capkink fill: My Normal Approach is Useless Here 1/2 (CA: TFA)

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Aug. 22nd, 2011 | 05:20 pm

Title: My Normal Approach is Useless Here 1/2
Fandom: Captain America: The First Avenger
Characters: Steve Rogers/Tony Stark/Bucky Barnes (eventually)
Rating: PG-13
Wordcount: ~ 11000
Summary: For this prompt. Tony finds Bucky frozen in the Alps and brings him back, thinking it'll help Steve adjust to modern life if he's not alone. Unfortunately, he finds it has the side-effect of him becoming irrationally jealous.

Notes: Title is from this XKCD comic. Also, much love for my reviewers at the prompt thread, you guys are fantastic! ♥

It took only seven days for Tony to fall irrationally, pathetically, and completely in love with Steve Rogers.

"He's barely been around for a week and you already want to get in his pants," Pepper scolded as Tony watched Steve pummel a punching bag from across the gym. He'd decided their business check-in meetings would be conducted there after he figured out that Steve used exercise as a way to zone out of reality. And while he was a little concerned about that whole reasoning, he couldn't resist a sweaty Captain America.

"I don't want to get in his pants," Tony protested. After a beat he corrected, "I don't just want to get in his pants."

Tony didn't know how to categorize Steve Rogers, and Tony knew how to categorize everything. Pepper insisted otherwise because the compulsion had no physical manifestation, but he had everything laid out in neat boxes in his mind. People and wine preferences and side projects all had their own subcategories and sections and levels. The other Avengers were in 'People I would trust with my life but not necessarily the lives of people I care about'. Pepper was in 'People I trust with everything', though it really should be re-titled into 'Person', as there were no other members.

Steve was in the 'Person I want to open up my chest for and show him everything inside and hope that he might feel something for me, whom I respect so much I'm almost in awe of him and would definitely like to have sex with but refuse to be anything other than serious and committed to him in a ridiculously girlish fit of romanticism' group, which hadn't even existed until a week ago.

"This is the most infatuated I've seen you since you bought the Saleen," Pepper observed, holding out a leaflet of documents for him to sign.

"He's a beautiful car and I had to have him," Tony replied. He signed the papers absently, not even close to the lines with some of them as Steve stopped for a moment to sit down on a bench to re-wrap his hands. Steve seemed to get along fine with the rest of the Avengers, friendly and unfailingly polite whenever drawn into a conversation, but he hadn't made any move to reach out on his own yet. Tony had been tracking the activity on Steve's personal computer, and when it wasn't things like 'how a smartphone works', it was history sites, looking up past wars and seeing that the world hadn't changed that much since he was around, despite all his efforts.

(Tony wasn't stalking Steve. At least, not any more than he was stalking the others. But it had been his tower before the Avengers had moved in, and he liked to at least pretend that he still had some kind of power. Besides, he was just making sure that Steve wasn't looking up anything like sites on 'How Superhumans Can Commit Suicide Because They've Been Dead for Seventy Years And Now Their Entire Life is Gone'.)

"I thought the Saleen was a 'she'," Pepper pointed out. Tony shrugged one shoulder.

"Only when it's being a bitch."

Pepper's lips twitched and she retrieved the documents, tucking them neatly back into the folder. She then leveled Tony with the Look: the one that could stop grown men in their tracks for fear of being smacked across the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. It forced him to drag his gaze away from the band of skin between Steve's shirt and shorts and actually turn his head to look her in the eye.

"I'll be back from Los Angeles in a week," she said. "Don't do anything monumentally insane before I get back, alright?"

"Of course," Tony replied with a reassuring smile. Once Pepper was gone he turned his attention back to Steve, who was sitting with his head in his hands and made Tony's heart twist just from looking at him.

Three days and two sleepless nights later he was onboard a newly-designed jet bound for Western Europe, to search for a man long considered dead.

James Barnes wore a tattered blue outfit that had clear 1940s roots but with a twist: stronger and lighter material, with a flair akin to the uniform Steve had been found in—which, of course, meant the hand of Dad. Barnes was young, tall, dark-haired and handsome, with a pouty downturn to his lips that Tony suspected was a permanent fixture.

