Chapter 1: Contrast
“I don’t care what you were in the middle of, I said we’re leaving, let’s go.” The tone was just sharp enough to prick up Steve’s ears, though he didn’t yet move from his spot on the ground, where he was refilling the cheese tubs.
“Yes, Ty. Thank you for letting me come here with you.” The second voice sounded so defeated that Steve’s heart ached for him, but it was also clearly as adult a voice as the first, and in Steve’s (fairly strong) opinion, this conversation was not the stuff of healthy adult interaction. He stood up.
“Dammit, punk, what now?” Bucky’s hand caught Steve’s bicep before he could step through the swinging doors between the pizzeria's kitchen and dining area.
The defeated voice was still trying, at least a little. “Can I at least take the rest of this slice with me?”
But the sharp voice only got sharper. “I think you’ve had plenty to eat. Unless you want to go back to the tailor before Friday’s gala...”
Bucky wisely released Steve’s arm, sidling sideways toward the register and the baseball bat underneath. Steve, meanwhile, strode out with a crocodile grin and addressed the two men who were really dressed too finely for a neighborhood place like Steve’s Slices. “Hi there! Was everything to your satisfaction? Can I wrap anything up for you to take with you?”
The taller, bulkier man, a blond with a sneer, barely glanced at Steve. “It was fine, just a bit… fattening, for someone like Tony, who has to work so hard to maintain his boyish figure, you know? Now, come along Tony.”
The shorter man, a brunet who (to Steve’s concerned eye, at least) seemed worryingly thin, made a visible effort to firm up his chin. “Yeah, of course, cameras add ten pounds, right? Sorry, it really was very good pizza...”
Steve’s smile turned a bit more genuine. “No worries! In fact, next time you’re in, slice and a soda, on the house, yeah?” Before Tony could react, he was hauled out the door by Ty’s grip on his upper arm. Steve forced himself to turn away, exchanging a heavy look with Bucky. Much as he might wish to, he’d learned he couldn’t save everyone.
Weekday afternoons were actually pretty good for business, plenty of teenagers coming in after classes, to make googly eyes at each other or cheer on Bucky as he spun the doughs with his one good arm and one clunky prosthetic. But this Tuesday, Bucky could feel someone watching him with more-than-usual intent. When he slapped the latest round down for Miles to add the margherita, he looked up, and directly into the big brown eyes of the cute guy with the asshole boyfriend from a couple weeks ago, this time fortunately without said boyfriend.
When he realized he’d been noticed, he scooted closer, darting a look around as if his boyfriend or some other asshole was going to jump out and yell at him. Bucky suppressed the urge to scowl, and made himself smile instead. “Hey! Tony, right? Didja get that slice Stevie promised you?”
Tony blinked, clearly surprised. “Oh, um, you remember me? I didn’t think you would. I, um, really didn’t think you’d remember the other thing. I mean, you totally don’t have to-”
Bucky rolled his eyes. “What’s your favorite topping?”
Tony froze, looking more confused than ever. “My favorite? On pizza? Oh, um...” He hunched in on himself a little, but Bucky just gestured for him to get on with it. “I guess… artichoke? Everyone says it’s weird, but I-”
Bucky nodded sharply and turned toward the display case. “Two slices of veggie mix, comin’ right up. Hey, Gwen, get this kid a soda, yeah?” He put the pizza slices on one of their reinforced paper plates and handed the whole thing over the case to Tony.
Tony blushed and gave Bucky a small, incredibly sweet smile. “I don’t mean to impose. Like, I can pay for-” Bucky snorted, and Tony’s jaw snapped shut. “Or not. OK. Um, Gwen? Root beer?” He picked at the pizza for a moment, then looked up through his (incredibly lush) eyelashes at Bucky. “I didn’t really come in for the food. I mean, it’s really good pizza!” He took a big bite to show his appreciation, then let out a little groan. “Mmm, seriously, better than some I’ve had in Italy. Worth coming here. But!” He gulped his root beer, then took a couple more bites of pizza, clearly buying time. “OK, here’s the thing. I saw this place’s Instagram, and I saw you doing the thing, with the dough and the prosthetic, and I could get you so much better of a prosthetic. Well, ok, it might be hella glitchy at first, might do some weird things here and there, you’d be in the beta tests, but overall it would be way better than that thing.” He waved a dismissive hand at Bucky’s left arm.
