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Welcome to the Jungle

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"So, what do you think about guy-guy scenes?"

Steve Rogers never thought he had something to prove.

To be honest, he should have realised he did. He's pretty textbook. Growing up a weedy, chronically-ill kid in a poor neighbourhood, he'd got into fights no matter how big the other kid was, just to prove he could. If there was a bigger kid on the playground, you could guarantee little Steve Rogers had punched or been punched by him at least once that semester. It wasn't until his mother ran out of insurance completely and signed her son up for a medical trial in a last-ditch effort to help him that the fights stopped. Kind of difficult to fight when he'd been hauled off the playground and into a lab.

After two years of experimental HGH injections, steroid treatments, and a diet his mother couldn't have afforded on her own, he'd emerged almost unrecognisable from the skeletal teenager he'd gone into the trial as. Steve Rogers ended up a man over six feet tall, with shoulders that went on for days and way more muscles than he knew what to do with. He'd never thought he had something to prove, not until he had the ability to really prove it.

So, however illogically, porn had been the way to go. He was too self-conscious to act, modelling didn't pay enough, and time out of school for the medical trial had left him barely scraping a pass on his GED a year late. He shared an apartment with a part-time burlesque dancer, and she'd talked him into it over a weekend and way too much tequila.

Three pictures and one embarrassingly short amateur jerk-off video later, and here he is.

"Gay scenes?"

Steve stretches uncomfortably in the fake-leather chair, watching the agent across the desk. The guy's not un-attractive, even if the eye patch was slightly disconcerting at first. Mr Fury (and that has got to be an alias, Steve's ninety-nine percent sure) had nodded approvingly when Steve had politely apologised for staring and then stopped doing so, so Steve thinks maybe he didn't fuck up his chances right away by being a fucking meatball.

"You're going to make a lot more money working with guys. Boy-girl scenes get you maybe two, three hundred bucks for a shoot. You're just a dick, nobody's looking at you. Guy scenes we're talking up to a thousand, depending on the content."

"A thousand? Shit."

"Not straight away, obviously. Don't get your hopes up."

Fury goes over to the bar in the corner of his office (so eighties, Steve wants to cringe) and silently offers him a drink. Steve just shakes his head, sparking another approving nod. So he guesses it's passing some kind of test to be wary about getting roofied in a porn office? He's from Brooklyn, he's not stupid. He's also starting to question what the hell he's doing here.

His mom can never find out about this.

"It's also easier to build a fanbase within the gay community. Generally they don't treat porn actors like shit." Fury sits back down, ice clinking quietly in his glass as he fixes Steve with an assessing stare. "You'll sell when you look clean-cut, the all-American thing is popular right now."

"Well, it wasn't how I planned on coming out." That draws a snort from the director and Steve smiles, relieved. "But okay, sure. Let's do it."

"Look at that can-do attitude. Bring that to set and we'll get along just fine." Fury smirks drily, and Steve can't tell if he's being sarcastic or not.

In a moment, the director produces contracts and a pen from his top drawer, all ready to go. Steve raises his eyebrows when he realises they're already filled in with his name, they must have liked him from the pictures and video alone.

"We're gonna have you topping exclusively to start with." Fury explains as Steve flicks through the contract before he signs it. "We only shoot safe movies here, so condoms on set and condoms in your personal life. We pay for your monthly STD tests. If you pick up something treatable, we'll put you on the bench until you're clean. If it happens twice, you're outta here."

"Sounds fair." It's only one more moment of hesitation before Steve bites the bullet and signs on the dotted line.

Six months with Shield Entertainment. No out clause unless they fire him.

"Good to have you on board, kid." The contracts are whisked back into the drawer before Steve can blink, he doesn't bother to ask for a copy because the look on Fury's face suggests there are no copies.

"So what happens now?" He rubs the back of his neck, excited and nervous in almost equal measure. Okay, so it's not exactly prestigious, but at least he'll be getting paid to do something he likes.

"Tomorrow, go get waxed. Not your legs, everywhere else. This place is discounted for us." Fury hands him a business card for a salon Steve's never heard of. "We'll have marketing take a look at your pictures, see how they want to spin you. Then come back on Wednesday morning and we'll shoot. Ten a.m., don't be late. Be showered, be sober."

"Yes sir." Steve gives him a little salute, realising he's being a fucking nerd as Fury just raises an eyebrow at him incredulously. "I mean, uh, do you know who I'll be working with?"

"I have a few guys in mind. It won't be anything fancy for your first shoot." He runs his gaze over Steve again and wrinkles his nose, getting out his wallet and shoving fifty bucks at him. "Go get a haircut, kid. Don't look like a hobo when you come back."

Steve goes a little pink when he takes the money. He's not exactly been thinking about much outside of paying rent lately, personal grooming had kind of fallen by the wayside in favour of food. Fury looks down at his Blackberry and waves Steve away vaguely, clearly the meeting is over.

"Thanks, Mr Fury." Steve is pretty sure he sounds way too chipper for how nervous he is, but having money in his pocket and the promise of more will do a lot when you've been living on Ramen for weeks.

"Wednesday. Don't be late." Fury repeats sternly, before he turns his chair around to start a phone call. This is obviously the cue to get the hell out, and Steve takes it.

Dismissed, he practically skips out of the office. So he's not exactly looking forward to getting his body hair ripped out with hot wax, or to getting a q-tip shoved down his dick every month, but getting paid for sleeping with hot guys isn't a terrible prospect.

He's dialling Peggy before he even hits the sidewalk. Her afternoon set at the club ended half an hour ago, and he's going to need his roommate to celebrate his new career with him. Hell, maybe he'll even pay his tab this time. He forces himself to focus on the good, the prospect of being paid, and not let the anxiety in his gut crawl up his throat. He'll be fine, fucking isn't rocket science.

How bad could it be?

Chapter Text

"'Captain America'? Seriously?"

This is totally not how he saw his Wednesday morning going.

"You'll still be using your real name, we just need to have something distinctive for people to search. Keywords are important." Pepper rolls her eyes at his sceptical tone. She's all business, no bullshit. Her pressed suit makes him feel like a slob. Steve kind of likes her already. "The all-American thing is very popular right now."

"Fury told me." Steve still grimaces, looking down at the mocked-up publicity shot he'd been handed as a greeting. Stars and stripes, really? "Isn't it kinda… old fashioned?"

"The late nineties and early noughties burned people out on serious sexuality, people prefer a little camp now. Retro is in, even bush is coming back into fashion in straight videos." She's busy typing on her phone, so luckily she misses Steve's slight spit take.

He's no blushing virgin, not by a long shot, but he's still not used to hearing people talk about this stuff so frankly.

"But why do I have to sound like I'm in a comic book?" He grumbles quietly as he follows her wherever her brisk, clicking heels are leading him. "Comic books aren't sexy."

"Tell that to Phil." She sighs wearily as they round a corner.

He's about to ask who Phil is when he nearly walks slap into a girl in latex underwear coming out of the bathroom. Steve stammers an apology as he catches her from falling off her skyscraper heels, and luckily she waves him off good naturedly before staggering on to wherever she's headed. He swears he hears Pepper laugh at him, but when he turns around her poker face is immaculate. He's got no choice but to shut his mouth and keep following her, feeling suddenly underdressed in his jeans and battered sneakers that are definitely not fetish gear.

He hopes.

"Do you know who I'm gonna be working with?"

She doesn't even have to check her calendar before she sighs again, caught somewhere between affection and exasperation.

"Bucky."

"Bucky?" Steve snorts disbelievingly. "Tell me that's a stage name."

"His name is James. Don't call him that, he hates it." Pepper leads him through the hall until they hit the stage area, mostly obscured by the grips who are setting up lights and prepping the set. "I'm serious. He'll find a way to make you pay if you do, and I'm not tolerating prank wars on my set. Not again."

"Come on, he can't prefer Bucky."

"I let people call me Pepper, how bad do you think my first name is?" She arches an eyebrow and Steve, wisely, shuts his mouth.

The silence lasts for a few more steps, anyway, until his nerves build up again and he pauses involuntarily in front of what looks like a classroom with three walls. The building isn't exactly what he'd expected: they've passed several fake apartments, a doctor's office, and a dungeon already. It's early in the morning, so he can't imagine there's anyone shooting yet, but he can picture how loud this place must get when all the stages are being used.

Steve swallows hard and catches up to Pepper, breaking the silence again. Nerves always did make him talkative, and he realises his question clangs the second it's out of his mouth.

"So, uh, how did you start working in porn?"

"I don't work in porn, I work on porn. And we prefer to call it adult entertainment." She stops in front of an innocuous door and pushes it open, not bothering to knock. "Dressing room. There are robes in the back and a shower if you need it. Makeup will be with you shortly."

"Oh, okay, do I-" But she's chivvied him in and shut the door before he has a chance to finish his sentence.

Well. Shit. Day one.

There's a long moment where he looks around the dressing room and considers just turning around and going home. It's not gross, quite the opposite: the mirrors are polished, the lights are bright, and all the clothes hanging on racks against one wall seem clean and pressed. There's a couch that's covered with jackets, along with a few swivelling makeup chairs sitting in front of the mirrors. All pretty well-kept and standard-issue.

The thing that makes him waver for a second is the stack of dirty magazines next to the couch, lube and tissues conveniently placed beside them. Something about the business-like nature of the setup makes him think of a clinic (a ward, a lab), and he almost balks before he takes a breath and steadies himself. He needs to man up and not be squeamish about this, he's fine. He's calm.

That is until the pile of jackets on the couch decides to move, at which point his anxiety shoots through the roof again.

"Jesus, what time's it?" A dark, tufty head emerges from the makeshift blankets, an arm quickly following to squint at a phone clutched tightly in a hand. "Shit."

"Uh…" Steve's not exactly sure how to respond to magically-appearing hobos. "Hi?"

"Mm? Hey." The guy squints at him and nods blearily as he drags himself upright, not seeming to notice the coats that fall all over the floor. "New guy, right?"

"Yeah, I'm Steve. It's my first day."

"Well, welcome to the jungle." He shuffles over to one of the makeup chairs and slumps down into it with a groan, rubbing a hand across his face with a pinched expression. Looks like a fierce hangover.

"Uh, thanks." Steve chances a cautious smile, but the guy isn't paying attention.

"Welcome." He yawns so widely his jaw cracks and he rummages in the pocket of the leather jacket (that he must have slept in, Jesus) and pulls out a small baggie of pills. "Wanna Valium?"

The guy looks wrecked. Like he's been up for four days. Like he's fallen out of a club at 7am and gone to work as a rent boy. He's all stubble and bags under his big eyes and he kind of looks homeless and sad.

This must be Bucky.

He's fucking gorgeous.

"Uh, no. No thanks."

The guy shrugs like it's Steve's loss and pops a pill, shoving the rest of the baggie into the pocket of his way too tight jeans. Steve swallows hard, trying to not sound like a complete asshole when he speaks again.

"Uh, aren't we supposed to be sober on set?"

His voice cracks. He sounds like the class nerd. He wants to crawl back into bed and start this morning over again.

"You'll just have to not tell on me." Bucky rolls his head across the back of his chair and smirks at him sideways, apparently already soothed by getting something in his system. "Cap."

He pops the p on the nickname and Steve wants to go back to working at Subway.

"Hey, I didn't come up with that." He feels his cheeks burn and Bucky laughs, such a happy sound that it seems out of place with his whole death-rock demeanour. There's a goofy grin on his face when Steve looks over again, and it makes him look five years younger and a hell of a lot less cracked out. Despite his embarrassment, Steve finds himself smiling back.

"Shut up, Bucky."

"My first shoot was a cowboy thing, what can I say? Save a horse, ride me." Bucky wiggles his eyebrows at Steve and the exaggerated leer definitely shouldn't be so attractive as he deadpans. "Yeehaw."

"Are you serious?" There must be a great expression on his face, because Bucky breaks into laughter again.

"Nah. My middle name's Buchanan, people've been calling me Bucky since I was a kid." He rummages in the cooler that sits beside the mirrors and shakes a Red Bull questioningly at Steve, tossing it over when he accepts the offer this time. "Wanna Russian that up?"

"It's ten in the morning."

"And you're making porn." Bucky gives him an exaggerated look of shock, scandalised with his eyes bugged and his mouth wide open. Steve just rolls his eyes and Bucky grumbles. "I was just kidding, y'know. You're no fun."

If Steve weren't so preoccupied with the pout on Bucky's face, he would have noticed him surreptitiously tucking a flask back into the inside pocket of his jacket.

"You're like a parody of a porn guy." Steve means it as a joke, but the thundercloud that descends over Bucky's face tells him he's fucked up the delivery.

"You're a real asshole."

Steve can't get himself together enough to respond before Bucky's out of his seat, storming unsteadily over to the side of the room and disappearing behind a rack of clothes. He's already stripped to the waist when he comes back into view, muttering darkly under his breath as he yanks a t-shirt from the rail. Steve's pretty sure whatever he's saying isn't English, but he can get the gist.

"Hey, Bucky. C'mon. I didn't mean it like that, Buck." He gets up and reaches out to touch his arm, trying to get his attention. He has to work with this guy (he has to fuck him Jesus Christ), he doesn't want him to hate him straight off. "I'm just nervous, okay. I'm a moron. I didn't mean it."

Bucky sighs for a long moment, but he doesn't shrug the touch away. Steve takes the opportunity to look him over, eyes wandering before he realises it consciously. Pale skin, lean muscle, a tattoo of a red star on his left shoulder and... shit, that's a lot of scars on his arm. He's broken out of his reverie by Bucky turning to him with a tight, resigned smile.

"It's okay, man. It's your first day." He pats Steve's hand where it rests on his upper arm, and somehow that makes Steve let out the breath he didn't realise he'd been holding. "You just gotta be careful what you say. Everyone in this industry gets given shit for what they do all the time, we can get kinda touchy."

"Of course, I'm really sorry."

The apology lands just fine, and they manage about a minute of calm where Steve doesn't piss anyone off. It's an achievement. At least until he puts his foot straight in his mouth again because anxiety makes him talk too fucking much. Steve's pretty sure he's gonna get fired or at least punched before he gets his dick in anything.

Maybe he should have accepted the Valium.

"What happened to your arm?"

Bucky goes very still for a second before he pulls a clipped almost-smile and shrugs, carefully neutral.

"Car accident. They cover it up with makeup mostly."  

"I didn't mean to-"

"Nah, it's okay man. Everyone asks once. It's cool." Bucky shimmies out of his tight pants and for some reason Steve looks away as his pale thighs come into view. It just doesn't seem right to perv on him, not when they're not on set.

He doesn't see Bucky watching him in the mirror, frowning because he doesn't understand why the new guy's not looking at him like a piece of meat. He doesn't see the way Bucky hurries into his new underwear and pants, because sometimes he's not really cool with being naked unless there's a camera on him. Steve's politely busying himself with his phone too much to notice the way Bucky looks at him like he's an alien as he slides back into the chair beside him.

Then the makeup artists come in and they're thrown into the whirlwind of production. Steve's stripped down and every blemish he never knew he had is covered by a huge, blonde, cheerful Scandinavian guy who isn't exactly gentle with a foundation sponge. Bucky's chided back out of his t-shirt and the laborious process of covering up his scars begins, interspersed with the dark haired, curvy girl working on him trading him pieces of chocolate for swigs from his flask.

Bucky seems to get more confident the more makeup they put on him, and near the end he's even taking selfies with Darcy (Steve's pretty sure that's her name, he couldn't quite hear over some epic, booming hunting story his guy had launched into) for the company twitter feed. Steve ducks away from the phone shyly and the others just laugh, Bucky's loose cackle flying above the others.

They put eyeliner on Bucky and when he catches his eye in the mirror and winks, Steve's stomach flips.

He's pretty sure that's not supposed to happen.

Chapter Text

"How big's your dick?"

"Uh…" Steve almost chokes on his mouthful of water. "What?"

"I wanna know if I'm gonna be able to sit down on the bus home." Bucky leans over and brazenly lifts the edge of Steve's robe. He gives a low whistle and meets Steve's eyes mischievously. "Yup, I'm gonna be standing. That's not even a semi, is it? Fuck. Tell me you're not a grower."

"Shut up."

Blushing on a porn set.

Steve Rogers is totally prepared for this part of his life.

"What am I gonna do, scare it away?"

"Uh, yeah. So shut up." He glares at Bucky sideways and the guy just laughs at him. He's going to have to work on his intimidating face to survive around here, he can tell.

They've done the cheesy lines and the making out part, rubbing off against each other through clothes like teenagers, and now they're getting ready to film the main event. Bucky had ducked out for a cigarette as soon as the director yelled cut, totally unashamed of the boner tenting the front of his ripped jeans. Steve, on the other hand, had hobbled awkwardly over to a chair and sat down with his legs crossed, still a little self-conscious. He was leaping into this with both feet, he reminded himself quietly, there were bound to be moments when he had to adjust.

Stripping in front of a roomful of guys while his boner wilted, that was one of those moments.

"Okay, guys. Break's over."

Banner's got a gentle manner about him, Steve suspects he's used specifically to direct newbie videos in order to ease people into having a camera pointed at their dick. He's older, with salt and pepper hair and an easy smile that speaks of some kind of meditation or a big bag of weed.

Bucky says he's into aromatherapy. Steve wouldn't be surprised.

"No dick sucking today, alright? Steve brought in a copy of his test results and he's clean, but they're a couple of days out of date so you're gonna have to wait to get a mouth on that thing. Handys are fine. Go nuts." Banner gives them a seriously dorky double thumbs-up before he wanders back over to keep bugging the camera guy about the lighting.

Steve never knew there was this much production in porn, but at least he's not the biggest nerd on the block anymore.

"Are they always that strict?" He asks Bucky, who's preoccupied with looking at his own reflection like a goddamn budgie. "My last test was like, thirty-five days ago."

"Every thirty days, like clockwork. It's legal shit, can't do bareback unless you sign a waiver." Bucky uses his phone screen for a mirror as he fiddles with his hair. "Anyway, you'd be strict too if you'd worked anywhere but Shield before."

"Oh yeah, I heard about that Hy—"

"Guys, come on. I need dick in ass like ten minutes ago."

The camera guy's tapping his left boot impatiently, hands on his hips like some kind of fucked up 50s housewife. Banner shoves the guy playfully in the shoulder as Steve and Bucky walk onto set, one with ease and one feeling like a puppet with no one holding his strings.

The still-shot guy strolls back in from his break a moment later and Steve raises his hand in greeting. Sam had been nice enough to offer him a bottle of water and a pep talk at the start of the break, and Steve's already invited him out for a beer after work. He's pretty good at reading people, and he smiles slightly when Sam waves back at him.

Dorks wave when they first meet someone. Steve likes being friends with dorks.

"Don't yell, you'll scare Captain America's boner away." Steve really doesn't like Bucky right now, as he swaggers onto set and chastises the camera guy. "It only rises for freedom."

"I'm gonna pound your ass into next week." It's not exactly a threat, but Steve narrows his eyes like he means it to be one.

"Awesome." Bucky shucks off his boxers and kicks them artfully in the direction of the camera. "Bring it."

Totally unphased, the camera guy snatches the boxers out of the air before they can touch the expensive equipment. He drops them to the floor with a grimace, making a show of wiping his hand on his purple t-shirt before he wags his finger at Bucky.

"Behave, or I'm gonna make you look like a sack of shit." He turns to Steve with a far more friendly expression. "Good to meet you, new guy. I'm Hawkeye, never miss a shot." He makes a lewd jerking gesture and Steve snorts a laugh unattractively through his nose.

"Every time, Clint?" Bucky rolls his eyes and drops his robe unceremoniously, leaving him stark naked. "That's like two people who laughed now, good job."

