Bucky had no idea why he had allowed himself to be roped into this.
Well, at least he knew how it had happened, because that was easy - Tony had happened.
Bucky should be able to tell the man 'no', he really should. And he'd tried, but then there were honest to god puppy eyes, huge and brown and completely heartbreaking, and Bucky folded like a crappy hand of poker. Every time.
His soft spot for Tony should have hardened after Tony and Steve got together. Scarred over into something toughened and rough, something that hadn't healed well but at least closed up for good. Because no matter how deep he'd managed to fall for Tony, Steve was his best friend since forever.
It would have gone away, if he'd been a good person. Instead it had stayed right where it was, this warm, fuzzy glow of affection in his gut, which meant he'd catch himself smiling like a fool at Tony's antics, and which made him agree to shit like this. Even when he knew it would end up painful beyond belief.
Bucky swallowed a bitter sigh and clenched his left hand a bit tighter around his beer bottle, his right hand forcibly gentle around the tablet Tony had handed him. It would just make things even more awkward if he started breaking Tony's electronics. Though it might turn out to be necessary if he really needed a way out.
He stared at the list of questions, and then looked up at Tony. Who was drinking from his own beer, eyes still on Bucky as his throat worked through the swallows.
Teeth clenched, Bucky let his eyes quickly drop back to the glowing screen, and felt himself curl up a bit in his seat on the couch. "I don't think this is a good idea", he muttered at the first question.
It felt like the words were silently, digitally mocking him. Fat and black and smug.
"No, it's an awesome idea", Tony said, gesturing his way. "It'll be fun!"
Sure. Fun. You know what else would be fun? Ripping an arm off. Might be less painful, too. Couldn't Tony beg him to do that, instead?
Bucky didn't ask, though. Instead he snorted and glared at Tony, to hide his awkwardness. "Last time I checked, neither of us was a teenage girl."
Tony flopped back in his seat, and unleashed the puppy eyed look again. "Please?"
He ought to be pulling out his cell and calling Steve, asking his friend to come over to beat the shit out of him for what he was about to do. Instead he took a long swallow from his beer, to summon some much needed strength, and started reading. Going for an exaggerated, dramatic pitch - what he imagined a click bait would sound like if it could talk.
"Are you ready for a polyamorous relationship? Test yourself and find out!"
Tony tipped his head back against the cushion and giggled, dark eyes sparkling. "God, you're a dork."
"Takes one to know one."
"Whatever. Come on! First question!" Tony twisted around on the couch, so he could face Bucky head on.
Point of no return.
"What does sex mean to you, in the context of a romantic relationship?" Bucky made an effort to just clinically, neutrally read the words. Like they meant nothing. Just symbols turned to sound.
Like they weren't conjuring up mental images Bucky shouldn't have of the two most important people in his life.
He'd expected a quick reply, but when none came, Bucky looked up from the screen to find Tony thoughtfully looking into the middle distance, tapping the rim of the bottle against his lower lip.
Then Tony seemed to feel that he was being watched, blinked, and turned to look at Bucky. "What? I'm thinking!"
Bucky just raised a challenging eyebrow.
"Cut me some slack, I thought these would be easy!"
"We can do something else if -"
"Nah, I'm good, just... Okay." Tony took a pull from his beer. "I think I've changed my mind a lot on that over the years. Because when I was younger I pretty much thought it meant everything. That that's what made a relationship a relationship? The people I was with back then didn't do anything to help change my mind." He shrugged. "It's still important to me, but mostly because physical intimacy is important to me. And sex is pretty fucking great. But it's not the only way to be close, you know?"
Bucky found himself nodding, but still dropped his eyes back down to the tablet. He completely agreed. That wasn't the problem. The problem was that he spent a lot of time trying not to think about Tony and sex - or intimacy for that matter - in the same context. This wasn't helping him achieve that.
He knew this had been a bad idea. He should stop.
A sort of itching, masochistic curiosity was crawling up his skin now, though. He'd had this awful crush on Tony almost since he'd met him three years ago, and that was bad enough. But Steve was also his best friend, who Bucky had loved almost his entire life.
And if he'd nursed a secret crush on Steve since his early teens, that was nobody's business but his. And if it happened to make things even more painful, it was no more than he deserved. If he hadn't been such a coward, he might have made a move on Steve before they met Tony. Or he might have made a move on Tony before Steve did. But then he couldn't quite wish for the latter, because no matter what, he couldn't wish happiness away from Steve.
