Steve wasn't sure exactly what made it click: they were in the back of the plane on their way back from a mission, Bucky sprawled low on the bench with his hair in his face and Natasha reading a paperback for all the world like she was a commuter on the subway on her way home from the office. They weren't sitting next to each other, they weren't even looking at each other, so maybe it was something about the body language, or maybe he noticed Bucky's eyes flick up to meet Natasha's over the top of her book –
Steve said before he could think, “Wait, how long have you been...?”
After a minute Bucky drawled, “Been?” Both of them were looking at him.
“Together,” said Steve, and when Bucky's mouth twitched into a smirk, one of the rare smiles that hadn't changed since the old days and still meant he thought Steve was hilarious, he corrected, “Sleeping. Sleeping together.”
Natasha put her book down spine-cracked on an empty seat and said, “Fucking, Steve. You can say fucking.”
“Bet you a dollar he can't,” said Bucky, while Steve spluttered.
Natasha met Steve's eyes. “Years, Steve,” she said, and before Steve could say that that was impossible – six months ago Bucky hadn't even been – she went on in low, throbbing tones, “We were lovers in the Motherland. We killed for Russia and found our bitter comfort in each other's arms.” Steve stared. “He trained me. In those cold days there was very little that was warm, for me –”
“And me,” Bucky said. “Still – even when I didn't know your name, there was you, deadly and beautiful, my Natalia – Natashenka –” he said something in Russian, eyes gone shadowed, and Natasha gave him a smoldering look, and Steve's mouth was hanging open because he'd had no idea that they'd ever – that –
“Hang on just a second,” he said.
Natasha turned her head, met his eyes, and broke into a peal of laughter.
Bucky kept up the dark look in her direction for another few seconds before giving it up and sniggering. “Some super spy you are, breaking character like that. If I'd trained you I'd shoot myself. When were you born, ‘85?”
“‘84,” said Natasha.
“So she was six when what was left of the Soviet intelligence machine officially sold my refrigerator to Hydra,” Bucky said to Steve. “I bet our tragic assassin love affair would have been one for the ages, though.”
“It would have been agonizingly beautiful,” said Natasha. “And extremely Russian. I see us drinking our way steadily towards a pointless death in an ugly flat in Moscow. Occasionally we are sent to murder someone. We feel guilty, but not very. Outside, it is snowing. A thousand miles away, a single good man contemplates the loneliness of the human condition.”
Bucky threw his head back and laughed, a proper shout of laughter that Steve had only heard once or twice in the last six months, and not since Brooklyn before that. Steve ducked his head, smiling.
“All right, all right,” he said. “Sorry. I shouldn't have said anything. None of my business.”
“It can be your business,” said Bucky, settling down, turning a little serious, though there was still a smile tugging around the corners of his mouth. “We're your friends. How long have we been fucking?” He shrugged and looked at Natasha. “Couple of months?”
“About that,” she said.
“There you go,” said Bucky. “Couple of months.”
They didn't seem serious, Natasha and Bucky, but they did seem to be enjoying themselves. Now that Steve knew about it they didn't bother trying to hide that they burned off the adrenaline after nearly every mission with each other: they would always sit separately – putting the width of the Stark-sponsored plane between them, Bucky usually next to Steve and Natasha opposite – but then they'd give each other long hot looks and the occasional anticipatory smirk for the whole journey, and if Steve didn't avert his eyes he got caught in the crossfire and ended up blushing all over. It was hard not to think about it when both of them were so obviously not thinking about anything else.
Steve didn't think Bucky in the old days had been all that experienced – more than Steve, sure, but that wasn't saying much, especially by modern standards. And God only knew what had happened to him or what he remembered doing as the Winter Soldier; thinking about it made Steve feel nauseous. He was fairly sure from what Bucky had let slip that there had been some things, and he didn't think any of it had been pleasant. It was good to see him and Natasha so clearly having a good time, good enough that they both kept going back for more. That kind of casual relationship wasn't something Steve could ever see himself doing, though he'd given it the same honest consideration he tried to give every suggestion the twenty-first century threw at him. But he was glad it made them happy.
After a mission where they'd all gotten absolutely soaking wet and Steve had had to punch a shark – punch a shark, Sam was going to laugh and pretend he didn't believe Steve's life again, and Steve honestly couldn't blame him – they all peeled off the sodden top layers of their uniforms as soon as they were back on the plane. Natasha was wearing a tight black top and pants underneath hers, and Bucky got an arrested expression on his face when he saw. The whole staring and smirking and staring some more thing soon got completely out of hand, even by Natasha and Bucky standards, and then Natasha deliberately licked her lips and Bucky let out a small sound that was very close to a whimper and shifted on his seat. Steve said, “Hold on a moment,” and bent down and rummaged through his kitbag.
“What are we holding on for?” said Bucky as Steve straightened up with what he'd been looking for.
“Wait, wait,” said Steve. Natasha was watching him with raised eyebrows, her lips still a little shiny and wet-looking. “It's just that I'm pretty sure the future's got a phrase for this exact situation –” he flipped through the notebook, couldn't actually find it but pretended he had, ran his finger down the page and put on his best earnest look and said, “Here it is! Get a room.”