"You jealous I'm talking to your new dick, Barnes?" Clint gestures emphatically at the couch and Bucky flops onto it with a sigh.

"At least his works and doesn't belong in a museum."

"Hey, Phil is not old. He's vintage, like a fine wine." He catches sight of the question on Steve's face and glances over to explain. "Husband."

"Oh, congrats."

"Thanks. Now would you put your dick in him already so he'll shut up?" Clint shoos him towards Bucky before he heads back behind his camera.

The main lights pop on and Steve blinks, momentarily blinded as he stumbles over to the couch. He sits down awkwardly, forgetting what the hell he's supposed to be doing until Bucky's tugging at the tie of his robe with a smirk.

"You kinda have to be naked, Stevie."

"Oh, shit. Yeah." He pulls it off and drops it behind the couch where it'll be out of sight, congratulating himself for only fumbling a little bit.

He realises Bucky called him Stevie right as he's being directed to get on his knees between the guy's spread legs. He resists the impulse to pinch a red mark of vengeance onto Bucky's pale ribs, and the shit-eating grin on the guy's face says he knows exactly what Steve is thinking.

It's hot under the lights, and it takes a moment for Steve to get his bearings. The cogs in his brain whirr back into life (okay sex with a hot guy very good yes I can do this) and he glances around for the stuff he needs to get this show on the road. He sees condoms next to the couch and grabs one, but can't see lube anywhere.

"Where's the—"

"Between the cushions, but don't get it out mid-shot. I prepped already. Don't worry about it." Bucky shuffles down on the couch, getting in a better position for Clint to get the penetration shot.

"I… Are you sure?" Something about it makes him pause. Steve's never been a sadist, never been remotely interested in causing pain to anyone he's slept with. He's never been with a guy without making certain he's not going to hurt them.

"Yes." Bucky rolls his eyes and snatches the condom, tearing it open and rolling it over Steve's dick (which has miraculously got hard again, he thanks every god he can think of and some he might have just made up). "What are you, from the forties? Stop being such a gentleman and fuck me."

"Steve, he already took like five dicks this week. You're not gonna break him." Clint's snarky commentary from somewhere behind the bright lights isn't exactly what Steve needs right now. He's still hesitant until Bucky reaches up and grabs his chin, making him turn to look at him.

"Hey. You're not gonna hurt me." Bucky meets his eyes with the kind of sincerity Steve hasn't seen come out of his sarcastic mouth yet. For a moment, he actually looks like he's concerned about Steve. "I swear. If I sound like it hurts then it's just acting."

"But how will I know if I—"

"I'll say stop, okay? I love ruining Barton's shots." He smiles gently, reassuring. "It's okay, Steve."

His voice is oddly soft, and Steve gives into the impulse to lean down and kiss him.

It's just acting, right?

"And we're rolling." He barely hears the direction, too busy kissing like his life depends on it.

A few minutes later, Steve is balls deep in Bucky and apparently not a natural at fucking for camera.

"C'mon, fuck me." Bucky arches his back, tipping his head back and letting his pale neck stretch in one long, inviting column. Steve's not sure if he's allowed to kiss it, or if that would be blocking part of the shot. He's already done that and been reprimanded twice.

The noises Bucky's making are fucking molten, they sound like the hottest fantasy he'd never let himself admit to having, but Steve figures he must be faking them because he keeps begging him to go harder, faster. If Bucky's words and whimpers are anything to go by, there's nothing adequate about this fuck.

So far, being in a porn movie isn't doing wonders for his self-esteem.

"C'mon baby." Bucky's hands are cupping his cheeks and pulling Steve out of his reverie. Their faces are way too close, their foreheads almost touching. Steve's already sweating under the lights and somehow doesn't care as he presses closer to the heat of Bucky's body.

"You can go harder, you're not gonna hurt me."

"I-I've never done this before." And shit, he's pretty sure he just ruined the shot. He fucking forgot the cameras were there for a second.

He means that he's never had porn sex, the kind of sex where there's no intimacy, no build up, just pounding into someone straight away. He's no great romantic, but he's always been careful with the people he sleeps with. He's never done it like this before.

Of course, that's not how Bucky takes it. He runs with it like a pro.

"It's okay, it's not like with girls. You don't have to take it slow." Bucky licks his lips and rolls his ass down on Steve's dick again, making his eyes flutter closed at the sensation. "You're never gonna want girls again after this."

Steve's brain shorts out.

"Great, Bucky. Talk him through it. Corrupt him." Banner's voice comes from behind the lights, somewhere they can't see and aren't supposed to look at.

Steve can faintly hear him talking to someone about how they can pitch the video: slut corrupts straight jock, good boy turned bad. He's not listening, he doesn't think anything else could grab his attention now. His whole world is Bucky.

Everything snowballs after that.

Bucky, it turns out, is really good at corrupting him.

The rest of the shoot is a blur of Steve doing a terrible job of pretending to be clueless while Bucky acts like some kind of gay sex guru. Steve's not convinced that isn't his actual day job. Every new position (so many position changes, it's exhausting) makes him go harder, deeper, and Bucky takes it all like the best slut in the world. Steve doesn't think he'll ever need to watch porn again, he's got all his fantasies right behind his eyelids now.

They end with Bucky face down on the couch, ass in the air as Steve grips his hips hard enough to leave bruises and pounds into him as hard as he can.

Somewhere in the middle of Banner explaining how he wants them to finish, Bucky cries out and comes without a hand on his dick.

"Please tell me you got that." Clint says something back to Banner, but Steve's too caught up with the way Bucky clenches tight around him, the way he keeps fucking back against him like he can't get enough of his dick even though he must be sensitive now.

Steve can't take it anymore. He pulls out and follows Banner's instructions, yanking off the condom and jerking himself until he shoots all over Bucky's back and ass. He hasn't come that hard for a long time, maybe ever, and his whole world goes white for a second until he's back on Earth.

"Alright, cut! Good job guys." Banner claps his hands together and jerks Steve out of the afterglow. "That's all we need from you today."

One of the set assistants tosses them a couple of towels and a pack of baby wipes, and Steve towels the cooling sweat off himself in a daze.

So. Porn. That's something he does now. He feels a little shell-shocked.

"Not bad, Cap." Bucky's looking back over his shoulder, worn out with a dopey smirk. "God bless America."

"Oh, now you're patriotic." Steve smirks affectionately and grabs a baby wipe, trying to be considerate as he starts cleaning his mess off Bucky's back. He touches him gently, figuring he's had enough rough treatment for one day.

Bucky jerks away from the soft touch like he's been pinched, his face suddenly darkening as he stands up. The turnaround happens in seconds, and Steve feels like he's got whiplash trying to follow that mood swing. Bucky looks like he wants to get as far away from him as possible, and Steve doesn't understand what he's done wrong this time.

"I can do that myself." Bucky grunts, snatching the baby wipes and a towel and stalking off to wherever he left his robe with a noticeable hitch in his step.

Steve wants to call after him, but Bucky's left the set before he can pull on his robe and find him. Sam pats him sympathetically on the shoulder on his way past, and Steve shakes his head silently to himself. Talk about a fuck and run.

"What the hell is with that guy?" Steve asks quietly, to no one in particular. "Seriously."

Chapter Text

Sam's the one who finally tells him something about Bucky.

It takes Steve a month to persuade him.

For how much of a sarcastic little shit the guy is, the people who work with Bucky are very protective. Steve has quickly learned not to ask 'what's wrong with' him, because he'll be met with an icy stare or a cryptic comment or complete deflection. He's still the new guy at the company, they still close ranks if he tries to ask about something too touchy. Sam is the only one who'll tell him anything, and even then only because Steve's a little concerned after the second scene he and Bucky shoot together.

Bucky's pupils had been blown so wide his irises were nothing but thin rings of blue, and Steve had ignored the moans to fuck him harder as he grew more and more uneasy about Bucky's ability to consent. He'd been convinced Bucky was about to get fired after he broke into giggles mid-blowjob, but Sitwell, the director, didn't seem to notice (or tactfully ignored) anything wrong with him and the rest of the shoot finished without incident.

Steve put Bucky in a cab afterwards when he caught him passed out on the dressing room couch. He even earned a sloppy kiss on the cheek for his trouble.

He's ashamed of how much he thinks about the scratch of that stubble and the whisper of those soft lips against his skin.

"He used to work for Hydra." Sam explains after a few beers, grimacing like the name tastes bad. He's been on the set all day, and had jumped at the suggestion when Steve invited him for a drink at the cheapest bar he knew about. "But we don't hold it against him."

Steve can see why they have to clarify that.

Hydra Pictures (Giving You the Most Head since 1980!) aren't known for their good business practices. It's not that they shoot hardcore stuff, almost everywhere does that these days, it's that they aren't safe when they do. Performers have to sign a waiver for no-condom shoots, sure, but it's usually strongly suggested that they do. The company doesn't pay for STD tests, so a lot of actors don't get them regularly. They don't require sobriety to shoot, especially for hardcore scenes. Their contracts can be terminated at any time and are notoriously good for the company but bad for the performer.

Nobody joins Hydra. People resort to Hydra.

"So how'd he end up with them? He's pretty popular, right?"

"Yeah, but he's kinda got a sobriety issue." Sam sighs, toying with the label on his beer bottle. "I like the kid, it really sucks. He fell in with the wrong people pretty young and got caught up in all that shit. He shakes it for a while and then it comes back, every time."

"So if he offered me Valium on set… that'd be bad. Right?"

There are a few beats of total silence, broken only by whatever bullshit is playing on the jukebox.

"… Shit" Sam's phone is in his hand before Steve can even blink. He stands up to head out of the bar, and Steve isn't quite sure what's happening. "Just gimme a minute."

He's sitting on his own for fifteen minutes before his phone buzzes.

I can't believe u told on me u fuckin wad

the fucks your problem???

Steve's eyebrows shoot up towards his hairline and he pretends he doesn't feel slightly guilty as he texts back.

Bucky? How did u get my number?

Another beep less than a minute later.

NOT THE ISSUE

U ARE THE WORST

I WILL SHIT ON YOUR DICK I STG

Well, Steve's never been in a situation where that's a legitimate threat before.

Sam comes back into the bar before he can reply, and Steve glances across at him nervously. He looks worried, his forehead creased in a way that suggests his night is ruined. The guy is usually easy-going, cracks jokes whenever he can see someone getting tense on set, is the only one who can pull pranks on Pepper and not get fired. Seeing him concerned means something must be seriously wrong.

"I take it from the abusive texts that I wasn't supposed to tell you about that." He's not sure if he means it as a quip, but it doesn't come across that way. Sam shakes his head, distracted.

"Don't keep his secrets for him, not about this. Last thing that kid needs is another enabler. He'll get over it." He taps out a message on his phone, still frowning as he finally looks up at Steve. "What was he like on set the last time you saw him?"

"Uh… high. He giggled."

"Shit." Sam types another message and scowls when he still gets no response. "Look, he's not answering anymore. You mind if I cut this short so I can go check up on him?"

"You think he's in a bad way? Maybe he's just pissed." Steve can tell Sam is itching to leave and all of a sudden he's worried about Bucky as well. Maybe it's just because of what he saw on set the last time they filmed, or maybe it's because lately he's been thinking about Bucky way too much when he's not working with him.

Steve doesn't really let himself consider the second possibility. It must be because of what he saw.

"He was on something when I called him, sometimes he gets irrational when he's upset and using." Not waiting for a response, Sam gets up again and grabs his jacket. "I'll text you when I know he's okay, alright? Sorry about this."

"No problem." As he figures out what 'irrational' is code for, Steve's eyes widen. "You want me to come with?"

"Nah, I want you to pay the tab." With a tight smirk and a pat on the shoulder, Sam takes off into the rainy night a hurry.

Peggy deals with the brunt of an extremely drunk Steve later that night. She's still in her work underwear and a robe when her roommate staggers through the door and immediately starts ranting about pretty boys who are too fucked up to date. Peggy rolls her eyes and texts Maria, because she already called this the moment Steve got little hearts in his eyes when he told her about the first guy he worked with.

Steve just about cries when Sam texts him that Bucky's okay, and his face of relief is so sickening that Peggy surreptitiously snaps a picture to blackmail him with later. Eventually she takes pity on him and helps him to bed, and at least she's rewarded for her efforts with coffee and a pastry from the bakery across the street the next morning. Steve's a good guy like that.

Which means he needs to stay as far away from this Bucky kid as possible. Steve's relationships are invariably disasters, and the last thing Peggy needs is her personal caffeine delivery man corrupted.

*

The next time Steve sees Bucky on the set is three weeks later.

Sam had been tight-lipped about almost everything except letting Steve know that Bucky was okay, and Steve had felt creepy asking after the third or fourth time. It's not like they're friends, he barely knows the guy aside from having his dick inside him a couple of times. He's thinking he should just get it over with and find out if Bucky got fired when the man himself stomps into the dressing room one afternoon with none of his usual swagger.

Despite the permanent frown etched on his face, Bucky does look slightly less like a walking corpse, which makes Steve smile involuntarily. He adds this to his list of things he doesn't think too hard about the reasons behind.

"Hey, man." He goes for cheery. Immediately shot down.

"Don't even talk to me." Bucky holds up one hand as he flops into a chair, the other holding a seriously huge paper cup of coffee. Just coffee, not alcohol (because Bucky has written NOT FUCKING BOOZE on it in big, sarcastic Sharpie letters). "I've been to NA meetings twice a day for three weeks because of you, asshole."

Steve is pretty taken aback. He didn't know that. And aren't people supposed to feel better when they're sober?

"Excuse me for not instinctively realising I was supposed to keep your substance abuse a secret." He recovers from his shock quickly and fires back, sounding weaker than he means to. He'd done what he thought was best for Bucky, how is he getting yelled at? "I was just concerned."

"Oh my God, you are such a fucking good boy." He looks at Steve like that's a heinous crime against humanity. "You've never been high, have you? Do you go to church? I bet you call your mom like twice a week."

Steve calls her three times a week, but he's not about to admit that.

"I'm sorry I don't have to get fucked up just to do my job." He's not surprised when Bucky makes a face like he thinks Steve is some kind of circus freak. He raises his eyebrows at him in the mirror and the other guy doesn't have the decency to look admonished at being caught.

"You're pretty fucking self-righteous for someone who makes gay porn for a living." Bucky sneers, unabashed by Steve's judgement.

"What's wrong with it being gay?"

"That's not the insult! You're such a dumbass." Bucky rolls his eyes so hard Steve thinks they might just fall out of his head. "Although I kinda figured you were one of those 'gay for pay' guys."

"What? Why?"

"I dunno, you seem straight." Bucky shrugs and sips delicately at his coffee, his fire burned down to the ashes of indifference. Careful poker face very much intact, he keeps his voice level. "Now unless you've got a secret stash of whiskey I can put in this shit, I suggest you shut the fuck up and leave me alone, Rogers."

For once, that's exactly what Steve does. He's not going to poke the bear any more than he has to today, pretty shocked by the fact he's sure Bucky hates him now. Thankfully they're not working together, and he doesn't so much as nod to his co-worker when he comes back from set to grab his stuff and go home.

He's never trying to do the right thing by Bucky again, he decides with an oddly wounded feeling in his chest. Fuck him.

Chapter Text

Steve's first video goes live on a Friday morning.

There's been promotion to the Shield subscribers a couple of times this week: an email with promo pictures of Steve looking like some kind of 1940s demobbed pin-up guy, and sixty seconds of free video available for streaming a couple of days later. Another ninety seconds of video goes up on the free sites, the xhamsters and pornotubes, with a link to where the rest can be purchased for download.

Give a little, get a little.

Steve sits in bed with his laptop open and watches exactly one minute and thirty seconds of himself fucking Bucky, minus the fade-in intro of Shield's logo. Barton's shot him to look like a clean-cut Greek god, and Bucky's eyeliner is smeared and his mouth filthy in ways Steve hadn't noticed in the moment. He moves fluidly, like he was created specifically to fuck, and Steve can't take his eyes off the curve of his back, the rippling of the muscles in his shoulders.

He carefully doesn't jerk off afterwards, but he does take a very guilty, very cold shower.

Friday morning is more nerve-wracking than he'd expected. Peggy works nights, so of course she waltzes into the kitchen at noon with a shit-eating grin and a close-up of his naked ass bobbing back and forth on her laptop screen. Steve pretty much chokes on his lunch and she steals a handful of his chips before she goes back to bed, cackling. At least she bought the video, he figures. Luckily that's the only unpleasant surprise he gets from the first day, everyone else who knows him has the courtesy not to induce suffocation with a surprise viewing of his own behind.

Fury calls him at five. The numbers are good, very good, and most of their sales happen at night so the first-day figures aren't even done yet. It's one of the most successful daytime premiers they've had since VHS was the latest technology. Sam calls him a few minutes after he gets the good news to invite him out for drinks with the crew, apparently it's a tradition when someone's first video comes out.

Steve does a little victory dance in the shower while he gets ready. No one can see him, he's allowed to let his inner dork out. Hopefully he'll get it all out of his system before tonight, at least.

The bar is unfamiliar and kind of sleazy, the sort of place that looks vaguely Soviet and sticky on the tables and floors, but it's rowdy and cheap and the crew all cheer when he comes through the door. Someone even salutes and starts an off-key rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. He waves them off with a shy grin and has his first few drinks bought for him before he even hits the table.

He could get used to this, people being nice to him.

Sam gets up to greet him, bringing his beer bottle to clink against Steve's with a huge smile. He introduces a few people Steve hasn't met yet: Clint's husband Phil, some kid called Kate who's just joined as a camera operator, and a woman called Jane who's sandwiched between Thor and Darcy to the point where Steve can't tell if she's dating one or both of them.

Bucky sits at the end of the table beside Sam's vacated seat, sipping what looks like orange juice with a face that suggests it's highly disappointing. He must still be sober, and Steve will admit he's a little relieved. He's distracted from thinking too much about Bucky (who hasn't even got up to say hi to him, not that Steve's offended or anything) by a tiny, stunning redhead woman pressing a shot into his hand.

"New dick on the block, welcome to the family." She greets him with a faint Russian accent and clicks their shots together before taking hers. It only seems polite to follow.

"Natasha, Steve. Steve, this is Natasha." Sam dutifully introduces them both, although Steve notices he doesn't really take his eyes off Natasha. He can't exactly blame him, she looks like something he used to sketch in art class when they were trying to make people look 'too perfect' as an exercise.

"Natasha works over in the kink side of the studio." Sam continues, still smiling at her like she hung the moon.

"Oh, you're Natasha Romanov. Did I say that right?" Steve extends his hand and shakes hers with a friendly smile. He's heard of Natasha, Peggy has a poster of her up in her bedroom. She's an extremely well-known dominatrix, a lot of people consider her the best on the East Coast. "It's good to meet you."

"You too, Cap." She raises an eyebrow and Steve blushes slightly. He's going to find out who came up with that image and do terrible things to them. "I've heard all about you."

"You have?" Steve keeps his smile up but wonders faintly who the hell even knows all about him here.

"Yep. James told me a lot." Natasha's eyes are laughing, and Steve's not sure if it's with or at him. He frowns blankly for a second until he realises who she means and his eyes widen.

"Oh, Bucky?" He glances back at the table, where Bucky is definitely paying him attention now Natasha is talking to him. "I thought he didn't let anyone call him that?"

"I'm very special." Natasha smirks and links arms with him. "We should talk, Steve. We should also drink." She leads him over to the bar with a smile, and he's powerless to do anything but follow.

A glance over his shoulder tells him Sam would do pretty much anything to be in his place right now, and he just gives him a not-entirely-sincere shrug.