He was also frozen completely solid after spending seventy years buried beneath twenty yards of snow and ice.

Unreasonably, Tony found himself more concerned with the former than the latter.

- …I don't think we can save his arm, at least not with any level of original functioning—sir, are you listening to me? -

"Of course I am," Tony replied automatically, tearing his eyes away from Barnes' nude body to blink at the display monitors. They'd had to cut off the uniform in order to better treat the whole 'frozen' thing, and Barnes was currently suspended in a tank filled with perfluorocarbon fluid, a breathable liquid that could warm him from the inside-out.

- Please don't tell me you're more concerned ogling Sergeant Barnes than you are reviving him, sir. -

"I am not ogling," Tony said loftily. "I am ascertaining the damage to his limbs in order to determine the next course of action."

- Of course, sir, - Jarvis demurred, and Tony was positive there was a hint of humor in the AI's voice.

He walked around the side of the cylindrical tank in order to get a better look at Barnes' left arm, skirting past a table of surgical implements he wasn't entirely sure how to use—which was why he'd loaded on a medical robot that did. He'd stripped out the cargo hold of one of his lesser-used jets in order to create what was basically a compacted version of a high-performance hospital, retrofitting it with anything and everything that might help him defrost a WWII-era soldier. It hadn't been a matter of if he found Barnes so much as it had been a matter of when: because Tony had done his homework. He'd spent hours going over seized files from HYDRA bases in the 1940s, looking into their experiments on prisoners. The Kasberg facility had 'Barnes, James B' as one of their test subjects, and given what Red Skull was obsessed with at the time, it wasn't much of a leap to guess that Barnes had been one of the guinea pigs in trying to recreate Erskine's super-soldier serum.

And he had been right, of course. Preliminary scans had found traces of the serum in Barnes' blood—not a great deal, and not nearly as much as Steve, but enough that it made a difference. Enough that it had kept him alive.

"You're right, there's no saving it," Tony said quietly as he got a good look at Barnes' arm, the buoyancy in his chest over finding Steve's lost friend dipping a little. By the way they'd found him and the other injuries to his left side, Barnes had hit the ground that way, with his arm taking the brunt of the force. It was a nasty compound fracture, bone piercing through skin and wrist and fingers terribly disjointed. Third-degree frostbite had set in before the entirety of his body had shut down, and there was no possible way anything below the elbow could be saved.

Tony straightened his back.

"I'll fix him," he declared, already imagining the schematics in his mind. "How long until we're back in New York?"

- Four hours, sir. -

Tony nodded crisply, pulling up the interactive screens to start designing a new arm. He would fix Barnes. He would give Captain America back his best friend and maybe, finally, he would get to see Steve smile.

"I brought you blueberries."

To his credit, Steve didn't look at Tony like he was crazy. He just accepted the small box, taking it with that little half-quirk of his lips that he tried to pass off as a smile.

"Thank you?"

"They're from France," Tony clarified. "Also, I need to talk to you."

Steve nodded, obligingly falling into step with him as Tony meandered in the vague direction of the elevator. He'd transferred Barnes into a room on his own floor, near all the equipment he had commandeered for the retrieval in case there were complications. The man was still unconscious, his body taking longer to heal and recover from the stasis than Steve's had, but it felt wrong to have him in the building without Steve knowing he was there.

"So, has Fury given you the 'saving the world' speech yet?" he asked, going through different scenarios in his mind of how to tell Steve his best friend was still alive as they walked. Jarvis had shut down his more grand ideas—specifically the notion of throwing a magnificent party with streamers and lots of alcohol—which had left Tony rather stumped on how to break the news.

"I think he's been avoiding me, honestly," Steve admitted. "Trying to let me settle in, like one day I'll suddenly be okay with the fact everything I knew is gone."

There was an edge of bitterness in Steve's voice; a hidden trace of unhappy despair that came with outliving the people you cared about. There would always be the 'they should have lived instead of me', because that was the kind of man Steve was, self-sacrificing and loving with the tendency to bear the world on his shoulders.

