“You’re not in the lab,” Bucky observed.
“No.” The fact Tony didn’t mock him for stating the obvious was telling.
“What’s wrong, Sunshine?” Bucky looked up at him from where he’d been lying on the couch.
“You’re gonna laugh.” Tony was staring deep into his cup of coffee, as though he could see the future in it.
“I won’t laugh,” Bucky promised. He always took Tony’s depressive episodes--and neuroses--very seriously. If nothing else, it was a good way to distract from his own self-loathing. But the sad truth was, he loved Tony. All 5’7” of him.
“I miss Cap.” Bucky did laugh, but it was a sympathetic laugh. An ‘aw you sweet little baby’ laugh. Did Tony really think that was a bad thing to admit? Well, he might. His dad had done some serious damage to his ideas of what healthy emotional expression was.
Tony glared at him. He’d warned Bucky not to laugh.
“Honey, I do, too.” He reached up for Tony’s hand. “You’re not alone.”
The expression Tony made was almost a pout. Almost. “Well. I miss him more.”
Bucky tried to hide a smile. “How do you figure?”
“Because, when he’s here, most of the time I feel like you’re all he sees.” Bucky wasn’t so sure about that. But he wasn’t sure enough to say so. “So it’s like I miss him even when he’s here. Then, when he’s away…”
Bucky reached up to touch his cheek. “I’m sorry, honey. I’m sorry we make you feel that way.”
“No you’re not.” Tony was staring gloomily into his coffee mug again.
“See, the thing is…” Bucky pushed himself up, dragged his legs under him so that he was sitting on the couch, leaning toward Tony. “I really am.” He wanted to touch him again, but touch was something you couldn’t force on Tony.
“Why?” The look Tony cast him was part annoyed, part curious. He really didn’t know.
Bucky’s smile was full of irony. God was an asshole, and his sense of humour sucked. At least, that’s why he’d stopped going to mass. That, and Father Flanagan’s grabby hands. “Because I love you,” Bucky said simply.
Tony huffed and shook his head as though Bucky had just made a joke at his expense. “You both say that so easily. You grew up in the Depression, when men were men. Aren’t you supposed to suppress all of those emotions? Is this a backlash against the heteronormativity you were both raised in? Or do you just do it to fuck with me?”
Bucky rolled his eyes. “You’re right, Tony. It’s all about you.”
“Okay, now you sound like him.”
This was the part Tony would never understand, and he was so smart, Bucky couldn’t get why. He and Steve had been together for so long--waking hours, anyway--they’d been through so much together, had so much shared experience, there was no distinguishable point where one of them left off and the other started. It was gross. Like RomCom schlock. But it was also true. “Maybe he sounds like me,” Bucky suggested. “Did you ever think of that?” He was only half-joking.
“Actually, yes.” And now Bucky could see Tony was feeling prickly. He looked over at Bucky almost accusatorily. “Sometimes I wonder how much of him is you. It sickens me.”
That was like a slap to the face. “Wow,” Bucky looked away. “Tell me how you really feel, Tony. Be sure not to pull any punches.”
“Like you ever do with me.” Now he was just being hurtful in that way he had when he was feeling vulnerable.
Bucky bit his tongue. He handled Tony with the softest of kid gloves every damn day. Trying to keep their three-way relationship going in spite of Steve’s nobler instincts toward monogamy, and Tony’s deep-seated resentment of Bucky’s very existence. And that was just one small fraction. Everything about Tony required special treatment, perfect timing, the exact right answer for the exact right moment. He was the definition of high-maintenance. But Bucky did it.
“Why?” Tony was asking. “Why do you do it?”
Bucky tried to see through to the question he was really asking. It might just be that old simple one of self-destruction. “Why do I love you?”
“Yes.” Tony blinked. “No. Why do you do it? Why do you stay in this? What do you get out of it? You could leave with him tomorrow, and he’d be fine with that. Do you really think I didn’t know? I know Cap.”
“Okay, fine,” Bucky shrugged. “You know Steve. So, why do I do it?”
“I know him.” Tony is frowning. “But I don’t know you. So tell me.”
Bucky rested his cheek against the couch cushions, already feeling exhausted. “I just told you.”
“You love me?” He smiled in that way you do right before you cry. “Please. No one really loves anybody. We’re all just in it for ourselves.”
“Is that how you feel?” Bucky was watching him carefully. “About Steve? You just love him for yourself?”