So they talk. They also drink, a lot, although Steve's beginning to think the stereotype about Russians drinking vodka like water might actually be true in Natasha's case. She seems unaffected, poised as ever while his head gets a pleasant fuzz through it. He's also becoming convinced that she must be some kind of spy, because she extracts his life story and a wealth of other information from him in about half an hour almost without him realising. Once he's told her all there is to tell about him, she's happy to give him a little information on Bucky.

It's only later when Steve realises that he didn't have to ask for it. She assumed he wanted to know, and he didn't do anything to tell her otherwise.

When did he get so transparent?

"I thought he said he was in a car accident?"

Natasha lets out a quiet sigh. He's been tiptoeing around asking about anything too personal, but the question had spilled from between drink-loosened lips before he could think better of it. She glances over her shoulder before she speaks again, making sure Bucky and everyone else is safely back at the table and not within earshot.

"Bucky used to do escorting. We worked for Hydra, they get a lot of their people into it. Part of why I left and joined Shield is because it's banned here." Her accent is softer than he's yet heard it, like she's not sure she should be saying this and is censoring herself as she goes. "There was this guy. Skinny, greasy little Scandinavian. No one would agree to him booking them no matter how much he paid, everyone knew he was fucked up. But Bucky… he got desperate."

Steve's eyes widen as he realises what she's implying. He's pretty sure all the colour must drain from his face, because he suddenly feels cold right down to his toes and his buzz is gone in a blink.

"Did he—"

"Hey, who died? I thought we were celebrating."

Steve jerks up at the drawl to see Bucky standing behind them, smirking loosely. He's resplendent in his usual array of black and charcoal, his eyes still dark underneath from the set makeup, and he doesn't look pissed. He must not have heard anything. He can't have. His smile is too wide and easy for that.

His smile is too wide and easy to be natural for Bucky, Steve realises after a second. Natasha beats him to the punch of saying anything about it.

"Are you drunk?" She leans closer and smells him, her expression deepening into an icy glare when she gets a whiff of vodka. Steve shrinks away from the gaze when it's not even directed at him, he can barely believe it when Bucky just raises a sardonic eyebrow back at her. "You're not supposed to be drinking. Who bought that for you?"

"If you didn't want me to drink then why'd you take me to a bar?" Bucky widens his eyes sarcastically, and Steve wonders how the hell anyone missed him getting this wasted. He's gripping the chair beside him a little too hard to stay steady on his feet, knuckles white. "I'm celebrating for Stevie, relax."

"Buck, you could use a glass of water." Steve keeps his voice friendly, he's got no reason to be angry with Bucky aside from the disappointment coiling in his chest. There's just something in him that feels uneasy at seeing the guy messed up like this.

Natasha has other ideas, her glare suggesting Bucky's about to get the full force of her temper. But then Bucky raises his hand before she can speak, holding it just about still as he cuts her off at the pass. Steve's pretty sure there are very few people in the world who dare to do that to Natasha.

"Pozhaluysta, ne smutit' menya pered nim." Please don't embarrass me in front of him, he begs her quietly.

Steve looks at him like he's possessed, not understanding a single word of the rusty Russian that comes slurring out of Bucky's mouth. He only realises he's actually speaking a different language when she replies in kind.

"Vy nelovko sebya." You're embarrassing yourself, Natasha raises her eyebrows and looks him up and down pointedly. "Ty ne dolzhen byt' pit'yevoy." You shouldn't be drinking.

"Ya ne nameren." I didn't mean to.

He doesn't mean to be that honest either, but the words are coming out before he can edit them. Bucky's aware, in the back of his mind, that he's not really in control of his behaviour when it comes to drinking or substances or anything of the sort, but it's different to tell someone else out loud.

"Voz'mi sebya v ruki, Barnes. Ty ne vyglyadish' khorosho." Pull yourself together, Barnes. You don't look good.

Bucky finally ducks his head, cowed, and nods. Steve looks between the two of them and decides tactfully not to ask. If it's deliberately in another language when he's standing right there, he's probably not supposed to know about it.

"Uh…" Not that knowing that stops him from standing there awkwardly like the only flesh dick in a line of dildos.

Natasha glances across at him and the fierce expression on her face softens slightly, she seems to be sympathetic to the fact that he's way out of his depth here. Steve's never felt more out of his depth in his life.

"Would you mind taking James home?" She asks, in a way that lets both men know that Bucky going home and being escorted there by someone else isn't negotiable. "He only lives a block over, you could come back after if you want."

"Sure, no problem." Steve shoots her a smile and goes to grab his jacket, wouldn't dare to argue even if he wanted to.

Sam looks upset when he gets back to the table, watching Bucky sway on his feet as Natasha moves closer to him and takes his face in her hands. Steve wants to say something, but he's never been the best with words and he doesn't know enough about their relationship to know he's not going to get it all wrong. In the end, he just pats Sam on the shoulder before he goes to retrieve Bucky from Natasha's surprisingly gentle grip.

The journey to Bucky's place quickly turns into the kind of epic Thor seems to write poetry about.

"You're way heavier than you look."

"Weren't complaining when I was fuckin' ridin' your dick." Bucky snorts gleefully, totally oblivious to the looks they get from other people on the street. Steve pulls his baseball cap down lower, as if that's going to prevent him from being associated with the guy he's pretty much carrying.

At this point he's not convinced Bucky hasn't taken something else that's kicked in since the bar, he seems a lot more animated and difficult to handle than he was a few minutes ago. Maybe it's just Natasha that makes him docile.

"Are you sure you live a block away? We should've just got a cab…"

"Stevie, shh." Bucky presses a sloppy finger to his lips. When he takes it away Steve's lips taste like sticky fruit juice. "S'right there, see? 302." He points wildly and Steve just about makes out which building he's gesturing at.

This is a worse neighbourhood than he'd expected, he took a cab to the bar and had been too busy being nervous about meeting new people to pay much attention to where they were going. Bucky's building isn't particularly bad, it's just dingy-looking and kind of grubby. The lock on the main door is busted and the elevator is out, so they have to struggle up the piss-smelling staircase all the way to the third floor. Steve's never been more thankful for his daily gym visits in his life.

When he finally gets him inside, after propping Bucky against the wall and pretty much frisking him to find his keys, he finds that the apartment isn't much different to the building. It's not exactly bare, it just doesn't look very homey. There are a couple of photographs on the wall, tacked up and unframed, and that and the stack of DVDs by the TV are about the only indication that anyone lives here full time.

It feels kind of lonely.

Bucky doesn't fight Steve as he pretty much carries him the last few feet to the bed, setting him down as gently as he can while his back muscles scream. He's too drunk to be babysitting, let alone carrying full-grown men to bed. He's supposed to jog in the morning.

"I'm gonna get you some water, okay?"

"Yeah, 'kay. Best guy ever. M'sorry I said you were straight." Bucky buries his face in the pillows with a sigh, and Steve lets out an audible, exasperated sigh before he goes to retrieve some water so he can go the fuck home.

The kitchen is about as shabby as the rest of the apartment, but suspiciously clean. Steve opens the fridge to look for a bottle of water and finds it empty except for a two-litre bottle of coke zero. He raises his eyebrows and looks in the freezer. As he suspected: vodka. Sam's going to have a field day if he tells him it looks like Bucky was never on the wagon at all.

With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Steve goes to check the cupboards out of curiosity. He finds a couple of instant noodle packs and a bag of coffee, everything else is either expired or just not there in the first place. He feels guilty as he closes the last cupboard quietly and fills a glass with water from the tap. Of course the kitchen is clean if there's no reason to use it.

"Buck?" He pushes the hair gently off the guy's face when he goes back into the bedroom to set the water down beside him. "You got your cell?"

"Yeah." Bucky fumbles under the blanket for a moment with his eyes closed, then produces his phone and slams it down haphazardly on the counter. Steve presses a button just to make sure it still works.

"Call me if you need me, okay? Don't drink any more booze."

"'Kay." Bucky murmurs, his eyes still tight shut. A frown crosses his face and he opens his eyes just enough to squint up at Steve blearily. "Are you gonna fuck me?"

Whatever Steve was expecting him to say, it wasn't that.

"No." He blurts out, blinking and wondering what the hell that means. Luckily, Bucky's face smooths back into calm and he nods, letting his eyes slip closed again.

"Good. You're a great guy. Good friend."

There's a hell of a lot Steve wants to say just now. He wants to wake Bucky up and demand to find out why the hell he thinks Steve would fuck him when he's passing out drunk. At the same time he wants to take Bucky's wiry body into his arms and hold him tight, promise him that no one is going to hurt him ever again.

Steve can't do either of those things, so he leans down and presses a soft kiss to Bucky's forehead.

He lets himself out of Bucky's apartment as quietly as he can, pausing and doubling back to confiscate the bottle of vodka before he goes. Bucky might hate him for it later, but Steve has horrible visions of him waking up and drinking more and passing out with no one here to look out for him.

Of course, the thought briefly crosses his mind that he would like to be the one here looking out for Bucky.

It's such a distressing thought that he resorts to drunkenly texting Peggy in the third person.

Steve Rogers has officially lost control of his life.

Chapter Text

Maybe it's not the smartest part of his personality, but Steve's Mom didn't bring him up to leave someone in need without help. Even if they're kind of an asshole.

That's why he finds himself knocking at Bucky's front door the following afternoon, his arms full of paper bags.

It takes a long time and several loud thumps at the door before he hears movement, just when he's starting to get worried. The deadbolt scrapes back and Bucky cracks the door open blearily, hair sticking up all over the place and still in last night's rumpled clothes. His eyes narrow and then he groans when he sees Steve on the other side. Steve doesn't know who he was expecting, but he seems relieved to see him instead.

"Is this a come to Jesus thing?" Bucky shuffles back into the apartment, leaving the door wide open for Steve to kick shut behind him when he comes inside.

"Why do you think I'm religious?" Steve sets the bags down on the counter and Bucky doesn't even seem to notice as he fumbles with the coffee machine. He looks like seven kinds of hell and Steve's pretty sure he just woke up at two in the afternoon.

"I don't. You're just kinda… righteous. It's not awful." Bucky waves his hand in the air as he tries to think of the word, scowling at the coffee pot. He makes a happy sound when the machine splutters into life, and it's only then that he turns to Steve and actually notices that his kitchen is now full of food.

The atmosphere cools very fast.

"You bought me groceries?" Bucky looks astounded for a moment, his expression suddenly disarmed as his masks can't keep up with this new development. Then this face just snaps closed, the doors slam shut and his walls are up again. "You just put your dick in me a couple of times, y'know. You're not my boyfriend."

"No, but I am your friend. You told me so when I put you to bed last night." Steve stands firm against Bucky's glare, he'd figured this might happen. "You had no food in your apartment and I didn't have anywhere to go for lunch, so why not here?"

Not giving Bucky a chance to answer, Steve cracks a grin and starts unloading the groceries quickly. He's relying on his good-guy-choir-boy image to get him out of being punched in the face right now. He leaves out the ingredients for omelettes and then turns to Bucky again, who's staring at him cautiously like he's not sure if this is sincere or not. Steve bites back a sigh and smiles as wide as he can with insecurity rolling through his gut.

"C'mon, you're too good to help this sad asshole out? I'm admitting I don't have any friends here, it's just lunch."

Putting himself on the line pays off as Bucky's expression softens slightly and he nods, sinking into a chair at his rickety kitchen table. Steve stops holding his breath and digs out pots and pans, thankful his strategy had worked. So, it's thinking he owes Steve something that Bucky doesn't like, okay. He can avoid that in future.

Somehow it's very important to Steve that he gets on Bucky's good side.

"I'm sorry I was kinda an asshole last night." The quiet, sincere apology surprises Steve, and he turns from where he's heating up a frying pan to look at Bucky. The other guy's head is bowed, so Steve can't see his eyes. "I really am happy the video's popular."

"Yeah, me too." He smiles and turns back to cut up some onions. "I'm kinda surprised. I mean, I didn't know what I was doing. It's all you, y'know?"

Bucky makes a derisive noise in his throat and gets back up when the light on the coffee pot clicks off. Steve shoots a sideways glance at him and tries to figure out what the hell's going on behind the impassive expression on his face. He's never seen anyone with this many masks, let alone switch between them so fast. The sun is coming through the window warm behind him, but Bucky looks like he's stuck in a perpetual winter. Frozen in place.

"I'm serious." Steve pauses what he's doing in order to try and gauge Bucky's reaction. "You were totally in charge of everything."

"Yeah, well. No one likes the videos where I'm in charge." He deposits a chipped mug of coffee way too close to Steve's elbow. It's a skilful enough piece of misdirection that Steve almost misses the look on his face, too worried about making sure he doesn't burn his arm.

"Buck…" And his throat jams up because he doesn't know what he wants to say. He just knows he wants to do something to smooth that pained expression of his friend's face. "Are you okay?"

By the time he turns around to follow Bucky's movement, the cocky grin and the dead eyes are back in place, just where they were always going to be. Steve feels his heart sink, of course that question was never going to get a sincere answer.

"I thought you brought lunch, not therapy." Bucky swans cockily past Steve and slaps him on the ass on the way, making him let out a particularly unmanly squeak. "I'm gonna shower. Don't look through my porn collection, you might get dick envy."

"As if." Steve calls after him, hearing Bucky cackle in response before the bathroom door bangs shut. He lets out a long sigh and takes a sip of his coffee, grimacing at the unfamiliar bitterness of it black.

He hates that he keeps hitting these hidden landmines that seem to set Bucky off. He'll be doing okay and then there's one word or phrase that he gets wrong and trips a trigger so the door on any conversation is bricked up behind a wall of bravado. Bucky keeps people at arm's length, and Steve doesn't want to be people anymore. So neither of them are exactly sincere with the happy faces they're putting on, so what? Steve will do it as long as it keeps him in the apartment and getting some food into his friend.

Who is he kidding? As long as it keeps him in Bucky's presence, he'll do it.

*

"Hey, Phil."

Steve knocks on the admin office door even though it's already open. He's quickly learned that knocking is important in the studio building. Sometimes you walk in on a meeting, sometimes you walk in on balloon fetish porn. He's learned to knock whether a door is closed or not, rather than just listen for suspicious pops, to try and avoid witnessing this again.

Coulson's office is pretty much as he'd expected it, when the call comes for him to just go in. the walls are neutral but hung with a few tasteful, well-framed posters that look like they're from an old-fashioned circus. The desk is meticulously clean, a picture of Clint and Phil in matching suits sitting in the right corner. There's no casting couch, Phil deals with administration and the website only, as Clint keeps reminding people when he's had a few beers.

"Steve." Phil greets him with a wide smile, quietly minimizing the new Captain America page of the website that he's been working on for most of the day. "What brings you here?"

"You got a minute? I was wondering about social media." He takes a seat when Phil indicates that he should, clasping his hands together in his lap and trying not to feel like a schoolboy called into the principal's office. Coulson's habit of wearing a suit to work has that effect on him.

"Okay, sure. You made the twitter account we asked you to, I see." Phil brings up the page with a few clicks. "And the public Facebook page. Are you having trouble with anything?"

"No, it's not that." Steve scrolls to twitter on his phone and brings up the list that had been bugging him since yesterday. "What's all this 'Captain America and the Winter Soldier' shit? It's been trending for like a day. Why am I a hashtag?"

"Ah." There's a certain amount of resignation in Phil's voice, and the sigh just cements it. "I was hoping this wouldn't come up for a little while."

"Is it something bad?" Steve asks, trying to figure out the possibilities. He's absolutely baffled by the hashtag, doesn't know what the fuck a winter soldier is and is a little afraid to have it on his browser history. Coulson sighs through his nose and brings up an incognito tab on his browser.

"Could you close the door, please?" Steve complies as the tension in his spine grows, and Phil looks at him seriously when he sits down again. "I'm only telling you about this because you're going to find out on your own anyway. The fact that I showed you this stays between us."

He turns his screen so they can both see it and Steve's eyes just about bug out of his head. It's a Hydra-owned site, the video paused in the browser. He can't see anything except the title: Commie POW Gives Up The Goods. He's suddenly regretting asking at all, he's pretty sure Clint will make good on his boasts of being a world-class archer and put an arrow in his ass if he finds out Steve's watched porn with his husband

"You don't have to watch it." Phil says quietly as he presses play. He's turning his wedding ring around on his finger, something Steve's also noticed Clint has as a nervous tell.

There's no music. Only grunts and someone making choked off sounds that Steve realises are words through the sound of people walking through the undergrowth. The camera swings from leaves onto four men almost carrying a fifth through the trees. Slim, dark hair, he raises his head and spits at one of the men.

Steve didn't think his eyes could get wider, but they do.

The guy on the tape is Bucky, younger and hungrier but unmistakable. The voice however, as he snarls at his captors, isn't.

"Is he… Russian?" Steve thinks back to the night in the bar, the strange exchange between Natasha and Bucky that he hadn't been able to follow even a little. That adds up.

"Originally. He came to the US when he was a teenager." Phil explains, and Steve notices that he's carefully not looking at the screen. "In the videos it started off as a bit, he was a Russian soldier being interrogated in bondage scene." Phil's hand hovers over the button like he's ready to pause the video at a moment's notice, and Steve's apprehension only intensifies.

"But people liked the accent. Audiences respond to broken English when they're looking for a certain type of… coercion. It helps with the whole dubious consent thing. Hydra does a lot of dub-con stuff."

Steve's starting to feel sick.

Bucky is being led, shoved, through trees into a clearing. He doesn't go down without a fight. He kicks one of the guys holding him in the balls. Then there's something black pressing into his shoulder and a buzzing sound and he jerks into limpness. A taser? Did they shock him?

"The Winter Soldier was a nickname from the first movie, it just kinda stuck."

Bucky is pushed to his knees. One of the men grips his chin and forces him to look up, squeezing his mouth open with a smirk.

"The first movie?"

"There's a series."

Steve reaches out in a white flash of rage and slams the space bar so hard it's a miracle it stays intact. The video stops, frozen on a still of Bucky's face. He's young, angular, eyes wide and frightened, looking directly into the camera. Steve's blood turns to ice. That's the first thing they're told never to do.

Looking directly into the camera.

"He's not acting, is he?"

Chapter Text

The next time Steve's on set, a few days later, the atmosphere is tense.

Coulson was right, he would have found out about Bucky's past on his own if he hadn't showed him the tape. It seems like everyone finds out about Bucky's past all at once, the whole trending topic thing doesn't exactly help keep things on the down low. Steve catches snatches of conversation as he walks to the dressing room. Some of them are muted quickly as he walks past, most people carry on talking regardless.

"…Winter Soldier."

"No way, I thought that was a myth. Is it seriously him?"

Steve keeps his head down and just carries on walking.

He'd done a very careful google search when he'd got home that night, the curiosity too much to just try and forget what he'd seen. After a few sites dedicated to screenshots of the Soldier and trying to identify him, Steve came across a forum discussing urban legends. The Winter Soldier Tapes had apparently found their way out of niche porn circles briefly a couple of years ago, and they'd been passed around for shock value.

After 2 Girls 1 Cup, the Winter Soldier Tapes had been the in thing for teenage boys to gross their friends out with. But they could never be verified, no one could figure out who the guy in the video was and if he was acting or not. The hype died down and the Winter Soldier was another ghost in the darkness. Until now.

Just reading descriptions of a few of the videos made Steve want to burn Hydra to the ground. Coulson explained that there wasn't a case to make for mistreatment, they'd been able to prove they had all the appropriate waivers signed by Bucky. Steve knows that means nothing in terms of actual consent, and it only makes him madder.

