Steve sighs and rolls his eyes, beyond resisting the evidence of his exasperation. "He's just a guy, Buck."
"Steve. Stevie, I love you, you know I do, but you know damn well that's not true," Bucky says, drunk on excitement and adrenaline. "This is the guy that built my arm and gave it to me for free. This is the guy who designed the gun that saved my life more times than I can count. This is the guy who-"
"Okay, okay, I get it!" Steve says, even though he very much does not get it. He's heard the Tony Stark rant many times by now and he doesn't think he will ever get it. Sure, the guy's smart. Objectively he'd good looking. He spends nearly as much money helping people as he does performing flashy publicity stunts. But he's also a colossal asshole from what Steve's seen. Arrogant, self-absorbed and more concerned with his image and having fun than the people he impacts, whether that's positively or negatively. The fact the guy only invited any of the veterans he equipped with high-tech prosthetics to talk to him when it involved a TV appearance tells Steve more than Bucky's hero worship ever will.
"D'ya think I could get him to sign the arm?" Bucky asks. "Or would that be tacky?"
Steve scoffs. "I'm sure it'd be right up his ally. But isn't it a bit redundant? The thing has his brand symbol on the shoulder."
Bucky rolls his eyes and turns back to the letter in his hands. "I can't believe I get to meet him."
Steve scoffs again. It's hard not to.
Bucky shoves him. "Quit it. The guy's my hero."
"I thought I was your hero?" Steve asks, mock offended.
"Sure. He's Batman and you're… The Flash," Bucky says placatingly.
"You don't even like The Flash," Steve grumbles.
"Sure I do," Bucky says.
Sam, who has spent the last ten minutes pretending to ignore them in favour of the TV turns around. "What about me? I don't get to be a hero?"
"You're all my own personal Justice League," Bucky says, words laced heavily with sarcasm but a small hint of earnestness in his eyes. "Now can you shut up while I call to confirm I wanna be on the show? I don't want to miss my shot 'cause some other guy got there first while you were arguing over what colour spandex you wanna wear."
Steve gets to be Bucky's plus one to the live show, though he's told he won't be filmed which is a relief. He just gets to hang out backstage in the greenroom with the other veterans' plus ones as the vets themselves are summoned on stage by the show's host.
The first fifteen minutes or more of the show is spent with Stark schmoozing his heart out while the fawning presenter asks him about his company's latest releases and Stark's own personal shenanigans.
Their cue to get ready is her asking Stark about the prosthesis program. "Rumour has it you paid for the prosthesis out of your own pocket when your company board refused to foot the bill. Is that true?"
If Steve didn't know any better he'd think the small shift in Stark's posture comes from discomfort, but the man's broad grin at the question says otherwise.
"Yeah, well. I have very deep pockets," Stark says. "Besides, if the board agreed to pay for every one of my crazy schemes we wouldn't have any money left to pay our employees, so don't be too hard on them. Someone's got to be sensible in this company."
"Still, what was it? Two-point-four billion dollars sunk into this," the presenter pushes. "Even for pockets as deep as yours, that's gotta hurt."
Stark shrugs and shoots her a wink. "I guess you could say it cost an arm and a leg."
Steve stares at the screen in front of him in horror, the presenter seeming thrown by the tasteless joke as well as half the audience. But the veterans around him crack up. One guy nearly rocks off his chair laughing. The other half of the audience is with the vets.
Stark makes a quelling motion and the noise from the audience dies down a little. "Seriously though, the least I can do for our boys. They've given up a lot more than I have."
The presenter regains her cool and pastes her fawning smile back on. "Speaking of our boys, we have some very special guests with us today…"
The production assistants start lining up the veterans for entrance and giving them a quick last look over.
Steve watches with an indulgent smile as Bucky, grin wider than Steve's ever seen it, shakes hands with his hero on national television. For all that Steve doesn't like Stark, it's a special moment for Bucky, and that makes it special to Steve, too. Even if he rolls his eyes when Bucky offers Stark a sharpie and rolls up the sleeve on his prosthetic.
"You here with one of the vets?" A strawberry blonde with a tablet in her hands asks.
Steve looks her over, surprised she'd even talk to him. Casual conversation or not, women, especially ones that look like that, don't generally waste their time on him. "Yeah. The uh, the one with the sharpie."
She smiles. "He'll have loved that."
"Yes." She sticks her free hand out. "Pepper."
It takes a second to register that she's telling him her name. Somehow it doesn't seem to fit, far too casual for this immaculate woman. Steve reaches over and gives her as firm a handshake as he can muster. "Steve."
They both go back to watching the show.
Stark's making a show of arm wrestling Bucky.
"Bucky's never going to shut up about this," Steve laments. He'll probably still be hearing about this day when they're old and grey.
Pepper laughs, a polite, tinkling sound that can't come naturally. "I think everybody's having more fun than they thought they would."
"I'd have thought Stark's used to a whole other type of fun," Steve says disapprovingly. He's seen the blurry, censored still from last year's sex tape that was circulated on the news, and the numerous segments showing Stark alternately as a belligerent drunk and a showboating playboy.
