There had been a time when Tony Stark could go seventy plus hours in between falling asleep. He could go days running on nothing more than caffeine, junk food he pilfered from Bruce’s no longer locked drawer in the lab, and the sheer stubbornness that came hand in hand with hyper fixations.
There had been a time when Tony was always completely, perfectly put together from his sharply tailored pants to his crisp shirts and coordinating accessories. His hair would have been slicked back, sunglasses set firmly on his face so no one would get too close, and god forbid anyone hand him anything, no thanks, Tony wasn’t interested.
There had been a time when Tony sort of enjoyed seeing his face on the cover of every magazine from technology articles to Sexiest Man Alive and right back to the tabloids for his latest scandal and exploits, a time when he smirked at the thought of love and never spent a full night in bed with anyone of his conquests…
...and thanks to a silver armed super soldier that was one half good ol’ boy from Brooklyn that kept Tony blushing and melting and head over heels in love, and the other half former Hydra assasination that left Tony in a constant state of scare-rousal every minute of his life, all those times were over.
Life was all sorts of different now that he was dating both Bucky and the Winter Soldier, all sorts of fairly weird since Bucky and the Winter Soldier were still technically sharing one body, all sorts of excellent because Tony had never been so happy in his entire life and he was more than ready to repulsor-pop anyone who so much as suggested otherwise.
“Mmmmblerghgoodmorning.” was the extent of Tony’s greeting this morning as he shuffled tiredly into the kitchen. His pajama pants were actually Bucky’s pajama pants and dragged a solid six inches behind him on the floor. The waist band was held up only by virtue of Tony’s butt and a super soldier sized hoodie swallowed him up, leaving nothing more than a few tufts of fluffy hair and the tips of Tony’s fingers exposed to the bright lights.
“Good morning.” came an amused answer from somewhere by the coffee machine, and Tony looked up real quick and hesitated, forced himself to concentrate so he could figure out which of his boyfriends was currently standing in front of him.
A red shirt usually meant Bucky, but it was dark enough to be almost black and Winter definitely preferred black. Shoulder length hair was loose and messy, but that might be because of the morning, not because Winter wore it down and Bucky always put his back in a bun off his face. Pajama pants belonged to Bucky but then again, Steve had been All American Disapproving of Winter’s general aversion to any sort of sleep clothes so maybe the pants were a necessary concession to having coffee in the public kitchen...
“You ready for coffee, sweet thing?”
...Oh it was Bucky this morning, so Tony pulled his hood a little tighter over his hair and gremlin shuffled his way towards the coffee pot and into welcoming arms, pushing tight into Bucky’s right side and sighing happily when the big brunette automatically dropped a kiss on his forehead.
“Mmmm good morning, Brooklyn.”
“Heya babydoll.” Bucky was soft with Tony, kept his left arm out of the way and used his right hand for gentle touches and an adoring ruffle of Tony’s hair. “I was wondering when you were gonna come downstairs. How’d you sleep last night?”
“Really really good.” Tony wrapped both arms around Bucky’s waist and plastered himself in tighter, soaking in the warmth pouring off his boyfriend and definitely slipping down to give a grope at that finely toned rear. “Would have slept better if you hadn’t gotten up at the butt crack of dawn to go running, though. I'm pretty sure you’re as fit as you’re going to ever be, so maybe stop wearing out shockingly expensive running shoes and try sleeping in with me in the morning, huh?”
“I would have loved to sleep in with you this morning.” Bucky said, but the words sounded off, melancholy and maybe even upset and when Tony pulled away far enough to peer up at Bucky curiously, the soldier made a vague motion towards his temple and clarified with a short, “It wasn’t me that decided to get up and go for a run, sugar. I opened my eyes about ten minutes ago and I was already in the kitchen halfway through the world’s worst cup’a coffee.”
Just like that, the morning went from easy and soft, to irritated and tense and Tony swallowed back a worried noise and shook his head quickly.
“Hey, don’t do that.” He put a hand to Bucky’s mouth to shush him, as if the motion would make any difference, as if Winter wouldn’t know what Bucky had said about him.