He's so caught up in his churning thoughts that he doesn't see Natasha until he's already been yanked into the closet and the door slammed shut behind him. There's not much space in here with them pressed together, and he'd be getting seriously worried about popping a boner if Natasha didn't scare his dick back inside his body with a single, withering glance.

"What have you heard?" Her eyes are burning even in the darkness, a fierce protectiveness radiating from her before he can even say a word. Steve meets her gaze steadily, though he doesn't feel steady at all. He's got nothing to hide, for once he's sure that he and Natasha are on the same side when it comes to Bucky.

"Coulson showed me part of a tape, to pre-empt the grapevine." He's pretty sure there's no point in lying to Natasha about how he found out about Bucky's past. "I didn't know. I knew he was messed up, I didn't know about the Winter Soldier."

"No one was supposed to know." Natasha growls, barely contained fury plain in her voice. "This wasn't supposed to get out, it wasn't supposed to come back to Bucky like this."

"But someone must have made the connection before, he'd been in a lot of movies before the one he did with me." Steve doesn't understand why this is such a huge bombshell for everyone. The internet isn't a new phenomenon, he can't understand how no one noticed it was the same guy from the viral videos.

"Nothing that well promoted." She sighs and rubs a hand across the anxious crease between her eyebrows. "Shield suppresses that information. It shouldn't have been able to get out."

Natasha lowers her voice as a group of people pass the door they're standing behind. She leans closer to Steve, needing to tell him what she thinks is going on. Since the story broke, she's not sure how many people she can trust in this company. Steve has no agenda, he's a friend in a time when she's not sure how many she and Bucky can count on.

"Someone at Hydra must have released that information. Shield buried his identity, no one else knows who the Winter Soldier is except Hydra."

"Couldn't someone have just seen both tapes and figured it out for themselves? Some nobody who got through Shield's net and posted it?" Steve doesn't know exactly how much security he's talking about here. He knows the infamous Stark family is somehow involved with Shield Entertainment, but he doesn't know how much of their money and influence is actually channelled through the company.

"It's possible. What's really unlikely is that they managed to start a trending topic with that information." She shakes her head. "I know their tactics, this is deliberate."

"So what are they trying to do?"

"Compromise him. They're trying to make it so Shield can't use him with all the negative publicity. If they drive him out of Shield, he's only got one other place to go."

"He wouldn't work for them again." Steve shakes his head disbelievingly. He doesn't know everything about Bucky, not by a long way, but that's got to be beyond what he'd do. "Not after what happened."

"Bucky is an addict, Steve." Natasha's voice is frank, unemotional and matter-of-fact as she looks at him tiredly. "He'll go wherever he has to."

There's a horrible moment of silence between them, where they both understand exactly what kind of shitstorm they're facing. Then Natasha surges forward and Steve's shirt is twisted up in her fist before he can blink.

"If you make him feel bad about this, about the things that happened to him, I will do awful things to you." It's not even a hiss, not a threat, just a statement of intent. "You matter more than you realise. If you hurt him, I'll hurt you."

"I won't." Steve's statement of intent is just as sure, just as precise. He looks her in the eye in that dark closet and they understand each other. "I'm not gonna hurt him, Natasha."

After an assessing gaze that almost burns through him, she releases his shirt. Steve finally lets out a breath and slips out of the closet, heading in the direction of the dressing room. Natasha's right to be concerned, but her threats are unnecessary for Steve. The last thing he wants to do in the damn world is cause Bucky more pain. He'd decided that long before the videos he'd seen and the forums he'd read about his past. There's nothing that could make Steve hurt him, not for any amount of money or some bullshit moral standard people seem to think he has.

The room is blessedly empty when he finally gets there, and Steve has a minute to sit in a familiar chair, put his head in his hands, and block out the world. If he's bothered by the whispers around the set, he can't imagine how hard it is for Bucky. He wonders if the guy will even turn up at all, remembers the lunch in his apartment a week ago and the way it sounded like ice was melting when Bucky finally laughed for real, without putting on a mask. He can't stand the thought of this taking that away, that gossamer boy he'd glimpsed underneath the bluster.

But when Bucky finally does swagger into the dressing room, Steve swears he's actually walking taller than usual. The façade isn't quite perfect, he can see the strain around Bucky's eyes, the tension in his shoulders. He looks like a piano wire about to snap, and Steve hates it. There was nothing highly strung about Bucky in his own apartment, sober and full and happy. This is all wrong.

Steve's mouth runs away from him at the best of times, but blurting this out is a new level of fucking up.

"Can I give you a hug?"

Bucky freezes like a cornered animal. He looks at Steve like he thinks he's fucking with him, like he thinks he's mocking him, and Steve's heart fractures.

"Has anyone ever told you that people don't like pity, asshole?" Bucky spits out eventually, trying to make it look like he's not totally thrown off by the question. Steve wonders when the last time someone showed him genuine affection was.

"It's not pity." Steve stands up slowly, afraid to spook him. "It's my friend looking like shit and me wanting to help. I'm not great at talking and I know you don't wanna talk about it. Hugging is about the best I've got to offer."

Bucky is still standing there, looking like he's caught in a trap and Steve's coming to put him out of his misery.

"Did you watch it?" The words are hoarse, gravel-ground when he finally gets them out of his dust-dry throat. Steve nods once, he's not going to lie.

"About thirty seconds of it."

"I didn't let them." His hands are shaking now, Steve can see it from here. "I never gave in. I never stopped fighting."

"I know." Steve moves towards him steadily and puts his hands gently on Bucky's shoulders. He doesn't know what he's going to do, exactly, he just knows that his friend looks like he needs way better care than Steve can possibly offer. Bucky looks up at him with confused, wet eyes at his answer.

"How can you stand to touch me now you know? Now you know I did… that?"

"Because I don't give a fuck about the Winter Soldier. I give a fuck about Bucky."

For once in his life, it seems he found the right words.

Bucky just crumples and Steve takes the chance to pull him into his arms. There's a minute where Bucky doesn't move, then he slowly brings his arms up around Steve's back, holding onto him like he's the one thing keeping him anchored on the face of the Earth right now. Steve just holds him, one hand cupping the back of Bucky's neck and his thumb running slowly over the base of his dark hair. He can feel his heart beating as he curls his shaky fists in Steve's shirt, frightened like a rabbit.

Steve holds Bucky together until he can stand on his own again. He'll do it as long as he needs to.

Chapter Text

"I was thirteen when we came over."

It's peaceful in Bucky's apartment, both of them sitting with their cups of coffee and no booze in sight. Steve's beginning to suspect it's the first time he's really seen Bucky stone cold sober and not fighting it every second. He thinks he likes this look on his friend, hopefully it stays around for a while.

Something had changed between them at the studio, after Steve held Bucky in his arms and let him shake himself apart until he was ready to put his mask back on. At first Bucky held himself tense, like he was waiting for Steve to make a move somehow. Then when nothing happened, when Steve's hands stayed exactly where he put them and didn't wander anywhere else, Bucky just melted into him.

Steve wonders just how long it's been since the guy has actually been physically touched without it leading to pain or sex. It makes Steve want to kill the world a lot, when he thinks about Bucky. He figures he'll just have to channel the anger into protecting him instead.

When they finally made it to set, Steve's hand pressed lightly against Bucky's back as they walked through the halls to anchor him under the curious stares, Banner took one look at them and sent them home. He shot Clint a meaningful look and Clint had immediately accidentally kicked his camera over, slightly denting the casing.

"Well, shit. That's gonna take at least a day to fix. I'm a clumsy motherfucker." His intentions were good, even if his delivery wasn't subtle in the slightest. "Guess that's a wrap for the day, you'd better go home."

Steve was grateful for the reprieve, for himself as well as his friend. He's not sure he'd have even been able to have sex with Bucky after seeing him crumble apart in the dressing room like that. There was nothing about Bucky that suggested he was mentally okay with sex right now, and Steve's just glad that the other people they work with actually give a crap about that.

That's how they end up here, drinking Bucky's sludge-brew coffee and swapping stories. It's the first conversation they've had without Bucky making fun of Steve's dick every five minutes. He seems somehow fragile as he sits there, smaller and slighter-looking than Steve has ever seen him, curled into himself. So Steve keeps prattling on about growing up in Brooklyn until Bucky starts a story of his own, gives him the background noise he needs to get his head in shape.

If he needs to be fragile, Steve can be strong. He can do that.

Bucky's chair creaks as he leans forward, curling his hands around his mug with a sigh as he continues his story.

"School sucked. I didn't speak much English and kids are assholes. I think I cried for about a year. Then once I learned the language stuff got easier. Nothing bad lasts forever." He twitches a tiny smile at that, and the fracture that's been sweeping through Steve's heart since he met the guy starts to heal.

"You don't have an accent now, if that means anything to you."

"Thanks. It kinda does." Bucky looks down into his mug, smiling shyly. The bravado doesn't stay long when he's sober, Steve notices. He's actually kind of sweet when he's not acting like an alley cat, hissing and spitting at anyone who comes too close.

"My Mom's Irish, I know about being the kid with the stupid accent." Steve explains with something like nostalgia in his voice. "I was Lucky Charms until eighth grade."

"Dracula." Bucky smirks back, his spark returning. He puts his teeth over his bottom lip and hisses with an exaggerated accent. "I vant to suck your blood!"

Steve smothers a laugh with his hand and Bucky grins widely, happy to have made him happy. It seems like he's getting back on an even keel now, like he's slowly putting the pieces of himself back together and slotting his armour into place again. Steve's just glad he can help with that.

Bucky lifts his mug and takes a drink, and Steve's about to tease him about the double-boiled muck he thinks is coffee before he catches sight of something that makes him pause.

"Buck, your hand." Steve reaches out instinctively and grabs Bucky's wrist, yanking his hand away from where it's been sitting around his mug when he sees a glimpse of burnt skin. The palm is red and shiny from the heat but Bucky just glares at it irritably, as if being burned is just an inconvenience instead of something painful.

"Shit." He stands up wearily and goes to the sink to stick his hand under the cold tap, resigned like this is something he has to do all the time.

"How did you manage to burn yourself like that?" Steve is still staring, and Bucky realises he has to explain, reluctantly.

"I can't feel much with this arm." He taps his left shoulder with the other hand, and Steve realises belatedly that it's the one covered in scars under the long-sleeved shirt. "Not since the accident. It moves just fine, but sometimes I bump it or scratch it and don't notice until later. I have to watch it to know where it is when I move it, when it gets really bad. Most days it's okay."

"You talk about it like it's not even part of you." Steve comments quietly as Bucky turns off the water and checks his palm, apparently satisfied that it's not burnt too badly.

"Doesn't really feel like it is, sometimes." He shrugs and comes back to the table, sitting down heavily. "When I woke up in the hospital I kept hallucinating that they'd cut off my arm and given me a mechanical one. I almost choked out a nurse." He snorts a humourless laugh and shakes his head. "I was pretty doped up on painkillers."

Steve chews on his lip as he sees the cracks in Bucky's armour start to spread again, and he knows with every fibre of his being that he has to stop that happening. On impulse, he shares something he hasn't told anyone, not even Peggy. He's too ashamed of it to tell anyone usually, but he knows instinctively that Bucky won't judge him for this.

"I'm a lab experiment."

Bucky blinks at him like he's grown an extra head.

"You're a… what do you mean?"

Steve sighs and launches into the story he's rehearsed in his head a thousand times but never actually delivered aloud.

"I was really sick when I was a kid. Asthma, anaemia, heart problems, chronic pneumonia. I was short and I weighed about ninety pounds and I had scoliosis so my back was never straight even when I could stand up." He rattles the conditions off without a pause as Bucky listens disbelievingly. "My Mom ran out of insurance, so she got me into this medical trial. I spent two years living in a lab with a bunch of other kids. I had all these experimental treatments: steroids, growth hormones, stuff they didn't even tell me about. By the time I came out I looked like this and I was healthy."

"So the experiment worked." Bucky surmises, now looking Steve over with assessing eyes.

"No. I was the only one who came out. All the other kids got sicker and died from the treatments." Steve looks down at the table, following the grain of the wood with his fingernail and keeping his voice level as he pushes the residual guilt away. "So you're not the only one who feels like your body isn't yours, sometimes. Everything special about me came out of a bottle."

"No it didn't."

The voice is closer than he expected, and Steve looks up in surprise to see Bucky standing beside him. Turns out he can move pretty quietly when he wants to. Steve twists in his chair and then Bucky's hands are cupping his face gently, like he's something to be handled with care. Steve can feel the heat from his burnt hand warm against his cheek, and it feels like the start of something.

"Your body isn't the special thing about you, Steve Rogers." Bucky leans down and Steve almost closes his eyes and leans in but he catches himself. Bucky is in control of this, he's not pushing anything.

Maybe that's why Bucky touches his forehead to Steve's and pauses there, just looking at him. Steve feels like he doesn't breathe until Bucky slowly pulls away, stroking his thumb over Steve's cheekbone before he lets him go. He only realises Bucky used the hand he can feel with when the touch is gone.

"Is this a test?" He murmurs quietly, because all he wants in the world right now is to grab Bucky and kiss him senseless, throw him on the ground and carry out every guilty fantasy he's had since their first shoot together.

But he won't. He controls himself, because he never wants Bucky to feel out of control like that again.

"Just proving how special you are." Bucky smiles softly, and it's like the sun rising in Steve's heart. "To me."

Chapter Text

"My friend Peggy's bar is running this karaoke night, we should go."

It's such a simple idea, to begin with. Just a little silly bit of fun to cheer Bucky up from the grind and struggle of maintaining his early sobriety. That is until Natasha gets involved. She's some kind of social media guru, Steve learns way too late.

Two weeks after Bucky doesn't kiss Steve, they find themselves sitting in a burlesque club with a group of porn stars and camera operators, stone cold sober.

The karaoke is an experience, to say the least. Sam attempts to serenade Natasha every time he goes up, pointedly cockblocked by Clint every time. That is until Clint gets enough booze in him to be too distracted by trying to suck the face off his husband to defend his best friend's virtue. As if there was anything about her that needed defending.  

Natasha slides ones into his waistband while he straddles Phil and Thor belts out and off-key You Shook Me All Night Long, but Clint doesn't notice.

Bucky stays glued to Steve's side all night. He follows him to the bar, to say hi to Peggy and the girls (and laughs when she has a fangirl moment about Natasha Romanov being at her club), almost follows him into the bathroom until Sam comes to sit beside him while Steve isn't there. He clearly doesn't trust himself in the bar, and Steve would feel bad for bringing him if he weren't obviously having such a good time.

Bucky's eyes are clear and he's laughing, it's the best things have been for a long time.

He gets up to sing Sinatra on the karaoke and is surprisingly good, although he's shyer than usual and only seems to get into it in the second half. Steve maybe kind of fanboys out and cheers at the end, cheeks going pink when he catches Natasha smirking at him across the booth.

He can never listen to Cheek to Cheek again. Not without picturing Bucky crooning it in those damn tight jeans he always wears.

Later on Bucky leans on the bar beside him, pressing closer in a way that could be because the space is crowded, but Steve suspects it's not.

"Buy a guy a drink?" Bucky grins and hooks his chin over Steve's shoulder. He's starting to get some of his swagger back, now the shock of his past being shoved in his face is starting to wear off. Steve smiles and passes him the coke he'd been already getting his friend.

Just friend? He's not sure anymore.

"What's a nice boy like you doing in a place like this?" He quips when he meets Bucky's eyes, looking back over his shoulder with a smirk. Bucky looks like he just might blush. Steve counts that as a victory.

"What a line. Sure you ain't been drinking, Stevie?" He deflects as they push their way out of the crowd around the bar. Steve shakes his head with a little smile.

"Nah. Promised, didn't I?"

"Yeah, you did."

Bucky waits until they're out of the scrum before he goes up on his toes and kisses Steve on the cheek. It's only a shy peck of the lips, but Steve feels like he got struck by lightning right on that spot. Bucky meets his eyes and grins shyly before he turns and goes back to the table, leaving Steve standing there with his fingertips touching where Bucky's lips had been for way too long.

Shit. He can't lie to himself anymore. He's got it bad.

*

Steve's life has never been peaceful for long, and Bucky seems to bring chaos with him wherever he goes. Stability isn't either of their strong points.

This time, the chaos is only partly Bucky's fault.

"Y'know, if we played up the Captain America defeats the Winter Soldier thing-"

"No. That's not who he is anymore." Steve cuts Sitwell off immediately, not even entertaining the idea. Sitwell is a slimy bastard at the best of times, and he's been getting on Steve's last nerve today ever since he walked onto set. "I don't work with the Winter Soldier, I work with Bucky."

"I'm sorry, I didn't realise you were directing here." Sitwell shoots him a glare, but Steve doesn't wither under it. There's no dirty look that could make him do that to Bucky, not even one from Natasha.

Bucky stands a way back on set, his head dropped low as he doesn't even try and take part in the conversation. Steve's noticed him doing this, pulling back when other people talk about him like he's not part of the process of making decisions about himself, like he's an object to be decided on by others. Steve fucking hates to see him withdraw like this, especially since Bucky already seems to be in a bad place today. He'd been late this morning, so Steve hadn't seen him in the dressing room before he headed to set. When Bucky did appear, as silently and unobtrusively as he did on occasion, he didn't say a word and didn't meet a gaze.

Steve's not convinced he's okay to shoot anything at all. He knows he's not okay to shoot as the Winter Soldier.

"I'm not going to shoot anything that's not consensual." Steve holds firm, staring Sitwell down. "Not even if it's just acting. I didn't sign up for that."

"Oh come on, we're not talking about anything crazy here. A little interrogation scene, that's all. You can do a consent confirmation to camera. You can even kiss and make up at the end."

From the corner of his eye Steve sees Bucky flinch at the word interrogation. Clint must catch it too, because he abandons his camera and walks over to Bucky slowly, making sure he can see all his movements. For all his bravado, Clint is good with people and he especially seems to understand it when people need a little extra consideration. Steve doesn't know where it comes from, but he's sure as hell thankful for it.

"Easy, big guy. Come and sit down with me for a minute, alright? Don't listen to this bullshit." Clint keeps up a quiet, reassuring murmur the whole time as he shepherds Bucky away to the chairs just off set. Steve notices he keeps his hands a subtle inch away from touching Bucky's skin even when he's directing him, which gives him pause, curious.

Then he catches on. Phil must have told Clint about the tapes. Clint might have seen the tapes, he might have seen Bucky like this before. Clint might be the only other person here who actually knows what Bucky is going through. Steve feels a jolt of relief through his whole body, and he rounds on Sitwell with new fire now that he knows Bucky's got someone making sure he's okay.

"No. No interrogation scene, no dubious consent, nothing. I'm not filming that shit."

"Fury signed off on it and you're on a probationary contract, Rogers. You don't get a say in what you film."

"Then I wanna speak to Fury, this is bullshit." Steve folds his arms, drawing himself up to his full height and trying to be as intimidating as possible. He's not really used to being the aggressor in a situation, he was always defending in fights, but he'll go to bat for Bucky if he needs to.

"You need to shut—"

There's a sudden clack and the glasses fly off Sitwell's face. A biro falls to the ground by his feet, and Steve quickly works out that's the weapon that caused the damage. With some serious accuracy. He turns to see Clint trying not to smirk as Sitwell fumbles on the floor for his glasses.

Hawkeye. Huh.

"Sorry Jasper, my hand slipped." Clint waves Steve over to where he's sitting next to Bucky, whose eyes are now screwed tight shut. "I need a word, Rogers."

Steve's only too happy to leave the conversation that's going precisely nowhere he likes and jog over to Clint. He instinctively reaches for Bucky but Clint shakes his head, stopping his hand with a gesture.

"We've got a problem here." He speaks quietly, doing his best not to be overheard as he makes sure Sitwell is far away from them. "Bucky can't shoot."