There was a pause, in which Bucky actually went red around the ears, and then Natasha snorted and stood up and said, “Good idea, Steve, thank you.” She pulled Bucky to his feet with a hand on the scruff of his neck. Steve's jaw dropped a little as she coolly steered him towards the airplane's tiny bathroom. Bucky stumbled at first and then got with the program and went eagerly. Steve saw her twist him around and push him up against the bathroom sink, and the look of stunned good fortune on his face, right before she kicked the door closed behind them. A second later the lock turned, thunk.
Steve very carefully put his notebook down. He had a feeling he'd lost that round.
There were a few minutes of suspicious quiet. Steve unfortunately had an excellent imagination, and his mind helpfully presented him with the image of kissing – slow, wet, open-mouthed kissing, Natasha's hands tangled in Bucky's long hair, Bucky bracing himself on the sink – oh god. It was their fault for thinking about it so loudly right in front of him. They were good-looking people, Natasha was beautiful, Bucky had always been handsome, Steve's love life wasn't the most eventful, it was hard not to picture –
There was a thud from the direction of the bathroom, and then a low moan that was stifled halfway through. Steve knew before he could tell himself to stop thinking about it that Bucky had just clapped his own hand over his mouth, which meant Natasha had to be –
Steve scrabbled in his kitbag for his iPod, hoping against hope that some of Sam's Motown music would distract him from the mental images. It only sort of worked.
“So they joined the mile high club right there?”
Steve put his face in his hands. “They were loud.”
“Your life, Steve Rogers.”
“Why don't you come on our missions?” Steve said. “You wouldn't do that to me.”
“I am sorry, man, but if Natasha showed any inclination to take me savagely in an airplane bathroom I would absolutely do that to you,” Sam said without a shred of shame.
“I wouldn't want our friendship to be built on lies,” Sam told him earnestly. Steve laughed despite himself. “So is it bothering you? Them doing their thing?”
“No,” said Steve. “No, no it's not, I'm – really glad they're happy. I could do with a little less –” he made a vague hand gesture.
“Simmering sexual tension,” Sam supplied.
Steve rolled his eyes. “ – right in front of me, it's a bit....”
Sam’s eyebrows went up.
Steve finished quickly, “But I'm glad they're happy.”
“What I'm getting from this is that we need to get you a few more dates,” Sam said.
“Don't you start. Natasha was bad enough.”
“We're looking out for you. You keep up this level of sexual frustration and you're gonna explode.”
“I just... no. I can't do casual,” said Steve. “And I don't think I'm ready for serious. So. No.”
Sam looked at him. “You know when you go to the pool, and the water's cold?”
“The water's cold, and you know it's gonna be cold, and you're just standing there in your swim trunks thinking, man, I don't wanna go in there,” said Sam. His voice was light but his eyes were kind. “And maybe you dip your toe in just to check, and what do you know, it's fucking freezing, and now you're thinking, I really don't wanna go in there. And the longer you stand by the side of the pool thinking about it, the worse it gets, and if you try to ease in slow, it's just as bad as you thought it would be, and you can't remember why you thought the pool was a good idea in the first place.”
“Sam,” said Steve.
“I'm just saying, as your friend,” said Sam. “It's been years, Steve. Maybe it's time you tried just jumping in and swimming. You'll warm up fast enough.”
“What about you?” said Steve. “I don't see a girlfriend around here anywhere. Maybe I should be nagging you about going on dates.”
“Hey, hey, do as I say, not as I do,” said Sam. He smiled ruefully. “Don't think I'm not aware of the problem. You realize Barnes only got his life back less than a year ago and he's doing better at this than either of us?”
“That's Bucky,” said Steve, feeling fond. “Always lands on his feet.”
“And how,” said Sam. “An airplane bathroom, goddamn. We should probably ask him for tips.”
Steve didn't ask Bucky for tips, because he couldn't see a way to start that conversation that wasn't deeply embarrassing. In the old days Bucky had never hesitated to tell him what he was doing wrong when it came to women – not that Steve had ever really listened, because it had been obvious before the serum that what worked for a good-looking guy like Bucky wasn't going to work for him – but now he was close-mouthed. The closest he came to talking about what he had going with Natasha was when Steve said, “So, you two...?” and Bucky shrugged one-shouldered.
“Tragic assassin love affair?” said Steve, prodding.
“Well,” said Bucky, “something like that.”
“Okay,” said Steve. “You know, this would be easier if we could still get drunk together.”
Bucky snorted. “Tell me about it.” There was a pause. “She started it,” Bucky said. “When a woman like that decides she wants to tie you to the bed and ride you till you see stars, you don't argue.”
“Okay,” said Steve, desperately hoping he wasn't blushing, “that was more than I needed to know.”
“Sorry,” said Bucky. He gave Steve a wry look. “Tell you what, let's never mention it again. It's nothing serious, anyway.”
Steve found he had a very hard time forgetting that mental image. It would take heavy-duty military grade restraints to tie Bucky's metal arm to anything, but that wasn't what he saw in his head; he saw something simple, a belt maybe, something that Bucky could break out of easily if he wanted to, but the point was that he wouldn't want to. Natasha settled over him, her hair curtaining her face – the long eager stretch of his body and the effortless flex of hers as she rolled her hips – and the sounds, he knew what they sounded like –
Sam was right. Steve needed to get over himself and try to meet someone. This was starting to drive him crazy.
