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The thing is

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Bucky’s never been that guy.

He doesn’t go for another man’s girl – or another girl’s guy if we’re being nitpicky about it.

Sure, he’d been a complete ladies man back in the day, with a player reputation outshone only by Howard Stark. He’d definitely gone in for some furtive tumbles in the hay with other soldiers when he was first deployed – before the whole Zola thing and then dropping off a fucking train and being brain-washed into a Nazi assassin for decades…

But he’s trying to forget about all that.

The point is, he never ever slept with a guy or gal who’s already someone else’s, never been the man who helped break a heart like that. He doesn’t go for people who are already spoken for. Sure, he might look occasionally. But even when the other person’s a jackass (and Suzanne Jones’ boyfriend had been a complete and utter jackass) he doesn’t follow up on it. It’s just not his thing.

Which is why, when it first truly hits him what that swooping feeling in the stomach he’s been feeling for Tony Stark actually means, Bucky doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. The horror he feels in that moment is kinda a lot to deal with on top of the Doombots and the forty foot tall squids currently demolishing Times Square.

(He fucking hates it when supervillains team up together. It’s just not cool.)

“Bucky, your 4 o’clock!” Steve’s voice comes over the comms as Bucky stands frozen for the briefest of minutes, staring at the cause for said persistent, problematic swoop in the pit of his stomach. Iron Man is poetry in motion, firing repulsor blasts left and right, taking out a squadron of Doombots before smoothly shooting off in a graceful arc to attack one of the squids oozing poisonous fluids over a Broadway poster.

Bucky snaps out of it just in time to meet the four Doombots scuttling towards him head on. He dismantles them with the deadly efficiency of the Winter Soldier training that’s stayed with him even after recovering his identity. In situations like this, he’s actually kinda thankful for it.

“Look sharp, Grandpa Two,” Tony heckles him over the comms. His voice is underscored by the familiar whine of repulsor blasts. “It’ll be pretty embarrassing if your tombstone said ‘Killed by Giant Squids’. There’s no way to spin that into an epic story.”

“Chatter,” Steve chides Tony, but there’s that warm weight of fond amusement and love beneath it, the reason why a distant part of Bucky’s brain is currently freaking the fuck out. He vehemently shoves the new-found confusing tangle of emotions back (because it’s so not the time right now) and tunes back in to hear Steve yelling, “Iron Man, Hawkeye needs an extraction stat!”

“If he’s jumped off a building again without fucking calling me first, I’ll actually fucking kill him,” Tony swears, zooming off to where Bucky can see Hawkeye bodily throw himself off a skyscraper. Tony manages to reach him just before he goes splat on the pavement.

Language, Stark,” Steve huffs and from the teasing undercurrent in his tone, Bucky presumes it’s an old inside joke between the two.

“If you two are done flirting, I can use some backup here Cap,” Natasha says in a monotone, sounding rather unruffled considering she’s fighting one fifty foot tall squid all by herself. Steve joins her a minute later, so Bucky turns his attention to clearing off another dozen badly-made robots.

He’s handling things fine. He’s fine.

He totally did not just get hit by a lightning bolt of self-realization, in the middle of an Avengers battle, that he’s possibly in love with Captain America’s boyfriend, who just so happens to be the billionaire genius philanthropist superhero Iron Man…

Things were only just starting to really settle into some form of normal for him too. Why can’t the universe cut him some slack for just once in his fucking life?

This is only Bucky’s second outing with the Avengers as a team member. The first had been a relatively low priority mission (if something can go lower priority than squids). Some kids in NYU had managed to make self-aware, corrosive goop that decided it’d rather eat cabs and road-tar than sit in a lab and get poked at. That mission had been worth it just for the priceless look of exasperation on Steve’s face while he determinedly hacked away at sentient jell-o. By the time he unleashed his Captain-America-is-Disappointed-in-You speech on the terrified and frazzled grad students responsible for the mess, the rest of the Avengers had succumbed to giggling like twelve year olds.

So really, maybe it’s just the newness of it all that Bucky finds his eyes repeatedly drawn to where Iron Man is taking down two squids with the Hulk’s help. Bucky’s always had a thing for men in armor, looking all spiffy and suited up for battle. And battle suits don't get better than Iron Man.

That is the only reason he feels that inappropriate curl of want again as Iron Man executes another ridiculously stylish maneuver to bring down one of the slimy monsters. Okay? It has nothing to do with the man inside it, Bucky’s just attracted to the sheer beauty of the armor. And the soaring adrenaline of being in battle again after so long – a good fight’s always had a straight wire connection to his libido. He’s just caught up in the moment.

It has nothing to do with Tony Stark.

Except, when they’re finally done and Stark lands in front of him, armor dissembling in a flurry of smooth gears and breathtaking technology to reveal the man in his skintight flight suit, and Bucky just wants

God, he’s so fucked.

*

The thing is, now that he acknowledges feeling it (and knows exactly what it means), he can’t unfeel it. He wishes he could push his brain back just one day, back to the time where he was still in blissful ignorance about such matters. But hindsight is 20/20, and now that he knows, he has to admit it’s been coming for a while.

The past year was one of the best and worst of Bucky’s life. Best because he found a family again after years of being nothing more than a machine, an asset. He found Steve again, and Steve is worth everything, worth years of torture and erasure. Just to see the pure joy in Steve’s eyes sometimes for something as simple as Bucky saying his name or cracking a joke about their old lives, the happiness he gives Steve just by existing – it’s just worth it.

It was one of the worst because he finally realized what he had been, all that he had done while Bucky Barnes was lost in the Winter Soldier. The fact that he had been HYDRA’s prime weapon of choice for seventy years, doing countless awful deeds, his actions shaping the course of the world to the way it is today…

It was all a lot to take in and Bucky very nearly drowned.

And where Steve kept him afloat, Tony helped him breathe on his own for the first time.

Even in those early months, when Bucky was more the Winter Soldier than James Buchanan Barnes, Tony was chaotically and unrestrainedly himself around Bucky, never showed any hesitation or fear. Tony did not treat him with the careful gentleness of Steve or the suspicious wariness of the others, did not act as though Bucky was always two steps away from losing control. He never handled Bucky with kid gloves.

That helped build Bucky’s confidence in himself more than anyone would ever know.

Bucky got to know Tony quite closely in that time, working to restore the mechanical arm that was damaged in the fight to bring in the Winter Soldier.

Before, the arm had been nothing more than a weapon, Bucky had been nothing more than a weapon. But after Tony was done with them, the arm became a true part of Bucky like he hadn’t even know was possible.

It is capable of all senses now – it doesn’t just transmit pain and heavy hits, isn’t just an instrument of brute strength. It is now capable of gentleness and soft touches too. Bucky could hold a gossamer seed and not crush it, has nearly the same agility and feeling from this new prosthetic arm as his real one.

And it took considerable time and effort on Tony’s part to make it so.

Bucky knows for a fact how busy the man is – for all his quips about Pepper being the one running the company, Tony isn’t exactly free for time. When he isn’t busy demonstrating new Stark Tech products to potential buyers and handling the meetings Pepper sent him on, he’s holed up in his lab brainstorming innovative ideas and forming collaborations with other scientists, performing duties befitting the Head of R&D of one of the most in-demand technology corporations in the world.

And that’s when he isn’t busy building new tech for the Avengers, upgrading their armor, getting them custom-made weapons and monitoring the global situation for any potential Avenger-level threats. With SHIELD still slowly re-building, Tony is coordinating a lot of those responsibilities as well.

Sure he has help, in the form of Maria Hill and Bruce Banner, Nick Fury flitting in now and then to drop helpful lines and Clint and Natasha pulling their own weight by gathering necessary intel when a situation cropped up.

But it is undeniable that Tony is a supremely busy man with more things to do than there are hours in a day – and he is a public celebrity who’s dating Captain America to boot.

Despite all that, in those early months, Tony had made time for Bucky. When Bucky was still hurt, bitter and lost and pushing Steve away, those hours down in the workshop with Tony tweaking on his arm, filling up the silence with a constant stream of techno babble – it meant more than Bucky can ever say.

Somehow while fixing his arm, Tony helped Bucky fix himself too.

And now that he’s looking back, he realizes it wasn’t just loneliness that caused the yearning he felt every time he walked in on Steve and Tony kissing or cuddling or just being together in the Avengers tower.

It was want, a desire to have Tony like that for himself, plain and simple – and Bucky just doesn’t know what to do anymore.

*

Bucky stumbles into the kitchen on the communal floor, bed-headed and bleary-eyed from a night of tossing and turning, and the sight that greets him is familiar.

Tony is slumped over the table, making rather pathetic grabby hands in the general direction of the coffee machine, where Steve is puttering around making breakfast for them both.

“Morning, Buck,” Steve greets with a smile, expertly balancing a cup of coffee, one of juice and a plateful of toast towards the table. He hands off the former to Tony, dropping a fond kiss on his sleep-mussed head before settling down beside him. Tony makes a truly obscene noise into the cup, taking deep gulps of the hot brew like his life depends on it.

“There’s more in the pot, if you want some,” Steve tells Bucky with an amused eye roll in Tony’s direction. He inhales half his orange juice in one gulp, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.

Bucky helps himself to some coffee, sitting across from Steve on the table, trying very hard not to act odd around them. So he just had a mid-battle revelation of a deep and abiding desire for his best friend’s boyfriend. If he can get over being a brain-washed HYDRA thug, he can surely get over this, right? Right.

“Sleep well?” he manages to grunt – which really is the most talkative he gets before 10AM actually.

“This one was struck with one of his genius spells at two in the morning,” Steve grumbles, chucking Tony lightly on the chin. Tony bats him off, looking slightly more awake after the first cup of caffeine in him. “We’d barely dropped off to sleep before he was climbing all over me yelling about quantum stabilizers or some nonsense.”

“It’s not my fault your blowjobs are literally strokes of genius.”

Tony.” Steve blushes, looking torn between mortified and amused, the way he always does whenever Tony talks about their sex life in public. Which is a rather common occurrence, to be perfectly honest. Tony once said, while drunk, that if one got to have sex with the peak of human perfection on a regular basis, one absolutely had to rub it in people’s faces. Something about it being the principle of the thing. (A blushing Steve had bodily carried him off at this point, leaving the rest of the Avengers deeply amused.)

“You are so absolutely edible when you blush like that,” Tony gives a rakish grin at Steve now, before ducking in to kiss him. Steve gives in like he can’t help it, one hand coming up to hold Tony’s jaw, thumb moving across fine cheekbones and warm skin, and Bucky… Bucky doesn’t know what he feels.

There’s the barest trace of jealousy there, mixed in with a stronger feeling of yearning. But most prominent is the stunning stab of arousal in his gut at the sight of Steve and Tony kissing in front of him. The brief, vivid mental vision he has of Steve going down on Tony, pale muscular body holding down the smaller tanned frame, the image the two of them would make sprawled on Tony’s expensive bed sheets, putting on a show just for Bucky…

And – what?

“Ugh, will you both stop sucking face at the breakfast table,” Clint’s voice breaks through the haze and Bucky comes to with a guilty start, in sync with Steve’s startled jump. Tony tries to follow Steve’s lips as he moves away from him.

“Sorry,” Steve shoots a sheepish grin at where Clint and Natasha are settling at the table, and then reaches forward to grab a piece of toast before standing up. “Right. I’m off for my morning jog. Make sure Tony eats something before he slinks back into his cave.”

In a truly marvelous feat of oral flexibility, he stuffs one slice whole into his mouth, washes it down with the remaining orange juice and exits the room with a salute.

“And that,” Tony says dreamily, “is exactly why his blowjobs are a scientific marvel. The man has no notion of a gag reflex.”

Bucky sputters on his last mouthful of coffee, this little tidbit providing the final nail in his metaphorical, lust-addled coffin. He coughs, spraying droplets of coffee all over himself.

Natasha thumps his back, smirking. “Shut up, Tony. You’ve broken the poor soldier.”

“Whatever,” Tony stretches in his chair, a strip of toned stomach showing between the hem of his rumpled wife-beater and pajama pants. As if he doesn’t already have enough delicious skin on show. The fates must truly hate Bucky. “He’s just jealous he’s not getting a piece of all of this.” He leers playfully and winks at the other man.

Bucky, face still red from coughing, starts buttering his toast and hopes it won’t show on his face just how true that statement actually is.

*

Bucky tries to avoid catching Steve and Tony together after that – and avoids Tony, period. It’s not particularly hard.

Sure, he misses the guy like crazy and may or may not have taken to watching mostly sad romantic movies during his private pop culture catch-up time. But physically, it’s not that hard. The Avengers Tower is huge and each of their suites is completely self-sufficient. He just has to not go to the common areas too much and he’s set.

