing,” Bucky demands after batting the junk away from his merchandise.

“Relax, Yasha. I’m helping you.”

Five minutes later, his eyes are covered in thick eyeliner, and somehow that makes his eyes look bigger. His cheeks glow with highlight, and his hair falls in a side part, swooping to cover one eye.

“I can’t believe this worked,” Bucky marvels as he stares into his reflection.

“The term is, ‘Thank you, Nat,’

“Fuck off and drive.”

——

“My favorite curse word is hell. I don’t know, it’s just so versatile, it explains all my moods. What the hell, who the hell, why the hell, how the hell… it’s just a life saver,” Bucky babbles to a group of complete strangers. They all nod and babble back nosensically. He’s pretty sure he’d stumbled into a flock of art hoes, but he isn’t certain. The lights flash to the beat of the music, and on more than one occasion he’s caught appreciative eyes roaming his body.

After about an hour of dancing, he’d grown tired and sat down amidst the mob waiting to shove a drink into any pretty person’s hands.

Bucky had purposefully only accepted sugary drinks. He doesn’t care about how ‘girly’ they are, he has a fuckin’ sweet tooth and a lack of interest in appearing heterosexual.

---

“What’s your name,” the guy in front of him asks seductively, taking the drink from Bucky’s hands. He frowns. He’d enjoyed that drink.

“Bucky,” he answers crossly. “I have a boyfriend.”

The guy tosses his head back and laughed, even though Bucky can’t think of anything in that sentence that was funny. “I’m Brock Rumlow,” he says, white teeth flashing. He clamps a hand around Bucky’s wrist and starts walking so he’s being dragged behind the boy, Brock Rumlow.

And they walk into the living room at the perfect time to witness Bucky’s boyfriend engaged in a deep kiss with Tony Stark.

---

Yanking his hand out of Rumlow’s grip, Bucky stumbles through the crowd, swearpologizing as he spills three different drinks, none of them his. His face feels hot, and tears make a very serious threat of spilling over his cheeks.

One foot in front of the other. Cut off your emotions.

Cover your left arm.

Bucky isn’t sure what happened after that, only that he broke through the cage his traitor brain had shoved him in to find himself in a bathroom, curled beside the toilet.

His back pocket vibrates, thrusting him sharply into the present. It took two tries to convince his arm (right) to unwrap itself from where it tightly holds his legs, but he manages to dig out his phone. Natasha had texted him several times because apparently, she has eyes literally everywhere. He can’t make up a good enough reason to text her back.

It is so cold.

---

In another room, Tony shivers. The ‘sleeveless’ route had proved to be the wrong choice for tonight. 

Despite being surrounded by people, he’s never felt so alone. Once Steve had shoved- gently, of course, but still a shove- him away, the blonde had raced into the crowd to find somebody, saying something about Bucky.

His mouth is dry, and his stomach churns, and Tony recognizes that he is definitely on the verge of a panic attack, but he feels … detached from his own body.

On his left, a blonde girl strokes his hair and purrs into his ear. On his right, a dark-skinned boy shamelessly wraps an arm around Tony’s waist. He doesn’t recognize any of them. Matter of fact, he can’t recognize anyone in the gaudy room around him.

He can’t breathe.

Regaining his ability to use his limbs, Tony fights his way out of the confines of the arms and searing heat of the people around him. He stumbles to the elevator somehow, and slams his hand against the button for the lab floor, taking in huge gulps of air. He slumps against the doors when they close, exhausted.

Silence greets him when he careens into the white, sterile lab.

It unnerves him, and Tony almost finds himself wishing he could be back at the party without people touching him. “JARVIS,” he pants, “play music. Please.”

The AI complies quietly, and the calming, steady beat of ACDC fills the air. Taking quick, panicked steps, Tony bolts past his father’s lab and slides into his own.

In front of the control panel, he finally feels … not calm, exactly, but. Placated.

Without his permission, his hand reaches over and pulls up a folder of things he works on when he doesn’t have anything to do. He fights to stay present for a while, but when the pliers somehow make their way into his hands, he gives up. Finally, Tony concedes to the lull of his mind and allows his subconscious to take over.