There wasn't a lot of time for trying to find a date. The shark thing turned out to be the tip of a bizarre eco-terrorism iceberg, and then there were a series of rescue missions in the Indian Ocean, and then they got a line on a resurgent cell of Hydra operating out of Singapore. There was no flirting between Bucky and Natasha happening on the downtime between the Singapore missions. Bucky looked the way Steve felt when it was Hydra, tension over barely controlled fury, seventy years and the victory they'd both died for and still –
They cleared out a den of hostiles from the top six floors of a skyscraper, and Natasha broke into a network which gave them a location for a big player: an actual head to cut off. “London,” she said, with grim satisfaction. “High finance.”
On the way to the extraction point they were jumped by the remnants of the cell, the half-dozen who hadn't been in the hotel when they hit it. One of them got in a lucky shot that took Bucky in the back of the knee, and Steve had to half-drag, half-carry him to the extraction point while Natasha covered them. Bucky was white-faced and mumbling curses the whole way, listing against Steve's shoulder, and a hell of a lot heavier than he looked. If Steve ever let himself worry while there was a mission in progress, he would have felt sick with it. Natasha took out two more Hydra operatives on the way, very calm, very thorough.
The minute they were safe on the plane, Bucky passed out.
“He's going to be fine,” said Steve to Natasha outside the Stark Tower infirmary later.
“I know he is,” said Natasha. “He might need a new kneecap.”
“I know you two –” said Steve.
“We're not serious, Steve,” said Natasha.
Steve didn't say anything. He'd seen the look on her face when Bucky fell. After a moment, Natasha sighed.
“Yes, we're fond of each other. But I'd be just as upset if it was you. We’re not a love story,” she said. “James and I attempting actual intimacy would be the blind leading the blind. Neither of us has had a lot of opportunity to practice.”
Steve felt a stab of emotion on behalf of them both. “That's not true,” he said. “I... not that there's anything wrong with what you’re doing, I don't think that. But if you wanted to love someone, I think you'd be good at it. Both of you.”
Natasha gave him an odd look. Then she went on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek.
“What was that for?” said Steve.
“Being you,” said Natasha. “Just being you, Steve. He'll be fine, you know.”
“Are you reassuring me?”
“Yes,” said Natasha. She gave him a small smile. “I think you need it more than I do.”
Bucky healed faster than normal people, if not as fast as Steve. He was back on his feet ahead of the London mission, and there was no question of leaving him behind. With a Hydra mission, there was every likelihood he'd show up anyway if they tried to bench him. He missed the briefing, though.
“Tell me what we're dealing with,” he said once they'd arrived at their London base – a smelly but highly secured basement flat in Islington.
“Our Mr. High Finance is Edmund York, sixty-three years old, divorced, two adult children, and a rotating stable of attractive young lovers,” Natasha said. “Oxford educated, knows the right people, votes Conservative. He's clean as a whistle, financially speaking – well, clean as a successful Gold Circle banker can be. He nearly lost a job once over a whistleblowing incident; he takes money very seriously. Diverse investment portfolio – notable that he's had shares in Stark Industries since the Obadiah Stane days and that they were personal friends at one point; we're about seventy percent certain that Stane was a Hydra bigwig. York had cut ties with him before his public meltdown, though. These days, he's doing very well off the London property boom. Known for his charm and bonhomie, donates extensively to charity. He'll be attending a charity gala in West London tonight. We think he's funding Hydra’s Western European and North African activities; he can certainly afford it.”
“Right,” said Bucky. “Attractive young lovers?”
“That was my first thought as well,” Natasha said. Steve kept quiet. He wasn't nearly as good as either of them at this sort of thing.
Bucky grinned. “Male or female?”
“Both,” said Natasha. “Preferably as a matched set. Apparently he likes to watch.”
Bucky whistled. “The rich, huh? Well.” He offered Natasha his arm. “Be my date for the evening?”
“With pleasure,” Natasha said. “Steve –”
“I'm feeling a sudden hankering for a career in private security,” said Steve, dry.
Natasha's lips quirked. “Then it's your lucky day.”
Steve would be the first to admit that he wasn't a natural when it came to covert ops, but he was getting pretty good at passing for private security. It helped that people half-expected security guards to be big hulking men with dour expressions; Steve pasted on his best grim face and everyone ignored him. At a swanky event like this, they barely glanced at his cheap suit and badge (Steve never asked Natasha how she got hold of these things) before they started acting like he was invisible. And since it was ostensibly Steve's job to be keeping an eye on everything in the room, he didn't have to try to be subtle about it. It worked pretty well. Edmund York was easy to spot; he moved through the room at the heart of a constantly swirling throng of people. He carried an ivory-handled cane, which seemed to be an affectation since he wasn't using it to walk, and he had a smile and a friendly word or two for every person who spoke to him. Steve picked a spot against a wall to watch from, and the gala crowd ignored him.
He saw Natasha and Bucky come in after about twenty minutes. Natasha had put her hair up into a pile of curls and was wearing a short black number with a back that dipped low, exposing the smooth curved shapes of her spine and shoulder blades. Bucky's hair was tied back, and he had a sharply cut suit, a white shirt open at the collar, and fine leather gloves to hide his mismatched hands. They stuck close together, Bucky's gloved hands regularly straying to Natasha's waist and Natasha's eyes sparkling when she looked at him, and although they appeared oblivious to the rest of the gala they got plenty of attention without apparently trying. People's eyes were drawn towards them, expressions turning envious or wistful or softening into indulgent smiles when they saw what they were supposed to see: two people who were young, and beautiful, and in love.
