[personal profile] alchemyalice
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five


Now:

There’s a helicopter ride, and frantic calls to Pepper, but finally, finally, it really is over.

The team is ordered home by the medical staff, who look like the last thing they want in addition to all of the patching up of their own agents from the fight are hovering superheroes, and so they end up waiting for Tony to get out of his check-up in the living room, napping in intervals and watching the sunrise.

The wait is pretty much the worst, despite the life-or-death portion of the evening being officially over with.

They’ve all played this sort of game at some point or another, particularly Clint and Natasha, who just sort of collapse onto one of the massive leather sofas and crumple into each other. Bucky would call it adorable, except for how he’s pretty sure they’d be able hear him think it, and then he’d be running from two assassins on a bum leg, and no one wants that. The rest range around in varying stages of exhaustion and restlessness, because Tony might be one of the more abrasive members of the Avengers, but without him the group is definitely incomplete. Bruce is passed out on one of the love seats and Thor seems content to stand and slowly destroy a massive package of Pop-Tarts. Around him are several of Tony’s cleaner bots, gleefully chasing after the spray of crumbs he inevitably rains down upon him.

Not for the first time, Bucky wonders how this is his life.

Steve sits rigidly on the second couch, elbows resting on his knees, hands clasped, eyes looking at nothing.

Bucky settles beside him. “We’ve already seen him. He’s fine, they’re just checking him out.”

“I know.”

“I’m going to kick his ass when he gets back.”

A sliver of a smile, quickly gone. “Good.”

“You held us together, Cap,” Natasha says sleepily, “Even when you were about to be sucked into a black hole. Good job.”

“It wasn’t a black hole,” Steve says, ducking his head. Bucky ruffles his hair, mussing it even further than it already was, and then he keeps his hand there. Steve leans into it.

“Sorry about going off-book after the hostage thing,” Clint adds. “I get, uh, strong feelings about that.”

“I probably would have, too.”

“We were definitely with you on that,” Bucky confirms.

“Maybe a little more warning next time?” Steve suggests, and even while exhausted he hits the right tone between chastening and understanding.

Clint grimaces and nods.

“That seems to be the theme of the night, yes,” Natasha says firmly.

As if on cue, they hear the rumble of a car pull up at the front of the mansion, signalling the arrival of Tony with Happy in one of the SI company cars.

He enters the house looking banged-up but generally in good spirits, and promptly receives a punch in the shoulder from Clint, a slap from Natasha, a glare from Steve and disappointed looks from both Thor and Bruce before they all file out, and then it’s just him and Bucky, and:

“Don’t you ever do that to me again, you complete bastard.”

And now here they are. Tangled up in each other while Bucky attempts for what feels like the fiftieth time to derail Tony’s most infuriating tendencies.

“Do what again, exactly? Save your life? In a very dashing and dramatic fashion, I might add.”

“At least give us some warning before we hear it from JARVIS.”

“Physically impossible.”

It’s a really good thing Bucky’s gotten to nearly Pepper Potts’ level of navigating Stark logic, or they could do this all night. He chases it along for a while and then decides to switch tactics.

“You gave us all heart attacks, including Steve.”

“Steve was fine! You are totally lying.”

“Steve was not fine.”

“Of course he was fine! Why wouldn’t he be, it was just a small—“

Bucky puts a finger directly on Tony’s mouth. “No.”

***

Before:

It was agreed that Bucky and Steve should fly ahead with Tony, mostly through a lot of glaring on Natasha’s part. So now they’re in a requisitioned helicopter with Iron Man laid out in the centre of the floor, his head propped up on the undamaged side of Bucky’s lap, and it’s too loud to talk. Not that either Bucky or Steve have anything to say.

Bucky is not quite panicked, but he’s pretty sure it’s because he’s completely tapped out of adrenaline by this point. Mostly he’s just looking down at Tony’s unconscious face while a running commentary of idiot, I’m dating an idiot, how could he think, I’m going to kill him, idiot, idiot, please be okay knocks around in his brain.

Steve, on the other hand, looks completely panicked, and clearly beyond the reach of logic, because he’s stripped off his gloves and cowl and is pulling his hands through his hair, over and over, leaving it all a bird’s nest of blond tufts, and it would look ridiculous were it not also for the way his hands visibly every time he tries to put them back in his lap.

Pepper meets them halfway in a landing field in upstate New York, and Bucky has never seen anyone move that fast in a pair of stilettos.

“I’m going to kill him,” she hisses, flipping her suitcase open in a manner verging on violence.

“Get in line,” Steve says stiffly. He turns to Bucky. “How do we get the chest plate open?”

“Ask,” Pepper says, checking the new arc reactor, “It’s by voice recognition.”

Bucky nods. “JARVIS, can you—?”

“Indeed, Sergeant. Voice prints for James Barnes, Pepper Potts, and Steve Rogers all recognised.” There’s a shifting of plating and the weak whir of machinery in answer, pulling back the chest plate. Tony doesn’t react except to frown slightly, his breathing laboured. The reactor in his chest flickers.

Steve makes a pained noise and grabs the collar of Tony’s undersuit, ripping it clean down the front.

“I keep telling him to add a damn zipper, and he never listens,” Pepper mutters.