"Maybe not everything," Tony offered, hedging around the truth as they entered the elevator and he punched the number for his floors. "You seemed to take to the Roadster fairly—" He paused mid-sentence, turning to Steve. "You're not allergic to blueberries, are you?"

Steve's lips twitched upward, and Tony had to smother the delight that rushed through him at the stifled expression.

"The serum cancelled out all of my allergies," Steve explained. "So, no. As for the Roadster…" his eyes softened. "Thank you for letting me tinker with it. It's nice to have something around that's as old as I am."

Tony stared at Steve for a long, blank moment, drinking in the sight of him looking something close to content. Something close to happy.

"I found your friend," he blurted.

Steve blinked at him.

"In the Alps," Tony barreled on, heading briskly for the room he'd situated Barnes in, Steve following after. Nervous anticipation tingled in his chest and he didn't like it, too used to always being in control of himself and eager to be rid of the feeling. "Under the snow—and, well, ice—but he survived; he'd been experimented on by HYDRA which kept him alive, and he's unconscious but he'll be alright—well, except the arm, but I'm working on that, it'll be even better than my suit—and, well…"

He pulled open the door and ushered Steve inside, and the very next moment had an iron grip clasped around his arm as Steve grabbed hold of him desperately, the blueberries tumbling unnoticed to the floor.

Barnes was lying on the bed in the middle of the room, hooked up to an IV and machines monitoring his vitals. He was still pale, his face still drawn—but he was alive and breathing, chest rising gently beneath the sheets. He'd broken his left leg in two places during his fall, now immobilized in a cast; that and his arm were the only things uncovered by the blankets. The mechanical arm was crude by Tony's standards, set in a socket he'd affixed to Barnes' shoulder with bare wires still showing through the pieces of sheet metal he'd cannibalized from various less-than-vital components from the jet.

"Tony," Steve rasped, and just like that, Tony's entire world revolved around him. He looked at Steve's shocked face, a little spark inside of him hoping for acknowledgement; for some sign that he'd done this right.

"That…he… Is he..?" Steve made a small motion with his hand that Tony translated into a question as to whether Barnes' revival was due to mad science or magic or both. He shook his head.

"It's him," he said gently. "Not a clone or robot or anything."

"I…" Steve took a few staggering steps forward, finally letting go of Tony's arm. The imprint of his palm still tingled, and Tony stayed near the door, watching as Steve reached the bedside to stretch out a trembling hand. He brushed his fingertips across Barnes' forehead, inhaling a shaky breath as if he was finally able to believe that he was real. He sank into the chair next to the bed, grasping hold of his friend's hand as though he would never let go again.

"Thank you," he whispered. "Tony… Thank you."

And when he looked up, eyes shining with tears and desperate, utter gratitude on his face, Tony knew then that he would take the world apart piece by piece if it made Steve Rogers happy.

"I don't get it."

Steve tilted his head rather adorably to the side as he watched the pieces of artwork scroll across the screen projected onto the wall. They had started around the 1940s and worked their way forward, indulging in the art student that had been pushed to the side after Captain America had been born. Currently up was Andy Warhol, with some pieces that Tony was almost certain were somewhere in his basement.

"Pepper sees something in them," Tony replied with a shrug, though he was honestly watching Steve more than the slideshow.

It had been three days since he'd brought Barnes—Bucky—back, and the change in Steve was incredible: it was as though a light had flipped on inside of him. He struck up conversations with the others and had even suffered through one of Fury's lectures, and his footsteps weren't so heavy and weighted when he walked. Granted, he'd practically moved onto Tony's floor—not that Tony was complaining—and taken up residence in the room next to Bucky's, still tucking himself away, but he had a reason to. He had a focus. He sat with his unconscious friend for hours, and after a few failed attempts at drawing him away, Tony had eventually just given up and gone with it. He sat at the desk and designed Bucky's arm while Steve read or browsed the internet, the two of them settling into a comfortable silence between animated conversations and forays into the current state of things.

