[personal profile] alchemyalice
Chapter One 
Chapter Two
Chapter Three



The thing is that, a long, long while ago, when they’d first taken up with each other, they had talked about Steve.

But not in the way that Bucky’s thinking of talking about him now.

“You loved him, didn’t you?” Tony asked one day, after a truly spectacular beginning-of-the-weekend marathon of sex, which seemed to Bucky to be the opposite of the right time to talk about it. But then again, Tony was proving to be a master of balancing between being endlessly amazing and endlessly frustrating, and so maybe he found he was too much in credit and needed to accumulate some debit post-haste.

Bucky regarded him evenly, and waited. It was always better to wait with Tony; he couldn’t bear the silence.

“Steve, I mean. Like, I’ve seen the newsreels. And you, you were there for him before he was Cap. And he saved you. And it’s all very romantic; hell, it should still be very romantic, it’s all sacrifice and war drama and please, just say something before I dig myself deeper into this hole, goddamn you, Barnes—”

“Yes,” Bucky said, taking pity on him. And it was odd, because it was the first time he’d ever admitted anything of the sort aloud. But it felt perfectly fine. Tony didn’t wince, didn’t shy away or even look sad about it. He was absolutely neutral, and that was perfect.

“He was my brother,” he elaborated, “But…he wasn’t just that. He was special, too. You know, right? I always thought it was real stupid, the way people didn’t notice that. It’s so blindingly obvious. But I saw it first. And he…I dunno, Stark. What do you want me to say?”

“Whatever you feel like saying, I guess,” Tony said. He looked away in the afternoon light, sun turning his skin a pale warm umber through the tinted windows. “I mean, do you still…?”

Bucky swallowed. “I don’t know how to stop,” he confessed, too quietly. He chanced a glance at Tony, and couldn’t read a thing off of him. “Does that…?”

“No,” Tony said quickly. “I, uh, no. It doesn’t bother me, or anything. I guess I just…wanted to know? And not in the self-sabotaging way—Pepper will tell you that while I’m very good at self-sabotage, I’m also kind of the least jealous person ever; it’s not part of my programming, I guess, probably something about never really believing that I was owed much of anything when it came to, you know, people things, because I mean, I’m hardly going to deserve anything on that front. But I mean, also, I know…I know how that works. Still loving someone, even when it’s just not happening.”

As usual, it took a couple seconds for Bucky to digest that, the quick tripping that Tony did over his own soft spots, which Bucky suspected he did just to try and harden them, even though they weren’t the sort of things that ever could be anything but tender. But then he got through it, sifting through the baggage, and said, “I ain’t going anywhere.”

Tony turned on his side to look at him.

“I am,” he said slowly, “Really glad to hear that.”

And that had been that, really. Tony hadn’t been lying when he said he wasn’t the jealous type—Bucky kind of figures that with his kind of childhood, Tony would either cling tight to things or just consider their loss an inevitability, and while the decision, conscious or unconscious, to go with the latter is kind of heartbreaking, it means that they’ve sort of already put the Steve issue aside, and it’s oddly comfortable.

The only thing is, at the time, Bucky still had no idea what Tony really thought of Steve.

But now, maybe? He’s beginning to get an idea.

***

He decides to bring it up…subtly.

“So have you noticed Steve lately?”

“Hm? Hard to miss,” Tony says from under the Zonda. “What with his blonde and big and shiny-ness.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “I mean around you. How he is.”

Tony emerges to give him an incredulous look. “Uh. No? He doesn’t look like he wants to put me in time-out all the time, I guess, which is definitely an improvement. Is that what you mean?”

“It’s a start.”

“If this is a play-nice-because-he’s-my-best-friend speech, save it. I’m doing my best.”

“I know you are,” Bucky says, lying down so that he can knock shoulders with Tony under the car. “I think it’s working.”

“How do you mean? Cap willing to breathe the same space as me? Because that at least I’ve noticed. Though I’m pretty sure he’s just doing it for your sake.”

Bucky sighs. “You’re pretty dense sometimes, Stark.”

Tony just stares at him, and when he doesn’t elaborate, goes back to adjusting the fuel lines. Eventually he says, “It’s easier now, you know.”

“What is?” Bucky asks.

“Dealing with him. You’ve, uh, been good for him. When he first came out, he was brittle. Now he’s better. So, uh, thanks for that, I guess.”

“…Sure, Tony.”

So much for subtle, then.

***

On Tuesday, Bruce emerges from the lab with a troubled expression that immediately has everyone in the vicinity in high alert. “Um,” he says, polishing his glasses, “Where’s Tony?”

“In the lab, as usual,” Bucky responds, “Why?”

“I need to check some results with him. Also,” Bruce looks at Thor, “Would you be able to recognise other machinery that’s been influenced by a moonstone?”

“That would depend upon the extent to which the moonstone was involved in its makings,” Thor frowns. “Why do you ask me this?”

“Just a theory, at this point. I need to verify with Tony first.”

“What’s going on, precisely?” Steve asks.

Bruce looks down at his hands, “I’ve been looking at the wreckage of those magically enhanced doombots. You know, the ones that Tony and Thor had to sucker punch with lightning a few months ago?”