Bucky raised one eyebrow. “Yeah, you’re going to have to back up a step or two, ‘cause it sounds like you just said you can get me in some sort of… of, medical, technical, trial, and, no offense, you look like you’re barely out of high school. How do you have the authority to make the offer?”
Tony pouted. “I’ll have you know I’m twenty-five. I just have a good skin-care regimen.” Without him even seeming to realize it, his back straightened and his shoulders relaxed. “And I have all the authority. I own the company, I design all the prosthetics myself, I hired all the neuro people personally.” His gaze suddenly darted to every corner of the room, and his head ducked a bit. “Not that I’m trying to force you into anything or anything, I just… you deserve to be able to use both hands, you know? And if I get this working right, I can offer them to veterans, kids with congenital issues...”
Bucky dredged up a more sincere smile than most people saw from him these days. “Hey, no. That actually sounds pretty awesome. I gotta talk it over with Steve before I say for sure, but, yeah, I think I’m in.” Tony grinned at him, and Bucky almost staggered with the rush of desire and (could it really be?) affection he felt thunder through him.
Suddenly, the grin fell off Tony’s face, replaced with a thoughtful frown. “Hold on. You and Steve are together? I thought you were just Army buddies.”
Bucky smirked. “Yeah, and everyone in the Army thought we were just childhood besties. They never woulda left us in the same unit if they knew we were together, but apparently we’re pretty decent at keeping it on the down-low. Go us?”
Tony tilted his head like the RCA dog. “And that didn’t make you question your commitment to each other or anything? Ty says that the best way to show someone you care about them is to make it really totally clear to everyone else that you care.”
Bucky scowled. “Rest a’ the world doesn’t matter. Best way I figure to show someone you care is to care. Like, listen when they talk, sit with ‘em when they need quiet, make ‘em food when they can’t deal with makin’ it themselves.”
Tony put all his concentration into dipping his crust in his soda. “Ty likes it when I can’t make food. He likes when I don’t eat all day. I’m pretty sure he’ll dump me if I gain too much weight.” Tony looked up, eyes wide in startlement, and Bucky realized he was growling a little.
He took a couple of deep breaths, trying to get his rage under control. “He’s an asshole, and you’d be better off without him. If you were mine, you would never ever go a whole day without eating, I would make artichoke pizza for you every day, I-”
“But.” Tony bit his lip and sighed. “But I’m with Ty, and you’re with Steve, and I should probably go. Let me know what you guys decide.” He pulled a business card out of his pocket and handed it over the case to Bucky. “Thanks for the food, it was really sweet of you.” He gave Bucky a sad smile and headed out.
Tony barely managed to keep from fidgeting in Bruce’s spare office chair. This wasn’t exactly the first limb replacement he’d done, but somehow it felt like the most important. There was just something about this man, these men… A couple of times, now, he’d caught himself formulating excuses to go back to Steve’s Slices, and only fear of how Ty would react if he found out had him not using those excuses. He glanced at the clock on Bruce’s computer, barely stifling a whimper when he saw it was two o’ clock on the dot.
Bruce could clearly tell Tony had a case of the nerves. “I thought we switched you to decaf. What’s got you so riled up?”
Tony glared at him. “No, you keep telling me I should switch to decaf, but you should know it’s never going to happen, you know engineers run on coffee. Real, proper, caffeinated coffee, not that decaf travesty, or, worse, tea.” He shuddered over-dramatically.
Bruce looked at him over his glasses. “And avoiding the question. Curiouser and curiouser. It can’t be the tech. Maybe the person?”
Tony was saved from having to answer by a knock on the doorframe. “Is this Dr Banner’s office?” It was Bucky (Ooh, he cleans up nice!), with Steve lurking just behind him.
Bruce stood and came around the desk, holding out his hand. “I’m Dr Banner, but please, call me Bruce. And I understand you know Tony already?”
Bucky hesitated, just long enough for Tony to notice, then shook Bruce’s hand. “James Barnes, but everyone calls me Bucky. And, ah, yeah, Tony’s the one who convinced me to do this thing.” He gestured behind him. “This is my boyfriend, Steve. Don’t believe his claims, he’s a total mother hen.”