Just because Winter wasn’t present right now didn’t mean he couldn’t hear their conversation, or couldn’t at least feel the anger and upset from Bucky radiating through their core. They weren’t really sure how aware Winter or Bucky was when the other one was fully present, but the last thing Tony wanted was Bucky mad now and Winter self conscious and bitter later, so the smaller brunette moved quickly to try and diffuse the situation before it got any worse.
“Winter drinks his coffee black as night, you prefer half a cup of creamer and a smidge of espresso and both of you are wrong.” Tony tried for light hearted and teasing, trying to distract his soldier with another smile. “Neither of those are the right way to drink coffee, so you don’t be mad cos you guys drink it differently. Don’t be mad, okay?”
The muscle in Bucky’s jaw clenched when he ground his teeth together and Tony tried a different tactic to settle the moment, snuggling in closer and then closer again until Bucky had to either relax and hold him, or just push him away.
Tony knew Bucky would never push him away, but he was still gratified when a strong arm wrapped around his waist and hauled him in, when a rough kiss landed on his forehead and Bucky rubbed slow circles at his back through the hoodie.
This was better, and it was better again when Bucky cleared his throat and sounded at least a little calmer when he asked, “Alright sugar. If me and Winter drink our coffee wrong, what’s the right way to drink it?”
“Four days old and with a dollop of whip cream to make the sludge go down smoother.” Tony said automatically, and grinned when Bucky audibly groaned. “I only drink the stuff you guys make me to be polite, really I prefer it strong enough to grow legs and walk around byt its--”
“It really doesn’t bother you?” Bucky interrupted, and Tony muffled a curse when he realized none of his attempts at distracting had worked at all. “You fell asleep with me and woke up with Winter, Tony! It’s like sharing the bed with two different people! Why isn’t that weird for you?!”
Bucky was really upset about the switch this morning and that was never good. Most of the time he and Winter moved forward or back fairly seamlessly, usually during a short nap or even after too long being still during movie night or a long drive. Sometimes Tony would fall asleep with Winter and wake up to the Soldier for just a moment before it was Bucky blinking down at him, and sometimes it would be Bucky who kissed him good morning and then Winter who came out of the shower and got Tony coffee, but it had never happened like this.
Bucky had never gone to bed as himself, then woken up Winter only to shift back mid activity with no memory of how he’d gotten there or what he was doing.
A transition like that begged the question of whether or not the switch had happened before with neither party noticing, if it had happened without Tony noticing which of the men he was kissing or cuddling with… if it had happened or would happen in their more intimate moments, which brought up all sorts of issues of consent and privacy and other stuff that made Tony’s stomach swoop uncomfortable and uncertain..
Bucky was really upset and that was understandable, but there was no winning side to a discussion like this. Six or seven months had passed since first Bucky and then Winter had separately asked Tony to be theirs, six or seven months had passed since Tony had had soul searching deep conversations with both of them about how it would work and whether or not the other one would be jealous and Tony-- Tony couldn’t have chosen between the two of them if his life depended on it. He couldn’t pick Bucky over Winter, or say he preferred Winter’s kiss to Bucky or anything like that.
No, it wasn’t easy loving two men that shared one body, and no it wasn’t easy working through Bucky’s PTSD while dealing with Winter’s less obvious but still connected trauma, and yes it was understandable that Bucky was upset…
...but all Tony could think about was the way Winter’s eyes would shutter and fall away when he asked why Bucky had been mad, when he pressed a silver hand over his heart and wanted to know why he felt sick and achy and what Bucky and Tony had argued about that was still resonating in his head.
Bucky was upset, but Winter would be heartbroken at yet another reminder that he had come into existence as an unwanted monster and Tony’s heart was torn needing to comfort them both without making either feel somehow less.
So he reached for both Bucky’s hands-- the right hand that was yielding and human, and the silver one that was wholly Winter and held them both tight. “So you fell asleep with me, but it was Winter that woke up sometime in the night and got up for a run. You don’t remember any of that, not the run, not coming in for coffee. Nothing?”
Bucky shook his head tersely, and Tony continued quieter, “Has that ever happened before? Have you two every switched without you being aware? Winter says he can feel when it’s time for you to come forward, like someone knocking on a door and then stepping in. You said it’s more like a hand on your shoulder that pulls you away, so is this the first time that you didn’t feel like that?”