“I’ll make it happen,” Bucky says grimly. “Shall I do the honours?”

“Do,” Pepper says, “I’ve got smaller hands for the second part. Which he promised me I’d never have to do again, the bastard.”

“Okay,” Bucky breathes, “Okay.”

Steve shuffles back to make room.

For all that they’d talked through and worked with Bucky’s arm, they’d only done this once. And it hadn’t been nearly this upsetting that time around.

Bucky’s hands are shaking too, now. But he reaches down and presses, turning the reactor until it clicks and comes free, and the gaping hole it leaves behind is one of those awful things that he wishes never to see again.

Pepper covers it quickly, fitting the baseplate of the new reactor in with deft fingers. Its glow flares as it connects. She pulls away from it.

They wait.

Then Tony coughs, and tries to roll to the side only to be stopped by the open chest plate. “Fuck, that smarts,” he splutters. “What happened?”

Steve stands abruptly. “I need some air.”

Tony tracks his exit from the helicopter, and then looks between Pepper and Bucky. “Something I said?” he suggests.

“You owe me so many shoes,” Pepper growls.

Tony deflates. “Oh.”

Bucky shakes his head. “We are having strong words about this later.”

It takes a long time for Steve to get back on board.

***

Now:

“You’ve gotta trust us to save you too, Stark.”

“I do,” Tony says, vulnerable for a bare second. “All the time. And only when I have to.”

Bucky sighs, and rests his head on Tony’s shoulder for a second. “Fucking hell, Tony.”

“You know I made the right call, don’t you?” Tony says quietly. “It was the only call. Situation like that, reactor gets last priority.”

Bucky exhales. “It was the only call, just this once. But then you tell us when its over, as soon as its over.”

“I forgot. Or, I guess I thought I had more time?”

“And we’ve established that you’re an idiot for that.” Bucky pulls back and prods Tony’s forehead with a metal finger. “It’s never the right call if it’s gonna get you killed. It’s not fair to any of us. You hurt other people when you do that. Including me. Including Steve.”

“Barnes,” Tony warns. “I told you, we’re not going there.”

Bucky makes an impatient noise.

“I know he’s important to you,” he says lowly, “Just like he’s important to me. So don’t hurt him.” He decides to go in for the kill, because he’s sick and tired of this. “You’ve probably done it enough already.”

And he thinks maybe, because of how Tony’s breath hitches, that he finally gets it this time.

“I’m sorry,” Tony says eventually. He sounds unsure, but sincere.

So Bucky rewards him by tilting forward to kiss him lightly, lightly because he can already feel this picking up fast and they’re still only half-way to the west wing where several of the bedrooms are situated.

“Let’s move this,” he says.

“Yeah,” Tony agrees, “Lead the way.”

***

Coulson gives them a week’s leave after that, and for the most part the whole team recovers well. Thor goes to see Jane, and poker night resumes, perhaps even more hazardously because the participants’ various injuries make them all especially stiff, thereby erasing many of their tells.

On the other hand, Maria had been on the ground the whole time and didn’t have a scratch on her, so they finally manage to out-bluff her. To be fair, she loses with fairly good grace when Natasha takes possession of her non-SHIELD issue bowie knife.

“You can’t even fit that on your uniform,” Clint protests as Natasha gives the knife a pleased look.

“You of all people should know not to issue a challenge to her like that,” Coulson says mildly.

Natasha confirms this with a sliver of a smile and a quick rise of her eyebrows that makes Clint carefully shift his seat further away from her.

“Dear god,” Darcy says, looking at her with wide eyes. “Teach me your ways.”

“Patience, grasshopper,” Natasha replies.

Bucky makes a mental note to start treating Darcy with the same caution as he generally does Natasha.

They all sleep for extended periods and end up shuffling like zombies around the house, loading up with coffee at odd hours and watching infomercials when they end up waking at night instead of morning.

Tony retreats to his workshop, as usual, and Bucky only joins him sporadically, still somewhat irritated with him, preferring to spend more time with Steve. Steve clearly remains uncomfortable with what he admitted to Bucky before the whole Suppliers thing blew up in their faces, so Bucky tries his best to act like it never happened. They try to resume their city walks, but they don’t end up being very extended ones, given the sorry state of Bucky’s leg. Bucky doesn’t like having to take recovery time though, particularly with all these damn metahumans around, so he tries not to at all. The second time they head out though, they come home with Steve half-carrying his weight. The shot had been small caliber and a clean through-and-through, but it still definitely smarted.

“We’re not doing this again until you’re completely healed up,” Steve says firmly, hauling him up the steps to the mansion.

“Gimme two days, we’ll try again,” Bucky says, trying to suppress a wince.

Steve must tattle on him to Tony though, because that evening Tony emerges from the workshop, announces that he is suddenly exhausted, and basically pins Bucky to the bed octopus-like for as long as he can humanly manage.

Bucky would normally protest, but his leg is a bit sore.

Just a bit, though.

“I know you’re still mad at me, and that’s fine, but I am not above bribing you with blowjobs to get you to stay in bed for another twelve hours,” Tony says to him, half-awake, limbs still wrapped haphazardly around Bucky’s torso and legs.

“You fight dirty, Stark. I like it.”

