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Bucky finally allows Steve to catch up with him, four months after the Helicarriers, in Cawker City, Kansas, moving his eyes away from what claims to be the world’s biggest ball of twine to arch a thoroughly unimpressed brow at the man he now recognises as his best friend.

“This is kinda boring,” Bucky sighs, scuffing the toe of his boot against the floor.

Steve tilts his head, shrugs and says, “It’s twine, Buck, what did you expect?”

Bucky doesn’t know. He doesn’t know a lot of things, even though he’s got most of his memories back at this point. Or at least he thinks he does. It’s hard to tell with this sort of thing.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Bucky admits quietly, risking a first proper glance over at the other man, unable not to respond in kind when Steve smiles at him, open and fond as if it’s easy like this, going back to what, to who they once were.

“Let’s go,” Steve says, straightening up and offering Bucky a hand, pulling him to his feet, too, and right into a hug, tight and almost a little painful but so, so good.

And maybe it really is, easy like this, Bucky thinks, maybe it doesn’t have to be hard, not if he’s got Steve.

They rent a Jeep and take their time, taking turns driving and complaining about the other’s driving, quipping and teasing in a way that’s startlingly familiar and calmingly reassuring, Bucky discovers, swatting at Steve’s grinning face as Steve criticises his parking skills for the third time that day.

“The only thing you’ve ever piloted ended up on the bottom of the ocean, so shut it, Rogers,” he snarks and then stills, thinking he’s gone too far for a moment before Steve snorts and starts laughing, flicking the baseball cap off Bucky’s head with an amused, “Jerk.”

They don’t really talk about where they’re headed, but once Bucky realises what destination Steve has in mind, he can’t say he’s surprised. They’d enthused and dreamed about it excessively back in the day, after all, about finishing school and saving up, borrowing Bucky’s pa’s car, bundling Bucky’s sisters into the backseat and getting out of the city, just the five of them, for a little while at least.

“Holy shit,” Bucky whispers now, awed, as they stand at Roosevelt point, eyes roaming over the vast expanse of the canyon. He turns to grin at Steve, bumping their shoulders together. “Holy shit, Stevie.”

“Yeah,” Steve beams back at him, “yeah.”

They sit and eat the sandwiches they’ve brought, Bucky basking in the early autumn sun while Steve sketches, both of them utterly content and happy with simply being, right here, with each other, despite all the obstacles life has constantly put in their way for the last eighty-odd years.

“Tony offered to take me here once,” Steve says after a while, chucking a handful of dried grass at Bucky because he’s a dumb little punk. “Couldn’t do it, though. Not without you.”

Not knowing what to do with the raw emotion laced into Steve’s confession, Bucky latches onto the only safe part of his words. “Tony?”

“Howard’s kid, actually,” Steve says, voice growing softer, fonder. “You remember how brilliant Howard was with his projects and experiments and all? Well, he’s got nothing on Tony, guy’s outta this world, swear to God. You’ll like him, I promise.”

That’s the first time Bucky hears about Tony, but it won’t stay the last. Not by a long shot.

“Do you think Colorado has a lot of rattlesnakes?” Steve asks, completely out of the blue, squinting down at his phone, a little frown between his brows.

They’ve been hiking through the Garden of the Gods in companionable silence until now and Bucky snorts, turns to glance at Steve’s profile. “Why? Pretty sure it’d take more than a snake to knock you off your feet, bud.”

“Tony’s probably just being obnoxious,” Steve sighs as he slides his cell back into the pocket of his shorts. “He isn’t used to me being gone for more than a coupla days.”

Bucky gives a vague hum in response and they resume their walk, quiet once more.

They’re in a motel in Keystone a week later when the topic of Tony comes up again, in the middle of the night this time.

The sound of Steve’s phone vibrating across the bedside table is enough to rouse Bucky, have him blinking blurrily at Steve’s back as Steve vanishes into the bathroom.

And he doesn’t mean to eavesdrop, but Bucky’s thirsty and getting up to grab a bottle of water from the small fridge by the couch brings him right into a hearing range.

“-can always call me, you know that, Tony,” Steve is whispering quietly, then adds, more insistently, “No, it’s not embarrassing, we all get them. Tony, stop it, it’s not stupid, it’s okay. I’m glad you called me. You think you can go back to sleep now? Yeah, see you soon.”

Bucky slides back under the covers, pretending to be out cold when Steve steps back into the room, but it takes him hours to find sleep again, thoughts of Steve and Tony keeping him occupied well into the early morning.

He’s seen Steve having crushes, even being in love once, and this isn’t that. Steve’s usually over the moon when he likes likes a girl, can never shut up and has to tell Bucky every little thing about her, stars in his eyes and that stupid, dopey smile on his face.

