The window was splattered with rain, the regular roar of the ocean muffled by the sound of the storm. It was something fierce, the radio in Tony’s den said; parts of the coastal highway were already washing away, which made no difference to Tony, Bucky figured, but it sure as hell did to him and Steve because those waterlogged bits of roadway? They were what stood between them and their cramped little place back in LA.
Never mind that they’d both been drinking all during dinner, sucking down reds from Tony’s snooty collection. And now their host was plying them with brandy of the melt in your mouth variety, the kind that made Bucky’s bones feel happily weak; yeah, getting down off the damn mountain on any night was a bit of a trick, but tonight, it’d take goddamn Houdini.
“Hey Tony,” he said, turning unsteady from the window. “Can we crash here tonight?”
Tony was on the settee next to Steve, Steve who was blush-colored and blotto, Steve whose head had fallen back, his blond hair from by the dark green of the cushions, his eyes closed and his grin a soft mile wide. The sight made Bucky’s pulse jump, like somebody had thrown his heart into gear--and he wasn’t the only one. Tony Stark, their host for the evening, Steve’s nearest and dearest old friend, was sitting a little too close. He’d lost his coat--they all had, after Jarvis had trotted out that second bottle of Chateau Whatever--and in his shirt sleeves, bow tie hanging limp, with his head propped in his hand and his elbow balanced on the cushion really close to Steve’s head, he looked well under 40; hell, from where Bucky was standing, you could hardly see any gray.
But what he could see were Tony’s eyes moving over the lines of Steve’s body, down his chin and over his chest and across the open bow of his thighs. In his free hand sat a snifter, the bowl cupped between nimble fingers, the little brandy that was left glowing in the firelight, and if Bucky hadn’t known better, had walked in on these two as strangers, he would’ve bet his last wrinkled Lincoln that they were lovers, Steve and Tony, not friends.
For a long time it'd stuck him odd, their friendship. During the war, dug into some shattered French village or stuck for hours together in some goddamn Army jeep, Steve had made Tony sound like a mentor or something, the guy he’d looked up to, his lodestar; “the man,” he’d said more than once with a grin,“who gave me a chance, Sergeant Barnes, to get here.” It had taken ages for Bucky to put two and two together, and that was only when Dugan fell down a big whiskey well and spilled the beans to everybody about the serum, the Super Soldier project, Stark’s lab.
Steve had handled it better than Bucky would have; nobody got busted down to private or walked away with a black eye. But there had been words, and sharp ones: the project was a secret for a reason, Steve had told them calmly, his gaze moving from man to man, just like the one out in the New Mexico desert they kept hearing whispers about. Everything was experimental and nothing was set in stone and if anybody wanted to leave the outfit and transfer to another unit, well, Steve wouldn’t hold anyone back.
In the end, nobody left. And nobody--in Bucky’s earshot anyway--ever said another damn word.
Until Steve brought it up the first time they went to bed.
“It’s the serum,” he’d panted as he stiffened again, the tears on Bucky’s cheeks from the last ride not even fucking dry. “It makes me--there isn’t a--oh, god, Buck, I’m sorry. I’ll stop.”
Bucky had clawed at his chest, squeezed his knees at Steve’s hips and moaned into his face: "Goddamn, sir. You’d better not.”
“So,” he’d said later, when the night was still and the lamp’s light was low. “That trick with your dick, was that part of the design?”
Steve snorted and pressed the sound in Bucky’s hair. “Uh, no. Come on. It was an unforeseen side effect.”
“But one you don’t hate, I’ll bet.”
“Yeah, well.” A slap on his thigh where it stretched over Steve’s; a warm palm to rub at the sting. “I didn't hear you complaining.”
After that, it came out in dribs and drabs, what Steve’s life had been like before the serum: fist fights and fat lips, a constant struggle for breath. A mouth that got him in trouble a lot more than it got him kissed.
“But Erskine,” Steve had said one day in the jeep, jolting down a crater that had once been a road, “he looked at me and he saw past the smart ass. Saw who he thought I could be, or way down, maybe, who I already was.”
Bucky turned his head for a second, took his eyes off the way ahead. Got a glimpse, in Steve’s expression, of the kid he had been: the big heart, the big dreams, the whole lot more than his body could handle.
Steve chuckled. “And then, once the doc hitched his wagon to Tony’s, there was basically no looking back.”
“You and Stark, though. You got close? That’s what it’s always sounded like. Before, I mean, when you’ve talked about him.”
A bump went by, then another. Finally, Steve said: “Yeah, we got to be friends.”
Now what in the hell, Bucky’d wondered, gripping ten and two tight, did that mean?
The first line I typed for this prompt but quickly rejected was: "It was all Clint's idea, of course."
Friends was one of those rubber band words that could stretch a dozen different ways, which was exactly why Steve had used it, to speak plain but still make Bucky guess. What was it Steve was trying to hide?
