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Snoball of a First Date

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Get an IV in there, as wide as we can get.

Another blood bag! How many is that?

Push 20cc’s of sodium bicarb.

What’s his output? Do we have a catheter in yet?

He’s coding, get me a crash cart!

Tony navigates the ER bay with grace and efficiency, dodging around the surgical and emergency interns and attending doctors in order to find supplies and do his job. Part of being a good nurse isn’t just doing what the doctors yell out; no, he’s not an assistant, thank you very much; it’s being able to read a situation and anticipate what needs to be done.

So, by the time the doctors ask, he has a three gauge IV started, extra O negative hanging, and catheter inserted. He’s also found the time to respond to every tooling request shouted into the air.

The only thing betraying his poise is the sweat running down the side of his temple and cascading down his back. He’s multitasking more than usual today because there’s a new nurse on rotation and it’s her second shift in the ER. From her bright-eyed and panicked expression, it’s probably her second shift anywhere.

He’s trying to show her the ropes and tell her how things are done while chaos reigns around them. She seems to be soaking up his every word, which is good because there’s no time to say anything twice in this industry.

After 17 minutes of insanity, all the doctors run out of the room, pushing the gurney with their patient to the elevators and up to an operating room. He and the newbie are left alone, standing on opposite sides of a hurricane zone.

“Alright, let’s clean this up before the next emergency comes through,” he starts, pulling at the flimsy yellow, long-sleeved apron that protects his scrubs from fluids until the ties snap.

“Is he going to make it?” The other nurse asks, voice small and eyes huge. He’s ashamed that he doesn’t even know her name. It’s just the way things work around here. They say it takes three shifts; three shifts to either catch on and pick up the pace or three shifts to decide you can’t do it.

No one learns your name until your fourth shift.

Tony pauses, looking to the metal stand where multiple empty plastic bags hang. He wants to be encouraging because this job is hard, especially in the beginning, but if you can’t handle the stress it’s better to know now.

“No,” he says quietly. “In my experience, that many blood bags in that amount of time is a bad sign.”

She looks horrified at his statement, and it sucks, but Tony can’t bring himself to take it back or add some lame condolence to the end. It’s probably because she’s so young, unacquainted with death and how messy it can be. He’s lucky that he came into this job with a solid grasp of reality, including the darker aspects.

He shrugs, and continues with the cleanup, throwing away bloody gowning and gloves that only landed near the trash can. Opened supplies, used sharps, are also thrown away as he takes note of what needs to be restocked. Tools like the rib-spreaders that need to be autoclaved go in a different tub that someone will be in to collect later. Custodial services will be in as soon as he leaves to mop the blood from the floor. Making sure there’s none on the bottom of his shoes, he walks over to the check-in desk to get off his feet and wait for the next wave of chaos.

It’s a strangely slow day, but it’s still early morning. The commuters aren’t out in full force yet and Tuesdays nights aren’t great for ragers and fights, apparently. Not that he minds the lull, people getting hurt is always bad even when it brings home the bacon for him.

The ER is actually empty. Empty. It’s practically unheard of. There’s not a single upset tummy or sprained ankle to be seen. There aren’t any other nurses around either. Is he missing a staff meeting or something? He wracks his brain for all of two seconds before he decides he doesn’t care. Someone has to man the check-in desk.

So he leans back and spins his chair in slow circles, waiting for the scenery to change. He’s about ready to get on the phone to see if any of the nearby hospitals need to reroute any incoming traumas their way when a familiar red-head spins into view.

“Natasha! Hey!” He beams. Maybe they can come up with some new prank to pull on the charge nurse. She’s way too old and stuffy for her own good.

Natasha saunters over, perching on the edge of the desk rather than in one of the chairs. There’s a mischievous grin teasing one corner of her mouth, arms hidden behind her back. “Hey Tony, guess what?”

“What?” He’s excited now, leaning forward. A grinning Natasha means something amazing is about to happen.

“There’s a new snack guy, and apparently he has a thing for red-heads,” her smile is absolutely evil now.

“Yes!” He yells, pumping his fist in the air victoriously. “What’d you get? What’d you get?!” It was their favorite game, trying to convince the vending machine stock guy to give them snacks for free. They were generally far from successful.

Once, there was a super grumpy guy who refused to even speak with either of them, so it became a game to flirt outrageously until he gave up and was replaced. It was doubly fun for Tony, since the guy was obviously straight.