Steve’s jaw dropped, and his eyes widened, as if he were completely horrified by the accusation. “I am not! I am being caring, and helpful, just like my mother (God rest her soul) taught me!”
Bucky fake scowled at him. “Don’t bring your mother into this, Rogers, she has nothing to do with-”
“Gentlemen.” Bruce cleared his throat meaningfully. “We usually start with the scans. The scanning lab is just down the hall. Shall we?” He exited his office and turned left, Bucky falling into step with him a moment later. Tony and Steve trailed after them, a bit slower.
By the time Tony had gotten into the lab, shut the door, and settled himself and Steve in the observation chairs off to the side, Bruce had Bucky tucked in among all the imaging equipment, with his shirt off. Tony forced his attention off Bucky’s (gorgeous) naked chest, and over to Steve. “Pretty awesome of you to be here with him. I mean, I hope you didn’t have to close your business for the day or something just to be here, I wouldn’t want you guys to lose out on-”
Steve smiled at him. “I’m more than happy to be here. And, I mean, I’m gonna be the one helping him with his PT and everything, I should be here. But the business will be fine, Sam can keep Miles and Gwen in line no problem.” His face fell, and he glanced worriedly between Tony and Bruce-and-Bucky. “Unless I shouldn’t be here? I’m not going to throw off the readings or anything, am I?”
Tony smiled wryly. “No, of course not, we wouldn’t have these chairs if people couldn’t be in here during the scans.” He sighed, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. “It’s just… I dunno, if it was me getting scanned, I don’t think Ty would take time off work to be with me. He probably would for the installation part, I don’t know, probably? But he for sure wouldn’t be here for the scans, especially if he had business to take care of.” He gave Steve a pathetic excuse for a smile. “So, when I say that it’s awesome that you’re here, I mean it. You’re a really good boyfriend.”
Steve’s eyes went big and soft, and he took one of Tony’s hands in both of his. “You deserve a really good boyfriend too, you know. You deserve someone who puts your health and well-being at the top of their list. Someone with a heart as big as yours.”
Well, crap. He thought it was bad before, but this was really, seriously, bodaciously bad. He was falling, hard, (and at the expense of his own relationship) for both of these men who were already completely gone on each other. He was so screwed...
Chapter 2: Compile
Tony was nervous (flustered. Twitterpated. A complete basket case.) to see Bucky again, and it was not made better by Steve showing up with him. Again. Like he had to every single one of Bucky’s appointments with any part of Stark Innovations. This was one of the milestone meetings, though, and Tony took a moment to take a couple of good deep breaths and will his hands to stop shaking.
He was still a babbling mess, though. “OK, great. So it looks like the transceiver panel on the stump is doing its thing properly, that’s definitely a good sign. Now, the arm is designed to attach and detach with no help but your other arm. Heck, in an emergency you could probably do it with just this arm, but that might mess up your shoulder, so maybe don’t test it over the weekend?” He pressed the transceiver panel on the arm to the one on the stump, and twisted it until it clicked. “There you go, that should do it. You’re probably going to want to take a minute for sensation, everyone says that part’s a little intense.”
Bucky was looking between the arm and him in awe. He wiggled his fingers a couple of times, then turned his hand and ran his fingertips down Tony’s sleeve. (Tony did his best not to shiver at the strangely sweet gesture.) “This… This is amazing! I… God, Stevie, I can….” He twisted past Tony, to where Steve was holding his other hand, and ran his new fingers down Steve’s cheek and jawline. “I can feel your stubble!” The laugh he let out was more surprised than amused.
Steve beamed back at him. “Oh, sure, that’s the first thing you notice!”
Tony ached for the love and happiness swelling between the two men, but he forced himself to take half a step back. “Right, so you’ve already gone on to the motor control stuff, looks like that’s all good, so, good. Whenever you’re ready, we have a bunch of grabbing and throwing for you to do, and for now there are a bunch of sensors in there, so when you come in for your weekly check-ins we can get all the feedback and haptics and whatnot, but you are taking to this really well, so, go you!” He mustered a small smile, but when both the ex-soldiers turned to him grinning, he couldn’t help but grin back, hoping it covered up his heartbreak.