That question never did get answered to Bucky’s satisfaction; not while people were shooting at them, anyway. But he did pay more attention to the way Steve talked about Tony instead of just what he said: with warm but also trepidation, with a smile on his face but shadows over his eyes. Steve missed Stark, that was fucking transparent, and it was only later as Hitler’s tanks choked and the Luftwaffe burned that Bucky had enough sense to wonder why Stark didn’t write; yeah, mail was a crapshoot at best, but if anybody could make sure a letter got through, it was a rich mook like Tony.
But no word came and Bucky let it go, mostly. The rest of the world kept him busy enough watching his captain’s back.
In late ‘45, Uncle Sam called them home, first to Norfolk, then to New York, then the hot hell that was Georgia; and finally, in ‘47, the newly-christened Department of Defense gave them new titles and more stripes and sent them to San Francisco, city of streetcars and steep hills and, it seemed, of one Tony Stark.
There was a message waiting one afternoon when Bucky came back from the canteen with coffee: Mr. Stark calling for Major Rogers, the secretary had written. Requests a call back.
Steve had turned red when he saw it, a peculiar shade of cardamom that made his blue eyes shimmer like the Bay on a clear fucking day. “Well,” he said finally, staring at the scrap in his hand, the other folded around a mug of shitty regulation coffee. “Huh. How about that?”
It had been drinks, that first time, a little get-together at Tony’s club. Steve asked Bucky to come.
“Why?” Buck said, his feathers kinda ruffled. “I don’t know him. He’s your friend.”
It came out crueler than he meant, more like barbed wire.
Steve had flinched a little. “He was once. But it’s been a long time.” He reached for Bucky’s hand and pulled him into his arms, tucked his face against the stubborn curve of Bucky’s neck. “I’m gonna need your backup, baby. That’s one reason I want you there. And also”--here he smiled, a little thing alive on Bucky’s skin--“I think you’ll like him. And I know for sure he’ll like you.”
So Bucky had grumbled and put on his civvie suit and traipsed at Steve’s side to the nice part of town, to a Victorian-looking house with velvet curtains on the windows and a wall of expensive cigar smoke that you ran into the second you stepped through the door. He was expecting Stark to be old money, then, one of the few dozen gray-bearded men that they passed, but when they made it to the Oak Room and the butler turned the handle, that wasn’t who was waiting there at all.
“Oh my christ!” a dark-haired man said, his grin brighter than a fog light. “Steve Rogers. Steve fucking Rogers. Goddamn, kid! Not a kid. Look at you! Look at you!”
He made a beeline for them, this guy, and threw his arms around Steve. Steve laughed and hugged him back.
“I’m still me,” he said when Dark Hair let him go. “Same old Steve.” He patted the man’s shoulder. “And same old Tony.”
Tony had a slim goatee beard and a mustache that made him look kinda French. He was wearing a suit that Bucky knew for a fact cost more than a house and in Steve’s grip, he looked almost tiny.
“I resent that,” Tony said. “I’ve never been old.”
“No.” Steve squeezed his shoulder. Bucky saw his grin soften. “You’re not the type.”
Friends, Bucky’d thought, remembering that word from long ago. Uh huh. Right.
There was definitely something there, simmering like a familiar stew between them, and if Tony had been an asshole, a full-on son-of-a-bitch, Bucky might’ve hated him for it. But he wasn’t. He shook Bucky’s hand gladly and poured them a drink and fooled them into doing most of the talking: about the war, the other men in their company, about what Hitler’s fangs had left standing between Spain and Russia’s spine. He was funny, the kind of biting wit that Bucky had never been able to master; his brain seemed like it was always ten steps ahead. But he didn’t act like an egghead, either; he talked pretty when he wanted to but holy fucking god, could he curse.
A drink and a half in, the little hand pushing eight, Bucky thought: What the fuck. I like him.
And he still did even after they started bantering about old times, he and Steve: about Dr. Erskine, about a pretty brunette named Peggy Carter who’d been around then, about Steve and what a little shit he’d been then. Bucky hadn’t laughed that hard in fucking ages.
“Honestly,” Tony said, his legs draped over the side of a wide leather armchair, “it’s a miracle Erskine scooped you up when he did. Another day on the streets picking on bullies and god knows you’d have ended up in jail. Or the emergency ward.”
Steve brushed it aside. “That’s ridiculous,” he said. “I was fine.”
Tony grinned, raised his eyebrows at Bucky. “Uh huh. Remind me, Stevie: how many times did you illegally try to enlist?”
Bucky choked on a snootful of whiskey. “Did you what?”
Steve’s ears had turned red, the color of cherry cordial. “Only five.”
“You’re a--you tried to”--Bucky swallowed a wheeze--“you broke the law?!”
“For a good cause.”
“Oh sure,” Tony breezed, “right. Just what a criminal would say.”
Bucky laughed. “Yeah, Stevie.”
Steve glared at them both, hid his smile behind his empty glass. “You call me that again, Buck, and we can tell Tony why you marched into the Battle of the Bulge wearing no pants.”