He and Steve still hang out like normal. Bucky doesn’t think even pain of death can get him to leave Steve’s side anymore. Somehow, despite one or the other of them getting experimented on, falling off a train, crashing a plane into the ocean and/or getting their mind repeatedly fucked with to become a killing machine, they both survived and managed to claw their way back to one another. He’s not about to start avoiding Steve now, just because he loves the same man Steve loves. He just can’t.

Tony on the other hand…

It hurts, but Bucky manages it. Because the alternative is carrying on like before till he reaches a breaking point and either ruins his relationship with Steve or ruins Steve’s relationship with Tony… and neither of those outcomes are something he can even bear contemplating.

Because Tony and Steve are happy together. They are the kind of tumultuously perfect relationship that only occurs once in a life time. The kind where you can see all the impossible, jagged edges of two people that shouldn’t possibly fit together, just do. And Bucky would rather die for real than mess it up for them. He loves both of them way too much for that.

So he avoids Tony instead, forces himself to put some distance between the two of them. He stops dropping by the workshop on the afternoons Steve’s off doing something else, where he would normally play catch with Dummy and You, while letting Tony’s chatter wash over him. He doesn’t go up to the kitchen at 2AM on the nights where both he and Tony are awake, to make an extra mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows to take down to the workshop.  

He doesn’t join the weekly video game showdown between Tony and Clint in the living room of the communal floor, where Tony wins by a mile every time and gloats while leaning on Bucky’s good shoulder. He doesn’t join Steve and Tony on the couch during movie nights, Tony’s legs sprawled warm over Bucky’s lap while he drapes himself across the couch, leaning on Steve’s chest and with a popcorn bowl on his stomach.

He doesn’t even stop by the workshop for his mostly-unnecessary weekly arm check-ups. (The arm is Stark Tech now, personally built by Tony Stark himself. Bucky’s pretty sure the arm’s good to go for at least a year, let alone require weekly tuning. But Tony’s always thinking up new upgrades, Tony has fun tinkering with Bucky’s arm. So Bucky would go in every week dutifully, hiding an amused smirk when the other man got excited about some new upgrade idea or another.)

In consciously avoiding all the ways Tony is intricately entwined in his life these days, Bucky realizes just how deep and visceral a part of his life their relationship has become. Honestly, he’s probably an idiot that it took him this long to figure out that his feelings for the other man aren’t exactly platonic.

At first, Tony doesn’t seem to even notice, acts the same around Bucky, all casual insults, unconscious flirting, fond touches and freely given invitations. But after two weeks, then three, of Bucky continuously turning him down and placing a polite distance between them, Tony finally catches on.

At first, Tony seems confused and worried, seems to operate under a misconception that he fucked up somehow. He goes overboard trying to do everything he can to fix it, with new gadgets and presents for Bucky, showering him with attention at every turn till Bucky wants to scream and tear his hair out from the unfairness of it all.

And then it becomes worse, because Tony actually seems hurt. Seeing that lost and vulnerable expression on Tony’s face that slips through in his every interaction with Bucky – because Tony still hasn’t erected his walls against him, is still letting him in, looking all hopeful and confused and so damn hesitant – it very nearly breaks Bucky’s resolve.

But worst of all is when, after two whole months of this, Bucky finally sees resignation settle like a weary weight around Tony’s shoulders. And he knows that Tony has finally given up trying to salvage their relationship, has made up his own reasons for why Bucky no longer wants to his company and will leave him alone from now on.

After that, Tony is completely professional. Subdued and polite around Bucky in a way he never was even during Winter Soldier flashbacks. Like a startled calf that has been burned too many times by its own caregiver, Tony’s every action around Bucky comes with wary and defeated compliance.

It hurts him deep in his bones to see Tony like this, but it’s what he was going for, right?

Because Tony stops seeking him out now, stops those casual touches, the inappropriate jokes, the smiles that make his eyes sparkle like stars. He doesn’t invade Bucky’s personal space at all, barely ever speaks a word to him beyond passing politeness. When they go out on missions their interactions are smooth as ever, but in private they are distant, barely even acquaintances let alone friends.

It’s what Bucky was trying to do.

He hates it so much he can’t breathe sometimes.

But at least he won’t be betraying the one person who matters more than anyone else, maybe even Tony. He will never ever hurt Steve again. If he can fight decades of HYDRA programming for Steve, if he can discover himself again after seventy years of memory wiping and torture, for Steve – he can certainly endure this till he’s fallen out of love with the love of Steve’s life.

Even if it breaks him.

*

It all comes to a head two weeks after Tony finally stops trying at all.

Steve corners him on his way out from the firing range, falling in step beside him casually, hands shoved in the pockets of his worn Iron Man hoodie. He smells like crisp spring air and Tony’s expensive shampoo, hair still slightly damp from his post-workout shower.

“Anythin’ up, Stevie?” Bucky asks when Steve doesn’t say a word.

“Just wanted to talk,” Steve says. “In private,” he continues, in response to Bucky’s raised eyebrows.

Bucky blinks, then leads Steve towards his quarters, feeling strangely unsettled and off-center.

Steve heads over to the kitchen right away once they get there, opening up the refrigerator and quickly assembling the ingredients for a quick snack. The familiar ease with which he moves around Bucky’s kitchen sends a pang of fondness and nostalgia in his chest, remembering another apartment from a lifetime ago, with a rickety old kitchen table, a stove that rattled like a dying engine and a tiny, frail Steve puttering around with a presence ten times his size.

It makes the ache and yearning in his chest a little better, knowing exactly who he is doing all this for.

“Hey Buck,” Steve calls conversationally after a few minutes of silence, eyes trained on the cheese sandwiches and salad he’s putting together. “Why are you avoiding Tony?”

Bucky’s so caught in memories and the comforting rhythm of Steve’s movements that it takes a minute for the question to work its way through his mind.

His breath catches in his throat. “What?”

Steve places the assembled sandwiches inside the grill and turns to him. When their eyes meet, it’s the Captain America glare that sends enemies fleeing in terror and refuses to take anyone’s bullshit. Bucky quails slightly, and can you blame him?

“My best friend has been avoiding my boyfriend for weeks now,” Steve says sternly. “At first I thought maybe Tony did or said something, because he certainly seemed to think so.” Steve shrugs. “I love him, but I know how he can get sometimes. I was gonna let him fix it for himself.”

Steve pauses, leaning back against the kitchen island and crossing his arms, muscles bulging through his straining t-shirt. Steve’s body now finally matches up to the iron will and strength that Bucky grew up seeing in him.

“But that obviously didn’t work out.” He gestures with an elbow towards Bucky. “And he won’t admit it, but he’s miserable. He misses you. And I know you miss him.”

Bucky opens his mouth to say something, but Steve over-rides him with the patented Steve Rogers ‘don’t-fucking-bullshit-me’ look. Bucky’s mouth snaps shut.

“Now I don’t know what’s going on exactly,” Steve says, frowning. “And honestly, it’s for you two to work out, not my business unless either of you wants to tell me. But you both are going to work it out.” Another firm glare here. “It is my business if the two most important people in my life are suddenly weird around each other and I am going to butt in and fix it since you two idiots can’t seem to manage it.”

“Steve – “

“I’ve got two tickets for the Mets game tomorrow,” Steve continues. He’s determined, Bucky can tell. And a determined Steve Rogers is always more fearsome than Hitler’s finest army. “And there’s a gala the day after, that Tony needs a plus one for.”

He holds up his communicator casually, the holographic screen open on a mission brief.

“Got called in for an emergency mission in Europe that absolutely needs my attention. I may or may not have wheedled Maria till she assigned me on something this morning."

The little shit actually has the gall to grin cheekily at him. Bucky feels that special brand of pride-love-exasperation-affection that is reserved just for Steve.

“I’m gonna be gone for a couple days,” Steve says, tucking the communicator back in. “It’s covert ops radio-silence work, so I won’t be checking in. But when I come back, you two punks’d better gone back to being best buddies or I swear I will lock you both in the Hulk containment unit and leave you there till it’s all resolved. I will not have drama on my team.”

“Tony and I are perfectly professional on the field!” Bucky protests weakly, not even really trying because he knows a lost case when he sees one.

“And I don’t give a shit,” Steve says casually, moving to the grill when it gives a beep and setting out the cheese sandwiches on a plate. “I don’t want you two to be professional with each other. I want you back to making fart jokes on the couch while we watch movies.”

“You hate the fart jokes,” Bucky grumbles, perching on the stool and taking a bite of the sandwich. It’s perfectly-made and delicious, grilled to just how Bucky likes it. Bastard.

“Exactly,” is Steve’s enigmatic reply. He leans down to press a kiss to the side of Bucky’s head, stuffs the whole sandwich into his mouth in one go (it’s just plain indecent, is what it is) before letting himself out.

Leaving Bucky to stare at a half-eaten sandwich, with a churning in his gut that has nothing to do with food and everything to do with a certain genius billionaire superhero.

*

Bucky wonders if Steve realizes he’s essentially setting his boyfriend up with a man who’s pining after him. And then he wonders what Steve would do if he ever finds out…and promptly drowns that thought in a glass (or bottle) of wine.

Good thing the alcohol doesn’t really do anything for him or he’d show up for the first Steve-sanctioned play-date with Tony drunk as a skunk at eleven in the morning.

As it is, even the slight buzz he managed to work up by downing a whole bottle in twenty minutes has disappeared by the time he walks into the communal living room. Which means Tony’s skittery, insecure little face hits him with all the force of one of Natasha’s back kicks, with absolutely no buffer.

If Bucky wasn’t already feeling like an awful jerk, this would definitely get him there.

Tony looks like he’s about to bolt any second, dark bags under his eyes pointing to many sleepless nights and hair the kind of manic mess that only an engineering binge can account for. He’s squeaky clean, however, no sight of grease anywhere and dressed in a nice pair of casual jeans and his favorite Black Sabbath t-shirt.

He looks ready for a comfortable day out with a friend. Looks so darn cozy and vulnerable and attainable now without those flashy clothes and sunglasses he normally wears – as much armor as his Iron Man suits – and Bucky was a fool to think he could ever get over this man.

You don’t get over a man like Tony Stark, not once he finally gives you a glimpse of himself under the façade. It’s like getting blinded by lightning.

“You don’t have to do this, y’know,” Tony shuffles in place a little, breaking the awkward silence that fell while Bucky was busy having an epiphany and staring at him like a moron. Great, they’re already off to an excellent start.

“Huh?” Bucky manages, snapping out of it.

“I’ll just tell Steve I had an important meeting I couldn’t pass up,” Tony says, fidgets again. “Come to think of it, there actually is a Board meeting today, I think. I kind of attended the last two, sort of. Okay not really I slept through them, but I was physically present and that was the deal so Pepper’s letting me off the hook for the next three months but I could still go, like. I can definitely go, it’s my company, I can go whenever I want. Pepper will probably cry from happiness that I actually showed up to one of those things without her having to harangue me about it for weeks and even more ‘coz this is one I’m actually allowed to skip? So showing up would be all new and surprising and responsible, right? And those old stogies won’t see it coming either, keep them on their toes, double win? Like…”

“Tony,” Bucky interrupts the word vomit before it can go even more off the rails, a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth despite everything.

He can’t help it – a nervous and blundering Tony Stark is adorable.

“Yeah right, sorry,” Tony mutters, scuffing the floor with one toe and hunching in a little. “What I was trying to say was, you don’t have to go out with me just because Steve is forcing you to. You can go with someone else you actually want to spend time with, I’ll make the excuses to Steve so he doesn’t get mad at you.”

The smile slips right off Bucky’s face. Before he quite realizes it, he’s moving, coming to a stop right in front of Tony.

“I do want to be with you,” Bucky says in a controlled voice, trying not to let any other emotions bleed out. “I would like nothing more than to spend time with you.”

They’re so close now, right up in each other’s space, barely a foot separating their faces. Bucky drinks in the sight of him, those beautiful hazel eyes, the laugh lines and the slightest touch of grey hairs Tony vehemently denies the existence of, which Bucky finds insanely attractive.

He doesn’t think he quite succeeds in keeping all of his feelings in check because Tony frowns, head tilting in confusion, eyes flitting all over Bucky’s face like he’s trying to figure out what’s going on in those strangely charged words.

“Bucky –?”

“I’m sorry for being such a dick these past few months,” Bucky interrupts again before Tony can ask him about whatever it is he’s seeing on Bucky’s face at the moment. “You’re my friend and I was completely outta line.”

Tony blinks a couple of times, the closed-off insecurity replaced by a tiny, burgeoning hope. He opens and closes his mouth a few times before saying, “Whatever it was that I did –“

“No!” Bucky shakes his head. He will make this clear no matter what. “You did absolutely nothing wrong. It was all me. I had a… a hang-up, some things about myself, some feelings and thoughts that I’d repressed… it came out and I didn’t know how to handle it. So I took it out on you instead. It was all on me, there is nothing you did wrong, you hear me?”