Steve had been his everything almost as far back as he could remember. But he'd accepted a long time ago that Steve thought of him as a friend and nothing else. And that was good. Great, even. He wouldn't want to lose that for anything.
But he still dreamed.
This, right here? This was a fucked up way to get a glimpse of their relationship from the inside, sort of, and Bucky wanted that. Wanted it bad, even when he most definitely shouldn't.
He was just the lowest form of life, wasn't he?
(Don't answer that.)
In spite of everything, Bucky read the next question: "Is it possible for you to separate sex and love?"
"Yes." At least that answer came instantly and without hesitation.
Instead of commenting, Bucky carried on reading. "Have you ever had a 'friends with benefits' arrangement? If so, how did that feel?"
Unimpressed, Bucky gave him a flat look. If Tony was going to make him do this, then damnit, they were going to do it right. "You want to unpack that a bit?"
"I mean, it felt... just... it was..." Tony finally relented with a wince. "Okay I lied. It wasn't satisfying at all. Happy now?"
"I literally have no idea what part of this is about making me happy."
"Hush, you." Tony sipped his beer and quickly rolled on with his answer. "I still thought sex was all I needed, back then, so I though that would be enough. 'Cause the sex was great. There was no intimacy though, at all, and I missed it. Not that I realized that back then, but later... Yeah, no, it's not for me."
Bucky decided to accept that answer. He'd never managed to do the friends with benefits thing himself.
"Imagine your partner being in a romantic and/or sexual relationship with someone else, and try to honestly answer the following questions:" Bucky made a brief pause before he went on to the first follow-up. "How does that make you feel?"
"In my pants, or...?"
"Okay! Fine! God, I never knew you were this bossy..." Tony emptied his beer and leaned forward to put it on the coffee table, before slumping back in his seat. "I mean it would kind of depend on who it was, but with the right person? It... um... makes me feel really good, actually." He squirmed a little, but the tiny, dreamy smile on his face made the words sound sincere. "Sure, the mental images are amazing. Life-altering. Just... holy shit? But mostly, actually, it would make me happy, because there would be this whole other person loving Steve and, well, he deserves all the love in the world."
Bucky could just blink at him for a moment, lost for words. That wasn't the kind of answer he had expected.
He swallowed down the sudden lump in his throat, and forced his lips to tick up in a smile. "He's pretty great, I'll give you that."
Tony's little smile grew into something wide and love-sick. "Yeah."
Bucky made himself look down, clear his throat, and read on. "What are the worst and best case scenarios that come to mind?"
"Worst case, Steve decides he wants this other... um... person, more than he wants me, and leaves." Tony snatched the empty bottle back from the table, thumb nail bunching up a corner of the label as he kept talking. "Not like that can't happen anyway, but in this scenario, I would be the one who made it possible."
Nodding silently, even though Tony couldn't see him, Bucky wondered who Tony had in mind. It sounded like it might be someone in particular, not just a faceless hypothetical, but he'd also been careful to not use a pronoun, so maybe Bucky was just imagining things.
It seemed like Tony had lost himself in the dark, though, so Bucky reached out and poked him in the arm with a corner of the tablet.
"Huh?" Tony looked up, mouth twisted to the side.
"And what's the best case?"
"Oh!" Those dark eyes lit up, suddenly all bright and hopeful, and god, if Steve ever did leave Tony for someone else, Bucky would be first in line to punch that moron in the face. "Best case, all three of us fall madly in love, and live happily ever after."
Well, fair, this was about polyamory, after all. It wouldn't have been Bucky's go-to solution if three people were involved in some kind of love triangle, but yeah, it sure felt like it at least had a bit more potential for a happy ending than someone ultimately losing.
He read the last follow-up question: "What would be a dealbreaker?"
"If he didn't leave me for the other person, but still chose them over me."
Bucky frowned. "How do you mean?"
Tony sighed and leaned forward, elbows on his knees, eyes on the now shredded label on his beer. "I mean if they spent all their time together, and I was left on the outside looking into my own relationship."
"Oh." Bucky considered. Then he nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, I get you. Being alone in someone else's company is the worst fucking thing. Would be even more awful if they're two and you're on your own, right?"
"Exactly." Tony's smile was a little sharp, a little brittle. Then he shook himself and shot out of his seat, reaching out for Bucky's now empty bottle. "Refill?"
He watched Tony walk into the kitchen and lean into the fridge, and then had to look away from how Tony's worn-soft jeans hugged the curve of his backside.
Life was so unfair.
And on top of everything, this whole thing was starting to feel less and less like a joke. Tony had made it sound like just a fun test he'd found, no big deal, but these answers he was giving? It felt a lot like he had actually thought about this. Considered it in a serious way Bucky would never have expected.