Tony almost dropped his glass. “What--!”
“No,” Bucky said as Steve started laughing, the big, bright one that lit up the whole room. “No, no. Fuck you both. I’m not drunk enough to talk about that.”
The clock hit nine then--praise god--and Tony stood up with a stretch. “I hate to chase you off, gents, but I have a dinner engagement with a man from Lockheed.” He made a face, laughed. “Get away while you still can.”
At the door, this time, he offered his hand. “Don’t be strangers, ok?”
“No,” Bucky said, much to his goddamn surprise. “Thank you. We won’t.”
Tony smiled at Bucky, tipped his face up to Steve’s. “You see that, Rogers? At least one of you has some good sense. Nice to see you picked a guy with decent manners. Maybe if you try hard enough, it’ll rub off on you.”
There was a ripple of laughter, of electricity. Bucky saw Steve’s fingers around Tony’s turn tight.
“If it hasn’t yet,” Steve said with a smirk, “I’m not sure it ever will.”
“Can I ask you something?” Bucky said on the way home, as they cut the fog with Camels.
Bucky kept his eyes facing forward. “Does Tony always flirt with you?”
He could feel Steve go stiff. “He wasn’t flirting.”
“Yeah, Steve, he was when we left. All that stuff about trying hard and rubbing? Come on.”
Steve was quiet for a long time, so long that Bucky was almost down to the filter. “I guess I’d never thought about it like that.”
“Yeah?” Bucky said. There was a flare of something in his gut, something green and mean that he didn’t like, that didn't feel fair. “Was that why you flirted back?”
Another half a block passed. “We’ve always talked to each other like that. Even before I got the serum.” He blew out a breath and dropped his stub on the sidewalk, ground it down into dust. “He’s like that with everybody, or he was back then. He’d make eyes at the delivery boy, the postman, every waitress he ever met. I didn’t think anything of it.”
Bucky plucked another from the pack and stuck it between Steve’s fingers, thought: Oh yeah, you did.
That night, he pushed Steve on his skinny bed in the BOQ and sucked him off until Bucky’s face was covered and Steve was nearly weeping and then he found himself pinned, back bowing as Steve growled in his face and opened him up just enough to get his dick in. It hurt and it was perfect and it burned the green away, left him lighter, loving, and afterward, while Steve stroked the mess on Bucky’s stomach, his cock still tucked up inside, Bucky touched his face, the pretty stretch of his mouth, and said: “It’s ok. You know that, don’t you?”
He’d felt the word against his fingers. “What?”
“You and Tony. That’s ok.”
Steve shivered. “There is no me and Tony, Buck. Never has been.”
“I know.” Bucky traced the heat of his cheek. "But if you wish there had been, that’s ok.”
Steve bowed his head, his trusts growing harder. “Bucky--”
“It’s ok,” he’d said again and again until Steve stilled in him, spilled in him, drowned his moans against Bucky’s shoulder. “It’s ok, baby. Baby. It’s all right. It’s ok.”
Later, when the sheets had settled, when reverie was close enough to touch, Steve had said, wistful: “I’ve missed him.”
Bucky tucked himself tighter against Steve’s side and shook his head. “Yeah,” he'd said softly. “No shit.”
There were suppers after that and lots of after-work drinks. Sometimes Tony summoned them to a hot spot in the city, sometimes he sent Jarvis over to drive them to his ridiculously gorgeous apartment; sometimes, when things at work were too crazy, Tony met them at their favorite dive bar. Once, they’d invited Tony to the Officers’ Club at the base because Steve had a feeling Tony would love it, being the only civvie in a sea of salutes and stripes. He did.
It was easy, being with Tony. It shouldn’t have been. After all, the love of Bucky’s life was carrying a serious crush on the guy: a guy who had power, who knew everybody in the chain of command, who had more money than Bucky could wrap his head around. On those terms, there was no way for Bucky to fucking compete. But he’d known Steve long enough, threaded enough needles with him when the bullets were flying to understand that they were running two different races, he and Tony, albeit in adjoining lanes. If there was one thing he’d learned about Steve in the Ardennes, on the beaches, pushing through the last few miles into a bombed-out Berlin hell, it was that Steve cared more about people than any man he’d ever met. Despite the smart mouth and the clever fists, Steve was genuinely good. He was true to his word and honest with his men and even after marching all night, when everybody else was falling over, his every step was lit from within: they’d keep going because there were people who needed their help, who needed to be freed from Hitler’s Gordian knots of pain and deprivation and every step they took forward brought them closer to getting their hands on that rope and helping to tear it apart.
They weren’t just words to Steve. They were expressions of fundamental belief, of fervor, and the men knew it: they’d heard enough hi-ho speeches from generals with clean boots and dry hands to hear the difference, to feel it, to understand that what Steve said came from a place way down deeper, someplace the poets among them might have titled his heart.