Besides, Tony isn’t a girl and Steve likes girls, Bucky remembers that, remembers his own confession and Steve’s ready acceptance of Bucky’s homosexuality despite the general opinion at the time, his fierce determination that love is love and that who you love really shouldn’t matter as long as everyone involved is happy.

Whatever there is between Steve and Tony, though, it isn’t simple friendship, but Bucky has time. He’ll figure it out, eventually.

They go visit Mount Rushmore later that day, Steve pointing at where Jefferson’s nose is missing with an amused, “Tony did that, during a battle. They banned him from the site afterwards. He’s still pouting about it.”

They spend five whole days just wandering around and exploring the Smithsonian museums, taking in everything they’ve missed in the sixty-something years they’ve been out of commission.

Bucky tries to get the gorillas to mimic the stupid faces he pulls at them while Steve sketches some angry-looking bird Bucky is convinced is out to get them, they stuff their faces with pop corn and hot dogs and all other manners of junk food, Steve talks Bucky’s ear off about something artsy he claims to be revolutionary but Bucky secretly thinks is a really fuckin’ ugly, overpriced piece of garbage.

They’re wandering through the Captain America exhibit, which is one of the more bizarre things Bucky’s ever done, staring at their own faces and history when Bucky decides, a heavy weight lifting from his shoulders as he does, “I think I’m ready.”

Steve smiles, bright and pleased, ignoring Bucky’s highly mature fake-gagging as he pulls Bucky in close to smack a wet kiss on his cheek. “Let’s go home.”

***

New York has changed but, simultaneously, it’s still the same in all the ways that count; everyone’s always in a hurry, bustling about hectically, smells from all kinds of foreign places waft around the food carts decorating the streets, the subways are packed and people are laughing, talking and yelling in every language imaginable.

What’s different is Steve, or more the somewhat shocking discovery that he has gone and gotten himself a kid.

Anthony Edward Stark.

Tony’s Howard’s son, but Bucky wouldn’t have guessed if he hadn’t known, what with the way Steve is with Tony, treats him, acts around him. Steve has adopted himself a stray and it’s so typical, Bucky can’t do anything but watch and grin to himself as Steve lifts Tony right off his feet and into a bone-crushing hug, bags dropped at his sides and completely forgotten.

“You okay?” Steve asks, carefully putting Tony back on the floor, eyes flickering over Tony’s face and hands rubbing up and down Tony’s arms. “Did you eat? Get out of the workshop every once in a while?”

“Oh my God,” Tony mutters, his annoyed eye-roll truly epic but belied by how Bucky can see his hands fist into Steve’s jacket, holding on tight, when Steve wraps him in his arms again. “I’m fine, mother, fed and watered and everything. You realise I’m capable of surviving without you hovering twenty-four-seven, right? Geez.”

Bucky graciously clears his throat, drawing the attention to himself to, hopefully, prevent Steve from going into full protective overload. “Hi.”

Tony quickly disentangles himself from Steve, cheeks flushing which, oh Christ, is really fucking cute, bringing out a smattering of freckles around warm, honey-brown eyes, otherwise invisible on smooth, tanned skin.

“He- hey,” Tony stammers, arms flailing as he goes to push his askew glasses back up his nose before he holds one hand out for Bucky to shake. “Tony Stark. Steve’s been talking about you, like, all the time. Nice to finally meet you.”

Tony’s palm is pleasantly warm against Bucky’s own, calloused fingers shyly curling around Bucky’s. This close up, Bucky can see little specks of gold in eyes framed by long, dark lashes, his gaze wandering to delicate collarbones peeking out from underneath a delightfully tight black tank and then getting stuck on the faint blue glow in the centre of Tony’s chest.

“Oh, believe me,” Bucky drawls, the flirting apparently still coming naturally to him, absently licking his bottom lip as he leers appreciatively, “the pleasure is all mine.”

The darkening of Tony’s blush is well worth Steve’s admonishing, “Buck, c’mon!”

Grinning, Bucky winks at Tony before turning to Steve with the most innocent expression he can muster, which only makes Steve snort and cuff him over the back of the head.

“Let me give you the tour and show you to your apartment,” Steve says, affectionately ruffling Tony’s already messy hair and smiling fondly at Tony’s embarrassed squawk before steering Bucky toward the elevator.

Avengers Tower is nothing short of amazing, the stuff Bucky’d been dreaming about back in the forties, stuff right out of the sci-fi and pulp magazines both Bucky and Steve had spent all their, admittedly little, spare money on. There’s even an artificial intelligence running the whole building!

Luggage deposited in his bedroom and changed into a fresh, slightly more revealing V-neck shirt, Bucky relocates back down to the communal floor, smiling at the sight of Steve standing by the stove, whistling to himself as he stirs a steaming pot of something or other.