Pepper's previously animated face stills, smile turning crisp around the edges.
"So which one's yours?" Steve asks to try to get the friendly tone back.
Pepper glances at the screen again. "The one currently trying to take a selfie surrounded by artificial limbs."
Steve looks, a feeling of foreboding coming over him as he does. Sure enough, Stark's got the vets in a semi-circle around him, each proudly showing off their prosthesis as he holds a phone out in front of him. "Oh."
There's no response from Pepper, who has gone back to tapping away at her tablet.
Stark doesn't allow the host to usher the vets off, insisting they all stay on for the duration and sitting on the floor with those who overflow from the provided couch and chair. As such, Steve doesn't get to speak to Bucky, or anyone after his blunder with Pepper, until the show wraps.
When Bucky comes back in he's in a knot of excited veterans, each nearly shouting over each other as they question Stark about his plans for future upgrades of the prosthetic tech. Stark explains around a grin and hands that nearly blur as they move, sketching out his ideas as if they'll be able to see the picture left in the air.
Bucky waves Steve over eagerly, and Steve joins him after a tentative look at Pepper, half expecting her to stop him.
"Can I get a look in on the list of people getting prototypes?" Bucky says, mostly joking as far as Steve's aware. Bucky's more than happy with his arm after the clunky, barely functional Hammer Tech one he got from the Army.
"For what? The ones with the drones in or the ones with the holographic computer interface?" Stark asks, then gives Bucky a long up and down. "Because your name is going to the top of whatever list you want it on."
Bucky's grin gets so wide it must hurt. "I'm happy to be on any list you want to put me one."
At this Stark grins back, a little sleazily in Steve's opinion. "Top or bottom?" He pauses. "Of the list."
"I'm not choosy so long as I'm there somewhere," Bucky replies with his usual charm.
Steve sighs and wonders why Bucky waved him over in the first place.
The other vets have dispersed, getting the change in tone from group conversation to one-to-one shameless flirting. Pepper stands closer than she'd been before, still tapping away at her tablet.
Bucky wraps an arm around Steve's shoulders. "This is Stevie. He's my plus one."
Stark raises an eyebrow. "To everything?"
Bucky laughs even as Steve feels his stomach twist in embarrassment and anger. "When I can convince him."
Steve lets go of the portion of anger that had been directed at Bucky. Of course Bucky hadn't got Stark's implication. He wouldn't laugh at Steve like that if he had.
"Well, maybe I can help with the convincing," Stark says, tone just as sleazy as before. Then he changes it up to obnoxious as he turns to Pepper. "Pep, dinner plans?"
Pepper glances up, then at Bucky and rolls her eyes. "Non-vital. I'll rearrange." And she turns away to do just that, already swapping her tablet for a cell phone and dialing.
"Great. So, you wanna grab some overpriced, fancy food with me?" Stark asks Bucky.
Bucky glances at Steve.
They have plans. Nothing special, but Steve had grumbled about coming to the show until Bucky agreed to treat him to pizza at the place that caters to Steve's ever increasing allergies. Mostly because he wanted pizza rather than because he was actually bothered about coming to the show.
He catches Bucky's glance and gives a shrug. He may not approve, but he's not about to stand in the way of Bucky having dinner with his idol.
Stark doesn't wait for an answer, reading it from their reactions instead. "Awesome. I gotta go do some PR, but if you can wait around for a little, Pepper will come get you when we're done. Anything in particular you guys like to eat?"
Steve startles. "What?"
Bucky only hesitates for a moment. "Stevie's got a bunch of allergies."
"Got it," Stark nods. "Hey, if you sweet talk our host I bet she'll get someone to give you a tour of the studio while you wait."
"Thanks, we'll do that," Bucky says.
Stark salutes saucily and ambles off.
"What the hell?!" Steve demands.
"What?" Bucky asks.
"How come I'm now roped into your date?" Steve asks grumpily.
Bucky's grin returns. "Must've thought you're cute."
Steve glares. "Yeah, I'm sure that's it. Seriously, Buck. Why didn't you say you'd go alone?"
"You really turning down the chance to have your dinner paid for by a billionaire?" Bucky asks. "Besides, I thought you were game. You shrugged."
"To you cancelling on me and going with him instead! Not to being third wheel," Steve says, then stresses, "again."
"You won't be! It'll be fun, I promise," Bucky insists.
Steve sighs, resolve already crumbling but not willing to admit it. "That's what you always say."
Bucky laughs and cuffs him gently around the head. "C'mon. Let's go see about that tour.
Steve half expects Stark to forget all about them, but around forty minutes later Pepper finds them and gestures them to follow her.
The car is a spacious limousine with a flashy bar inside with Stark sprawled across more seats than necessary.
"Thanks for waiting, fellas," Stark says, dashing his obnoxious sunglasses off Horacio Cane style and looking them both over.