Steve's thoughts drifted for a moment to the old days, when Bucky had loved going to dances with a pretty girl on his arm, looking sharp, being the center of attention. He'd drawn eyes then, too, Steve's along with everyone else's. Except then he really had been young.
And now they were here.
Steve realized when a gala guest gave him an odd look that he was staring a little too intently for a bored security guard. He turned away. He could hear the light meaningless conversation Bucky and Natasha were having through his earpiece. They mingled with the crowd and let it carry them seemingly naturally towards York. “Oh – oh, Mr. York!” he heard Bucky say. “I'm sorry, did I jostle you? I didn't see you there, I –”
“James,” said Natasha, fond, reproving. “Please excuse him, Mr. York. He needs to learn to look where he's going.”
“If I had such a beauty on my arm, I wouldn't notice the old man standing behind me either,” said York. “Or anything else. Eyes on the prize, James, and never apologize for it.”
“No, but I really am sorry, I –” York and Natasha both laughed; out of the corner of his eye, Steve saw them exchange a look, a young woman inviting a charming older man to share her amusement at her lover's haplessness.
“If you must apologize, you can do it by fetching your lady a glass of champagne,” Steve heard the banker say. It sounded like York was talking almost into his ear; he must be leaning close to one of them. “Get yourself one as well. I'll keep her safe till you get back.”
A few seconds later Steve saw Bucky cut across his line of vision, heading for one of the circulating waiters. He scooped up three champagne flutes and his voice murmured in Steve's ear, “Target acquired.” Natasha and York had found seats in a corner close to one of the buffet tables, where she was leaning in a little and telling him that her name was Natalie. They had things under control. Steve went back to scanning the room and pretending to be security guarding.
Natasha and Bucky left with York shortly after midnight, with York's hand resting low on the naked line of Natasha's back. They both got into his Bentley with him, a huge silver monster of a car. Steve, creeping out into the alleyway where he'd left his bike, heard through his earpiece York offering ‘Natalie’ more champagne for the journey. “Oh, all right then,” said Natasha, with a tipsy-sounding giggle. “Only if James has some too. You're being so nice to us.”
The big car pulled smoothly out into the road. Steve left the security guard suit in the alleyway; back in uniform, he followed the car at a cautious distance. The chauffeur didn't seem to pick up on him. Even this late, London roads were busy enough that perhaps a man on a motorbike going in the same direction didn't register as an anomaly. “I hope you're quite relaxed, James,” he heard York purr, sounding like he was immediately behind Steve's shoulder – he had to be right up in Bucky's space. “I've had someone call ahead. Everything will be ready when we get in. Do enjoy the champagne. I think Natalie has perhaps had a little too much, and it's a shame not to finish the bottle; once it's open, it won't keep, you know.”
“Y-yeah, sure,” said Bucky. To someone who didn't know him, he probably sounded breathless rather than murderous. He wouldn’t be drinking the champagne, though he was probably letting York think otherwise.
York lived in a mansion on a road of mansions in a leafy suburb. “The staff will have left by now,” York said. “I prefer a little privacy.”
Steve scanned the building and the surroundings. “Perimeter's clear,” he said quietly, knowing that they heard him, and Natasha immediately giggled again and asked for a tour of the house. Once they were inside Steve pulled himself up over the fence. He exchanged a swift flurry of blows with the chauffeur – obviously doubling as York's security for the night – and knocked him to the ground before he could set off any alarms. There was a door into the main house from the garage. The hallway it opened into had a polished hardwood floor with a thick patterned rug thrown over it, and paintings hanging on the walls. “I'm in,” said Steve.
“Just through here,” he heard York say in stereo, voice both coming through the earpiece and floating down the stairway. “Careful, Natalie – let me help, my dear, you don't want to trip in those shoes –”
There was a series of soft sounds, and a thud.
“I'm fine, thanks,” said Natasha.
Steve darted up the stairs. York was out cold on the floor, ivory-handled cane fallen from his hand. Natasha said, “I know that wasn't exactly the plan, but he was starting to annoy me.”
Bucky stripped his gloves off and tucked them in his pocket. His hair wasn't tied back anymore; the hair tie must have come off at some point during the car journey. He was looking grimly at the fallen man in the expensive suit. Something about his expression made Steve go still. Natasha froze too, looking at it. Slowly, thoughtfully, Bucky pulled out his gun from his jacket and pointed it at York's head.
“Bucky,” said Steve.
“He reminds me of someone,” Bucky said, almost calmly. “I don't know why. Maybe it's the nice house.”
“Bucky,” Steve said again. It wasn't that he disagreed – not when it was Hydra – but a bullet to the head at point blank range, an execution, without trial or jury, in the middle of the night, for an unconscious man –
“James,” said Natasha. “I appreciate that this is hypocritical of me, but that is definitely not in the plan.”
Bucky held the gun steady for a moment longer, and then laughed uneasily and let it fall by his side. It hung loosely from the fingers of his metal hand, which made Steve almost as nervous. Bucky usually took his guns seriously; it wasn't like him to be careless. “I suppose not. Let's get him tied up, then.” Sounding more like himself, he added, “What a fucking creep.”
He stood there looking at York for a few seconds more before he finally put the gun away.