 

Chapter Text

Bucky wakes up on the cold, hard tile of an unfamiliar, gold-plated bathroom.

 

Funnily enough, it’s not the first time he’s woken up like this, so at least he has the experience. Unfortunately, he’d always been bit of a lightweight, and judging by the insistent throbbing at the very front of his head, and the acidic bile in his throat, it’s coming up now.

 

Bucky leaned over the toilet fast as he can, shoving his hair back at the last minute. While he puked his guts up, a mantra of ‘what did I do last night what did I do what did I do-’ repeated in his head.

 

Bucky wasn’t ashamed to admit that he liked pretty people . Both boys and girls, though he’d always leaned toward girls. And he’s big enough to see in the mirror that he’s fucking hot, okay. It’s pretty obvious to anyone and everyone who’s ever looked at him.

 

The problem is that those two facts of The Life of James Barnes, plus the alcohol he’d chugged last night, equals a decent chance of him- getting some last night.

 

He doesn’t feel like he had sex last night- and he woke up in a bathroom, not a bedroom, so. But, hey, at least he’d stopped throwing up.

 

Opening the door, Bucky crept around the corner, which placed him in the opening of the kitchen.

 

What he saw made him want to facepalm and throw himself off the roof, if he could find the roof in this gigantic palace.

 

Tony fuckin’ Stark curled up on the kitchen counter, head down. His shoulders shook, and tiny sniffs echoed through the room.

 

A tinny voice in Bucky’s head said, you fuckin’ idiot. This is his house, dumbass.

 

Now, more than ever, he and Stark are not friends. Never friends. What happened last night…

 

Last night…

 

So Winter walked away from Tony Stark. Winter left the target crying and weak.

 

It’s always easy to leave first, they’d said.

 

Except that it’s not.

 

Not three steps later, guilt and self-loathing as sharp as a sword nearly severed Wint- Bucky ’s guts, and he almost doubled over.

 

What the fuck was that line of thinking? That was HYDRA thinking, to leave an enemy when they’re down. Bucky could almost see Steve’s expression crumpling into disappointment, and after everything, he did not wanna make Steve upset.

 

An image of Tony Stark, the same fella crying over a bowl of Cap’n Crunch right then, kissing Steve flashed into his mind. Bucky allowed himself to stew in anger for a few seconds before his stupid fucking morals made him do good shit.

 

He hated Stark. But damn him if he could leave the guy like that.

 

That’s what humans do, at least. He’d spent the better part of a year (re)learning that, and despite the burning rage and deeper, damning heartbreak, he’d like to stay morally human, if nothing else.

 

There was a period of time when that was Bucky’s (James’) default mode, to be bold and completely sure about what was right. And goddammit, he isn’t losing another fuckin’ thing to HYDRA’s memory bullshit, even though what was ‘right’ seemed lately to just be wrong in disguise.

 

He walked up beside Tony, then sat in the chair beside him. The stool made a scraping noise, and Bucky winced.

 

Tony startled so badly he almost fell off the chair. When he saw who it was, his expression didn’t get any calmer.

 

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”

 

“Hey, Stark,” Bucky greeted with a forced smile.

 

Tony didn’t relax. “Why are you here?”

 

“...You’re crying?” Bucky said obviously.

 

The engineer glared at him with wet eyes. “That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

 

“Ok, look, I really want to hate you,” Bucky sighed, “but you look fuckin’ pathetic right now.”

 

“What an excellent way to start a conversation,” Tony replied sarcastically. He still eyed Bucky warily, and the level of tension hadn’t decreased at all.

 

“Seriously. You look like shit.”

 

“Hmm. Maybe Steve has a saving kink. ‘Seems to only date the people that's messed up,” Tony joked weakly, and Bucky frowned.

 

“You’re not messed up.”

 

Tony stared at him with a wry expression, eyebrows lifted. “I’m sorry, have you met me? If I wasn’t messed up, none of this would’ve happened and I would still be dating Steve.”