***

The dismantling of the Suppliers’ global network is already looking to be a long and arduous task with enough paperwork to deforest a small country required, so when their break is over their new assignments are mostly filling out forms without bitching about it, at least not in Coulson’s presence.

Tony finds Steve buried in such paperwork—apparently yet another after-action report for yet another involved country, jesus Tony hated bureaucrats—and plants himself in the doorway, hands shoved in his pockets, waiting to be noticed.

Steve looks up almost immediately, and raises his eyebrows in expectation. “Hi, Tony.”

“Hi,” Tony echoes. And then, after a second, because it’s best to get it out quickly, “So what can I get you?”

Steve frowns at him. “What?”

“I’m buying Pepper shoes, as usual, and I’m giving Bucky—um, never mind. But I haven’t gotten you anything. What do you need? Art supplies? Have you tried prismacolour markers yet? They’re apparently super awesome.”

“I mostly work in charcoal,” Steve says slowly. “Why are you getting Pepper and Bucky things?”

Tony waves a hand vaguely in dismissal. Unfortunately, that stopped working on Pepper years ago, on Bucky months ago, and Steve, apparently, has also become completely immune.

“Tony. Why do you want to buy me things?”

Tony huffs, and tries to look at everything in the room except for Steve. “Well, uh, look. It’s been brought to my attention that I kind of…worried you? With the whole thing with the,” he taps the arc reactor and shrugs.

Steve blinks. And then says dryly, “Yes, generally it distresses me when someone on my team suddenly collapses in impending cardiac arrest.”

“Exactly!” Tony points at him. “Someone on the team! It could be anyone! Bucky doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Steve narrows his eyes. “Yes. But it was you. And it’s you rather often, Tony, or have we not had this conversation about you throwing yourself into danger at least five times in the last six months?”

“Pfft.” Tony rolls his eyes, and pushes himself out of his slump against the doorjamb. His clearly totally justified. Though also maybe, just a little disappointed. But obviously that doesn’t matter. But as he turns to retreat and set about getting some of those fancy markers, Steve’s voice stops him.

“Tony,” Steve says carefully, “I was worried. I was really, really worried. And really wish you wouldn’t take risks like that, especially when it could have been solved by just telling us the truth sooner.”

Tony sucked in a breath. Yeah, Bucky had definitely made that clear. “In my defence, I really did just forget for a second there,” he says, but it sounds weak even to his own ears. “What with being glad everyone’s okay.”

“Everyone but you,” Steve points out.

Tony shrugs again, and tries to steer things back on topic. “So do you want to try prismacolours? You’ll need good thick paper to go with it, stuff with a grain and—“

“I’d prefer you just didn’t scare me like that again,” Steve says.

“But that’s not permanent,” Tony protests, “Markers are permanent. Heh, literally. Come on, Steve, just let me do this, and I’ll leave you alone, okay?”

“You don’t need to leave me alone,” Steve says, and then immediately flushes. Tony stares at him. That’s…new. Now looking thoroughly flustered, Steve hastens to add, “Are you apologising?”

“I don’t apologise,” Tony says automatically, but he keeps watching Steve, who’s looking away from him now, back down at the report on his desk, though now with a sort of knowing smile playing at his lips. And yeah, Tony’s maybe being a bit transparent—he does apologise, or at lest he tries to sometimes, though rarely about things that really matter—but the smile is uncomfortable also, maybe wistful? And Tony’s pretty sure that his attempt at apology is not the most important part of this conversation anymore, though maybe it should be for entirely different reasons.

“How far are you with your paperwork?” he asks abruptly, stepping forward to look over Steve’s shoulder to his desk. “You’re on France already? Jesus, no wonder Coulson’s lovestruck over you. You’re taking a break, you still haven’t seen Ocean’s Eleven, or the Italian Job, and my god, with Clint and Natasha in the house how the hell have we not had a heist movie marathon yet? This is happening right now, come on, Rogers.”

Bemused, Steve casts a look at the stack of forms and reports on his desk, and shrugs. “Paperwork never has been my favourite,” he says.

“Join the club,” Tony says, clapping him on the shoulder, and propelling him away from the report.

***

They watch all of the Ocean’s movies, and both versions of the Italian Job, with Natasha offering a scary amount of trivia and Clint a scary amount of critical knowledge on scams, theft, and general superspy shenanigans. Bruce bemoans the terribleness of Ocean’s Twelve while also being able to quote passages from it, and Tony has to stop the first film to rant for a good ten minutes about how letting an EMP loose on the entirety of Las Vegas would be the worst thing to happen ever and good god, does Hollywood ever do its homework?

Bucky and Steve both just manage to ignore all of this and enjoy the flashy suits and Michael Caine shouting about only blowing the bloody doors off.

“Next time, we’re doing espionage movies,” Clint pronounces. “Because ya’ll haven’t lived until you’ve seen Nat have an aneurism over that shit.”

“We do that, and you’re buying me all of the vodka,” Natasha replies.

“Way to live up to the stereotype, Romanova,” Tony says, and gets a jab in the ribs for his efforts. “Ow, goddamn it, woman, you’re a menace.”