“You think a moonstone was used to make them?”

“Possibly.”

Steve glances back at Bucky, who can feel his own expression drawing tight. “I wouldn’t have expected Zemo and Doom to have a lot in common,” Steve says slowly. “Not enough to collaborate.”

“Could just be different moonstones,” Clint suggests.

“There’s no use speculating,” Bruce cuts in, “I just have to check the data, and then get Thor to look at it afterwards.”

“Okay,” Steve says, “That’s fine. Let us know when you find out anything more.”

Bruce nods, and heads towards the opposite wing of the house, under which Tony’s lab was housed.

***

He doesn’t emerge, and neither does Tony, for about thirty-six hours.

Steve practically orders Bucky to bring them food, like Bucky wouldn’t have done that at some point, honestly, Rogers, but Tony barely manages to look up to kiss him when he goes down, and Bruce only grunts in acknowledgement.

“Progress?” Bucky asks, with zero expectation of garnering a response. He opens a carton of noodles and places it strategically in arms’ reach on Tony’s lab table.

“Mmf,” Tony says, which could have been an answer or just a noise of interest at whatever he was looking at on the holograms in front of him.

“…Okay.”

“Twenty-five percent and climbing,” Tony says over his shoulder. Bruce makes a noise of concern and says, “Shove it over?”

Tony makes a sliding motion and the graph flies over to Bruce’s workstation.

“I’m gonna go,” Bucky announces, wondering why he’s bothering. “Try not to accidentally explode the house or anything.”

“Pfft,” Tony says dismissively, waving a hand.

Bucky rolls his eyes, and beats a hasty retreat.

“Are they alive?” Clint says, as he reemerges from the lab.

“Reduced to science and grunts, but alive,” Bucky replies. Steve clenches his jaw slightly, and then sighs.

“So no update?”

“Not that I could parse,” Bucky says, “But you’re welcome to go and check for yourself.”

“No,” Steve sighs again. “I’m sure we’ll find out what the deal is soon enough.”

***

It wasn’t that soon, unfortunately. Another six hours, and Bucky resorts to dragging Tony out of the lab and forcing him to sleep, with Clint and Natasha doing the same to Bruce, and while they’re both passed out, Coulson calls and then Bucky finds himself drafted into another espionage mission with Natasha.

Steve sees them off from the helicarrier, promising that he’ll tell Tony what’s happening when he finally wakes up.

“Be careful, Buck,” he says over the roar of fighter jets.

“You know I always am,” Bucky shouts, and Natasha links arms with him.

“I’ll take good care of him, Cap,” she says with a sliver of a smile.

As they board the plane, he says, “You’ll take care of me, huh?”

Her eyebrow twitches. “Last time we were out, I may have gotten a text from Tony stating that, should I bring you back any less whole than you are now, he will make a point of staring at my cleavage during every team meeting for the foreseeable future. Seeing as you’re tolerable company and I’d rather not have to stab him? Yes, I will take care of you.”

Bucky laughs, throwing back his head.

****

When they return, tired and with sand stuck to the both of them in places Bucky doesn’t really want to contemplate, they find that the mansion has been emptied of its occupants, and that everyone has congregated instead within the second subbasement lab of SHIELD headquarters.

Standing in the centre of it all are Tony and Bruce, who are in turn surrounded on all sides—though at a safe distance—by a terrified and fascinated ring of scientists.

The Avengers are all standing in the doorway when Bucky and Natasha find them.

“What’s going on?” Bucky asks.

“Welcome back,” Steve says. “They’re, uh, testing the veracity of the moonstone.”

“Veracity?” Natasha says, eyebrows rising. “They think it’s a fake?”

“Tony’s convinced. Bruce is willing to be convinced,” Clint says. “The rest of SHIELD is unconvinced, and about sixty percent sure that what they’re doing will overload the moonstone and send us all to kingdom come.”

“Business as usual, then,” Natasha says dryly.

“Business as usual,” Clint confirms.

“Okay!” Tony says, “It’s time to prove to all you bastards that I’m right, as per usual!”

Steve rolls his eyes. Bucky snickers.

The scientists remain both skeptical and fearful for their lives.

Bruce flips a series of switches, and with a flourish Tony cranks up the power on some sort of Frankenstein’s monster of a machine, at whose centre sits the moonstone in question.

A blue glow gathers in a halo around the stone, flickering and sparking as a hum starts up, some sort of deep resonant grind and pulse that Bucky can feel in his marrow.

“If that thing’s a fucking brown note player, Stark is off the team,” Clint mutters, barely audible above the heightening rumble of machines.

“You need to break yourself of your TV Tropes addiction, Barton,” Natasha says.

The hum just gets louder, the light more searing. For an interminable second, it beams out enough to engulf Tony and Bruce so that all that’s visible is a wall of white in the middle of the room.

Steve takes a breath, shoulders bracing, like he’s ready to crush the whole thing with his shield if anything goes wrong.

A high-frequency whine picks up over the bass rumble—

—Then there’s the distinct tinkling sound of breaking glass, and the whole thing just…stops.