 

Bucky winced. “I’m sure you would,” he said bitterly.

 

Tony nonchalantly waved away Bucky’s sudden hostility. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m still sure you could kill me in just thirty seconds. I won’t try to steal your boyfriend,” Tony said, and even Bucky had to admit that it was a pretty good mask that he had on, one of a blithe don’t-care attitude, but Bucky could see how it was eating him up inside.

 

“I know you kissed Steve at the party,” Bucky said quietly. Even though his words are delivered with practiced calm, they still made Tony stiffen.

 

If he was being honest, Bucky hadn’t quite accepted it until that moment, almost hoping it was an alcohol-created/related hallucination. Feelings stirred up deep in his chest, creating a burning mix, but he held it in, comforting himself in the fact that he could at least go scream in a pillow later.

 

“I don’t think I can forgive you for that,” Bucky admitted. His hand curled into a fist. The genius looks away for a very long time, and when his chocolate eyes returned to Bucky, they didn’t quite meet his own eyes.

 

“It’s not Steve’s fault,” Tony said, dragging out his words as if admitting to something being his fault was physically hurting him. “I kissed him, then he immediately left to try to find you.”

 

“Oh.” He’d have been lying if he said that didn’t immediately fill him with relief, but he kept his expression carefully blank.

 

Tony ducked his head. “You hate me now.’

 

“No,” Bucky lied.

 

“Yes, you do.”

 

“You don’t know what I feel.”

 

Tony gazed at him now. “I do. You hate me,” he said forcefully.

 

“Unbeknownst to you, you actually don’t know everything,” Bucky said through gritted teeth. His face heated and he could feel the angry heat that had been stewing in his gut all morning start to churn like a load of feelings laundry.

 

“Maybe if you hadn’t come to my party uninvited, we wouldn’t be in this situation,” Tony snarled.

 

“Maybe if you could keep your  fuckin'  hands to yourself, we wouldn’t be in this situation!” Bucky roared. Tony fell silent, and his expression hardened.

 

Instant regret hit like a train. Bucky grabbed his hair and pulled like he was trying to pull it out. Groaning up at the ceiling, he let out a loud curse. He sighed, “Tony, I-”

 

“Get out,” Tony said.

 

There was nothing Bucky could do to fuck the situation up more. He left.

 

---

 

Somewhere in Brooklyn, Steve Rogers woke up Sunday morning alone, and the room was cold around him. Ever since puberty hit, his body was healthy enough to run at a normal temperature, and it overcompensated by running at a higher temperature than most normal humans. As a result, he still had to bundle up in the winter time, but for a completely different reason now.

 

Sunlight streamed into his room, which was mildly annoying, but not awful because he’d really only had a few drinks.

 

On the dresser next to his bed, his phone buzzed. He fumbled for it, easy enough in his too-small bed.

 

SoarinFlyin : bro wtf happened last night

 

Capslock : i dont know I never found bucky

 

SoarinFlyin : …

 

SoarinFlyin : Nat told me she couldnt find jb either

 

Capslock : have you tried to call him?

 

SoarinFlyin : yea

 

Steve groaned out loud, a long, drawn-out noise full of exhaustion

 

SoarinFlyin : wait she got him

 

Capslock : what

 

SoarinFlyin : yea he called her to pick him up

 

Capslock : from where?????

 

SoarinFlyin : idk hol up

 

SoarinFlyin : the stark mansion

 

Steve threw his head back and brained himself so hard on the tiny backboard that he nearly brained himself. If Bucky and Tony had seen each other, had talked to each other...

 

Capslock : fuck

 

SoarinFlyin : fuckin language man

 

---

 

“Dammit!” Peter Parker slammed his hand down on the table in an uncharacteristic display of anger. Tony glanced at him sharply, and when Peter’s hand started to creep toward the hammer that laid beside him, Tony rushed over to ease him away from the half-finished robot.

 

“I can’t figure this out! Why would they make this so hard, this is absolute bullshit in every way-” Peter rambled, allowing himself to be pulled away. His ankles dragged across the floor of the science classroom.