They devolve into a discussion of the greatness of Le Carre adaptations and the terribleness of Swordfish, and Bucky contents himself with slumping between Tony and Steve, leaning into the latter to avoid the violent gesticulations of the former.

“I guess we’re gonna be watching all of the latest pictures with running commentary,” Steve observes.

“Could be worse,” Bucky replies. “We could stumble blindly into whatever ‘Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever’ is instead.”

“That film is banned from this house,” Natasha says venomously.

Bucky smirks, and feels the shaking of Steve’s shoulder beneath his head as Steve tries manfully to suppress his laughter. Tony looks over at them, and his expression shifts into something speculative and warm.

Bucky only catches it for a brief moment, but he holds onto it for a while.

***

They ease back into action slowly, tasked with local emergencies and occasionally clearing out yet more of the Suppliers’ caches when SHIELD wasn’t sure of its welcome. Clint gets sent off on a last-minute mission and comes back with ripped stitches that lead to Natasha verbally flaying Fury in the middle of the helicarrier which will never, ever not be the hottest thing Bucky has ever seen.

Which is totally okay, because Tony is in full agreement with him.

So is everyone else.

“Wow,” Steve says under his breath, as Natasha strides away towards the elevator, various agents fleeing in her wake.

“I’ll say,” says Bucky.

“I’m saving that to the JARVIS’s servers,” Tony remarks. “You’re all welcome to play it back at your leisure.”

“Awesome,” Clint says faintly, when they tell him that at the med wing. He slips back into his vicodin-induced nap with a smile on his face.

Bucky remains on leave for the longest, given that his leg’s pretty important and he’s still not officially a team member. Still, in the end he gets called out too.

“Come on, Barnes,” Sitwell says with alacrity, which is rich considering he rarely comes out from inside the surveillance van. “Time to buck up.”

“It’s a good thing I like you,” Bucky replies, “Or I’d be fucking you up right now.”

Sitwell offers him a sunny smile. “Save it for the terrorists. They’re way punnier than I am.”

“I had better be goddamn authorised for deadly force for this mission,” Bucky growls.

***

While he’s gone, Tony’s first reaction is, as usual, to retreat to the workshop for as long as humanly possible. Obviously this was not reserved for Bucky-less situations, but those certainly encouraged it. This time around, however, he finds himself emerging with a flash drive full of new protocols for Short Stuff and ideas for fixing the oven that keeps burning things for no reason. Also, that massive package of prismacolours came in the mail the other day, so he should give that to Cap.

Two of those imperatives are covered by a trip to Steve’s room, which Tony tries to not give too much thought to.

“Hey, Cap.”

“Tony,” Steve acknowledges, and Short Stuff beeps at him from his desk.

“You are so spoiling her, letting her up there.” He goes up and pats her with one finger, which she makes a smug burrr noise at.

“She likes to see what I’m writing. I think she might be learning?”

“She’s made to learn,” Tony replies. “But I thought she could maybe use some extra capacity for that?” He waves the flash drive at Steve.

Steve frowns. “It’s not gonna change her, is it?”

“Not personality-wise, no,” Tony says, though he can’t help smiling slightly at Steve’s concern. “It’s just to make her smarter. I figure, she’s spending so much time around you, she might as well be able to appreciate more of what you’re doing.”

“What about the rest of the bots?”

“They’re happy doing their thing,” Tony says dismissively. “Most usually are. But like I said before, the first one is always a little quirky. But who am I to get in the way of that? I just thought…yeah. Give her whatever tools she needs to be happier.”

Steve smiles at him in a way that makes Tony warm inside. “That’s nice of you.”

He shrugs. “I built her, just following through.” Then he remembers. “Uh, got something for you.”

He puts the package of markers on the table. Steve huffs.

“I told you you didn’t have to get those for me.”

“Too late. They’re here, no take-backs.”

“You really don’t have to buy my forgiveness, Tony.”

“I can try,” Tony blurts out. And then he busies himself with grabbing Short Stuff and soothing her enough to insert the flash drive to her central motherboard. “Come on, babe, you’re gonna be fine, just let me do this one thing, it won’t hurt a bit, and then you can hang out with Rogers all you like. Though really, I mean, you already do that, but really, who can blame you, right? Right.”

Short Stuff whirs at him, but allows him to hook up the flash drive and makes clicking noises as she downloads the extra data. Tony steps back, shoving his hands back in his pockets. He doesn’t look at Steve.

“If she ever needs anything, or something breaks, just bring her down to the workshop. She should socialise with Dummy and You anyway, maybe give those hunks of junk something to aspire to. So, uh, yeah. Anytime. Standing invitation.”

He can feel Steve’s gaze on him, and refuses to meet it. “Thanks, Tony,” Steve says, sounding a little tight, which Tony doesn’t entirely understand the cause for.

He beats a hasty retreat anyway. Rogue ovens wait for no man.

He doesn’t see Steve watch him go, and then remain looking at the empty doorframe for several minutes.

***

They could have stayed in that sort of stasis forever, really.

Except sometimes Tony is a bit delirious, Bucky is a bit blind, and yeah.

So it doesn’t, in the end.