They left York bound and gagged and out for the count in his own kitchen, and swept the house. York's study was at first glance a blameless book-lined private retreat, photographs of his grandchildren on the walls and no evidence of criminal activity in sight. Steve remembered the quick glance he'd taken at the outside of the mansion, mentally compared it to the proportions of the rooms inside, and said, “I think we're missing a window. Or two.” He went to the bookcase and ran his hands down the leather covers of the books. One felt wrong. He pulled it out and opened it; it was hollow inside, and contained a good-sized bag of pale pink powder.
Natasha frowned at it. “I'd say cocaine, but the color’s wrong,” she said. “I'm not sure. Maybe some kind of designer drug.”
“Not the key to a secret room I was looking for,” said Steve.
“Oh, is that what you were looking for?” Bucky said. “You should have said.” He grinned, stepped past Steve, swept a whole row of books off the bookcase and punched the wall hard. There was a creak and a groan. The bookcase swung open, revealing a room on the other side.
There was a window. Steve liked being right.
“There you go,” said Bucky.
“Do you know,” said Natasha, “when I trained, we were taught about the Winter Soldier and encouraged to treat his kills – his suspected kills – as a model of stealth and subtlety.”
“Were you,” said Bucky, grinning bigger.
Steve rolled his eyes. “Come on,” he said. “Let's have a look.”
The second study was a gold mine. York was a major player in Hydra, all right; he seemed to be something like a treasurer, and he had account books going back to the 1970s. They were coded, but not well; Steve cracked it in his head as he flicked through them. “Obadiah Stane was Hydra,” he said to Natasha, who'd gone straight for the computer.
“Not surprising,” Natasha said. “Anyone else jump out at you?”
There were one or two names that rang bells from Steve's crash-course in late twentieth century history, but he wasn't sure. “Not really,” he said. “Actual analysts need to look at this.”
“They will,” said Natasha. “There's more than enough here to pass on to MI5. Let the British take out their own trash. Whatever else happens they'll freeze his bank accounts immediately, and that,” she straightened up, “should throw Hydra’s activities in Europe into spectacular disarray.”
“A good night's work, then,” said Steve.
“Worth me getting pawed by the creep all evening?” Bucky said from where he was leaning against the broken doorframe.
Steve could hear the edge in his voice. Natasha tilted her head. Maybe she’d heard it too. She turned around, looked him over, and gave him a wicked smirk.
“No one could resist pawing you in that suit, James,” she said. “You clean up surprisingly well.”
There was a brief, shy flicker of a smile on Bucky’s face. He slouched a little more and gave her a slow up and down look under his eyelashes. “You too,” he said, low.
“I'm – going to see if I can find another secret room for that other window,” Steve said.
“Let me know if you need my specialized lock-picking skills,” said Bucky, without taking his eyes off Natasha.
“I can punch a hole in a wall myself, thanks,” Steve said, but he wasn't sure either of them heard him. He switched his comm off as he fled. Let them have a couple of moments of privacy. It wasn't quite as bad as the time on the plane: at least Steve could actually get away.
He took longer than he should have done to find the second secret room. He was maybe a little distracted. The entrance was in the master bedroom, which was a somber and masculine apartment with dark walls and plain white sheets on the bed. The switch was behind a lamp, not really concealed, and Steve hit it without thinking and then stopped, staring, as the hidden door swung open. He was still staring when footsteps pounded up the stairs and Bucky burst into the room with his gun angled ready. “Steve –” he got out, and then stopped when he saw there wasn't a threat.
Natasha came into the room behind him, also armed. She glanced from Bucky to Steve, scanned the rest of the room quickly, then slipped her pistol back into the thigh holster and said, clipped, “Don't turn off your comm.”
“Sorry,” said Steve, swallowing the ma'am his tongue wanted to add. He rubbed his forehead. “I, uh. Found the other room, though?”
Both Bucky and Natasha turned to look properly.
After a moment, Bucky said, “Wow.”
“I guess we know what York was planning to do with you two,” said Steve, blushing.
Natasha tilted her head, gazing at the lush cornucopia of silken pillows. “I don't think I would fuck you in there,” she said to Bucky without turning her head. Steve blushed harder.
“Oh, I don't know,” said Bucky. “It looks comfortable?”
“The walls are padded.”
“And it's...” she seemed to get distracted for a moment, “...very pink.”
“We have to go in there, don't we.”
“It is extremely unlikely that York is keeping any Hydra-related intel in his secret sex room,” said Natasha. Then she sighed. “But it's theoretically possible. I'll do it.”
Steve and Bucky exchanged relieved looks.
Natasha stepped through the door into the secret room and glanced around. “Well, that’s a lot of hidden cameras. I wonder if he was planning to tell us about them. Somehow I doubt it.” She took another couple of steps in, kicked a stray pillow out the way with the toe of her high-heeled shoe, and added, “I don’t think he gets these laundered. Something smells –”
She froze. Steve heard the hiss before he saw the fine pink mist start spraying through the air. “Natasha!”
He and Bucky both said it at once, and Bucky started forward, stopping at the doorway. Little curls of pink mist were escaping from the secret room; the air inside looked foggy. “Natasha, get out of there!” Bucky said.
Natasha turned around and looked at him. She licked her lips and blinked a few times; her breathing was picking up. “Designer drug,” she breathed. “Aerosolized. From his study. Not – not necessarily life-threatening, I think, more of a – fun surprise for his guests. Fuck.” She was breathing quite heavily now, taking in more of the pink mist with every breath. “James,” she said, her eyes focusing slowly on Bucky.
