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On the Count of Three

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On the Count of Three


The force of the explosion hits Tony mid-flight, magic crackling all around him and creeping into his systems, leaving him just enough time to think, “Oh, shit!” before the suit powers down and he’s plummeting toward the ground.

***

Tony wakes with a hoarse cry, shooting up into a sitting position and regretting it immediately when pain, sharp and acute, flares up in the back of his head, making him gasp for air and bile rise up his throat.

A cool hand lands on his forehead and Tony leans into it gratefully, letting out a small whimper, eyes fluttering shut again as he tries to will away the nausea and the tremors running through his body.

“Careful,” the person next to him whispers and Tony hums in relief when he recognises Bruce’s voice, allowing the doctor to ease him back down onto the bed and tug the covers up over his chest.

“Wh-“ he slurs, confused, pawing at Bruce’s arm and moaning weakly.

A moment later, a straw is being pressed lightly against his lips and Tony drinks greedily, cracking one eye open to glare half-heartedly at Bruce when Bruce pulls the water away before he’s done.

“Don’t want you to make yourself sick,” Bruce explains patiently, setting the cup down on the bedside table. “Let’s see if you can keep this down first, all right?”

Tony grunts but acquiesces reluctantly, nestling back into his pillow. “What happened?”

“Magic happened,” Bruce sighs tiredly, taking off his glasses and rubbing a finger over the bridge of his nose. “As far as JARVIS can tell, there are no lasting effects. You’ve been out for a little over two hours, your vitals are within normal range and the suit reactivated before you actually hit the ground. JARVIS flew you straight to the infirmary.”

“Ugh, magic,” Tony groans and Bruce nods in agreement. “What about the others?”

“A few scrapes and bruises, but everyone’s more or less all right. Tasha called just a couple of minutes ago, our wannabe sorcerer is in custody and they’re done with the clean-up, heading home as we speak.” Perching on the edge of the mattress, Bruce fixes Tony with a stern look. “How about you? How are you feeling?”

Tony waves a dismissive hand at him, sniffing, opening his mouth to insist that he’s fine but saying instead, “I’m pretty sure I have a concussion. My head feels like it’s being split in half, the light hurts my eyes and I’m really glad you were here when I woke up because for a moment there, I was scared shitless that I was back in the cave, waking up from yet another round of ‘let’s dunk Tony’ which, believe me, sucked. A lot.”

This is followed by absolute silence, both men too shocked to react for a long moment, but then Bruce murmurs something and the lights dim.

“Thanks,” Tony croaks, staring intently at his hands where they lie folded in his lap and doing his best to ignore the blush he can feel creeping up his neck.

He’s got an inkling about exactly what kind of spell he’s been hit with, but he’s most definitely not going to voice that suspicion, no way.

Unfortunately for Tony, Bruce seems to be following the same train of thought, because his next question is, “What did your ophthalmologist really tell you after your exam last week?”

“That I’ll need glasses and soon, probably by the end of the year, and that contacts are not an option,” Tony answers immediately, unable to stop himself, then levels Bruce with a hurt look when Bruce exclaims a victorious whoop. “Shut up.”

“All that vanity,” Bruce teases lightly, easily dodging the still uncoordinated poke Tony directs at his ribs. “At least we know what we’re dealing with now.”

Tony whines. “Truth spell?”

“Truth spell,” Bruce confirms, giving Tony’s arm a consoling pat.

And while Tony’s sure that the rest of the team won’t use this against him, apart from some good-natured jibes, he’s suddenly hit with the realisation that there are people out there who would use his current vulnerability to their advantage without hesitating or caring about the consequences should the news about his condition start spreading.

From nosy reporters trying to weasel the more intimate details of his personal life out of him to SHIELD or, even worse, one of their enemy organisations demanding information about the suits or long retired weapon specs - Tony wouldn’t have a choice but to deliver everything right into their waiting, greedy hands.