Steve wasn't unintelligent, and he wasn't slow to learn, but he had a lot of ground to cover. Manuals gave him the knowledge to operate things but he didn't know how they worked, and whenever he asked a question out of the blue about how hybrid car engines function or satellite streaming radio, Tony was more than happy to explain it to him. They also talked about current and past culture—Black Sabbath was a must, as was a marathon of The Godfather and an introduction to Burger King—and tried to update him on modern social norms, which Tony was admittedly not all that qualified in. Steve talked a little about Dad but they both found it creepy, so he'd switched over to telling stories about the Howling Commandos instead, trading for tales of Iron Man.

He'd also talked about Bucky, usually with their hands clasped together and a gentle expression on his face—and above all else he smiled. Soft and shy, bright and brilliant; mischievous and a little sly. His eyes danced and crinkled at the corners and Tony was pretty sure that everything was right and wonderful in the world when Steve was smiling. He could devote odes and art and ridiculously expensive monuments to Steve's smile.

"Go back to the kinetic art," Steve said, part-request and part-demand. He'd been asserting himself more over the past few days, voicing his wants instead of politely suffering through, and Tony didn't bother to pretend he didn't like it. He grinned and raised a hand to scroll backward—and froze, Steve stilling beside him, as they heard a soft sound from the bed.

After a second that seemed to go on forever Steve surged up from the couch, at the bedside in an instant. Tony followed after him, admittedly interested but also taken in by Steve's hopeful excitement: there was nothing dishonest about Steve, and it was hard not to be pulled in by the emotions he wore on his sleeve.

"Bucky?" Steve breathed as he took hold of his friend's hand, raising his other to touch his fingertips to Bucky's cheek. Tony glanced at the screens, bringing up the brainwaves monitor with a flick of his fingers. The delta waves of the partial coma were gone, replaced with transitioning theta waves; and when Tony looked back Bucky's eyelids were already flickering, prying themselves open in hazy half-awareness.

"Steve," Bucky whispered, even before his gaze found his friend. It was like an automatic response, a memory of what had been on his mind before he'd hit ground; and as Tony watched, Steve's eyes filled with tears.

"I'm here," he said hoarsely, clutching onto Bucky's hand as he ran trembling fingers through his hair. "I'm here, Bucky."

Bucky's eyes finally found Steve, and when he smiled softly in recognition, eyelids already drooping again, Tony felt his breath stop in his throat.

"Steve," Bucky murmured as he faded back into sleep. It was a real sleep, one that would allow him to rest and recover, and Steve let out a soft sob of joy as he leaned down to hug him tightly, knowing he finally had his friend back.

But Tony continued staring, dumbfounded, at Bucky's peaceful face. Because Bucky had had the same look of adoration in his eyes that Tony did when he looked at Steve—the same love and willingness to do anything for him; the same readiness to lay down his life again if it would help the man who was Captain America.

And that changed everything.

"Steve, if you try to spoon-feed me one more time…"

"You need to eat, Bucky. You need to regain your strength—"

"I need you to stop shoving things in my mouth!"

Tony's lips twitched in amusement as he looked up from his engineering, watching the two men bickering across the room. Bucky sat propped up against the headboard of the bed, eyes narrowed and a stubborn set to his mouth as Steve waved a spoonful of applesauce in front of his face. Just a few days since he'd awoken and already Bucky was alert and functioning, his mind active even though his body was still weak. He'd had a mild freak-out about his arm, but he seemed to be adjusting to the whole future thing better than Steve had—which Tony suspected had everything to do with Steve being there.

"C'mon, Bucky, please?" Steve wheedled. He held up the spoon and Bucky eyed him warily.

"Just because your puppy-eyes work on the dames doesn't mean they'll work on me," he informed Steve tartly. Except Tony could see that it was working, because he wasn't able to it resist either, and Bucky's shoulders were already slumping in defeat.

Steve let out a sigh, pulling back the spoon to dump it back in the bowl, and Bucky hastily reached out to grab it from him with his good hand. He scowled and scooted away from Steve with spoon and bowl, glaring at his friend defiantly.