So when Steve said l love you, Bucky believed him. When he looked at Tony too long across the dinner table, his face going achy and soft, Bucky believed that, too, knew it to be true, even if Steve still couldn’t put it into words. But then neither could Tony. The way he watched Steve move across the room, the way his eyes darkened and his sharp mouth fell slack--god, the way he felt about Steve might as well have been written in neon, a big sign blinking in and out of the dark.
Sometimes, some nights, Bucky wanted to reach across the way and shake them both, make them look at each other straight instead of stealing foggy glances and say: you’re idiots, both of you. Come on, somebody! Speak up. But they hadn’t back then, he figured, before the war, when they parted knowing they might not see each other again, so why the hell would they start now, in peacetime, when it was easier to pretend they had their whole lives ahead? Christ.
He’d spent a lot of time knocking his head against the wall trying to figure that one out.
Six months of that crap, he’d put up with; six months of watching them pine for each other without a goddamn clue, apparently, that the other guy was pining right back. Six months of trying to figure out how to tell one how the other felt before reminding himself that that was their own dirty work and nobody could do it but them. Selfishly, he was the one reaping the benefits of all suppressed feeling, all that bullshit personal angst: he got free dinners and good conversation and hard, hungry fucks when they got home, Steve holding his hips and biting the back of his neck and moaning the shape of Tony’s name when he came. Maybe it shouldn’t have worked for him, being in the middle of that fucked-up pas de deux; it probably shouldn’t have turned him on, either, being around their repressed snap crackle and pop. But, he’d blown through enough shouldn’ts already in his life: laying out his father when the old man called him queer, dropping out of high school, living for a year on the street until the Japanese blew up Pearl Harbor and the Army, god bless it, opened its arms and figured out he had the raw material of a sharpshooter, maybe even of a leader. Six months later, he’d been in England and shaken Steve Rogers’ hand and joined the men of Easy Company, one of the first Ike sent to Europe, and spent the next three years running around near enemy lines. He’d found the love of his life in his commanding officer, for fuck’s sake, in the middle of a world war so what the hell was one more shouldn’t, anyway?
And then Tony’d bought a house, a big one overlooking Monterey Bay, and started spending fewer and fewer nights in the city, started inviting them up on the weekends for cocktails or brunch. There was a pool and a tennis court for when the weather got nice, a fireplace in every room, a breathtaking view, and yet what struck Bucky every time they walked through those heavy oak doors was how lonely Tony’s house seemed.
Steve said that in his younger days, Tony had been a terror: parties every night and armfuls of beautiful women, too much drink and too much sex-- a life specifically designed to make Stark the elder crazy. And it’d worked; boy howdy, had it. By the time Steve had met him in 1941, Tony and his father hadn’t spoken in almost ten years.
But in that intervening decade, Tony had changed. He’d gotten bored with spending money and more interested in making it and figured out that he had a knack. The same cleverness that had helped him talk his way out of every speakeasy raid, he now applied to the family business and in the high-power circles where Stark Technologies ran, Tony’s charm proved almost as lucrative as his head. He stopped fucking around and got on with his life and reshaped the family name in his image. When war broke out in Europe, nobody who mattered gave a damn about Howard Stark; the Stark they knew, the one they called when the generals in the War Department started getting itchy, was Tony. The Super Soldier project, it turned out, was one in a series of efforts Uncle Sam had brought Tony on, and it was the one that had stuck.
“Of course it was,” Bucky said to Steve over watery coffee and burned toast. “Because none of those other ones had you.”
It was hard to square Steve’s secondhand stories of Tony the wild man, the womanizer, with the man who lived in the big house on the cliff. Yeah, he was older--more gray in his beard now than black--and presumably wiser, but there was also a sadness to him, a kind of shadow melancholy, that had crept in around his bright, darting eyes. Sometimes, when he invited them for supper, there were other people there, colleagues from the East Coast who were in California for meetings, maybe, or Stark Tech officials from London or Milan who he wanted to keep on a short leash. But so far as Bucky could tell, none of those people seemed to be Tony’s friends. There was a sheen to him when he interacted with them, a kind of glib hardness that Bucky hadn’t seen him wear before. Oh, he was still convivial and funny as hell, but he wasn’t the same Tony that Bucky had met that first night, the one who sat across the table when it was just the three of them and watched Steve talk and gesture and knock over the salt cellar with such fucking obvious delight.
They lit up around each other. That was the god’s honest truth. How the hell they didn’t see it and do something about it, flummoxed Bucky more and more every day. But then, that kind of behavior went against all his instincts, the ones that had always told him do it now, don’t count on a chance later which was how, he figured, he’d spent so much of his life getting laid--and, on the battlefield, not getting dead.
In this instance, of course, he couldn’t make either of the them do shit. Maybe, though, he could poke the old hornets’ nest.
“Have we ever told you about how me and Steve got together?”