Natasha pulls a package from behind her back, holding it aloft. His mouth drops in awe as he sees a two-pack of Hostess Snoballs. The pink ones.

“You did it. You got the mother lode! Woohoo!” He’s standing in a moment, lifting Natasha at the waist into a hug and twirling them around in circles. It’s a good thing the ER is empty of patients, but their whooping and joyful hollering still garners the attention of some of the other nurses, who are suddenly coming out of the woodwork.

“What are you two so excited about?” Jan asks, approaching the desk but staying safely on the other side of the counter.

Tony puts Natasha down, taking the snack cakes and waving them in Jan’s face. “Snoballs!”

“The pink ones,” Natasha continues seriously, nodding.

Jan looks completely confused, like she’s been hit between the eyes. “You two are so weird. If you eat any more of that crap you’re both going to turn into Twinkies.” She shakes her head fondly, though. “Just keep it down before someone reports you to Hill.”

“Will do! Are you still free tomorrow night? Ice cream and a Bridget Jones marathon? Natasha’s pirated the newest one,” he whispers the last bit conspiratorially.

“Yep! I’ll be there!” Jan’s natural ebullience making it seem like the outing of the century, instead of what it really is: pizza, beer, and ice cream eaten on Tony’s super comfortable bed. It’s a strange amalgamation of a guys night and a girls night, but it works for them. She waves and leaves Natasha and Tony to their prize.

They sit in the rolly chairs, backs to the ER entrance with heads so close together Tony can feel Natasha’s curls tickling his cheek. They thoroughly enjoy how silly they are being, admiring the packaging as they slowly open it, each taking one.

Grinning at one another, they knock the pink treats together in mock ‘cheers’ before biting in. Still watching each other, they both burst out laughing. Pink sugar flies out of Natasha’s mouth toward him before she covers it with a hand, snorting and leaning on him.

Tears are leaking from Tony’s eyes at the ridiculousness of the whole thing, and it’s an effort to not spit the cake out or choke to death.

Eventually the hysterical hilarity subsides and they are able to catch their breath. They probably would have started giggling again if it weren’t for the loud throat clearing behind them. Expecting to be thoroughly reprimanded by Hill, they turn together.

“Steve?” Tony says, only slightly garbled from the frosted cake still in his mouth. He swallows. “What are you doing here?” There’s a sudden tightening of his stomach muscles. Did they change their mind about him already? Was Steve here to cancel their date?

Steve smiles brilliantly (as if there’s any other way he could smile), “Hi Tony, how’s it going? I just stopped by because I realized that Bucky and I didn’t get your number the other day.”

“Oh,” Tony breathes, shoulders slumping in relief, all his insecurities inflated then put to rest in a matter of moments.

Steve’s brow pinches slightly in concern, catching on to Tony’s poorly hidden shock and relief. “Can we talk privately for a minute?”

Not entirely trusting his voice, Tony nods, leading Steve down the hall toward the coffee dispenser. It’s the crappy one that only the employees use, so the area’s currently deserted. Thinking that drinking coffee will give him something to do with his hands so Steve can’t see how nervous he is, he reaches for a paper cup, but is crowded against the wall by Steve’s bulk.

“Steve?” There’s so much muscle in his face he doesn’t know where to look. Steve’s wearing a deep blue button-down shirt and black slacks, looking very sharp and probably on his way to work, but the fabric around pearlescent white of the buttons is straining to hold the fabric closed. The desire to touch is almost overwhelming, it would take just a small flick of his finger and they would probably fly open.

Steve’s thumb comes up to brush the corner of Tony’s mouth, drawing his attention up. “You have pink… sugar? On your mouth, here,” he sounds very entertained.

“Natasha got a pack of Snoballs,” he states, surprised that Steve touched his mouth. He can still feel the heat of it there, though Steve’s hands are back to his own sides.

Steve laughs, and it’s a beautiful full-bodied thing that brings his face much closer to Tony’s as he bends slightly at the waist. “You are so adorable, you have no idea.” His arm (the one not wrapped in red plaster) settles on Tony’s shoulder.

Tony can’t help the warmth that is blossoming in his chest at Steve’s words and his entire demeanor. How is it so easy for Steve to make him feel like he’s something special?

“Anyway, can I have your phone number?” Steve asks, still so earnest; like he’s nervous that Tony will turn him down.