"I can feed myself," he declared. "Go…over there, or something."

Steve raised his hands in surrender, leaving Bucky to his own devices, but when he turned around Tony could see the smirk of triumph on his face. As Bucky settled down with a disgruntled mutter Steve crossed the room, dropping into an armchair next to Tony. He tilted his head to get a look at the design he was currently toying with.

"How's it coming?"

Tony tossed out a failed concept with steel plating and brought up the one he'd been working on involving titanium alloy, twirling his finger to move the projected screen to face Steve.

"The design is solid enough, it's just the mechanics and materials that need to be fine-tweaked. The concept is based off my armor, but with much smaller components and more delicate wiring. I have a heads-up display to control the suit; this has to connect directly into his nerves."

It was also taking much longer than Tony usually needed to design anything, but he found himself hopelessly distracted whenever Steve was around—which was all the time. Plus, the arm was his supposed reason for being there, and he didn't want to lose that excuse.

"It's incredible," Steve murmured, reaching out to touch some of the components, exploding them into larger views. Tony beamed unabashedly at the praise, preening as Steve pulled back the perspective to take in the entire arm. He raised an eyebrow with a twitch of his lips, looking over at Tony.

"Gold and red?"

"They're good colors," Tony sniffed. "I suppose you have a better idea?"

"Paint it blue," Steve replied, looking over at Bucky. The once-soldier was focusing on his bowl of food with the determination of someone not used to ever giving up, and Steve's lips curled into a fond, gentle smile. "It's his favorite color."

The expression on his face was warm and adoring, reflecting the fact that he had grown up with this man, depended on him and gone through hell with him—that he would do anything for Bucky just as Bucky would do anything for him. It was the kind of relationship, the kind of friendship, that could last and had lasted a lifetime and beyond.

And that was all it took for Tony to become completely and irrationally jealous of Bucky Barnes.

The problem was, Tony would have liked Bucky.

The man was quick-witted with a sharp tongue, unafraid to speak his mind and completely unashamed about who he was. He was capable and adaptable and would likely be utterly terrifying once he discovered the current advanced state of weaponry. He had a wicked sense of humor, gave Fury as much shit as he dealt and made Steve forget that they were two men out of their time.

However, he was also currently the complete center of Steve's world.

"Are you sure you should be up?" Steve asked, hovering worriedly as Bucky took a few tentative steps on his crutches, forehead creased in concentration. The simple mechanical arm was performing well enough, with full control of every joint down to the fingers curled around the crutch handles—but Tony was a perfectionist. He could only see what the arm wasn't, and excuse to stay around Steve or not, he was going to finish the updated model soon just so he could stop twitching over the whole thing.

"If I stay in that bed any longer I'm going to murder either myself or you," Bucky huffed, clearly fighting back a grimace of pain as he limped forward. Tony wasn't really surprised it had only taken a week before Bucky had gone stir-crazy—he would have lasted just a few days. He watched enviously as Steve rested a hand on Bucky's shoulder in support, staying with him as he slowly made his way around the room.

"We could get you a wheelchair," Steve offered. Bucky shot him a narrow-eyed glance that spoke volumes, sniffing disdainfully, and Steve rolled his eyes. He let Bucky stubbornly shuffle to the armchair near the window, where he finally sat down with a low sigh. Bucky cast Steve a suspicious look when he leaned over in full mother-hen mode, and Tony took that as a fine point to steal him away for himself.

"C'mon, Steve. I think Bucky could use a little naptime," he said, motioning to the slumped ex-soldier with a shit-eating grin. Bucky straightened at that, raising his head and baring his teeth at Tony.

"Go to hell, tin man," he said cheerfully.

"Go back to bed, scarecrow."

"Alright, alright," Steve broke in, stilling the reply on Tony's tongue. "Bucky, you just rest there for a bit, okay? I'll go get you something to drink."

"Something better than water, I hope," Bucky muttered. Steve just snorted and left the room, and Tony shot Bucky a gleefully triumphant smirk before scampering after him.