They were halfway through a fucking glorious dinner and farther through a bottle of wine. Outside, the sky had darkened since they’d arrived and it was already raining; looked like a hell of a storm was on its way in.
Tony squinted over at him, fork hanging in the air. “Ah, no. I don’t think so.” His lips lifted. “And your face tells me it’s a story I’d remember it, huh?”
“Damn right.” He glanced at Steve, who was studious examining his plate. “You ok with me telling this, babe?”
Steve cleared his throat and reached for his water. “Sure. I mean, if Tony wants to hear it.”
Tony laughed. “Ok, if it’s making him look like that, now I have to.”
“Well,” Bucky said, aiming for nonchalant, “we were in the middle of nowhere, France. Camped out in this pretty apple orchard right in the heart of spring and all the trees were blooming right over our tents. Best place that we’d slept in days.”
“Weeks,” Steve said. There was a little smile on his face now. “It was like a postcard, wasn’t it? And it smelled like absolute heaven.”
“So one night, I’m lying there on my bedroll listen to two other guys snore and I think, I’m never gonna have a day like this again, am I? I’m never gonna fall asleep watching pink and white petals ghost over the top of my tent. Hell, in this man’s war, I may not ever get a chance to sleep again.”
He had Tony’s full attention now. Their host had leaned back from his plate and was cradling his wine glass, the stem set delicate between his long fingers, the bowl resting flush in his palm.
“And then," Bucky said, "I thought about Steve. I’d had a thing for him forever, since Ike first stuck me in Easy. Here’s me, a skinny dumb kid from Brooklyn who’s barely learned to hold a gun and they hand me over to a walking recruiting poster. And there he is at HQ, standing there looking beautiful and he’s got all the guys laughing and I walk up and he smiles at me. Holds out his hand. ‘Fellas,’ he says, ‘this is Sergeant Bucky Barnes, best shot to walk out of snipe school. And lucky us, he’s ours.’”
He felt Steve’s shoe tap his calf under the table; a warm, familiar bump. “Lucky us was right,” Steve said. “How many times did you save our bacon again?”
“26,” Bucky said without missing a beat. “But that’s not the point of the story, is it?”
“I don’t know,” Tony said, chuckling. “I suspect it’s gonna end with you getting your man.”
Bucky smirked into the last of his wine. “So I’m lying there and I think about Steve and I then I think, what the hell. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Uh,” Tony said. “A whole goddamn lot.”
Bucky shrugged. “Maybe. But I didn’t let my head dwell on that.”
“So what did you do?”
“I get up as quiet as I can and I creep over to the cap’s tent, where lo and behold, the lamplight’s still burning. I knew him good enough by then to know he wouldn’t have turned in yet. Not until he figured all of us except the night watch were asleep.” He took a breath, breathed in the smell of Tony’s cigar and for a moment, sensed the scent of apple blossoms again. “And sure enough, there he was. Wide awake, studying some damn document or other.”
“It was a map.” Steve’s mouth was turned up now, his eyes fond. “I was reading a map.”
Bucky met his eyes, remembered: one minute, Steve’s head had been dipped over a piece of paper, tiny lines in dull lamplight, and the next, it had been in Bucky’s hands, blond balanced in his palms, those blue eyes raking over his, startled.
“Bucky?” As long as he lived, he’d never forget it: the thin scratch of hope in Steve’s voice. A question in all of that petal soft dark.
“Yeah,” Bucky had said. The only answer he had. “Yes, sir.”
The map was crushed between them and then it fell to the floor, Bucky said all those years later, and then they were twisted on Steve’s rickety cot, rutting, kissing faster than they could breathe. Bucky could remember that feeling, like he was falling, tumbling end over end, a leap without a parachute in the still of the night and when he’d come, Steve’s fist tight around him and his mouth sweet on Bucky’s neck, it had felt like a ripcord, a sharp, perfect snap back into a reality where there was no war, no impending fucking crisis: just Steve’s hands and the sound of flowers falling and the smell of sweat and seed.
“Jesus,” Tony said. There was a flush on his face and his grip on his glass wasn’t so steady. “You took a hell of a risk. Both of you.”
“Wasn’t the first time,” Bucky said with more bravado than he’d felt then, lying back spent, his captain’s tongue hot in his mouth.
“No,” Steve said, “but risk felt different then.”
Tony raised an eyebrow. “Huh. Different enough to risk your stripes for a quick fuck?”
“Who said anything about quick?” Bucky grinned and reached for the bottle. “There might have been another few rounds that night. No way to know that we’d ever get another chance.”
Steve’s fingers found his on the table; bless him, he looked pleased as punch and still somehow abashed. “But we did.”
Tony cleared his throat and raised his glass. “Well, fellas, all I can say is, from the bottom of my heart: lucky you.”
The words were heartfelt, Bucky got that, but there was a tension inside them that was just as real, felt just as true. The air at the table seemed to rise like a thunderhead. For a long, weird moment, nobody said anything.