Were Tony and Steve actually planning on bringing someone else into their relationship? For real?
Was Bucky going to have to watch the two people he loved most in the world not only have a relationship with each other, but also with some nameless third? Someone who would get to have and love them both?
That would fucking suck.
Tony's return with beer snapped him out of his darkening thoughts. Bucky gratefully accepted the cold bottle, took a swallow while Tony sat back down, and then continued reading. It went easier now. Maybe it was the alcohol, or maybe he was just getting invested in hearing the answers, on a level beyond the kind of dirty greed he'd felt from the start. He still felt awful about his need to know, but now he just had to know.
"Do you tend to be jealous?"
"No, not really... I, um..." Tony rubbed the back of his neck, and then busied himself with drinking some beer, before he managed to go on. "I tend to just blame myself, actually." He glanced up at Bucky, giving him a quick, pained little flash of a smile.
Now that sure was no lie. Bucky knew him well enough to have already established that much about Tony. Antyhing that went wrong around him, he always found a way to make it his fault. It was all too easy to imagine him at the end of a relationship, no matter what had happened to end it, shifting all blame onto his own shoulders.
It made somthing feirce and protective twist behind his sternum, something Bucky hadn't felt since Steve had been a 90 pound asthmatic on the hunt for his next fight. He didn't want Tony to have to feel like that ever again.
As if there was anything he could even do to stop it.
Not like he was part of Tony's love life.
Bucky wanted to say something comforting, but he had no idea what that would even be, so he settled for a warm little smile in return before he continued to the next question:
"Can you set boundaries and communicate them to others?"
"Yeah, sure." Tony shrugged. "Comes with being raised a businessman, you know? I'm great at negotiations."
"Uh-huh." Bucky raised an eyebrow at him, while he took a sip of beer. "And how are you with enforcing those boundaries?"
With a huff, Tony waved his concern away. "That wasn't part of the question, Bucky-Bear."
"Could have been", Bucky objected, gesturing with he tablet in his hand. "I'm the one reading them."
"Bossy... Okay, maybe in my private life, I'm not as great at that part as I am in business deals. Maybe?"
Somehow, Bucky was not surprised to hear that. He wished Tony would care more about himself, treat himself better. At least he was sure Steve wasn't the kind of person who would take advantage of Tony's habit of never putting himself first. Bucky just hoped that whoever this third person might be, would turn out to be just as careful with Tony's heart.
"All right. Actual next question: If something worries you, do you talk about it or keep it to yourself?"
"I guess I'm pretty good at bringing stuff like that up", Tony said, as if he actually believed that bullshit himself.
Bucky almost did a spit take. "Now that's just the worst load of crap I have ever heard."
"Hey!" Tony sat up straight, glaring half-heartedly, and pointed at him with his free hand. "I don't remember asking you to correct my answers to these!
"No, but the fact that you asked me to do this with you in the first place means you should have counted on me doing just that. So shut up and be honest."
"Can't very well do both", Tony grumbled, but he must have seen on Bucky's face that he wouldn't get away with that evasion. "Fine! I don't bring stuff up. But if people do something I don't like it's because I did something wrong to begin with, so there is no use, because all I can do is try to be better!"
They stared at each other through the heavy silence that settled after Tony's fast, angry rant. Bucky was still as a statue, not even blinking, and Tony was breathing a bit too hard, looking wild-eyed at his own outburst.
Both of them jumped about a foot off their seats when a third voice spoke up in the tense quiet of the room.
"That's the worst load of crap I've heard in my life."
Bucky was already spinning in his seat at the words, and as soon as he recognized the new-comer, he dropped the tablet into his lap, to triumphantly point at Steve with his free hand. "That's what I said!"
Steve's face, so serious it was almost stern, softened into a smile. "Knew there was a reason I liked you."
Dark guilt squirmed in Bucky's gut, turned his own smile strained, and he had to look away when Steve stepped forward and leaned in to press a soothing kiss to Tony's still frowning face. If Stevie only knew...
He didn't look up again until Tony's sock-covered foot came into view, nudging his knee. Bucky blinked at his face, which was no longer turned down into a put upon frown, but had softened into something that was almost concerned.
"Hey", Tony said gently, once their eyes met, his lips curving into a smile, corners of his eyes crinkling faintly with it. "We weren't done, were we?"
With a glance at Steve, who was by the fridge, probably picking up a beer for himself, Bucky cleared his throat. "Maybe we should be done?"