“Sure, give me your phone,” Tony holds out his hand, and adding his contact information.

“And would it be okay if we picked you up around seven for dinner Friday? Do you like Italian?”

“Yeah, I love Italian,” Tony smiles at Steve. He was scheduled to work second shift on Saturday so he’d be able to sleep in until about noon if they were out late. “I’ll text you my address later, ok? I should probably get back to work, though.”

“Yeah, of course, sounds good.” Steve steps away, allowing Tony to head back to the desk, where Natasha is very obviously ‘not watching’ them.

“Thanks for stopping by, Steve,” Tony says with a wave. Steve shoots him a salute and a smile before exiting through the automatic doors.

“What was that about?” Natasha asks as soon as he sits down, pushing the clear plastic with what was left of his Snoball on it toward him.

He picks it up, talking through a large bite, “Just confirming details for our date Friday.”

Natasha stares at him, waiting for something. Then it hits him. He has a date in two days. A date! He hasn’t been on an actual date in maybe three years.

His eyes widen, “Natasha, we may have to change our ice cream night agenda slightly.”

“Yeah?” She sounds entirely too smug and all-knowing.

“Help me pick out an outfit please?” He’s not ashamed to turn on the big brown sad eyes routine.

“You know Jan’s not going to be content unless we actually go shopping and buy you a whole new wardrobe, right?”

His nose scrunches in distaste. “If we can get frozen yogurt and make fun of people at the same time, I guess I can deal.”

The incoming ambulance alert light turns on, and they are on their feet in a second, Tony shoving the rest of his cake in his mouth and brushing away any crumbs from his facial hair with the back of his hand. The date panic is pushed to the back of his mind. Work now, panic later, he promises himself.

***

Friday at seven rolls around entirely too fast. He and the girls had done some shopping right after work Thursday and gone back to his apartment to put together his perfect date look. They’d also had a Bridget Jones movie marathon, eaten the majority of three pizzas, and finished off two six packs of beer.

He’d woken up Friday around lunchtime, hung over, with his face uncomfortably close to Natasha’s sweatpants-clad butt and Jan plastered to his back, her stale beer breath blowing softly across his cheek. It’s the most action his bed has seen in longer than he’d care to admit.

After maneuvering himself out of the tangle they’d become, he’d made them all a super greasy breakfast that they’d eaten in his bed, lounging and not saying much. When the girls left, they both wished him good luck.

Natasha had taken his face in both her hands as she stood at the door. “You deserve good things, Tony. Say it to yourself as often as you need, ok? Give this a chance. A real chance.” She kissed his cheek before hugging him briefly.

Somehow, she always knew when he doubted himself. She couldn’t always pull him out of a funk, but she was darn good at keeping them from being quite so crippling. So he putters around his apartment for a few hours, cleaning and doing some chores and getting a little too lost in a new book. When he finally looks up to acknowledge the time it’s a little after six pm. Yikes!

Scrambling into the shower, he repeats Natasha’s phrase to himself. I deserve good things. I deserve good things. It keeps him on task. He keeps saying it while he brushes his teeth, gels his hair and squeezes himself into the skin-tight black jeans Natasha had found in his closet. It’s reminiscent of a fish flopping around for air, if he’s honest with honest with himself.

Adding deodorant and a splash of cologne, he throws on a fitted black long sleeve button-up but leaves his brand new black leather jacket with plenty of tasteful hardware on the hook by the door. He doesn’t want to look too eager. He’s got one shoe on and the other in his hand when there’s a knock at the door.

He opens it and has a bundle of, are those Hostess snack cakes?, shoved in his face. Steve’s smiling face is right behind; it’s a bouquet, but instead of flowers, there are Snoballs of both the pink and white varieties, cupcakes, and ho-ho’s all on small wooden dowels with bits of brightly colored paper interspersed.

Tony bursts out laughing. “Oh my gosh, Steve! This is great! How’d you come up with that? Come on in guys.” He takes it from the blonde and gestures for them both to come in. As soon as he sets it on the counter, Steve pulls him in for a quick hug. Tony smiles over Steve’s shoulder at Bucky, but the other man isn’t smiling at all. If anything, he looks pissed. Maybe he’s having an off day.