"Sorry about Bucky," Steve said as Tony drew abreast of him, casting him an apologetic smile. "He just…he doesn't like feeling helpless, that's all."

The whole 'sympathetic' muscle somewhere in Tony's chest twitched at that, despite his jealousy trying to stifle it whenever it came to Bucky. But he couldn't pretend he didn't understand—he knew all too well what it was like, to lay helpless on your couch paralyzed and completely powerless. He shrugged his shoulders easily.

"That's alright, I've had worse things said to my face. Or thrown at it," he added contemplatively.

Steve graced him with an amused look as they reached the kitchen. Dummy was near the stove trying to fix the pilot light—and probably failing, if Tony knew his demented creation. Steve walked to the cabinets with the ease of one familiar with the space, reaching into one of the cupboards to draw out a glass. It had little leaf designs on it and Tony was fairly certain it was made of crystal—and he was almost equally certain he'd broken about ten of them.

"I just want to help him," Steve sighed, placing the glass on the countertop for a moment and leaning against the white marble. "I want to make him okay. I…"

He let out a quiet breath, picking up the glass again, almost compulsively, as he toyed with it in his hands. Tony just stood and watched, listening; wanting to know if he could do anything to take that unhappy expression off Steve's face.

"I still have nightmares about him falling," Steve said softly. "After it happened, after I woke up here; even now, when I have him right there in front of me. He died--fell—because of me, Tony. He was protecting me. Just…me."

Steve swallowed convulsively, and Tony's heart ached for the unspoken thought that Steve didn't believe he was worth all that; that he thought he didn't deserve that kind of loyalty.

"I don't think I could go through that again," Steve continued lowly. "Not again. I just want him to be safe, be alive, but he still…"

He shook his head, shoulders hunching.

"He still looks at me like I'm some kind of hero. Like I'm something special. And—and it scares me. I know he'd do it all the same if given the option, and I can't…" he trailed off, quiet for a few moments before saying hoarsely, "I just can't lose him again, Tony. I won't."

In the ensuing silence, punctuated only by Dummy's soft whirring, Tony had a moment of crystal clarification that usually only came with technical breakthroughs. The love in Steve's voice was achingly deep—but the mirroring anguish was equally strong. Steve needed Bucky right now, and Tony would do anything to give Steve what he needed, regardless of anything else.

He crossed the kitchen to the liquor cabinet, pulling out the bottle of Black Pearl cognac and two tumblers and bringing them back over. He poured a generous amount into each, handing one to Steve.


Steve blinked, a puzzled frown creasing his forehead as he took the glass.

"But I can't—"

"Drink it anyway," Tony ordered. He hopped up onto the counter and after a moment Steve did as well, leaning against the cabinets as he took a sip. After a few more his shoulders lost a little of their tense set, just the familiar act of drinking loosening him up some. Tony took a healthy swallow and tilted his head back, contemplating the ceiling for a few minutes.

"I hate to break it to you, but you are something special," he said at last. "And I don't mean because of that serum they pumped into you. There weren't many people like you back when you were chosen for the project, and there definitely aren't many people like you now." He paused. "I mean, maybe Mother Teresa if she'd taken a more actively aggressive stance on peace—but you don't know her yet anyway, nevermind—"

He took another drink, gathering his thoughts back together and trying to pretend he didn't notice Steve watching him, listening intently as he spoke.

"Anyway, back to the point," he said, glancing over at Steve, meeting his eyes. "You're a good person, Steve, and that's rare. You don't really understand that because that's just how you are, but to the rest of us—you're something we're not. You're something we wish we could be like. You're honest, and kind, and selfless, and you care about everyone you meet…"

Tony stopped himself with another hurried sip of the cognac, trying to stifle the adoring words spilling from his lips. He cleared his throat, looking down at his glass before meeting Steve's gaze again.

"All I'm saying is, don't be afraid of caring for people, all right?" he said softly. "And don't be afraid of them caring for you."