"Nah, I want to finish."
Bucky hesitated, keeping an eye on Steve as his friend came over to the couch and dropped down by Tony's side. He sipped his beer, easily stretching his free arm out along the back of the seats, giving Tony space to slump into his side. His arm was so long his hand ended up by Bucky's shoulder. Bucky got a glimpse of neatly trimmed nails and flecks of blue paint on his thumb before he met Steve's bright eyes, their blue a few shades lighter.
"We could watch a movie instead?", Bucky offered, hoping that Steve would agree, give him a way out.
But Tony made such a whiny, impatient noise that Steve just laughed and shook his head. "Might as well do what he wants, Buck. Doesn't sound like he's about to let you off the hook."
With a resigned sigh, Bucky emptied his beer and put the bottle aside before he picked the tablet out of his lap and activated the darkened screen again. "Fine", he muttered at Steve, ignoring Tony's triumphant little fist pump. "Just don't punch me. This was his idea."
Steve blinked in surprise, and then chuckled. "I'm not going to punch you", he promised.
"You say that now, but..."
"It's fine, Bucky." Steve smiled fondly at him, calm and firm, like he knew exactly what was going on, and wasn't bothered in the least.
"Sure, okay, right, whatever." Bucky realized he was rambling, and shot the far too smug-looking Tony a sharp look that made the man catch both his lips between his teeth in an effort to keep quiet. Then Bucky made himself read the next question, tone as neutral as he could manage. "Do you have the time and energy to fulfill more than one partner's need for love and intimacy?"
"Well, I guess that's a valid question." Tony was tapping his fingertips agains the bottle in his lap, eyes following the quick little movements of his own hands. "Actually, I'm... um... I'm quitting my job. Sort of."
"What?" That was both Bucky and Steve, in baffled unison, looking wide-eyed at Tony, which made his dark eyes flit between their gaping faces.
"Yeah, I signed over the position as CEO to Pepper. Last week, actually."
"But the company...?" Bucky felt his mouth flap uselessly.
"You love SI", Steve continued where Bucky couldn't. "Why quit?"
"I do. I still do. But I absolutely hate running it. The paperwork and the meetings and wrestling with the board... It's not what I want to do with my time. Plus, Pepper is better at it." Tony gave a tentative smile, eyes still moving from one to the other in turn. "I'm keeping my position as head of R&D and that's it. So. I'm down to more of a nine-to-five, most of the time."
"Wow", Bucky murmured, and didn't even think to look away while Steve took his arm off the backrest to curl it around Tony, dragging him even closer so he could press a kiss to his temple, while Tony beamed happily at them both. He knew that Tony's frankly ridiculous work load had been a strain on his and Steve's relationship, and it had even been an issue when it came to Bucky's own friendship with Tony at times. The guy just never had any time off.
And now that was about to change.
That more than anything convinced Bucky that, yeah, this was real. These questions, Tony's answers, Steve's relaxed attitude about the whole thing... They really were about to take in a third.
His chest clenched painfully, and his fingers twitched so sharply around the tablet that he had to forcibly ease off again, or he'd end up breaking off a corner.
"That a good enough answer?" Tony's voice was warm and amused.
Bucky willed some sort of smile onto his face. "Definitely. So... um..." He dropped his eyes to the last two questions. "Are you in a romantic relationship right now?"
"Well, at least that one's easy to answer." Tony was grinning up at Steve when Bucky looked back up. "Yeah."
Steve let go of him, and stretched his arm out along the back of the couch again, smile on his face in turn. "Good to know you didn't have to think too hard about that."
Then they both turned their heads at the same time, to give Bucky expectant looks.
"Right", he said, "last question." Bucky looked at the tablet and very reluctantly read the last line. "Do you both wish to change the relationship to include other people?"
His eyes flitted back to their faces before he was even done with the last words, masochistically unwilling to miss even a non-verbal part of their answer, and he was surprised to find them still looking right at him. Bucky had expected them to look to each other instead, searching between them for an answer, but no. They were looking right at Bucky.
"Yeah", Tony said, smile curling gently around the word.
"We do", Steve filled in.
"Although not so much 'people' as one specific person", Tony amended, while his smile grew.
Right as Bucky was about to open his mouth and point out that he wasn't an idiot and that he'd already figured that part out, there was a movement by his side. Steve's hand left the back of Bucky's seat, and long, strong fingers slipped down to curve around his shoulder. The grip was warm and firm and sent an odd shiver down Bucky's back, something that usually didn't happen when Steve touched him. Because Steve only ever touched him as a friend, no other motivations behind it.