Ok, genius, Bucky thought, looking at Steve, flipping his eyes back to Tony. This is it. Take your shot.
“So,” he said, his tongue thick with red, “let’s get it all on the table, shall we? What the hell is it that happened between the two of you?”
There was a pause, a little silence that went on too long. They both stared at him, Steve wide-eyed and aw shucks and Tony...not.
“Nothing happened,” Tony said. His voice wasn’t as cool as his face. “At least, nothing that rises to the level of what you seem to be implying.”
“I’m not implying anything. And I’m not mad about it, either. I’m just stating the fucking obvious facts.”
Tony was still, his usual frenetic gestures now like the smooth surface of a pond; Bucky could only guess what was churning underneath. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking,” Bucky said, “about the fact that you two were buddy-buddy before Steve beat it for duty, weren’t you? All during the project, the months that led up to it--from what Steve has said, you guys were practically joined at the hip. And yet the second he leaves, what, you go radio silent? No letter in four fucking years?” He was hot under the collar now, overheated from drink and his own goddamn frustration. So you tell me: how do you get from A to B without there being some kind of something happening in between?”
“You were angry with me,” Steve said before Bucky could draw another breath. “The night before I left. Remember?”
“I wasn’t angry.”
Steve leaned towards him. “Bullshit. You were.”
Tony’s face twitched, a guilty little jolt that said more than his mouth could. “I’ll give you impassioned, maybe even fired up, but angry? Jesus, Steve. I wasn’t mad.”
“You told me I was an idiot for going over there.”
“Probably. That sounds like something I’d say.”
“You told me I should tell Dr. Erskine and the Army and the whole goddamn US government to go fuck themselves.”
A little shrug, a play for nonchalance. “Did I?”
“You told me,” Steve said, the words a little unsteady, “that I never should have let them talk me into taking the serum, that I should never have bought Erskine’s bullshit or yours and that I didn’t have any obligation to get shot by some German thug in order to pay you back. You said you--” He stopped. Swallowed hard.
“I said a lot of dumb shit that night, Stevie. You know why? Because I was fucking terrified. Because I could see you lying dead somewhere, serum or not, because god knows even science can’t fix the problem of a bullet to the head. Shit, I’d have wrapped you in tinfoil if I thought that would help, or line your uniform with iron armor. But I knew it wouldn’t--I knew I couldn’t do anything more for you, and that thought made me fucking sick.”
“I’d never wanted anything more than I wanted to be in the Army, though. And you made that possible.”
“I know!” Tony's hand hit the table. “I know I did, goddamn it, and if something had happened to you, I’d never have forgiven myself.”
Bucky watched them, his fists balled in his lap, his teeth fast in his lip. God, he thought, one turn of the screw and look how wound tight they were, how much had been just dying to come out.
“So you pushed me away? That was your solution?”
“Better to do it on my own terms than acknowledge that you leaving just about killed me.” Tony’s expression shifted, twisted like the clouds moving outside. “And you were so happy to leave! Christ. That made it so much worse.”
“Jesus, Tony.” Quieter now, Steve’s voice. “Why didn’t you just tell me that? I wish you had.”
A heartbeat, two, and when their eyes met this time, Bucky saw, there was a softness there, a dawn of understanding, that hadn’t been there before, that made both of them reluctant to look away.
“Yeah, well,” Tony said. He smiled, small and sad. “If had, I might have said some other things, things that wouldn’t have been good for either of us.”
“Maybe not,” Steve said. He reached out and brushed the tips of his fingers over Tony’s knuckles, a quick kiss of skin, his eyes suddenly shy. “But then, I might have said some things, too.”
If you hadn’t known any better, Bucky thought, you’d have thought it was Christmas, the way Stark’s face lit up, and dear lord, the man was pretty when the last of the tension fell away. “You might have, huh?” Tony said. “No guarantee?”
Steve glanced over at Bucky, those long lashes kissing pink cheeks. “No guarantee. I hadn’t learned to be brash as hell back then, had I? Hadn’t met the ballsiest sergeant in the Army yet.”
Bucky chuckled. “What you’re saying is that I’m a great influence, right? I wholeheartedly agree.”
There was a crack of thunder, the sort of shot that rattled the panes, and a zip of wind pushes its way in and rattled the window sash.
“Gentlemen,” Tony said, “as educating as this public bloodletting has been, I think we’d be more comfortable in the den. There’s a bottle of brandy in there I think we could all benefit from.”
In the den, there was a good fire in the grate and Tony’s pours were overly generous. Two sips and Steve fell back to the settee, settled down with a sigh; two more, and Tony came to rest at his side. They sat and Bucky paced and outside, the storm grew more furious; from where Bucky stood at the big window, it looked as if the energy of the heavens was hurling itself down at the earth. Behind him, the radio murmured about washed-out roads and dangerous winds and god, he felt pleasantly exhausted already, worn out by the drink and the heady pleasure of watching Steve and Tony confess to what was fucking obvious and there was no way in hell they could drive back to the base tonight, was there? Not if they wanted to get there in one piece.