“I couldn’t help it after seeing you and that other nurse with the red hair, eating those Snoball things and having such a good time.” Steve’s lighthearted and bright and it warms Tony inside and out. “Those are disgusting, by the way. Have you ever read the ingredients? I thought nurses would eat better.”

“You must not know many nurses, then,” Tony jokes and proceeds to tell them about a nurse named Bobbie who used to drink those monstrous 64 ounce sodas before a shift, even if it started at 6am while he pulls on his other shoe and leather jacket.

The three of them walk out of Tony’s apartment building together, Tony slightly behind the others as he stopped to make sure the door is securely locked. When he hits the sidewalk, he sees Bucky grab Steve’s hand and tuck it into his own jacket pocket. His confidence wavers as they lead the way to Steve’s car.

I deserve good things, he repeats his mantra over and over as he’s relegated to the backseat. He listens to Steve prattle on about his day and how excited he is to show Tony this restaurant. At least Steve is excited about this date. Bucky responds at the right times and everything seems ok, but he’s wary now. He doesn’t want to mess this up.

He’s rewarded when Bucky opens the car door for him, then Steve when the park at the restaurant. It’s a quaint little place on a fairly main thoroughfare, but is apparently in the basement as they go down a few steps to the entrance.

The minimal natural lighting creates an intimate atmosphere, which is a little intense for a first date, but probably doesn’t seem that way to Bucky and Steve if they’ve been together a while. It’s surprisingly rustic with large rough-hewn stone walls and expansive photos of what is probably Italian countryside. It only clashes a little bit with the trite red and white checked tablecloths.

The hostess is friendly enough, but not to the point that indicates they’re regulars and takes them to the last available booth. The place is that busy. Steve slides smoothly into one side and Tony quickly debates sitting next to him, but decides against it. During all their hospital encounters, Bucky had been much more physical with his affections. Maybe Bucky would loosen up a bit if they sat together; give him an opportunity and all.

Tony’s confidence is completely shot as Bucky sits next to Steve without hesitation.

Now it feels like an interview, with him alone and on display, his insecurities screaming inside his head. It’s a good thing his shirt is black because he’s sweating bullets. This is more of what he would expect from a one-time threesome negotiation, not a date.

If that’s what they want, they should have made it clear previously. He wouldn’t have turned them down, but after thinking this was something more, something with potential, he just feels betrayed. Especially when they had been so fervent in their pursuit of him.

Well, if that’s how they want to play, he’s game. He formulates his new strategy in his head; flirt it up, be as charming as possible, and leave them hurting and regretful at the end of the night. So what if he tended to get defensive when his feelings were hurt? It wasn’t an uncommon affliction in his experience.

The waitress comes over to take their drink orders and Steve pipes in, “We’ll do a bottle of the house Merlot, please.”

Tony clears his throat, “Actually, just a glass of Chardonnay for me, please. Thanks, sweetheart.” He smiles with what Natasha refers to as his ‘press smile.’ It’s dazzling but phony and difficult to read. It’s the smile he uses on upper management and at work events and now to extract revenge from his lying ‘dates.’

“Sure thing, hon,” she replies, smiling back warmly. She obviously thinks what everyone else thinks: he’s the third wheel stuck in the middle of his friends’ date. Steve’s face is incredulous and a little disappointed and even Bucky looks a little miffed.

“Tony, what-?” Steve starts, but Tony steamrolls him ignoring the protests and his own crushed heart.

“Not a big fan of the reds,” he lies. “So, you guys know all about what I do for a living. What about you two?” Just because this game wasn’t his idea doesn’t mean he won’t win.

Bucky pulls himself together first, and he’s almost the gruff, funny guy from the hospital. “Oh, yeah, I’m a manager at a gym and sometimes do some personal training, but had to take a break from that after I busted my collarbone.”

“Yeah, recovery on that is not fun I’ve heard. How’s that healing, by the way?” Tony steers the conversation toward neutral ground, nothing that wouldn’t be amiss at a dinner between friends. He does learn that Steve’s a very talented graphic designer and Bucky wants to open up his own gym and teach self-defense classes.

They finish each others sentences and complement one another easily. They’re physical but it’s not overwhelming; it’s gentle and subtle but Tony catches all of it and the disappointment stomping all over his chest is so intense he’s almost grinding his teeth. Dampening his urge to flee is like holding back a stampeding rhino.

I deserve good things. This time it’s just a faint whisper in the back of his head.

