"We were thinking about telling people." Tony is still playing around with the torching iron when Bucky adds : "About us."
It takes a second or two. Tony almost burns the back of his hand when he puts the iron away. "About us ? Are you sure about that ?" His eyes are burning after yet another night without sleep. His boyfriends are just back from another SHIELD gathering, the big bed in their room just cold and unappealing, really.
"It would be easier." Steve is close, and he leans a little, eager to win this, it seems. "Buck and I are tired of the speculations. I know you are too."
"Can't help when I'm dating two of the most elligible bachelors in New york City." His coffee is cold, and stale. Probably from yesterday, or older.
"Yeah. Exactly. We're not singles. We're very much in a relationship. A committed one." Steve clenches his jaw, and it shouldn't be cute. It shouldn't.
"What Stevie here is trying to say, is we're tired of the rich daughters, the agents..."
"The lady at Medical." Tony smirks into his cup, and Bucky looks utterly betrayed for a moment, while Steve narrows his eyes at him.
"Well, exactly. So we're ready to contact Pepper. Make an announcement, something brief, but to get things straight." His eyes challenge them to make a joke.
"You really sure about this ?"
"It makes sense." Steve kisses his temple and moves away, visibly glad no fighting was necessary. "Buck and I were always close, and some people on the internet are already making assumptions. We'll tell them we're together, end of the story."
It takes more than a few seconds this time.
"You're telling the world you are in a relationship. Together." He clarifies. He's tired, and it wouldn't be the first time he missed a clue or two.
No such luck. He finishes his coffee, even if it tastes like ashes and bitter water. He jokes about Pepper being happy to help them, and he stops in the kitchen for a handful of seconds, wondering if cooking wine still counted as alcohol.
He falls asleep with a Starkpad in his hand, and he feels it when Steve takes it away with his glasses and settle next to him. Bucky spoons him, buries his face in his neck, and Tony feels like he should be allowed to be hurt.
Instead, he sleeps.
Pepper calls him a day after, in the late afternoon. The nap was nice, needed to face her. She doesn't yell. She doesn't abuse him for making stupid decisions.
She asks if he's okay.
"Of course I am. Why would you ask that ? Do you need anything ? Oh no, that's usually me."
She's busy, always running everywhere, always saving the world in her own way. But she's not rushing him. She's soft, and it scares him a little, because he doesn't remember the last time she was so gentle with him.
"I guess you're calling about the new happy couple ?"
"Tony." She sighs.
"Please help them, okay ? You were amazing at PR, you know everyone, you'll find them someone amazing, of course."
"What about you ?"
He looks at the sky, and New York in front of him. It's a little foggy, a little damp. Not a great day.
"Pep. We can't tell the world. You know we can't. People would go crazy, and we can't have that."
Pepper is smart. Really smart. She changes subject, and they talk a little about work, about Happy, and Natasha. She lures him into dinner, and a few drinks. She's good, she's really good, he has to admit.
He's feeling warm and happy after the good steak and the wine, and he's still laughing a little at her last story about the board when she asks.
"It wasn't your idea, was it ?" He doesn't answer, because he was never able to lie about his feelings. Not to her. Never to her.
"You know someone had to loose."
"They said something about your past." It sobers him up so fast he feels dizzy. "Mister Barnes told me it was better for Steve's reputation. Something about you being a..." She doesn't go on, and he loves her for it.
"I get the idea." It sits heavy on his chest. It's as if the metal is back, punishing.
"I told him to keep his dated, bigotted ideas out of my building."
When they exit the restaurant, paparazzi catch them, and Pepper holds his arms and flashes them her best smile.
"You deserve better, Tony." She says in the car, brushing a lock of hair behind his ear. "You deserve way better than being treated like that."
She calls him when he drives away.
"Rhodey will be here next week."
"Aww Pep, come on ! Bringing him into this ? Really ?"
"I did nothing of the sort. He called me to check on you, as he always does, and his timing was perfect."
"Oh God, that's why you were so nice." He clenches his teeth. "The food, the wine, you didn't bitch about anything. You told Rhodey about it."
"Of course I did."
He parks into the Tower Garage, and enjoys the silence.
"Yes, Tony ?"
"I love you."
Bucky doesn't mention it, so Tony doesn't. They're happy, the three of them. It's nice, to feel loved, to feel protected. He knows they would probably kill anyone hurting him. It's not the first time he falls for people caring for him. It screams bad childhood and lots of daddy issues, but hey.
He gets to kiss them, to laugh with them. And yes, sex is unbelievable.