"It's okay, there's no way Sitwell got Fury to sign off on a scene like this. It's not gonna happen." Steve puts his hand gently on Bucky's knee, but he doesn't react even slightly. Clint sighs reluctantly, hating to be the bearer of bad news.

"That's not what I mean. Barnes ain't sober."

The bottom drops out of Steve's stomach and he looks up in time to meet Bucky's now open, clouded eyes. His heart sinks down to the soles of his feet. Three weeks of sobriety down the drain. Shit.

"Shit Bucky, why?"

"I didn't mean to." The first thing he's said since he got here, and it's so slurred that Steve can hardly make it out. Bucky's pupils are pinpricks, and Steve wants to shake him and hold him tight at the same time.

"So why'd you do it?" He has to know, has to know where he went wrong in trying to help Bucky stay on the wagon. He'd tried so hard, he needs to know how he can fix it this time.

"Sasha called me." Bucky's head almost lolls but he just catches himself in time. There's a faint accent colouring his words now, and Steve knows he must be trashed to let that slip out. "He wants me back."

Steve can't deny that the words sting, though he's only going on assumptions. An ex-boyfriend, maybe? He's not kidding himself that he and Bucky are together, but he didn't know there was someone else immediately in the picture. Or maybe not, because Clint's face twists into a scowl at the name.

"You said you weren't gonna take his calls, man." He sighs and pulls his phone out of his pocket. "I'm gonna text Natasha, okay? She'll take you home."

That's when things get really fucked up.

"What the hell are you all whispering about? We're supposed to be shooting already." Sitwell stomps over, and though Steve gets up to try and deflect him, he catches sight of Bucky's limp posture and difficulty keeping his eyes open, and a nasty smirk crosses his face.

"Jasper—"

"This is the last straw, Barnes." Sitwell looks furious, but there's an odd glint of triumph in his eyes that catches Steve's attention. What the fuck is this guy's problem with Bucky? "This is your third strike being intoxicated on set. You know the rules."

"Sitwell, you can't—"

"Shut your mouth Barton, or I'm gonna have you in Fury's office for trying to help him hide it. I don't care who you're married to." He turns back to Bucky, who's trying so hard to keep it together. "Consider your contract terminated. Now get the hell off my set."

Bucky doesn't say a word, he just forces himself silently to his feet and heads unsteadily for the door. Steve immediately tries to go after him, but Clint grabs his arm and holds him back. He's saying something about contracts, but Steve is only vaguely aware of his voice as he watches Bucky leave. Everything fades to static as he leaves the room.

Bucky looks back over his shoulder at the door and catches Steve's eye for a moment. He forces a wavering smile and it looks like it cuts the corners of his mouth to pull it.  It looks like the sad end of a movie.

It looks like goodbye.

Chapter Text

Natasha Romanov is fucking terrifying when she's angry.

"You fired Barnes?"

It's the first time Steve has ever seen something like shock on Natasha's face. Usually it seems like the world exists around her, that she's quietly orchestrating every aspect of it and nothing fazes her. She'd arrived at the studio fifteen minutes after Bucky had been unceremoniously kicked out, and it's the only time she's ever looked like someone pulled the rug from under her.

She has Sitwell up against the wall, her hand twisted in his shirt collar, and he splutters for a second as her face hardens further. She lets him go and he stumbles back, rubbing his throat like he's trying to prove he can sue for damages. Natasha doesn't give a shit.

"Steve, call Pepper." Her tone is clipped, like she's delivering orders. "Tell her Tony needs to know about this."

"Who's Tony?"

"Just do it."

"You can't threaten me with Stark when I followed the rules!" Sitwell buts in, having finally stopped practising his goldfish impression now he's free to breathe as much air as he wants. "Barnes can't break them just because he's Stark's pet."

Natasha has him by the throat again before Steve can blink. The throat this time, not the collar.

He's sure her nails are going to leave crescent welts in Sitwell's flesh, and he can't find it in himself to care.

"Bucky is nobody's pet." Natasha hisses at him even as Steve dials Pepper's number, worried this could turn into a murder scene if he doesn't find some authority to intervene. "Do you fucking understand me, ublyudok?"

"She says they're in the neighbourhood." Steve hangs up as soon as he gives Pepper the gist of what's going on. "They're coming by now. Please don't kill anyone until they get here."

*

Alexander shows up at the club during Bucky's second week.

He'd quit if he had the option to, quite honestly. Stripping isn't something he enjoys at all. Sure, he likes the attention and he likes the tips, but the hours are crap and he doesn't enjoy the stupid costumes. He's never been into rubber or leather, and booty shorts just kind of make him feel embarrassed, not to mention the jock straps. And the fact that guys get leery as hell when they hear his stupid accent.

He thinks Alexander is one of these types to begin with, when he has the waiter call Bucky over after his set is finished. It's part of the job, hosting the customers, so Bucky's happy to sit with him and have his drinks bought and laugh at the old guy's stupid non-jokes. His eyes light up when he hears Bucky's soft Russian accent, so Bucky plays it up for the tips. He deliberately fucks his words up, plays the wide-eyed, innocent foreigner even though he's been living in Brooklyn since he was fifteen.

Bucky even calls the guy Sasha, the Russian shortening of his name. He can see the bulge in the guy's pants even in the dark of the club.

"You're such a beautiful boy." He strokes his sweaty-paper fingers over Bucky's cheek and Bucky keeps the ditzy smile on his face and carefully doesn't flinch. "So exquisite."

Alexander turns up three days later with a contact. Bucky hadn't realised he was getting good grope-money from the Alexander Pierce, head of Hydra Pictures. The contract almost sounds too good to be true: more than three times what he's making right now to film a few hours of fucking a week, plus profits from the videos. Bucky's reading of English is just perfect, usually, but he's been bought a few drinks by the time Alexander gives him the contract so he can't verify it exactly for himself. But why would he lie to him, Bucky reasons, Sasha's infatuated with him. Pierce wants to pretend this is Pretty Woman, not take advantage of him.

Bucky signs the contract and quits his job then and there. More drinks to celebrate.

Alexander takes him home. Bucky doesn't remember what happens after that.

That's the first time he blacks out.

*

Tony Stark waltzes into the room and casually points at Sitwell.

"Okay, first off, so fired. Go. Go far away." He waves his hand to shoo the man away dismissively, and Sitwell scarpers quickly like he knows what's good for him.

Steve's a little star struck, he's never actually seen the Tony Stark in real life, only on the TV. Stark had once been Iron Man, the most notorious crossover porn star of the 80s. He'd become a household name and a media personality after breaking the world record for most expensive porn movie ever shot, a movie that had somehow accidentally been broadcast during half time at the Superbowl. Tony Stark was infamous before he was famous, even though he claimed to have nothing to do with his video getting swapped with a Pepsi commercial while billions of people were watching.

Ten years, two cocaine-induced heart attacks, and one almost-tragic descent into alcoholism later, Stark went legit. He set up Shield Entertainment and became the champion of a clean-run adult industry, an advocate of condom-only shoots and performer veto powers, contracts that didn't terminate without cause and a realistic living wage for performers. He testified in front of the Senate when condom laws in California were up for reform and won.

Tony Stark is kind of a folk hero in the industry, and now Steve is standing in front of him without any pants on.

"Secondly, who even hired that guy?" Tony carries on, looking around like someone owes him an answer. He's holding a giant cup of coffee and he seems to be buzzing with energy even though he's standing still. "Seriously. Hydra, all over his file. Am I the only one who background checks?"

"The same guy who hired Brock Rumlow." Pepper interjects, tapping away on her PDA.

"Ah, that snake in the grass." Tony makes a note on the tablet he's carrying. Steve's a little perplexed by all the technology that seemed to follow this guy into a room. "So what happened?"

"Barnes was pretty out of it. I think he drank on opiates, it looked pretty similar to last time. Benzos maybe. He'd been sober for almost a month before that." Clint explains, and Steve's head starts spinning even worse than before. Last time? What doesn't he know? "He was working through the trigger before Sitwell kicked him out."

"What was the trigger?"

"Sitwell wanted to film an interrogation scene. Steve told him no but he wouldn't let up."

Tony turns to Pepper, his face darkening.

"Pep, make a note to rehire Sitwell and fire him again immediately. I need the satisfaction of doing it twice."

*

"Oh, you poor boy."

Bucky doesn't know what's happening. He's outside. There are leaves under his face. He feels grit and dirt ground into his knees. He's cold. He hurts.

"What have those animals done to you?" There's warmth over him. A blanket?

"Sasha?" He forces his eyes open and Pierce's face swims into focus. He looks concerned.

"It's alright, James. I'm going to help you now." There is a blanket over him, and Pierce kneels down in the dirt beside him. Bucky curls into his arms with a whimper because now he remembers why it hurts.

"It's going to be okay, you'll never have to see those men again. I'm here to protect you. I didn't know they'd do that to you." Pierce strokes his hair like a pet and Bucky buries his face in his shoulder as tears spill down his cheeks. Pierce means safety. Pierce won't let them hurt him anymore.

That's how it was, in the beginning. About half his shoots would 'go wrong' and then Alexander would be there when it was all over, pulling Bucky into his arms and cleaning him up. Alexander would show up every time and save him.

Then there were only wrong shoots. Except they weren't wrong, because Alexander was there and Bucky knew he was supposed to do what Alexander said. Alexander was safety.

Bucky hears the word 'grooming' much later. At the time he just doesn't understand.

*

"Okay, we can't have him back if he's not sober. Barton, ask Phil to look into that detox place from last time. Natasha, I know I can trust you to bring him in. Just make sure you tread lightly, you know how fast this can go south."

Steve finally speaks up as Tony keeps rattling off plans and instructions. He feels like he's missing something important here, but being kept in the loop isn't his number one priority. Bucky, however, is.

"Don't you think it's kinda irresponsible, Mr Stark? Getting Bucky into porn again? This could be a way out for him."

"Let's see. A drug addict in New York with work experience that extends to stripping, porn, and prostitution. Sounds employable." Tony turns to him with his eyebrows raised, and Steve feels the assessment in his gaze as it rakes up and down his body. "In case you didn't get the memo, new guy, he has to work to eat. If I ran a bakery, he'd be making cakes. But I don't. This is the job I could give him, and he chose to take it."

"If he's so godamn unemployable then why'd you take him on in the first place?" Steve bristles at Bucky being reduced to the sum of his worst parts. That's not the man he knows, not even if it's all factually correct.

Stark sighs and shakes his head in what seems to be a rare display of emotion that doesn't involve sarcasm. He recognises that Steve has Bucky's best interests at heart, if only because he's defending him so vehemently, but he also knows that Steve doesn't understand all the facts.

"I saw the Winter Soldier tapes and I couldn't let that happen to someone. We pulled him out of Hydra as soon as we could." Stark's voice is quiet, for once. "Ever heard of Stockholm Syndrome? He didn't see it as a rescue. We had to offer him a better contract and go the business route. Hydra didn't want to let him go."

"So why'd he choose you over Hydra?"

"Because we bought Natasha's contract, got her out too." Pepper fills in. Natasha nods slightly to confirm it.   

"We promised he'd never be the Winter Soldier again." Tony looks angry at the world. "And I think we just lost his trust."

*

"Sasha, please? I hate those videos."

"I know you do sweetheart." Pierce cups his cheek gently and Bucky hates himself for turning his hand into the touch. He doesn't receive affection often and he craves it like oxygen these last few years. "But the pills help, don't they? You're doing so well for us."

"Yeah, they do. But I… I don't want to be the Soldier anymore, Sasha. The pills make me forget stuff and I hate being—"

He's cut off with a sharp yelp as the gentle hand on his cheek draws back and slaps him hard across the face.

"You ungrateful little bitch. Everything I've done for you and now you want to turn your back on me?" Pierce's voice softens and then there's a hand in Bucky's hair, turning him carefully but firmly around to look Alexander in the eye. "You've done so much for this company, James. You know it's just a few more Soldier shoots before we'll have made enough money to retire the character."

"B-But I… I don't want to do this anymore." His hands are shaking and he wants to run. He wants to run but he has nowhere to go. Alexander hasn't let him speak to anyone outside the company for weeks, he doesn't have any outside friends left in New York.

Pierce sighs and leans back to press a button on his intercom. A burly guy Bucky vaguely recognises comes into the office almost immediately, preparing a syringe with some kind of clear liquid.

"This will help you calm down, James. Don't fight it." Pierce strokes his hair gently and Bucky lets out a little whimper as the needle slides into his neck. But he doesn't fight it. He doesn't even move.

At least he forgets, when they drug him.

*

Despite their best efforts, they can't find Bucky.

Steve lets himself into the apartment with the spare key his friend had given him for emergencies. The pile of DVDs is still there, the photographs on the wall are still there, the clothes and small stack of books are still there.

Bucky isn't there. His cell phone and wallet are sitting neatly on the bedside table. He can't have gone far, that's what Steve tells himself.

Steve falls asleep on the couch, waiting for Bucky to come home. He's woken up by the morning sun streaming in through the bare windows, but the bedroom is still empty when he checks. The phone is still there, the wallet, anything that could have let Bucky leave on his own. Something is wrong.

It's like Bucky has fallen off the face of the Earth.

Chapter Text

Bucky goes to ground.

He's a ghost again. No one can find him, not even with Shield's money and network of contacts. They can't even put word out that he's missing, not when he's technically a grown man who doesn't work for them anymore. Bucky's free to disappear whenever he wants, and it's not just his friends left in limbo that suffer from it.

Another Winter Soldier tape is released two weeks after Steve last sees him. Bucky's eyes are unfocused and he grins vacantly for the camera when he's told to. It doesn't look like he's slept or showered since he left, and there's a thick stubble on his chin where there's usually just a five o'clock shadow. The dark circles under his eyes look like tattoos, like they hurt.

A hand comes into frame and pats his lank hair like a dog.

"Good boy."

Bucky smiles.

Then everything else happens.

Steve breaks his laptop when he throws it against the wall, unable to watch his friend be abused when he's too out of it to fight back. Peggy comes into his bedroom to ask him what the hell he's doing and ends up with Steve burying his face in her neck and trying very hard not to break down in tears. Tears aren't going to help him find Bucky. Nothing is.

He's never felt this helpless, not even when he was a tiny kid without hope of winning a fight. At least then he had something to fight against. He can't fight for Bucky. He can't fight a ghost.

*

"We're gonna have you working with Sharon today."

Steve looks over at the woman, who gives him a wide smile. She's all blonde hair and lithe body and kind of everything Steve likes in women, and he should be excited but something inside him just withers. He smiles back sheepishly, giving her a little wave. She doesn't wave back, not his kind of dork.

"C'mon, don't look like I shot your puppy." Banner puts his hand on Steve's arm sympathetically. "It's a good opportunity to keep up your corrupted straight boy image, y'know? And your paperwork says you're bi so we didn't think it'd be a problem."

"No. No, it's not a problem." Because yeah, Sharon is like every jerk-off fantasy about girls Steve ever had come to life. It's just that she's not…

"You'll find him." Banner smiles carefully, bittersweet and encouraging. Everyone at Shield seems to know about Steve and Bucky, even if there had barely been a 'Steve and Bucky' in the first place. "But the world's gotta keep turning until you do."

Steve doesn't have any words left, so he just nods. He films the scene and gets along well with Sharon and even makes her come for real. It's like the perfect first shoot he didn't have.

But it's not right. Not without Bucky.

As it turns out, the fans don't like it either. The Captain America section of Shield's website is flooded with negative comments, and Gay Star News even runs a piece called Captain America: Gay for Pay? Steve isn't happy about any of it, no matter how much people tell him the poor reception isn't his fault.

The next week he's banging twinks in some kind of military boot camp scene, and the internet is happy again.

Steve isn't.

*

More than a month after Steve last sees Bucky, he gets a text message from a number he doesn't recognise.

can i meet u im at th karaoke place imiss u stevie

Steve's fairly sure he knocks over a lot of people getting there, considering he pretty much runs the few blocks to Peggy's club. He stands there getting his breath back for a second, scanning the bar before he catches sight of Bucky tucked into a booth in the back of the room.

If he'd thought Bucky didn't look good when he first met him, it's nothing on how strung out he looks now. It looks like he's lost fifteen pounds, his cheekbones sharp as razors in the dim light. His hair is too long now, but it's carefully brushed and secured back in a small bun. He's dressed differently too, looking more like a hooker than Steve had ever seen him before. He looks like a doll that someone's been dressing up.

It takes Steve a matter of seconds to cross the club and then he's scooping Bucky up into his arms, totally unable to hold himself back no matter that he knows he should be cautious. Bucky makes a startled sound but relaxes when he realises who it is, hugging Steve back one-armed and resting his forehead on his shoulder. He's warm, he's alive, and he's in once piece. Steve can't believe his luck.

"Where the fuck have you been?" Steve's voice is choked when he finally gets the words out. He holds Bucky at arm's length and looks at him, noticing the way his left arm hangs limply at his side but deciding not to comment on it yet. "Are you okay? I… I saw that fucking video."

"What video?" Bucky asks vaguely. He's not sober and Steve doesn't know why he'd expected anything different, but the faraway sound of his voice still stings. "I haven't done any, Sasha's just taking care of me for a little while."

"Buck…" Steve wants to throw up. Bucky's standing there smiling at Steve like he's the centre of the universe, and it seems like he doesn't even know he's been abused all over again.

"I'm really glad to see you, Stevie." Bucky pulls him into another one-armed hug, and Steve figures they need to sit down.

"Why did you take off?" Steve guides them carefully into the booth and still can't bring himself to take his hands off Bucky, touching him carefully on the arm and the shoulder while they sit there. If he stops touching him, maybe he'll turn into a ghost and disappear again. "I looked for you, we all did. I went to your apartment but you never came back."

"I'm sorry Stevie, I didn't mean to just disappear." Bucky rests his head on Steve's shoulder, surprising him because he's not used to his friend seeking out contact like this. Bucky is definitely on something. "Sasha just surprised me, is all. I've got this awesome contract with Hydra now. I know it's kinda defecting from the team, but you should see what they pay, man."

"Buck… I don't think you know what you're getting yourself into." Steve points out, hesitantly. Bucky yanks himself away all the same, no matter how gentle the voice had been.

"You think I can't take care of myself?" Bucky's face twists into the façade of a grin and he shakes his head. "You're no better than anyone else at that fuckin' company."

"That's not what I meant." Steve grimaces as he realises he managed to step on one of those landmines hidden inside Bucky again. "I know you can take care of yourself, I just think you've got a blind spot for Pierce and he's taking advantage of that."

"He's not taking advantage of anything, Steve. Don't worry." Bucky waves him off and his face finally relaxes into something resembling a smile. "I haven't even filmed anything for them yet. My arm's been kinda messed up, so Sasha's just been helping me out for a while."

"Helping you out like keeping you from contacting your friends?" Steve presses, and Bucky looks down at his hands to avoid the accusation in his eyes. "Your arm was working in the video, Buck. It must've got hurt when they—"

"There isn't a video!" Bucky almost yells, attracting attention from a few tables nearby. Steve realises he's stepping on something sensitive here, but he can't figure out why Bucky keeps denying it. He ignores the curious stares and focuses on his friend, who looks like he's teetering on the edge of a meltdown here.

"I think they drugged you, Bucky. You were pretty out of it, maybe that's why you don't remember." He keeps his voice low, soft, trying not to set him off into a panic. "Listen, okay? I want you to come home with me. Shield want to give you your contract back, and Coulson's found this detox place you can go to. It'd be much better than—"

"This is exactly what Sasha said you'd do." The disbelieving laugh sounds like it hurts Bucky's throat, raw from things Steve doesn't even want to picture. "Try and make me go back because you think I'm some dumbass kid who can't take care of myself."