Bucky clambers into the car and Steve follows a little less enthusiastically, sitting as far from Stark as he can realistically get.
"You don't like me much, do you?" Stark asks, head tilted.
Steve doesn't know how to respond to that.
Stark grins at him and winks. "Don't worry about it. I look forward to changing your mind."
Steve raises his eyebrows and maintains his policy of silence.
"So, where are we going?" Bucky asks.
"Pep dug up a place that's decently private that has an allergy specialist chef. There's also gluten free beer if that's your thing," Stark replies. "I don't know what you guys want, but the guy's getting paid enough you should be able to order whatever the hell you want."
Bucky shoots Steve a cheeky look. "Pizza?"
Stark barks out a short laugh. "Sure, why not."
"I promised Steve pizza," Bucky explains, a little bashful, which is very not-Bucky. Usually he's the type that doesn't care what people think about him. Steve guesses Stark doesn't count as 'people'.
"Wouldn't want you to break a promise," Stark agrees. His eyes flit to Bucky's prosthetic. "So how's the arm working out for you? You guys been putting it through it's paces?"
"It's amazing. Perfect, really. Next best thing to not getting the real one blown off in the first place," Bucky gushes. "The pressure plates, the range of movement... it's like a dream."
Stark looks more genuinely pleased about this than he has about anything else, and Steve starts to pay more than absentminded attention. "No issues? Nothing you want me to fix while we're here or mark down for improvement and development?"
Bucky's face drops into awed hero worship. "You'd do that?"
Stark moves across and fondles the prosthetic, looking it over and rolling Bucky's sleeve up, twisting the arm back and forth while Bucky visibly tries to stay cool. "We wanted them released as soon as possible, so though they're a hundred percent safe and functional there could still be some minor faults we overlooked in the live testing. Plus any wear and tear. You haven't been rough with it have you?"
Bucky outright blushes at the tone of that last question. "No, sir. Follow the care guides to the letter."
Stark lifts an intrigued eyebrow, hands going from business-like to something a little less appropriate for a car with someone else in it.
"He has some issues with the heating elements. They stay the same at night in bed so it feels cold in comparison to the rest of him," Steve explains. Truthfully Bucky only complained about it once, when the heating in the apartment went out. Other than that Bucky's been nothing but giddily impressed by the internal heating of the arm. "There's also some issues with shoulder movement."
Bucky shoots him a betrayed look, and Steve shrugs.
"What kind of issues?" Stark asks, fingers trailing up to Bucky's shoulder. "Range? Stiffness?"
"The grip in my hand weakens a little when I raise my arm too high," Bucky reluctantly elaborates. "It's not a big deal, really."
Stark hums and presses the shoulder back and forth, prompting Bucky to raise his arm with a touch.
"Really, it's fine," Bucky insists.
Stark blinks up at him, a faintly amused smile pulling at his lips. "Don't worry about it. Gives me an excuse to invite you back to my place later."
Bucky seemingly loses the ability to speak at that.
Steve rolls his eyes and suppresses his own amused smile.
"We'll get that arm warm and snugly for Stevie at night, too, huh?" Stark teases as the car pulls up.
"We're not-" Steve starts, but Stark's already halfway out of the car.
The restaurant promptly makes Steve and Bucky forget to correct him.
It's small, intimate and classy. warm lighting and understated decor with undeniably expensive but tasteful furnishings. The host guides them up onto a raised section of floor and behind slight corner to a secluded table and leaves them with a smile.
It's not what Steve was expecting. He's never been to a fancy restaurant before, or no fancier than the local italian place that has actual cloth napkins. He thought it'd be bigger. Flashier. Probably a little intimidating. As it is, he doesn't even feel bad about his smart casual outfit.
"You can pretty much ignore the menu. Just make sure you mention all your allergies when you order and we should be good," Stark tells him.
Steve looks around dubiously. That's not really how restaurants work, and he's not entirely sure that changes with the price tag. "You sure we don't have to order the stuff they actually cook?"
"Nah. The chef's a friend of Pepper's. Dotes on her and all who know her, and happens to be under the delusion that I'm an amazing boss," Stark explains. "He knew we were coming, so just order what you want."
Steve thinks maybe Pepper wouldn't be too pleased at that goodwill being extended to Steve after their talk in the greenroom, but he doesn't protest, just does as he's told when the waiter arrives. The list of stuff he can't eat is embarrassingly long, but the waiter seems unfazed. Stark doesn't even seem to be listening either, which softens the self-consciousness.
The food is good. The company is surprisingly not terrible, though Steve mostly just enjoys eating a decent meal he doesn't have to pay for while Tony and Bucky flirt.
Until Tony seems to remember his other invitee. "So what do you do when you're not keeping Bucky out of trouble?"
Predictably, Bucky's reaction to that comment is to choke on his drink laughing.
"I'm an art student," Steve says, keeping it short and hoping to be left alone again.
"Cool," Tony says with the kind of mild interest that should get the subject dropped quickly. "Pepper's into art. There's a bunch of stuff all over my apartment that she insisted I needed to buy. Sometimes I feel like my living there is just a minor function of Pepper's private art gallery."