A foot bumps his, jerking his attention away from his almost empty wine glass. “Oops, sorry Tony,” Bucky says with a quick smile and the offending limb pulls away leaving Tony feeling like a leper. He’s saved by the arrival of dinner, which is easy to focus on and let the lovebirds talk about whatever they want to talk about.

“What do you think Tony? This is my favorite Italian place and I was hoping it would be up to snuff,” Steve asks, swirling pasta onto his fork like a pro.

Honestly, it’s a massive plate of ash for how much he can taste it. “It’s fantastic! Great pick, Steve.”

Steve is delighted with his answer, humming and continuing to chow down. Bucky, though, seems to be having a bout of indigestion. A little frown line appearing between his eyebrows as he looks at both Tony and Steve. Tony can’t begin to fathom what’s going on behind those eyes that are so much colder than they ever were at the hospital.

Maybe he’s got a medical kink and only appreciates Tony when he’s in his scrubs. Or when he’s drugged to the gills. Isn’t that a compliment to his ego; only attractive when he drugs his dates. He doesn’t even bother with Natasha’s phrase this time. If he can just get through dinner he can go home and lick his wounds in peace.

When dinner finally ends and the bill comes, Tony insists on paying for his portion. After all, this isn’t a date for him so he stubbornly refuses to take his twenty back, despite how much Steve protests. It’s a little awkward after that and he can see the two of them having some sort of silent discussion, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t want to win the game anymore, he just wants it to end. Shake hands and part amicably, he’ll pick up his prize for Mr. Congeniality some other time. 

“Well that was-“ he starts when they’re outside, but Steve was saying something at the same time.

“We thought we’d go dancing next,” Steve pauses a moment to see if Tony wanted to finish his sentence. When he’s silent, Steve continues. “If you want to, anyway. We usually go to this one club it’s within walking distance. It’s the only club we go to, actually. It’s a great venue and the drinks are reasonably priced.”

Tony’s resolve falters in the face of how excited Steve sounds. “Actually, Steve, as fun as that could be…” He cuts off as Steve grabs his hand.

“Please, Tony, just for a little bit?” It’s the physical contact that does him in, the memory of every time one of them held his hand at the hospital rushing back. He wraps his fingers around Steve’s and holds on. Maybe it’s foolish, no, he knows it is but he can’t stop his mouth.

“Ok, just for a bit.” He ignores how Bucky glares at their joined hands and strides off with Steve, leaving the other to catch up.

Steve’s not a great dancer but he makes up for it in enthusiasm, jumping up and down and more than free with his hands, letting them roam over Tony’s torso and shoulders. It’s ridiculous and has Tony laughing and actually having a bit of a good time for a bit. He lets loose, too and throws himself into the music getting lost in the rhythm and the beating of his heart.

He hasn’t gone clubbing in such a long time, and the press of hot, sweaty bodies is invigorating and goes a long way toward chasing away his melancholy. Someone tall and muscular is suddenly behind him, pressing their chest to his back, hands at his hip. Smiling, he pulls out all his sexiest moves until the song changes and he notices the tattoos winding up the forearm of his dance partner.

He doesn’t think it’s possible to feel more rejected than he does right now. He slips away from the stranger as stealthily as he can, hoping not to be followed. Steve and Bucky aren’t even near him. They’re in a darker corner, grinding on each other, faces only inches apart, completely oblivious to the humanity around them.

After being edged out, again, Tony decides he might as well call time of death on this date. He steps up to Steve and Bucky, tapping Steve on the shoulder to get his attention. “I’m going to go grab a drink, maybe get some air,” he practically yells over the pounding bass.

“I’ll go with you,” Steve yells back already starting to move.

Bucky’s face goes dark. “No, no, you guys stay here and enjoy yourselves. I’ll be fine,” he pushes Steve back to his boyfriend and turns without another word, heading to the bar. Once he’s out of sight he allows his disappointment to wash over him.

They didn’t even make it through one date before deciding he wasn’t worth it. Or, well, Bucky had. Steve still seemed interested, but one out of two does not a successful polyamorous relationship make. Checking his watch he sees it’s only a little after ten. It would be a shame to waste a night out, especially since it had been such a long time since he’d last gotten laid. He did buy a new coat and all.

Signaling at the bartender, he orders a whiskey neat. He’ll console himself by getting plastered and finding someone hot to take him home. No one could possibly compete with the men he’d come here with but he still had some game.