“You mean is this the first time I ever fell asleep with you in my arms and then at some point during the night had someone else take over my body and hold you instead?” Bucky’s voice rose a notch, that easy Brooklyn accent hardening in irritation. No matter how sweet Tony was, how good their cuddles were or how hilariously icky Tony’s coffee habits were, it wasn’t enough to distract from knowing that his body wasn’t even all the way his. “No, Tony! No, I haven’t ever kissed you good night and then had to wonder the next morning if he was kissin’ ya instead!”
And louder, “Did you even realize it, Tony? Did you know it was me last night? Did you know it was him this mornin’? When did you stop bein’ able to tell us apart?!”
“Please stop yelling.” Tony’s heart clenched in sadness and worry when Bucky’s pale eyes flared in anger. “I know you’re upset, but you don’t have to yell. Bucky, it was you in bed with me, alright? I know it was. I can tell you and Winter apart in an instant. You and me got under the covers last night and you held me till I fell asleep and probably for a long time after that. I was asleep when you guys switched and I really don’t remember if either of you kissed me goodbye before your run so it doesn’t matter. I’m happy to be kissed by either of you so it’s okay, it’s okay!”
“It’s not okay!” Bucky shouted and Tony jumped. “It’s not okay, Tony! Some other guy was kissing you! Holding you! Using my body to do--”
“--to do nothing, because neither of us do anything together!” Tony shouted right back. God, he was tired of having this argument. It was exhausting having to constantly assure both Bucky and Winter that he knew them individually, that he loved them individually, that the way they moved forward and back didn’t bother him. “Neither of us do anything together! Winter and I don’t do anything other than kiss just like you and I don’t do anything but kiss! I know you’re mad, but don’t accuse him of crossing lines like that when you know it’s not happening! I wouldn’t do that to you and neither would Winter!”
“WHY ARE YOU DEFENDING HIM!?”
“BECAUSE I LOVE HIM!” Tony cried, and just like it always did, the words shut Bucky right up, made him hunch his shoulders and turn away, arms crossed and left side hidden like it physically hurt him to hear it.
“I love him.” Tony repeated quietly, and all the fight rushed right out of him, leaving him tired and leaning against the counter in exhaustion. “Bucky, I love Winter just like I love you. I defend him to you because he hasn’t done anything wrong. I defend you to him because you haven’t done anything wrong. The only thing you guys do is love me and I can’t--”
He dragged his hands through his messy, morning hair. “Brooklyn, I can’t imagine how hard this is for either of you, but the moment we found out that Winter was a whole person inside you, you decided he had a right to exist, remember? You decided not to put in the mental blocks that would lock him away, or the electro therapy that would erase him from your mind. You decided that. It was your choice. Right?”
Bucky didn’t answer and Tony pressed, “Right? Bucky, that was your choice, right?”
“...then you can’t be mad when he exercises the chance to exist, Buck.” Tony whispered. “Christ, I-- I don’t know how awful it was to suddenly blink back into yourself pouring a cup of coffee you would never drink but you can’t expect me to be mad that I went to bed with you and woke up with him. I knew it would be like this when I fell in love with you guys it’s just…” he shrugged lamely. “It’s just how it is.”
“Just how it is.” Bucky pulled a hair tie from his pocket and wrapped his hair up in a tight bun, yanked the too dark shirt off because he hated that color and tossed it away. “Yeah well, excuse me if I don’t take real nice to my fella lovin’ my murderous, HYDRA created other half.”
“Bucky--” Tony reached for him, but the soldier walked right past, skirted around him and stomped out of the kitchen and Tony’s hand fell back to his side useless. “...Bucky, I’m his fella too.”
“Tony?” It was Steve coming in now, looking back in confusion over his shoulder at where Bucky had stalked off, then over at Tony in concern. “Hey, what’s going on? Did Winter and Buck switch again and freak him out?”
“Again?” Tony poured himself a fresh cup of coffee and wrapped his hands around it, trying to ward off the bone deep chill that always set in when he and Bucky fought about Winter, or when Winter got angry about Bucky. “What does that mean, again?”