The more Steve saw of Tony, the more he liked him. He chatted with the two of them during every one of Bucky’s appointments, jumping topics with a speed and randomness that was hard to follow but always entertaining. Though there were a couple of topics he skated over (mostly his father, his boyfriend, and/or the interaction of the two) that had Steve frowning on the inside, and making a habit of bringing granola bars and muffins and even slices of the kinds of pizza that travel well, and making sure Tony had eaten them before letting himself and Bucky leave.
This week, Bucky was in high spirits as they left. “This thing is totally amazing. I guess it’s finally time to apologize to Gwen for that time I yelled at her for putting video of my pizza dough thing on the Instagram, ‘cause I think it mighta paid off!” He wrapped both arms around Steve as they got in the hospital elevator, lifting him off the ground a little and then setting him down and pulling back to smirk at Steve. “Pretty damn glad we met Tony, in general I mean, not just ‘cause of the arm. And don’t think I haven’t noticed you mother henning him, too. Feeding him up like Hansel and Gretel? Betcha just wanna gobble him up, doncha?”
“Shut up, jerk.” Steve took advantage of the elevator’s opening at just the right moment, hustling out as if that could hide his burning cheeks from Bucky’s gaze, and headed for the subway entrance. “I’m just worried about him, is all. He’s a great guy, seriously a catch, and he could do so much better than that creep he’s seeing!”
Bucky bumped his flesh-and-bone shoulder against Steve’s arm, still grinning. “He could do better, huh? Like you and me, you mean?”
Steve, who had just gotten his blush under control, felt his cheeks flame up again. “I wasn’t implying anything… exactly...”
Bucky smirked at him as they swiped their Metro cards and pushed through their stiles. “Nah, it’s cool, punk. I know you got a lot of love t’ give, an’ honestly, Tony could use a lot of love.” He found a pillar on their platform to lean against. “I maybe don’t got as much love as you t’ toss around, but Tony fer sure deserves it. Hell, I’m in.”
Steve swooped in for a smacking kiss, his happiness bubbling over, then realized the teeny, tiny, little snag in the plan. He pulled back just enough to frown at Bucky. “Now we just gotta get him to break up with that douche he’s been seeing.” They both contemplated that issue for a long moment, then sighed. Just a minor problem, then.
Ten o’ clock, finally, and the steady stream of people looking for takeout with which to weather the oncoming snowstorm finally ran out. It was going to be a bad winter if this was how December was starting. Bucky locked the door behind the last of the night’s patrons with a weary sigh, and went to grab the mop bucket. Damn customers had tracked in enough snow for a snowman! He had barely started the mopping, though, when there was a knock on the door. He dropped the mop against the wall with a low growl and stomped over to the door.
Bucky yanked the door open and snarled at whoever was on the other side. “We’re closed. Read the damn- Tony?”
Tony gazed up at him through bangs weighted down with half-melted snow. “I know, I’m sorry, I know you guys are closed, but I did it. I walked out on Ty. Except, now I have nowhere else to go. Can I, like, sleep in your storeroom for a couple nights, til I figure things out a bit? I can wash dishes or-”
Bucky was already pulling him in and shutting the door. “Don’t be stupid.” Tony’s whole body drooped, the laptop bag and duffel bag each barely clinging to their respective shoulder. “We can at least give you the couch upstairs, it’ll be way warmer, and there’s pillows and cushions and shit. C’mon, let’s get you dried off.” Tony’s spine was suddenly a lot straighter, and his step almost bouncy as Bucky led him through the storage-and-office area, to the stairs. “Hey, Stevie, we got a roommate. Gonna make us all some cocoa.”
Chapter 3: Compersion
When you're trapped, with nowhere to go, feelings can emerge
Bucky bustled around, trying to cover his nerves. This was the first time Tony had been up to their apartment, and now he was here for at least the length of this snowstorm, which was promising to be a bad one. He shoved dirty laundry in the hamper, cleared last night’s beer bottles off the coffee table, and generally tidied the place up for a guest. (He didn’t think about how he was actually hoping Tony would like the place enough to want to stay. He really didn’t need to jump that gun.) Tony, however, was standing in the front hall, eyes wide and hair dripping gently.