***

When Bucky gets back after a week of surveilling and thwarting terrorist plots, sticky and sore and desperate to get rid of the high the op has left with him, it’s to find the mansion enveloped in pitch darkness. According to Coulson, the rest of the Avengers had apparently just spent the last fifty-six hours in New York’s lesser-known underground passageways, and everyone is more than a little light sensitive, and definitely a lot in need of extended rest.

Even so, Tony comes out to meet him when he gets the alert from JARVIS, and the light of the arc reactor shows that his eyes are already dark with expectation, taking in Bucky’s ruffled hair and the spatter of blood on his sleeve.

“Honey, I’m home?” Bucky offers.

Tony growls, and jumps him.

“I haven’t slept in three days and I am still getting in you as soon as fucking possible.”

“Got you beat, I’ve been awake at least sixty hours. Also, more than okay with that plan.”

“Don’t turn on the damn light, my eyes—“

“You’ve got the reactor—“

“Yeah, and I was ready to make a shirt out of blackout material just to shade it a bit. What floor are we on?”

“Dunno, I just pressed a button on the elevator and hoped for the best.”

“Oh fuck it, there’s like eighty extra bedrooms in this place, come on.”

They progress slowly down the hall, shedding Tony’s t-shirt and belt and Bucky’s leftover arsenal of whatever isn’t in his arm, taking plenty of time shoving each other against the walls.

“Fuck, what is this belt buckle, a goddamn finger trap?”

“Can fire a plasma gun but can’t open my fucking belt, what’s wrong with you, Barnes?”

“Pot calling kettle, piece of work—“

Tony fumbles at a doorknob and they fall through as it gives way, Bucky already insinuating one leg between Tony’s, only to hear a strangled noise once they’re inside.

They both freeze against the bedroom wall.

Tony recovers first. “I’m guessing we beat the odds of finding an empty one?”

“I think you did,” Steve says, sounding hoarse.

Bucky looks over his shoulder, awful surge of guilt and embarrassment crashing over him before being immediately replaced by a distant sort of buzzing in his ears when he gets a good look at Steve.

In a span of seconds, Steve has gone from pale surprise to wrecked, his whole frame folding inwards even as he’s poised to bolt.

Bucky tries to think of something to say, something to ease the tension in the room, but there’s nothing.

Except.

Tony’s breathing hitches against him.

“Steve—” Bucky starts.

“I’ll leave,” Steve says quickly, gathering the sweatshirt he’d clearly been about to put on.

Shit. No, he can’t do that, damn it, Bucky can fix this, he can. He tries again, sucking in enough breath to make the words come out sharp and determined.

“No, Steve. Wait. Please. ”

And he looks back at Tony, whose face has gone entirely blank except for a high flush along his cheeks and the dilated black of his eyes. He strokes his thumb along the cut of Tony’s hip, and looks at him steadily.

“You remember what I said?” he murmurs, “About an addition?”

Tony’s eyes go even wider, and then he shoots a glance at Steve.

It takes a second, but Bucky can see the change, the moment when even Tony can fully read the expression on Steve’s face. “Oh,” he breathes. “I didn’t—“

“You’re an idiot,” Bucky says, for what feels like the millionth time. He waits a second for Tony to digest, watching his face as he processes, analyses, takes it all apart and puts it back again. Steve doesn’t move, pinned in place by Tony’s gaze.

“Yes?” Bucky asks Tony, trying to read what he’s thinking.

Tony finally tears his eyes from Steve, and he nods, almost imperceptibly at first, a tiny jerking motion that slowly gets more resolute.

“Yeah,” he breathes, “Yes, god yes, if he—“

“Yeah,” Bucky agrees. He exhales, and then looks back at Steve, who’s still waiting, watching them like a cornered rabbit, frozen and strung tight, ready to leap for the door even as a flush appears high on his cheeks and spreading.

“Steve,” Bucky says, and falters. Damn it, he feels like he’s been waiting for this forever and now he’s choking. He tries again, doing his best to keep his voice low and even, “Steve…stay. If you want to.”

There’s a moment of still, stunned silence.

“…What?” It comes out a whisper.

“You heard him,” Tony says a little louder, but he sounds wrecked too. “He wants you here. We want you here, with both of us.”

“What?” Steve repeats, clearly not processing. “You can’t possibly mean that.”

“I do,” Bucky says, “I damn well do, and you know I say what I mean, Steve, you know I don’t lie to you.”

“But I—“

“Steve,” Tony says, sounding unsteady, “Surely you know better than I do that Barnes here is a regular font of brilliant ideas.”

Steve’s eyes dart between them, his panic, if nothing else, rising. “Why?

“Why the fuck not?” Tony demands, to Bucky’s surprise. “We both want you, fuck, Barnes has since he first set eyes on you, and I—jesus, Steve, you can’t have missed how I—I mean, it’s one thing if you don’t want to be here, and if that’s the case, then you don’t need to leave, we’ll go, both of us right now, just—“

“God, no,” Steve says, clearly without meaning to, his cheeks flaming.

“Then,” Tony says, the grip he has on Bucky’s hair tightening. “Stay. Just…you can stay.”

Steve stumbles back a couple of paces, his back hitting the wall. “You don’t want this,” he says softly. “That’s not…why would you?”

“Why would—? For fuck’s sake,” Tony mutters. He turns a dark gaze over to Bucky, clearly expecting him to take up the slack. Bucky swallows. He’s never been good at this.