“It happened earlier this week.” Steve got his mug down from the cupboard and reached for the coffee pot too. “We got up for a run and Bucky suited up with us, took off around the park and about halfway through Sam turned to me and goes ‘when did Winter show up?’ and sure enough, it was Winter running with us. They switched out so seamless, I didn’t even notice at first.”
Tony raised questioning eyebrows and Steve clarified, “When I first got Bucky back, he was more Winter than anything, so I got used to him being intense and sorta Russian and all that. It wasn’t until Strange told us Winter was a whole damn person that I realized I’d been talking to Winter, not Buck all that time. I figured it was his memory coming and going, but I was wrong. It had been me and Winter bonding and I got so used to talking with him, I didn’t really notice when it was him running with us and not Bucky.”
“Huh.” Tony frowned. “Bucky says it’s never happened before though, you must not have told him about he and Winter switching out?”
“I figured he either knew and didn’t want to talk about it, or that he didn’t know and I didn’t want to bring it up and start an argument.” the Captain drained a cup of coffee and went back for seconds. “It’s not good, is it? If they are starting to blend like that?”
“It’s not good.” Tony admitted, staring down into the dark liquid he still hadn’t managed a sip of. “It’s not good and the worst part is, it’s probably my fault.”
“How the gosh darn heck could this possibly be your fault?”
“I know you only talk old-timey to make me laugh.” Tony cracked a smile and Steve cheesed a grin right back at him. “And I appreciate it. Thank you and I love you, don't ever stop. But this is probably my fault because Strange told me Bucky and Winter would only stay separate so long as their lives were separate. They’ve got to have separate habits and friends and lifestyles, otherwise instead of Bucky and Winter taking turns being conscious in the same body, they’d start blurring lines and sort of merging into one person and one of the personalities would be…”
His voice trailed off, and Steve prompted, “Lost?”
“Is lost a nice way of saying dead?” Tony rubbed at his eyes wearily. “Strange said whichever of them wanted this life bad enough would be the personality that won out. But I feel like that changes day to day. If Bucky has a good day when they finally blur in together, I could kiss Winter goodnight and then never see him again because Bucky wants this life more. If Winter has a real good couple of days, then I could be hugging Bucky one minute and then only have Winter in the next. One of them could honest to God just disappear.”
“So how’s that your fault?”
“...because like an absolute moron, I went and fell in love with both of them.” Tony whispered, quiet and miserable. “I tried so hard to keep it separate, to spend time with Bucky as a friend and help him get back on his feet, time with Winter working on his arm and trying to help him adjust to civilian life. I tried so hard to keep it platonic, Steve but next thing I know, I’m head over heels for both of them. Nothing about Bucky and Winter can be separate if they’re both dating me. This is my fault.”
Steve swirled his coffee thoughtfully for a moment. “You know, I don’t even see how you do it. I can’t imagine dating two people at all, much less two people who share a damn heart beat. How do you love two guys in one body, don't you get them confused?”
“Sometimes for a split second in the morning.” Tony confessed slowly. “Like this morning, Bucky was wearing red but it was in a shade Winter likes, and that always throws me off a little. But I always figure it out real quick, they’re so different, you know? Winter stands different than Bucky and Bucky calls me sweet thing but Winter doesn't. Bucky is right handed while Winter always holds me with his left… they’re different. I hardly ever have a hard time telling them apart.”
“Okay well what about--” Steve cleared his throat awkwardly. “What about in bed? What about then? Is Bucky mad cos you and Winter were maybe doing--” a vague gesture. “--and you thought it was Bucky that you were--” an equally vague gesture. “--cos I could see how that would make one or both of them mad.”
“We don’t do that.” Tony shook his head negatively. “We don’t do bed stuff. Nothing more than kissing. Not cos I couldn’t tell them apart naked just cos it’s--” he made a face. “-- it’s icky, sort of. It’s their body, not just Bucky and not just Winter. So if we are together, than the other one is sort of… there… without being able to say yes or no to it and that’s…”
“...icky.” Steve finished. “Yeah. I get it. I mean, I don’t get it. I understand aliens but not-- not whatever you guys are doing. But yeah, it’s icky. Sure. Even if you all agreed beforehand, there’s still the matter of using Winter’s body when you’re with Bucky or using Bucky to do things with Winter and--”
The Captain blew out a deep breath, “Hey, that’s a lot of words I never thought I’d say. Yikes.”