“Get away from there, Bucky, it’s not safe,” said Steve. “We don’t know what the drug does. Natasha, you need to get out of there right now.”
“I know I do,” said Natasha. There was hectic color rising on her cheekbones. She wobbled on her high heels as she stepped towards the door – that was more worrying than anything else, that was incredibly out of character – and instead of getting away Bucky reached out to catch her. Steve saw her expression change, go vaguely confused and then suddenly very focused, but he didn’t have time to get out a warning before Natasha took Bucky’s outstretched hand and pulled hard, so that it was Bucky, unprepared, who stumbled through the door and into her arms.
Natasha twisted both her hands into his long hair and wrapped a thigh around his hip and used her weight to flip them both. Bucky landed hard among the cushions, Natasha on top of him, gasping as the wind got knocked out of him, and then going still as he breathed in again, pink fog curling lovingly around them both. The whole thing had only taken a matter of seconds. Natasha still had her hands in Bucky’s hair as they stared at each other and both of them panted. Steve had a very bad feeling about this.
Natasha pushed Bucky down into the cushions and kissed him viciously.
Bucky’s arms came around her and pulled her tight against him; they both gasped when their lips parted, and Bucky started scrabbling at the fastenings of Natasha’s dress, and Natasha dropped her head into the curve of his throat and did something that made him keen. Steve finally broke through the paralysis of shock, dragged his eyes away, and started thinking. He opened all the master bedroom windows as fast as he could; there was one that wouldn’t open, so he smashed it. He snatched up a cloth that was draped over the foot of the bed; it wasn’t much of a gas mask, but it was better than nothing. He didn’t want to leave them in there breathing in whatever-it-was. Neither of them would appreciate having their judgment chemically overridden. It might even be actively dangerous in Bucky’s case, with some of the things that were buried in his head: there was a reason he didn’t drink anymore.
Captain America could hold his breath for just over six minutes if he was standing still, or about three and a half if he was moving – plenty of time. Steve stuck his head out the window, breathed in as deep a lungful as he could get, and then tied the cloth round his face and turned to the secret room. It was almost immediately a struggle not to breathe – the fact that he could hold his breath didn’t mean his body wanted to – and the sight of Natasha and Bucky didn’t help. They’d switched places, Bucky was on top now, and he’d shrugged off his suit jacket and Natasha was helping him push the white shirt down his arms. She was naked to the waist, and her elegant hairstyle had come loose around her bare shoulders in a messy tumble of red curls. Steve made himself look even though part of him wanted nothing more than to turn politely away. He had to think about it tactically. They were absolutely focused on each other. He wanted them out of that room. Bucky was heavier – and, of the two of them, more of an actual threat to Steve if he got angry. Natasha had more of the drug in her system.
It was a quick decision. Steve went in fast and hauled Bucky off Natasha by sheer force, shoving him sideways into the pillows. He scooped Natasha up into his arms, trying not to look at her bare breasts.
“What?” she said vaguely. “James? Oh, Steve.” She smiled and reached up to tug at Steve’s impromptu gas mask. The knot was loose and it came off in her hands. Natasha wound her arms around Steve’s neck and kissed him.
He doggedly ignored it as best he could, kept his mouth closed tight and started back for the master bedroom. It was only a few feet to the door. Natasha made an irritated noise against his lips and – he’d been a little too gentlemanly about picking her up, her legs were free. She twisted in his arms and kicked him hard right above the diaphragm. Steve gasped, and he could taste the sickly-sweet scent of the drug in the air. He nearly dropped Natasha. She made an mmm sound and kissed him again; this time Steve’s mouth was open, and that was her tongue.
“Now that’s an idea,” murmured Bucky’s voice right by his ear, low and pleased, and the hands settling on Steve’s hips from behind were Bucky’s hands, the warmth pressed against his back was Bucky’s body. “Nice girls share, though.” He kissed Steve’s jaw, and then his throat. His hair fell over Steve’s skin and it tickled. Steve shivered. He knew he’d inhaled some of the drug – Bucky was – Natasha –
– he couldn’t remember for a second what he was supposed to be doing –
He was, he reminded himself with a tremendous effort, getting them out of there.
Never mind gentlemanly. He jabbed his elbow back into Bucky’s solar plexus to make him let go, put Natasha over his shoulder in a fireman’s hold, and made for the Hydra banker’s bedroom like a drowning man making for shore. Natasha laughed when he put her over his shoulder and then laughed again when he threw her down on the bed like a sack of potatoes. “Oh, Captain America,” she said, low and smoky and half-naked and smirking at him, “how strong you are.”
“Natasha,” complained Steve, face hot, even though he knew there was no point holding anything she said right now against her. “Just – stay there.”
“Where’s James?” she said. “I was in the middle of something –”
“Here,” said Bucky, and Natasha reached out and dragged him down onto her. He’d followed them, thank god, which meant they were all out of York’s secret sex room and Steve could hit the switch, which he did. The hidden door swung closed, and there was suddenly no evidence that the room had existed at all except for the faint traces of pink mist still hanging in the air.