Tony is parked at the breakfast bar, feet swinging and fingers flying over the screen of his tablet, the most adorable little frown of concentration on his face.

“Lunch is almost ready,” Steve says without turning around, gesturing for Bucky to sit. “Mac and cheese, at the request of Mr Junk Food over there.”

“Do not diss the creamy perfection that is mac and cheese, Steven,” Tony gasps, mock-outraged, clicking his tongue. “Heathen!”

Chuckling, Bucky takes the basket of bread rolls Steve passes him, placing it on the bar, and then, after rummaging through the fridge for a moment, grabs a couple of beers for himself and Steve. Waggling the bottles in Tony’s direction he asks, “Want one, too?”

“Thanks, yeah,” says Tony at the same time as Steve says, pointedly, “No, he’s not drinking.”

Tony turns to scowl at Steve, who doesn’t budge. “You’re eighteen, Tony, you’re not drinking.”

“Ugh,” Tony groans, startling when Bucky chokes on the first sip of his beer and starts coughing, thumping a fist against his sternum. “You okay there?”

“You’re eighteen?” Bucky squeaks, pressing the damp bottle against his forehead which, frustratingly enough, does fuck all to cool him down.

Briefly glancing over at Steve before looking back at Bucky, his face preciously confused, Tony hesitantly ventures, “Yes?”

“Sit down, Buck,” Steve says, grinning knowingly and clapping a hand on Bucky’s back as he walks by with a stack of plates. “Let’s eat.”

Eighteen.

Shit.

***

Bucky’s resolve to keep some distance between himself and Tony lasts for one measly week, at which point Tony corners Bucky after his daily workout to drag him down to his workshop because, “That piece of shit wannabe-prosthetic is an insult to modern engineering, it offends me personally, it hurts my eyes, James!”

Too preoccupied with the feeling of Tony’s fingers curling around his wrist, skin against skin, Bucky doesn’t even think to protest.

And, Bucky has to admit, Tony sure knows what he’s doing. He narrates everything he does, for which Bucky is almost pathetically grateful, his touches efficient yet gentle, a stark contrast to what Bucky’s used to, even talks Bucky through the moment of panic that overwhelms him when Tony cuts the connection between the artificial parts of the arm and Bucky’s remaining nerve tissue as not to hurt him unnecessarily and Bucky, in the process, momentarily loses all sensation in his left side.

The emergency meeting soon turns into weekly maintenance sessions with casual, easy-flowing conversation filled with jokes and laughter, usually followed by take away and movies. Sometimes, especially if they’re feeling giddy after a battle, they ditch the couch and greasy cartons in favour of real restaurants and live shows, harassing the paparazzi constantly following Tony around right back and generally painting the town red.

Steve levels them with the Face of Disappointment when pictures of Bucky flipping off the cameras, sneer on his face and Tony riding him piggyback, get posted all over the internet. Tony frames a print of the one where he’s got his hands in Bucky’s hair and tongue poked out playfully to hang in his living room. Bucky may or may not have set the one with Tony hiding his grin against Bucky’s neck as his phone background.

It doesn’t take long for every gossip rag, and even some of the more respectable newspapers, to pick up on the amount of time they spend together and brand them as the Hot New Couple of the Year. Tony never officially confirms or denies anything, which Bucky uses to his full advantage; glaring menacingly at the people flirting with and throwing themselves at Tony is twice as effective with the boyfriend rumours floating around.

Sure, it stings to read about their all-conquering love and perfect relationship when none of it is actually true, but Bucky’s been tortured and brainwashed for the better part of a century, he can deal with not getting the guy. Or he can learn to.

Probably.

Whatever.

The situation, and Bucky’s quickly growing feelings, isn’t helped by Tony being an extraordinarily tactile person. Not that Bucky would ever say a single word to discourage him, it’s obvious that Tony is desperate for the contact, that Steve can’t give him all the attention he requires in the way he needs it, and Bucky is, apparently, a total masochist when it comes to all things Tony.

It’s not all Bucky’s fault, though, Tony’s puppy dog eye game is strong. Bucky’s even seen Natasha fall for it once.

So Bucky never pulls away when Tony takes his hand and links their fingers to tug him along to wherever he wants him, and Tony takes that as the unspoken permission Bucky means it to be. There is handholding, hugging, cuddling, cheek kisses from Tony for Bucky and top-of-the-head kisses from Bucky for Tony, brushing elbows and knees and, on one memorable and willpower-testing occasion, even some lap sitting.

Bucky’s careful to always draw strict lines, though, to never let any of it escalate into something more. So what if he jerks off more often than he used to when he went through puberty? He blames his serum-enhanced body.