The corner of Tony’s lips tipped up in a half smile and after another minute Steve decided, “Y’know Tony. I don’t think them blurring is your fault.”
“I am dating both of them.” Tony pointed out, and Steve was quick to also point out, “Yeah, but they both wanted to date you. It’s not like you were dating Bucky and then we found out about Winter so now you’re dating him too, right? They both separately love you, and you separately love them both back. That’s no ones fault.”
“Bucky just yelled at me for being okay with waking up to another man in my bed.” Tony stated flatly. “And later when I find Winter, he’s going to be sick with self loathing for coming forward and making Bucky upset like that, and he’s gonna be angry at Bucky for yelling at me, and he’s going to be sad cos it’s just another reminder that Bucky doesn’t want him.”
“What do you mean?”
“Bucky doesn’t want Winter.” Tony repeated, brow wrinkling in sadness. “To him, Winter represents everything Hydra did to him and everything Hydra made him do to other people. And Winter knows he was basically tortured into existence, he knows he’s more than likely a piece of Bucky’s mind that fractured off during cryo freeze and was only useful to command a violently modified body. They’re both real aware of who they are to each other.”
“Winter is everything Bucky has nightmares about.” Tony’s eyes filled with tears and Steve put a comforting arm around his shoulder, tugged him in close for a quick squeeze. “Can you imagine sharing space with someone that gives you nightmares and never being able to escape their presence?”
Then nearly inaudible, “Can you imagine living every day knowing you are the reason someone else hates themselves?”
“...I guess it’s a good thing they have you then.” Steve said after a moment of just holding Tony tight. “Cos I know you’re the reason Bucky doesn’t have nightmares anymore. And when Winter talks about you, his eyes light up and he smiles and I know you make him feel loved and welcome and like a whole person, not like some monster lurking in the shadows. Bucky’s my best friend but I care an awful lot about Winter too and I’m telling you?”
He waited until Tony looked up at him. “I’m telling you that whatever is going on with them isn’t your fault, alright? Tony, you’re the best thing to even happen to Bucky and Winter, separate or together and I don’t want you thinking anything different.”
“‘Kay.” Tony sniffed and finally managed a sip of his coffee. “By the way, you sound cheesy and patriotic and propaganda-y even when you’re trying to be comforting.”
“Yeah, I don’t know how to turn it off.” Steve shrugged and Tony hiccupped a laugh. “It’s like Captain America Speech Mode or something. I tried telling Tasha she was beautiful last night and she told me to try it again when I didn’t sound like a radio announcer from the 50’s.”
“That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard.” Tony decided and Steve chuckled down at him, then nudged him towards the door.
“Go on. Go find Bucky or Winter and spend some time with them. You need it and so do they. Go on.”
The Captain tossed him a salute, Tony returned it with a middle finger, then went on his way to try and find one of his boyfriends and figure out what the hell was going on with them…
… and what it might mean for their relationship moving forward.
Tony found Bucky downstairs in the gym, but one glance at how the soldier was standing working at the punching bag and he knew it wasn’t Bucky at all.
Brooklyn felt everything, his mood translating into how he walked and how he spoke, how he trained and even how he breathed. When Bucky was angry it flashed in his eyes, when he was sad, it showed in the set of his shoulders, and when he loved it was written in every touch and every smile and every achingly sweet kiss.
But Winter was cold-- no no he wasn’t cold, he was decisive. Every move the Soldier made was exactly the same as the one previous, the same focused intensity, the same carefully measured strength, the same purpose and intent. When he was on a mission with Steve, Winter was calm and collected and efficiently brutal. When he was angry, he was calm and collected and infinitely terrifying with nothing more than a shift in his position. And when he kissed Tony he was calm and collected and devastating with his mouth and the tiniest hitch of breath that was the only sign that the Soldier was close to losing control.