Bucky blinks, once and then several times to clear the spots from in front of his eyes. His ears, he’s pretty sure, are ringing, though not bleeding, so he supposes that’s a plus.

“Hah!” Tony says, sounding like he’s under water. “Suck it! Science wins again!”

“Indeed,” Bruce says, taking his glasses off to rub at his eyes. “I didn’t think it would be that flashy.”

“Great science is always flashy!”

“You want to tell me what the hell you’ve found out, now that half my staff have wet themselves?” Fury growls from behind the Avengers in the doorway.

Bucky barely manages not to flinch. Fury is more of a ninja than he previously supposed.

“The moonstone’s a fake!” Tony crows. “It’s a knock-off. A cheap imitation. It’s got a sticker with ‘Made in China’ stamped on the back—“

“It’s manufactured,” Bruce cut in, to everyone’s relief. “Almost definitely by humans. Thor confirmed for us that Doom was definitely using one for his robots, so we wondered how both he and Zemo managed to acquire one. This explains it. It also explains why both Doom and Zemo have been using them, but using them badly—with moonstones being made, they’re easier to get a hold of, but far more unstable than the originals. That’s why Zemo needed Tony’s repulsors to keep his from failing.”

“Also, we’ve broken this one,” Tony adds.

“Also, we’ve broken this one,” Bruce confirms.

Fury takes a long, cleansing breath, and lets it out in a huff. “Any chance of you identifying these humans in question?”

“Not yet,” Tony says cheerfully. “But do you know what this means? It means that we’re dealing with a supervillain black market. How awesome is that?”

“I don’t know if ‘awesome’ is the first word that comes to mind,” Steve says dryly.

“Spoilsport.”

“Right,” Fury says, sounding like it is taking great effort to not do something violent. “Widow, I know you’re fresh off the last op, but I need you on intelligence. Any contacts that you might have. You’ll have SHIELD behind you, obviously.”

“Sir,” Natasha nods, and slips away down the hall.

“The rest of you…” Fury starts, looking around at the relieved but still shellshocked scientists, at the remaining Avengers standing in the doorway, and at Tony and Bruce looking triumphant around their assemblage of equipment and the cracked (and faintly smoking) moonstone, “Get back to work, for chrissakes.”

“Up high, Banner,” Tony says, and Bruce politely slaps his hand.

“Can we go back to the mansion now?” Clint whines.

“I, for one, am in favour of that,” Bucky says, “I need a shower like you can’t believe.”

“Barnes!” Tony says delightedly, finally tearing himself away from the machinery. “You’re back! Today is delightful!” His arms may actually be flailing.

“Okay, what,” Bucky says, raising his eyebrows. “Is this still just a science high, or…?”

Steve sighs. “I don’t think he’s slept more than a few hours since you left. There have been at least two crates of Red Bull delivered to the house, and there are miniature robots wandering around the first floor now.”

“Christ.”

“You should have just told him where you were going,” Steve admonishes gently.

“I never tell him where, why should I—oh.” Bucky flinches. “Shit.”

Right. Tony never asks where he’s going, because he hacks the SHIELD servers to find out. Which is never a problem, except for how Bucky has been in Afghanistan for the past few days.

Bucky is a terrible person.

And indeed as Tony gets closer Bucky can see that the manic gleam in his eyes offset deep bruised circles of exhaustion beneath, and he’s sporting more stubble than usual. “Hi,” Bucky says cautiously.

“Hi!” Tony says, grinning. “You’re back! Did you see the awesomeness of what Bruce and I just did? You totally did. It was groundbreaking and amazing and SHIELD scientists need to man up. Yes.” But then he slides in close and kind of rests his forehead on Bucky’s shoulder. “You’re okay,” he murmurs into Bucky’s jacket.

Steve gives Bucky a look. Bucky sighs.

“Yeah. I’m just fine, Tony. Let’s go home, huh?”

***

Three days before:

Tony has no idea how he got here, but it may have had something to do with the twelve cans of Red Bull scattered around him and the three different laptops strung together on the floor like the worlds most dysfunctional and lonely LAN party.

Fucking Afghanistan. Tony is going to kill Barnes when he gets back.

When. Never if. Never that.

He sifts through the pile of circuitry and wiring until he finds what he actually managed to create in this particularly bad engineering blackout.

Finally he finds it in the centre, hidden beneath a crumpled blueprint and a stack of transistors.

…Well.

She beeps and tilts a little to the side, nearly overbalancing on delicate wheels.

Tony blinks, trying to clear the sandy feeling from his eyes, and says, “Hi there, short stuff.”

There’s a whir and click behind him, and then Dummy is craned over his shoulder. Short Stuff toddles forward a few inches, forgets that she’s still tilted over to one side, and overbalances.

Tony catches her with one hand and sets her upright again. “Careful,” he admonishes, and she titters, an ungraceful but oddly charming wobble. “You’re gonna be a heartbreaker, I can tell,” Tony murmurs. “Not like this hunk of metal behind me, am I right?” 