“Winter Soldier things?” Tony asks, unconsciously moving even closer, one hand lifting to rest warm on Bucky’s shoulder. He looks entirely too understanding and sympathetic and Bucky hates to lie to him, but it’s not like he’s going to tell the truth. Dropping his eyes to the floor, he nods to the lie.

“I’m sorry, Tony,” Bucky repeats to their shoes because he can’t quite meet Tony’s eyes yet. “I hope you can forgive me.”

There’s a brief pause.

“Well, that’s gonna take some making up, soldier,” Tony says, stepping back, voice chirpy and cocky, all traces of the hated insecurity wiped out. He smirks at Bucky, confident and teasing and so very vibrant and Bucky wants to never let him go. He grins, playing along, falling into their familiar back-and-forth camaraderie.

“So what do I gotta go, for this ‘making up to you’ gig?” he turns to head towards the elevator, Tony falling in step on his left. “I ain’t helping you get back on Nat for her prank last week, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“I want to make you grovel, not die,” Tony snorts as they wait for JARVIS to call up the elevator. “You can start by heckling the Dodgers with me on today’s game.”

“It still feels wrong to do that,” Bucky mourns as they both get in; the elevator slides smoothly down towards the garage without any prompting. “I know we should root for the Mets now and all, but it’s the Dodgers y’know?”

“Oh yeah, I know,” Tony rolls his eyes. “Boy, do I ever know. Steve’s only soliloquized about it to me, like, eight hundred times.”

“You just don’t get it, man,” Bucky grumbles, following Tony out when they get to their floor.

“It’s a good thing Steve has you then,” Tony quips, looking around the garage before coming to a stop before one of his cheaper, less flashy cars. Which means a black BMW sedan, because Tony’s life is ridiculous like that.

“You have me too, y’know,” Bucky finds himself blurting out before he quite even registers thinking it, tongue seemingly on auto-pilot. Stupid, stupid.

But when Tony turns to look at him, his eyes are especially warm and bright. “Lucky me.”

*

Bucky just wanted a nice, quiet day out with Tony, enjoying his company and fixing their temporarily-derailed camaraderie.

And that right there is where he went wrong and aimed too high, because since when does anything involving Tony Stark turn out nice and quiet? He should totally have foreseen a tabloid front page level event occurring as a result of their ‘bonding’ session.

So here’s how it happens.

Whenever Steve gets tickets for a baseball game, it’s usually for seats located right in the middle of the most enthusiastic (and insane) areas of the stadium. Steve doesn’t like the VIP box seats that Tony gets in the mail for free – complains that it feels too isolated from the ‘spirit of the game’, whatever that means. Steve’s annoyingly bullheaded once he gets fixed on a certain ideal – not that that’s anything new. Bucky’s only been on the receiving end of it since they were both five years old.

So anyway, the Avengers at a baseball game generally means Steve cussing up a storm and being a loud-mouthed, unapologetic fan, with Tony sat next to him eating peanuts and hot dogs and live-tweeting some of Steve’s more colorful commentary with the hashtag #CapWisdom.

In-between, Tony would make a quip about how Steve really ought to mind his language. Steve would retort that he totally knows how to curse, he just refrains till the situation calls for it. Tony would reply that getting attacked by a mile-long electric eel zapping people in Times Square definitely called for it. At which point they would both start bickering, until Steve got distracted by some play in the game and started yelling at the players again. It’s a comfortable rhythm that every Avenger who’s been to a baseball game with Steve and Tony is used to.

And the media definitely caught on to it too, soon enough. Which means that now, in any game the Avengers are present for, the media knows just where to look.

At best, they get away with only some third-rate journalist shoving a camera in their face, asking dumb questions and trying to get a quote.

At worst, they get the Kiss Cam trained on them.

All of this totally slips Bucky’s mind right until his and Tony’s faces are caught on the ridiculous thing, displayed in High Definition on the stadium widescreens within a digital frame of obnoxious pink hearts.

They were having such a good time up to that point too.

Bucky isn’t as belligerent about baseball as Steve, and Tony honestly couldn’t care less and only tolerates the game because Steve loves it so much. So they both have plenty of laid-back fun together. The chaos around them is energizing, the game is passing background-entertainment and they spend a nice old time, munching on peanuts, catching up on Dummy’s latest disastrous attempts at feeding Tony and occasionally cat-calling a bad play.

Bucky has finally relaxed and is contentedly tracking the game when the Kiss Cam alights on them.

Most of what follows is a haze for Bucky, under a blanket emotion of overwhelmed wonder and panic.

When the crowd realizes exactly who are on the screen, the sound builds, more and more people catching on till the stadium reverberates. The mob starts up a roaring chant – ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Tony Stark’ and even Bucky’s name. His mind actually boggles here, because he didn’t even know people like him, let alone like him enough to chant his name with enthusiasm.

Since the press conference to announce his official instatement as an Avenger, everything he’s seen or read about himself was from news media journalists, most of whom seem to teeter between being cautiously supportive (BBC) or treating him like the proponent of Satan (Fox News).

It never even occurred to him that the general public might actually like him.

While Bucky is still trying to digest that, a new chant goes up. One that seems to mainly be thousands of people yelling ‘Kiss!’

He turns to see Tony laughing, making peace signs and playing the crowd like the born performer he is. Before he can even process (and isn’t this just ridiculous? He is a serum-enhanced ex-HYDRA assassin for Christ’s sake, does attraction to billionaire superheroes actually melt your brain?), Tony is there in front of him, right up in his personal space. Breath wafting warm on Bucky’s lips, eyes dancing with mischief and laughter.

He’s lit up incandescent by a thousand stadium lights.

Bucky takes in a stuttering, startled little breath, opens his mouth to say something…and promptly forgets everything. Because Tony Stark is kissing him.

It lasts maybe ten seconds. It lasts an eternity.

Tony’s lips are warm and soft, a gentle pressure against Bucky’s, his beard tickling the underside of Bucky’s chin and open eyes crinkled with humor.

Without any conscious command, Bucky lets out a small, pathetic little moan that thankfully gets lost in the thunderous cheering of the whole stadium, lips parting automatically in surrendered invitation, one arm coming up to wrap around Tony’s waist. Tony actually takes him up on it and licks into his mouth once, teasing and mischievous and fleeting and so so delicious.

Tony tastes like salty peanuts, coffee and sunshine. Bucky never wants to stop.

However, like all good things, it ends too soon.

Before Bucky can chase after him, Tony moves back, blinking quizzically. Bucky can only imagine what his face must look like right now. The tiniest of frowns crinkles Tony’s forehead, but before he can form any conclusions, he gets distracted by another giant roar and the Kiss Cam playing a slow-motion replay of the kiss.

“Well that’s gonna make front page news, for sure,” Tony remarks casually, hands in pockets as he rolls his eyes. He fishes out his phone, pulls up the text messenger. “Better warn Pepper, she hates finding stuff out from the tabloids.”

Bucky makes a sound like someone’s strangling him. Get a grip, Barnes.

Tony looks up. “You okay there, Frosty?”

Bucky nods rather frantically. Tony, obviously not buying it, just raises an eyebrow.

“Nothing,” Bucky tries to diffuse the situation. It doesn’t help that he can still taste Tony on his lips. “It’s just…I just didn’t expect you to…” Can a super villain please attack the stadium now?

“You surprised me is all,” he finally finishes rather lamely, avoiding Tony’s eyes. He can feel the heat rising in his cheeks, no doubt turning his face tomato-red. Embarrassing.

Tony’s brain obviously whirs to some conclusion or the other at that because by the time Bucky risks a glance, the concerned and confused gaze has vanished, replaced by a dangerously amused smirk.

“Was that your first kiss in the last seventy years?”

Bucky sputters, because whatever he was expecting, it wasn’t that.

“It totally was, wasn’t it,” Tony crows, before promptly bursting into gales of laughter.

“Shut up, you punk,” Bucky grumbles, blushing even deeper. “I’ll have you know I was a total charmer back in the days. Being a brain-washed HYDRA asset doesn’t exactly give time off to go mack on pretty things.”

Tony is positively cackling at this point.

“Shouldn’t you be worried Steve’s gonna be mad when he comes back?” Bucky says, scrambling to retrieve the leftover tatters of his dignity. “You know, your boyfriend of two years whose best friend you just made out with in a national stadium?”

Tony snorts. “They do the Kiss Cam every single time any of us shows up. Steve’s already kissed Thor, Sam and Natasha on this thing. I only got Bruce till now, discounting Steve. I’m falling behind, if anything!”

“Yeah, can’t have that,” Bucky deadpans and that sets Tony off again, giggling like a teenage girl.

Bucky decides to take matters into his own hands.

“C’mon, let’s get outta here,” he grabs Tony by the shoulders, gently but firmly ushering him out of there. By the time they get to their ride, Tony’s laughter has petered off to occasional chuckles. It’s so lovely.

Bucky has missed him.

“You wanna go grab an early dinner?” Tony asks as they pull out of the parking lot, eyes still sparkling with merriment. “Baseball games don’t feel complete without authentic American cheese burgers to wrap the night up.”

“I can eat,” Bucky shrugs. “I can always eat.”

“Oh yeah, super soldier,” Tony huffs with an eyeroll, smoothly maneuvering the car through the traffic. “If I weren’t a billionaire, I’d worry about being eaten out of a house, between you and Steve and our favorite part-time resident Norse God.”

“You’re just jealous you gotta exercise more to keep out the old age paunch,” Bucky throws right back and they devolve into mutual snarking, their banter fluid and light and so damn easy. Before Bucky quite notices, they’re done with dinner and strolling through Central Park, enjoying some late night ice cream cones and chatting about rock music, of all things.

Tony is gesturing expansively, off on some spiel about why AC/DC is the best band of all time, with occasional strange tangents into the logistics of funding an off-world concert to introduce Asgardians to the wonders of Midgardian rock music.

Bucky thinks if he can just keep this, maybe it could be enough.

*

A text from Steve awaits Bucky when he wakes up the next morning.

When I said to kiss and make up with Tony I didn’t mean it literally yknow.

The message contains two picture attachments. One is of a French tabloid, open at a still-frame from the Kiss Cam last night. The other is a selfie of Steve with it, looking straight at the camera and frowning with put-upon, highly exaggerated ire.

Any leftover apprehensions Bucky has over last night’s events disappear completely. He laughs out loud, swiping at the screen to reply.

Thought you said it was a radio silence mission. Bucky teases him, following it up with – Hey you threatened me with the Hulk containment floor Stevie. I was just makin sure I covered the bases thoroughly.

When he comes back freshly showered and dressed, he finds three missed texts from Steve.

Well don’t cover it too thoroughly or I’ll have to come back and kick your ass, jerk.

But seriously. I’m glad you guys seem to have gotten your heads out of your asses. About time.

Have fun at the gala tonight. Tony gets bored at those things, he’ll be glad to have you with him.

Bucky texts him back one-handed, pulling on jeans with the other.

I’ll make sure to keep him entertained by glaring threateningly at vapid socialites till they cry.

He’s nearly at the kitchen before Steve’s reply chimes in.

Don’t do anything Captain America wouldn’t do.

Bucky snorts at that as he enters the kitchen area. He spots Tony slumped in his usual position at the table and walks over to him, slipping his phone into his pocket.

“Wakey wakey,” he calls obnoxiously loud right next to Tony’s ear, and Tony lets out a stream of profanity, the words coming out muffled seeing as he’s planted face-first on the table.

Bucky takes pity on him and flicks on the coffee machine, getting out a pan to hustle up some omelets and bacon for their breakfast.

He’s just about finished when Clint and Bruce walk in, Clint still wearing his footie pajamas and Bruce already showered and dressed, nose buried in his StarkPad. He mumbles a vague good morning towards Bucky, pouring himself some cereal before settling down opposite Tony.

Bucky waves the coffee under Tony’s nose, who grabs onto the drink like a dying man, gulping it down in scalding mouthfuls with incoherent little moans. With a pointed look, Bucky pushes the plate of food towards him. After an affected little eyeroll, Tony pulls it forward and starts shoveling food into his mouth between deep sips of coffee.

“How come Stark gets two super soldiers waiting on him while the rest of us get none?” Clint grumbles, going over to the stove to start another pot of coffee.

“Coz Stark is a certified genius and richer than your entire family tree put together,” Tony already sounds more alert and human after one cup of caffeine in him. “And also incredibly good-looking and charming.”

“Really modest too,” Bucky pokes him with an elbow, settling on Steve’s usual seat and digging into his own meal with gusto.

The next few minutes pass in companionable silence while they all dig into their breakfast. Tony’s plate is clean and he’s nursing his second cup of coffee, looking sleep-rumpled and content. It’s a gorgeous look on him, Bucky idly notes, feeling that now-familiar combination of love-want-longing curl in his gut.

“JARVIS, updates,” Tony asks, leaning back comfortably in his seat and sighing.

