Steve Rogers always thought he understood fear, had gotten a handle on it at an early age. He’d watched his mother die. Lost count of the number of times he’d been sick enough that each breath was a battle waged for oxygen, hours feeling like days, the days themselves stretching on for what felt like years. He’d broken bones, gotten into fights with guys twice his size, and was even hit by a car once.
Then Bucky had gone off to war, and he’d learned something new about fear. The kind that stuck with you everyday, relentless, and insidious. He’d be having lunch, and it’d suddenly hit him that he had no idea whether his best friend was dead or alive. Had no idea where he was, and considering how much of his life he’d spent within arm’s reach of Bucky Barnes, that was saying a lot.
The body, the mind, they’re oddly adaptive, and after a period of time, even this new and awful fear became normal. Familiar. Just another part of who he was, something that flared up the way his asthma still did. He’d thought he understood.
Then, on an absolutely gorgeous Tuesday afternoon, mere minutes after he’d worked through an entirely different sort of fear and finally asked out the pretty girl in the coffee shop, he’d gotten the call he’d stopped expecting every time his phone rang, and been told that his best friend was dead.
Stubborn bastard that he was, he hadn’t believed it, hadn’t wanted to believe it—couldn’t—and so the fear was nothing more than fuel for the next two weeks. Phone call after phone call, until he was convinced most of the people working the locator hotline knew him by the sound of his voice. Submitting letters of request, getting nowhere.
Finally, at the end of his rope, he went to his friend Sam, because Sam knew people, and that was when he found out that Bucky was alive, the sole survivor of an ‘incident,’ had undergone surgery, and was going to be discharged. The relief had been so overwhelming that the fear hadn’t stuck around, and Steve figured he’d been through the worst of it.
He never did go on that date. Didn’t bother rescheduling. Prepared himself to welcome his friend home, do whatever it took to help him get well.
But then his phone had rung around three in the morning, and he hadn’t been even remotely prepared for how weak, how destroyed Bucky would sound. “They cut off my arm, Stevie,” he’d eventually managed through tears, and Steve couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, just lied, and said, “It’s gonna be okay, Bucky. As soon as you’re home, you’ll see. You’ll be okay.”
He’d never imagine he’d be afraid to see Bucky again, but he was. Steve was terrified he’d do or say something to make it worse, or harder, that he wouldn’t be able to help Bucky. He probably drove Sam nuts as a result, but he was damned if he’d let his best friend down. Bucky needed him to be strong.
“Where are my bullets?” Bucky shouted, shoving Steve against the wall, his eyes wide, and glassy, and that? That was fear rushing through him, making his nerves sing, and his stomach clench.
“I got rid of them.” Bucky stared at him as if he’d grown a second head, or started speaking gibberish. “All of them. And I found the other pistol, got rid of that, too.”
Bucky had sagged, his chest heaving, the revolver still in his hand, unloaded and useless, the cold metal pressed against the side of Bucky’s face as he clutched at his head.
“What, you’re gonna shoot yourself, leave me to clean up the body? No way, pal.”
Bucky was drunk, and just having a bad night. Steve was convinced he wasn’t actuallysuicidal, not until Bucky looked up, confused and said, “I’d never do that to you. I was gonna leave a note, then just go down to the bridge. Do it there, so the body just fell in after,” the same way he might’ve said, “I was just gonna pick up a pizza for dinner. Want any toppings?”
Sam, saint that he was, made a house call after that, and Bucky stopped drinking so much, started seeing a therapist in addition to going to Sam’s group. But even after he started coming around, started finding his way out of the darkness, Steve lived in fear of coming home and finding a note waiting for him on the kitchen table.
It got better, a little at a time. Or, a realist might say it got less bad. Steve talked to people, went to his own group meetings, and worked at coming to terms with the understanding that Bucky might never be the way he was, and that this was okay. Wasn’t his fault, wasn’t Bucky’s fault either, was just the sad reality of it all.
It still broke his heart, especially when Bucky actually started making progress, and the world seemed to just dump more on his shoulders, as if punishing him for trying. Steve began to fear that life was conspiring against his friend.