Steve tilts his head. "Are you and Pepper...?"
"No," Tony says. He's definitely been asked that before. "Just employer and employee. Friends sometimes if I'm good."
"...Okay," Steve says doubtfully, and occupies his mouth with food.
"So what kind of art do you do? There's different kinds, right? Like modern art, classical art, um... nude art, the ones with the fruit," Tony follows up.
"Stevie's into all kinds," Bucky answers for him to save him from speed chewing and inevitably choking. "He's working on a panel art project right now, but he does still life and portraits sometimes."
"Still life?" Tony says. "That's the one with the fruit, right? And portraits would be the kind that are sometimes nude?"
"I guess," Bucky chuckles.
Tony grins and gives a wink. "Well, I'm always happy to pose for a struggling young artist."
Steve blushes bright red and chokes on his food anyway.
"Looks like I'm the only one who hasn't got to choke on anything yet," Tony says with a lecherous smile. "I feel left out."
Bucky licks his lips and Steve feels all kinds of awkward. He really shouldn't be here for this.
"I'm just gonna go and leave you to alone," Steve rasps once he's able to stop coughing.
"You don't want to come back to my place and see my art collection?" Tony asks. "I think you'll like it."
At this, Bucky finally seems to catch on to what Tony thinks is going on and opens his mouth to say something.
Steve shakes his head. "No. I'm good thanks. You two have fun, though."
He's halfway out of the restaurant, struggling into his jacket and stepping right into a puddle as he leaves the front door, when Tony catches up to him.
"You don't have to go, you know," Tony tells him.
"Oh, I really, really do."
Tony sticks his hands in his jacket pockets. "So I know I got a few things wrong about the situation, but that doesn't mean you have to leave. You were having a fun day with you friend, and my bet is that was planned to extend into a fun evening with him. You can still do that."
"Bucky told you all that in the time it took me to get to the door?" Steve asks.
"No, I figured it out around the time you said 'we're not' in response to my comment earlier. It doesn't take a genius, which I am by the way, to figure out how that sentence was supposed to end," Tony tells him.
Steve frowns. "But all that stuff in there..."
"I'll admit, I tested the waters a little. Don't ask, don't get, right?" Tony says. "But I'm not a complete dick. You can finish your dinner, and we can go back to mine for completely innocent art viewing and arm tune ups, and you and Bucky can head home slightly drunk in a limo with a crazy story to tell at parties about hanging out with a billionaire for an evening."
He thinks about it, trying to work out why Tony is trying so hard on this. Surely once he figured out Steve and Bucky weren't... that they're just friends, that should have uncomplicated his booty call? So why try to get Steve to keep tagging along? Why not let him go with a cheery goodbye? "It's fine, you know. Today is about Bucky, and I doubt he wants me tagging along as a third wheel."
Tony outright laughs at that.
"What's funny?" Steve asks defensively.
"Nothing," Tony blatantly lies. "Listen, I can't make you stay. If you really want to go then you should, but don't use me or Bucky as an excuse. We're plenty happy to have you here."
It's more curiosity than anything that has Steve follow Tony back inside.
"Stevie, you stayed," Bucky says as Steve sits back down. He really does sound happy about it, too.
"Yeah, well, can't leave half a meal uneaten," Steve jokes.
Tony grins and orders them a bottle of wine.
The company's even better when Steve's reservations are behind a fuzzy wall of alcohol. He's not drunk, not really, which is a miracle given how sensitive to alcohol he tends to be. He's just loose limbed and a little giggly, something Tony takes advantage of with a reel of jokes, each one less funny and more lazy than the last, but Steve can't help but keep laughing.
At some point Bucky stops talking much and just leans back with this smile on his face that Steve can't quite decipher. It's not his usual 'humouring drunk Stevie' smile, nor is it his 'oh my god Tony Stark' smile. Tony seems to interpret it just fine though, by the smile he responds with when his eyes next land on Bucky.
The meal finishes and before Steve knows it, they're piled back in the limo. Literally piled, Steve tripped on the way in (perhaps he's a little drunk after all) and ended up half across Tony's lap with is arm under Bucky somehow. They disentangle, Steve uncontrollably giggling the whole time, and the politely silent driver takes them to Tony's place.
Tony's apartment is bigger than the whole house Steve grew up in. Admittedly it was a tiny house, but he's including surrounding street and yard here. It stood to reason, what with the whole billionaire thing, but somehow it still takes Steve by surprise. True to his word, Tony, who is remarkably sober despite drinking even more than Bucky, tinkers with Bucky's arm while Steve looks at his art, guided around the apartment by Tony's instructions.
"That any better?" Tony asks after an impossibly short time.
Bucky picks up the glass of scotch Tony plied him with on entry and raises his arm. "Perfect."
"You're not just saying that?" Tony checks teasingly.
Steve's attention catches on a painting. "Is this an original?!" It certainly looks like one, and Tony is a billionaire, but still...