Dummy makes a protesting noise, but she just wobbles again, waving her one arm in a gesture that manages to be both bashful and pleased. 

“Tony?”

“Huh?” It takes a second for Tony to identify the voice as someone else actually in his workshop, and another for him to realise he should respond in something other than a grunt. “Oh. Uh. Captain…Steve. I’m totally working on something awesome for the Avengers. Yes.”

“Really?” Steve says, sounding oddly strained, “Because it kind of looks like you’re building a baby robot.”

She squeaks in indignation, and Tony calms her with a couple of fingers across her arm. “He didn’t mean it, darling. He’s just saying you’re young.”

He looks back at Steve. “Um. I can explain?”

Steve doesn’t seem to have heard him, though. Instead, he’s coming forward and then crouching next to Tony. 

Short Stuff regards him with a wary set to her arm. After a second, Steve holds out a finger to her. “Hello, miss,” he says earnestly. “It’s nice to meet you.”

She squeaks, seizes his finger and shakes it. Tony manfully tries to suppress a terrible noise of adoration and only partially succeeds. Steve looks no better, his smile gone all soft and gooey around the edges. 

“Aw, you’re lovely,” he says, all 40s charm, and Dummy makes a whirring noise of agreement. Tony is definitely, definitely not charmed. 

Short Stuff obviously is though, the way she wiggles again. Traitor.

“Guess you’re gonna have to come down and visit us more often, huh?” Tony says, half-joking, but only half.

Steve turns to look at him. “Do I need an excuse for that?” he asks. His gaze is steady on Tony now, and Tony has to pat Short Stuff again just to distract himself from the sudden warmth he feels. 

“No,” he says, a little too honestly, “I guess not.”

Steve smiles at him, broad and bright.

“Did you know where he was going?” Tony hears himself say. He sounds small, and shit, maybe his tiredness has reached confessional levels, which is never good. He should stop.

“Who, Bucky? No, he never tells me anything about his ops. I’m convinced it’s his way of showing me he’s all right nowadays,” Steve says, a little dryly. “Why, do you?”

“Yeah. He’s, uh.” Tony definitely should stop talking. “He’s in Afghanistan. Kunar region.” Shit.

Short Stuff rolls up closer to him, resting her arm on his thigh.

“Okay,” Steve says slowly, and then a second later, “Oh. I…god, sorry. Kunar, that’s where you…? I didn’t even…Christ, Tony, are you okay?”

Tony is all set to say, “Of course I am! I’m awesome, as usual!” except that what comes out instead is a wide gesture to the chaos of the workshop and, “Do I look okay?”

Steve looks at him, a strange expression on his face, partly sympathy but partly something else that takes the sting out. “I know it’s not going to help,” Steve says, “But he’s doing something completely different to what you were doing over there.”

“You’re right, definitely not helpful,” Tony snaps, and then winces. “Sorry.”

“He used to scare the shit out of me on ops,” Steve says quietly. “I mean, it didn’t even make sense, I was always the one being an idiot, throwing myself into danger, but somehow it was worse with him, because when he acted it was with total control, and I just thought…I just thought, what if that isn’t enough? What if something happens that he can’t control?”

“And that’s exactly what happened,” Tony says, because he can’t help it at this point, fucking hell, he really is in the confessional zone, this is awful and he feels just awful. “Fuck, I don’t…Sorry. I’m sorry.”

“I…don’t be. I’m glad I’m not the only one worrying this time,” Steve says. He settles on the floor next to Tony, and Short Stuff wheels herself over to chirp at him. He pats her cautiously, like he’s afraid she’ll break, which is sweet, really; Tony’s not used to other people treating his bots like they’re valuable.

“So,” Steve says, after a long moment. “You going to build more of these?” he strokes his fingers along Short Stuff’s base, and she chitters away, with Dummy chiming in over their shoulders every once in a while.

“Probably,” Tony says. “But I’ll try and make ‘em useful this time. First round’s always the quirky ones, after that they fall into place. And I, uh, need something to do.”

Steve nods. “Okay. Is there food somewhere in your future at this point?”

Tony grimaces. “How about no.”

Steve sighs. “Okay. Just…be careful. Please.”

“I’ve done far worse,” Tony says, waving a hand. “Don’t worry about me, Cap.”

He hears Steve sigh again, and then there’s an almost interminable moment when Steve leans into him, shoulder-to-thigh on the floor of the workshop, before they both seem to realise what they’re doing and shift slightly apart.

Tony has no idea what to do with that, so he puts it all in a box, and files it away.

***

Presently:

It takes four days, three broken robots (Clint went after them for target practice until Tony tartly informed him that he was attacking conscious entities, what the fuck is wrong with you, Barton, after which point Clint took to keeping them perched on his shoulders while walking around the house, which was maybe even weirder), and two terrifying tequila and poker nights, before anything gets done. And really, Bucky means anything.

Because without Natasha around to be the strategic eye-roller of the group, and therefore the loudly silent voice of sanity, the mansion takes on a slightly manic character, particularly because until she acquires the intelligence to track down this apparent moonstone-making group or individual, the rest of them are pretty much benched.