"Bucky, that's not—"

"I wanted to see you because I fucking missed you, and all you do is try and manipulate me." Bucky's actually close to tears, and Steve wants to burn Hydra down and shield Bucky from everything trying to hurt him. The erratic behaviour is scaring him, Bucky must be on some heavy chemicals to make him act like this. "Sasha doesn't even know I'm here. Why would I do that if he was some kind of monster like you're trying to make out?"

"Why would you have to sneak out to see me if he wasn't?"

Bucky's mouth opens and closes for a moment before he seems to hit a wall in his head and his face goes blank. Steve doesn't know what the hell he just witnessed but it sends a thrill of terror through his limbs as Bucky stands up slowly, like he's dreaming. It's as if someone pressed the reset button and he's returned to his factory settings, to obedience and loyalty to Pierce.

"I shouldn't have come." He mumbles, turning to head for the door.

"Bucky, no. Wait." Steve reaches out to grab his shoulder but Bucky runs. Before he can make contact his friend is gone right out of the club, slipping through his fingers right when Steve should have been able to hold him close again.

Steve is calling Natasha before the door swings fully shut behind Bucky. He's not letting him go again.

Chapter Text

Bucky's mouth tastes like ash.

He comes around slowly, gradually registering the grey light filtering through his window that suggests it's still early. He's used to waking up in the afternoon, around four or five or even later depending on how hard he partied the night before. Although it's only partying in name only, because he spends most of his time smiling at the people Alexander tells him to smile at, accepting drinks from guys who touch him under the table and pretending it doesn't make him feel dirty.

He's a product. He's a good boy.

Sometimes he passes out and comes around in back rooms or cars while he's being fucked. At first he struggles, but eventually he runs out of energy. Eventually he just lets it happen, he knows these are important people and Alexander will be disappointed if he upsets them. He knows he's merchandise, he's an asset, working for Hydra. Eventually he just closes his eyes, grits his teeth, and takes it.

And if he pictures blonde hair and blue eyes and gentle hands to get through it, then no one has to know. Alexander can't see inside his head, it's the last place of privacy Bucky has.

Bucky pushes himself to sit up gingerly, waiting to see if he's sore anywhere as he cautiously moves his muscles a little at a time. It turns out he's okay, for once. He can't remember the night before, and he thinks maybe Alexander got bored with playing and just slipped him something to make him sleep. His arm has even got a little feeling back, and he flexes it carefully with a ragged, grateful sigh.

He'd figured out Alexander had been doing something to make his arm worse pretty early on. He's not sure if it's a drug or something Alexander does when he's out of it, but Bucky knows the guy likes to have him helpless when he doesn't need him to perform. Sometimes Bucky wakes up and he can't do a damn thing for himself because of his stupid dead arm. Somehow Alexander is always there at those times, always prepared to help Bucky get dressed and brush his hair and pet him like a child that needs comfort.

Sometimes Bucky's even grateful for it. Or he was to start with.

Seeing Steve was a bad idea. Bucky thinks about the sad curve of his mouth in the dim club light as he stumbles to the bathroom. He wishes he'd met Steve somewhere brightly lit, now that the memories are fading in a haze of chemicals. If he'd been able to see his face in the light, maybe he'd have been able to remember it better. But then he'd miss him more, and the double-edged sword of that cuts him deeply.

Alexander had been so angry when he found out Bucky saw Steve. He'd slapped him before when he'd misbehaved, but that night was the first time he punched him, got him on the ground and kicked bruises into his ribs. And Bucky still found himself sobbing out apologies with all the air he had in his burning lungs. Because he was the one who'd misbehaved. He was the one who'd malfunctioned. Things have been worse since then, since he let Alexander down.

The mirror is dirty, and he doesn't recognise the man staring back when he looks into it. It's not that the hair is reaching halfway to his shoulders now, not the bruises, not the too-sharp points of his bones. It's that he looks into the eyes and sees nothing, it's as if he's all hollowed out. A blow-up doll with nothing inside but air.

He's not sure who he is anymore, Bucky or the Soldier.

He doesn't feel a thing.

He blinks and somehow there's a knife from the kitchen in his hand, blood flowing from slashes to his damaged arm. He blinks and starts and drops the knife, grabbing for a towel with shaking hands to press against the cuts. He doesn't remember doing it. He can't feel it. He doesn't remember a thing.

It's is the worst blackout he's had so far. The chemicals Pierce puts in seemingly everything Bucky consumes leave him in a haze most of the time, but the blackouts are the things that scare him. He'll wake up in different clothes, a different house, the middle of a conversation, with no memory of what he's done or how he got there. This one is worse, he's never hurt himself before.

His phone buzzes pushily from the bedside table and Bucky jumps. He has a sudden flash of memory, of Steve putting him to bed, checking his phone works beside him call me if you need me, but he's not sure if it's real or not. It's fuzzy at the edges like a half-remembered dream.

On autopilot, Bucky checks his arm to make sure the bleeding has stopped and the cuts aren't too bad. Can't damage the merchandise. That's all he is now. If he damages it enough, maybe no one else will want to buy.

There's something in the back of his mind that tells him that might be a good idea.

His phone buzzes again and he blinks, dropping the knife he didn't realise he'd picked up again. He needs to get away from it, he can't trust himself. Alexander is probably pissed he hasn't answered the phone anyway, because who knows how much time has passed between the first and second message. Bucky drops the bloodied towel and backs away from the sink, moving back into the bedroom to find out what he's needed for now.

Pierce isn't the one who needs him.

Please come back.

I miss you.

Bucky stares at the phone, and something in his eyes flickers back to life.

*

After three days of hiding in his bedroom, Steve finally gets a grip on himself.

His last couple of shoots have been disastrous. The first, the guy he was supposed to fuck had dark hair and a crooked grin and Steve could barely get it up because he kept picturing the third Winter Soldier tape that had been released since Bucky left (there are five in total now, each one makes Steve sicker). The second, he'd been so zoned out while working that his eyes looked dead on camera, the shots ruined and unable to be used. Fury's benched him for nothing but solo shoots and pictures for a couple of weeks until he gets his shit together. He's kind of grateful.

Steve doesn't know how he managed to screw up a career in porn, but he can't even talk to his Mom about it for reassurance. His friends try to help, but they don't get it. Clint is the most helpful, takes him out for a beer and gets Phil to pick them up when Steve gets way too drunk and weepy. He and Phil hadn't had the easiest time of it when they got together, Phil denied there was anything between them for the longest time, and hearing that and seeing them happy helps, just a little.

It also inspires outrageous, fierce jealousy. But it's not like he was Bucky's boyfriend or anything, so Steve just keeps his mouth shut.

It's still early in the day, so he goes for a jog around the block. Instead, a half hour passes and he finds himself in a different, familiar neighbourhood. He sighs and knocks at the door of the house that's become like a second home over the last few months, anticipating the reaction his confession is going to get.

"I kinda have a problem." Steve rubs his neck awkwardly, standing on Sam's doorstep like a runaway teen. "I think I'm in love with Bucky."

"Oh, hell fucking no." Sam scowls, grabs him by the collar, and yanks him into the apartment. He slams the door and stalks into the kitchen, muttering to himself. "How do I end up dealing with these fucked up white boy love lives all the time?"

"Uh… I'm sorry?"

"Just shut up and drink." Sam tosses him a beer with a truly impressive eye roll. Steve fumbles the catch gracelessly and squints at the can.

"It's pretty early still…"

"Do I look like I care? We're talking about Bucky Barnes, it's appropriate." Sam pops the tab on his own can and sits down at the kitchen table with an exaggerated sigh. "Now, explain to me why the fuck you think you're in love with that car crash of a boy."

"I… I dunno how to explain it." Steve sits down and suddenly isn't as reluctant to open his own drink now he realises he has to actually talk about this stuff. "I knew I had a crush on him from like, day one. But then I got to know him and... We were just starting something, maybe, when he… left."

"You were starting something. Maybe." Sam looks at him pointedly and Steve shrugs, looking down at his hands sheepishly.

"I made him lunch." Steve knows he sounds like a pre-schooler and his cheeks go a little red. "He kissed me on the cheek."

"Man, I thought Clint was kidding when he said you were from the nineteen-fucking-forties."

"Shut up, okay? It was different to how it sounds." Steve glares at him and Sam holds up his hands in acquiescence. "We had something. It wasn't based on sex, for once, and he was driving it because I wasn't gonna let him feel like he was being taken advantage of again. And then he left, and I've been a fucking mess ever since."

"Steve, listen." Sam's voice is softer now, the tone he gets when he's trying to reason with someone. "I know you're hurting because he's gone, I've seen it up close, but even if he was here that's something you'd have to get used to. Guys like Bucky, addicts, this is what they do. They bail out and they let you down, they break promises and they fuck up over and over even when they don't mean to. They break your heart, and the power of love isn't enough to fix them."

"He's not… It wouldn't be like that." Steve finishes, lamely. He guesses he hasn't exactly thought about that part. He's been so focused on getting Bucky back that everything else has come second.

Sam smiles sadly and gets up, pulling a photograph from the collection stuck on the refrigerator door and setting it reverently in front of Steve. Steve looks curiously at the picture of Sam and another guy sitting on a couch, laughing at something out of shot. It looks faded, the corners of it dull where the shine has been worn off.

"I was with Riley since we were kids. Must've been together for eight years or more, never could decide when we actually went from friends screwing around to being together for real." There's a sad warmth in Sam's voice that sounds like Bucky's hand had felt, the burn against Steve's cheek that didn't hurt anymore. "He got into heroin, OD'd five years ago. I tried everything I could to help him get off it. I always thought I could fix him if I just loved him enough."

There's silence for a long moment, then Sam takes the photograph back and carefully puts it back in its place on the refrigerator.

"I know you see me hitting on Tasha and having a good time now, but that's because it's been five years since I lost him. I was a wreck for most of that time, I'm still kinda wrecked now. Guys like him and Bucky, they can destroy you, fuck you up for years or maybe forever if you let them in."

"I don't care." The response is formed and out before Steve can hesitate. He doesn't want to. Bucky could fuck him up over and over and, he realises, he'd keep begging for more.

"I know you think you've got something special, okay? But maybe you need to consider what'll happen if he isn't the kind you can save, Steve." Sam's voice is calm, and Steve appreciates the care but he doesn't need it. He's made up his mind.

"I've gotta try."

*

It's pouring with rain by the time he leaves Sam's apartment, and Steve feels like an idiot as he runs home in his shorts. He gets completely soaked, and the first thing he does when he gets into his apartment is hop into an extremely hot shower. It's a habit left over from when he was small and sickly, when a cold on top of whatever other disease he was carrying at the time could have landed him in the hospital they couldn't afford.

The second thing he does, after he warms up, is boot up his new laptop. He's already making plans in his head: looking for loopholes in the Hydra consent forms Coulson had smuggled him a copy of, trying to find out where Hydra films the tapes, tracing Bucky's last steps. He's even thinking about rehabs and addiction and how to deal with it if Bucky doesn't want to be with him at all. He thinks he could handle it if he knew he was safe.

He almost ignores the buzz of the intercom, probably a delivery guy looking for another apartment again, until he remembers that Peggy's lost her keys. Three times in a month, way more than that in a year, it's ridiculous. Reluctant to leave the page he's reading, Steve still gets up and buzzes her in because he's nice like that. He's not so nice that he won't mess with her though, waits until she knocks at the door to let her in rather than just do it straight off.

It's not Peggy.

Bucky is standing on the other side of the door, soaking wet and totally bedraggled. His hair has grown even longer since Steve saw him, and it clings to his forehead and cheeks in ratty strands as he peers through it with big, frightened eyes. There are wounds on the arm that hangs uselessly by his left side, unmoving. He's thin and pale and shivering in the t-shirt he'd walked through a storm in, but he's here. He's real, he's not a ghost.

He walked through a storm and he's here.

"Steve…"

All of Sam's warnings fall right out of his head, and Steve does what he should have done last time.

He reaches out and pulls Bucky into his arms, cupping his face in his hands and kissing him. His cheeks are wet and his lips taste like salt and rainwater, and Steve runs his thumbs over the sharp edges of his face and Bucky lets out what he's pretty sure is a sob. But he curls his fingers in Steve's shirt and Steve can feel his pulse strong against his wrist.

He's here, he's not a ghost. He walked through a storm and he's here.

Steve pulls Bucky inside and closes the door, never letting go. He's not sure he could if he tried.

Chapter Text

Steve is way more out of his depth than he anticipated.

He'd expected Bucky to shy away from physical contact after what he'd seen, after the times before when Steve had tried to be gentle to him and had been rebuffed, but it turns out that that's only kind of true. Bucky spends that first night not-sleeping in Steve's bed, curled up like a cat beside him but never getting close enough to touch. Steve gets up to shower in the morning and finds Bucky asleep on the floor in front of the bathroom door when he comes out. It's like he can't stand to be more than a few feet away from Steve, to begin with.

Work is out of the question. Doing anything that involves leaving the apartment is out of the question, he realises as Bucky starts to shake and still won't leave his side. Withdrawal or something else, Steve doesn't know. He can't ask the question usefully because he won't get an answer.

Bucky hasn't said a word except his name since he got here. Steve is so, so out of his depth.

As soon as the sun comes up, he calls Sam. Sam turns up half an hour later with Natasha (interesting development, she must have stayed the night. Steve files this information away for later teasing when the timing is appropriate). Bucky's just started throwing up at that point, and Steve is more than grateful for having someone else there to tell him if his not-boyfriend is about to die or not.

"Fever, puking, shakes?" Sam rattles of the symptoms dispassionately and Steve nods to all of them. Natasha's in the bathroom with Bucky, murmuring something in Russian that Steve can only just make out. "Sounds like opiate withdrawal, but it could be anything. You've got no idea what they had him on?"

"He hasn't spoken, Sam. I'm not exaggerating." Steve just about growls, and he hopes his friend understands that it's because he's scared, not because of anything Sam's done.

Bucky was kind of right when he poked fun at Steve for being a good kid: he's never been around drugs and he finds it hard to handle everyone else's blasé attitude to Bucky's insides trying to get outside of him. This is so outside his realm of experience that it's just scary. Sam lays his hand on Steve's shoulder, using that gentle voice again.

"I saw the videos, man. More than likely he's traumatised as fuck."

"When I saw him in the bar… he didn't even remember that he'd been in videos. He flat-out denied it." There's a note of hysteria creeping into his voice. "I dunno what they had him on but if he remembers all that shit at once—"

"Steve, breathe. There's nothing you can do. We'll keep an eye on him and take it one step at a time." Sam's eyes meet Steve's steadily, reassuring. "We're gonna be here, alright? We'll figure this out."

They lapse into silence, broken when Natasha emerges from the bathroom. She looks slightly pale, and that terrifies Steve as much as seeing Bucky's arm cut to shreds had. Nothing rattles her: she's not the emotionless robot that some people at Shield seem to think, but she's calm and collected and can put a brave face on any situation. If Natasha's visibly affected by this, it can't be good.

"It's not all drugs." She speaks quietly, clearly worried about Bucky overhearing from behind the bathroom door. "He's fucking terrified."

"Sure he is, but he's safe here. If we can convince him—"

Natasha shakes her head, and Steve stops in his tracks.

"His memory is shot. I don't know what they gave him, but he barely remembers anything from the last year or so. He knows me, but he thought I still worked at Hydra. It seems like his memories go in and out like a shitty TV signal. He remembers you, Steve, but he doesn't know why."

Steve feels like he got hit by a sledgehammer.

"Woah, okay. You are way too big to faint on me." Sam guides Steve over to the couch when he sees the blood drain from his friend's face. Steve hasn't had a panic attack since he was thirteen years old, but now seems like the time for them to make a reappearance.

"What the fuck are we gonna do?" He chokes out, once he's sure he isn't about to join Bucky in puking his guts up when he opens his mouth.

"Well we need to do something, and fast." Natasha's talking to Sam now, probably rightly assuming that Steve's still too stuck on the Bucky doesn't remember him thing to be much help. "He's traumatised, everything he buried before is hitting him all at once. I couldn't get much out of him, but he thinks Pierce is going to find him and punish him for leaving. He remembers the chair."

"The chair? Wha—"

Steve's contribution is clearly not needed at this point, as Sam speaks over him.

"Is it a legitimate threat?"

"It's Hydra, I'd say so." Natasha shrugs. "And he needs to see a doctor. His arm isn't moving and as far as I can tell he's got other injuries."

"We need to call Stark." Steve finally gets a work in edgeways, but Sam shakes his head.

"Nah, Stark will get outraged and get into it with Pierce. It'll end up public, everyone will know where Bucky is and what happened to him." He sighs. "We need to keep it quiet for now."

"So where's he going to be safe if Hydra's looking for him? He needs to be in a hospital." Steve suggests. Sam looks like he's considering it for a moment before he makes a triumphant noise in his throat as an idea hits him.

"Clint and Phil's." He looks over to Natasha to confirm and grins when she nods.

"Why would their house be safer than a hospital? Or maybe calling the cops right about now?"

"Ah, you don't know yet." Sam raises his eyebrows and fills him in. "They're both ex-military. Clint was a sniper and Coulson was involved in ten types of black-ops we're not supposed to know about. If Buck's gonna be safe anywhere in the city, it'll be with them."

Hawkeye. Huh.

"You get them, I'll get the big guy." Natasha nods, pulling out her cell phone and pressing a speed-dial. "Banner's still technically qualified, right?"

"He didn't renew his licence, but that don't mean shit."

The soft click of the bathroom door sounds loud as a gunshot through the conversation to Steve, and he looks up to see Bucky emerging from the bathroom, pale and shivering. He stands up and walks over slowly, not wanting to startle him.

"Are you okay?" Bucky ducks his head and looks down at his bare feet, and Steve suppresses a shudder at the uncharacteristically submissive gesture. "D'you want some water?"

Bucky twitches and his eyes dart up to Natasha. She breaks off from her conversation with Banner immediately and nods at him.

"Vam razreshayut."

Bucky's shoulders relax a fraction when he's given permission, but he still doesn't meet Steve's eyes when he addresses him.

"Yes please." His voice is rough and his accent is thicker than Steve's ever heard it. He follows Steve over to the kitchen like he's been called to heel, and Steve tries very hard to keep his hands steady and his expression devoid of the pure rage in his chest as he fills a glass from the tap.

Bucky squints at him curiously when he thinks Steve's not looking at him. He glances over at Natasha again before he leans a little closer and whispers a question, like he's not sure he's supposed to be talking to Steve.

"Are you my new handler?"

The glass doesn't even break when Steve drops it in surprise, but it makes a heavy clang against the metal sink when it falls. Bucky falls with it, drops to his knees like he's been shot. He freezes there in an automatic gesture of submission, his shoulders hunched and his head bowed, eyes screwed tight shut to brace himself even as the babbling starts.

"M'sorry I didn't mean to ask I didn't mean to break it I'm sorry I'm—"

"Bucky, Bucky." Steve drops to his knees right opposite him, floundering for words and cautiously reaching out for Bucky's good hand. "You didn't do anything wrong, you're not in trouble. You're safe."

The haze seems to clear from Bucky's eyes for a second and he raises his head to look at Steve like a lost child.

"S-Steve?"

"Yeah, Buck. It's me." Steve's heart just about breaks as Bucky lets out a keening noise and leans forward, pressing into him. Steve puts his arms around him automatically, hugging him tightly as he feels him start to shake all over again.

There's never been a fire like this in Steve's chest his entire life. Rage and love and the fierce desire to protect all rolled into one. Now he understands how people can lift cars and perform impossible feats when someone they love is threatened. Caring this much turns him into something beyond himself, superhuman in a way he could never have imagined before Bucky came along.