Time did its thing, attempting to heal wounds, but it seemed to Steve that some things simply didn’t get better, no matter how much time you had. Bucky tried, though, he fought to find a new life he could lead, and Steve was so proud of him.
His hope flickered and faded when he came home one night to find a drunk, belligerent asshole named Liam on their couch. A vet, also discharged, and although Steve didn’t know the story behind why, he had to assume it was for psychological reasons.
Steve hated Liam, and he wasn’t the kind of person to hate people. This guy though? The only time he acted like Bucky’s boyfriend was when he was shitfaced, and even then, he seemed to think he was doing Bucky a favor by showing him any attention whatsoever.
From what he could gather, their relationship—if you could even call it that—was largely one sided. They’d get drunk together, and once they were drunk enough, Liam would occasionally kiss Bucky. If he was feeling super generous, he’d let one of the bravest people in the world—Steve’s best friend, his brother—suck his dick.
Sam talked him out of hiring a hit man.
“This sort of thing… I hate to say it’s normal, but the way Bucky’s feeling about himself? It doesn’t really surprise me. If he asks your opinion, tell the truth, but let him know you respect his choices.”
Easier said than done, but he kept his mouth shut, even though he hated seeing his friend sell himself so short.
Time passed, and he could see it was coming, that Liam wasn’t going to be around much longer, which was a relief. Still, he wasn’t looking forward to dealing with the aftermath of the breakup.
“Hey, Buck. How was your day?”
Even though he was always scared of the answer, he wasn’t going to let fear keep him from asking the question when he got home.
And on one particular day, Bucky had laughed. Not what passed for a laugh since coming back—too brittle, and always with a sharp edge to it—but a real, honest to goodness Bucky Barnes laugh.
“Pretty great,” he’d answered.
Naturally, Steve had wanted to hear all about it.
“Wait, so your car is toast, you had to buy a new phone, you didn’t get the job, and Liam dumped you?”
Bucky grinned, shrugged. “Yup. I mean, I cared a couple hours ago, but… What’s the point? Liam’s a piece of shit, so was the car, and I didn’t even want that job. Plus, this phone is nicer.”
Steve almost said, “Who are you?” because it’d been ages since he’d talked to his Bucky. “Alright, out with it.”
Bucky grinned. “Out with what?”
“You’re holding out on me. Something good happened, I can see it all over your face, Mr. Happy Smirk.”
Bucky fought his smile, and it was beautiful. Steve wanted to cry, or kiss him, or mark the date on the calendar.
“I dialed the wrong number,” he said after a moment, and that was the first time Steve heard about Tony.
It wouldn’t be the last.
He was happy at first, then worried, because one night he came home to find Bucky shitfaced, the phone in his hand, face wet with tears. He’d refused to look Steve in the eye, staggered off to his room with the phone, and slammed the door shut.
Steve didn’t sleep that night, called out of work thinking he’d be spending most of his day trying to get Bucky out of his room, that if he was lucky and stubborn enough he’d maybe be able to drag him to group.
Only, Bucky came to him. Crawled into bed with him just as Steve was getting off the phone with work, the prosthetic nowhere to be seen and his shirt off, which was just not something Bucky did anymore. Ever. But there he was, letting Steve finally see him, all of him.
Bucky’s left arm ended abruptly, right above where his elbow had been, and Steve fought against his need to stare. The absence hit him in a way the empty sleeve and prosthetic hadn’t. There were scars all around the surgical site, but those weren’t the only ones now decorating Bucky’s body. He’d never mentioned being shot, but there was a healed up bullet wound on his right shoulder, and other jagged scars along his left flank, probably from shrapnel.
Steve held his arms open, and Bucky curled against him, hid his face against Steve’s shoulder, held on for dear life, and wept like a baby. He didn’t talk, just cried, and let Steve hold him, rock him, and tell him everything was going to be okay.
“I’m gonna help Tony quit drinking,” he said an hour later, the tears dried on his face, the two of them staring at Steve’s ceiling.
“That’s good, Bucky.”
He hadn’t known what that meant, really, not at the time, but apparently it involved Buckyalso giving up drinking, which was a relief. Steve had sat in his favorite chair, sketching the view from their window, while Bucky dumped all the booze in their place down the kitchen sink, and it had felt like the start of something new.