He tried to ignore how close the words hit home, but by the gentle look in Steve's eyes, he wasn't hiding it well enough. But he'd done the whole lone wolf thing; he'd been in a place where he'd tried to rely solely on himself, and he didn't want Steve to go through that. Not Steve.

So, if Steve needed Bucky, Tony would urge him towards Bucky.

"Thank you, Tony," Steve murmured. Tony blinked, suddenly finding Steve standing in front of him with a glass of water in his hand, not having even noticed he'd moved. His eyes were bright blue, grateful and warm, and Tony couldn't breathe for a second, just pinned in place by the affection present in Steve's gaze.

Steve leaned up and before Tony could even comprehend that chaste lips were pressed against his own, they were already gone.

He stared at Steve's back as he slipped out of the kitchen, uncomprehending. He glanced at Dummy, who cooed at him inquisitively, and then back at the doorway.

"…What just happened?"

"He's not made of glass, you know."

"Sometimes I wonder," Steve replied, finally looking away from Bucky stubbornly limping into the medical wing amidst an escort of SHIELD doctors. He had finally been deemed well enough to withstand the tests they wanted to run, back to his former level of wellness aside from his arm and leg. And considering the man's restlessness in the past few days, Tony was fairly certain Bucky had given in out of sheer boredom.

"For some reason, I have the feeling that you shouldn't say that to his face."

Steve shook his head ruefully as he turned to Tony with a grin.

"No, that wouldn't end well," he agreed. He had that little smile that he'd been giving Tony ever since That Night: the fond upturn of his mouth and affectionate eyes that made Tony's insides go disturbingly squishy and warm. He had a special look for Bucky, too--but this particular one was for Tony, and Tony alone.

"We should go out," Tony said.

Steve blinked.

After briefly considering and then discarding the idea that Steve might know what 'going out' meant in colloquial high-school terms, Tony nodded decisively, tucking his arm through Steve's and steering him in the direction of the elevator.

"Totonno's," he said judiciously. "It's not that far, and if you want we could wander around Coney Island afterward. We'll ride some roller coasters and pretend that we're not mocking the tourists—you can shoot things and win me a big stuffed unicorn."

Steve raised an eyebrow at that, but he was still smiling and he wasn't protesting, which Tony generally took as a good sign when it came to interacting with people. He grinned back, delighted that Steve was allowing his attention to be pulled away from the stress of the tower: away from Fury's rants of doom-and-gloom, and away from his constant worrying over Bucky.

"We could also stay in," Steve suggested as they reached the elevator. Tony cast him a dubious look.

"I don't know what's in my fridge. You might only have crackers and pretzels to work with. Unless you meant you wanted me to cook--in which case we'll have to go out, because Pepper said I'm not allowed near a stove anymore."

Steve laughed, the sound warm as he punched in the number for Tony's floor.

"I'll cook. And I think I'll be able to manage to put together something," he added, eyes twinkling. "I was around for food rationing, after all."

The fridge turned out to actually be surprisingly well stocked, and when Tony asked Jarvis if he'd allowed any deliveries without notifying him, the AI was conspicuously silent. He let it go for the sole reason that it meant Steve got to cook. He sat down on one of the stools at the counter, spinning around on it a few times before settling, a small grin on his lips as he watched Steve putter around the kitchen.

"I still can't get over how...decadent food is, these days," Steve commented as he rummaged through the freezer, pulling out a bag of chicken breasts. "Drive-through meals--I never could have imagined that."

"If it makes you feel better, it's probably going to end up killing us all," Tony offered, resting his chin on his hand as he leaned against the counter. "Trans-fat, high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives... Food is more dangerous in the twenty-first century."

"It was dangerous in the twentieth century, too," Steve replied, digging out some combination of spices that Tony hadn't even known he owned. "Have you ever tried military rations?"

Tony shuddered. "God, no."

Steve chuckled and pulled out a couple of eggs, cracking them open into a bowl. Tony watched him warily.

"You're not making an omelette, are you? The last time something began with an omelette I was dying and ended up destroying my own Expo."

"No, Tony, I'm not making an omelette."

"Can I kiss you?"