They take the next step, not the one Bucky would love to take but a next step nonetheless, after a particularly gruesome fight with a dimension-hopping something. Clint and Natasha are handcuffing their not so friendly neighbourhood alien, Hulk growling threateningly whenever the thing makes another attempt to free itself, while Steve is talking to the reporters and calming spectators.

Tony, however, is nowhere to be seen. When Bucky finally finds him after almost an hour of frantic searching, Tony has wedged himself behind the couch in his penthouse, armour only partially removed, head between his legs and trembling arms wrapped around it.

Kneeling down as close as possible, Bucky himself too big to join Tony, Bucky reaches out to pull Tony out but snatches his hand back when Tony flinches violently, his breath hitching before he chokes on a heart-wrenching sob.

“Tony, hey,” Bucky says, pitching his voice low. “Hey, c’mere, please. You’re scarin’ me, sweetheart, what’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

Tony shakes his head but starts crying harder, and Bucky can’t hold himself back anymore. Taking a chance, he pushes the couch away, stomach twisting painfully at Tony’s scared whimper, and wraps his arms around Tony, drawing him in, one hand threading into Tony’s hair and the other stroking soothingly up and down Tony’s spine.

For a long moment, Tony freezes and stays completely rigid, and Bucky holds his breath, nervous and tense. But then Tony melts against Bucky, buries his face in the crook of Bucky’s neck with a wet little hiccup, hands fisting into Bucky’s combat jacket.

He’s shaking all over, making tiny, miserable keening sounds against Bucky’s skin while Bucky holds him close, murmurs calming words and rocks them carefully back and forth.

It takes a long while and a lot of gentle coaxing on Bucky’s part, but piece by piece, Tony manages to choke out the entire story.

He tells Bucky about the Battle of New York, something Bucky’s only ever heard about from Steve’s perspective until then, about the missile and flying it through the wormhole, how the connection had cut off and how the last thing he’d seen before passing out was the closing portal, how that had been all he could think about during the confrontation today.

And then everything else comes spilling out, too. Howard’s neglect and Maria’s complete disinterest, Ty’s supposed love that had ended with private pictures of Tony sold to the highest bidder, Obadiah’s betrayal, Afghanistan and the Arc Reactor, meeting Steve and feeling inadequate and unworthy all over again, the stress of being the major shareholder of a fortune 500 company at such a young age, the pressure of knowing he’ll have to take over as CEO in a few short years, the board not taking him seriously anymore after the change from weapons to clean energy the current CEO, Pepper Potts, had pushed through on Tony’s behalf, the constant, crippling fear of not being good enough for the Avengers.

Tony is exhausted and worn out by the time he’s done, but he’s less rigid, breathing more easily, almost asleep already when Bucky lifts him up and carries him over to his bedroom to tuck him in.

It seems like it takes all of Tony’s remaining energy to snag Bucky’s sleeve, eyes heavy-lidded as he slurs, “Don’t leave.”

Bucky can’t refuse, shucks his boots and jacket and slides into bed next to Tony, taking Tony’s searching hand and bringing it up to his face to kiss Tony’s knuckles. “It’s all right, darlin’, I got you.”

After that night, Bucky and Tony share a bed more often than not. The others wolf whistle and make jokes when they find out, and Bucky soon becomes an expert in hiding early-morning erections, but it’s still nice, waking up to Tony’s sleepy smiles and husky mumbles.

As the months pass, as Bucky and Tony grow closer and closer, Tony begins to open up, come out of his shell more and more. He stops hiding behind his snark and bluster all the time, lets his friends see his true self, trusts them enough to show vulnerability around them, show how much he cares for and needs them.

“Zombie alert!” Clint screeches during one of their team movie nights when Tony stumbles into the rec room, yawing and rubbing at his puffy eyes, oil-stained sweatpants hanging low on his hips and his tank sliding off one shoulder. “Brains, brains!”

Tony blinks at him, uncomprehending but not taking the teasing as a sign that he’s unwelcome like he would have not so long ago, before shrugging it off and collapsing across Bucky’s lap.

Without having to be asked, Bucky stretches to grab Tony’s glasses from the coffee table and carefully puts them on Tony, then rearranges Tony until he hums contentedly to communicate his satisfaction with their position. He’s out like a light before Steve’s done making pop corn.

“Bro, you’re so whipped,” Clint cackles, trying and failing to dodge Natasha’s poking fingers.

Bruce shoots Bucky a smile, ignoring the both of them. “Don’t listen, I think it’s sweet. You’re good for him.”

“Yeah,” Steve grins, waggling his eyebrows like the dumb punk he is, “real sweet, Buck.”

“Shaddup,” Bucky grumbles and hides his face away in Tony’s hair.