The calls with Tony increased, and that was when the text messages began. Suddenly, Bucky was never out of reach of his phone. Sometimes he frowned down at it seriously, while other times he laughed and smiled. All day, every day, little moments of connection between him and Tony, until Steve was dying to meet the guy that had put a smile back on his best friend’s face.
From what he could gather, Tony’s sobriety was going well, and Tony repeatedly credited Bucky for that. And, being who he was, having someone who needed him, needed his help to get better, stronger? That was just breathing life back into Bucky. It was beautiful to witness.
“Ask him over for dinner so I can meet him.”
Bucky fidgeted, and Steve could see the fear creeping in around the edges. “Maybe.”
But Tony never did come to dinner, and Steve grew impatient.
“Can you fall in love with someone you’ve never actually met?” Steve asked Peggy, staring at his hands.
“Are you in love with a stranger, Steve Rogers?”
He almost said, “you’re not a stranger,” but caught himself at the last second. “I’m thinking about Bucky, and his mysterious friend.”
“Ahh, of course.” Peggy winked at him, and Steve felt warmth rush through his body. “Well, why not? They’ve spent quite some time getting to know each other without all those physical distractions to get in the way. I think it’s romantic.”
“Me too.” Steve smiled. “I think Bucky’s in love with this guy, and I’m betting Tony feels the same. They’re being idiots.”
“It might feel very risky for them,” Peggy pointed out, the lovely lilt in her voice making Steve want to curl up at her feet. “Right now, they have each other. Maybe they’re worried meeting would break the spell?”
Steve nodded, sighed. “But they could have something wonderful together.”
Peggy studied him for a long moment, until Steve felt his heart begin to race. But, Peggy often had that effect on him. He was pretty sure he’d fallen for her the very first time he laid eyes on her.
One night, as he’d been heading into his support group for friends and family of soldiers struggling with PTSD, he’d heard a noise from the side of the building. There was Peggy Carter in the process of defending a member of one of the other groups from a creep who was apparently trying to hook up with wives of deployed soldiers.
He had hardly been able to follow her movements, but watched in wonder as—her jaw set and her fighting technique fierce—she laid out a guy twice her size without so much as a by your leave.
“You gotta teach me how to fight like that,” Steve had said without thinking, and just like that they’d become friends.
“Maybe,” Peggy drawled, pushing her plate aside so she could lean across the diner table, voice lowered conspiratorially, “you need to give them a little… push in the right direction?”
He’d felt like James Bond, sneaking into Bucky’s phone to get Tony’s number, almost certain he’d be caught. Bucky had been brushing his teeth, had left the phone on his nightstand, and Steve had rushed in and out, the Mission Impossible theme on loop in his brain the entire time.
“Only cool kids have this number,” Tony had said when he answered the phone, “and I have all of their numbers memorized. Who’s this?”
“Uh, Steve Rogers? I’m Bucky’s friend, maybe he…”
“Has something happened?” Tony interrupted, sounding scared shitless. “Is he okay?”
That had made up Steve’s mind for him. “He’s fine, I’m sorry.”
There was a long, loud exhale over the line. “Thanks a lot, Rogers. You almost gave me a heartattack.”
“Bucky doesn’t know I’m calling, but there’s an art show tonight in Manhattan, and he’ll be there.”
It was quiet for a moment. “Why are you telling me this?”
“I was kind of hoping you were interested in more than phone calls.”
“You think he’d be interested?”
“Wow, okay, so you’re as bad as he is, huh? Look, this is the happiest I’ve seen him since before he enlisted, and I get the feeling you’re happier since that wrong number, too.”
Tony cleared his throat. “Definitely.”
“So, come see him. I’m not telling him you’ll be there, so you can make up your mind without him even knowing.”
Steve sighed. “Please, just… be the brave one? He’s been brave enough, lost enough of himself already. I’m not sure he can do it again.”
“Wow, good pitch. Got me right where it hurts,” Tony said, and Steve couldn’t quite tell whether he was taking this seriously. “I mean, you’re right, which helps. What’re the terms and conditions?”
Steve had actually stared at his phone in confusion. “Excuse me?”
“I’m a businessman, Rogers, and there’s always fine print. So, how do you see this happening? I show up tonight, check him out, and if I like what I see, I initiate contact?”