"Sure is," Tony says, coming to stand by him. He leans closer with a mischievous smile that makes Steve shiver. "You can touch it if you want. Just don't tell Pepper."
Steve looks back at the painting. Sober him wouldn't risk damaging the art in any way, but drunk him is longing to run is fingers over the brushstrokes.
Tony takes his wrist with gentle fingers and guides his hand to the painting. "Go ahead."
It's almost as tempting to leave his wrist encircled by Tony's strong, gentle fingers, surprisingly calloused for a billionaire, as it is to touch the painting. He inwardly curses himself for it, but he's beginning to see why Bucky's so taken with the guy.
Tony stays by his shoulder as he caresses the brushstrokes in the paint, feeling out the texture and pretending its owner isn't watching his face as he does so. Also pretending that there isn't heat creeping up his spine and pinkening his skin. And that he isn't more focused on determining whether he can smell Tony's aftershave than on the painting. Jeez.
He chances a look back over his shoulder at Bucky, hoping the reminder that this is the guy Bucky's every fantasy for the last three years has revolved around will calm him down. Instead he finds Bucky's dark gaze doesn't look at all like he minds Steve taking Tony's attention. It looks almost like...
Steve drops his hand and turns more fully to look at his friend, who registers the shift in Steve's attention with an expression of mild guilt, like he was caught doing something he shouldn't. Steve clears his throat, still a little drunk and overwhelmed by how surreal the whole situation is. "Bucky, come look at this."
Tony's eyes shift between the two of them, but he doesn't say anything or move away from where he's standing just a little too close to Steve.
With Bucky by his other shoulder, Steve feels every inch of height difference between the three of them. Tony's not a tall guy, but both of them seem to tower above Steve. Somehow it doesn't make him feel weak or self conscious as it usually does. It just makes him feel surrounded, contained. In a weirdly good way.
Bucky raises his flesh and blood fingers to the painting, copying Steve's earlier movements, attention no more on the painting that Steve's had been.
Steve feels reckless. Daring. But not enough to take another step forward. He shoots Tony a desperate look, wondering when the man had turned into someone he could ask for any kind of help.
"Do you guys want another drink?" Tony asks, moving away, and Steve wants to protest because no, that's not what he wanted, not what he was asking for. But Stark's already distanced himself, watching discretely as he pours them each another glass of whatever alcohol he's selected this time.
Steve turns his attention back to Bucky, wondering if the tension will have dissipated with Stark's removal, if the man was the magic ingredient that made Bucky look at him like that. But Bucky's eyes are still dark and intense as they rest on Steve's face, and he's just as close as he was before. "Buck..."
Bucky smiles a little, pulling a delicate, slightly worried mask down over his expression. "You okay, Stevie? Having fun?"
Steve nods silently, frustrated that Stark's spent the whole evening leading them towards this only to abandon them when it finally seems like they're all on board. Every moment of tension and daring is starting to pale in Steve's memory as all the reasons he never tried this with Bucky start up their mantras inside his head.
Stark's sleazy, suggestive tone is completely gone when he says with all appearances of earnesty, "there's more in the bedroom. Why don't you guys go take a look?"
Bucky takes a sharp breath and shoots another of those indecipherable looks at Stark, who's busying himself with cleaning up his tools and seems not to notice at all.
Taking a gulp of air that feels bigger than his chest, Steve takes the man's advice. Hell, he's got them closer to anything like this in one night than Steve's managed in over a decade of friendship, so Steve's gonna go with whatever he suggests right now. He hadn't even thought it was possible for Bucky to look at him like that until Stark came along. He heads in the direction Tony had indicated and Bucky follows without comment.
The room, as expected, is huge. The bed in the centre large enough to accomodate any of Steve's somewhat judgemental mental images of orgies and sex parties, but soft and welcoming enough that Steve feels the urge to allow his body to fall down onto it and allow the last, warm fuzzy vestiges of drunkeness to float him away into sleep.
There really is art in here too, though this is of a different tone than the art outside. As if these are the ones Tony specifically chose for his personal space. Which is ridiculous, because it's all his personal space, but the instinct remains. This is the art Tony actually likes and wants to surround himself with.
Fascinated by the idea, Steve takes a proper look at it all. It's bold, like its owner, filled with primary red and flashes of gold, impressionistic but with sharp, clear lines. Not the kind of art usually presented in bedrooms, but beautiful in its forcefullness. It has something to say and it says it loud and clear, without shame or obfusication. Straightforward and bright, even where it shades darker.
"Should've brought your notebook," Bucky says teasingly. "You look like you're drafting an art report in your head."
"Shut up," Steve says absently, though he is reminded of why he's here.
"Is it any good?" Bucky asks.
"The art, is it good?"
Steve considers. "Yeah. It's good. It's not... I mean, they're not like the ones out there. I think these are all one artist."
"You can't tell?" Bucky asks.
Steve shakes his head. "No signature. Not one I can find anyway. They could be prints-"
Tony appears in the doorway. "Is this where I ask you if you want to see my etchings?"