He doesn’t need his friends to tell him how hard he’s fallen for Tony.

***

Bucky isn’t stupid.

He’s well aware that that he and Tony have left the platonic territory a long time ago, if they’ve ever really been there at all, and that Tony reciprocates his feelings.

Bucky knows that.

But.

But there’s still an age difference of nearly ten years dividing them, and Bucky just can’t, he can’t act on this, it wouldn’t be right.

Steve, surprisingly enough, doesn’t see it that way.

“Steve, for fuck’s sake,” Bucky snaps when Steve tells him as much, “he’s a kid. He’s eighteen-“

“Turning nineteen next week.”

“-eighteen years old,” Bucky finishes, glaring. “Is he even legal? Is he an adult? Where’s the line these days? Steve, I have no idea, I don’t-“

“Bucky,” Steve interrupts the increasingly desperate babbling. “Tony’s an adult, he’s legal, and he likes you. A lot.”

Bucky sighs, tipping his head back against Steve’s couch, letting his eyes flutter shut. “Steve.”

“Bucky,” Steve mimics, but then he sobers, turning serious. “Look, Tony is young, sure, but you know that, you’re not rushing into something with expectations he can’t meet. And I know you, I know you’d treat him right. Hell, you already do. Tell me this; do you think you’d ever pressure him into something he doesn’t feel ready for?”

“’Course not,” Bucky says, scandalised, pursing his lips at Steve.

Steve spreads his arms, eyebrows quirked. “Then what’s stopping you?”

“He deserves better,” Bucky mutters sullenly, unable to look at Steve, and that’s the crux of the matter, really.

Tony shouldn’t have to settle so young, and definitely not for someone as broken as Bucky. Tony has his whole life ahead of him and Bucky has already lived more than one. Bucky loves Tony, loves him enough that he only wants the best for him. And Bucky isn’t the best, not even close.

“Bullshit,” Steve snorts dismissively, jolting Bucky out of his musings, making him realise he might have said at least part of all that out loud.

Oops.

“You should,” Steve says, aiming a lazy kick in Bucky’s general direction, “stop running yourself down and start allowing Tony the dignity of making his own choices. Tony’s had to grow up faster than anyone ever should have to, had to take on responsibility not only for himself but also an entire legacy without having a say in it. He’s been through so much, Buck, has had to go up against impossible odds, again and again, and has come out on top, every single time. And I know a certain someone who’d started working at the docks at only fourteen to support his family, who’s had to endure and survive more than most people could. Someone who can relate to Tony, give him the support and stability he craves and needs so much and, maybe, gain something in return. If he ever pulls his head out of his ass and stops being an idiot, that is.”

“I can do all that by being his friend. Only his friend,” Bucky insists weakly, already knowing he’s going to cave, damn Steve and his logic and that uncanny ability to, somehow, always know exactly what to say to Bucky to make him see reason.

Steve nods, as if allowing that point, but says, casual as you please, “But is that what you want? What’s going to make you happy?”

Bucky opens his mouth, closes it again and then does the mature thing and throws a couch cushion at Steve’s annoying, smug face.

***

Tony’s birthday party is a huge affair, including fake socialites, high society schmoozers, every big shot name in the business world and masses of paparazzi, all of whom want a piece of Tony and a few minutes of his time.

And while Tony does his best to smile pleasantly and make polite conversation, Bucky can practically feel the tension radiating off him and see the exhaustion in the more prominent than usual lines around Tony’s eyes.

So Bucky stays close - hovers, Steve insists with a teasing grin - while Tony tends to his guests, keeping a grounding hand on the small of Tony’s back or a supportive arm around Tony’s waist at all times. It’s for Tony’s benefit, Bucky stubbornly tells himself, concentrating on Tony’s warmth beside him and the grateful little looks Tony shoots him, ignoring the fluttering in his own stomach.

Still, they’re both relieved, after startling and jumping and cursing, when Natasha suddenly materialises next to them to lead them to the private couch area up on the mezzanine for some quiet time with their friends.

There’s cake, homemade by Bruce and Clint, with nineteen candles Steve is insistent Tony blow out so he’ll have his wish come true. Tony blushes and grumbles about it, but Bucky can see how pleased and happy he is in the way he smiles against Steve’s shoulder when Steve pulls him into a hug and kisses his forehead.

Tony opens his presents and they all have drinks and dance and laugh, and Bucky is hit, once again, with the realisation of just how far gone he is as he watches Tony talk with Rhodey and Pepper, his face open and relaxed.

It’s enough to put a damper on Bucky’s mood and, not wanting to ruin everyone else’s fun, he slips away when no one’s looking, withdrawing to an empty balcony for some fresh air. Bracing his elbows on the railing, he lets his head hang forward, fingers gripping his hair and breathing slowly, willing his wildly beating heart to calm down.