Fortunately, he didn’t even have to try. As he turns, drink in hand, to scope out the dance floor for someone big and strong enough to manhandle him a little, he almost spills onto a broad chest that had been right behind him.

“Oh! Sorry! Didn’t see you there!” He does a quick once over and thinks he may have found a winner. This guy looks a lot like Steve; muscular, tall, blonde. But new guy has a bit of a fake tan coloring and his eyes aren’t nearly as warm. Still, large, male, and interested are the only qualifications Tony has right now.

“No problem at all. I definitely saw you from across the way. Too bad you already have a drink, though,” the man says, leaning into Tony’s space a bit and putting one hand on the bar to his right. Tony caught a whiff of cologne, a little strong, but he could overlook it.

Tony smiles, turning on his charm. “I do, but I see that you don’t. Can I get you something?” He sips at his drink, relishing the burn and the way his new friends’ eyes follow the glass to his lips and linger. He licks his lips slowly and the mans’ other hand lands on the bar, bracketing Tony in.

“Something? Hmm… I could go for a little,” he pauses, eyes dark as they rake over Tony’s upper body.  “Something.”

Wow, this guy is definitely interested. Well the sooner they get out of there, the better. He doesn’t want to run into Steve and Bucky. They can just enjoy the rest of their date together, since they’re obviously happier without him.

“Hey pal, care to back up off my date a bit?” Comes a hostile Brooklyn drawl from their right. Tony almost rolls his eyes when the blonde beefcake leans to the side and he catches sight of Bucky. The man looks furious, mouth pursed and eyes hard. Steve stands behind him, equally angry, arms crossed and his red cast standing out ridiculously.

What the hell is Bucky’s problem? First he ignores him all night, getting uppity every time he flirts with Steve, and now he’s being a possessive jerk?

“And why would your date be over here all alone offering to buy me a drink?”

If possible, Bucky’s expression darkens further.

“Tony? What’s he talking about?” Steve asks, hurt all over his face. Shame and disappointment slams back into Tony, even though none of this is his fault. He shuts his eyes to hold back his emotions. He’s so over this night. It really can’t get any worse.

He turns to the bar, putting his back to everyone who doesn’t actually care who he goes home with and tosses his drink back in one swift swallow. Slapping a bill on the bar, he waves casually to the bartender and pushes his way through the crowds to the door.

There’s a cacophony of sounds in his wake, men shouting and he hears his name called more than once but he doesn’t stop. He shakes his head at the bouncer holding the re-entry stamp. He’s never coming back to this particular club if he has his way.

“Tony wait! Please, wait one minute and talk to me!” It’s Steve. Of course it would be Steve with his guileless, sweet baby blues that never fail to fill Tony with ridiculous hope. “I don’t understand why you were talking to that guy, I thought we were having a good time.”

Tony shakes Steve’s hand off of his elbow. “We were, Steve. You and I were having a good time. Bucky? Not so much. It’s pretty obvious that he isn’t as serious about this as you are which is fine. I don’t mind. Maybe this was all your idea, but I’m not going to come between you two and I’m certainly not sticking around to see how far his resentment toward me goes. He may just see me as a piece of ass but I actually do have feelings. Please just respect that this is over and stop showing up at my work unless you’re actually hurt.”

He’s feeling bold now, probably the whiskey hitting his bloodstream, so he raises up on his tiptoes to kiss Steve once, chastely on the lips before he walks away. His lips are soft and warm and he wishes this wasn’t their last kiss. Wishes that Bucky didn’t dislike him so fervently.

Steve doesn’t come after him and he can’t decide if he’s relieved or disappointed.

When he trudges his way into his apartment and sees the clever snack-cake bouquet on his table, tears prick at his eyes, burning, and he decides he’s definitely disappointed and a little heartbroken. He can’t believe he was that excited about dating again and embarrassed at how far gone he was for the two.

It was probably mostly jealousy, he justifies. Jealous of how caring the two were toward each other, how obviously in love they were with their small affections and attentions. After his disastrous dating streak (his entire life), that was all he wanted. He wanted to be loved and he wanted it to be easy.

He dismantles the bouquet, keeping only the snacks which he tosses in a plastic sack that goes by the backpack that he takes to work. After chugging a glass of water at the kitchen sink, he walks into his bedroom pulls off all his clothes. Naked beneath the 800-thread count sheets he’d splurged on for his birthday, he tries to convince himself that the bed’s not too empty.