It doesn't seem important, that Bucky sees him as less than perfect, too tainted. It doesn't matter, Steve's jealousy.
He doesn't mention it, and they stay silent, too.
He isn't ashamed of his past. He did stupid things, of course he did. But he has blood in his hands, he figures his playboy years aren't much compared to it. No one got hurt, he never promised anything to the ones sharing his bed for one night. The others, the one he took away to Paris for a while, he truly enjoyed their company and doesn't understand just why he should feel guilty about it.
That's why he isn't ashamed to introduce them to Warren during one of these boring charity events they have to attend. Dating Warren had been fun, and light. At that time he had been trying to stop with the drugs, and the partying, and their relationship had been a good one. They laugh together, and they remember awful holidays in Spain, and the long drive to the south of France, eating too much and getting tanned.
He falls asleep giggling to himself, happy.
"You've been with a lot of people"
It's Steve. They're warm and happy on the couch, dozing off to the sound of the movie playing. Tony feels heavy, content. They were talking about sex, and life. The difference between their childhood. The words are heavy on his tongue.
"Yes. It's right. Why ?"
Steve snores in his ear. Tony watches him, knowing he won't be able to sleep anymore.
Buck says something. It's stupid, he heard far worse his first year at MIT, but he never heard from someone he actually loved. Pepper used to scold him about parties and one night stands, but never like this.
He does think about her when Bucky smirks and tells him he slept with half of New York, excusing Steve's jealousy.
He smiles and answers, probably something funny, they all laugh after all.
Clint doesn't, the hawk sees right through it.
It hurts, but he heard it before.
Still it hurts. And it festers.
Rhodey doesn't call. He shows up in the workshop, and plays with Dummy before getting him into a bear hug.
"I missed you too, honeybear." Rhodey doesn't let go, and Tony stops pretending he doesn't want to hold on to his best friend for a minute. "Fuck I missed you."
"We need to make time, Tones. That's stupid, I haven't seen you in what... months ?" It's closer to a year, but Tony doesn't mention it. "Fuck I missed this place, and the bots. I need to come more often."
"You need to stop being an asshole and come live here with me."
They take the suits, and go to a rooftop they both like, full of plants and trees, it almost looks like a small forest. In the middle of New York city.
"So, who should I kill first ?"
"Calm down, puppy. No one's dying."
"Yet. It's fucked up, Tones. You know it is, come on."
"They grew up a long time ago. Guess it was bound to happen."
"That's bullshit." Rhodey finishes his bottle, and reaches for another one. Tony wants to point out the rule about not flying intoxicated Rhodey himself brought in the first place, but this is already too sticky. "They saw aliens, and wars. They saw a lot, did a lot. I don't fucking care when they were born."
"They love me. And I love them."
"They're doing one Hell of a job showing it."
The flight back is morose, Rhodey obviously wanting to say more. The team is having dinner, JARVIS informs them, and they both decide against it, going to what Tony calls Rhodey's floor.
"I am a slut. Was. Whatever. It doesn't mean anything."
"Tones." They're lying together on the huge bed, watching the sky JARVIS projects for them on the ceiling. They requested tropical sky, and it's as great as Tony remembered. Rhodey grabs his wrist, and squeezes a little. "Don't. Don't say that about yourself. Please."
"It's true. Remember MIT ? Everyone was talking about the Stark kid, getting dirty. It's how it's always been." Rhodey clenches his jaw, and he doesn't let go of Tony's wrist. "Is that why you never did anything ? You could've."
"You were a minor." His voice is steel against the world.
"I had a reputation. You could've." He repeats.
"You slept in my bed every night, Tones. I know how the rumors work, with you, remember ? I know people would invent stupid things, no matter where you were and what you were doing. I had to take care of you."
"Hey. Tones." They are almost asleep, both burried under big covers. It reminds Tony of MIT, going to sleep into Rhodey's bed, because it felt safe. "You never slept around in MIT. You were always with me." Tony hums what he hopes sounds like a valid answer. "If I had stayed, if..."
"You want to know if you abandoning me for saving your country was the reason I turned into a giant hoe ?"
"Remember Tanya ?"
"My girlfriend Tanya ? Worst mistake of my life Tanya ?"
"Yeah. Her." Tony wonders why he speaks. Words keep going and he doesn't even want to stop. It feels good to say it, to finally feel safe enough to say it. "Just after graduation, we were staying at your folks during summer, remember ?"