Bucky ushered him into the living room. “Here, this is the couch you’ll be sleeping on, just put your stuff in the corner for now, we can figure out something else later. Sit tight, I’ll be right back.” He pushed on Tony’s shoulders until he sat down, then went to their tiny linen closet and got out a towel and some sheets and blankets. He handed off the towel and dropped the rest onto the other end of the couch. “There you go, dry off, the remote’s there if you want to channel surf.” Tony was sporting the same kind of thousand-yard stare Bucky had seen too many times in military hospitals, he was for sure going to give him a little time by himself to decompress.
Fortunately, the hot cocoa wasn’t going to make itself, and while the milk heated on the stove, Bucky could also pull together the ingredients for a crock pot of chili. He puttered around the kitchen, adding cocoa powder to the milk and spices to the ground meat, and smiled when the tv turned on in the other room. Hopefully Tony would find something that would help him relax.
Some little time later, Steve stomped melodramatically up the stairs and into the apartment. “You jerk! You left me down there to do not only all the prep work for tomorrow, but all your damn mopping, too! You know how easily my hands get chapped in this kind of weather!”
Bucky shrugged. “I hadda get Tony settled in. Besides, Miles dealt with the bathrooms before he left, you didn’t have to offend your poor delicate hands with that, you big baby. Now go give this to Tony.” He poured a healthy measure of cocoa into one of their bigger mugs and shoved it into Steve’s hands. Steve put on a pout that would do a three year old proud, and slunk off into the living room.
Bucky snickered and filled two more mugs, then turned the stove off and the crock pot to low, and headed into the living room. Steve was sitting in the armchair, so Bucky sat down at his feet and passed one of the mugs of cocoa up to him. He could feel Steve’s mood perk up as he took the first sip.
Heck, Steve hummed happily. “Aw, Bucky, you do still love me. You made the good cocoa.”
Bucky did his best to repress a smirk. “Nah, I don’t care that much about you. I just wanted Tony to be impressed with my hospitality.” He took a long, slow, smug slurp of his cocoa.
Steve sighed as if horribly put-upon. “Well, then, I guess I’m leaving you. You can have the restaurant if you want, I’m keeping the apartment.” He shifted his right leg out from behind Bucky, draping the thigh over Bucky’s shoulder so his foot was in Bucky’s lap.
Bucky hooked his elbow around Steve’s ankle and pretended to ponder. “Meh. That sounds like a lot of hassle. Can I convince you to take me back?”
He felt Steve shrug. “I guess you could bribe me with chili. You do make some pretty badass chili.”
He grinned. “Guess it’s a good thing the chili is already simmering, then. And if you massage my shoulders, I might even be persuaded to love you again. Y’know, someday.” Steve smacked him lightly upside the head, but he also started a massage, so Bucky figured he came out ahead.
Tony couldn’t figure these two out. They bantered and teased, made jokes about breaking up, but they couldn’t seem to keep their hands off each other. Part of him wanted to be included, wanted them to be on the couch with him, cuddling up and joking with him, but there was a lot else going on in his head too. First and foremost, of course, the idea that he wasn’t good enough for them, that they were good and noble and kind, and he was just some emotionally stunted asshole who had dumped himself on their doorstep. Looming large behind that was the glaring fact that they were stupid in love with each other, and not exactly looking outside of that for any fun, let alone what Tony craved.
Because Ty might have bruised him (metaphorically as well as literally, and why the hell did the former hurt more?), and the world at large disillusioned him, but part of Tony still wanted the dream, a person (or two?) to love him and treat him well and promise to be there through thick and thin. (There was a possibility Tony didn’t have it in him to give all that to someone else, but by Tesla he wanted a chance to try!) He’d started to doubt such a thing even existed, until he met these Brooklyn boys.
But then there was the confusion. They didn’t treat each other like any other couple Tony had ever seen. Sometimes they teased like siblings, sometimes (like now) they cuddled like an old married couple, sometimes they were brusque as colleagues. But underneath it all they really, truly cared about each other. They worried over each other’s moods, they laughed at each other’s stupid jokes, heck, they even chose to spend their free time together without having to parade that fact around a social set. Was this what love was supposed to be, and he’d just never had good role models? Or were they just crazy, and Tony extra crazy for craving it so much?