His conversation with Steve five days ago hasn’t left Bucky’s mind since, rattling around in his brain and not allowing him a single moment of respite, distracting him to a degree that the others have started asking about his daydreaming and his inability to concentrate. And Tony’s worried, too, Bucky knows, being even more affectionate than normal in an admittedly cute but not very helpful attempt at cheering Bucky up.

And it’s not that Bucky doesn’t want to listen to Steve’s reasoning, that he can’t see that Steve has a point and that Tony is perfectly able to make choices of his own, but knowing and knowing are two entirely different things.

Besides, the fact that Bucky’s no good and that Tony deserves someone better still stands, no matter how much the mere thought of Tony with someone else hurts and makes Bucky want to-

“You look like you’re about to punch something. Or someone,” comes Tony’s hesitantly amused voice as he steps out into the cool night air, closing the sliding door behind him again. “Brought you something,” he says, holding up a plate with a big slice of cake, wiggling it invitingly.

“Thanks,” Bucky says quietly and takes it from him, then is immediately reminded just why he’s fled out here when Tony licks some stray icing off his thumb, humming appreciatively at the taste.

Before he can do something stupid, like grab Tony and kiss him senseless, Bucky stuffs a big forkful of chocolaty goodness into his mouth and averts his eyes from Tony, gazing out over the sparkling city lights.

“Good?” Tony asks, moving to Bucky’s side and bumping their shoulders together.

Bucky swallows and nods, voice a little rough around the, “Yeah, it’s good.”

They fall into an awkward silence after that, made even worse because it’s the first one between them. Squirming and unable to think of anything else to say, Bucky holds up the rest of his cake, one candle still sticking out of it, and asks, “So, what did you wish for?”

“I’m not supposed to tell,” Tony tisks playfully, but then he seems to come to a decision, taking the plate from Bucky and setting it down on the floor, shyly biting his bottom lip when he straightens back up. “Maybe- maybe I could show you, though?”

“Tony-“ is as far as Bucky gets before there’s another pair of lips, warm and slightly sticky, on his, tentative and chaste, asking for permission.

“I-“ Bucky croaks, clearing his throat and blinking stupidly at his hands he doesn’t remember having placed on Tony’s hips, murmuring, more to himself than Tony, “I can’t do this anymore.”

It takes him a moment to notice that Tony’s pulling back, his face carefully blank, trying and failing to hide hurt and embarrassment under a mask of indifferent nonchalance. “Oh,” he says dully, jerking his thumb over his shoulder in the general direction of where the party’s probably still going, “that’s fine. I’ll, uh, I’ll just go and leave you alone forever and-“

Bucky shuts him up with a kiss, Tony’s surprised face cradled between his hands, tongue tracing the seam of Tony’s lips and then slipping into Tony’s mouth when it falls open with a contented little sigh.

“You,” Bucky breathes, brushing a kiss over Tony’s nose, “have been driving me crazy,” his left cheek, “for,” the right cheek, “months. Shit,” he groans when Tony winds his arms around Bucky’s neck and presses closer, letting Bucky feel the evidence of his arousal, “fuck, Tony.”

“That’s the idea, yeah,” Tony grins, then yelps but instinctively wraps his legs around Bucky when Bucky picks him up. Diving in for another kiss, he murmurs against Bucky’s mouth, “Do you have any idea how hot that is? Holy shit.”

Somehow, they make it up to Tony’s penthouse without stumbling and only about half a dozen make-out sessions against various surfaces, tumbling onto Tony’s bed already missing half their clothes with the rest of it in serious disarray.

“What do you want?” Bucky asks against Tony’s neck, nipping sharply at his pulse. “Tell me what you want, darling, talk to me.”

“You,” Tony gasps, fingers tangling in Bucky’s hair to direct his head up for another kiss. “I want you. Inside me. Now. Chop-chop.”

“Bossy, shoulda known,” Bucky chuckles, but is more than happy to comply.

He takes his sweet time undressing Tony the rest of the way, teasingly kissing and licking every new inch of bared skin, revelling in Tony’s breathy moans and tiny mewling sounds. He opens Tony up slowly, paying just enough attention to Tony’s straining cock to keep him interested but nowhere near enough to actually get him off.

By the time Bucky finally pushes inside, Tony’s little more than a sweaty, incoherently babbling mess, arching into Bucky’s thrusts and clinging to Bucky’s shoulders, eventually coming with a strangled cry of Bucky’s name and pulling Bucky right over the edge along with him.

Bucky collapses half off, half on Tony, pulling the pliant man into his arms and curling around him, face buried into Tony’s damp hair to hide the dopey smile he can feel spreading across his face.