At first, Bucky makes sure that Tony sleeps for at least twelve hours, and then forces an omelette down his gullet when he wakes, which allows him to ask about the several miniature robots that are, indeed, fumbling around the first floor.

“Cleaner bots,” Tony mutters, still only semi-coherent due to coffee withdrawal. “And uh, security-ish. I dunno, man, I was bored and you weren’t there and so I made some things. First one’s named Short Stuff.”

“She’s the cute squeaky one, right?” Bucky says, thinking of the one that tends to follow Steve around, with Steve acting like it was possibly the most adorable thing to ever happen to him.

Bucky would never admit it aloud, but it really was kind of sweet.

“That’s her. She likes Steve possibly more than is healthy.”

“So let me get this straight. You were worried and got lonely so you made some friends,” Bucky translates. “And then they fell in love with Steve.”

“S’happened before. Well, not the Steve part, but you know. And it’s only Short Stuff who likes him. The others are far more rational. Prob’ly cause I was actually out of the blackout stage of insomniac programming for them.”

And isn’t it interesting, Bucky thinks, that in his blackout, Tony made a robot that follows Steve around like a lovelorn puppy. “Stark, I don’t know what to do with you sometimes,” he says.

Tony offers him a smile that’s verging on a leer. “I can make several suggestions, if you’re all out.”

And well, Bucky is desert dust-free, and Tony is mostly lucid and recovered from his apparent freak-out, so, yeah.

“Suggestions are absolutely welcome.”

But finally, Natasha shows up bearing SHIELD dossiers and a grim expression.

“We’re up, everyone,” she says at the breakfast table, where they’re all nursing hangovers except Bruce and Tony, due to their exclusion from poker night, and Steve, due to his Steve-ness.

Bucky makes a sound of protest.

Clint points at him without lifting his head from the table. “What he said.”

Steve scans through the dossier and nods sharply. “We don’t have to act immediately, so you can relax, Clint. However, we are on deadline, so use the time you have to get ready. This looks extensive.”

“They’re dangerous,” Natasha says. “They’ve got a lot of resources due to their trade with the moonstone. It’s going to be on a par with Zemo’s lair.”

“Fun,” Bruce says.

“What’s their deal?” Tony asks, not bothering to look at the file.

“They’re calling themselves The Suppliers,” Natasha says dryly. “Three guesses what they do.”

“Not exactly creative types, then?” Clint comments.

“Not in the name department, but definitely in other areas, it seems,” Steve says. “It’s not just moonstones they’re manufacturing. It looks like they’re a more experimental, magic-based offshoot of AIM.”

“I hate magic,” Tony grumbles. “Possibly more than I hate AIM.”

“We know,” Bruce says.

“Even by pure incident of their profession, they’re going to be armed to the teeth,” Steve observes. “We’re not going to be able to play a straightforward strike. I’m tempted to have us spearhead SHIELD forces rather than going in alone.”

“Clint and I can infiltrate,” Natasha says, “If you want to do a Trojan horse scheme.”

“If that’s what you’re doing, I want in,” Bucky chimes in.

Steve looks at the three of them, and then at Tony. “What kind of horse can you build for them?” he asks, raising an eyebrow. “Or better yet, what can you build for them to bring in with the horse?”

Tony grins. “I thought you’d never ask.”

***

“Hey, so I had a thought.”

“You tend to have a lot of those. What’s so different about this one?”

“You’re hilarious. Come here.”

Bucky obliges him. Tony had been working hard on the preparations for the strike against The Suppliers, while Bucky had been alternating between using the dart board in the workshop for knife throwing practice and going to the gym to train with the rest of the Avengers. This is the first instance that Tony’s actually talked to him, being otherwise occupied with delicate circuitry or buried in a chassis of some sort or another, so Bucky figures it’s important this time.

Tony says, “So I was thinking after the whole laser thing, that it would be a good idea to be able to do field repairs on your arm, in case something happens to it and the fight’s not over. Just to make sure it doesn’t become a hindrance or anything.”

“Sounds reasonable. So?”

Tony twitches slightly, looking away. Bucky, who had leaned himself up against the table facing Tony as he sat in his chair, bumped knees with him. “So?” he repeated, quieter.

“So, there should be some way of remotely accessing it. Not to use, but to stabilise it. Maybe through JARVIS.” He pauses, and at Bucky’s silence he twitches again. “I thought I could give Cap the codes for it.”

Bucky thinks on it for a second, and then pushes off the edge of the table to take up a more customary position, straddled across Tony’s lap. “Sure,” he says. “You’d have the code too, right?”

“I don’t have to,” Tony says quickly. “I can have JARVIS write up an encryption, you don’t have to put up with me having—“

“You should have it,” Bucky interrupts. “Steve would need to know all of the technical stuff, wouldn’t he? To remotely access and then fix things?”

“JARVIS would do most of the work for him,” Tony says.

“You should have the code,” Bucky repeats firmly. “I trust you.”

Tony exhales.

“I’m scaring the shit out of you,” Bucky guesses, watching him.

“No,” Tony says absently, “And that’s what concerns me.”

“You’re not gonna break me, you know.”