“You heard him, Rogers. I wanted you ages ago. Before Erskine. You must’ve noticed.”

“Maybe I was too busy dealing with all the dames you were throwing at me,” Steve says, brittle and smiling crookedly, and Bucky flinches.

“Steve, I—“

“And really, how many times have you saved me from my own damned stupid self?” Steve asks, almost rhetorically. “Double digits for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was triple. How could you possibly, after all that—“

“That’s enough,” Tony growls, and Steve, miraculously, goes silent.

Bucky can barely make himself breathe. He hadn’t thought for one second—goddamnit, he’s an idiot. He doesn’t deserve—

Tony squeezes the back of his neck hard, and then slips out from between him and the wall, his expression steady.

Steve looks down and away from them both, his jaw tense. Tony makes an inarticulate noise in his throat, but he just keeps moving, and walks very slowly over to Steve.

Steve doesn’t look at him either, but his shoulders come up slightly, like he’s expecting a blow.

Tony looks at him for a moment, and then says, “And I thought I was the one with the low self-esteem issues here.”

“You are,” Bucky says.

“You wake up in the future and you read psychology books?” Steve mutters.

“Gotta read something,” Bucky shrugs.

They’re all still for another moment, and then Tony reaches out and curls his fingers around Steve’s wrist. Steve sways forward slightly. “Okay, so you’re still the little guy inside that we all forget is there,” Tony says. “Fine. I get that.”

Steve closes his eyes.

“That’s not the only thing bothering you,” Tony says, “Is it?”

Bucky sometimes forgets how smart Tony is, especially with people. Social mores might escape him, but he’s smart with problems, because he has a library of his own. And now he has Steve in the centre of the room, and Steve could run, but he doesn’t, of course he doesn’t, he doesn’t even flex his wrist in Tony’s grip. He looks over Tony’s shoulder at Bucky, and Bucky stops breathing altogether.

“You don’t need me here,” Steve says, very quietly, “Why should I get in the way of what you have?”

Bucky exhales. His throat’s gone all tight, but he manages, just as quietly but sharp like a left hook, “Fuck you, Rogers.”

Steve flinches. Tony tightens his grip around Steve’s wrist, and shoots a chastening look over his shoulder at Bucky, and Bucky knows what that means—he has to say it this time, use words and not just heroics, because they’ve all done that one time or another, and now’s not the time, not when Steve’s being so stupid—no, not that, when Bucky’s been so stupid, and goddamnit, he really wishes someone could have just told him, ages ago, reminded him of what he, of all people, should know.

Luckily, when he really thinks about it, he’s had these words ready for years, kept them down and hidden in boxes tucked away, sure, but real and present since he was fifteen and starving and Steve was tiny but still incredibly goddamn beautiful, inside and out.

“You think I don’t need you?” he says, slowly because it hurts, “I need you every second of every day. I needed you when you were a shrimp who didn’t know what the word ‘no’ meant, and I needed you when you came out of the damn science lab a head taller than me. I needed you when I woke up here, in this crazy time, and I need you right now, as a friend and as a brother, and a hell of a lot more than that if you’d let me. You told me I couldn’t understand what you were missing in him,” he points at Tony, who only barely avoids flinching, “But you miss exactly the same thing about yourself, and we’re both stupid for never telling you—Steve, you’re the best person I’ve ever known, and I’d be an idiot for not wanting you, then and now. So fuck you, and get this through your head: I need you, and I want you.”

“Here, here,” Tony murmurs.

About halfway through, Steve had started actually looking at him. He stares now, eyes wide and shattered and honest enough that it makes Bucky’s heart hurt, though that’s nothing new, when it comes to Steve. Steve swallows, adam’s apple bobbing, and then he steps around Tony, pulling his wrist from his grip.

Then he reaches forward and kisses Bucky.

And all Bucky can think is, finally.

It’s almost painful, because Bucky’s wanted this for, god, for so long. So long he’s forgotten just how much he wanted, does want, and it’s like those carefully sorted boxes and glass jars are breaking apart in his chest, warmth uncurling low in his belly because Steve is here and whole and his face is just the same as when they were small and Bucky knows down to his bones that even if Steve had still been small, he’d still kiss this exact same way, with this concentrated care and nearly sentimental focus.

Steve kisses him like it’s a precious sort of privilege, and Bucky just wants to drag him to the bed and never let him leave.

When he finally breaks away, breathing hard, Steve says, “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

Bucky raises his eyebrows. “Back then? Why do you think, dumbass? We couldn’t have. And you had Peggy.”

“I would have risked it,” Steve whispers. “If you’d asked me to.”

If Bucky’s brain wasn’t already thoroughly short-circuited, it would be now.

“He’s just all sorts of perfect, huh?” Tony murmurs, having come up behind Bucky while he’d been otherwise distracted. “Took me a while to get that, but consider me caught up at this point.” He traces a line with this lips along the curve of Bucky’s shoulder and up against the side of his neck. Bucky shivers, and Steve makes a strangled noise in his throat.

“Thought about us, have you?” Bucky asks Steve, but his voice has gone all ragged, so it doesn’t sound sly at all, just curious and intent.