“You have four messages from Captain Rogers, Sir,” JARVIS promptly replies. “I’d recommend not opening them up at the breakfast table as two of them involve select parts of the Captain’s body that are for private viewing only.”

Clint, who’d just taken a large bite of his eggs, coughs and splutters.

“No, did you have to say that in front of us?” Clint groans. “I do not want those mental images before 10 a.m.!”

“I apologize, Agent Barton,” JARVIS doesn’t sound sorry at all. If anything, he sounds deeply amused.

“Anything else, J?”

“Ms. Potts will be dropping by later to discuss this evening’s gala and delivering the outfits for you and Sergeant Barnes.”

“Okay sure. How’s the gossip looking?”

“The usual, Sir,” JARVIS throws up holographic screens of various newspaper scans and websites, all showing images from the Kiss Cam last night. “Most are in good humor, a few idle speculations of infidelity. There is a small drop in stock prices, but it does not particularly correlate to this, in my opinion.”

That alarms Bucky. “If your stock’s gonna get hit just for that, maybe we shouldn’t go to the gala together tonight.”

“Don’t be silly, Buckaroo. This is not even in the top thousand of the worst things I’ve done to the company stocks. It’s so inconsequential Pepper hasn’t even left me a message about it. Anyway, Steve started it!”

“Yeah, remember how people lost their shit at that?” Clint chortles. JARVIS helpfully throws up another holographic screen for Bucky’s understanding, showing Thor and Steve making out with rather indecent enthusiasm on the Kiss Cam and the media shit-storm that followed it. It was before Bucky came back, from when he was still the Winter Soldier, playing hide-and-seek with Sam and Steve.

“Captain America came out as dating Tony Stark and then kissed an alien Norse demigod before thousands of people, all in the span of two weeks,” Tony says with relish. “The conservative dingbats nearly had a mass apoplectic fit.”

“Yet when we kissed, Steve went all ridiculous and jealous till I reassured him I have absolutely no interest in you whatsoever,” Bruce says drily, never looking up from whatever he’s reading.

“I’m hurt, Brucie. You hurt me. We’re science soulmates! You must want this, at least a little bit.”

“No, I really don’t,” Bruce smirks, before turning to Bucky. “Get ready to smooth down some ruffled Cap feathers when he sees it.”

“Sir,” JARVIS interrupts the conversation. “The Manager of R&D from the Malibu division is rather persistently requesting a video conference with you. He says it’s an emergency regarding the new StarkPad model that is to be launched next week.”

“Can’t manage things for one day, I should just fire the ridiculously overpriced clown,” Tony grumbles under his breath, standing up and stretching. “Ugh, tell him I’ll be down in ten.” He turns to the rest of them. “I’m off to the workshop. Don’t call me unless something’s eating Manhattan.”

With a jaunty salute he’s gone, already firing off questions to JARVIS as he goes.

“Steve didn’t seem to care,” Bucky replies to the earlier part of the conversation, mopping up the last of his eggs with some bread.

Both Clint and Bruce look up at that, questioning.

“What you said, about Steve being unhappy with the Kiss Cam thing,” Bucky explains. “He texted me this morning. He was joking about it, didn’t seem to really care.”

“Really?” Clint sounds skeptical. “Because Steve actually punched a guy at a fundraiser for flirting with Tony once.”

“And remember that movie premiere?” Bruce chimes in. “With the actress and her boyfriend?”

“Oh man,” Clint bursts into laughter. “That was gold.”

“Not to mention Pepper and Rhodey,” Bruce says wryly.

“You mean when Rhodey visited after Pepper and Tony broke up and Steve hadn’t yet asked him out?” Clint chortles, seeming rather inappropriately delighted about what was no doubt a lot of Steve-anguish. “And Steve caught Rhodey and Tony cuddling on the couch and got entirely the wrong idea about everything?”

“Nightmare,” Bruce agrees. “We must’ve gone through at least fifteen punching bags that week.”

“Till Rhodey finally cornered him in the gym and told him to stop being a wimp and ask Tony out already,” Clint’s eyeroll actually looks a little painful from how exaggerated it is.

“Point is,” Bruce turns to Bucky. “Steve’s occasionally a pig-headed, possessive shit when it comes to Tony. You only need to watch the YouTube videos to see how much. Just watch out, is all I’m saying.”

The rest of breakfast passes in ruminative silence for Bucky.

Tony’s definitely gonna be gone for the next few hours. Bucky figures he’ll use that time looking up videos to figure out what all of the things he heard just now even mean.

*

Bruce is, as always, right.

Just four minutes on the internet and some helpful pointers from JARVIS, and Bucky’s nosiness yields him literal websites dedicated to Steve Rogers being a possessive and besotted knucklehead when it comes to Tony Stark.

From interviews where Steve pointedly corrects the host till they apologize for any unflattering comments about Tony, to social events where Steve’s done everything from quietly escorting Tony away from inappropriately handsy people to actually even punching a few in some particularly entertaining videos, to the incident Clint was talking about which ended in an actress and her boyfriend taking out a restraining order against Captain America out of fear for their physical well-being – let’s just say it’s pretty damn undeniable.

Bucky’s always known Steve is prone to displays of possessiveness and jealousy when it comes to the people he’s enamored with. You just have to look at Peggy and the whole fondue incident.

(Bucky chuckles, making a mental note to tell Tony that story someday.)

But the thing is, all of it only reinforces how bizarre it is that Steve doesn’t seem to care about the Kiss Cam yesterday or Tony and Bucky’s rather unconventionally close relationship in general. He truly doesn’t mind Bucky and Tony spending time together without him, finds no reason to be irrational about it. Bucky always just assumed it’s because Steve knows he and Tony are just friends (even if Bucky wishes…but that’s not the point here).

The point is, if he even gave Bruce the cold shoulder out of misdirected possessiveness and got jealous of Rhodey

Maybe it just means that Steve trusts Bucky so implicitly, trusts that Bucky would never come in the way of the best thing he has going in his life.

And isn’t that a thought to make him feel like the lowest life-form on the planet.

*

Pepper Potts is a terrifying woman. And Bucky says this as a man who was once HYDRA’s best assassin, and who is now good friends with the Black Widow.

He’s never actually spent any amount of time with Pepper till now. For the past year, she’s been one of those people he just glimpsed in the periphery of his life at the Avengers Tower, coming in and going out, always looking incredibly put-together and efficient. And from those passing encounters, Bucky always thought he could see how Tony fell in love with her. Just as he could totally see why it ended up being such a colossal trainwreck.

That afternoon, about four hours before he’s due at the gala, Bucky opens his door to find Pepper on the other end, standing on alarmingly high heels and fingers busy on a StarkPad. Three other women stand behind her, all holding an assortment of what appears to be three-fourth of the contents of a fashion magazine.

“Sergeant Barnes,” Pepper looks up with a precisely pleasant smile, passing by him into his rooms, uninvited. The three women follow and begin unloading their wares in the middle of his suite’s living room without a word.

“What’s going on?” Bucky asks slowly, watching the women work with wary eyes. Pepper settles in one of the couches, somehow managing to be perfectly poised even on the squishy, bouncy thing.

“I’m assuming this is your first time going to any gala or event of this scale?” she says, ponytail waving hypnotically as she moves her head.

“Um, yes?” Bucky replies, still staring at where his living room is turning into a mini-salon. What is that complicated metal thing even? It looks like a torture instrument.

“As an Avenger, going to charity galas like this will become something of a norm for you from now,” Pepper says, snapping his attention back to her. “And socializing on this scale can be overwhelming and potentially disastrous if you don’t have some idea how to handle it. Which is why I’m here to prep you.”

Bucky blinks. “Okay?” he agrees, warily.

“Alright, then,” Pepper stands with a crisp snap of her heels on the floor, and that’s how it begins.

A half hour later and Bucky feels like an utter idiot. After 98 years of life (at least 35 of which he was physically alive for), you’d think he’d learned how to walk and talk and smile.

Apparently not.

“No, no,” Pepper says, placing another book on his head. Bucky has the reflexes of a tiger, is faster and stronger than any normal human, and can take a kill shot from over 3 kilometers away without really even trying. He should be able to keep a fucking book on his head while walking and smiling amicably.

“This is stupid,” he snarls, when yet another volume of the Encyclopedia Brittanica falls with a thwump on the floor.

Pepper doesn’t even look flustered in the face of a snarling Winter Soldier looming over her. She just sighs and moves back, opening something on her StarkPad.

“You just walk too threateningly,” Pepper says, flicking through what appears to be old wartime videos. “It’s so skulking and hyper-vigilant, like you’re expecting a supervillain attack at any second. And you glower when posing for photographs, the effect is quite alarming. I was hoping to get at least a little bit of this back.” She flips the StarkPad so the screen faces Bucky, where an old war propaganda reel is playing.

Bucky watches himself, walking with a casually charming swagger, laughing with Steve, so unconsciously tactile and cocky and without a care in the world.

He’s never seen someone who seemed more of a stranger.

“Well, that’s not me anymore,” he grunts, letting his hair fall around his face again, obscuring it. He’s let it grow out a bit more just for this purpose, shoddy replacement for a face mask that it is. Sometimes, Bucky misses the impermeable safety of being in the Winter Soldier armor.

And at least with HYDRA, he never had to worry about people feeling sorry for him.

When he glances up, Pepper’s face has softened into something close to understanding and compassion. It’s awful.

“Yes, you’re right,” she says simply after a few more minutes of silence, shutting off the video and coming back to stand face to face before him. “Let’s just leave that off, then. Follow Tony’s lead on the red carpet and take your cues from him, you should be fine. Just try not to utterly terrify everyone.” Her mouth quirks up a little at the corners. “Except maybe the reporters from Fox News.”

Bucky lets out a snort of laughter despite himself.

“Now c’mon,” Pepper points at the mini-salon that the other women have set up and ready to go. “Time to pick out a good haircut and get pampered for the evening.”

“Feels more like getting picked on,” Bucky mutters under his breath and Pepper’s laugh is like tinkling wind chimes as she ushers him towards the waiting stylists.

It actually takes three whole hours before they finally let Bucky go.

Pepper commands the stylists with better efficiency than most drill sergeants Bucky has encountered. Under her expert orders, Bucky’s hair gets trimmed so that its length actually looks like a conscious fashion choice, rather than just complete indifference to his own appearance. His chipped nails get evened out, his two-day old beard is turned into an attractive five-o-clock shadow and they do something to his eyebrows he doesn’t even wanna know.

It seems to make Pepper happy though so Bucky endures it.

When they finally let him go, he’s dressed in a sleek black suit that fits him like a glove, (“JARVIS gave me your measurements,” Pepper tells him) with white satin gloves to cover his metal arm. His hair is done up in some sort of messy bun that has Pepper lifting her eyebrows in approval and he’s wearing a bowtie. He feels like a performing monkey.

“Oh, you clean up so well,” Pepper says with a satisfied smile, tweaking his bowtie a little and running light fingers over his hair once, before lifting her phone to take a quick picture. It’s strangely reminiscent of dressing in his best clothes for Sunday church and being fussed over by his mom. He swallows down the sudden lump in his throat at the memory.

“Don’t mess up the lines of your suit,” Pepper tells him while the stylists pack up and leave around them. “I’ll go check on Tony and send him down to the communal floor. Happy will be here with the limo in ten minutes.”

She’s nearly out of the door when she stops, hand poised on the knob to close it behind her. She seems to be deliberating something.

Bucky waits.

With a deep breath, Pepper comes back inside and shuts the door with a determined snap.

“I recognized that look, you know.”

Bucky tilts his head in question.

“From the pictures in the tabloids,” she clarifies. “Right after the Kiss Cam. I recognized that look, because I’ve felt it too.”

Bucky feels his stomach clench. Whatever he was expecting, it sure as hell wasn’t that.

“I…,” he starts, no idea what to say.

“I know it’ll sound egotistical, or whatever,” she speaks over him, soldiering on. “But for a while after Tony and I broke up, I thought I’d ruined love for him forever. I nearly caved and went back to him again so many times, even when I knew we didn’t work out, because I hated seeing him so unhappy and lonely.”

“But then Steve asked him out, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive at the time,” Pepper laughs slightly, a sad little sound. “But the past two years…I’ve known Tony for over fifteen years now and I’ve never seen him this happy before. He’s truly settled with Steve in a way I’ve rarely ever seen him and certainly never with me. They have plenty of bumps, they’re certainly not perfect, but they’re good together, you know? And I won’t pretend to know or care about Steve more than you do, but Tony makes him really happy too, I think.”

Bucky just stares at her, stricken. “I would never…” he doesn’t quite know how to finish that sentence.

“I know that too.” Pepper’s smile is even more sad and compassionate. Bucky just wants to escape, get away from this perfect-looking woman with her lethal heels and professional clothes, who sees and cares too much. “I know you would never consciously do anything to hurt either of them. I guess I just – wanted to let you know that I know. If you need a listening ear or just needed to get away for a while. You can call me.”