"You asked if it was okay for me to go and sleep in the guestroom, because you wanted her to meet your family. And I guess that's when I realized I was always going to be your weird kid brother. It was going to be awkward, and I didn't want it to be. So I left, and on the plane decided it was time to be an adult, too."
"Tones !" Rhodey's arm shoots out of his blanket burrito, and he grabs Tony's arm, shaking him a little. He looks pissed, and sad. "You know my parents love you. You know they were happy to see you and they would have been happy to..."
"I was in love with you, dumbass." He doesn't jerk away, or punch him thinking it's a bad joke, and Tony considers it a win. "I was pathetically in love with my best friend, and I guess I didn't cope the healthiest way when I realized said best friend was madly in love and ready to marry his girlfriend."
He is almost asleep when Rhodey talks.
"I didn't know."
"Of course you didn't, sugarplum."
They sleep, Tony's face hidden into Rhodey's neck. Tony dreams about MIT, their little room and the laughs. He dreams about summer.
"Where were you ?" Steve doesn't kiss him and puts a plate of eggs in front of him. "JARVIS said you were with Colonel Rhodes ?" And even half asleep, even without coffee, Tony can hear the sadness and the acidic tone. The accusation floating around.
"Yeah, we went for a while and crashed downstairs."
"Is he staying ?"
"Yes, for a few days." Steve frowns but doesn't comment. "Are you afraid I'm going to sleep with him too ?" The surprise and hurt pass quickly on Steve's face. He feels guilty, intantly. No matter how hurt he is, hurting Steve still doesn't look like an option. "I'm sorry, that was uncalled for."
"Did you ? Ever ?"
Tony watches his boyfriend, a man he loves, and all he can feel suddenly is hurt.
"Tony, I'm sorry, come back."
Tony leaves the eggs, and the warm coffee. Rhodey is still asleep, and he climbs under the cover, hiding like he used to do years ago.
"He's sorry." Bucky stands close to his bed, eyes searching his. "He's sorry, and he was always a jealous asshole. Always. Even if it's not an excuse." He looks tired, and after a handful of second he stops pretending and get under the covers, his head on Tony's shoulder.
It should feel weird. Bucky is massive, but he always curls himself into his body, always making himself smaller. Tony pushes his tablet away and runs his fingers through the long hair.
The silence is nice, between them.
"You should forgive him. He's a possessive bastard, and an ass, and he's so jealous of Rhodes it's almost funny, but he loves you. And he is sorry."
"He thinks I'm a slut." He kisses Buck's forehead. Because he can't help himself.
"He used to think the same about me. Who cares ?"
"I do." Bucky twists his neck to watch him, confused. "I do. No matter what I did, who I did, it shouldn't... you guys shouldn't..."
"Calm down. Hey." Two huge palms hold his face carefully, and Bucky's eyes search for his. "Don't shut me down. Please."
It makes him mad, and sad. He shouldn't have to explain himself. He shouldn't be in this position.
Bucky gives great hugs. He holds him close, and Tony shakes in silence, wishing for words to explain.
He falls asleep, and wakes up to Steve watching him, his face close, Bucky still asleep on the other side of the bed.
"I'm sorry." Steve's kisses are soft, chaste. "I'm sorry I hurt you."
"I used to be in love with Rhodey." he says, and Steve winces, and his blue eyes slowly fill up with tears. Tony wonders how he could've missed this, all this jealousy, all these fears. He pushes himself so he can kiss Steve, too, and he goes on because he has to. "When he met his first girlfriend, I went a little crazy, and dated a lot of people. Slept with a lot of people. Did that for years. Didn't mean anything."
"But what if you miss it ?" Steve holds his tears, and pushes his face against Tony's shirt. "What if staying home and watching old movies is not enough ?" Tony wants to laugh, and joke, but Steve hiccups and add : "What if Colonel Rhodes realizes the mistake he made."
Tony giggles. Steve lifts his face, indignant, and Tony kisses him again, and again. "I love you so much, Steve. So much." His boyfriend seemingly mollified, he explains, wiping stray tears away : "Rhodey knows, and Rhodey didn't make any mistake, because he's straight, as straight as they come, and I'm happy. Wonderfully happy. With two assholes who break my heart on a regular basis. With two assholes I love. I am not in love with Rhodey, or anyone else. Just the two of you."
Steve looks ready to go on when a voice stops them : "Steve if you add anything I'm going to murder you myself." Bucky eyes them with all the hatred he can muster, and turns his face in his pillow. "It's way too early for this."