 

“Kid, what the fuck?” Tony had to try pretty hard to hold in his laughter. Hanging out with the enthusiastic eighth grader always managed to make Tony smile, even though he’d had a really, really shitty morning.

 

Peter gestured crazily, vaguely pointing towards the innocent robot. “I can’t figure out- Tony , oh my god, I am actually going crazy. This is the day I will be driven insane by-”

 

“Shh, shh,” Tony shushed, running a hand through Peter’s curls. When the younger boy quieted, Tony asked, “Do you wanna tell me what the fuck that was?”

“I lost a screwdriver inside that effin’ devil-bot ,” Peter almost cried, “and now it won’t work!”

 

There was a beat of silence. And then-

 

“Kid, what?” Tony laughed.

 

Peter stared at him with betrayed eyes. “ Mr. Stark, ” he yelped, voice breaking adorably, “it’s not funny.

 

Tony tried in vain to get his laughter under control. “You’re right, it’s not funny. It’s just… How did you lose a screwdriver in that tiny thing?”

 

The robot in question was only about three inches in diameter, and there was like, no way a whole screwdriver could fit inside it. The smallest one they had should’ve completely destroyed the motherboard, not to mention the circuitry...

 

Peter wailed, “ I don’t know!”

 

“Ok, kid, here’s what we’re gonna do,” Tony said. “You’re gonna go find your little friends, like that Osborn kid or Shuri, and you’re gonna go play whatever kids do nowadays.”

 

Peter glared up at him. It was like being threatened by a kindergartener. “You’re only three years older than me.”

 

“Whatever,” Tony brushed it off, “and I’m gonna try to dig out this robot, gotcha?”

 

Peter moped a bit more before running off to god-knows-where to do something nerdy. Probably Star Wars.

 

That left Tony alone, trying to figure out his complex emotions. Talking to Peter was always great, and he didn’t feel like he wanted to lay down and wait for sleep or death anymore, so that was good.

 

On the flip side, his stomach had churned with anxiety pretty much all day.

 

So he did what was familiar. Work was easy. Robots were familiar. Machines never confused him. And Peter’s robot was pretty broken.

 

At least he could relate to a robot .

 

---

 

“Imagine this!” Thor’s older sister, Hela, cackled punk-rock-ly, which, Sam would like to note, isn’t a word, but definitely should be. Adorned in solid black, she cast a pretty imposing figure from atop the lunch table, terrorizing freshmen who probably deserved it, but. Still.

 

“Why do you sit so damn weird?” Sam grumbled, stuffing his mouth with the chocolate bar he’d traded his nachos for. Next to him, Clint completely broke the rules of life by pouring barbeque sauce on the innocent nachos.

 

“I’m a lesbian!” She cried, grinning madly.

 

“Didn’t you graduate a year ago?”

 

Loki walked up next to her and gently tugged her away from the gathering crowd with an irked expression. Hela cackled the whole time.

 

Sam watched them leave, and was so distracted with contemplating existence that the Russian Assassin twins snuck up beside him without any effort.

 

“Hey, Sam,” Natasha said, stealing about half of his fries in the process. He turned toward her, irked, and JB stole the other half while he wasn’t looking.

 

“Okay, stop. I need some fucking normal-ass friends, ” Sam exclaimed, not really pissed. He didn’t dare try to get his fries back from Nat, but he figured he could grab some back from JB…

 

Staring into JB’s eyes, because that was step one of approaching feral Russians, Sam reached out and snagged his fries back. JB didn’t bite, break, or bruise his hand, so he knew JB was letting him take it back.

 

Sam grumbled. “Where were you, yesterday morning? Steve was looking for you.”

 

JB made a non-committal noise and his expression cracked into something vaguely more human.

 

Natasha said something in Russian that sounded reprimanding to him, and JB sighed. “I don’t want to talk to Steve right now.”

 

Sam could feel eyebrows furrow. “What? Why?”

 

JB glanced at him from under his uncombed hair. “Steve… did something at the party yesterday. Well, it wasn’t exactly Steve…”

 

Natasha audibly huffed and rolled her eyes when Sam turned back to her. “James caught Steve kissing Tony yesterday.”