But it doesn't feel like a superpower, sitting there shaking on the cold kitchen floor. It feels like a curse.

*

"Lucky, no. I swear it's not the pizza guy."

The barking on the other side of the door sends Bucky shrinking back behind Natasha's shoulder, and Steve is starting to think this isn't the best idea in the world.

"Phil, put him in the fuckin' kitchen." The barking fades and Clint finally opens the door, smiling tightly at the motley crew assembled on his doorstep. "Hey, guys. Come in."

Nice house in the suburbs wasn't exactly what Steve had been expecting from Clint and Phil, but that's where Natasha has driven them to. It's not a big house, but there's a yard out front and back and a few bedrooms, he's been informed. Phil had agreed immediately when they'd explained the situation, and everything was set up in precisely one hour from the end of the phone call.

Steve can now definitely believe the military thing.

"Bruce is on his way." Clint leads them into the living room and Steve sits beside Bucky on the overstuffed couch. It's so comfortable he almost sinks into it, while Bucky perches nervously on the edge.

Bucky seems hesitant to sit on the furniture, looking for permission before he does, and Steve once again has to shove the hot ball of anger in his chest way down where it won't escape for a few hours. He's definitely going to end up breaking another punching bag the next time he makes it to the gym.

"I've spoken to a few contacts I have in Pierce's office." Phil emerges from the kitchen, now-calm dog following behind him. "I haven't said anything about Bucky, just put the feelers out. Apparently Pierce has cancelled everything for the day. No idea if that means a meltdown or something else, but it means no one else knows Barnes is gone yet."

Bucky flinches when he hears Pierce's name, tensing up again like he's bracing himself, and Steve glances at him with concern. The dog must notice it too, because it makes a beeline for Bucky and rests its sandy head on his thigh, looking up at him with big eyes and a quiet whine.

"Guys, I'm not sure the dog is such a good…" Steve trails off as Bucky lifts a shaking hand and clumsily pats the dog on the head, the tension in his muscles relaxing slightly.

"It's cool, man. Lucky's a service dog, he knows when to be chill." Clint smiles as Bucky looks up curiously. He's completely detached when people are talking about him, but apparently the dog keeps his interest. "He's really good for flashbacks."

Steve opens his mouth to ask a question, then connects the dots for himself and shuts it quickly again. Service dog, veterans, PTSD, right. Don't put your foot in your mouth again, Rogers.

"Can I… Am I allowed to pet him?" Bucky asks, quiet and hesitant. Clint nods and what looks like the echo of a smile crosses Bucky's face as he starts to pet the dog again.

Okay, Steve stands corrected. The dog is a very good idea.

"There's a bedroom for Bucky upstairs, he can stay as long as he needs to." Phil continues, and although Steve doesn't like hearing people talk about him like he's not there, he realises Bucky doesn't listen to a word anyone says about him anyway. "We're gonna need to keep this quiet until we figure out what we're dealing with, with him and Hydra. It wouldn't be the first time they've found a way to make life unpleasant for someone who leaves them without permission. And from what we know, this is personal for Pierce."

"They won't stop." Bucky mumbles, not looking at any of them and keeping his focus on the dog as he scratches behind its ear. "Sasha said no one was allowed to own me but him."

"No one owns you but you." Steve blurts out immediately, but Bucky looks across at him like he doesn't understand the concept. Natasha discreetly puts her hand on Steve's arm to tell him to back off. Now isn't the time.

"Hey, if they won't stop then we'll stop them. Me and Phil and everyone else here." Clint pulls Bucky's attention back by crouching down beside Lucky and petting him along with Bucky. "Okay?"

It takes a long time, but Bucky nods.

"Okay."

Chapter Text

Bucky wakes up with a punched-out, choked-off scream caught in his thoat.

The nightmare was way more vivid than any he's experienced so far. He'd had shades of nightmares with Pierce, but the chemicals in his system had made his mind too fuzzy for anything harrowing to get through, or at least stopped him from remembering when it did. Besides, he knew better than to scream when Alexander didn't want him to.

It's been four days since he started staying in Clint and Phil's guest room. Apparently that's long enough for the worst of the drugs to get out of his system, because everything that had been numbed is now brightly, frighteningly clear. It's not so bad during the day. He doesn't know how anyone around him still has a job because they've all clearly taken time off work to take a turn babysitting him, and the images aren't so bad when he's with people.

Pretty much the only time he's alone is at night. That's when things get bad.

Lucky has hopped up onto his bed and started nuzzling at Bucky's cheek before the panicked sounds escaping him have even started to quiet. The dog licks a stripe across his stubbly jaw, and it's a weird enough sensation that it brings Bucky back into his body, drags him out of the terror and into the present.

It's dark, no one is touching him, he's sober, and he's alone.

Not entirely alone.

He buries his face in the dog's fur and hides, lets the tears that want to fall leak out where they can't be seen. He's doing well, that's what his friends keep telling him. He remembers things, he hasn't hurt himself, hell, even his arm is moving a little better. He can't let them know he feels like he's drowning, that he's not sure he can keep it together and hide the cracks that threaten to shake his mind apart. He can't let them down. Can't let Steve down. Has to keep doing well.

But he can break down on Lucky. Lucky won't tell on him.

When he's all cried out, Bucky wipes his eyes and pulls himself together. It's not even the nightmare that's upset him so much, it's the way everything is so fucking confusing with his memories patchy like they are now. He'll wake up speaking Russian and have trouble switching to English. He'll be in the middle of a conversation and forget the first half of it. He'll automatically sit on the floor on his knees instead of on the couch with everyone else.

He'll say things like oh wait, didn't you make me lunch before? and Steve will get that pained look on his face that means Bucky's upset him.

He kind of hates new-Bucky. He'd like to go back to old-Bucky, please. Soon.

In the kitchen, Clint is making coffee. This isn't exactly unusual, even if it is 3am. Whatever, he can make 3am coffee if he wants, Bucky's not exactly in a position to judge what's weird.

Clint's love affair with caffeine is so familiar that Bucky's not even surprised to see him at the coffee pot when he pads into the room in his bare feet, Lucky pushing past him to go and nudge Clint's knee. He's noticed the dog doing that, telling Clint when someone comes up behind him. Clint looks down at the dog and pets him clumsily before he turns back to look at Bucky with a smile.

"Did I wake you up?" Bucky asks, quiet and apologetic. Clint makes a face and holds up a finger before leaving the room. Bucky frowns after him but he returns just a moment later, fiddling with something on the side of his head.

"Sorry, didn't put my ears in." He explains, and Bucky notices for the first time the little flesh-coloured clip running over Clint's ear. He had no idea his friend wore a hearing-aid, but to be fair Bucky's been kind of preoccupied the last few days and he usually had a dick inside him when he was around Clint before that. "What'd you say?"

"Asked if I woke you up, but I guess not." He sits down at the kitchen table, mentally thanking his friend when Clint pulls out a second mug and fills it for him. He doesn't intend to go back to sleep tonight, he's pretty sure he couldn't if he wanted to.

"Nah, couldn't if you tried. And Phil sleeps like the dead, so don't worry about it." Clint sets the mug in front of Bucky and sits down with his own on the other side of the table.

Clint's coffee is apparently way more like what Steve calls Bucky's sludge than the stuff anyone else brews, but Bucky can't exactly remember what his 'sludge' is supposed to taste like. It's one of the weird sense-memories he's been having trouble with since the drugs wore off. Every time he drinks coffee he's surprised it doesn't taste like the expensive stuff Alexander used to keep in his apartment for when important clients were renting Bu—

He flinches and blinks hard to try and shut the flash of memory down, and luckily it works this time. Bucky's sick of feeling like this all the time, like something is going to just come along and knock him out of his head and he won't be able to do a thing to stop it. He opens his eyes to see Clint watching him steadily with something that's not exactly sympathy on his face. More like empathy: he gets it.

"Nightmares?" Clint asks casually. No one has tried to talk to Bucky about what happened yet, not with how much of a state he's been in for the last few days. He thinks he was probably easier to deal with when he had opiates in his system.

At the question, Bucky just shrugs and kind of nods at the same time. He's not sure what the gesture was, exactly, but he knows it means he's probably not ready to talk about what he sees behind his eyelids every time he closes them. Clint just nods back and they fall into an easy silence as they drink their coffee, Lucky curled up under the table between them.

"They broke my feet in Kosovo, this one time." Clint starts, conversationally, and Bucky looks up in surprise. There's part of him that's glad he's not in silence with his thoughts anymore, even if the subject matter is kind of horrific. "I was on a wet-work op, they found me before I found my target. Kept me for a week, broke my feet with sticks to try and make me talk."

He pauses, turning his purple coffee cup slowly around in his hands. Bucky's not sure what to say, so he doesn't say anything. Everyone thinks he's broken anyway, they don't expect him to talk most of the time.

"But that kinda wasn't the worst part of it. I mean, pain sucks, right? But you can put yourself somewhere above it, you can come out of your body and just… detach. Dissociate, they call it. I call it surviving, but there y'go." He shrugs, his voice steadily getting lower as he speaks. "But the feet weren't the worst. It was… they took my ears."

He taps above the hearing-aid to illustrate, and Bucky notices he wears them on both sides. He's not sure why Clint's decided to talk about this at three in the morning when nightmares have kept him awake, but he thinks he's starting to get it.

"I'm like… well I won't get into the boring shit, but I'm really fuckin' deaf without these babies. Been next to way too many explosions and shit." He sighs quietly and meets Bucky's eyes when he speaks. "And they took 'em. And they smashed 'em, so I knew there was no way of getting 'em back. And that's what fuckin' terrified me. I could handle pain, but being helpless like that? Couldn't tell when someone was in the room with me, knew I'd get killed if I tried to escape without being able to hear my surroundings, couldn't even hear to duck when someone swung at me. I was completely helpless."

He trails off and shrugs again, hunching in on himself slightly. Lucky sits up and puts his head on Clint's knee, which prompts him to reach down and pet him with a sigh. Bucky thinks he understands why Clint told him about that particular shitty memory, now. He swallows hard through his suddenly-dry mouth, and his voice comes out in a croak when he finally forces himself to speak.

"Sasha… Pierce. While people were using… He'd drug me mostly, make me be a good boy. Uh, make me behave." He corrects himself quickly, remembering how Steve flinches when he accidentally uses that phrase. Clint, however, just waits calmly for him to continue. "One… One time it didn't take so well. I was… I was awake, but the body was paralysed. Everything still happened. Couldn't move or make it stop. I… I know about being helpless."

"Your body." Clint points out, softly. "Your body was paralysed."

"I…" Bucky's breath hitches.

"You got hurt, and you couldn't stop it. That's what happened to you." Clint even points for emphasis, though he's careful to keep his hand on the table and just gesture with his finger. "You have to own that, or you're gonna spend your life running from it."

"I… I-I don't remember." Bucky shakes his head statically and looks away, down at the table where he feels like he's looking at someone else's hands. "It happened to the Winter Soldier."

"It—" Clint stops himself when he sees the glazed look in Bucky's eyes, the way Lucky has gone over to him with a whine and started nudging at his legs. "Okay, we don't have to talk about that now."

"I don't remember."

"Bucky, it's okay." Clint curses himself internally, thinking about how he's so fucking dead if he managed to break Barnes. Steve is going to murder him. "Don't think about that now, okay? We're gonna talk about something else."

"I don't—"

"Bucky, listen. I don't want you to remember anything, I want you to think about right now." Clint's internal monologue has turned into more of a litany of shit fuck shit fuck as Bucky stutters like a stuck record. "What can you feel right now? Describe it to me."

Bucky looks like he's stuck for a minute longer before he finally manages to form words.

"Table." He mumbles. Clint nods, kind of out of his depth with being the one leading this, rather than following. Phil is so much better than he is at this crap.

"It's hard, right? Smooth?" Bucky's fingers twitch on the table and he jerks a nod. "And you can feel it, because you're right here in the kitchen with me, nowhere else. Think about what you can see. Cupboards are wood, walls are yellow. You can hear the fridge humming, you can smell the coffee pot, and you can see the fuckin' idiot sitting opposite you." That gets the ghost of a smile twitching up the corner of his mouth, and Clint feels a surge of relief. "You're right here, this is right now. You feel Lucky poking at your leg? That means you're in the present, this is happening now. You're safe."

Bucky finally meets Clint's eyes and his face folds into a confused frown. Clint blows out a relieved breath, because fuck did he just dodge a bullet. He really doesn't want to get beaten up by Bucky's Greek-god non-boyfriend.

"You with me here, space cadet?" Bucky's come back to himself enough to glare at Clint for the nickname and reach down to pet Lucky where he's still whining at him. "Good. Was worried I'd lost you for a minute."

"You… You should teach Steve how to do that." Bucky says after a long silence between them. "The describing thing."

"Lemme guess, this happens a lot?" Clint's not surprised when Bucky nods. "Phil's got a book, I'll lend it to him. No problem."

"I…"

Bucky doesn't know how to put it into words, the surge of relief in his chest. Someone understands, someone didn't think he was crazy when he got lost in his head, someone knew how to bring him back without yelling at him. Someone understands. He can't explain any of it, so instead he cautiously reaches out and squeezes Clint's forearm for a second before he retreats, heart thumping in his ears. It's the first time he's touched someone by choice for a very long time.

"Thank you." He mumbles quietly, almost unable to deal with the gratitude and the wave of fatigue that accompanies it. He can let his guard down a little, and that knowledge is almost overwhelming.

"Hey, don't mention it. I like not being the most fucked up person around for a change." Clint grins crookedly and stands up. "C'mon, we've got like a billion TV channels and there's one that marathons Original Series Star Trek at this time in the morning. I'll keep a watch if you wanna sleep."

That's how Bucky wakes up way past noon, Clint still sitting dutifully beside him on the couch. Lucky's head is resting in Clint's lap, but he's mostly lying on top of Bucky in the weird position he's managed to curl into and the warm weight is comforting. It's the longest he's slept since he got here, and he doesn't even mind that the stupid, broken arm he's been lying on is numb when he moves it.

Without thinking too hard about it, he corrects himself.

His arm. Stupid and broken, yeah, but his.

Chapter Text

Bucky's doing well.

He's eating (sometimes) and sleeping (not very much). The panic attacks seem to have eased off (he's got good at hiding when he has them) and the flashbacks are getting less intense (he gets verbal and looks like he comes out of them quicker, but doesn't say anything about the sick feeling that hangs around afterwards). He hasn't hurt himself (punching himself until his leg bruises is secret enough that no one can tell) and his memory loss seems to have got a little better (people stop asking if he just agrees with them and pretends he remembers what they're talking about). He's doing well.

He's kind of doing too well for Steve to believe it's real. He lets his suspicions sit secretly in his stomach until Bucky starts talking about going back to work.

"C'mon, I thought you said Shield wanted to give me my contract back?"

"Bucky, there's no fucking way I'm gonna let you do that right now."

"You're gonna let me?"

"Guys, come on." Clint cuts into the middle of the argument, physically standing between Steve and Bucky. The fight has been going on for a long time, and Bucky's getting more petulant as Steve gets more self-righteous. "Take a break, alright? This ain't good for either of you."

"I'm sorry. I forgot I was too fucking fragile to defend myself."

Bucky grabs his pack of cigarettes from the table and shoves them into the pocket of his hoodie before stalking to the door. Lucky follows him with a whine, his nudges to Bucky's legs going ignored. He's too tired for this, his mask takes up too much energy for him to have any left for this shit.

"Buck, where the fuck are you—"

"If you wanted me under house arrest then you should've just left me with Pierce." He sticks his middle finger up at Steve and storms out of the house, slamming the door behind him before the dog can follow.

Clint reaches out and the hand on his chest stops Steve before he can even take a step.

"You need to sit down and be prepared to drink my gross coffee, because we're gonna have a talk about some things."

*

Bucky is so pissed that he doesn't even know where he's walking for the first ten minutes after he storms out of the house.

He's been out in the neighbourhood on his own before, so he's not lost, he's just not concentrating. Clint and Phil let him do what he wants, just offer company if he doesn't want to be alone, and it works. Some days Bucky needs contact so much that he'll sit in the corner of Phil's home office while he works, just so he can share the air with another human being. Other times he'll spend the whole day hiding in his bedroom, disturbed only by Clint opening the door every so often to let Lucky outside. It works, it balances him out enough that he can keep pretending he's okay.

Steve's the one who seems to think he needs babysitting all the godamn time.

He tries to light a cigarette and makes a frustrated sound when his stupid fucking arm won't cooperate and he has to awkwardly swap between hands to light it. His friends had finally persuaded him to see a real doctor two weeks after he'd got away from Pierce, and the verdict hadn't been good. Permanent damage to his arm, feeling that would never return and a restricted range of motion. Forever. That's something he can't just pretend is going to get better.

The metal brace he's been given is supposed to help, not make it harder. But it's a double-edged sword, as he has to relearn all the tricks he'd developed to cope with the loss of sensation and dexterity. He can't lead with his shoulder and swing his arm up anymore, the brace means he has to bend at the elbow like a normal person, something he'd trained himself out of doing a long time ago. He's accidentally broken so many things that he's pretty sure he owes Phil and Clint half a new kitchen by now, not that they ever get mad.

It's tough. It makes it harder to act like he's doing just fine. Bucky fucking hates it.

Steve had painted his star tattoo onto the brace, over where the metal covered it, on one particularly bad day when Bucky hadn't been able to keep his mask in place. He'd smiled that nervous smile like he didn't know how to help but he'd go down swinging and try. Bucky doesn't have the heart to tell him that the tattoo wasn't exactly a choice.

"It'll look great on camera. Really make the Communist Russia thing real. It'll only hurt for a little while."

Bucky shoves the memory down and taps the fence nearest to him with his fingertips, feeling the rough wood and chipped paint. Clint's grounding techniques have usually worked for him, and this time is no exception as within a couple of moments he's ready to keep walking. He needs to be anywhere but here. He knows where he needs to go.

Stupid Steve. Stupid arm. Stupid tattoo. Stupid fucking Pierce.

*

"Mollycoddling him isn't gonna do any good."

Clint watches Steve carefully as he stares into his mug of sludgy coffee. Lucky has gone off to do whatever the fuck dogs do when they're not begging for pizza, and Steve is sitting curled up in the armchair like a moody teenager. Clint's never felt more like a parent.

"He's had his agency taken away from him for a long time, Steve. Trying to do the same thing now isn't gonna help him."

"I didn't want to do that."

"No, you wanna keep him safe from the world. You wanna lock him up so no one can hurt him again." Steve doesn't say anything and Clint sighs. "But you can't do that. There are gonna be things that trigger him and he's gonna have to deal with that on his own."

"And what if he deals with it by using?" Steve finally gets some of his spark back. "He walked out angry and you just let him go. How long do you think it'd take him to find some—"

"It's his choice, Steve. If he's gonna do that then there's nothing you can do about it, like it or not." Clint looks at his friend pointedly. "Are you gonna be able to handle this? If the two of you get together?"

"I just… I want him to let me help." Steve rests his head in his hands and Clint reaches over to pat him awkwardly on the shoulder.

"In case him destroying my kitchen with the new arm-thing hasn't clued you in, Barnes ain't the type to accept help easily." Clint twitches a smile and feels relief when Steve echoes it. You've gotta let him come to you and tell you what he needs, don't try and guess it before he says anything."

"But what if he won't ask for help?" Steve sighs heavily and Clint squeezes his shoulder gently.

"You ain't a superhero, kid."

*

"No. Absolutely not."

"Fury, please?" Bucky tries not to let himself get emotional as he looks imploringly at his boss.