The solution was obvious. And maybe even promising.
“Hey, Tony,” he said, turning unsteady from the window, his lips twitching with amusement, with promise. “Can we crash here tonight?”
Tony’s head stopped its track down Steve’s body and bobbed up. His eyes caught the light of the fire. “Mmm, of course. Sure you can.”
Steve giggled, the sort of bubbly noise he only made when he was ten sheets to the wind, and he shifted on the settee, his thighs spreading, his knee just catching Stark’s. “You gonna crash, Buck?” he said.
"I'm getting there."
“Well, come and crash over here."
“Yeah?" Bucky grinned. "You sure there’s room?”
“Plenty.” Steve patted the cushion, his fingers digging gently into velvet. “Right here, next to me. See?”
He crossed the room in five easy steps. It felt like he was floating--even more so when he plucked up Steve’s hand and sat himself down and found himself grinning at Tony across the white, warm stretch of Steve’s chest.
“Hi, baby,” Steve said with a sweet little sigh.
He touched the curve of Steve’s jaw. “Hey.”
Steve’s face turned towards his like a needle towards north. His lips were open and already wet and Bucky could feel Tony’s eyes on them, could hear him tip back the last of his brandy and swallow hard. It did good things to his insides, Tony practically drooling on Steve’s shoulder, doing his damnedest to hold himself back when the man he wanted was right there, legs spread and throat flushed and not going any damn where.
“What’s this?” Bucky petted the bow of Steve’s mouth. “You want something, huh?”
“You got me. You’ve always got me.”
Steve’s lids lifted, slowly. He looked like a man in a dream. “Kiss me.”
“Right here? In front of Tony?”
A hitch in Steve's breath. “Yeah.”
Bucky trailed his fingers down the front of Steve’s shirt, plucking gently at the buttons, at the warm skin that lay underneath. “You want him to see how much you like it when my tongue’s in your mouth, huh? How hard your big dick can get from just a few kisses?"
“Jesus,” Stark breathed in the same instant Steve moaned, a hot, soft sound: a chorus that made Bucky’s cock twitch.
“Yes,” Steve said, his arm winding around Bucky’s back and crushing him close. “Mmmm, Bucky. Do it. Please.”
Bucky looked up then, he couldn’t help it; looked up and watched Tony’s face as he dipped his head and found the swell of Steve’s mouth, and only when their eyes met, he and Tony’s, when he saw in those dark pools an understanding and beautifully unspoken agreement--he’s mine. he’s yours. he’s ours.--did he let his lids flutter shut and give himself over to the thick, greedy turn of Steve’s tongue, the bite of his nails in Bucky’s back.
God, Steve was drunk. They all were. As much on the relief of the evening, a looming thunderhead that had at last burst, as they were on the booze and the wine, and it felt so good to give into it, to turn his face up to the rain, to feel Tony’s fingers tangle with his on Steve’s chest, to feel the heat of Tony’s face as he leaned close and nuzzled the side of Steve’s neck, to hear the bold voice boiled down to a whisper:
“Oh sweetheart,” Tony murmured. “You do like that, don’t you? My god. Look at you."
Steve shook and Steve turned and one moment, he was Bucky’s and in the next, he was Tony’s at last.
Their lips touched like it was nothing, like they’d been kissing all of their lives, and maybe they had, Bucky thought, his heart pounding, albeit only in dreams.
Steve grabbed at Tony’s thigh and Tony’s free hand found Steve’s hair and they were both sighing, filling the air with perfect soft notes of pent-up desire, a song of wet kisses that bled one into the next, and Steve’s hips were lifting as their tongues met, his trousers stretched pretty and tight. Tony was smiling, his mouth turned up even through Steve’s fiercest kiss, and when he pitched back a pace and opened his eyes, Bucky would’ve sworn they were damp.
“Stevie.” One word, a whole history.
“Tony.” Steve reached up and touched Tony’s collar, traced the turn of his throat. “Hey.”
“I missed you so goddamn much.”
Bucky saw Steve swallow hard, felt the tremor of emotion in his chest. “I missed you, too.”
Then they were kissing again, harder this time, like they were hanging on for dear life, tongues flashing and teeth clashing and Tony’s fingers clutched at Bucky’s and dragged their hands down over the bump of Steve’s buttons to the metal press of his belt buckle and down again between the heat of his thighs; together, they squeezed the fat stiff of his dick and before Bucky could breathe, Steve’s head fell back, snapped the kiss with a smack, and then Tony’s face was in his and his was in Tony’s and it only made sense to close that last bit of distance that lay between them and replace the stroke of Steve’s tongue with his own.
“Oh,” Steve moaned in their ears, a sound like colored paper, confetti tossed around by the wind. “Oh, my god.”
They were kissing each other and touching Steve together, biting at each other’s lips as they pried his belt open and dear fucking christ, it was good.