Tony could gauge Bucky’s mood just by the way he tilted his head and smiled, but Winter was so much more static that sometimes Tony didn’t know what he was thinking or feeling until the Soldier actually spoke. But that was okay. It was okay and Tony had adjusted to it just like he’d adjusted to everything else about being in love with both Bucky and the Soldier and it was fine.
He loved them both.
“Winter.” Tony closed the gym doors behind him and walked slowly across the mats to the Soldier. Winter wouldn’t ever hurt him, but all those HYDRA honed instincts were still up front and present and Tony knew better than to try and rush Winter or even to startle him. “You know, I told Bucky but I’ll tell you the same thing-- it wouldn't be the worst if you stayed in bed with me some mornings instead of going off on a run. You can’t get any more fit than super juiced super soldier, maybe stop the marathons before breakfast and stick around and cuddle.”
“Kotyonok.” Winter stilled the bag with his right hand and reached with his left for Tony, lips tipping just the slightest in a welcoming smile. “Kitten, I have to go running in the morning, otherwise the temptation to stay in bed and devour you would be too much.”
“Oh.” Tony couldn’t help his blush, or the way his smile stretched towards goofy when Winter hauled him up against his chest and covered his mouth in a firm kiss. He would never be over being called Kitten in that rough, Russian growl, he’d never be over the way Winter just sort of manhandled him into kisses and hugs. Bucky was sweet and charming and endlessly patient but Winter kissed Tony like he wanted to… well like he wanted to devour him and it never failed to leave him weak kneed.
“Devour me, huh?” Tony planted both his hands on Winter’s sweaty chest and squeezed admiringly at the bulge of his pecs. “I wonder what that super fun activity would be like.”
“One day soon I will find a way to have you, so you won’t have to wonder.” Winter’s eyes were paler blue than Bucky’s, glacial and cutting and hungry as they roamed over Tony’s frame, but the silver fingers at Tony’s waist were infinitely gentle, possessive but still tender because the Soldier knew how fragile his love was, how very human Tony was beneath the baggy pajama pants and oversized hoodie. He was intense, the Soldier was intense and focused with every breath and every movement, and so different from the way Bucky was warm and easy and Brooklyn that sometimes it made Tony’s head spin.
They were so different and Tony loved them both so much.
“You are sad, lyubimiy.” Winter pushed his hair out of his eyes and started unwrapping his knuckles, watching Tony closely. “Bucky is sad too, I can feel it here.” A brief touch to his heart. “He is angry, why were you fighting?”
“We weren’t really fighting.” Tony brushed it off, but Winter persisted, “I can feel it, Anton. Why were you and Bucky fighting? Is it because I went running this morning? Because I made the coffee wrong? What is it?”
“Winter…” Tony swallowed, then swallowed again. He’d much rather be staring at sweaty super soldier muscles than having this conversation but Bucky had been so upset this morning, and guilt was starting to eat at Tony’s insides. “...do you remember taking over Bucky for your run this morning? Or letting him come forward for your coffee?”
“No.” Winter’s full lips pulled down in a frown. “No, I do not remember falling asleep with you, but I remember waking up to run. I drank my coffee and--” he glanced around the gym almost curiously. “I do not remember coming here but here I am all the same. Why?”
Tony was quiet, and Winter’s broad shoulders set stiff and uncertain. “Anton? What happened?”
“Today you and Bucky sort of...blurred.” Tony spread his hands helplessly. “I went to bed with him, then at some point last night you came forward, woke up and went for a run. Bucky woke up halfway through pouring a cup of coffee and apparently came down here to work out and then you came back again. You two are blurring and neither one seems to be aware it’s happening.”
“Blurring.” Winter repeated. “What does that mean?”
“It means that even though you and Bucky are fully separate?” Tony made a wide motion with his hands, then brought them together slowly. “Sometimes you two are switching places without conscious thought. You’re two full minds in the same body and for whatever reason right now, you aren’t so much switching places inside this body as you are actually starting to blend in and out without making the choice to do it.”
“So the other night when you and I watched that movie and I made you try caramel corn?” Tony grinned when Winter made a face. “I promise caramel corn will grow on you. I promise.”