 

Sam stared at her in shock. Bucky made to interject, but just then Steve burst into the cafeteria, sweaty, too-tight shirt practically molded to his skin.

 

Steve stared at them with wide, blue eyes, and the whole cafeteria silenced and stood stock still. From across the room, only one person moved- Tony Stark stood and fled the scene.

 

Steve slowly went white.

Chapter Text

“So. Do you want to explain what the hell happened?” Sam sits across from Steve, absolutely pissed.

 

Shame-faced, Steve awkwardly scratches the back of his head. “Sam, it’s not what it looks like.”

 

“Really? Because a little birdy told me that you kissed Tony Stark at the party. What the hell?”

 

“It’s not what it sounds like, either.”

 

“Explain. Now.”

 

Steve hesitates. “Look, it’s a long story.”

 

“I’ve got time.”

 

“I’m not cheating on Bucky.”

 

Sam’s glare lessens. “Maybe you should tell him that,” he points out.

 

Steve runs his hand through his hair, frustrated. “Look, Sam, Tony kissed me. Not the other way ‘round.”

 

Sam glares at him for a few more seconds, then he sighs. “Well, that sucks.”

 

Steve grumbles, “Tell me about it.”

 

“So you don’t feel anything for Stark? Right?”

 

Steve hesitates, suddenly wishing he was a better liar. Sam saw through him, because of course. Steve really needs more friends who are shit at feelings.

 

“I swear to shit, Steve,” Sam hisses. “I can’t believe you.”

 

“I didn’t say anything!” Steve protests.

 

“You’re in love with Tony Stark.” It isn’t a question.

 

Steve winces. “That’s not… true…”

 

“Look me in the eyes, white boy, and lie to me again.”

 

“But, Sam,” Steve says, “I can’t be in love with Tony, because I’m already in love with Bucky- it’s probably just residual attraction.”

 

Sam shakes his head. “Steve, it’s been a year. That’s not an attraction anymore. You’re still in love with him.”

 

Seeing Steve’s distressed expression, Sam quickly backtracks, “But it’s cool, man. Now you just gotta figure out what to do now and do it.”

 

Real helpful, Sam.

 

“Why is love so hard,” Steve complains. Sam pats his back and mumbles comforting sentiments that all end with man. Sam is a true bro.

 

Eventually, though, Sam leaves the room. Steve still sits there, shell-shocked. He guesses he can’t blame him, Sam isn’t really a ‘so-you-have-a-crush-on-a-guy’ type of person. (It’s just a crush, by the way. It can’t be more that a crush.)

 

(Who does he think he’s fooling-)

 

“This school has too many empty classrooms,” Steve mutters darkly, leaving for class before he could get lost in his thoughts.

 

---

 

As it turns out, Steve doesn’t have to wait that long to talk to Bucky. His boyfriend is waiting just outside the door at the end of the day.

 

They stare at each other for a long moment. Students stream by as they leave school.

 

Bucky speaks first. “We need to talk.”

 

Ears ringing, Steve nods numbly. “My parents aren’t home. We can talk there.”

 

The front doors slam closed behind them, and the noise is jarring against the somber backdrop, even though the courtyard is full of noisy teenagers.

 

The walk to Steve’s apartment is quiet. The cars still zoom past and honk and they still get yelled at, but the city has never been so quiet. Thunder rumbles in the distance. It’s going to rain soon.

 

When they enter the apartment, Bucky doesn’t hesitate, walking quickly and stiffly to Steve’s room.

 

“Lock the door behind you,” Bucky says over his shoulder. Steve blinks, but dutifully locks the door.

 

Bucky sits on the edge of Steve’s bed. Steve stands awkwardly across from him, fidgeting.

 

The long-haired boy speaks first. “I know you didn’t kiss Tony. He kissed you.”

 

Relief courses through Steve’s body, but he just offers a tight nod. Bucky clearly isn’t finished talking.

 

“And I’m sorry I didn’t believe you,” he continues.