His mouth did open, then, but no words came out.
Because maybe he was an idiot, after all.
He must have quietly stared at them for too long, because their smiles faded and Tony frowned, confused and concerned.
"Did we break you?"
Bucky sucked down a breath, held it, and slowly let it slip back out as he shook himself out of the deepest level of his shock, eyes coming to focus on Tony's face. "You wanted to ask me to be in a relationship with you, and you used click bait to do it?"
"Uh... maybe?" Tony's face shifted into something more sheepish. He lowered his chin, bit his lip, and blinked almost shyly up at Bucky from under his ridiculously long lashes.
God, it was entirely unfair how effective that look was.
"For the record, I tried to tell him it was a stupid idea", Steve said, amusement slipping into his tone even when he tried to be serious.
"Well, to be fair", Bucky said, and he sounded slightly dazed even to himself, "it's not stupid if it works."
Tony lit up like a sun. "That's what I said!"
"And I said it takes a dork to know one", Bucky reminded him.
Tony just waved that aside as he pushed away from his spot by Steve's chest, and shuffled over until he was in Bucky's seat with him, practically in his lap.
He wasn't sure how it happened, or where the tablet went, but almost at once, Bucky had both his hands around Tony's waist, holding him close, amazed at the warm, solid feel of his body. Lost in the warm, welcoming, dazzling smile aimed right at him.
Steve's hand on his shoulder was suddenly on the move. It slipped down to the middle over his back as Steve moved closer too, wrapping his whole arm around the both of them. Which caught Tony snugly right between them, and Bucky was delighted to feel him actually break out in a full-body shudder, a pleased noise humming in Tony's throat.
Abruptly Bucky remembered Tony saying that "physical intimacy is important to me". All at once, it felt like an understatement. But that really didn't matter. Bucky would happily let Tony rub himself all over him like a cat, for as long as he wanted, if it got that kind of reaction out of him.
"You realize we probably have to go through all those questions again, and then some, all three of us, together, before we decide anything?" Even when he said it, though, Bucky felt his fingers clench possessively around Tony's waist, eyes sliding pleadingly up to Steve's face. Fuck, if they took this offer back now, he might literally die.
"We know", Steve said, but he was smiling, like he was happy at the prospect. Like talking about their future was appealing in itself. And when Bucky thought about it like that, he kind of agreed.
"I told you, I'm great at negotiations", Tony murmured. "It's gonna be fine." His hands came up to Bucky's shoulders, fisting in the cloth of his t-shirt. "So how about we get a bit ahead of ourselves, for now, and you just kiss us instead?"
Swallowing past a sudden tightness in his chest, Bucky glanced between their faces, making sure they were both in agreement. And what do you know? Steve's puppy eyes were almost as devastating as Tony's.
He was so screwed.
With a feeling like he was diving under water and not sure he'd ever come back up, Bucky tilted his head forward, slightly to the side, and softly caught Tony's mouth with his. He felt another shudder under his palms, another happy hum against his lips, and then Tony was kissing up into his mouth, tongue gentle and barely there.
When Bucky reluctantly let go, he almost didn't have the time to gasp in a breath before Steve was sweeping in for his turn. His blue eyes were blown, cheeks deliciously flushed, and his hand was suddenly in Bucky's hair, cradling the entire back of his head, and the part of Bucky that would always think of Steve as tiny was reeling a bit at the feel of it there, huge and warm. But then Steve was goddamn invading his mouth, nothing like Tony's careful strokes, but conquering and laying claim and so eager. Bucky couldn't do more than open up and let himself be taken over, distantly aware of Tony cursing softly by his ear.
His worries that Steve would always think of him as a friend and brother were clearly unfounded. There was nothing remotely platonic or brotherly about a kiss like that.
"Holy shit", Tony giggled when they parted, twisting between them so he could sort of see them both from his spot on their laps. "Yeah, that's even better than I imagined."
Chuckling, softly but hoarsely, Steve used his other hand to catch Tony's jaw, turn him half around, and then gave him the same kind of kiss he'd just used to overturn Bucky's mind.
Bucky had seen them kiss before, of course, but always the soft, sweet, sort of chaste little pecks they reserved for when they had company. This was nothing like that. Being close enough to see every detail of it - the hints of sliding tongue between their lips, the flutter of Steve's golden lashes - and hear the little noises they were making, just made it so much better.
Having a crush on two people maybe wasn't the worst thing that could happen, after all. Not when the best case scenario was all of them falling madly in love, and living happily ever after.