A breeze blew through the room from all the open windows. Steve sat down hard on the side of the bed and panted for breath. He looked over at the other two and immediately wished he hadn’t. They were both naked to the waist and kissing again, hot slow dirty kissing, flashes of tongues between their mouths, little wet noises. Natasha’s nails were set in the back of Bucky’s neck, digging in knowingly and making him shudder – god, Steve had a good imagination but he hadn’t known the half of it – god, what was he doing, why was he looking?
He turned his head sharply, feeling hot all over. He should – stand up. He should leave the room. He should call their check-in and explain the problem. It was so hot. The breeze from the windows wasn’t helping at all. The drug was working on him, he thought. It shouldn’t be working on him – his souped-up metabolism processed poisons faster than they could act – he was starting to sweat. He screwed his eyes shut, but that made things worse. He could hear.
Then a hand touched his shoulder. “Steve, c’mon,” Bucky said, and then his hand moved to the nape of Steve’s neck and stroked, once, twice. Steve startled hard and threw him off, which resulted in a startled oof behind him and a “Hey!” from Natasha. Steve couldn’t help it, had to turn round, but Natasha was fine, he’d just knocked Bucky into her, and Bucky was looking at him in mild surprise. “You trying to hurt my feelings?” he said.
“No, you idiot,” said Steve, swallowing. He could beat this. His system would deal with it in no time and then he’d stand up and –
“Then c’mon,” Bucky said, and he crawled over to Steve again and ran his hand up Steve’s arm. Steve was wearing his uniform, he knew objectively that there was a thick layer of fabric and armor between his arm and Bucky’s fingers. There was no way that the contact could feel like it burned, no reason for his breathing to quicken.
“Let me,” said Natasha, and then she slid into Steve’s lap, and she was naked. Steve’s heart thudded double-time; he didn’t heave her off him because he didn’t know where to put his hands. She stroked his hair back from his face at the temple and smiled at him, and when she put her hand under his chin to tilt his face up into the kiss, he didn’t resist. He knew he ought to, but he didn’t. Her mouth was hotter than anything he’d ever felt. She kissed dirtily, expertly, made him moan when she sucked on his lip, yelp when she bit at it.
“That’s it,” murmured Bucky, rough, right into Steve’s ear, and Steve was – he was lost, he was gone, he knew it. “Just like that, Steve,” Bucky said, and when Natasha let his mouth go Steve gasped for air, struggling desperately to think, and saw the fine traces of pink dust on her face and shoulders, the satisfied smile as she took in his expression. “Just – like – that,” Bucky said, curving his metal hand around Steve’s skull, tugging him in, and Steve went where Bucky took him, lips parting for the kiss, wanting it; Christ, he always wanted it, and he couldn’t remember any of the reasons why he shouldn’t.
Things dissolved into flashes after that. Steve remembered helping Bucky get his pants off, their fingers fumbling, Natasha laughing at them both and dropping small agonizingly good bites along Steve’s shoulders; then they were both of them peeling the Captain America uniform off him; he was trying to tell them where the fastenings were, his words stumbling over each other, but they ignored him, stripping him fast and efficient while he was still talking. “Look at you, look at him,” Bucky said, sounding drunk, like in the old days, sounding happy, and Natasha answered, “I know, I know,” and Steve’s hands were in her hair, and it was tangled round his fingers, and she was in his arms all small and strong, first kissing him and then kissing Bucky messily over his shoulder. She was so beautiful, they were so beautiful. “We know, you keep saying,” Bucky told him, laughing, and Natasha said, “He can say it some more,” and –
Flashes: Natasha’s hands, Bucky’s red mouth. Steve was achingly hard and couldn’t remember how to be self-conscious about it. The bed frame was heavy and solid-looking, expensive, but the mattress squeaked; Bucky busted a pillow, digging in the fingers of his metal hand, and downy feathers went everywhere, blew across the floor in the breeze from the windows.
Steve surfaced, once, when Natasha was sinking down onto his cock, bracing her hands on the muscles of his stomach. Bucky was leaning over him, watching his face reverently. “So good,” he murmured, “isn’t it good,” and it was, she was so tight around him and so hot inside, and her eyes were half-shut with pleasure. Natasha licked her lips and said, “If you could feel him –” and Steve felt Bucky shudder, pressed all along his side, and thought in a moment of horrible clarity, what am I doing.
Then it was gone again and he was lost in them, between them, feeling everything, helpless in front of it.
He woke up feeling cold. The sweat had dried on his skin, and the breeze from the windows was chillier than before. There were still drifts of feathers on the floor. Bucky was stretched out face-down next to him, naked on top of the covers, head pillowed on his human arm. The metal one was stretched out above him. His breathing was even. Steve looked, couldn’t help it, at the long smooth lines and curves of his back and buttocks and thighs. There were red scratch marks on his back, too close together to be from Steve’s hands. Natasha must have left them there.
Natasha was on Bucky’s other side; the bed was more than big enough for three of them. She’d gotten under the covers at some point. Steve startled when he saw her eyes were open, just in slits. He felt a little sick. He avoided her eyes, looked around for his underwear, pulled it on, and sat down again, right on the edge of the bed.
“We should get a sample of that drug analyzed,” Natasha said calmly. “I’d be interested to know what kind of cocktail it takes to compromise your body’s defences. If Hydra realizes what they’ve got, we might be in trouble.”
Steve managed to say, “Good idea.”
Natasha sat up, pulling the covers up around her breasts, which Steve knew was probably more for the sake of his modesty than hers. He was grateful for it. She said, “Steve, look at me.”