 

Something breaks in Steve’s chest. Reality crashes back in. “No, Bucky, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have gone to the party without telling you and I shouldn’t have been with Tony, and-“

 

“Steve, stop,” Bucky interrupts, looking kind of guilty.

 

Steve stares at him, confused. “What is it, Buck?”

 

Bucky’s flesh arm plays with his metal fingers. “I haven’t been… completely honest with you either…”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“There are some things you don’t know about.”

 

“Like what?” Steve asks, confused. None of this makes sense.

 

Bucky winces. “I can’t tell you, or you’ll get mad.”

 

“So you’ve been keeping secrets from me?” Steve demands.

 

Right away, Steve regrets his aggression, because immediately, Bucky gets defensive. “Really, Steve?” Bucky says, incredulous. “You’re mad at me about secrets? Can you really tell me you don’t feel anything for him? This whole time we’ve been dating?”

 

It’s obvious who him was. Steve hesitates, just a second, but that was all Bucky needs. The long-haired boy’s expression closes off. Steve rebuts, “That’s completely unfair- you can’t ask me to stop feeling things! Besides- I love you… more…”

 

Bucky gazes at Steve with wet eyes. At some point he’s stood up. “Stop lying to yourself,” he whispers. Steve flinches as if he’d yelled at him. Bucky goes on, “I know you, Steven Rogers. You either love with everything or not at all.”

 

“Bucky- I- that’s the thing,” Steve says with a pleading edge to his voice. “It’s different. The… feelings I have for Tony are different than the ones I have for you.”

 

“Well, Steve,” Bucky says, voice cracking, “you have to choose one.”

 

“I don’t want to.”

 

“If we all got what we wanted, the world would be a very fuckin’ different place,” Bucky says harshly. After a small pause, his expression softens. “For what it’s worth,” he says, “I won’t be mad at you if you pick him.”

 

“Bucky…”

 

“Just… give me some time,” Bucky says. “Please?” He turns to leave.

 

“I love you,” Steve calls after him.

 

Bucky doesn’t stop, doesn’t turn around. “I know.”

 

---

 

Tony runs from the cafeteria. It turns out that seeing Steve’s wide blue eyes and startled expression is something he is not ready for yet.

 

Not looking where he’s going, he somehow ends up in an abandoned science room. Tony practically slams the door behind him and collapses against it.

 

His watch pings. When he glances at it, his hand shakes so badly that it takes a couple seconds to read the message.

 

JARVIS:  Sir, please breathe.

 

He hasn’t even noticed that he’d stopped.

 

“Do you mind?”

 

Whipping around, Tony is faced with the same empty classroom. No magical source reveals where the words came from. “What the fuck,” he says aloud, searching for the source of the voice.

 

“Back here.”

 

In the back of the classroom, sitting cross-legged on his portable rug and seemingly immersed in a Pre-Med textbook, is Stephen Strange, lunatic extraordinaire.

 

Tony stares at him. “What the hell are you doing here?”

 

Stephen gazes calmly back. “The abundance of empty classrooms in this school is absurd. Might as well use it to your advantage. Get your own room.” The bright green (obviously fake) gem on his gold necklace glitters brightly as he crosses his arms.

 

Tony glares. “I’m having a panic attack? And I’m more important than you? You get out.”

 

“Relax, Stark. Your aura is messing up my meditation time,” he says. “Focus on calming down.”

 

“And why would I do that?”

 

“Other than the fact that it’s basic self care? I’m trying to meditate here.” Stephen gets up and starts to walk towards Tony, arms still crossed.

 

“You’ve been converted into a zealot. I don’t care about your ‘meditation.’”

 

“You should. It can help you.”

 

“How so, Dumbledore?”

 

“Time heals all wounds, Stark.” Stephen takes Tony’s hands into his. He taps the inside of Tony’s wrists, where old, pink, faded lines crisscross in an ugly pattern. “Even these.”

 

“How did you know those were there?” Tony demands, shoving his hands into his pocket.

 

“Time is linear,” Stephen explains, as if that made an iota of sense, “I’m just a little further ahead of you.” He seems totally in peace for someone who is literally talking like a Buddhist youth pastor.