...I think these fellas have one more chapter in them, at least.
And then they pried him open, metal teeth gaping wide, and for a long, perfect moment, all Bucky knew was the scratch of Tony’s goatee and the greedy swell of Steve’s cock and the electric circuit that sang between the three of them, linked by flesh and affection, something as primal as the firelight and yet fragile, the first, tentative notes of a new song.
“I love you,” Steve said, his voice a sweet, aching slurry. “It’s--god, I can’t...I love you so much.”
He was holding them equally now, big fingers balanced their backs of their necks, gently guiding, hands trembling at ten and two, and when Tony’s grip closed around his dick and Bucky’s lingered at the tip, he cried out like they’d punched him and Tony grinned so broad their kiss broke.
“Is he always this loud?”
“Sometimes.” Bucky kissed Stark’s chin, gave the same treatment to Steve’s. “But he’s not usually this content to receive. Usually he likes to drive.”
There was a glee in Stark’s face, a sneaky gleam in his eye that Bucky really, really liked. “Really? Well then. I think we should help him enjoy his sudden sanguinity, don’t you?”
In their hands, Steve was pliant, living silver; he lifted his hips when they told him and spread his legs when they asked and then, when Bucky slid to the floor and open his mouth, Steve let Tony guide him in slow, so slow, that it had Bucky shaking, had his hands curled around Steve’s bare calf, around Tony’s clothed one, holding on for dear fucking life.
“There,” Tony said softly as his fist went flush with Bucky’s mouth. “Go on, Stevie. Move your hips. That’s it, come on. Fuck his mouth.”
When Steve came, he screamed, a tattered sound that clawed at the curtains, that made Bucky whimper, that made Tony moan. Moan because he had one hand in Steve’s hair and the other on his own dick and when Bucky opened his eyes, Tony was gasping, staring at the place where they were still joined, watching Steve’s come slip from between Bucky’s lips and he lost it hard, just like that, all over his shirt and the bare stretch of Steve’s thigh and Bucky thought it was the prettiest thing he’d ever seen, the two of them together, leaning against each other as their dicks twitched, as their fingers found Tony's spunk and curled down to paint the lines of Bucky’s face.
They reached down and pulled him into their laps. There was no room and it was awkward and the settee was pissed but their hands on his cock and their mouths on his skin and none of that mattered; not the storm outside or the ruined roads or the thought of what could happen in the morning, the possibility of someone’s regret. What mattered was the familiar heat of Steve’s hands and the new nimble of Tony’s; touches that knew him, that were eager to learn him; that were all devoted to making him come.
But it was their voices that did it, that kicked the world out from under him and made him lose all fucking sense.
“Thank you,” they said, again and again, until he couldn’t hold on any longer. And then Bucky, he flew.
In the morning, the storm had passed at last, leaving a hint of spring in the air. Winter was over, though the clouds were still gray; sunny days, the ocean seemed to whisper, weren’t far away.
Upstairs, there was coffee and melon in bed, toast with jam and too many kisses. Soon, the tray was upended and there was jam on the sheets and no one gave a goddamn.
“Don’t leave,” Tony said, after, his head hot on Bucky’s shoulder, his forehead tucked against Steve’s. “You don't have to leave yet, do you? Stay for brunch. Lunch, maybe. You could come back tonight for dinner.”
“We have to get back eventually,” Steve said, his voice beautifully hoarse. “Got a general to report to in the morning.”
Bucky nuzzled Tony’s ear. “Fucking generals.”
When the afternoon grew thin and Jarvis brought the car around, they stood under the portico, their shoulders brushing. For a long time, nobody spoke.
"It's the damnedest thing," Steve said finally.
"What is?" Bucky asked.
Steve looked down and grinned at him, over at Tony. "I don't want to leave."
It wouldn't happen overnight, Bucky thought, watching Steve melt when Tony threw his arms around him, and it sure as hell wouldn't be easy: the Army would be loathe to let a man like Steve go; hell, they might fight to keep a lowly major sergeant like him. But there would be a time in the not-too-distant future when this place by the sea would be their home, when they'd wake up every morning with Tony in that big, forgiving bed and know that their days were their own, their lives were; that the only business at hand was to make what they could of their time together, the time when apple blossoms fell and old hurts were forgiven, leaving just the messy joy of living behind. He was sure of it.
"What?" Steve said as they eased onto the highway.
"You look like the cat who gargled the canary."
"Do I?" Bucky reached across the seat and squeezed Steve's knee, turned his face towards the waves. "Well, sir, I was thinking it was nice to sleep over, that's all."
The ending of this one, at last. Cheers for sticking with it.
And cheers, too, to all of you: today is the one-year anniversary of the Mental Mimosa project! Though it began over on tumblr, there's no question that MM has found its true home (and its most dedicated readers) here. Thank you to everyone who's read one of these buggers, sent kudos, or tossed me a lovely comment. I can't express how much your kind support had meant to me.