That forced him to eat his words a little, and Bucky was glad. He wasn’t that far gone. “Cap is my hero. He’s also an obstinate ass with a god complex, who thinks his idea of what’s right is the only way. So…” Bucky watched him work through it. “He’s flawed. He’s infuriating. He’s beautiful.” He shook his head. “No one should be that beautiful and be such a giant asshole at the same time.”
Bucky laughed. “He’s always been an asshole.”
Tony shrugged. “See, you’ll always out-do me. What’s the point?”
“So it’s a competition.”
Tony looked up at him with burning eyes. “Hell yes. And I want to win.”
Bucky took a deep breath. “Tony, life isn’t a contest.”
“That’s something a loser would say.”
Someone else might have gotten angry at that. But Bucky wasn’t someone else. “In the end, when there’s no one left to care...what does winning really mean?” He held Tony’s eyes. “What’s it worth?”
Tony couldn’t keep looking at him. “You’re still a loser.”
“Okay, fine.” Bucky leaned back. “So let’s say it’s a contest, and you win and I lose, and you have Steve all to yourself again. Is he a prize, or is he a person? Does he have feelings? You care about those, right?”
“Maybe a little,” Tony shrugged, still looking away.
“And you know him, right? So what are those feelings?”
Tony sneered. “He’d be furious. He’s not a prize. Mr. Freedom to Choose.” He almost glanced back at Bucky. “And he’d be miserable. He’d be...different. Like I said, I know Cap. I knew him when he thought you were dead, and I know him now that you’re back.” Tony shrugged. “He can’t live without you.” And then he added, trying to get in a dig, “Much to my chagrin.”
“So what does that mean?” Bucky leaned on his elbow. “What has the winner won?”
Tony shrugged, looking like a man accepting a death sentence. “A life of solitude and reflection.” He glanced in the direction of the door. “Hopefully brief. But meaningful. Blazing bright, like a shooting star.”
“God you’re depressing.”
Tony turned on him. “Says the guy who literally thinks he doesn’t deserve to live.”
Bucky shrugged. “I don’t.”
Tony grimaced. “I rest my case.” He shook his head. “I’d almost give up my genius to have what you have. And you’d just waste it.”
“Look, we both find ways to go on. You, on this endless quest for self-destruction, me because there are people--important people--who count on me being here tomorrow.”
Tony passed a hand over his face. “God, I need a drink.”
That made Bucky sit up. “You go anywhere near that bar, and I will body-check you into next week.”
“Nice to know you care.”
“I already told you I do.”
“Right. You…” Tony made a disgusted face, mocked him when he repeated it, “love me.”
“Why do you do that?” Bucky turned away, starting to fall into Tony’s trap.
“Do what?” He looked like he was seriously considering getting up.
“Why do you drive everyone away who cares about you?”
“It’s a special skill--” Tony started on another one of his smart answers, but Bucky just pushed him down onto the couch.
“Stop talking.” Something he wasn’t sure Tony could actually do.
“Make me.” Okay, that was more like it. Bucky climbed on top of him, his bulk weighing Tony down. He couldn’t head for the bar now.
“That a request?” Bucky was nose to nose with him now. Either the mouth diarrhea would start in earnest any minute, or he’d finally be quiet. There were only two options. But Bucky could tell from the look in Tony’s eyes, it was option 2.
“Shhh.” He kissed Tony’s forehead, stroked his cheek. “Sleep, demons. Sleep. My Tiny needs a break.”
And Tony was throwing his arms around Bucky, burying his face in his shoulder, clinging for dear life. “Shhh, Sunshine. Shhhh.” He stroked Tony’s hair, holding him so gently. “It didn’t work. It’s okay. I’m still here.” And he let Tony cry. “It’s just you and me. No one has to know.” He kissed Tony’s wet cheek, and just let him get it out. It was what he needed.
After the storm subsided, and it was Tony lying on him, his cheek resting on the damp fabric of Bucky’s shirt, he asked again. “Why?”
Bucky’s fingers were playing in the hair at the nape of Tony’s neck, gently scratching, like he was Bucky’s kitty cat. “Because you need.”
“‘sa shitty reason to love someone, Barnes.”
“Anyone ever tell you you’re codependent?”
Bucky’s lips curled in a smile. “A little bird told me that once. But I fucking hate birds.” Tony almost laughed. “The thing is…” He went back to petting Tony’s hair. His sweet Tony, not his.