 

“You’re so fucking weird,” Tony says, throwing the door open.

 

“You’re smart, too, Stark. You know the weirdest people are usually right.”

 

“That or crazy,” Tony points out. It’s a valid point.

 

Stephen raises a single, perfect eyebrow. Why not both?”

 

“I don’t have time for this,” Tony mutters, storming out the room. Maybe he’ll have better luck outside.

 

---

 

Bucky hikes the miserable miles back to his house. Not having a car, he thinks, and not wanting to talk to anyone with a car, is a bad combo for having a boyfriend ten blocks away.

 

Whatever. It’s probably good for him, being alone.

 

He isn’t really alone, not by a long shot. The streets are crowded at this time of day, and clouds fill the sky. But Bucky takes solace in the anonymity of crowds, how nobody stops to look at a random kid who happens to have a prosthetic.

 

The apartment complex is a big one

 

The apartment is drenched in shadow. Seriously, Bucky thinks sardonically, am I the only person who knows the value of some fucking windows? Not that they’d do any good in the somber, stormy weather.

 

“James. Nice to see you still come home, once in a while.”

 

Bucky freezes, then whirls around to face the figure sitting on a couch.

 

Oh shit.

 

Pierce’s expression is relaxed and open, and it sets all of Bucky’s nerves on edge. He’d hoped he would get home before Pierce- wishful thinking, he realizes looking back. As if the universe would let him catch a breath after a shitty day. His karma is fucking unreal.

 

Pierce continues, despite the fact that Bucky hasn’t said anything. “You know, I was worried you wouldn’t come back.” He gets up from the chair. “Was gonna go looking for you. Return on investment and all that.”

 

Bucky stays silent. It’s usually better to let him talk.

 

“You’re quiet tonight,” Pierce observes. He steps into Bucky’s personal space. “Would you like some milk?”

 

The words sound, for all the world, completely conversational, but Bucky’s heart stops in his chest, and all his muscles lock into place.

 

Pierce smiles.

 

He steps behind Bucky and places very firm, large hands on his shoulders. “Why don’t we take a walk, hmm?”

 

Bucky’s legs, the traitors, go in the direction they were pushed. He can feel himself shutting down.

 

“I don’t understand why we still have these problems, James,” Pierce is still saying. “I feed not only you, but your family in Romania as well. These stunts you’re pulling, they aren’t a great motivator for me. Maybe,” Pierce says, breath disgustingly hot in Bucky’s ear, “maybe I’ll stop paying for them. It would be a shame if they couldn’t pay rent this month…”

 

They reach the kitchen, and Pierce guides Bucky into a chair. Bucky can’t move; his mind screams to run, escape, but his body stays glued to the chair.

 

Pierce opens the fridge and pulls out a carton of milk. Bucky’s body flushes with terror, but he stays where he was.

 

Pierce taps his adoptive son’s jaw. Bucky’s jaw compliantly pops open. He’s never hated himself more.

 

Pierce pulls his hair until Bucky’s head is tilted back. Then he begins pouring milk into Bucky’s mouth.

 

At first, it isn’t not so bad- the first mouthful goes down easy. It gets hard quick. White liquid begins to drizzle out of his mouth, first in small drops, then in streams that completely drench his clothes. Thunder crashes around the house.

 

Bucky can’t breathe- he chokes. Tears fill his eyes and yet the torture continues. Bucky tries to regain his breath, but he coughs and his head rises to lean against his chest. Milk splashes onto his hair. It feels like forever until the carton runs out of milk. Bucky takes in a shuddering breath, and realizes he’s crying.

 

Pierce leans down to whisper in Bucky’s ear. “When I say I want you home by nine o’clock, I mean it. Next time I won’t be so nice.”

 

---

 

“Can I borrow this pen?” Rhodey asks, thumbing through his math homework and reaching for a pen on Tony’s side of the table.

 

“That pen cost thirty dollars,” Tony mumbles, immersed in his Italian homework.

 

Rhodey’s head snaps up. “You spent thirty dollars on a pen?”