“I do know. And that’s kinda the thing, isn’t it? Um. So.”

“Yes to remote access,” Bucky says. “Yes to you and Cap having access codes. But so help me god, if someone hacks that access and I hurt someone accidentally, I will bury you, Stark.”

At that, Tony smiles faintly. “Understood, Lieutenant.” And then, after a pause, “The, um. The feeling’s mutual, by the way.”

Bucky already knew that. But hearing it is nice, all the same.

There’s a soft tap on the glass of the lab door, causing the both of them to turn. Steve is just beyond, red-faced and averting his eyes pointedly. Bucky extricates himself from Tony’s lap as Tony says, “Let him in, JARVIS, no point in standing on ceremony. What can I do for you, Cap?”

“I wanted to check in on how the plans are going,” Steve says, stepping in. “But I can come back later?”

“It’s fine,” Tony says, and Bucky nods agreement. “I’ve got most of it down, it just needs to be cut and assembled. You want to see the blueprints?”

“Sure.”

Tony walks them through it, and while Bucky’s seen most of it already, having hung around for a bit of the process with Tony’s constant conversation with JARVIS to accompany the creation, it’s always something to see Tony walk an audience through his work.

“Like you planned, our three double-Os will be going in through this chink in the complex’s security, once Natasha cons one of the guards out of his security pass. After that, though, they’ll need to both mark their progress into the building and set traps for whatever guard reaction there will be when they’re caught. Because they will be caught,” Tony says darkly, “I know they’re the best, but this security’s too tight. I’m sure you agree, Cap.”

“I do,” Steve confirms, glancing at Bucky, who just nods as well. Steve had laid out his projected views of the security that would be in place, the manpower involved as observed by Natasha, and it is a fairly impossible setup.

“So they need to get far in to start laying down the charges, but if they get caught early on, they need to be just as effective, and get out safely,” Tony continues. “So first, here’s your horse and soldier’s swords.”

Bucky whistles. “Where’d you get the design for their uniform?”

“Natasha’s surveillance, plus a healthy dose of research and consultation with a woman I know who works in couture. Stunning lady, she…never mind. Now, built into the uniforms are percussive rounds, a telescoping set of bow and arrows for Clint that include all of his favourites, and all the storage Natasha needs for her usual. Barnes, all your stuff’ll be in your arm, as usual. Figured you wouldn’t mind.”

“Not in the least.”

Tony continues, “Along with, are charges for disabling the main tower security here and here,” he pulls up the building’s schematics, “And a series of tracking and hacking servers that will break into the security room from the inside. They only need to get past the first outer ring of rooms for them to work, so unless something goes drastically wrong, we’re good.”

“And if something does go drastically wrong?” Steve says.

“Well, I’m not the strategist, Cap. But they’ll be able to at least retreat back with the armaments they have and blow a hole in the first couple of walls once they’re out.”

“All right, good. I’ll put together emergency protocols tonight. How long until we’re green?”

“Eighteen hours, give or take. Plus another couple for last minute tests and briefing.”

“Good. Nice work. If everything else is on schedule, we’ll be on mission by tomorrow night.”

Steve moves to leave, and Bucky blurts out, “Tony’s programming an extra feature. For my arm.”

Steve goes still, and so does Tony. “Oh?” Steve says, carefully neutral.

“It’s only a failsafe,” Tony says quickly, “If something needs to be fixed in the field, it can be done remotely, with help from JARVIS.”

“You put JARVIS in his arm?” Steve raises his eyebrows.

“Not always,” Bucky says, “Just with a passcode. Enter the code, and JARVIS can do a shut down, or isolate the malfunction and try to fix it.”

“Tony will have the code,” Steve says, nodding.

Tony makes a small noise of protest, but Bucky just nods and says, “You, too. I want both of you to have them.”

“I don’t—” Steve looks discomfited. “I don’t know enough about the mechanics. You don’t need my help.”

“JARVIS is taking care of all the mechanics,” Tony dismisses, “It’s just a matter of giving him permission to work. You’ll be in the best position to judge whether it’s necessary, given that you’re leading the group, so.”

“He thought it should just be you with the codes,” Bucky says pointedly, “I strongly suggested it should be both of you.”

Tony sends him a look, eyes narrowed, and Bucky just tilts his head and raises his eyebrows. Steve looks between the two of them, and then suddenly he looks hunted.

“Okay,” he says slowly, “If that’s what you want.”

“It’s what I want,” Bucky confirms. “I want the three of us on this.”

“Barnes,” Tony starts.

“If you’re okay with that,” Bucky interrupts, looking at Steve.

Steve gives him an exasperated look, and then turns to Tony, who nods, his expression softening slightly.

“All right,” Steve says eventually. “I’m okay with that. But be careful.”

“Good,” Tony says, clapping his hands and dispersing the tension in the process, “Then that’s settled.”

Steve shakes his head, as if to clear it, and takes a step back. “I guess I’ll see you both later?” he says, backing away towards the door.

“Later, Steve,” Bucky says, and Steve seems to barely restrain himself from outright fleeing. Bucky watches as he disappears up the stairs.