“Bruce,” Tony chokes out but once again, Bruce is already a step ahead of him, guiding Tony’s palm to his own chest, letting him feel his heartbeat while reminding him to breathe, in and out, slow and steady.

And then Steve’s face appears in Tony’s field of vision, minutes or hours later, Tony neither knows nor cares, and James is there too, next to Tony on the bed, pressed right up against his side, an unmoving anchor, solid and warm.

Tony makes a distressed sound in the back of his throat when Bruce moves away, but Steve quickly takes his place and slides his fingers into Tony’s hair, rubbing the tips against his scalp and brushing his lips over Tony’s temple while James nuzzles his neck, peppering kisses over the exposed skin.

It’s enough to settle Tony, after a while, allowing him to notice the others hovering awkwardly around the hospital room, all in various states of worry, trying and failing spectacularly to appear as if they’re not watching the drama before them unfold.

“’m good,” Tony croaks eventually, gladly accepting the cup of water when Steve passes it over. “I’m fine, all good.”

“You better be,” Clint grins and winks, a gesture meant to hide his concern, “you’ve got two seriously hot pieces of prime American beefcake fussing over you, you lucky bastard.”

He yelps when Natasha elbows him in the stomach, poking his tongue out at her like the mature adult and trained spy he is.

And it’s not fair, because that wasn’t even a question, but, apparently, the spell still thinks it counts since Tony finds himself muttering, sounding insecure and somewhat petulant even to his own ears, “It’s not like they mean any of it, they’re just being nice.”

He can feel James freeze and Steve flinch, almost as if he’d been struck, extracting himself from the arm Tony hadn’t even noticed he’d curled around Steve’s back.

“What do you mean?” Steve asks quietly, though the badly suppressed hurt in his voice lets Tony know he has a fairly good idea what Tony’s getting at already.

Not that Tony has a choice in any of this, his brain and mouth working against him and completely without his consent. “I mean, I know I’m not the one Steve wants, either of them wants,” he says, biting the inside of his cheek but to no avail, the words continuing to spill from his lips. “I was a cheap replacement for someone who wasn’t supposed to come back, but when he did, Steve felt bad about ditching me and I somehow got stuck in the middle of all this and now they can’t break up with me because they feel sorry for me.”

Steve’s eyes are damp and Tony has to look away, but that only causes him to see the devastated expression James is wearing, which is no better.

“Is that what you think?” Steve demands, biting back what sounds frighteningly close to a sob when Tony nods mutely.

“You were the one who proposed this- this arrangement,” James points out reasonably, moving his hand as if to touch Tony’s shoulder but then dropping it again, brows pulling together into a frown. “Did you even want this? Want me?”

Tony closes his eyes, bracing himself for what he knows is coming. “No, I didn’t. I was being selfish, I wanted, no, needed to keep Steve and I would have done anything, everything to make that happen. So I gave him you.”

No one has anything to contribute to that, giving the guilt twisting around in Tony’s gut the chance to fester and grow until he blurts, “But I got what I deserved, I suppose. Instead of one, there’s now two people I’m madly in love with who don’t return my feelings and most likely hate me and never want to see me again after this, so. Karma, poetic justice or whatever you wanna call it.”

With that, Tony pushes away from the stunned soldiers still limply holding on to him, wobbling dangerously as he puts his weight on his legs but ignoring his body screaming at him and the team yelling after him as he stumbles toward the door and the elevator, the need for the security of his lab far greater than any discomfort.

He’s simultaneously relieved and strangely disappointed when no one follows him, collapsing on the couch in his shop as soon as he gets there. “JARVIS, black out protocol,” he orders, numbly watching the glass walls turn murky.

His first instinct is to tear into his secret stash, but Tony’s been dry for nearly six months now and despite how painful the reminder of James and Steve’s role in his sobriety may be, he can’t bring himself to throw it all away over this.

It feels too much like betrayal.

So he calls up his latest project, snapping at JARVIS to mind his own fucking business when the AI tentatively suggest going back to the medical floor for further treatment, and loses himself in his work.