"Are they yours?" Steve asks. Nothing about Tony says artist, but it would make sense.
Tony looks amused. "Not exactly." He strolls over, hands in his trouser pockets, feet bare and tie vanished into the ether. "Would you believe me if I said my computer made these?"
Steve frowns. "Like digital art?"
"Like, my computer generated the images," Tony says.
Steve looks back at the artwork in disbelief. There's so much creativity there. So much... feeling. "No way."
"It's an AI I've been working on since I was fifteen. Seventeen if you count from when he went online," Tony tells them. "He's- it's not like a regular computer. He picked the colours from the ones I gave him and he did the rest."
"But this is..." Steve's still a little too drunk to wrap his head around the implications. It could just be a smart algorithm or something. He's sure they read about some computer programs generating images. But they looked nothing like this.
"I know," Tony says as if Steve had managed to finish his sentence. "Even I'm impressed."
Steve looks back at the man, the genius he supposes. He'd known that of course, everyone does, but until now he hadn't really agreed completely. Sure the prosthetics and things were impressive, but Steve had always just kind of assumed that Tony had a massive team of brainboxes working on it and he just took the credit. "So, is there anything else impressive in this room?"
Tony grins delightedly. "I'm sure you can find something to be impressed by if you want to take a looksee."
It's as good as an invitation, but Steve's still struggling to believe in any of it. The only thing that's kept him from running for the door has been how unreal it all is. So out of the ordinary, everyday world Steve usually occupies that it felt almost as if nothing he did here would count. But there are still a million voices in his head telling him what a bad idea this all is. He eyes the drinks Tony brought in with him hungrily. Maybe if he got drunk enough he could drown out the remnants of his inhibitions.
"Where would you suggest we start?" Bucky asks, all false bravado, the tremor in his voice betraying that he feels every bit as nervouse about this all as Steve does.
"Well, I guess that depends on how you'd like the rest of this evening to go," Tony says frankly, dropping the joky language in favour of addressing the issue straightforwardly and boldly. Just like his art. He takes a step into the room and Steve feels his chest seize, close enough in sensation that he's worried for a moment that he might have an asthma attack. "I'm gonna need some idea of what everyone's on board for here."
Steve looks at Bucky, who's carefully fixed a neutral expression on his face as he stares at the wall. It seems everyone's waiting for Steve to say something first, but he has no idea what to say.
After an awkward moment of silence, Tony comes to his rescue. "I guess I'll start."
Both Steve and Bucky's gazes snap back to him.
"All through dinner I couldn't stop thinking about getting you both back here," Tony admits shamelessly. "I knew by then that you two weren't together, but I thought it wasn't completely out of the question. I figured I'd invite you back here and if it happened then great, and if not I wouldn't push my luck. But given the way you guys have been circling each other I'm thinking we're headed in the direction of option number one. I could be wrong, though so I need you guys to let me know what you're down for. Because for me, I'm down for pretty much anything."
Steve's stomach flips, and his throat dries out as Tony speaks. "With me as well?" He clarifies, because while it was very obvious what Tony was saying, he still found it a little hard to believe.
Bucky finally meets Steve's eyes, giving him a questioning look not unlike the one back at the studio that started this whole thing off. He's asking Steve if he's okay with this, asking him if he wants to. Which means he isn't saying no himself.
"I'm..." Steve words dry up and he coughs to clear his throat again. He turns back to Tony because that's easier. "I think I'd like, I mean, I want to..." He makes noise of frustration. "Yes. I'm trying to say yes. To all of that. We can. If Bucky wants."
Bucky looks shellshocked. No, that's not quite right. Steve's seen him actually shellshocked and it was horrible. This is more like someone just told him something he can't quite wrap his head around and that turns the world upside down. Which Steve guesses is kind of what's happened.
"Buck?" He asks gently.
Bucky snaps out of it. "Yeah. Yes. I want."
Amusement spreads accross Tony's face again. "Great. So we're agreed. We're doing this. Now, does anyone have any idea what 'this' they want other than that it's a 'this' that involves all of us? There are a few ways this could go still."
Steve and Bucky exchange helpless glances. They're still too overwhelmed to think much about that.
"Should I just take the lead on this?" Tony questions when no answer is forthcoming. Both men nod. "Great. So, given that this is a first for the two of you, and there's a little more at stake for you guys, maybe you should start with each other. It's not like I'll be complaining with that view."
They still hesitate, unsure of their welcome even after the verbal agreement.
"Start simple. Just a kiss, tongues optional," Tony instructs, and Steve finds himself very, very grateful for the man's presence.
Bucky seems to gather his courage and moves in closer to Steve, movements determined enough that Steve is somewhat prepared for the firm press of lips against his. Somewhat because nothing could totally prepare him for something he's been oh so secretely fantasising about for nearly half his life. Taking further courage from Steve's reaction, Bucky pulls back just enough to change the angle, make it more natural, easier.