He looked at her.
“Are you all right?”
“Am I all right?” Steve said. “It’s you that….” He couldn’t have said exactly why it was worse, but it was. For Natasha, who was poised and controlled and who made her own choices, to be violated that way; for it to be him that –
“Oh, Steve,” Natasha said. She seemed to understand what he was thinking. She smiled and shook her head. “Don’t – Look. It’s not the first time something like that’s happened to me. Or to him. You stop caring so much. Even fighting the good fight, our bodies are only mostly ours.”
Steve looked at her mutely.
Natasha winced. “You look like I just killed your puppy. Mostly’s better than not at all.” Her hand ghosted over the line of Bucky’s shoulder, the flesh-and-blood one, not the metal. “Believe me, it is. So I had some perfectly nice not-exactly-consensual sex with two people I would happily have had sex with anyway –” she shrugged “– so what? But you’re not used to it. So are you all right?”
“I –” said Steve. “I had some... perfectly nice, not-exactly-consensual sex, with two people I would happily have had sex with anyway, so –” He stopped and swallowed hard. “I’m okay.”
Her eyes widened very slightly. Steve looked away, nearly got his gaze caught on Bucky again, forced himself to stare at his own hands.
“I knew you wanted me,” said Natasha softly. “How long have you wanted him?”
“Eighty years or so,” said Steve, incurably honest, not looking up.
“I didn't know that,” she said.
“You didn’t?” Steve was surprised enough to meet her eyes. He knew he wasn’t that good at keeping secrets. He’d sort of thought Natasha was all-knowing.
Her lips quirked. “Maybe I wasn’t looking.”
“I,” said Steve. “It was always – I tried not to.”
Natasha tilted her head. “You know, I don't think you understand quite what you mean to him,” she said.
“What's that?” Steve said.
“Something like what he means to you,” said Natasha, “and you know how much that is. Plus something like what Clint means to me.” She touched the arrow necklace she was still wearing, that she always wore. “Another option. A way out. And if you've never been there you can't know how much that is. Take my word for it. You were right, you know.”
“When you said he’d be good at loving someone. You were right. He’s already loved you for a long time.” She gave Steve a steady look, meaningful.
Steve swallowed but and are you sure he and he never said anything and said, “I wouldn't take him from you.”
“He'll make his own choices if you let him,” said Natasha. “And you'd better let him. I'll think less of you if you don't.” She smiled. “We're not serious.”
“You could be, though. Don’t pretend. You could be.”
She didn’t answer for a moment. Finally she said gently, “Steve, we wouldn't know where to start.”
Steve didn't know what to say. There was a moment of awkward quiet.
“Are you both going to keep pretending you don't know I'm awake?” said Bucky, mostly into the pillow. “Don't mind me. It's not every day I wake up to the two most beautiful people I know fighting over who gets to keep me.”
Steve jumped; he hadn’t known Bucky was awake. Natasha smirked. She clearly had. She stood up, letting the covers drop; she was still naked. Steve averted his eyes, cheeks burning, as she stooped and picked up her black dress. She held it up, poked her finger through a tear and said, “One of you owes me a new dress.”
“Sorry,” said Bucky unrepentantly, rolling onto his back, throwing a smirk in her direction. Then his eyes met Steve’s. He looked serious, suddenly. And – nervous. Steve reached out before he could second-guess himself. Bucky caught his hand and kissed it.
Steve’s breath caught.
“I think there's a conversation between the two of you that's long overdue,” Natasha said. She slipped the dress over her head. “And we've missed our check-in. I'm going to –”
Bucky looked panicked suddenly. Steve said, “Wait.” He moved his hand to Bucky’s shoulder when Bucky sat up, bedclothes tangling under him.
Natasha lifted an eyebrow. “Yes?” she said, sounding amused, impatient.
Steve looked at Bucky. Bucky took a deep breath. “Don't go,” he said. “Natasha.” He stretched out his hand towards her. “Natashenka. Stay.”
Natasha was still. Her eyes flicked from Bucky to Steve. Steve knew he ought to say something, but he couldn't think what it was. After a second, Natasha came a little closer. She sat down on the edge of the bed, dropped her hand into Bucky's and let him tangle their fingers together. Her expression was unreadable. “Yasha,” she said.
It seemed to be some sort of private joke; Bucky's shoulder under Steve’s hand shook a little with amusement. Natasha met Steve's eyes. Steve realized that he actually did know what to say.
“I still think you’d be good at it too,” he said. “If you wanted.” He swallowed. “Stay?”
There was a pause.
Finally, Natasha's lips curved into a small private smile. “Not in a Hydra millionaire’s bedroom,” she said. “But. Maybe I will.”
“– oh –” said Steve, “– oh – fffuck –”
“See?” said Natasha. “He can say it.”
Bucky lifted his head and licked his lips. “Well, how about that,” he said, low and rough and satisfied. “I owe you a dollar.”
“Don't stop,” said Steve, not caring that his voice lifted into a whine. “Don't –”
“Explain to me again how this happened,” said Sam. Steve opened his mouth. “Explain it without using the words ‘secret sex room’,” Sam added.
Steve shut his mouth again.
“So when I told you to jump in the deep end,” Sam said, “you really took it to heart, didn't you?”
“Guess so,” said Steve.
Sam shook his head, but he was grinning. “Your life, Steve Rogers,” he said. “Your life.”