“This was awesome,” Tony declares enthusiastically a few minutes later, once he’s got his breath back. Then he grows rigid, though, shifting a little so he can blink up at Bucky, looking small and uncertain all of a sudden. “It was, right? For you?”

“’Course,” Bucky confirms before the implication of Tony’s words catches up with him, making him freeze because, “Tony, are you tryin’ to tell me-“

“It’s not like I had much opportunity for it!” Tony exclaims, blushing hard and tucking his head into the crook of Bucky’s neck. “You know, between the company and getting kidnapped and held hostage and, oh, you know, being an Avenger and saving the world every other week!”

He sounds worried, a little frantic, so Bucky tightens his hold on him, kisses his temple. “It’s all right, sweetheart, it’s okay. Just wish you’d have told me before this.”

“Why?” Tony demands sulkily, but he’s mouthing at Bucky’s skin so Bucky figures he’s not actually all that upset anymore. “I knew what I wanted and you gave it to me. Would you have done anything differently if I’d told you?”

“No, I guess not,” Bucky admits, fishing for the blankets when he feels Tony’s light shivering, now that they’re slowly coming down from their high. “But, you could’ve told me, you know that, right? Always talk to me when there’s something you need to say, ‘kay? Don’t keep important stuff to yourself just ‘cause you think I won’t like it. I’ll always want to know, whatever it is.”

Tony nods, quiet for a long moment. Then he drawls, innocent like he’s decidedly not anymore, “I’ve given head before, so, how about we give that a go next?”

Even as Bucky bursts out laughing, his dick gives an interested twitch, causing Tony to pull back, one eyebrow arched, amused and impressed.

“Wow.”

“Yeah,“ Bucky laughs, trailing off with a throaty groan when Tony’s hand closes around him.

***

Once they’re officially an item, preventing himself from using the L-word around Tony becomes suddenly incredibly, frustratingly difficult.

But Bucky remembers being nineteen and yep, he’d definitely have freaked out if any of the guys he was with at that age had even so much as hinted at this level of commitment, so he keeps his mouth shut and stamps down on the urge whenever it arises.

Not that that makes much of a difference, according to Clint.

“The two of you are disgusting,” he grouses, grimacing down at where Bucky and Tony are snuggling in one of the armchairs. “No one should be forced to deal with this, it’s inhumane.”

“Shut up,” Tony yawns, not bothering to lift his head from Bucky’s chest as he flaps a lazy hand at Clint. “I know you’re intimidated by our combined gorgeousness, but-“

Clint interrupts him with a cushion to the face, rolling his eyes hard enough that Bucky’s slightly worried he’s going to hurt himself. “Get up, lovebirds. Coulson and Fury are here with important business,” he ooohs, waving his arms about dramatically.

Which turns out to be the understatement of the century. And Bucky’s lived through most of it, he’s totally qualified to judge.

“Tony, darling,” Bucky tries, reaching out for Tony’s wrist only to have Tony yank his hand away and continue his escape.

“Don’t, just don’t,” he snaps, and even though Bucky knows Tony’s anger isn’t directed at him, it’s still hard to nod and let him go.

Everyone gathered around the conference table winces in unison at the rattling slam of the door.

“I- I’m not sure I understand correctly,” Steve speaks up eventually, the hands clutching the file that had sent Tony storming off shaking ever so slightly. “You’re saying Howard, what? Experimented on Tony somehow?”

“Not exactly,” Coulson hedges and even Fury looks uncomfortable, which is just plain scary.

When he doesn’t elaborate, Bruce sighs and removes his glasses, cleaning them on his shirt while he explains, “Howard, as I’m sure most of you know already, was dedicated to uncovering the secret of Doctor Erskine’s formula. Erskine’s notes were incomplete, however, and all Howard had to work with. The notes, and a few samples of Steve’s blood and skin. He had his first breakthrough in 1996.”

“The year before Tony was born,” Steve fills in, the confusion obvious in his voice.

Bruce nods. “Yes, exactly. During an experiment, it was an accident, really, Howard succeeded in making human reproductive cells from one of Steve’s samples.”

“He made sperm out of Steve’s skin?” Bucky can’t help but ask, a little disbelieving, throwing his arms up in a What? gesture when Steve turns to glare at him.

“In the widest sense, yes,” Bruce says, removing his glasses again to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Sperm and egg cells which, I’m assuming, gave him the idea to do what he did next.”

Steve’s voice is uncharacteristically small when he asks, “Which was?”

“Make a child using your DNA, Steve.”

No one expects it, so no one is fast enough to catch Steve when he collapses forward onto the table, shivering and weak as a kitten when Bucky scoots closer to help him sit up again.