“A lot,” Steve admits, and one of his hands that had been cupped around Bucky’s hip bone slides back to catch at Tony’s ribcage. Tony sucks in a breath against Bucky’s throat.

“Do you really think we can…?” Steve asks, low and tentative.

“Yes,” Bucky says, because fuck it, proximity fucking with brain function or not, he’s sure now, absolutely sure.

“I think,” Tony says carefully, “That it could be a train wreck of epic proportions. But I want to try. I really, really do.”

“I want…” Steve starts, and then hesitates.

“What do you want, Steve?” Tony asks, low and serious in that rare way that always reminds Bucky of why he trusts him.

Steve responds to it, too; he brings his gaze back up and looks at Tony squarely. “I don’t just want this once,” he says. “I don’t think I could do that. I want this for…for as long as you’ll have me. As long as you’ll both have me.”

Bucky exhales, and smiles. Tony’s expression doesn’t change at all, except to match Steve’s gaze and nod firmly. “Good,” he says, “Because that’s exactly where this is going.”

And Bucky watches as Steve and Tony continue to look at each other, studying one another’s expressions while their bodies are strung tight at his front and back. He realises that they haven’t even touched each other yet, not really.

“Go on,” he murmurs.

Steve hesitates.

“Yeah, okay,” Tony says, just as soft, and reaches over Bucky’s shoulder to fit his fingers around Steve’s jaw and pull him the scant inches forward to kiss him.

The sound that Steve makes is…well, Bucky wants to hear it a hell of a lot more. It comes from somewhere deep in his chest, a possessive rumble that would have Bucky’s hackles rising if it were anyone but Steve making it.

Tony kisses differently when it’s Steve, Bucky can tell—not proprietary at all, at first sort of wondering and delicate, and then slowing with exploration, licking deep into Steve’s mouth while lingering with his teeth on his lower lip. His hand is big on Steve’s face, ring and pinky fingers hooking under his ear and fitting against his hairline while his thumb strokes the dip just beneath his cheekbone, and Steve’s eyes slip shut like he can’t take the overstimulation, his whole body tilting into the kiss as Tony presses it forward.

Bucky finds himself fascinated, strangely satisfied because Tony is so clearly taking Steve apart, motion to motion, the drag of his mouth undoing him with skill and something far more visceral, and Steve is just unwinding, going lax against Bucky’s chest in a slow, drugged slump that Bucky responds to by sliding his hand up Steve’s back, following the dip of his spine upwards and spanning his palm flat on the ripple of his shoulder blade as he moves his opposite hand up to cup the back of Tony’s head, bringing them both closer together, closer against him, because at this point, he’s not ashamed to be greedy, not at all.

Tony pulls back just slightly to press a chaste kiss to the corner of Steve’s mouth, and Steve’s answering exhale is shaky, the hand he still has on Bucky squeezing compulsively, reminding Bucky that he can contribute far more, if he wants.

And yes, he wants. He wants a great deal.

Tony is tight against his back now, betraying everything in the arch of his pelvis against Bucky’s backside, his fingers now laced with Steve’s over Bucky’s hip. Bucky covers their joined fingers with his own and dips his head under Steve’s jaw and murmurs, “Maybe we should move this to the bed?”

“Definitely in favour of that,” Tony says, half-muffled by Steve chasing his mouth with his own.

“If you’re sure,” Steve says, but his grip on Tony’s hand is tight beneath Bucky’s fingers.

“We’re sure,” Bucky confirms.

“We’re talking about it later,” Tony corrects, “But right now? Absolutely sure.”

“I just…haven’t actually done this before,” Steve confesses.

Both Bucky and Tony go still.

“This in particular?” Tony asks, after a second. “Or all of it?”

Even in the dimness of Steve’s bedroom, Steve looks tomato-red. “All of it,” he admits.

Tony sucks in a breath and shoots Bucky a look. “Did you know that?” he demands.

Bucky shrugs, albeit somewhat unsteadily. “I suspected.”

“Dear god,” Tony says, “You’re both going to kill me. Get the fuck on the bed, Rogers, we’re throwing you into the deep end of the pool.”

***

It takes some manoeuvring, but they make it work.

Bucky and Tony had been easy, even when they’d first started, a strange slide together of two people who knew another fucked-up soul when they saw one and then found to their delight that they both liked things that went boom, too. By day they worked around each other’s damage by sheer instinct because they saw it in themselves first, and by night they were just the same, feeling out each other’s likes and dislikes with a studied and experienced eye, never lingering on the things that didn’t work, always moving forward, carving new territory.

Steve, though, Steve’s not like them at all. Bucky never had a problem with the jagged edges between them before because Steve had been there for every break and tear, but this is all new, and Tony’s here with them.

They make it work, though.

Steve is big, bigger than either of them all over, and Tony takes it in stride but Bucky isn’t precisely used to it, okay? But there are three of them together now, so it’s okay, Steve’s hands massive on his hips, Tony’s legs slung back around his.

Tony fits just right against Steve’s front, which means that Bucky fits too because from where he is in the equation he can watch and so can Steve, and Tony likes an audience, particularly when the audience is up close and participating. And Steve just…

He isn’t easy, because he’s Steve for god’s sake, but he…

He fits them both.