When the timer went off for the chili, and they all got up to serve up, Tony came to a resolution. He was going to enjoy this. Just for the next few days, while they were all trapped here, (before they kicked him out) he was going to pretend it was real, that they wanted him here, that he could have something like this. He would store up the memories, so that one day, when he was in a loveless marriage like his parents’, he could remember this little bubble of perfection and be comforted.
By the time he was dozing on the couch, cuddled up with a pillow that smelled like Steve and Bucky’s shampoo, he had fully bought into his own fantasy, and when soft hands drew the blanket up to his shoulders and took away his chili bowl, he could almost believe he’d gotten two fond kisses to the forehead.
By the end of the third day of being snowed in, Steve was sure. He was just as much in love with Tony as he was with Bucky, and having him here in their space felt perfectly right in a way very little else in Steve’s life had. He most definitely did not want Tony to leave once the blizzard blew out; he wanted Tony to stop sleeping on the couch and come sleep in the bed with them, where he belonged. For someone who confessed, that first night, that he was far more used to restaurants and private chefs than cooking for himself, Tony was remarkably graceful in the kitchen, joining seamlessly in the dance Steve had been doing with Bucky for years now.
He’d kept their spirits up surprisingly well, too. Ever since his growth spurt and associated health boost, Steve had been a mover, a doer, hating to be cooped up for more than a few hours at a time, and Bucky was hardly any better. Left to their own devices, the two of them might have turned on each other like wet cats, or tried to go for a run in the snowstorm. But Tony had a thousand funny stories, asked bizarre “what if” and “would you rather” questions, and even had them hauling out video games they hadn’t played in a decade. Steve couldn’t remember the last time this living room had rung with so much laughter.
The snow had stopped falling now, though, and the TV news said the snowplows were being mobilized, and Tony was getting fidgety. He’d volunteered to make dinner, and even once the fettuccine carbonara was handed out and Bucky and Steve were settled in on the couch, Tony perched on the edge of his seat like a bird about to take flight. “So.” He poked at his noodles but didn’t take a bite. “So, um. You probably want me out of your hair. I, um. I can get on that.”
Steve jolted forward, barely having to glance at Bucky. “No!” Tony gave him a startled look, so he calmed his tone. “No, sweetheart. We definitely don’t want you to go. Honestly, we’re- I’m, hoping you’ll get closer, move in for real.”
Bucky hummed his agreement. “We like you, doll. Like, really like you. We understand if it’s too soon for you after that buttmunch, but we’d love to try actually dating you. Whaddya say?”
Tony stared at both of them, his mouth working for a moment or two before sound came out. “You? I- But, but you guys are so- You really want-? But I’m a mess!”
Steve set aside his plate and leaned in to take Tony’s hand. “You are not nearly as much of a mess as your dad and the buttmunch want you to believe. And even if you were, I would consider it a privilege to help tidy you up. You’re changing the world, gorgeous, and I want to be by your side as you do. I want to help you celebrate your victories, comfort you through the setbacks-”
Bucky elbowed him in the ribs. “Knock it off with the sap, punk. Can’t you see you’re overwhelming him?” Steve winced a little as he registered the bug-eyed look on Tony’s face, but Bucky just shook his head with a laugh/sigh. “Tones. You’re real easy on the eyes, and fun to have around, and I’m pretty sure you and me both wanna get this rockin’ metal hand of mine on your naked skin, so…?”
Tony swallowed hard, licked his lips, swallowed again. “You guys are amazing.” He let out a little laugh. “I mean, just completely unbelievable. Like, maybe this whole snowstorm I’ve just been freezing to death in an alley, and hallucinating the two of you. But I want to believe. I want this to be real. I want what you two have, I want to be a part of it.” Tears were starting to leak out of his eyes, but Steve didn’t think he’d noticed yet. “Yes please can I-” Steve was moving before he realized he was planning to. He pressed his lips to Tony’s, and after a moment of shock, Tony kissed him back hungrily, with a sweet little moan.
Bucky groaned. “Fuck, that’s hot. Hey. Hey, Stevie! Don’t hog the new boyfriend!” Steve pulled back, drinking in the dazed look on Tony’s face, then shifted so Bucky could take a turn.
Oh, wow. That really was incredibly hot. Steve spoke before he thought about what he was saying. “Yeah, I could watch that for the rest of my life.”