“Why are you doing this for me?”

“Because your happiness is important to Tony, and that makes it important to me,” she says as if it’s just that simple, what earns her caring and loyalty. She opens the door once again and slips half out of it. “And like I said. I know that feeling. I don’t like leaving things hanging when I can help make it better.”

The door snaps shut behind her and Bucky kind of understands why she is one of the few people in the world that Tony truly trusts.

*

Tony is absolutely gorgeous.

Bucky knows that of course, objectively and innately. He’s crazy attracted to the man; he definitely knows just how good-looking he is.

It’s just that Bucky loves the other things about him so much – that crinkle in his eyes when he laughs, that smart mouth firing off complex scientific concepts, the messy hair haphazardly flattened with grease, the grunting caveman-zombie scrambling for coffee in the mornings – that sometimes, sometimes he forgets how much the pure physical is worth lusting after too.

Which is why moments when it hits him in full force always leave him stumbling.

When Bucky enters the communal floor and sees Tony, his brain actually stops for a minute before whirring into overdrive – because damn.

The midnight blue tuxedo fits him like a glove, blue velvet bowtie the color of Captain America’s uniform at his throat. His hair is stylishly combed back, beard trimmed to perfection and eyes sparkling honey-brown in the lounge lights. He looks like he walked straight out of a magazine cover, like a matinee idol.

Bucky is so screwed.

He stumbles and comes to a stop near the entrance to the room, staring. Tony hears the sound and looks up, his eyes widening when they land on Bucky.

“Holy shit,” he says, gaze flickering along Bucky’s body. A delighted grin spreads on his face, accompanied, strangely, by the faintest of blushes across his cheekbones. “Look at you, mister. Not that you don’t look ruggedly handsome all the time, in a totally unemployed-rock-band-drummer kinda way, which you totally pull off, don’t worry, but this is something else.”

He comes to stand next to Bucky, winding an arm around his waist and pressing up along his left side without so much as a by-your-leave. Bucky startles slightly (he’ll never get used to how casually people in this era invade others’ personal space, especially Tony who seems to have no notion of the concept) but the other man is already speaking, completely oblivious.

“JARVIS,” he calls. “Send a picture to Steve. Caption it with ‘I found another hot super soldier to take me to prom, I don’t need you anymore.’”

“Done, Sir,” JARVIS replies drolly and Tony stands plastered to Bucky’s side a moment longer before moving away.

Bucky instantly misses his warmth and scent and the feel of him, and then feels guilty about it.

(He’s getting real tired of all this having emotions business, to be honest. Life was so much simpler as a brainwashed assassin.)

“C’mon, Soldier,” Tony calls playfully, strutting towards the elevator. Bucky does not look at his ass. He doesn’t. “Let’s go look stunning and talk to boring people.”

There’s a limo waiting for them when they reach the garage.

“Hiya, Boss, Mr. Barnes,” Happy Hogan calls from the driver’s seat.

“Thought you said you don’t work for me anymore, get out of my car,” Tony grumbles as he slides into the back seat. The grin threatening to spill at the corners of his mouth contradicts his words.

“Got some pressing paperwork that needs to be filed, you’re my excuse to Pepper for not handing it in today,” Happy grins, smoothly shifting the car into gear. “Besides, I’ve missed driving one of these beauties.”

“I’m selling you out in a second if she yells at me,” Tony promises solemnly and the man at the front laughs.

“Lookin’ real sharp there, Sergeant,” Happy calls and Bucky unconsciously lifts a hand to fiddle with his bowtie.

“Pepper got to me,” Bucky says and both Tony and Happy nod in sage understanding.

A buzzing noise comes from Tony’s jacket. He fishes out his phone and then huffs a silent laugh at whatever message he got. Going by that particular dopey-fond smile, Bucky knows it is Steve.

He looks out the window again, battling down the now familiar tangle of jealously and yearning and fondness churning in his gut.

“Steve out on a mission?” Happy asks and Tony looks up from tapping out a reply.

“Says he’ll be back sometime tomorrow.” The undercurrent of longing in Tony’s voice is unmistakable. “So I’m putting this one to good use, make him work for the roof over his head.” He nudges at Bucky side with an elbow and Bucky swats him away, the temporary pall cast by his own pity-party receding.

The rest of the drive passes in comfortable silence, the only sounds the vibrations and beeps from Tony’s phone.

“We’re here,” Happy says, pulling up right in front of a red carpet leading in to the gala. There are at least a hundred people milling about on the sides, most of them clearly from the press going by the giant video cameras and microphones they’re toting.

Bucky takes a deep, nervous breath. Facing down HYDRA felt a lot less daunting than this.

A warm hand slips into Bucky’s own, fingers callused and firm where they rub over knuckles in soothing circles. Bucky turns his head to see Tony’s faces inches from his, expression earnest and reassuring.

“No need to be nervous,” Tony says, eyes glittering like stars in the dim limo lights. “I’ll be right there with you, helping you every step of the way. Just follow my lead, smile and trust me.”

Bucky does. With his life and his heart and everything he is, if Tony ever said the word that he’d have him.

With another deep breath and a nod, Bucky lets Tony throw the car door open and climbs out after him, to face a supernova of bright lights as hundreds of cameras go off around them.

*

The red carpet goes by in a haze.

Bucky just stands back and lets Tony work his magic, watching in something close to besotted awe as Tony fields the media like a trained mahout. He’s charming and aggressive by turns, always ready with a quip or a pithy reply. Bucky’s seen Tony do this on TV and YouTube videos before of course, but seeing it up close is something else.

Every single one of them asks about the Kiss Cam incident, with barely veiled allusions to infidelity and all poised to spread any hint of scandal far and wide.

So of course, Tony mocks them all endlessly.

“I’m trading in Captain America for the kinkier model,” he tells one.

“I have a cyborg fetish that absolutely couldn’t be controlled and caused a rift in my relationship with Steve,” he tells another.

“Bucky and I have actually been married since I was a teenager and Steve was just my beard for the public image,” Tony tells yet another, winking roguishly at the camera as he slides an arm around Bucky’s waist.

Bucky just stands behind him like a handsome and vaguely menacing presence the entire time, smiling and shrugging whenever the attentions falls on him but otherwise just letting Tony handle it.

“Yes, because if I was cheating on Captain America with his best friend, of course I’d choose to announce it to the world by making out on a Kiss Cam in front of thousands of people. That’s totally how I’d go about it,” the biting and scathing reply to this microphone-wielding clown is different in tone from the rest. Bucky briefly tunes back in and – ah, Fox news. That explains it. He decides to contribute to the general air of mocking dislike Tony is giving out by glowering threateningly from the background, whirring up the cybernetic arm and flexing it on purpose. The clowns wrap up their interview in a hurry and flee.

It goes on in a similar fashion down the line. Bucky barely has to say anything at all beyond one-word responses to the random generic questions aimed his way and he’s immensely thankful for it.

But still, by the time they get to the front doors, Bucky is utterly exhausted, super soldier stamina notwithstanding.

“How do you do this all the time?” he asks Tony in bewildered wonder, allowing him to lead Bucky towards the open bar.

“With alcohol, gorgeous,” Tony replies, motioning at the bartender for two scotches on the rocks. “With lots and lots of alcohol.”

*

Bucky is left alone for about three rounds of drinks before people start coming up to him.

Tony leaves him after the first glass to socialize and mingle, plugging away some charity or another to the simpering elite assembled around him.

Bucky stands at the same place near the bar where Tony left him and takes slow sips of his scotch, watching Tony.

Bucky can’t take his eyes off him. It’s good that he actually has an excuse in the form of paranoid ex-assassin impulses, because honestly, a rhino could stampede through the ballroom and he probably wouldn’t notice.

Tony was born to do this. He effortlessly charms different factions of the crowd, jovial and flirtatious and brilliant and alluring by turns. Like moths to bright light, the socialites throng around him, and Tony sorts through them with focused grace and efficiency, forming business breakthroughs and plugging various charities and causes amidst shallow conversation.

But Bucky can see how much it tires him, even from here. No one else here will be able to tell, because no one else here has seen Tony truly relaxed and comfortable, head resting on Steve’s stomach, mouthing along to Star Wars while shoveling popcorn in his mouth.

There’s that slightest droop at the shoulders that grows more pronounced to Bucky as the night wears on, an artificiality to the smiles and laughs that started out a little more genuine earlier in the evening. Some of the socialites get handsy with him. Bucky thinks to intervene more than once, but Tony seems to have it under control so he leaves him to it.

And anyway, Bucky has his own troubles to be dealing with.

Despite the anti-social glowering he’s made sure to keep up all evening, Bucky isn’t left alone either, much to his chagrin.

Bucky’s knocking back his third glass and vaguely noting that ballroom lighting make Tony’s hair shine with pretty blue highlights, when he hears a tiny little cough from somewhere near his mid-riff.

He looks down to find a little old lady with entirely white hair and intelligent eyes that haven’t dulled with age, staring up at him with a pleasant smile. Bucky places the nearly empty scotch glass back on the bar, eyes wary.

“Sorry to bother you, Sergeant Barnes,” the little woman says, utterly unalarmed by the mistrustful super soldier towering over her. “But I was hoping we could talk for a few moments. My name is Laura Correns.” She holds out a dainty, lace-gloved hand. Bucky, the latent manners his mother’s and Steve’s drilled into his head coming back to life, fumbles a bit, then takes her right hand in his own before bending down to place a polite kiss on her knuckles.

The old lady looks deeply amused by his fumbling, if anything. Her eyes twinkle slightly as she draws her hand back and Bucky coughs, wishing he could take back the glass to hide behind without seeming impolite.

“I just wanted to thank you, Sergeant,” she says, and his attention focuses back on her, nonplussed. “You saved my father’s life.”

Bucky’s eyes widen. “Your father’s…?”

“He was a mathematician, fresh out of college, and working on cracking the German code during the war,” she continues. “His base in Austria was attacked by Nazis, but the Howling Commandos came to their aid. You would not remember him, but I grew up listening to tales of how brave and kind you were, and how you saved his life. And I wanted to take the opportunity to personally thank you today. It’s what my father would’ve done if he’d been here.”

Bucky feels the back of his neck heating up.

“Thank you for your kind words, ma’am,” he hastens to correct her. “But the man you wanna be thanking is Steve Rogers. Captain America saved his life. I was just followin’ orders.”

“Maybe saving their lives was following orders, but stopping to help a fresh-faced kid out of a panicked asthma attack wasn’t,” Ms. Correns’ smile is kindly and almost pitying this time and Bucky feels entirely out of his depth. What can you even say to a woman who is nearly thrice your age, but whose father you apparently saved when he was young?

“You are a good man, Sergeant Barnes,” she says, patting him on the elbow, which is kind of the highest part of him she can reach. “The world is lucky to have you back again.”

She gives him one last smile and leaves with a quiet goodbye. Bucky stares after her, feeling strangely weightless, liquid warmth suffusing through his veins.

But then it all goes spectacularly awful.

It’s like, now that one person has successfully approached him, held a conversation and escaped unscathed, everyone else thought they stood a chance too.

The sweet old lady has barely disappeared from Bucky’s field of sight before he hears a simpering little hello behind him. And that is the beginning of the end.

It’s nearly two hours and over thirty people later now, and Bucky has an honest-to-god crowd of scantily clad women mobbing him, all standing much too close for comfort, vying for his attention and not so subtly hinting at other things they could be doing right now.

He feels boxed in, suffocated. The air around him is saturated with a dozen different cloying artificial scents and the room is starting to take on a gray tint, a strange kind of dullness falling over his senses even as his instincts grow sharper, darker…

“Back up, ladies, you know I don’t like it when people touch my stuff without permission,” Tony’s voice,  light and sarcastic, breaks through like a bell note and Bucky snaps back out of the haze like a tautly pulled string. “And I own at least 5.7% of him. That arm is patented Stark Tech, y’know.”

Tony is walking towards him, his winsome public-appearance smile firmly on his face, but with a slightly condescending tilt to it. He passes through the crowd of disgruntled-looking women and takes Bucky’s arm in his own, starting to tug him along. Pliant and still a little dazed, Bucky lets himself be led.

“I’m gonna borrow my illicit lover for a dance, hope y’all don’t mind,” Tony calls back, not even remotely bothering to keep his voice down. Many guests in the vicinity turn to stare at them both, brightly curious, and it helps shake off the last of the shadows that’d fallen over Bucky’s mind.

“Tony,” he hisses in an undertone as they walk towards the dance floor. “Can you please not actively start rumors of an affair between us?”

“These gossip-hungry assholes are gonna be starting those rumors whether I say it or not,” Tony hisses right back, while still looking amiable and with a grin on his face. It’s one of his more bewildering talents. “If people are gonna talk shit about me, I like it to be on my terms.”