***

Tony brings his snack-cake assortment to work on Monday, when he knows Natasha will be back to work as well. It doesn’t feel right to eat Twinkies and Ho-Hos without her. It’s their thing, so he hadn’t touched them all weekend.

So, when their first break rolls around, about 6pm that night, he grabs a pack of Snoballs from where he’d dumped them all in the locker and makes a beeline for the bench that was outside of the ER doors. It was probably one of the last nice weather days before fall started settling in and they’d need extra layers to sit outside.

Natasha is already seated, mid-way through a ham and cheddar sandwich from the cafeteria. She hands one to him without a word, pre-packaged goodness. Tony plunks down with dessert, secretly agreeing with Jan that he and Nat should probably eat a little better. He hasn’t forgotten how hard it was to get into his pants on Friday night.

 “So it didn’t go well?” Natasha asks, one eyebrow raised at the Snoball he has yet to eat.

“Nope, and trust me I gave it a real chance. As real as it gets, but I don’t think they’re on the same page about adding a third. Sure, they both seemed interested and on board when they were asking, but I think the reality was a completely different matter.” He’s trying to downplay it, but Natasha knows him better than that.

“I’m sorry. I know you really liked them.” He leans his head on her shoulder, taking comfort in the smell of her shampoo. In turn, she leans her head on his. “I’m proud of you, though. It took a lot to even try. You haven’t dated in such a long time and to just jump in with an established couple takes guts.”

“I got hit on twice at the club, that was kinda nice.”

“See, you’ve still got it. What do you say we go sometime? I’m expecting that blonde EMT to ask me out in the next week or so.”

“Clint? Well it’s about time. I don’t know what I expected to happen first; him to get the guts to ask you out or for that partner of his to run him over with the rig.” Tony snorts, thinking about the murderous exasperation that Loki always exhibited when Clint was making goo goo-eyes at Natasha. It was so fun to rile that guy up. Too straight-laced, in Tony’s opinion.

“I think most people are betting on Loki snapping. I’ll keep you informed, of course. And cheer up, Tony, the night is young, there’s still a chance that someone will puke on Hammer.”

Tony actually laughs, “Just don’t let Maria catch you slipping him any emetics.”

They both know that Natasha wouldn’t, but she just smirks evilly before giving him a one-armed hug and heading inside. Their breaks don’t align exactly, they’re far too valuable on the floor for that, so he’s still got about fifteen minutes to spare while he finishes his dinner alone.

He should have brought his phone so he’d have something to do, so now he was just counting the sugar crystals that remained on the Snoball, calculating how many he ate with every bite. He’s taken by surprise when someone sits down next to him in a cloud of leather and old spice.

“B-Bucky?” So surprised he stutters. Ugh.

“Hey Tony,” Bucky puts his arm up around Tony’s shoulders to pull him in close. It’s an easy, natural move for him, like they’ve always sat like this. Together. “I thought you might be on break right about now and thought I’d stop in to say hi.”

Tony is confused; he thought he’d made his thoughts on them stopping by at work completely clear to Steve. It seemed like Bucky didn’t get the message. What on earth was he doing here? And acting friendly? “Uh.. hi?”

Bucky’s grin loses some of its confidence and he pulls his arm back into his own lap. “I fucked this whole thing up already, didn’t I?”

“No, this is definitely an acceptable hello,” Tony nudges him with an elbow a little playfully even though he’s dying inside and hoping this isn’t the official ‘stay away from my boyfriend’ speech.

It would be better if they hadn’t even gone on a date, but to have such a small taste and have it snatched away… He’d probably spend the next week as an emotional wreck made out of tears and beer. It was pretty much how he’d spent the weekend.

Bucky huffs a breathy laugh. “No, Tony, the dating thing. With you and Steve, at the same time. I’m not good at dating. Just ask Stevie. I’ve known him forever and our first few dates were still awful and awkward.”

Now he just looks absolutely downtrodden. Eyes to the ground, hair falling down around his ears and framing his frown. It’s a terrible look and Tony just wants to wipe it from existence, but he knows he has no right. As much as he wants to, he just can’t stay mad at these guys even though it’s ripping his heart to shreds.