“People who’re codependent pick partners they think can never leave them. ‘cause they’re afraid of being abandoned.” Was Tony rubbing his cheek against Bucky’s chest? That was sweet. “But I want the two of you to leave--I mean, I’d be happy if you did. Then I’d know you were okay. You’d be okay without me.”
Tony looked up at that, anger flaring in his eyes. “Don’t. If you ever try to hurt yourself again--I’ll never forgive you. Never.” He was spitting mad.
“I swear I didn’t mean--”
“You were lying in the bath holding a straight razor. Cut the bullshit ‘I don’t even remember picking it up’ routine. Maybe Cap buys that, but I don’t. I know you better than that.”
Bucky’s smile was wan. “I thought you didn’t know me.”
Tony was breathing hard. Bucky started to worry about his heart. “I know something about you he never will. Because his father had the decency to die before he was born. For you and me--”
“It was different,” Bucky finished. Bucky touched his cheek with gentle fingers. “See? You do know me.”
“I know that you’re not allowed to do that to me again. Ever. That’s not fair. You can’t make me care, and then--”
“You care?” Bucky asked softly. He wasn’t sure if that was a breakthrough or not.
Tony looked like he wanted to take it back. Pouted a little, doing his haughty prince routine. “Only on special occasions.”
“Like for Lent?” Bucky was smiling a little.
“No.” Tony was firm. “For Lent I give you both up. Fish only. Flush out all the toxins.”
Bucky looked dubious. “So for Lent you go back to Pepper?”
Tony looked disgusted. “Eugh, no. I said flush OUT the toxins.”
Bucky snorted. “That’s heartache. When you said toxins I thought you meant superserum jizz or somethin’.”
Tony gave him the look that was beyond an exasperated eyeroll. “I’m glad you can talk about my past failed relationships so casually.”
“I’m sorry, Tony.”
“No.” Tony held up a hand. “I see how it is. My feelings can be dropped casually in the same breath as your ejaculate.”
“Well, not just mine…”
Tony grimaced. “Please. How many times has Cap come inside me?”
Bucky had to think about it. “Twice?”
“I’m going to count that, and not because it’s right, but because it’s less than five, and that’s close enough, next subject please.”
“I’m sorry, Tony.” Bucky reached up to cradle his cheek but got his hand batted away.
“You know how many times YOU’VE done it?”
Bucky puffs out his cheeks, trying to guesstimate.
“Yes, exactly. That.”
“Well, I can stop, if it really bothers y--”
“No. No, see? You’re missing the point. Also, never threaten me like that. Like you’re going to stop doing me for my own good or something.”
“Well, if it was up to me-- I just meant--”
“Stop. Will you just? Do you ever do anything just because you want to?”
Bucky looked at him tenderly then. “I’m here now, ain’t I?”
“I thought that’s because ‘I need.’” Arms were crossed over his chest.
“You are such a royal pain, you know it? Sure, you’re a good lay, and you’re adorable, but it is such a fucking pain to do everything just right for you all the goddamn time...YES. Okay? I’m here because I wanna be. Do you know how much easier my life would be if I didn’t have this need to make you happy all the time?”
“Well don’t let me stop you doing yourself the favor,” he muttered, pissy. Hurt.
“NO, Tony, you don’t get it. You’re not getting it. I want you to be--I like taking care of you.”
“I’m an adult, you know. And those sound like issues you should discuss with your little bird friend.”
“Being in love with you is not a psychosis!”
Tony looked like he’s just been slapped. “You what? I’m sorry--what?” The arms started to uncross.
“I mean--” Bucky huffed. “I guess to be in love, the other person’s gotta love you back, so maybe--” He suddenly found himself tackled backwards.
“You mean to tell me you could just ride off into the sunset with Cap, but you’re still here for me?” Tony was looking at him like a newly-discovered alloy. “The literal best man in the world loves you, and you love me?”
Bucky looked at him, serious. “I love both of you.”
“You crazy--stupid--overly-muscular--” Bucky was getting a lot of kisses. And each one made him smile.
“Satisfied?” Wouldn’t it be nice if Tony had actually accepted that he loved him? But Bucky knew it wouldn’t be that easy.
“No.” One of the most telling things pointing at Tony’s history of promiscuity was his ability to get naked in seconds flat. He was straddling Bucky, and swiftly peeling him like a banana. “Will you do it? You know you can’t talk about it and then not do it. That just wouldn’t be--I mean, it’s unsportsmanlike, and also--”
“It works better if you take my boots off first.” Bucky was chuckling at him.