“I think I’m spending too much time with you, because that actually made sense,” Bucky grouses, but he can feel a smile reluctantly tug at the corners of his mouth despite himself.

“Shut up and dance with me, Barnes,” Tony says, smoothly leading them out into the dance floor and maneuvering them so that Bucky’s leading. “I even bribed the DJ to play our song.”

“We have a song?” Bucky asks with a raised eyebrow, because he sure as hell wasn’t aware they did. At least, not anything that could be slow-danced to. The only music they’ve shared is AC/DC blaring from the speakers while Tony fiddled on Bucky’s arm.

“Yeah I kinda picked a Sinatra at random and decided it was our song three seconds after the DJ asked for one,” Tony admits with an impish grin and god, he’s utterly ridiculous. Bucky loves him.

Right on cue, the jazzy opening strains of a 1950s number starts up and Bucky huffs a laugh as he starts leading Tony across the floor, metal arm gently holding him close.

Bucky knows this song. He first heard it with Steve a while back, during one of their ‘catching up on seventy years of popular culture’ sessions. Sinatra was a favorite of theirs before the war and they got through some of his music first.

“So, is this a promise?” he asks, muscle memory from years of dancing with dames helping him lead gracefully, as ‘Come fly with me’ plays around them.

“Hmmm?” Tony looks like he’s enjoying himself, truly relaxed for the first time tonight, eyes warm and luminous under the ballroom lights.

We’ll just glide, starry-eyed,” Bucky sings along softly with a grin. “You’ve never taken me flying before. Are you promising to, Stark? Coz I’ll hold you to it.”

Tony blinks up at him, cheeks faintly flushing. “You’d like me to? Take you flying?” he sounds strangely breathless.

“Hell yeah I would,” Bucky says, adding a jaunty little spin into the dance, reeling Tony back in a little more forcefully than he normally would. Tony comes crashing into him with a huff, and glares up when Bucky laughs and takes full advantage of the moment to hold him even closer. “You only ever fly Steve and never offered to the rest of us, so I didn’t ask. And no, shunting people around on the field when we’re under attack doesn’t count!”

They dance in silence for a minute when Tony says, entirely too casual and nonchalant to be genuine, “Just didn’t think anyone else would want to. Pepper never liked it, said she felt like I was gonna drop her at any moment. Only Steve’s ever seemed to enjoy it.”

The last few notes of the song plays out and Bucky slows them to a stop, but doesn’t let go. They’re just standing in place now, close to each other, Bucky’s hands still wrapped around Tony’s waist.

“I’d never hate it,” Bucky says in a low rasp. “Having you take me flying would be one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done.”

The next song has started playing and it’s one of those new-age disco monstrosities but they’re still just standing there, looking into each others’ eyes and Bucky knows he should let go of Tony, move away, because if tongues haven’t already been wagging, this is sure to get them started.

But Tony is close and warm and smells wonderful and his eyes are luminous-big, his breath warm on Bucky’s face and his lips are so pink and so very close and Bucky is only human, it’d be so easy, he would just have to –

“Do you need some air?” Tony sounds kind of strangled and Bucky jerks back, letting go of Tony like he’s been burned. He hadn’t even realized how close he’d been leaning in. Tony’s whole face is flushed and he’s tugging on the bowtie at his throat like he’s hot under the collar. “I could use some air. Is it just me, or is this place stiflingly warm, it’s totally not just me right, someone should tell the event manager to crank up the air conditioner, this is ridiculous…”

“Yeah I could go out for a breather,” Bucky interrupts before Tony can babble on even more and they head towards the balcony farthest from the hall. Bucky’s heart is jumping strangely in his chest, and he knows he isn’t imaging the thrum of something zinging between him and Tony like a live electric wire.

The air outside is pleasantly cool against Bucky’s heated skin. Tony stands beside him, looking rather restless and tense. The sounds from inside the ballroom are muted here, the noises of the city dim and far away.

“So dancing,” Tony says, fingers drumming a staccato rhythm on the balustrade. “You’re really good at it. Dancing, I mean. You’re good at dancing.”

“Yeah?” Bucky tries to relax, but that thrumming feels stronger here, somehow. As though the relative isolation of the secluded balcony has made its presence more pronounced.

“Lots of practice with the ladies back then, huh?” Tony’s innuendo-filled teasing is stilted and a little forced, as though he’s desperately trying to find their normal too. “You sure know how to move.”

“Not just with the ladies.”

It just comes out before he’s really even thought it through.

He only realizes what he said when Tony makes a choking sound next to him, looking like someone walloped him in the head with a brick.

“Wh- what?”

For a split second, he considers passing it off as a joke. But Bucky’s never been the type to hide things if they don’t need to be hidden. And something in him, some deep-hidden, selfish part, is urging him to tell Tony. To let him see all of Bucky and know.

“Thought Steve was the only bi-kid in my era or somethin’, Stark?”

“No. No I just.” Tony looks absolutely dumbstruck. Bucky doesn’t get it. It’s not like he ever actively hid it in this time period. Sure, he’s been too pre-occupied with other things to act on it so far, but Steve knows. And from the number of gay jokes Tony throws his way on a daily basis, Bucky had always figured Steve must’ve told him at some point. Apparently not.

“Did…did you and Steve ever –?” Tony’s eyes are shuttered; Bucky can’t quite get a read on him just then. His eyes are darkened, pupils slightly dilated from some intense emotion. Is it possessive jealousy over Steve? The thought makes Bucky feel inexplicably abandoned. Lost.

And that makes him want to be reckless.

“Nope,” he says curtly, shooting a blasé smirk in Tony’s direction. “Short, mouthy brunettes with a rebellious streak are more my type, personally. Steve and I’ve always had that in common.”

Tony’s eyes go even wider. He stares up at Bucky, mouth parted and so damn inviting and Bucky would swear Tony’s gaze just flickered to his lips.

And in that moment, just for a split second, Bucky seriously considers just giving in. Stop being good, stop being loyal, stop caring. Just give up and give in and take what he wants so desperately, and let the chips fall where they may. For that mad instant, he even thinks Tony would welcome it.

A loud chime vibrates from Tony’s pocket and they both jump like they were doused in a bucket of ice-cold water.

Tony fumbles to get his phone out, refusing to meet Bucky’s eyes.

“You want a drink?” Bucky asks out of a reflexive need to get the hell out of there, so he can go screw his head on straight and think about what he almost did just then.

Tony nods, still not looking anywhere near Bucky and Bucky all but runs away.

“A vodka and a scotch, on the rocks,” Bucky tips the bartender and looks out over at the dance floor with unseeing eyes while he waits.

Was it just a half hour ago he and Tony were dancing there, so comfortable in each others’ arms and happy? The memory settles like a lodestone in his gut.

“Actually, make that two vodkas.”

He throws back one shot in a quick gulp, relishing the burn of it going down his throat, before taking the other two glasses and heading back to Tony.

Tony is staring at something on his holographic phone screen, looking like a kicked puppy. Bucky comes to a pause at the balcony entrance, another dozen pounds adding to the heavy weight already churning in his stomach.

It’s a picture of Steve, Bucky can see even from here, thanks to his serum-enhanced sight. The picture shows Steve in his Captain America uniform, holding up what looks like a plate of Langue de Boeuf and making a face, the backdrop making it clear he’s at some sort of diplomatic meeting right now.

How could Bucky even have even thought hurting him like that? If Steve ever found out…

Tony’s face goes blank when he sees Bucky. He slips the phone into his pocket and grins at him, but the haunted look in his eyes doesn’t go away.

Bucky hands him his drink and they stand side by side, wordlessly looking out over the surrounding gardens.

When Tony’s eyes finally meet his, they are solemn and regretful and so very expressive. The message they convey is crystal clear. He doesn’t say anything at all, but Bucky understands that this fledgling thing between them is never to be brought up again, dead before it ever really even existed.

And that’s as it should be. He’s known that all along.

It still fucking hurts.

He nods to himself once and straightens, pushing back an errant strand of hair that’s worked loose from the knot.

“Can we leave now?” he asks Tony, proud of how steady and brisk his voice comes out.  “I’m kind of tired.”

“Yeah,” Tony says, eyes still too full of things Bucky doesn’t want to acknowledge. “Yeah we can leave. Just head down to the car. I’ll make a round of goodbyes and join you in a few minutes.”

Bucky just nods in response and heads towards the exit. He can feel Tony’s gaze boring into him the whole time.

He doesn’t look back.

 *

They are right back to square one.

All of Steve’s scheming is basically for naught because Bucky is back to avoiding Tony like his life depends on it.

Last night, after the awkwardly silent car ride, followed by an equally awkward elevator ride, Bucky and Tony parted ways. Bucky has been hiding away in his own floor since, licking his metaphorical wounds and putting up his mental walls again.

Because there is no doubt that Tony knows now.

Maybe he doesn’t know the full extent of it, doesn’t quite understand how gone over him Bucky is. But he definitely knows that Bucky is attracted to him, that he wants him. And he cannot face those pitying-regretful eyes anytime soon, not without some measures to protect himself first.

 So, Bucky spends the day after the gala at the shooting range, pulling up more and more challenging target simulations, letting the rhythm of battle soothe his mind.

By the time its late night and Bucky decides to go head to his own quarters to try sleeping, his thoughts are actually calmer and more settled.

That is, until he sees Steve sitting on his bed, back propped against the headboard and watching a movie on the holo-screen before him.

No, not a movie. Videos of himself and Tony from the gala last night.

Them walking arm-in-arm down the red carpet, posing here and there for pictures, looking every bit like a celebrity couple out together for an event. Tony flirting with an interviewer, while Bucky glowers protectively in the background. Tony pointing at something and speaking, but Bucky is watching him instead, with a soft fond smile on his face. Bucky pulling Tony closer on the dance floor, head ducked and staring into his eyes.

 Shit.

“Steve…,” the rest of the sentence dies in his mouth, because when Steve looks up at him, his gaze is completely devoid of emotion.

Steve has never once been a blank slate to Bucky. But in this moment, he can’t read him at all. He might as well have been staring at a brick wall.

“You love him.”

The bottom drops out of his stomach.

“Steve.” Bucky takes a few uncertain steps into the room, a heavy weight twisting in his heart. “It’s not what you think…”

“Don’t insult me, Buck.” And there’s the first sliver of emotion, that Captain America glare which Bucky first saw on a stubborn little asthmatic kid who barely weighed ninety pounds soaking wet. “I know you. You love him.”

He gets up off the bed, vanishing the screens with a flick of his hand. The air in the room feels oppressive, full of something that is on the hair edge of breaking.

“Tony loves you, Steve.” It feels like something is restricting Bucky’s windpipe, the words come out desperate and strangled.

“I know that,” Steve would look utterly calm and serene to anyone who doesn’t know him. But Bucky has seen this same look on Steve’s face in battle, where he is keeping himself together through sheer force of his considerable will.

 “So you know nothing will happen,” Bucky pleads. He can’t lose Steve; his mind shies away from the very notion. He can hurt and he can throw his heart away, but he can’t lose Steve. “I could never hurt you.”

A brief crack in Steve’s mask. “You think that’s a comfort to me? When I know it’s hurting you?”

He walks to the door, back straight and tall. It clicks shut softly behind him, but Bucky wishes he’d slammed it instead.

*

Bucky expects a full-scale display of possessive jealousy once Steve’s over his shock. So it takes him completely by surprise when Steve breezes into his kitchen the next morning, dressed in sweatpants and ready for his morning jog, like nothing has happened at all.

Bucky freezes, one hand in the fridge and mouth clamped around a giant chocolate chip cookie.

“Oh good, you’re up. C’mon, we’re already late. Sam said he’ll meet us at Central Park.”

Bucky chews the cookie and manages a muffled “What?” of utter bewilderment.

Steve walks briskly over and begins hustling him towards the door, hands firm on Bucky’s shoulders. “Our morning run! Sam’s back in town, time to go show him up and make fun of his exercise routine.”

“Uh,” is all the eloquent reply Bucky can get out before he’s efficiently manhandled into a T-shirt and sports shoes and all but shoved out the door.

The day goes on in a similar fashion. Steve acts the same around him. Far from being stand-offish or angry or upset, Steve actively seeks Bucky out like he normally would, telling him about the last mission, spectacularly handing him his ass on Wii Mario Kart (but only because Bucky was distracted okay, there is no other reason Steve won, Bucky all but let him win this time), and looping Bucky into helping him cook for team dinner that night.

In fact, Bucky would say Steve has forgotten all about their conversation last night (or been replaced by a Skrull) if not for the contemplative looks Steve keeps shooting him when he thinks Bucky’s not looking.

Dinner starts out painfully awkward.

Tony is hesitant and skittish around him from the get-go and the rest of the team picks up on that immediately. Natasha’s eyes in particular flick between Tony, Steve and Bucky in a way that is especially unsettling.