Steve paused at that, looking up in surprise. But he had been talking and Tony couldn't take his eyes off his lips moving and he'd been thinking about how they felt for days now. He shifted on the stool, antsy, and Steve's mouth quirked up.

"Yes, you can."

Tony was off the stool and across the kitchen before Steve even finished the sentence, taking Steve's face in his hands and kissing him hungrily. He heard a small clatter as the whisk was dropped onto the counter, Steve's fingers curling in his hair as he pulled him eagerly closer. He was more demanding than Tony would have thought, more than willing to maneuver until he got exactly where he wanted, and Tony decided then and there that he would never underestimate Captain America again.

When they finally broke apart Steve's cheeks were flushed and his lips deliciously swollen, and Tony was fairly certain he was in a similar state.

"I've been thinking of doing that for weeks," he said breathlessly. Steve leaned back in for another kiss.

"What was stopping you?"

"A clearly-misplaced sense of propriety." Tony pressed closer as Steve's hand settled on his back, drawing him in. Steve kissed like he acted, earnest and sweet with just a hint of command, and Tony would be lying if he said he didn't find it incredibly arousing. Steve laughed, pulling back to grin at him.

"Tony Stark, Moral Compass?" he teased. Tony wouldn't have blamed him for being incredulous except that, from the look in Steve's eyes, he knew he wasn't. Despite all of Tony's many character flaws and unfortunate habits, Steve honestly believed him to be a good person.

"I know, I'm going to have to change my entire image," he mourned. He reached up, cupping Steve's cheek in his palm, brushing his thumb across the soft skin beneath his eye. A rare bout of seriousness stole over him. "I didn't know where I stood with you," he admitted. "Especially when I saw how much you love Bucky."

Steve sighed at the mention of his friend, the sound one that held years of complex emotions and regretful uncertainty. But he didn't pull back, didn't move away, keeping one arm loosely circled around Tony's waist.

"I do love him," he agreed softly. "I think I've loved him ever since we were kids. We were there for each other when no one else was--when no one else cared. I don't know what I would do without him." His voice lowered. "I didn't know what to do without him. When he--fell, when he was gone...a chunk of me went with him. It was... I was almost relieved when I found out I needed to crash the plane."

Tony's grip on Steve tightened spasmodically. Steve's fingers curled against his back, like a silent reassurance that he wasn't going to do something like that ever again.

"And now... All I can remember is him dying. That he fell--that I wasn't able to save him. That I couldn't protect him. After all the years he took care of me and I couldn't reach far enough to keep him from falling."

"Steve," Tony began softly, but Steve shook his head, barreling on.

"He always protected me. He kept doing it even after the serum, after he knew I was able to take care of myself. That's why he--" Steve swallowed. "I can't lose him, Tony. I need him to be safe, I need to know that he's going to be okay."

"You can't keep him locked up forever, Steve," Tony pointed out. "You can't stop him from caring about you, not even if you try to push him away."

"I love him," Steve said plaintively. Tony leaned in to kiss him gently.

"I know."

Despite the jealousy and the increasing levels of sharp-tongued taunts exchanged between them, Tony found that he was actually growing fond of Bucky. The man was unfailingly loyal and despite himself Tony respected him immensely, especially as he learned more bits and pieces of his and Steve's past. He was brave, and honorable, and despite his prickly exterior seemed to find it completely normal to do anything in his power to help other people.

And now it was clear that there was no Bucky without Steve--and that there was no Steve without Bucky. No matter what form their relationship took, the two couldn't function without each other.

Loving Steve meant, in a way, loving Bucky--and Tony found that he was surprisingly okay with that fact.

My Normal Approach is Useless Here: Part Two

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Comments {2}

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from: anonymous
date: Aug. 23rd, 2011 12:30 am (UTC)

This was such an enjoyable read over the past couple days! Love Bucky. Love Tony and his tech. You're also making me ship it!

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Windswept - teh Liz

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from: cradle_song
date: Aug. 25th, 2011 03:20 am (UTC)

Thank you! And it is quite a pretty ship, no? *G*

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