“What,” Tony says evenly, as soon as he’s gone, “The fuck was that?”

***

Two days earlier:

Bucky is sitting in the living room, halfway through sorting through all of the intel on The Suppliers with Natasha and Clint, when there’s a door slam from downstairs followed by the distinct stomping of Captain America making a frustrated exit/entrance.

“Oh boy,” Clint mutters.

Steve stalks through the living room towards the opposite hallway, Short Stuff falling in at his heels, squeaking alarm. Bucky, Natasha, and Clint all watch as several other cleaner bots fall in behind Short Stuff like a line of ducklings and then disappear down the hall.

The corner of Natasha’s mouth twitches.

Bucky snorts.

“You’re up, James,” Natasha says.

“He probably doesn’t—“

“James.”

He rolls his eyes, but gets to his feet. “Don’t get too far ahead,” he says, “I’ll be back in a bit.”

“Uh huh,” Clint says. “Later, Barnes.”

Bucky catches a glimpse of one last robot sliding in past Steve’s door just before it shuts and waits a moment before knocking.

“Yeah,” Steve says from inside. He sounds tired.

Bucky pushes the door open slowly, to give the robots a chance to scuttle away. Short Stuff is sitting on the bed next to Steve, risking toppling over with every movement she makes. Hard Day’s Night is playing softly from the speakers in the ceiling. Steve’s apparently been stuck in the sixties, music-wise, since he woke up.

(Bucky’s gotten up to 90s grunge, and is enjoying it immensely. But then again, he’s always been the one to throw himself into teenage rebellion first, in all its forms. Steve’s all for rebellion, sure, but he has to be convinced that the change is good, first. And while Tony could certainly go on and on about how overrated the Beatles were, there really wasn’t anything wrong with them, per se. Not that Bucky could see, at least.

He did prefer Abbey Road to Help!, though.)

Steve looks at him, and sighs. “It’s fine,” he says, “There won’t be any problems when we’re in the field.”

“Good,” Bucky says, “Though I will point out that you’re the captain here, so I would have trusted your judgement on that anyway.”

Steve looks at his hands.

“He’s still getting to you,” Bucky observes.

“No,” Steve says quickly, wincing, “No, it’s not that. I just…we were talking about the Suppliers, and I asked whether they could have gotten hold of repulsor technology if Zemo managed to salvage them from the castle, and he just got defensive about it, like it would somehow be his fault if that happened, and it was like we were back to square one.”

“Square one wasn’t a good time,” Bucky prompts, when he hesitates.

“It’s always one step forward, two steps back with him.” Steve looks at him, pained. “Buck,” he starts, and then stops, looks away. Bucky hasn’t seen him this tied up in knots since they were kids. “You don’t know what it was like, at first,” he says finally.

“You guys didn’t click, I heard,” Bucky starts, but Steve interrupts him.

“We didn’t…we had words. I said awful things to him. And it wasn’t all his fault, but—“

“But Tony’s as good at finding soft spots as Clint is at targets,” Bucky says, nodding. If the frostiness with which Tony had greeted Steve the first time Bucky had seen the two in a room together had been post-Pudding Incident, Tony must have really twisted the knife at some point.

Steve shrugs. “I’ve tried to apologise, but—“

“Let me guess,” Bucky says, “He cuts you off and changes the subject.”

Steve looks down at his hands, and nods. “I don’t think he’s forgiven me. God knows he’s got the right not to. I was—I was so alone, and so angry with, with everything and everybody, the whole situation, and I took it out on him.”

Bucky sighs. “People always forget that you’ve got a temper.”

“Why would they have known in the first place?” Steve says quietly. “Everybody who would have were long gone.”

Bucky thinks fiercely that he would give almost anything to have been thawed out just those few months earlier. He doesn’t say that though. “If I were to guess, I’d say that Stark’s not ignoring you because he doesn’t forgive you. Chances are, he thinks there’s nothing to forgive.”

“How could he—he can’t have believed me,” Steve says, turning to look at him, horrified. “Could he?”

“I don’t know what you said,” Bucky says, holding up his hands, “And granted I haven’t known Tony that long, but I’ve had some painfully embarrassing conversations with Rhodes that lead me to think that Tony will forgive anyone almost anything, generally because he operates under the assumption that he’s the one who fucked up in the first place.”

Steve stares at him for a long moment, and then looks away.

“It can’t have been that bad,” Bucky says.

“It was unfair,” Steve says, and Bucky winces. Steve admitting to having treated someone unfairly is a bad sign.

After a second, Bucky walks forward and gently picks Short Stuff up off the bed, depositing her in Steve’s lap so he can sit beside him, their knees barely touching. Short Stuff whirs contentment when Steve pats her.

“Why are you so hung up on this?” Bucky asks, just as quietly.

Steve closes his eyes. “I think you know,” he answers finally.

Bucky sucks in a breath. It sometimes blindsides him even now, how brave Steve can be about the smallest and largest things.

“I’m sorry,” Steve starts, but Bucky puts a hand on his knee and he stills.

“Don’t be sorry,” he says firmly. “Though I’ve gotta say one thing.”