“Tony- Tony is mine? My kid?” Steve squeaks, eyes growing impossibly wide at Bruce’s confirmation. “Mine and Maria’s?”

“Ah, no,” Bruce says apologetically. “Yours and Howard’s.”

Clint chokes on air and Natasha’s mouth falls open in the first involuntary, uncontrolled reaction Bucky’s ever seen from her.

“Maria was the surrogate, but the DNA came from Howard and Steve,” Bruce goes on, squeezing an ashen-faced Steve’s shoulder. “According to Howard’s notes, Maria was hired specifically for the task of carrying Tony and playing the role of wife and mother as not to arouse suspicion from the medical community.”

“But,” Steve frowns, taking a shuddering breath, “why didn’t Tony know? Why doesn’t anyone else know? Tony’s here, so Howard’s- his experiment,” he hisses, his distaste for Howard’s actions clear to hear for everyone, “was successful. Right? So, why does no one know? What happened?”

“Steve, buddy,” Clint laughs humourlessly, shaking his head as if he can’t believe what he’s hearing. Bucky can definitely relate to that. “Tony might’ve been made from your spunk,” everyone gives a collective groan at that, “but he’s the spitting image of his father. Well. His other father. And Howard was the one who raised him, the one who was around.”

“Tony was too much like Howard and not enough like you for Howard’s tastes,” Natasha throws in, cutting right to the chase.

Bucky stands, unable to wait any longer, grateful that no one tries to stop him from going to check on Tony right now, afraid what kind of state Tony might be in after experiencing something monumental like this, after having his life turned completely upside down.

JARVIS directs him to the rec room on the communal floor, where Tony is curled up on the couch with a blanket wrapped tightly around his shoulders, eyes bright and red-rimmed as he watches what appears to be an old home movie.

“Tony, you are too young to understand this right now, so I thought I would put it on film for you,” says Howard on the screen. “I built this for you, and some day you’ll realise that it represents a whole lot more than just people’s inventions. It represents my life’s work. This is the key to the future. I’m limited by the technology of my time, but one day you’ll figure this out. And when you do, you will change the world. What is, and always will be, my greatest creation… is you.”

Tony snorts, a terrible, broken sound, and wipes a hand down his face. “Creation, right,” he sniffles, not looking up but lifting the edge of his blanket in invitation. “Never knew he meant that literally.”

“Darlin',” Bucky says, pulling Tony in to lean against his side, kissing the top of his head. “I’m so sorry.”

“Not your fault,” Tony mutters, turning his head into Bucky’s neck. “It’s not like- I mean, I knew he didn’t care about me as a person, that he didn’t love me like a parent is supposed to love their child. But mo- Maria, she never said anything. Neither of them did. I didn’t know, all these years. I was a disappointment right from the beginning, nothing but one of Howard’s failed attempts at satisfying his own ego by-“

“You are a lot more than that, Tony,” Bucky interrupts, gentle but firm, threading his fingers into Tony’s hair to soothingly scratch at the back of his head. “You mean so much to the people around you, you mean so much to me, you mean everything to me, honey.”

“Buck,” Tony chokes out, drawing back enough to look up at Bucky, lashes clumped together with unshed tears, and suddenly it’s easy, suddenly Bucky knows what he has to do.

Cupping Tony’s face between his hands, Bucky smiles a wobbly smile and laughs, giddy with it, “I love you. I love you so much, Tony.”

And it’s the right thing to say, going by the way Tony melts against him, his tears more happy than sad now. “You, too. I love you, too, of course I do.”

They cling to each other, crying and laughing and sharing wet, salty kisses for a long time, unaware of anything else until someone awkwardly clears their throat from the doorway.

“Hi,” Steve says hesitantly, hovering unsurely and giving a jerky little wave.

“Steve,” Tony croaks, still chuckling, and holds one hand out to him. “Steve, fuck. Get over here, come on.”

Steve practically collapses across them, an arm around each of them, his trembling lips pressed against Tony’s forehead.

“Don’t you dare cry as well,” Bucky warns, cuffing Steve’s ear. “There’s enough cryin’ going on here already.”

Steve, as usual, doesn’t listen.

***

The first time Tony calls Steve Dad is during a battle, making Steve run face first into one of the few unbroken windows left in the vicinity.

Steve yells at him for a solid half-hour afterwards, then pulls him into a hug and doesn’t let him go for another ten minutes.

The first time Steve returns the favour, he’s yelling at a reporter to, “Back the fuck off and stop harassing my son!”

It’s unclear what gets them more attention, the fact that Steve is Tony’s biological father, or Captain America swearing.

Bucky decides to distract the general public by proposing.

It works like a charm.

Both Tony and Steve cry.

Again.

So does Bucky, but only because he’d feel left out otherwise.

(Honestly.)