“I am sure I will only enjoy it kissed from your lips.” the Soldier decided solemnly, and there went Tony blushing again.
“Ahem. Anyway.” he flushed darker when Winter made rough, coaxing noise and tugged him in close again. “Anyway, I told Bucky that you and I had a date, and then it was you with me all night. During the movie, when we kissed goodnight, when we fell asleep and it was still you the next morning before you went for your shower and Bucky came back.”
“Yes.” Winter nodded shortly. “Yes, the shower is an easy space for us to share and switch because it is a place of transition, moving from one part of our day to another.”
“Right.” Tony sort of loved the way Winter’s speech was stilted. English was not the Soldier’s first language so every word was precise and carefully thought through with a near total absence of slang or contractions and Tony loved it just as much as he loved Bucky’s slow drawl and habit of running words together when he smiled.
“Right.” he said again. “Usually it’s the shower or sometimes on a long run when both your minds are at ease. But today and apparently a few days ago, you and Bucky switched and neither one of you were aware that it happened. One minute it was Bucky, then it was you and there’s no… no hesitation. No pause. Like lines blurring into just one thing.”
“Bucky is upset because he is afraid this blurring is happening in our intimate moments and you, our love, cannot tell the difference between he and I.” Winter guessed and Tony was quick to assure him-- “Which is crazy. I know exactly who both of you are, all the time.”
“I do not doubt that, we are easy to tell apart.” Winter clenched his left fist experimentally, and Tony reached to undo it, weaving their fingers together and placing the silver palm over the left over reactor scars at his heart. He wasn’t scared of the weaponized arm, he wasn’t scared of Winter, he trusted him with his heart and the Soldier smiled at the familiar gesture.
“So what do you think is wrong with us, Anton? Why are we blurring like this?”
“I-- I don’t know.” Tony denied haltingly, guilt clawing up his throat. This is my fault. “And I’m a little afraid to find out. I don’t want to think anything is wrong with you or Bucky or-- or us.”
“You think you are losing one of us.” Winter decided and Tony ducked his head to hide the truth in his eyes. Winter was so damn smart, so discerning, quick to read everything about a person in only a matter of seconds and Tony squirmed under the measuring expression. “The Strange Doctor told you to keep us separate or one of us will disappear forever, but loving you has brought us closer together every day. You are afraid we will blur and one of us will go and be lost forever.”
“He said… something like that.” Tony hedged. “I think this sort of thing is more magic than science, but there is a science behind two complete people being unable to exist in the same body I suppose. Something--” god, he hated this. “--something has to give?”
Winter cupped Tony’s chin in one big hand, tipped him up until they were nose to nose and staring into each others eyes. “Dorogoi, nothing has to ‘give’.”
“You don’t understand that phrase.” Tony questioned and Winter shook his head but his eyes glittered with purposeful intent as he repeated, “You will not lose us. You are brilliant, Anton and we will figure this out together. You and Bucky and I. We are not whole without you, and I will not stand idly by and watch your heart be broken. We will fix this so you are never left alone, yes?”
“...yes.” Tony wrapped both hands around Winter’s silver wrist and squeezed tight, stood on his toes to press their mouths together. “Not alone.”
Winter kissed him back, slow and drugging, holding Tony tighter and tighter until the little genius was squashed up to his body and gasping by the time they parted.
“Wow, Winter.” Tony gulped, eyes wide as all the individual plates in Winter’s arm clicked and realigned as he relaxed again. “That’s-- you are-- wow.”
“I love when you are speechless for me.” Winter’s smile was there and gone again, another quick kiss before he released Tony entirely, a quick grimace as he adjusted his pants where he was hard and wanting. Neither he nor Bucky were comfortable being with Tony when they shared a body, but it was getting more difficult to resist with every passing day, especially when Tony was so beautiful standing there kiss bruised, tousled hair and bright eyes yearning.
“You will tell Bucky I am sorry for the nightmares?” Winter cleared his throat to ask, put another foot of distance between them for sanity’s sake. “I know they have been worse lately. Tell him I am sorry.”