"Perfect," Tony encourages. "Maybe get the arms involved there, get in a little closer. Ain't no room for Jesus in my penthouse."
Steve raises his hands to Bucky's hips, shivering as a little of Bucky's hair brushes his face, falling forward from where Bucky stoops over to kiss him. His hands clench over the warmth they find, bunching the fabric of Bucky's shirt, perfectly ironed for the big day.
"Stevie," Bucky murmurs against his lips and cups his face, holding him still for the kiss as if afraid even now that Steve will pull away.
The kiss is affectionate and wanting, lips catching gently and dryly until it gradually deepens. It feels like the most natural, easy thing in the world, like slotting two perfectly made puzzle pieces together, as their kiss deepens and slides together smoothly with the light contact of tongues.
Steve notes distantly that Tony's stopped offering instructions, and he's just aware enough to crack his eyes open and look at the man the next time the kiss shifts angles.
For the first time that day, Tony seems like he's unsure of his welcome.
Steve pulls his lips free, brushing Bucky's nose with his own as he breaks away. He tilts his head subtly in Tomy's direction and Bucky's gaze clears, following his hint.
"Tony," Bucky says, and it's painful to see Tony's usual smug bravado slide back into place. Until that moment Steve hadn't realised how much of it was an act, a performance, and he's ashamed of his previous blindness. His heart tugs and he holds out a hand towards the man in tandam with Bucky.
Tonyregards the two reaching hands. "I don't want to interrupt."
Bucky huffs and shakes his head. "Would ya get over here?"
Tony doesn't ask if they're sure, though there's a hesitance in his movements, barely noticeable except in comparison to his earlier behaviour. He comes close enough that their hands can pull him the rest of the distance and accepts Bucky's enthusiastic kiss with a pleased groan. The sight is pornographic and Steve's hands twitch with impatience for his own turn. He'd never thought when he first saw the man that he'd be standing here wanting so badly to kiss him, and it's only been a small handfull of hours. Maybe Bucky was right, there is something special about Tony Stark.
As much as he's waiting for it, he still feels his stomach drop when Tony turns towards him, nervous despite himself at the idea of being wanted by a man like Tony. He hates himself for it, not valuing those things about Tony in comparison to whether he's kind or thoughtful, but he can't help think about how famous Tony is, how rich and handsome, how he must have had people a million times more attractive and experienced than Steve. How he'll probably be disappointed.
Tony either doesn't notice this or considerately ignores it, approaching Steve every bit as eagerly as he did Bucky. This kiss begins wet and deep, full of tongues and sucking pressure against Steve's lips. It's surprisingly satisfying given that Steve's very recently kissed the man he regards as the love of his life for comparison. Definitely something special about Tony Tony, though Steve couldn't name it if you asked him. All he knows is not only does the man seriously know how to kiss, but he's inexorably charming in a way Steve would challenge anyone to resist. Like a whirlpool that pulls you in no matter how carefully you try to steer clear.
Steve startles and whimpers embarrassingly as Bucky presses his mouth to Steve's neck, the double onslaught feeling amazing. He grasps at Bucky's hair and Tony's collar in a needless attempt at keeping them from going anywhere. It seems he needn't have worried about Tony being disappointed with him as the man in question loops his arm around Steve's middle to pull him in impossibly tightly, switching over to kiss Bucky fluidly without Steve feeling for a single moment like he's lacking attention. It should be awkward, the three of them crammed together like this in the middle of Tony's bedroom, roughly taking turns to swap saliva, but they fit impossibly well. Each time they switch attention between themselves the others follow without instruction, hands and mouths adapting and moving effortlessly as if they've done this before.
At last Tony breaks away breathlessly to gasp out, "bed. There's a bed."
And by god do they make use of that bed.
The morning is less than effortless.
Tony has already left the bed by the time that Steve awakes, face pressed to Bucky's bicep and right foot cold where it pokes out of the rumpled covers. He cracks one eye open to judge the situation, part of his brain still more than willing to go back to sleep to postpone whatever comes next. Bucky's still asleep. He looks beautifully relaxed, surrounded by a halo of shiny brown hair on a silk pillowcase.
Steve pulls away carefully, reluctantly. If they were at home he wouldn't bother, but this is someone else's home and he daren't overstay their welcome. Still, he avoids waking Bucky until he's located and pulled on his clothes.
He runs his fingers through his hair a couple of times, hoping it isn't sticking up anyway, and gently shakes Bucky's shoulder, part affection and part awareness of how Bucky could react if he doesn't wake smoothly. Steve still remembers the bruises and guilt from the first time he'd tried to wake Bucky from a nightmare after hearing his whimpers and cries through the thin apartment walls.
Bucky hums and stretches, mouth curving into a smile as he wakes to Steve hovering above him. "Mornin'"
Steve's heart melts and he'd give anything not to have to break the moment, but he can hear Tony's voice now, presumably on the phone with someone somewhere through the open door.
