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Welcome to the Zoo

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“Mute!” Tony snapped, cutting JARVIS off. He didn’t need to be reminded that he hadn’t slept. His AI had really overreacted to him dropping the blow torch. It wasn’t that he’d fallen asleep exactly—just blinked slowly and forgotten to open his eyes again.

Thankfully, though, DUM-E had made sure to move the torch so it didn’t burn the place down or scar him permanently.

He scrubbed his hands over his face, then dropped them to his sides, looking around the workshop, seeing the bits and bobs of various projects cluttering the workbench, a dismantled gauntlet here and a piece of an engine there. It was like he was working on everything and nothing simultaneously.

And scattered around the counter—standing testament to his caffeine addiction—were oodles of to-go cups from the place in the lobby. His keepers had capped him at three cappuccinos from the coffee shop each day—but he’d become an expert working the system. And as long as he kept Bucky and Steve from talking to each other about it, he could get three from each of them a day.

The room started to tip a little, so he gripped the workbench to steady himself—unsure if it was too much caffeine, too little sleep, or low blood sugar making him dizzy. It was probably a combination of all three.

He eyed the abandoned crusts sitting on the too expensive plate, the one he’d balanced on the seat of his stool. They’d probably be stale. He could picture Steve and Bucky’s judgmental nose wrinkles for just considering it and huffed.

Honestly, providing for himself sounded too complicated. Humans had too many damned needs.

Grabbing one of the cups, he tipped it back and shook the cold, too sweet dregs into his mouth. Just enough to wet his tongue. Huffing, nearly growling, the cup buckled in his grip, and he slapped it back onto the counter.

His head was starting to hurt, but he wouldn’t admit that to Steve or Bucky. Because they’d force food and medicine and water on him. Because, apparently, coffee didn’t count as healthy, at least according to his boyfriends, even though Tony argued it was just brown water.

Maybe it was the sleep deprivation hitting him, but he suddenly felt overwhelmed. They’d talked about starting a family soon, possibly adopting a teen, but how could Tony ever do that? He would never be the adultier adult—the one someone depends on to meet their needs.

Then just as he started to spiral—because when running on coffee and too little sleep, he did that—the door to the workshop opened, and Steve and Bucky walked in, looking concerned.

“Tones?” Steve frowned.

Feeling a little unhinged—and probably looking no better—Tony blinked at them. “Just keeping DUM-E oiled takes three reminders. I’m not cut out to be a zookeeper!”

Bucky’s brow wrinkled, then he glanced at Steve before stepping closer, hands up. “Zookeeper, huh? Okay, doll, that’s—” He glanced at the workbench, eyes roaming over the cups. “Okay, so you’ve been playing the coffee game again. Should’ve guessed when you asked for all three before noon.”

“Okay, yes,” Tony huffed, hands twitching at his sides, “but this isn’t about the coffee, okay?” A frustrated growl left him. “Just listen,” he hissed. “You don’t get it. You guys want to have a family someday, but I can’t even take care of myself. I don’t feed myself or make sure I sleep, or even provide my own enrichment! How could I ever do it for someone else?”

“Tony,” Steve sighed, shaking his head, though there was understanding and warmth in his eyes, maybe even a little playfulness. “You’re worrying about nothing—I promise. Now, why don’t we head upstairs for a nice relaxing bath and a little sleep? I don’t like seeing you so stressed out like this—especially over nothing.”

Sucking in a breath, Tony pointed at them, eyes wide as it hit him. Because just like always—when Tony had needed care—Steve and Bucky had appeared ready to provide. So with accusation in his tone, he whisper-shouted, finger waggling, “It’s you! Oh my god—you guys are my zookeepers!”

Bucky huffed out a laugh, walking over to corner Tony against the workbench, catching his wrists and bringing his hands up between them. “Well, neither of us mind being your keepers—so how about you let us do our job and get you all settled in?”

Tony whined pathetically, though he wasn’t sure what upset him more. That he sucked at taking care of himself—or that he secretly loved Steve and Bucky doing it. Then leaning his forehead on Bucky’s shoulder, he asked in a pouty tone, “Can I have more coffee?”

Then a large, calloused hand gripped his neck, kneading it lightly, and he didn’t need to look to know it was Steve. “Tomorrow—you’re getting a glass of water and some Tylenol tonight—a little food, too, if I can get it into you.”

Groaning, Tony felt himself wilt, his latest binge in the workshop catching up to him. “I don’t even like the zoo,” he murmured against Bucky’s chest, eyes drifting closed, not caring if he made sense. “Anteaters are cool, though.”

“Yeah, yeah, they are,” Bucky breathed against his hair with a chuckle, then pressed a kiss to the crown of his head.

Tony yawned, rubbing his cheek against Bucky’s shirt, enjoying the spicy scent of his cologne—something that usually suited old men and State Troopers, but Bucky could pull it off. “Do you think I’ll ever be a zookeeper? Not a real one—but you know what I mean.”

Kissing just behind his ear, Steve’s warm breath tickled Tony’s skin, then the larger man caught him under the knees and back, picking him up. “Well, the way I see it, you already are, sweetheart,” he said, lugging him toward the elevator, Bucky’s footsteps following. “I wish you’d be a better one toward yourself sometimes, but you keep the rest of us fed and watered—you keep a roof over our head. I hate to break it to you, but taking care of people is kinda what you do best.”

“Yeah, doll,” Bucky’s voice came from beside them. “You make sure the rest of the animals around here always have what they need—like Clint with his new arrows last week or how you ordered that special baklava for Natasha just because you didn’t think she smiled enough.”

Tony yawned again. “Okay.”

Steve made a noise of disbelief. “Just okay? No arguments?”

He shrugged, curling toward the warmth of Steve’s chest. “Too tired, though I’m up for some enrichment activities—if you know what I mean.”

Bucky barked a laugh as Steve chuckled and said, “Guess I should get calling the Bronx Zoo, then.”