Steve chances a look at him and waits.

“You’ve got a type, Rogers.”

Steve chokes out a laugh, half surprise and half amusement, and his shoulders come down just slightly.

“I don’t think Tony’d be averse, either,” Bucky adds musingly.

…And there go the shoulders back up again. Damn it.

Steve says sharply, “He would never do that to you.”

Bucky holds up his hands. “I’m not saying he would.”

“Then don’t—,” Steve stops, and runs a hand through his hair. “Just don’t. I’m not getting in the way of you two. You’re good together, it’s stupid to even speculate.”

“Okay,” Bucky assures him, “Okay, then I won’t. Don’t worry, Steve.”

He won’t speculate, but he’s certainly not going to ignore the way Steve visibly clamps down on whatever he’s feeling, and that it looks really fucking painful to do so.

***

Presently:

Bucky takes a breath. This should be interesting. “I was just offering some commentary.”

“On what, precisely?”

“I’m not blind,” Bucky says, as gently as he knows how. “I know what I look like when I look at Steve. You look just the same nowadays. And what I’m saying is, I’m okay with that.”

“Why the hell would you be okay with that?” Tony demands.

“Because he likes you. And you’re good for him.”

Tony scoffs, but it’s a mask. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Barnes,” he drawls, “But I’m a difficult man to like.”

“You’re right,” Bucky says, “I haven’t noticed.”

Tony looks momentarily stunned, but recovers quickly and says with frightening seriousness, “Barnes. If you’re implying somewhere in there that I’ve settled for you, I’m going to kick your ass. While wearing the suit.”

Bucky stares at him for a long second. He…hadn’t mean that. Had he? He’s pretty sure he has more confidence than that.

There might’ve been a tiny part of him that thought that.

It must show on his face too, because Tony takes on a fierce expression as he steps forward and slides a hand around the back of Bucky’s neck. “Goddamnit, Barnes,” he says quietly. “We gonna have to talk about our feelings now? Because we just got done with that, like, ten minutes ago, and it’s definitely not how I was planning on spending the rest of my time with you before we go off again to blow some shit up.”

“No?” Bucky says, still maybe a little unsteady. “We don’t have to do that.”

Tony is taking shameless advantage of his momentary lapse to derail them, but Bucky can’t quite bring himself to mind. “Okay, good, then I’ll just summarise,” Tony says to him, “I don’t need Steve. I want you. End of story. And now, if we’re good, I’m going to fuck you into the mattress. We good?”

He laughs out a breath. “Yeah, we’re good.”

***

Much later, when they’re lying crumpled over each other, Bucky says, “You totally missed my point, by the way.”

“Mmfgh?”

“I wasn’t saying you should replace me with Steve,” he says carefully. “I’m just saying that maybe he should be…an addition?”

Tony is silent for a very, very long moment.

But then he says, “I don’t…my point still stands, Barnes. I mean, I’m not saying I’m not tempted, because seriously, there are threesomes and then there are threesomes, but I…it’s not a good idea.”

“Why?” Bucky says, tilting back his head to look at Tony.

Tony avoids his eyes, though, and doesn’t answer, and eventually they both drop off to sleep.

***

It’s not until much later that Bucky realises that Steve never let him get to the real point either. Double damn.

***

When he wakes again, it’s still just before dawn, the light barely making dove grey touches on the walls. Tony is awake but unmoving, so Bucky evens out his breathing again, preparing to go back to sleep.

“I couldn’t answer you, before,” Tony says quietly, minutes or maybe hours later.

Bucky doesn’t react, just waits.

“I could’ve. I had an answer. But I couldn’t,” he continues, confiding. And then, even more quietly, “If I could have you both, I think I’d count myself the luckiest man in the universe. And I’d walk through fire to keep it.”

Bucky doesn’t make a sound, but something that had been curled and knotted up tight in his chest seems to release.


Chapter Five

Date: 2012-06-06 03:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] oatmeal-queen.livejournal.com
how are there no comments on these yet? christ, i was like a kid in a candy store when i saw that it was YOU writing in Avengers. Fuckyesmoreplease.

the banter is beautiful and you've done a great job weaving the subplot in to pull all this together. you never cease to impress.

Date: 2012-06-07 12:26 pm (UTC)
ext_443402: (Default)
From: [identity profile] alchemyalice.livejournal.com
Haha, thank you! Avengers has basically taken over my life, I probably will continue to write quite a lot of fic for it. I think most people are reading this particularly story on AO3, I just thought I'd crosspost so that it would be available in case AO3 crashes or something. But I'm glad you're enjoying this! It's been a lot of fun trying to put it all together.

awesome

Date: 2012-06-06 12:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fireflybanner.livejournal.com
I started the first one of this set when I got up this morning, just going to read the first one you understand, and now I'm an hour and a half late, and sporting a wide smile. Thanks.

Re: awesome

Date: 2012-06-07 12:27 pm (UTC)
ext_443402: (Default)
From: [identity profile] alchemyalice.livejournal.com
I apologise for making you late, but I'm glad you enjoyed the reason for being late! Thanks for reading :)

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