"No, we're good," Tony says. "I'll let them sleep in a little more. I'll give them Happy's number for when they wanna go home." He pauses. "I know! Pep, I know! I'll be there, promise. Just give me..." another pause, this one filled with a thoughtful noise. "Thirty minutes. I'll grab a shower and a coffee to go and I'll be right there."
Bucky sighs. "Back to reality, then."
"Yeah," Steve says. There's a twinge of regret, but most of what he wants to keep he'll hopefully be taking home with him anyway. Still, checking won't hurt. "But we're... Are we still, you know, what we were last night."
Bucky laughs. "Yeah, we'd better be." He looks towards the door where Tony's making the occassional noise to indicate to whoever he's on the phone with that he's still listening. "Man, what the hell happened last night? I, mean, shit like that doesn't actually happen, right?"
Steve shrugs, just as disbelieving as Bucky. "I guess so."
"I gotta be the luckiest guy alive," Bucky says. He shakes his head and pokes Steve in the ribs. "I told you Tony Stark was awesome."
"I'll admit, I've gained a few reasons to appreciate the guy," Steve says teasingly.
"Knew you'd warm up to me," Tony says, now leaning agains the doorframe, arms folded and cell phone loosely gripped in one hand. "You guys want coffee? Or, I dunno, tea or something? I'm sure I've got tea somewhere."
"Coffee would be great," Bucky says and heaves himself from the bed.
"Same," Steve agrees. He hands Bucky his pants and stands from the bed, following Tony out to the kitchen. He waits until Tony has turned the coffee machine on and readied some cups before he says anything. "Thanks."
Tony looks up from texting someone. "For what?"
"For yesterday. Last night. For not kicking us out as soon as the sun came up," Steve lists wryly. "For helping us stop being so oblivious."
Tony looks genuinely surprised by his thanks. "No problem. Wasn't exactly a chore for me. If anything, I should thank you guys for letting me join you. I mean, was that your first time together? Big deal. You'd have probably preferred that to be a two person event."
Steve considers for a brief moment. "No. I'm happy with how it happened."
"You're sweet," Tony says, like he doesn't really believe him. "It was fun."
It's a risk, Tony didn't sign up for anything else and he has no reason beyond his hero worship to think Bucky will agree, but Steve can't help himself. He pulls an old receipt and a stub of sketching pencil from his jacket pocket and scrawls down two sets of numbers. He slides it across the counter. "For if you want to have dinner again sometime. Our treat."
Tony looks adorably startled, hands gripping at his still empty mug and staring at the receipt in bewilderment.
Bucky enters with a yawn, slinging his arm around Steve's shoulders and following Tony's gaze to their numbers written on tattered paper. He doesn't say anything about it though, just muffles another yawn and ruffles Steve's hair. "How's that coffee coming?"
After Tony rushes through a shower and out of the door, on the phone to Pepper for half of it, reassuring her that "I'm on my way. Seriously, Pep, halfway out of the door already. No, I'm not lying. When do I lie? I don't lie to you. I'll be there in like five minutes." Bucky uses the number Tony gave them for his driver and they take the limo back home.
"What the hell was that?" Sam asks when they reach their apartment door. "Was that a limo? What happened? Did you not come home last night?"
Bucky shakes his head with a laugh and opens the door, leaving it open for Sam to follow them in rather than go back to his own apartment.
"Seriously, what happened?" Sam asks as they fling themselves down on the ratty couch with matching sighs of satisfied exhaustion.
"Make us breakfast and we'll tell you," Bucky bargains.
"Hell no, get your own," Sam replies almost automatically.
Bucky shrugs and turns the TV on. "Suit yourself."
Steve doesn't ruin the effect by speaking up himself, only waiting for Sam to give in. After kicking his shoes off he adds fuel to Sam's curiosity by snuggling in against Bucky in a way that could only be construed as friendly if you couldn't see the hand Steve placed high up on Bucky's thigh.
Sam curses and takes a few steps across the cramped apartment until he stands in the kitchen area. "You get eggs. No complaints."
Steve hums in agreement and lets his eyes drift close, head pillowed comfortably on Bucky's shoulder as his dumb fanboy boyfriend tells Sam all about the day previous.
The news bulletin makes them all groan as they wait for the movie to come back on. Something about the Middle East. Not that out of the ordinary, and all three of them have enough experience of that particular clusterfuck to be well and truly tired of hearing about it in their leisure time.
Then Tony Stark appears on screen at a press conference, talking about peace efforts and Stark Industries' still-new ethos, and how they're bringing prosperity to impoverished areas through green tech and humanitarian efforts.
"Jeez, you'd think the guy was president or something," Sam grumbles.
They both shush him simultaneously.
"Seriously?" Sam says.
"Quit it," Steve tells him. "Tony's doing great stuff over there."
Sam makes an indignant noise. "Hey! If you weren't screwing the guy, you'd be on my side. Just a few weeks ago-"
Sam subsides with another, quieter grumble until the news bulletin ends. "So when do I get to meet him? Can I get a ride in the limo or is that strictly for booty calls only?"
Bucky throws a pillow at him.