And because Steve laughs softly and bullies him until they can spoon. Maybe because Bucky grabs his hand and kisses it. Maybe because lazy mornings are nice, he speaks :
"Don't. Tell the world. About you two." Bucky opens his eyes, and Steve tenses behind him. "If you guys decide to talk, I want us to tell the truth." He feels like a kid, words falling from his lips without any finesse. "Please."
He sees it all, on Bucky's face. The shame, the guilt. The resolution. The love.
He sleeps better than he did these past few weeks. When they finally manage to get out of bed, Steve follows him into the shower, and it almost feels like the first time.
Pepper calls him when he's finalizing his last prototype, and he gets ready to dodge any request from the board, when she tells him :
"I just had a very pleasant chat with a certain James Barnes."
"Really ? He's lovely, isn't he ?"
"Yes. Especially when he wishes to apologize for his awful behaviour. You could definitely learn from him." She sounds smug. "You managed to use your words. I'm proud of you, Tony. I am."
"Okay, I am loosing you, I'm entering a tunnel, great talking to you."
She texts him to explain how exactly she managed to torture Bucky, and he laughs because she is, after all, true evil.
Rhodey appears one night, and bullies him into ordering steak, and wine. They watch a game they don't really care about, and they laugh just like old times.
"Steve Rogers paid me a visit." He sobers up, just enough to take another bite. "I don't think you understand how popular I am right now. Captain America asking me for an audience."
"Why ? When ?"
"So he was serious when he said you didn't know." Rhodey smiles, and shakes his head. "I wondered if it was a test, to see if we had any secrets for each other."
"Are you going to finally speak, or do I have to take the sauce hostage ?"
"He told me letting you go was the biggest mistake of my life." Tony focuses on his plate, because he can feel himself turning red, and Rhodey will not let it pass. "He told me he was happy to know you could count on me. He told me about how he is going to make things right between the three of you."
"I am ready to pay you for you to shut up right now."
"He asked me for my blessing."
"I am ready to build you another armor. Think about it."
"You're very lucky. I see it now."
Tony smiles, and goes for his glass. The air is too warm, Rhodey reminds him of all the holidays spent in the Rhodes family, all the bad haircuts and the laughs, the frozen dinners and the sunburns.
"I'm sorry about the first part. He's kind of like a territorial labrador. A giant labrador."
"Maybe he was right, you know ? Maybe it was the biggest mistake of my life."
"No. Tanya was the worst mistake of your life."
"Oh God, please don't remind me."
He's been working alone for an hour or two, Bruce safely back in his own room, when he notices Steve on the couch, watching him. He winks and goes back to his plans, his idea too fresh in his mind to let it go.
Bucky comes in half an hour later, with some cold tea and fruits, and an odd look on his face.
"We were thinking about something."
"I feel like the world is in trouble."
"What Bucky is trying to say here, is we met with Pepper, and the wonderful people doing PR for you and SI. And unfortunately, after hours turning the problem in our heads, we agreed coming out wasn't the best idea at the moment."
"What Steve means is people are bigots and assholes, and this could put us in danger. You, especially."
"Me ?" He saves his plans and grabs a handful of raspberries. "Why me, especially ?"
"Because people rely on you. SI, Pepper, people working for you." Bucky brushes a hand through his hair, and shrugs. "People could loose their job, if the backlash got really heavy. What you're doing, the green energy, the keeping low profile. It would be gone."
"I'm not saying it would not be worth it."
"It would not." Steve rests his arms on his knees, and his eyes are pleading. "We get it. It was a reckless decision. You know us. We don't think. That's why we need you."
"Please don't let Pepper or Rhodey hear you. Hell, please don't let anyone hear you."
"Tony." Bucky kisses the back of his head. "If we can't do it together, then we don't."
Tony wants to protest. He wants to tell them to go on with it, without him. He should tell them. He should.
"No." Steve smiles, and shakes his head. "Together, or not at all."
Bucky worms his arm around him and kisses him again. "But we had another idea. We can't tell the world, but we could tell our friends. Make something small, with a priest maybe."
"Something involving rings ?" Tony hates how his voice cracks on the last word.
"Do you have any idea how terrifying Colonel Rhodes can be when he decides to be ?" Steve shudders. "I asked him for your hand, and Bucky asked Pepper. We could do it here, or anywhere else. I'm sure..."
Bucky's breath is a warm gush against his neck, and Tony realizes how scared he was. Steve smiles and blushes. It's clumsy, and sweet. They kiss, and they hold each other. Tony wonders just when he became so lucky, and when they start to chuckle, the happiness bubbling inside their chest.
He closes his eyes and tries not to cry.
Instead, he laughs.