But a determined Captain America is nothing to snort at. Steve keeps a steady chatter going, regularly drawing in both Tony and Bucky to start them talking and before they quite know it, they’re listening to Tony’s animated recount of the sordid affairs of one of the senators he met last night, and the awkwardness has all but disappeared.

Bucky is laughing out loud and shaking his head when he catches Steve’s eyes across the table. He freezes, looking back at him with a raised eyebrow. Steve doesn’t look away – if anything his gaze grows even more focused and introspective, head tilted thoughtfully as he continues staring at Bucky.

Bucky knows this look. It’s the ‘Steve-Rogers-is-plotting-something’ look, which is usually followed by Steve being a reckless punk and a massive spike in Bucky’s blood pressure.

Whatever this is, it’s not going to end well.

Things continue in this fashion for a couple of weeks. Through Steve’s constant scheming and deviously manufactured sequence of events, Bucky and Tony end up spending more time together than ever, often with Steve also tagging along with them.

The three of them go to a fancy new restaurant Steve says he wants to try out, dressed up in fancy suits and sipping high-priced wine in ambient lighting, listening to Tony explain the outcome of his latest engineering binge. Two days later, they’re dressed up again, this time to go watch a Broadway play that Steve just happens to have exactly three tickets for. A week after that, Tony (with some rather impressive blackmailing and wheedling from Steve) gets roped into joining them on their morning jogs, looking utterly adorable as he pouts and grumbles the whole way.

At home, Bucky feels like he can’t so much as breathe without Steve popping up around the corner, disgruntled Tony in tow and proposing some “fun!” activity or the other.

If Steve’s trying to annoy Bucky to the point where he actually calls it quits and murders both of them, he’s certainly doing a good job of it.

And the damn looks continue the whole time. Due to the constant forced exposure, he and Tony have come to some sort of an unspoken truce and managed to regain most of their old comfortable banter and camaraderie. But whenever Bucky turns around from spending some time with Tony, there is Steve again, watching them with that assessing, contemplative look that makes Bucky deeply mistrustful and wary.

It’s all enough to make a fella go ‘round the bend.

And so it goes on, till the day Tony leaves for Japan for a business meeting.

Steve kisses him goodbye at the empty breakfast table and Bucky plucks up the courage to get in a quick, one-armed hug. And then Tony is bustling out, holographic electronic models following him out to the elevator like weird blue-green sentinels.

The elevator doors have barely closed behind Tony when Steve says, “I think you should woo Tony.”

Bucky, who as it so happens had just taken a large mouthful of orange juice, spits it spectacularly back out.

It takes a good minute of coughing and spluttering before he catches his breath again.

“What?” he wheezes as little cleaner bots zoom out from their charging ports, whirring around his legs as they mop up the spilled juice.

“I don’t think he’ll be adverse,” Steve says it matter-of-factly, like he’s stating the weather or reading the Declaration of Independence. “Tony’s attracted to you too, I can tell, even though he feels guilty about it.”

“What the fuck are you on about?” It’s way too early for this shit. “If you think for one second Tony would ever cheat on you –“

“That’s not what I said,” Steve sounds entirely too calm and unruffled. “I just said you should try to let Tony know you love him that way, too.”

“Yes because that makes so much more fucking sense, Rogers,” Bucky is not hyperventilating. He’s not. “Don’t you dare break up with Tony over this out of some fucked up ‘I just want you both to be happy’ bullshit –“

“Bucky –“

“Because I will not let you ruin a good thing over me –“

“Buck, listen –“

“If you ever left him, it will break him, he’d be devastated and I swear to God I will punch you –“

Bucky.”

“And you’d be doing me no favors either, you got that? I know how much you love him, so don’t you even try to play the sacrificial hero act with me –“

“BUCKY.”

Captain America yelling in your face with the full force of his commanding voice will shut anyone up, even if they are in the midst of an impressive, panicked rant.

A ringing silence falls for a moment and Bucky tries to catch his breath, panting like he’s just run a marathon. Or a few dozen marathons, just one marathon doesn’t really make him short of breath anymore.

“I am not going to break up with Tony,” Steve actually rolls his eyes, the little shit, as if Bucky’s the one being entirely unreasonable here. “Despite what the media likes to print, I am not actually that selfless. I just –“ And there it is, the first faintest blush of color on Steve’s cheeks, showing he actually is flustered beneath the calm façade. “I was just thinking – if Tony agrees… It’s just that you love Tony and I love Tony and he loves us both, and I do love you, you are the most important person in my life apart from Tony and if we can manage to convince him… I mean, if Tony is willing, then we could give it a try…,” His face is actually beet red now. “I thought maybe we could give it a try as the three of us. Together.”

You could hear a pin drop in the pause that follows that statement.

“Wait,” Bucky wets his lips, blinking at Steve’s flushed-hopeful-embarrassed face. “I think I misheard something because it sounded like you just said you want both of us to be in a relationship with Tony. At the same time.”

“All of us in a relationship with each other,” Steve corrects, flush increasing even more. He’s practically flaming at this point. “If you would like that. And if Tony agrees whole-heartedly, of course.”

“Of course,” Bucky echoes, not quite able to comprehend the past two minutes yet. What the hell. “You’re saying you want to try a three-way relationship.” Just saying that sentence sounds absolutely ridiculous.

“Yes.” Only Steve Rogers could sound so reasonable responding affirmatively to that.

Bucky tries to wrap his head around it, but the concept evades him so he tries saying it out loud again, just to see if it’ll start making more sense the second time around.

“Captain America just proposed a threesome.” Nope, still pretty fucking hard to believe.

“I think the accurate term for it would be ‘poly-exclusive’,” Steve straightens his shirt primly and stands at parade rest, looking earnest and sincere.

“Did you actually Google it before coming to speak to me?”

“Of course,” Steve gives him that entirely too innocent aw-shucks smile that helped them get away with many a prank as kids. “They don’t call me the Man with the Plan for nothing.”

Bucky cracks up at the sheer absurdity of it all and after a beat, Steve joins him.

*

“Have you really thought this through, Stevie?” Bucky asks half an hour later, sprawled beside Steve on the giant couch in the den, some mindless action flick playing on the huge TV screen before them. The background noise of explosions is soothing (which is rather disturbing if you think about it, but hey, none of them are exactly the poster children of psychological health).

Steve turns to look at him, the television illuminating his face in flickering bursts. His eyes are especially blue in the dim lighting of the den. He really is beautiful, Bucky thinks, but again, that’s nothing new. Bucky’s always thought Steve was beautiful, even when he was all of five-foot nothing and so skinny a stiff gust of wind would do him in. It’s one of the reasons Bucky insisted on trying to find dames for Steve because surely, he couldn’t be the only person who saw how beautiful Steve was, inside and out?

(Tony does, which strangely is yet another thing about him that Bucky absolutely loves.)

Which is all the more reason why Bucky needs to make absolutely sure Steve’s thought about it. If they try this and something goes wrong, none of them would ever be the same again.

“Would I come to you with it if I haven’t?” Steve asks wryly, one eyebrow raised.

“I just… you need to be sure,” Bucky leans sideways, Steve’s solid weight comforting and warm beside him. “It’s… Do you even like me that way?”

Steve grins and pokes him. “Do you?”

“Well,” Bucky drawls and pokes him back. “Not all that sure about this muscled beefcake version, but I sure thought you were cute before, as a skinny punk.” He pokes him again in one ridiculously hard bicep, for good measure.

It ends up becoming a weird poking war, followed by mature and manly shoving, followed by an even more mature and manly tickle fight.

“Er.” They look up, out of breath and laughing hysterically (laughing, not giggling, because super soldiers don’t giggle, no sir) to find Clint staring at them, holding a giant tub of popcorn, eyebrows cocked judgmentally. “On second thought, I’ll just use the television in my suite.” He walks out of there, judgmental eyebrows still mocking them and their life choices.

They abandon their tussle and settle back in the couch, hiccupping through the last bouts of laughter and trying to get under control, because when Clint is judging you for something, you know you’ve sunk really low in life.

Bucky clears his throat. “So, I was saying…”

“You were saying something about how attractive you found me growing up, couldn’t take your eyes off me, your undying love for the handsomest kid in all of Brooklyn. Understandable,” Steve shrugs casually, but his lips twitch with barely suppressed mirth.

“And I was asking if you even like me that way,” Bucky refuses to get side-tracked a second time. He’s not falling for these tricks again to avoid having a serious conversation. He sits up, looks Steve in the eye; this is important. “Because we can’t have a three-people relationship where only any two are in love, Steve.”

Steve’s teasing grin slides away, replaced by a tiny smile – one full of honest warmth and affection. He props his elbow on the back of the couch, jaw resting on his fist and turns fully to face Bucky. Bucky mirrors him and the atmosphere becomes closer somehow, more intimate.

“But I do love you, Buck,” Steve says this simply, earnestly, like it is a given fact of life. “Tony’s the love of my life, my soulmate. I could’ve never imagined someone like him, someone that makes everything worth it. I’m a better version of myself when I’m with him. He challenges me and pushes me and complements me in every way I can think of. But you,” his eyes are crystal clear and so very blue. “You’re a part of me. You make me whole. I had you even when there was no one else. You’re mine and I’m yours and that’s all there is to it.”

And Bucky understands all of that, doesn’t ask “how” or “what do you mean”, because that’s how he feels about Steve too. It’s not something that needs to be qualified or labeled – it just is.

“And that’s why I thought, once I figured out how you feel about Tony too,” Steve continues, grinning bashfully now. Bucky wants to kiss his dumb face. “I thought we stood a chance of actually making this thing work. Because if Tony agrees, if we do try this – there’s no chance in hell we won’t all love each other just as much.” He shrugs. “We already do.”

Bucky thinks about it. And thinks about. And decides not to think about it anymore.

Because in all his life, it is not the decisions he’s thought about that gave him the things he most wanted to keep. Its gut decisions – like the instinct to befriend a puny kid with a nosebleed and the courage of a lion, the one that told him he could trust the man in the warrior metal suit with kind eyes warm as the summer sun – it’s those spur-of-the-moment decisions that gave him the things he most cherishes. And that’s all he needs to know.

So he turns to Steve and he says, “How exactly are we gonna do this?”

Steve’s returning grin could light up a city block.

*

Tony Stark is the most frustratingly elusive and oblivious knucklehead Bucky’s ever had the (dis)pleasure of wooing. It’s so thoroughly vexing that Bucky almost feels proud of Tony for how well he’s putting them through their paces.

Or he would be, once they actually manage to corner him for longer than five seconds.

“I don’t understand where we’re going wrong,” a frustrated Captain America informs him after Tony, yet again, beats a hasty retreat out of the room, after yet another attempt at some combined super soldier seduction. “I didn’t even have to come onto him this strongly the first time I asked him out.”

It’s been going on for about two weeks now. Ever since Tony came back from his meeting in Japan, Project Seduce Tony Stark, as Bucky has dubbed it in his head, has been a go.

Except all they have to show for it is a bunch of alarmed, bewildered blinking from Tony followed by him running away to hide in his workshop. It’s gotten to the point where Tony has actually started avoiding the two of them, shooting them wary glances whenever he spots them together in a room.

For a super soldier duo that successfully strategized plans of attack to decimate most of HYDRA in the middle of a World War, they are stumped.

Bucky looks over at the elevator doors behind which Tony disappeared just moments ago and frowns.

“Maybe that’s the problem,” he muses out loud, thoughtful. “Maybe we’re coming on too strong but not being clear enough.”

“What?” It’s Bucky’s favorite confused-Steve face. He takes a few seconds to appreciate it.

(Now that he’s consciously contemplating looking at Steve in a more romantic light, he’s coming to realize just how many of the things Steve does are his favorites. The revelations he’s been having lately, they’re a vaguely shocking but pleasant surprise.)

“Think about it from Tony’s point of view,” Bucky says after a beat, coming back to the matter at hand. “He gets hit on by his boyfriend’s best friend after weeks of getting the cold shoulder. Then, he comes back after a week away from home to get hit on by the guy again, this time with his boyfriend right there with them. The boyfriend who has a long and illustrative history of being a possessive and jealous dickhead.”

“I am not a possessive…” Steve begins hotly but shuts up when Bucky shoots him an unimpressed stare. “Okay, maybe a little bit.” Steve acknowledges grudgingly.

“So of course he’s wary,” Bucky concludes, watching as realization dawns in Steve’s eyes. “He thinks –“

“It’s some weird prank or a test,” Steve finishes for him, looking both upset and enlightened. “Does he think I’d actually be that awful to him? Ever? He has to know I wouldn’t do that to him.”

Bucky slings an arm around Steve’s shoulders. “He does. He’s also the same guy who that dumb internet poll named ‘Most likely to cheat in a relationship’. He may know you’d never think that about him, but that doesn’t mean the insecurities just go away. And here he comes home from a week-long business meeting and we both start acting weird around him at the same time. I’d be running the other way too.”