“I don’t know you, so I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume you’re not deliberately trying to be an ass.” Steve snapped. “You want terms and conditions? Here they are. Come to the gallery, ‘check him out’ and if you can’t get past the arm—if you even think it might be an issue—don’t let him know you were there. You don’t talk to him unless you’re in it till the end of the line, got me? And if you can’t commit to that, then find a way to slowly, gently extract yourself from his life.”
“It’s important you understand this next part. If you hurt him, I will find you, and I will endyou,” Steve said, channeling all of the anger and misery he felt over what had happened to his friend’s life. “It might take a little time for me to find you, and be able to get close, but it’ll happen.”
Steve could hear him breathing on the other end of the line. “Wow. I can see why he likes you so much. I hereby accept your terms and conditions, Steve Rogers. In fact, I’m sending you a photo, and my address, so it’ll be easier for you to kill me if I manage to fuck this up.”
“Excellent. I expect to see you tonight, then.”
After the call ended, Steve felt a little like puking. He’d never forgive himself if this blew up in Bucky’s face, was trusting a stranger with his friend’s heart, but then his phone chimed. He looked down, checked the text message; Tony hadn’t been kidding. There was a photo of a good looking guy holding a piece of paper with the word ‘THANKS’ scrawled on it, along with an address, and what looked to be the access code for his building.
Bucky assumed his fear and nervousness was because of his big opening night, but Steve could hardly bring himself to care about the show. A half-hour after the doors opened, he spotted Tony waking in, sans beard for some reason. They exchanged knowing nods, and then Steve waited.
It was agonizing. He was stuck across the room, making small talk about his work while Tony and Bucky seemingly gravitated toward each other. He saw Bucky playing with his phone once or twice, caught Tony staring longingly at Bucky before following him around a corner, but that was it. For what felt like hours.
The next thing he knew, one of the gallery workers was complaining over some sort of scene taking place, and he spotted Tony and Bucky heading outside together. Sick to his stomach, Steve fished out his phone, and sent Peggy a message.
I think I messed up. Bucky and Tony are outside right now!! What the hell was I thinking?
Before he received a reply, he saw Tony come back inside, Bucky right behind him, and… “Holy shit,” Steve murmured, because Bucky looked almost like a different person. He looked like Bucky Barnes again, right down to the familiar bit of swagger in his walk as he rushed over to hug him.
“You’re a punk,” Bucky had said, but he couldn’t stop smiling. “Thanks, Stevie.”
He’d finally had the chance to be properly introduced to Tony, had shaken his hand extra hard, but something in the way Tony held his eyes let him know he was taking this very, very seriously. The fear began to slowly fade away, leaving him giddy as he watched Tony place his hand at the small of Bucky’s back, and lead him away.
Oh no, has it gone pear-shaped?
Steve grinned down at his phone, laughing to himself.
I’m at the gallery. Come have a drink with me, and I’ll tell you all about it.
An hour later, Peggy walked through the door, and Steve wanted to send everyone else home, make her do it again and again so he could paint it, try to capture the way she made everything that wasn’t her fade in the background.
Are they still here?” she’d asked in a whisper, looking around.
“No, they’re out to dinner together,” Steve answered, handing her a glass of wine.
Peggy sipped with a smile. “Drat. I wanted to see Bucky’s mysterious beau.”
“Hold on, he sent me a picture so I’d know when he was here,” Steve fished out his phone, and tried not to sigh contentedly when Peggy leaned in close to look at the photo.
“Steve,” she laughed, giving him a playful shove. “No, really. I’m dying, show me the real photo.”
“This is the real photo.” He double checked and sure enough, there was Tony holding the piece of paper. “That’s Tony.”
Peggy blinked, her smile slipping away as she grabbed for the phone, then Steve’s arm, her fingers gripping him tight enough to bruise. “Steve, darling, do you have any idea who this is?” she asked, dragging him away from the crowd. It must have been obvious that the answer to this question was a resounding ‘no,’ because she took pity on him.
“This is Tony Stark. As in the billionaire Tony Stark. The same one…” Peggy’s hand flew to her mouth in shock, her eyes wide. “Oh my goodness, Steve! Several months ago he announced Stark Industries was ceasing all weapons manufacturing, and would be focusing on bionic limb technologies instead.”