“My Soldier.” Tony’s heart sank, the heated moment cooling as the reality of their situation came back to the forefront. “Bucky’s nightmares aren’t your fault.”
“You are beautiful.” Winter turned back to the punching bag. “But you are a terrible liar, Anton. Tell Bucky I am sorry.”
That night in bed it was Bucky again, and Tony didn’t say anything about that morning or the fight or the way neither Bucky nor Winter had come to him at all during the day.
He only whispered, “I missed you.” when Bucky knocked at his door, only grabbed onto the soldier and tumbled him into bed, let Bucky drag him in tight to hide the way they were both trembling clear through to their core.
“I missed you.” Tony dotted kisses all over Bucky’s face and down to his throat, wriggled up in bed until Bucky’s head was resting over his heart instead of their usual snuggle position, ran his hand over the carefully done braid and over Bucky’s shoulders to soothe the shaking. “It’s okay, Buck it’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay.”
“I don't hate him.” Bucky said hoarsely, and Tony stayed quiet and let him spill it out. “I don’t hate Winter. I’m not mad he came forward when I was sleeping it’s-- it’s fine. You’re right, he deserves the chance to exist and I promised I was okay with it just like I promised I was okay with him loving you. I know you’re safe with him and I know he and I are still sorta the same person even though we’re not. It’s crazy but I’m okay with it, babydoll I just-- I just--”
Tony had to bite his lip to quiet a gasp when Bucky’s fingers tightened too desperate at his side. “Tony, I would give anything to just be me again. The real me. Everyone acts like it’s Winter sharing space in my body but it’s not. This is his body, not mine. Bucky doesn’t have long hair or a beard or a silver arm, Winter does. I feel like I’m just taking up space in his mind and if we blur too far and only one of us survives--”
“-- it should be him cos this is his body.” Tears, leaking hot onto Tony’s chest. “I don’t hate him, Winter and me are part’a the same person and I’d be lonely without him. Wouldn’t know who I was without him. But I’m using his hands and his body to hold you and I’d do anything-- anything to hold you with my own hands again, Tony. I don’t care that he woke up and kissed you good morning, I just wish I could do the same thing.”
“...sweet thing, I’ve been trapped in this body for so long. I’m so tired of looking in the mirror and not knowing who I am.” Bucky whispered. “It’s makin’ me crazy, makin’ me angry and m’sorry for taking it out on you and Winter. I just don’t know what to do anymore.”
Tony was quiet for a long time, holding Bucky tight until the trembling eased and the big brunette fell into an exhausted sleep in his arms. He stayed awake for hours afterwards, staring up at the ceiling and running through the day’s conversations over and over and over.
Winter was right, Tony was terrified that they would blur too far and he would lose one of them. And Bucky was right too, it was Winter’s body, not his but they were so closely connected that having Bucky without Winter or Winter without Bucky just didn’t make any sense.
I’d do anything to just be me again.
“Contact Dr. Helen Cho and invite her to spend some time in the laboratory with me and Bruce and Strange. I have a new project I want to work on. I’d like to keep it relatively quiet for right now, so be discreet.”
“I am never anything but discreet, and I’m offended you would suggest otherwise.”
“Of course you are.” Tony smiled up at the ceiling, then down at Bucky, but his eyes widened in surprise and anxiety as the soft features changed right before his eyes, nearly imperceptible shifts all at once that transformed his Brooklyn into his Soldier and he knew it was Winter now sleeping in his arms.
“Run some simulation models and get me a 3D render of Bucky during the war. Pre-Azzano, not post. As detailed a picture as possible and hurry, I don’t think we have much time.”
“Much time till what, sir?”
“...please just hurry.”
Winter calls Tony kotyonok/kitten, lyubimiy/my love, dorogoi/darling.
I sort of love that it’s Bucky who is aware he doesn’t belong in Winter’s body. I’ve seen some takes on this trope where Winter is the one that doesn’t feel welcome, but I really think because of body dysphoria issues it would be the other way around-- it would be Bucky feeling like he was living in someone’s body and taking up space and eventually in danger of disappearing especially since he’s barely thirty and the WS has existed for the better part of seventy years.
You guys know what Helen Cho works on right...?!