“When did you become such an expert on Tony Stark?” Steve grins, teasing and fond and Bucky just shoves him in reply.

“So you know what we gotta do now, right?” he cocks an eyebrow at Steve.

“We throw out the subtle route and jump him?”

“Exactly.”

And well, there’s no time like the present.

*

Tony’s having a pretty shitty week.

Actually, he’s been having a shitty couple of months, if he goes back to the time where it all started getting weird, with Bucky suddenly becoming distant and Steve starting to look at him like he expected Tony to fix whatever it was that’d gone wrong.

And then, after months of barely-there interactions, he and Bucky were friends again and Tony was happy. For all of two days because of course, fate couldn’t let him have happiness for long.

His hands still on the holographic keyboard in front of him and a shiver passes through his spine as he remembers the night of the gala.

Bucky Barnes is attracted to him.

It had been a startling and heady realization, and for a moment there Tony had been absolutely elated. Wanted to kiss him till they were both breathless. He would’ve done it too, if not for the text from Steve startling him out of that moment.

And that is the thought that haunts him even now, weeks after that night.

Because how many people can have the good fortune in life of having the undying love and affection of someone as wonderful and amazing and good as Steve Rogers? How many people can love someone so much better than them and still have the luck of their feelings being returned, for whatever unfathomable reason? And how many people would still be greedy enough to yearn for another man and want them as well?

He doesn’t deserve Steve or Bucky, the awful excuse for a human being that he is.

It seemed for a while like things would just lie at an impasse, the fledgling feelings he felt for Bucky left dormant to die quietly in his heart. But now, Bucky and Steve are both acting plain bizarre around him in ways that he has no clue how to explain.

So Tony’s just going to hide in his workshop and follow the time-honored tradition of ignoring an emotional problem until it just resolve itself or ends up in a lawsuit.

Dummy rolls up to him, with that impeccable timing he has for whenever Tony’s in the middle of a pity party, and holds out a coffee mug full of steaming liquid. It actually smells more or less like coffee, so Tony accepts it with a pat on Dummy’s head and drinks it.

There probably isn’t any motor oil in there. Probably.

“Sir, Captain Rogers and Sergeant Barnes are approaching,” JARVIS informs him and Tony lowers the mug slowly, clutching it with both hands like a life-line.

Steve and Bucky both have access codes to his lab. Blocking them out would just make a weird situation even weirder so Tony has no choice but to face them.

“What do they want, J?” His voice isn’t wavering and cracking with nerves. It isn’t.

JARVIS answers after a beat. “I believe it is a personal matter that they would rather disclose to you themselves, Sir. As per my communication protocols, I will not intervene.”

“Yeah, hide behind your protocols when I ask you for help,” Tony grumbles and JARVIS’ silence is – there is no other way to put it – amused.

“I only seek to follow your directives perfectly, Sir,” he sasses and a part of Tony still feels proud when JARVIS talks back to him like that. A little bit.

He spies movement out of the corner of his eye and turns, steeling himself, because yup, Bucky and Steve are walking in, looking determined.

Tony gulps and feels another shiver pass up his spine, because irrespective of the situation, there’s nothing as blisteringly hot as two super soldiers stalking towards you with single-minded purpose.

“Can I help you both?” he asks, proud of how nonchalant his voice sounds, flicking fingers to minimize all the floating screens around him.

“We love you,” Steve says and Tony misses a beat, nearly toppling off his stool, because what did Steve just say, did he just say ‘we’?

“Go out on a date with us,” Bucky says and yes, Tony is definitely hearing plural and can also actually feel multiple neural networks in his brain short-circuiting, because what?

He stares at the nearly empty coffee mug in his hand and wonders just how much motor oil was in there – clearly he’s just lost his mind.

There is a minute of tense silence.

“Steve, call Bruce,” Tony hears himself say faintly, as though from a distance.

Both super soldiers appear thrown at that, pausing to stare at each other before turning to Tony.

“What was that?” Steve asks politely, approaching him with caution, like he’s a startled deer that could bolt at any moment.

“Bruce, I need Bruce, I think Dummy gave me motor oil espresso and I’m hallucinating because I just heard Bucky say he wants me to go on a date with both of you.” God, he’s babbling now, someone shut him up.

“You’re not hallucinating, Tony,” Steve is closer now, reaching to take Tony’s face in his hand. His thumb rubs circles across Tony’s cheekbone. “That’s what we’ve been trying to tell you for the past two weeks. We both want you. And we would like a date, with you, as all three of us, if you would like that too.”

Tony blinks. “JARVIS, did Dummy slip in anything other than motor oil? Schedule I hallucinogens, maybe?”

“Your drink was nothing more than an exceptionally black coffee, Sir,” JARVIS replies, sounding even more amused now, the heartless bastard. “For once, Dummy did not add anything potentially life-threatening.”

“Well, is it another Skrull invasion? Because I have two super soldiers here that just proposed a threesome.”

Before JARVIS can reply, Bucky pipes up. “The correct term is a poly-exclusive relationship. Steve googled it.”

Tony starts laughing, rather hysterically and JARVIS speaks over his laughter, “I can confirm they are indeed Captain Rogers and Sergeant Barnes and that there is no alien invasion. In fact, from my observation over the last few weeks, they have been trying to engage you in a romantic relationship for two weeks now, with minimal success as you ran away every time the Sergeant made moves towards expressing interest in you.”

Tony hiccups himself to silence. “And you didn’t inform me, why, J?”

“It would’ve been against the privacy protocols,” JARVIS protests and Tony’s gonna donate him to an old age home to moderate Bingo nights, make no mistake, the little shit. “Their conversations were conducted confidentially.”

Another beat of silence. Steve’s withdrawn his hand and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Bucky, both super soldiers looking hopefully at him.

“What… what exactly do you mean, when you say you’d both like to go on a date with me?” Tony tries, wetting his dry lips. He doesn’t miss how both their eyes track the movement and feels the bottom drop out of his stomach because holy shit, that’s hot. He forcibly brings his brain back on track, because this is important. He needs to be clear what exactly they’re expecting, if this isn’t to end in blood and tears. “What are you looking for?”

“Everything,” Bucky says, twitching as though he wants to reach out to Tony, but he stops himself. Tony wishes he hadn’t. “Hold your hands on movie nights, play footsie under the dinner table, wake up to you and Steve every morning and go to be bed knowing the two people I love the most are right there beside me.”

“We’d like to take you out on dates and give you a good time,” Steve says, pushing Bucky closer and smiling, warm and wicked. “Take you to bed and show you how much we both love you. I want to watch him make you lose your mind and then take my turn at doing the same.”

“We want to grow old with you,” Bucky says, hand reaching out again, hesitant and tender, fingers brushing Tony’s lips, feather-light. “To be with you and love you for as long as we are alive. That’s what we’re lookin’ for, if you’ll give us a chance.”

And this is Tony’s life now, he marvels, staring at them with mouth slightly open. This is his life, that not one, but two amazing, beautiful, brilliant men want him, a relationship with him and are nervous about it as if there is any alternate dimension where Tony would actually say no.

If he wasn’t still absolutely flabbergasted, Tony would actually go to church for the first time since he was five, just to say a fervent thank you, because things like this have to be divine intervention. Or maybe he’ll just thank Thor and ask him to carry a message to Odin, seeing as they’re gods too and all.

“So does all that mean you’re saying yes?” Tony tunes back to hear Bucky say, grin wide and eyes sparkling and oh, did Tony say all that out loud?

“You did,” Steve says fondly and oh, Tony said that out loud too. But can you blame him, he just got asked out by two of the most gorgeous men on the planet, who love him and want to build a life with him; he thinks he’s allowed some befuddled stammering at a moment like this.

“Yes,” Tony says, breathless. “Hell yes. To everything.”

Before he quite knows it, Bucky is surging forwards and there are warm lips on his mouth.

Tony’s breath hitches in his throat and he thinks he’s moaning, but he can’t even bring himself to care. Bucky tastes even better than he remembers, stubble scratching at his chin delightfully and Tony winds his hands into long, soft hair, open his mouth to allow access to Bucky’s tongue. Strong hands grip him firmly at the waist, one warm yielding muscle and another cold hard metal, and Tony goes painfully hard in seconds.

And then there’s a familiar hard chest wrapping around him from the back and Tony’s stomach does several back flips. Steve’s bends to mouth along Tony’s neck, sucking little nips and bites into his skin, and Tony goes loose and pliant, moaning into Bucky’s mouth, letting the two men support him. He certainly doesn’t have enough higher cognitive functions left to manage things like standing up on his own two feet.

“Bite his lips a bit when you kiss him, he likes that,” Steve murmurs into Tony’s skin and Bucky, like the perfect soldier he is, follows the Captain’s orders immediately. Several explosions go off in Tony’s brain simultaneously, decimating brain cells that he’ll probably miss later, but it’s okay, he doesn’t mind losing a couple of IQ points if he gets this in return.

It’s just starting to get even better, Tony feeling Steve grow hard against his back and Bucky pressing closer against him, when they pull away.

He whines in a way he’ll be ashamed of later, but in that moment he doesn’t give a fuck, because they’re moving away.

“No, stop, let’s go back to the part where I was the filling in a super soldier sandwich,” Tony makes pitiful grabby hands towards them, but the other two just grin, keeping their distance. They look deliciously disheveled and flushed and Bucky’s lips are kiss-bitten red. Tony subtly adjusts himself in his pants. Or not-so-subtly, seeing as both their eyes flicker to follow the movement, blatantly lustful and hungry.

Tony, if that’s even possible, grows harder.

“Not before the first date, Tony,” Steve says, in that breathless bedroom voice that’s always had a straight-wire connection to Tony’s libido.

“Yeah, we wanna do this right,” Bucky insists, but the hungry way his eyes keep roaming up and down Tony’s body isn’t really helping.

“We’ve already been on dates,” Tony lets his voice go husky, licking his lips again and hands moving down to toy with the hem of his wife-beater. He’s never been above playing dirty when he really wants something. “And right now, I want you both to fuck me till I scream.”

It works like a charm. Steve lets out a groan like someone’s stabbing him and Tony finds himself back to being hustled between two gorgeous men again.

He can get used to this.

Things pass by in a haze after that. They barely make it to the beat up old squashy couch bed in one corner of the workshop before they’re stripping, movements hurried and frenzied.

There’ll be plenty of time later, Tony thinks as they all fall on each other like parched men to water. Right now, there are too many pent-up emotions, relief and desire and want and love all muddling into a heady cocktail that has them kissing and touching in movements that border on desperation, skin on skin and harsh pants and breathing muffled into one another’s mouths.  

Later, they can go slow, Tony taking the time to learn Bucky as intimately as he knows Steve, the hidden places of his body that make him giggle and scream, the curve of his back and the dip of his knees. Later, they can laugh and talk and find the new normal that will be the three of them, where there have only been two before.

Later, they can do all that. They’ll all have plenty of time, after all.

The rest of their life, in fact, if Tony has any say in it.

*

Bucky wakes to a warm welcome weight draped along his front and something hard and sharp poking him in the back.

He blinks up at the ceiling, taking a minute to place where he is. The few random floating holograms would make it clear even if he didn’t know Tony’s workshop better than any other place in the Avengers tower.

He looks down to see the man himself asleep across his chest, lashes long and dark against his cheeks, looking younger and gentler in sleep. Bucky ducks a little to kiss his forehead, tilting his head to the other man sleeping beside him. Steve is sleeping on his front, right arm thrown across Tony’s waist, body pressed up against Bucky’s side. The comforter from the couch bed is barely draped over his naked waist, showing off miles of impeccably muscled shoulders and back.

Bucky shuffles a bit, being careful not to disturb his sleeping lovers and roots around under his back till his fingers wrap around the offending object that woke him up. A screwdriver, as it turns out – lost in the folds of the old couch during one of Tony’s half-asleep engineering attempts, no doubt.

Bucky throws it away with a fond snort, before gently turning around so he’s lying more securely in the barely big enough couch bed. He throws one leg around Steve’s thighs and gathers Tony’s pliant warmth even closer, relishing the feel of sleep-warm skin and the scent of Tony’s hair under his nose.

“What time is it?” he asks softly.

“It is 2.33AM on Thursday morning, Sergeant,” JARVIS replies, just as quietly, and Bucky would swear it on his arm, the AI sounds fond and affectionate. It will never not be a marvel, this whole new being that Tony created out of nothing more than computer codes and hardware. “The rest of the team are also asleep and there are no pressing matters that may require aid from the Avengers in the near future. I would advise that you go back to sleep.”

“Thanks, J,” Bucky says, settling in deeper and closing his eyes.

“Anytime, Sergeant Barnes,” JARVIS replies, quiet and kind.

And in that workshop, wrapped around the two most important people in his world and under the watchful eyes of Tony’s creations, Bucky lets sleep take him.

It’s the best sleep he’s had in years.