“Steve told me what you said. He was pretty pissed at me and rightfully so. Tony, I wasn’t trying to make you feel like a third wheel or unwanted. I can be a little possessive about Stevie and I know it doesn’t excuse how I treated you, but we spent so many years fighting the world to be together. It’s second nature, now.”

He pauses and Tony’s heart does a painful little blip, stitching itself back together slowly without any local anesthesia. “So, I’m here to apologize and to beg for forgiveness.” 

He turns slightly so that he’s facing Tony. “I want to date you, Tony. Don’t get the wrong idea about that, that hasn’t changed since that first time you were stitching Stevie up. You were so good with him, so sweet, even when he puked on you. I’m not saying we like you cuz of your job; it’s not, you’re spunky and honest and when you laugh your eyes crinkle up and my chest aches.”

Tony was not expecting this kind of heart to heart to ever happen with Bucky, but it was a pleasant surprise. Bucky had so far been much more physical in his appreciation of Tony, completely opposite of Steve. He hadn’t even considered that it was because Bucky was nervous or couldn’t find the words. For all that he may look like a god, he was just human.

“It’s gonna take some time, Tony, for me to get used to seeing Steve with someone else. Even if it’s someone I like just as much.”

He hopes he’s reading all of this correctly and tentatively takes Bucky’s hand in his, the way he and Steve had done on almost every one of their trips to the ER. Maybe Bucky needs some reassurance that Tony was in this honestly as well. Bucky squeezes his hand tightly, taking in a huge fortifying breath that sounds as relieved as Tony feels.

“Thanks Bucky, for telling me, but the way I see it is that you’re not ready for this. A third. Which is fine, who am I to push? But you can’t just drag me through the mud until you are.” Bucky looks up at him with shock on his face. Maybe he didn’t think Tony was that invested.

“We have this unofficial rule, if you want to call it that, here at the hospital.” He gazes into Bucky’s eyes, trying to impart how serious he is. “Three shifts. It takes three shifts to decide if you can stick it in this job or you fall on your ass. If you can make those three, you’re welcomed with open arms as a part of the team and any mistakes you made before are wiped. The way I see it, you guys are two shifts in and it’s not looking good.”

It’s terrifying, throwing that out there, but he thinks that Bucky needs to hear it as much as Tony needed to say it. Boundaries are important. It doesn’t stop his heart from trying to pound its way out of his chest, waiting for the others reaction, but Bucky is just staring at him. Searching his face intently, seriously, until he grins a little roguishly.

“So we’ve got one more chance, or I do, to make this right?”

“Yeah, and if it doesn’t take then you both need to let this go. Please, if you think you could care about me at all, then please respect that.”

One hand comes up, floating near Tony’s cheek. “You’ve got sugar here,” he says quietly. Tony expects him to wipe it off with a finger like Steve had done, but Bucky grabs the back of his neck and pulls him in for a kiss.

It’s not chaste for long, as Tony melts into Bucky opening to let the others tongue find and lick away all the faint traces of sugar inside. Both of his hands are tangled up Bucky’s hair and he’s pulled until they’re pressed chest to chest. A part of him wants nothing more than to swing a leg over and straddle Bucky’s waist, but he refrains, because he’s at work and definitely still mad.

They pull apart, both breathing heavily. “Wow,” Tony breathes. “That was some apology.”

“You’re welcome,” Bucky smirks, and Tony smacks him lightly in the chest. Bucky sobers, staring holes through Tony’s soul with his intense gaze. “Let me try again. Dinner at our place, maybe?”

“Ok.” Tony knows he’s grinning dopily, but he can’t bring himself to stop. This was not how he expected his lunch break to go and his mood had done a complete 180.

“Great,” and Bucky honestly sounds excited. “Don’t be surprised if Steve calls today or tomorrow. He’s worried about you, but wanted to respect your wish to be left alone at work.”

“And you said ‘fuck it’ to that, huh?”

“You bet I did. Had to get my man back.” There’s a heat to Bucky’s gaze that has Tony blushing suddenly.

“Right. Well, mission accomplished! I’d better get back to work. Tell Steve I’ll call him after my shift, if that’s ok. It’ll be late.”

“Will do, doll.” Tony wishes it was later in the day and thus darker out, because his blush only deepens. He says some sort of goodbye; he has no idea what, before turning tail back into the bustle of the ER.

If that’s going to be the reaction he gets from eating Hostess cakes, Jan can take her healthy food and shove it.