Tony sat back, deeply offended. “What am I, your valet? Take your own damn boots off. I have access to what I need.”
“You know, it’s my dream to have my dick used as a sit ‘n spin by a billionaire philanthropist.”
“Don’t forget genius.”
Bucky reached up to scratch nails down the curve of Tony’s back. “Not so much playboy anymore.”
“Right, because between the two of you, who has the time?”
Bucky grinned. “There’s always time for the ladies.”
Tony arched his back. “And yet here you are, inside of me.”
“Funny how that keeps happening.” Bucky snaked up to borrow the lips that just couldn’t stop talking.
“Admit it. You just kiss me to shut me up.”
“No, I just like kissin’ you.” Bucky combed fingers through Tony’s hair, utterly mussing it in a way he’d only allow during sex. “I wanna shut you up, I put my dick in your mouth.”
“Please. My mouth is usually on you long before you think about using it as a gag for me.”
“Well whose fault is that?”
Bucky shifted his hips to give Tony more air. “How do you figure that?”
Chocolate brown eyes were more determined than ever to ride the bronco. “Well if it wasn’t so exquisite, I wouldn’t have to deep-throat it all the time.”
Okay, now Bucky was sweating. It had to be all the Pilates Tony did. Jesus. “I thought that was Steve’s.”
Tony sighed, looking happy--blissful, even--and Bucky knew it wasn’t because of the riding he was doing. “Cap’s is a dream...but yours…” He closed his eyes.
“Mine?” Bucky prompted, reaching up to touch Tony with his metal hand.
“Yeah?” Bucky could tell he was losing interest in the conversation, so he tipped Tony back, taking control of the rhythm.
“Mmhm.” Tony was very red in the face. But Bucky thought he was still okay. Maybe. He always watched him closely at this point during sex, just in case.
“Maybe it’s just ‘cause I’m not afraid to hurt you.”
Tony’s eyes slitted open, his lips parted, wanton. “Hurt me.”
Bucky kissed him gently. “Just a little.” Tony’s fingers dug into his shoulders. They’d probably have left marks if it weren’t for his metabolism.
“No. More,” Tony demanded.
Bucky kissed him again. “You’re such a fucken masochist.”
“And you’re a terrible person. Harder.”
“We’re gonna break the couch.”
“I’ll buy a new one!” Bucky lifted, repositioned, manipulated Tony’s body so that he could give him what he really wanted. From the noises he was making, he was fine with it.
“God, I love you.”
“You both do that. Stop it! Ruins the mood!”
“Alright, I hate you.”
“You listen, you get rewarded.”
“I’ll reward you!”
“Yes! Yes, baby, please!”
“God you’re slutty.”
“I thought you liked that about me.”
“Fuck yes, I do.”
“Come on, sugar. Give it to me.”
“No way. You first.” So much whining from Tony. “Fine. Damn you’re a crybaby.” But Tony was smiling into the couch cushions, smug.
“Swear to--god--one of--these--days--” The violence of his accompanying thrusts carried them both over at nearly the same time.
Bucky lay down on top of Tony. “Damn, we made a mess again.”
“But you didn’t break it. Promised to…” Tony was half-asleep already.
“How long’s it been since you last slept?”
Tony held up a hand as though he was going to count off on his fingers, but didn’t. “How long since you last...?”
“Fuck, honey, that’s nearly 36 hours!”
“Too long.” Tony buried his face in Bucky’s chest. “Don’t wait so long.”
Bucky grunted. “Yeah, cause it was my choice.”
“Shhh.” Tony patted him. “Sleepy.” Bucky slid his arms around him and kissed Tony on the cheek. “Like this,” Tony sighed. “He used to do this.”
Bucky assumed he meant wrap himself around Tony, not fuck him like a barnyard animal. Because for reasons Bucky had yet to figure out, Steve hardly ever topped Tony. “I’m sorry he doesn’t no more,” Bucky said softly, feeling guilty for existing all over again.
“You,” Tony said, petting him awkwardly with eyes still closed. “You do it.”
“I will,” Bucky promised solemnly. “As much as you want. --I like to,” he added, in case what he wanted is called into question again.
“Good angel,” Tony murmured. “Stay.”
There he went again, treating Bucky like a dog who’d wandered in off the street. He consciously chose to take it a different way. “Yeah, honey,” he told him. “I’ll stay. Long as you want me to.” He kissed Tony, holding him while he slept.