Steve and Peggy stood together quietly, staring down at the photo on Steve’s phone. “My best friend is on a date with a billionaire.”
“Stark also happens to be an absolute genius,” Peggy murmured. “One with a bit of a reputation for being a playboy,” she continued. “I’ve been at fundraisers with him, always had a pretty girl on his arm. I’d never have guessed.”
“So, is this good, or bad?” Steve asked after a moment. Peggy just shrugged, and downed her entire glass of wine in one go, then gave Steve’s hand a little squeeze.
“I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.”
Steve had been scared to go home, had used it as an excuse to spend time with Peggy, but eventually he had no choice. He wasn’t sure what he’d find waiting for him. A heartbroken Bucky? An ecstatic Bucky? The two of them naked, and doing it on the couch?
“Hey,” Bucky said, a sleepy smile on his face.
Steve plopped down beside him, was immediately tugged into a hug. Up close, he could smell what he supposed was Tony’s cologne lingering on Bucky’s skin, and clothing. “How’d it go?”
“Great,” Bucky answered. “Apparently my new boyfriend is a billionaire.”
“He’s your boyfriend now, huh?”
Which was kind of terrifying. They weren’t exactly starving, but neither of them had much left in their bank accounts after the rent was paid. He’d thought Tony was a mechanic, but apparently he was a guy the tabloids were interested in, based upon some of the google searches Peggy had done while they were killing time together.
“Uh, so. Your boyfriend is in the papers a lot.” Steve said, clearing his throat. “Is this going to be a secret relationship?”
Bucky stiffened slightly, and Steve extracted himself from the hug so he could get a better look at his face.
“I haven’t decided yet.” Which wasn’t the answer he’d been expecting. He and Peggy had worried together that Tony might want to keep Bucky as his secret boy-toy. “Tony says it’s up to me. But, ah, sounds like there are actually scumbags that follow him around hoping for a photo op, now more than ever with the changes at SI.”
“In other words, he can only keep it secret for so long.”
Bucky nodded, looking far more serious than he had when Steve had first come in. “Don’t know how I feel about assholes on the internet blogging about my sex life.” Steve snorted. “Still, I guess it isn’t as bad as having to worry about your company’s stock tanking because you’re coming out as bisexual.”
"Is that a real concern?”
Bucky nodded, and Steve whistled. “He’s ready to step down, if it comes to it.” Bucky ran his hand over his face, and groaned. “I haven’t even gotten a handjob yet, how’d this get so complicated?”
And even though it wasn’t that funny, Steve burst into hysterics. To his surprise and delight, Bucky joined in.
“When’re you gonna just ask Peggy out?” Bucky asked, feet propped up on the coffee table in front of him like he didn’t have a care in the world. “She likes you.”
Steve rolled his eyes and threw a handful of popcorn at Bucky’s head. “What, you’re some kinda expert all of a sudden?”
Bucky smiled, a slow sort of all-body smile, settled into the couch cushions looking like the cat that got the canary. “Yeah,” he answered.
“I’m with him,” Tony piped up.
The two of them were hogging the couch, Tony sprawled against Bucky’s left side, legs stretched out. It was such a wonderful contrast to the prior year that Steve couldn’t even pretend to be annoyed by the amount of time Tony spent in their home. He’d never seen Bucky happier.
“She’s into you, Rogers,” Tony insisted. “You’ll have beautiful babies.”
“We could do a double date,” Bucky suggested.
Tony tipped his head back until he was practically in Bucky’s lap, studying Steve from this new, awkward, upside-down-ish position. “Or, we could get out of your hair, let you have the place to yourself?”
“Wait, that’s right,” Steve said, fixing some of the shading on his sketch, “you have your own home, don’t you?”
“Got a couple, actually,” Tony answered with a grin, waggling his eyebrows. “Want to borrow one for your date? Ooh, or better yet, how ‘bout the jet? You could take her to Paris.”
“You’ve never taken me to Paris.” Bucky began running his fingers through Tony’s hair.
“I’ll take you anywhere you want,” Tony purred.