 

Tony doesn’t even look up. “I’m rich, Honey Bear.”

 

“Even goddamned Donald Trump wouldn’t spend thirty dollars on a pen!”

 

“And I would follow Donald Trump’s example why?”

 

Rhodey stares at the pen in horror. It isn’t even a great-looking pen. “This pen better have written the goddamn Constitution if it’s thirty dollars.

 

“Yeah,” Tony mumbles in a dismal tone. Any other day he would’ve laughed and poked fun, but the young genius has been melancholy since Rhodey walked into his lab.

 

“Hey, Tones, what’s wrong,” Rhodey asks softly.

 

“I’m… lonely, Rhodey.” Tony says, looking as if he’s just stumbled upon this revelation himself.

 

Rhodey knows exactly what he was talking about, even if Tony doesn’t necessarily realize it for himself yet. That’s Tony- smart about everything except feelings.

 

“You don’t have to be dating someone to be worth something,” Rhodey says.

 

“Easy for you to say. You’re in a stable relationship. Where were you last night, huh?”

 

Rhodey is suddenly glad his dark skin covered his blush. “What happens between me and Carol is none of your business.”

 

---

 

“I’m worried about James,” Natasha admits, pulling her hair out of the braid it was in all day.

 

On her bed, Clint lounges with a nerf gun, watching a Tik Tok. “Why?”

 

“You know why.”

 

Clint doesn’t take his eyes off his phone, but Nat senses his focus redirect to her. “He’s survived more than this.”

 

“Yeah, but that almost killed him. It’s still killing him. I just don’t know if he’ll survive Steve-“

 

Bucky silently pads into the room, startling both Nat and Clint. The blond boy falls off the bed. Natasha instantly knows Bucky had heard their entire conversation.

 

His brown hair falls in front of his face to curl at his shoulders. His decently large frame is completely swamped in a sweatshirt that would comfortably fit an MBA player. His legs are bare except for the booty shorts he never seemed to run out of.

 

The bags under his eyes have grown overnight.

 

“Hey, guys,” he says.

 

Clint sits up on the floor. Awkwardly, he says, “Hey…”

 

Nat almost facepalms. Teenage boys are so goddamn stupid.

 

Natasha faces Bucky. “Do you want to talk about it, James?”

 

“No,” Bucky states firmly. “I am 100 percent fine.”

 

The words sound nonchalant, but the dead tone is all Winter. Natasha and Clint exchange a glance. Bucky stubbornly glares at one point on the wall.

 

“Well, what happened?” Clint asks.

 

“What part of 100 percent fine do you not fuckin’ understand?”

 

Natasha creeps behind him and lays perfectly manicured hands on his shoulders.

 

He tenses, but after a few long seconds, Bucky relaxes. Sighing, he tells them about his conversation with Steve.

 

At the end, Bucky flops onto the floor, face down.

 

“Well… at least you were honest?” The redhead tries.

 

Clint’s expression had turned exasperated sometime during the story, as if he was the only person on the planet with a brain. “Bucky,” he says, “you are acomplete idiot and I am so close to shoving your hair down your throat and leaving you to suffocate on it.”

 

“That was unnecessary,” Bucky scowls, sitting up.

 

Literally the most dumbass bastard I’ve ever met, except Steve and Tony because they are also being dumbass bastards,” Clint continues over him. Natasha sympathizes, but it seems like an odd time to be insulting the brunet.

 

“Get to the fucking point.”

 

“You do realize that there’s such thing as an open relationship?” Clint asks, and Natasha just about slaps herself.

 

I swear I'm not usually this dumb.

 

Bucky glares. “I know what that means, shithead, but how does that help me?”

 

Natasha says, “Yasha, he’s talking about you and Tony… sharing… Steve.”

 

Several expressions contort Bucky’s face. After about ten seconds he plops back on the ground face-first. “I hate it when Clint’s right.”

 

Clint leans over his body. “Now, repeat after me; I, Bucky Barnes, am the dumbest bitch alive-“

 

A single metal finger glitters in the air. Natasha has to smile.