It’s clear in the way he physically holds them, Tony curving to the bow of his spine, Bucky folding forward, knees up around his shoulders and arms braced back against the headboard, Steve’s hand reaching across and around to mould to and support the arch of his lower back.

Tony talks through all of it, because of course he does, he always does, and Bucky’s used to it but Steve isn’t, so Bucky talks back for the both of them, reading Steve, watching his flushed face and talking, taking liberties with the occasional statement of, “Fuck, just like that, do that again, you should see his face when you do that, Stark, fuck,” and Steve is red from his face to his navel, and it’s better than perfect because it isn’t perfect at all.

None of them last very long. None of them mind.

“Practice,” Tony says eventually, between gasping breaths, Bucky’s face mashed into his shoulder, Steve’s leg and arm slung over his torso. All of their feet are inextricably tangled. “I vote for lots of practice.”

“Strategically sound,” Steve agrees in a mumble, sounding like he’s run about ten miles at top super-soldier speed.

“Can’t believe you can handle that many syllables right now,” Bucky grumbles. “We’re gonna fix that.”

“Later,” Tony says.

“Later,” Steve agrees, and Bucky cracks an eye open momentarily just in time to catch the small, wondering smile that Steve curls against Tony’s neck, before he slips down into sleep.

***

When Bucky wakes up next, it’s to find himself facing the window, his head on Tony’s arm, the side of Tony’s ribcage flush to his spine. His feet are still tangled with Steve’s though.

Tony shifts, a nearly untraceable twitch.

“I’m gonna fuck this up,” he says to the ceiling, so quietly Bucky almost don’t hear him.

“No, you won’t,” Bucky says, turning over and rolling his eyes.

“No, you won’t,” Steve says, and he cups his hand around the back of Tony’s head, thumb pressed against the hinge of his jaw. “We won’t let you.”

***

Epilogue:

There’s really no hiding it the next morning. Natasha and Clint are already in the breakfast area with Thor and Dr. Foster when they get there, and despite all of them managing a fairly uncomfortable but encouraging discussion followed by a thorough shower before leaving the room, well.

The rest of the team were more than accustomed to Tony or Bucky looking less-than-pristine, but Steve?

Bucky doesn’t bother stifling the growling, possessive feeling in his chest that manifests as a leer at Steve’s seemingly permanent red face and the bruised mark in the shape of Tony’s teeth just along the edge of his jugular. Never mind the fingermarks Bucky definitely left on his hips this morning.

Tony, of course, is equally incorrigible, if not more so. As Bucky pours coffee he lays a smacking kiss on Bucky’s cheek and then lands a loud slap on Steve’s ass, causing him to yelp and then immediately glower.

Breakfast at the table pauses.

Tony steals Bucky’s coffee and saunters forward to slide into one of the chairs.

Clint breaks the silence, because of course he does. “There are so many different comments I could make right now, I don’t even know what to go with.”

Bucky tips his head to one side, raising a second mug to his lips, and makes a ‘bring it’ gesture with his metal hand. “Top two, go.”

“Are you building a harem? Because if Natasha’s in, then so am I, and I’m bringing Darcy.”

Natasha swats him on the arm, which he winces at, but ignores. Dr. Foster slaps him on the back of the head, which clearly surprises him, because he squeaks, and then cringes when Thor warns him away from retaliation with a well-placed look.

Tony snickers.

“Good suggestion, but no,” Bucky snorts. “Next?”

Clint recovers enough to narrow his eyes at Tony. “Does Tony have a magical dick, or something? Because you and Rogers, I get, but—“

Bucky grins over Steve’s spluttering. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Clint sighs. “Despoiling a national icon, and all I get is snark. Fine, be that way.”

“For the record, the answer to your question is a resounding yes,” Tony says. He takes a slurp from his coffee.

After a second, everyone else does the same.

Then Natasha breaks the silence again.

“I’ve put the Night Fox in a threesome with Danny Ocean and Rusty,” she says slowly. “I’m going to need something stronger than coffee.”

Bruce, who had just exited the kitchen, promptly spits tea everywhere.

Bucky, in between bouts of hysterical laughter, looks up to see Steve, who is clearly torn between joining in and trying to project leaderly disapproval while holding up a gasping and cackling Tony.

Steve meets his gaze, and his repressed smile relaxes into something wide and bright and genuine. The arm he has around Tony’s shaking shoulders tightens.

Bucky goes up to them both, setting his coffee cup down on the table before shoving one hand in the back pocket of Tony’s jeans and curling the other beneath Steve’s chin to draw him in for a light, smiling kiss.

“Wait ’til we tell Coulson,” he says against Steve’s lips.

“Taping it, recording it, saving it in Blu-Ray,” Tony says. “It’s gonna be the best thing to go into the Avengers archives yet.”

“So glad we could contribute,” Steve says dryly.

“Worth the wait?” Bucky asks him. He’s not referring to the past weeks, or even the past months.

Tony looks up at Steve too now, expectation and caution warring on his face.

Steve just looks at them both, and nods.

“Yeah,” he says quietly, “I’d say so.”

Tony beams at him.

Bucky’s always had excellent instincts. And as usual, he’s completely right—the future’s a fucking great time.


Fin
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alchemyalice

March 2013

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