The tip of Steve’s pencil hovered above the paper as he stared at them. Bucky was looking down at Tony, a contented little smile on his face, while Tony made happy humming noises, eyes closed.
They were in love. Steve had figured that out a while back, but it was still strange, still caught him off guard sometimes. More than anyone in the world, Bucky deserved some happiness, but it was hard being around them at times, seeing what they’d built for themselves.
They still hadn’t gone public, which meant Tony typically snuck out of his work or home, then took circuitous routes to their place, and spent the night more often than not.
At first, they hadn’t even been having sex, just sleeping with each other. He hadn’t needed Bucky to tell him when that changed. Their walls were thin, and neither of them had a poker face.
“Poor Steve,” Peggy had sighed, patting his arm. “Forced to listen to two gorgeous men sexually devouring each other. You really should invite me over.”
He’d turned bright red over that. Peggy still teased him about it.
“What’s it going to take, Steve?” Tony asked, the words slightly muffled. He’d rolled over and had his face mashed against Bucky’s chest.
“Not everyone gets the girl,” Steve grumbled. “Or guy.”
He looked up and found Bucky staring at him. “What if I did something that scares the crap outta me. Would you take a chance with Peggy then?”
Tony’s eyes snapped open. “Uh, wait, hang on, what’s the terrifying thing?” he asked, shifting around until he was sitting upright again.
Steve knew what Bucky meant. He’d been waiting for this, worried everything would come tumbling down. He knew Bucky was scared, they’d talked about it enough.
“Deal,” he said, and instantly wanted to panic.
“What are we dealing?” Tony asked, leaning forward, body vibrating with concern. “Buck?”
“I wanna go public,” he said, and it was strange how the fear warred with happiness for control of Tony’s expression. “If you still want to.”
“Yeah,” Tony answered, looking like he’d had his world turned upside down. “You’re sure? It’ll suck for awhile. It’s… Not easy. They’ll print lies about both of us, and you’ll get hounded by paparazzi scum, and…”
“I’m not going anywhere, so we might as well get it over with,” Bucky pointed out, taking Tony’s hand.
Steve marveled over how that little bit of contact seemed to calm Tony, so that the panic left his eyes, and that was definitely adoration taking its place. “Okay. I’ll give Pepper a heads up.”
The door buzzer rang, and Bucky planted a kiss on Tony before heading down to pay the delivery guy.
“Big step,” Steve said. “Are you really okay with this?”
Tony met his eyes, his expression serious. “Has to happen if we’re going to get married.”
Steve blinked, rewound the words, but it still sounded like… “Married?”
“Yeah. When he’s ready,” Tony answered, scrubbing a hand through his hair. “If he’ll have me. I took your shovel talk seriously, Steve. I’m in this for the long haul.”
The door banged open, and Tony hopped off the couch to clear off the kitchen table, making way for the food. Steve watched the way they moved together, how Bucky could pass something over without looking, knowing Tony was there to take it, how Tony didn’t try to do things for Bucky that he could do himself. Bucky purposefully brushed against Tony as they set the table, then pressed a kiss to the back of his neck before sitting down.
Steve’s heart lurched in his chest, because he wanted that, wanted it with Peggy, wanted to share knowing glances and touches and, “Do you really think I have a chance?” he asked, stomach twisted up in knots.
“Bet you ten thousand dollars that she says yes,” Tony said around a mouthful of pizza.
Tony smiled at Bucky. “Pepper says I’m not allowed to bet more than ten grand on anything without her approval.”
Steve sighed, tossed his sketchbook aside, and joined his friends. “At least I’ll be able to pay off some of my debt if she shoots me down.”
Bucky squeezed his shoulder, gave him a knowing look. “I seem to recall you lecturing me on taking a romantic risk,” he said with a soft smile.
Later, he tried not to stare, but his eyes were drawn again and again to the sight of Bucky curled up against Tony, snoring softly, head tucked under Tony’s chin. The billionaire stroked his back, his hair, met Steve’s eyes.
“I hate having to share him with the world,” he said softly. “If I get through this without decking a reporter, I deserve a medal.”
“He’ll do okay,” Steve answered.