***

It’s so late it’s almost early again when Tony finally gives up on distracting himself and, after checking with JARVIS that everyone else is asleep or otherwise occupied, drags himself up to his suite.

His headache has steadily been getting worse for the last couple of hours and Tony notes absently that that’s probably because of the concussion, coupled with dehydration and an empty stomach, but he can’t be bothered to do anything about it in his current state of exhaustion, opting to strip down to his briefs and burrow under his blankets to shut everything out instead.

He’s roused in the late afternoon because he’s growing too hot, the source of the warmth easily discernible when he tries to move and finds that he’s got a super soldier slash human furnace plastered to both his front and back.

Light sleepers as they’ve become by force of habit, Steve and James wake the instant Tony starts squirming out of their embrace and, obviously having a different plan for him, tighten their hold on him.

“We need to talk,” Steve declares, his tone allowing for no argument, although he’s nice or still groggy enough from resting that he lets Tony hide his face away in the crook of his neck, cupping the back of his head next to where Bucky’s cheek is resting.

Tony is no coward, he’s proven that time and again, but actually looking at the loves of his life while they attempt to, undoubtedly, let him down gently is too much, even for him.

He expects Steve to be the one doing this since James still struggles, sometimes, with putting his thoughts into words, but it’s James who starts speaking, nose tucked intimately behind Tony’s ear.

“Steve has very little to do with me being where I am today,” he admits quietly, soothingly running his bare toes up and down Tony’s calf under the covers. “When everybody else was too scared or unsure to approach me, when Steve couldn’t be there for me because he was left just as broken open and raw as me, you were the one who helped me the most by not treating me differently from anybody else. You were a friend when I desperately needed one and trust me on this, after decades of not having a say in anything concerning my own life, I wasn’t about to agree to this relationship if I hadn’t been sure about both of you. I love Steve, I’ve always loved Steve and will never stop doing so, but that doesn’t change how much I love you, too, Tony.”

It shouldn’t matter after everything that’s happened in the past twenty-four hours, but Tony is embarrassed when he senses the first tear rolling down his cheek. James must feel him tense, because he wraps his arm around Tony’s waist and kisses the back of his neck, shushing and rocking him gently.

Steve is the one to catch the salty drop with his thumb, his smile tiny but genuine. “For so long, you were the only thing keeping me sane in a strange world I didn’t recognise any longer. You saved me and then you went ahead and saved my best friend, too, and if you think there’s even the tiniest possibility that I would love you any less for that, then you’re not the genius you claim to be. I’ve loved Bucky my whole life and I hadn’t stopped, even after he was gone. But there was still just as much room for you, and Bucky and me, we would have been fine with the knowledge the other was well and safe, that would have been enough. You gave us more, Tony, and that means everything, to both of us. You are everything.”

“Fuck,” definitely isn’t the most eloquent response to these confessions, these promises, but Steve’s chuckle is mostly fond and he accepts the kiss Tony presses to his lips with no small amount of eagerness and relief.

Tony lingers until the metal hand on his hip urges him to turn over and then James’ mouth is on his, soft and sweet.

They break apart when Steve insists Tony drink something and forces a bottle of water into his hand, both him and James watching him like hawks as Tony gulps it down before curling back around him, protective as well as possessive.

He feels like he should say more, but surrounded by the two people who mean the most to him in the world, the temptation to close his eyes and simply be is too great to resist.

***

It is night by the time Tony wakes again, disoriented for a moment before he remembers the afternoon’s events and carefully sits up, looking down in awe at the peacefully slumbering men in his bed.

James snuffles and Steve makes a noise of protest, mumbling a drowsy, “Wha’ you doin’?”

“Nothing,” Tony says, then adds, “I love broccoli and reality TV,” just to make sure.

Grinning to himself, he snuggles back against Steve and tugs James closer against his chest, pulling Steve’s arm across himself and planting James’ palm and Steve’s ass.

Perfect.