Tony tightened his grip. “Once it’s out there’s no going back. What if he hates it?” He worried at his lower lip. “Starts to resent me? Wouldn’t be the first time my so called celebrity ruined something.”
Steve snorted. “Sorry, you’re stuck with him now. He doesn’t do love by halves.”
Tony rested his cheek against the top of Bucky’s head, and held on tight. Steve thought of the last time he’d seen Liam, of the empty bottles scattered around the room, Bucky wearing the prosthetic, and a hoodie, eyes red rimmed and puffy, knuckles bloodied.
This Bucky hadn’t bothered with the prosthetic, looked like he’d put back on the weight he’d lost, was wearing a t-shirt, had shaved, was napping with a smile on his face, wrapped up in the arms of someone scared of losing him, someone who recognized what he was worth.
Steve hopped off his chair, and planted a kiss on Tony’s forehead. “Thank you.”
To his surprise, Tony’s eyes were bright with unshed tears when he looked up. “I have nightmares sometimes where I never answered that wrong number.” Tony sighed. “And then other ones where I didn’t make it to the gallery. It’s stupid how important the little things are sometimes. Ask her out Steve. You don’t want to be dealing with ‘what if?’ for the rest of your life.”
“Mr. Barnes!” a reporter shouted, edging closer to the car. “How did you lose your arm?”
“Beats me. I’d lose my head if it wasn’t attached,” he quipped. “Lemme know if you find it, though, I’d love to have it back.”
He slid into the limo. “What?”
Steve just managed to stifle his laughter over Tony’s expression. “Okay, you’re already too good at this.”
Bucky leaned forward and kissed Tony, the sort of kiss that made Steve feel very much like an interloper, but it was short lived. Tony looked to be equally taken aback by the sweet intensity of it.
“I love you, Tony,” Bucky said, hand still curled around Tony’s cheek. “If you think I’m letting something stupid like the press spoil that, you’re crazy.”
Tony grinned, hooked an arm around Bucky’s shoulders. “Rogers, I think you were going to make a phone call?”
Steve panicked. “What, here? Now?”
“I just had a reporter ask me on Live Broadcast which one of us was the woman in the relationship,” Bucky pointed out, arching an eyebrow. “Call her.”
Tony nodded. “I’ll do it if you don’t.”
Steve took a deep breath, pulled out his phone, and rang Peggy, trying to ignore the two other idiots in the limo. “What do I say?” he asked, fidgeting as it began to ring.
“I just watched your friends get mobbed by the press on the way out of Stark’s latest product launch,” Peggy said by way of answering. “Bucky handled himself quite well.”
“Yeah,” Steve agreed.
“I don’t understand why it even merits discussion,” Peggy continued, and Steve closed his eyes, imagined her curled up at home on her couch, scowling at the TV. “Society is so backwards, don’t you think?”
“Peggy, I’m in love with you,” Steve said, feeling like a weight was being lifted from his chest. “So much that I can’t remember what it felt like not being in love with you. Your friendship has been a gift, just. You’re brilliant, and…”
Which, not the flowery reciprocation he was hoping for, but. “I know it sounds corny, but I was wondering if you’d let me take you out dancing?”
There was silence, and Steve felt the odd elation begin to drift away. He wanted to keep talking, but waited instead, eyes squeezed shut.
“I don’t think it’s corny at all,” Peggy said after a moment, a strange note in her voice. “In fact, I think I’d like that very much, Steve Rogers.”
The smile took over his face, and he was sure she could hear it over the phone. “Alright then. How about tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow,” Peggy repeated.
“Pick you up at 8 o'clock?” Steve asked, ignoring the quiet celebrating happening in the car around him.
“Perfect,” Peggy agreed. “See you then.”
“See you then.”
He opened his eyes, and Bucky let out a cheer of triumph.
“Dancing,” Tony nodded. “Very classy, Rogers, I like it. I love to dance. Do you?” He tilted his head, resting it on Bucky’s shoulder.
“Bucky’s a great dancer,” Steve piped up.
“Out of practice, though,” Bucky said, slapping Steve on the shoulder again.
“We’ll have to fix that,” Tony said, sharing a smile with Steve. He fished out his phone, fiddled with it, and a moment later Steve’s pocket vibrated.
All the best weddings have dancing.