Maybe coming to beg for his job back wasn't such a good idea. Fury had tried to put him off by promising to review his position when his arm was better, which didn't exactly fill Bucky with confidence. His arm isn't getting better, he has to accept it and just deal with everything as it comes.

He just has to keep convincing everyone that he's fine. Then maybe he can fool himself.

"Haven't you ever had someone tell you that you couldn't do something because there's something wrong with you?"

"Barnes, it's not—"

"You've got one eye. I've got one fucking arm." Bucky tries to ignore the fact he's on the verge of tearing up as he yanks his sleeve back down over the brace. He needs to get it together, can't let anyone see that he's teetering on the edge. "I refuse to accept that my life has to fucking suck because of it."

"Barnes…" Fury sighs and taps his fingers on the desk like he's trying to hide a tell. "It's not the arm. You've got some serious trauma going on and—"

"And I'm handling it. The shit that happened to me doesn't define me any more than my fucked up arm does." He meets Fury's gaze squarely, sounding more sure of himself than he has in a long time. He's pushed the broken part of himself down, swallowed his tears and hidden himself away again. "Please, Nick. I need this."

Fury sighs and sits back in his chair, steepling his fingers together for a moment before he makes a decision.

"Ask Stark. I'm gonna give you the go-ahead, but you need his approval. And if there's the smallest sign that this is doing you more harm than good then you're back on the bench. Are we clear?"

Bucky just nods, not pushing his luck. Fury sighs and goes over to the bar at the back of his office (that Steve said is the tackiest thing ever, and Bucky's inclined to agree with him) and pours himself a drink.

"Want one?" He raises the bottle and looks at Bucky questioningly.

He really fucking does. He has to stick his good hand in his pocket to stop it shaking when he sees the bottle, but he's been sober for a month now and picturing Steve's disappointment is enough to make him turn it down.

He wasn't exaggerating when he said that he needs this. If he can just shove everything that hurts down far enough, if he can just give the impression that everything is fine, then maybe it'll become real. If he looks like he's better, then maybe Steve will stop looking at him like he's too afraid to kiss Bucky again in case he breaks.

Okay. He can do this. Pretend.

"No. Thanks." He says, after a moment's pause. "I don't drink."

Fury actually smiles.

Bucky's mask is getting good.

Chapter Text

Traumatised or not, Bucky Barnes can still take cock like a champ.

He'd walked onto set with his swagger carefully intact, greeting people he knew like he'd never been away. A lot of people in minor roles at Shield don't like him now, he discovers, because they don't know the story behind his going to Hydra and coming back to Shield. They think it's all contract stuff, that he left the company for money, and so he's lost their loyalty. But Darcy kisses him on the cheek and Thor loudly admires his metal brace, so his smile remains intact.

Thor etches what Bucky thinks are runes into his brace with tweezers, small and discreet where the elbow bends. He says they're for protection, and Bucky feels a little better when he walks onto set with his fucked up arm on full display and the crew politely try not to stare.

He could use a little protection.

The guy pounding into him is huge all over, but Bucky takes everything he's given and begs for more. While Clint wasn't exactly crazy about the idea of him coming back to work (although he carefully edited the rota so he'd be the one working the main camera today), he can see why he wanted to. Bucky is good at this. He looks like he was made for camera, designed to get fucked. This is maybe the only thing he knows he can do well, by now, and if it makes him feel better about himself then Clint's all for it. He's not going to deny Bucky the right to feel like a person again.

Steve, on the other hand, isn't okay with any of this. He's not on set, he's hiding in one of the dressing rooms with Natasha and taking guilty sips of vodka from her flask, but he had to be here. He's convinced something is going to go wrong, that Bucky's going to break down or have a panic attack or—

"Get out of your head." Natasha pokes him in the arm with a viciously sharp, red fingernail and passes him the flask. "He's okay. Clint just texted me."

"He doesn't like being grabbed. Did anyone tell—"

"The guy's fucking him, Steve. I'm pretty sure he's being grabbed during that process." Natasha sighs. "He's okay, stop acting like this is his first day of school."

"I'm just worried about him." Steve grunts defensively.

You have to allow Barnes the dignity of his choice. Sam had reasoned with him. Steve knows he was just quoting one of the hippy-bullshit self-help books he's constantly reading, but he can also grudgingly admit that his friend is right. He can't control Bucky, he has to let him make his own mistakes.

On set, Bucky's still not sure if he's making a mistake or not.

"Barnes, give me your colour."

Bucky rolls his eyes. Banner doesn't even work on the kink side of the studio, and this isn't a kink scene. There's no reason for everyone to be fucking around with safewords and checking in with him what feels like every five minutes. The traffic light system is what they use for people who aren't used to being involved in something they might have to tap out of, and that doesn't describe Bucky at all. Not the old Bucky, anyway.

What he takes from the whole thing is: they think he's not capable. They think he can't handle himself enough to just tell them if he's not comfortable with something. They think he's broken.

"Fucking green." He spits out, purposefully turning it into his sluttiest moan at the end of the words. Show them he's enjoying this. He's fine. "M'kinda busy here, Banner. Stop fucking asking."

"Bucky, shut up and let him do his job." Clint snipes from behind the camera, and Bucky shuts his mouth immediately.

That should have been the first clue that things weren't right. Bucky obeying orders just because they're given isn't something that happens, ever. The only time he automatically follows instructions is when he's doing badly, when he's slipping out of his head. But the shoot needs to get done, and Bucky's consistently telling them he's fine, so they carry on and don't notice the little bit of weird behaviour.

Steve would have noticed, but Steve isn't here.

Bucky gets bent over a couch. He gets fucked on his side, his legs spread unnaturally wide to let the camera get a good shot of the dick pounding into his slick hole. He gets bent almost double, slammed into with his knees pulled up to his chest so he can barely breathe, and that's the part where he disconnects.

He loses time.

He's on his knees with a dick in his mouth and he keeps gagging because the guy's hung like a fucking beer can. He starts to panic, but he can't make his frozen muscles move.

"Stop fuckin' choking him." He hears Clint snap from somewhere in the darkness. "Fuckin' told you before."

"What's your colour, Bucky?" Banner's voice is gentle, as always.

"Green." Bucky hears himself say from somewhere in the distance, his voice raw from his throat being rammed. "I'm fine."

They don't get mad when he says green, so it must be the correct answer. He's doing his job.

He comes back into himself shortly before Banner says cut, just in time for jizz to stripe over his cheeks, his lips. It's hot, and he doesn't know why he expected it to feel like ice.

He's back in his body, and all the feelings he'd missed out on hit him at once. He's sore. He's tired. He needs to act like himself, prove to everyone that he's okay.

"Aw, man. You got it in my hair." Bucky whines as soon as Banner calls cut. The guy (Bucky knows his name but he can't fucking remember it) gives some kind of joking apology and Bucky flips him off. He's being himself.

It doesn't occur to him to clean his face until Sam comes over with towels for them both. The Winter Soldier was never clean, even when they washed him the stains never came out. He grabs one gratefully.

"Good shoot, man." Bucky scrubs the towel over his face as Sam speaks to him. "You okay?"

"I would be if people would stop asking me that." Bucky grunts irritably, tossing the towel over his shoulder. He needs to get out of here, he feels like his skin is going to crawl right off. "I'm gonna go shower."

"D'you want me to—"

"I want you to leave me the fuck alone." Bucky snaps, immediately regretting the stung look on Sam's face. "I'm sorry. I just wanna get away from everybody right now. Just for a little bit."

"It's okay, I get it. Just make sure you check in with Steve sometime, he'll want to know you're okay." Sam pats him on the shoulder and Bucky can't help the flinch. He tries to catch it, but Sam has already seen the movement, his expression falling. He knows something's wrong.

Bucky rushes off to the showers before he can get asked any more questions. He can't handle anyone knowing how weak he is. Can't handle the 'I told you so's, the disappointment on Steve's face when he realises what a lost cause Bucky really is. The crushing defeat he'll feel when Shield terminates his contract and he doesn't have anywhere else to go except back to—

He loses more time.

The blackout is total, and it's a relief to not be anywhere for a while.

When he comes back to himself again, he's dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, both of them clinging to his skin where he clearly hasn't thought to dry himself after making it through a shower (the Soldier wasn't allowed much time alone so drying off took a back seat to scrubbing himself so hard it left marks). He wonders where the clothes came from. Did he bring them with him? Was someone in here? Did they use him too? He doesn't remember.

He catches sight of himself in the mirror, that thousand-yard stare on his face that Steve hates so much. Steve Rogers, stupid asshole doesn't know when to walk away from a lost cause. He made Sasha angry, the Soldier needs to keep away. Bucky sometimes looks in the mirror and wonders if he's looking at himself or the Soldier.

He can't see a trace of Bucky here.

The mirror smashes. It's only the jolt up his arm that makes him realise it's his fist that's done it.

He falls to his knees. He's broken something, he's going to be punished.

The door opens and Bucky scoots back into the corner, a feeble attempt to hide. There's a shard of glass in his hand, but he knows he won't try to defend himself if they only want to beat him. If they bring the taser out, that's when he'll—

He checks out.

"Bucky?!"

Steve hears the smash and that's what prompts him to break off the argument about what to do and shove the shower door open. Sam had been insisting Bucky seemed okay when he took him clothes a little while ago, but he's been locked in the room for an hour now and they were starting to get antsy. The crash just confirmed that their worries were founded.

Natasha and Sam follow behind him, equally concerned. Sam looks like he's preparing to defend Steve if he needs to, but Natasha is more concerned about Bucky. She knows he'll hurt himself before he lets the Soldier hurt Steve.

"Buck?" Steve drops to his knees in front of Bucky, reaching out for him carefully. He's shaking hard and his breathing is unsteady, but his eyes are completely blank.

"Put the glass down, Bucky. C'mon." Sam tries, careful to keep his voice calm and firm, but there's no response. It's like Bucky can't hear them, isn't aware they're in the room.

"Bucky, please? Are you okay?" Steve squeezes his good arm, but Bucky doesn't react to the touch. Steve turns to Sam and Natasha desperately. "What is it? Is this a flashback? I've never seen him like this."

"Bucky, govorit' s nim." Natasha knows he loses his English sometimes when he's having an episode, and the instruction is the first thing that brings a tiny flicker to Bucky's expression. He makes a soft whining noise in his throat for a second, then stops.

"What's wrong with him?" Steve stands up at the unnatural noise, getting more frantic and scared by the moment. "We need to do something. He's not even following instructions, he always does that no matter how bad it is."

That's what sparks off a memory in Natasha's mind, and it makes her heart sink.

"Shit. I think I know what he'll respond to. Let me try…" Natasha takes Steve's place and crouches down in front of Bucky's shivering form, the only person in the room who looks like she knows what she's doing. Her voice is clear, authoritative, and Bucky listens.

"Yakov, fu."

Steve and Sam watch, wide-eyed, as Bucky drops the piece of glass immediately and looks up at Natasha. His eyes look dead, like there's nothing inside him except awaiting the next instruction.

"Stoyat." She stands as Bucky does, hands out like she's ready to catch him if he falls. But while he looks unsteady, he stays on his feet. "Horosho, myesto."

"Nat, what are you doing?"

"His commands are in Russian." She replies quietly, and she sounds a lot more shaken then she looks. "I heard rumours about this when I worked for Hydra, but I thought it was just people telling ghost stories. Pierce is sick."

"Commands?"

"Sit, stay, drop it." She never takes his eyes off Bucky, who doesn't look like he's there at all right now. His body is obeying but Bucky has left the building. "He's been trained."

Good boy.

"Like…"

"Like a dog."

Steve punches the wall.

Bucky doesn't flinch.

Chapter Text

Bucky sleeps at the end of Steve's bed.

Natasha gets him as far as the parking lot on her commands before his knees give out and he stumbles into Steve's arms, hiding his face in his chest as he's half-carried, half-dragged to the car. It means that he at least comes back into his head enough to answer yes and no questions with nods and shakes, confirm that he knows where he is and who he is. That's the best they can get out of him.

The emergency room releases Bucky way too fast, by what his friends think at least. There's nothing physically wrong with him, but they give him a mild sedative to help him calm down. They say there's nothing else they can do for him, that he's responding to them when they talk and there's nothing seriously wrong right now. That unless he makes a suicidal threat then he's not a danger to himself, and they can't hold him without his consent.

So he sleeps that night, curled up at the end of Steve's bed. Steve doesn't sleep at all.

Bucky hides when Natasha comes over the next morning, actually closes himself into the hall closet until she leaves. Steve is freaking out internally, but he can't let it show in case it makes Bucky think he's done something wrong. He just patiently taps on the closet door and helps Bucky up from the floor when Natasha is gone, hating that feeling relieved that Bucky isn't shaking is his reality now.

He makes lunch robotically. He makes sludgy coffee that he can't stand, but Bucky smiles when he sets it in front of him so that's worth the grainy, bitter taste.

"I was fine, y'know."

It's the first time he's spoken since the breakdown, and Steve carefully doesn't jump or flinch at rough sound of Bucky's voice. He's been moving a little more over the last couple of hours, watching Steve more closely, so he must have been coming back to himself slowly.

"Before this. I mean it, I was handling it. I was doing okay."

"You were handling it, Buck. But you weren't okay." Steve reaches out cautiously and offers Bucky his hand across the table. Slowly, like he's not sure it's allowed, Bucky takes it.

"I…"

"Look, Clint and Phil say you'll ask when you need help. Natasha keeps telling me not to meddle. Sam says you've gotta make your own mistakes. So tell me if I'm outta line here." He squeezes Bucky's hand as he meets his gaze levelly. "You need help, please let me help you."

"I can do it by myself." Bucky mumbles, dropping his eyes so Steve can't keep looking at him with that imploring expression. God, he hates upsetting the best man on the planet.

"Thing is, you don't have to." Steve sighs. "I'm with you to the end of the line, Buck. Every step of the way."

"I… I dunno what can help me." Bucky sounds like he's grinding the words out of his throat, and Steve squeezes his hand again. Bucky doesn't let go of the touch, squeezes back to keep the grounding pressure there against the skin.

"How about we try therapy, first?" The suggestion is gentle, but Bucky still flinches. "You can't go inside your head like that again, Bucky. Natasha barely brought you out of it, we thought we were gonna have to put you in the hospital if you didn't snap out of it."

"I don't wanna go in the hospital."

"Therapy can help you avoid that." Steve reasons, quietly. "Look, I've seen a good guy since all the experimental shit I went through back in the day. I can call him and ask if he'll see you, if you want. He's really nice, he won't push you if something's too hard to talk about."

"I just wanna pretend it didn't happen." Bucky mumbles, flexing the fingers of his damaged hand distractedly.

"I don't think you can, Buck." Steve squeezes his hand again and Bucky doesn't respond, just keeps watching his damaged fingers tremble as they move. "How about I just give Dr Erskine a call and we see what he says, huh?"

Slowly, reluctantly, Bucky nods. That's all Steve needs right now.

*

Shield call to say they're terminating Bucky's contract when he's out at his first therapy session.

It's only been a couple of weeks since he broke down, but that's long enough for shit to hit the fan. The guy Bucky filmed his scene with found out about him breaking down afterwards, somehow. He's freaking out about possibly accidentally fucking someone who didn't want to be fucked, and he's threatening to sue the hell out of Shield for allowing that to happen. They're not just banning Bucky from work this time, they're getting rid of him altogether. They can't risk another incident like this.

Steve listens patiently to their reasoning, silently seething. He agrees that porn probably isn't the right industry for Bucky to be working in, but he also remembers Tony Stark's reasoning. The guy was right that Bucky has no experience in anything but adult entertainment, and Steve's not sure how he'll take finding out that he's been set adrift by the company that promised to protect him.

He doesn't have time to plan how he's going to explain it to Bucky, though, because his key is already scraping obnoxiously in the front door.

"Buck?" Steve calls out, nervously shoving the phone away like it'll tell Bucky what happened before he has a chance to break it to him gently.

"Hey." There's something off about his voice, but Steve figures therapy does that sometimes. He knows that sometimes he comes home and has to punch something before he feels normal again, God only knows how Bucky will feel.

He walks out of his bedroom to see Bucky standing in the hall, unsuccessfully trying to toe his boots off like he doesn't realise they're still laced. The unusual movement has Steve on alert immediately, and he's looking for other clues to what's wrong before he realises they're staring him in the face.

Bucky's not even trying to be subtle. He's leaning against the wall on his bad shoulder, like he doesn't feel the pain that position always causes him. He's struggling for balance, looking up at Steve with the lopsided grin he hasn't worn for months. His worn leather jacket is on inside-out. That's before the smell wafts down the hall and hits him like a truck.

Bucky is drunk as fuck.

"How was therapy?" Steve asks cautiously, just observing him without saying anything yet. Bucky makes a disgruntled sound in his throat and drops to one knee, finally noticing his boots are laced up.

"Shit." He grumbles, starting to fight with his bootlaces. "Must work though, feel wa-ay better now."

"Do you think it might be the vodka making you feel better, rather than the therapy?" He doesn't mean for it to sound as bitchy as it does, but Bucky just snorts a laugh anyway.

"Yeah, maybe." He looks up with that crooked grin and his eyes have that pale ice behind them that Steve remembers from when they first met. His cheeks are pink and his eyes are dull, and this is Bucky intoxicated. Steve hates that he looks 'normal' again. "I'm not gonna apologise, Stevie. This is the first time I've felt good since I left Hydra."

"Did you at least go see Dr Erskine?" Steve tries to ignore the comment and keep his cool. This is a disaster, as far as he's concerned. Months of sobriety down the toilet, and maybe all because he pushed Bucky to go to therapy too early.

Maybe Bucky should be in a hospital. Steve's not sure he can cope with this.

"Yeah, sure I did. He's a nice guy, got a weirder accent than I do. I like him fine, therapy not so much." Bucky makes a triumphant sound when he manages to get one boot off.

"Is that why you drank? Because you talked about stuff that upset you?" He's surprised when Bucky lets out a short laugh at the suggestion.

"Nah, wasn't the doctor guy. Your conscience is clear, choir boy. I just ran into an old friend outside his office and we went for a few drinks."

"A friend?"

"Yeah, Brock. He's a good guy, kinda rough around the edges but, y'know." Bucky wavers and manages to fall on his ass when he tries to switch knees so he can work off his second boot. He breaks down into giggles and Steve's not sure whether to laugh or cry.

"It's just booze, right? Brock didn't give you anything else?" Steve squats down and starts unpicking Bucky's bootlace himself. Bucky hums in approval and props himself up on one elbow to watch.

"Nah, just booze. He used to work for Hydra, he doesn't go near all that shit anymore." Bucky sighs. "He's a good boy now. I'm a good boy. We're all so fuckin' good and yet no one's as good as you, Stevie."

"Shut up." Steve grunts, yanking the boot off and standing up. He reaches out to help Bucky get up, eyes widening when he gets up on his knees instead. He's way, way too close to Steve's crotch right now. "Buck, what are you doing?"

"You gonna let me suck you off?" He nuzzles his face against Steve's dick, and Steve is pretty sure he squeaks. "Please, Stevie? Miss your dick. Miss your big fuckin—"

"No, stop it." Steve pushes him away and immediately regrets it when Bucky lets out an injured little whine. "I don't think it's a good idea, Bucky. You're drunk."

"But I gotta say thank you." He's back in position immediately, running his tongue over his bottom lip and looking up at Steve through his eyelashes. He's out of practice though, Steve can recognise him thinking through his seduction routine step by step.

"No. You don't have to thank me for anything, especially not like this." Bucky looks up at him like he doesn't understand, and Steve's heart sinks. "You don't owe me sex for being your friend."

"Not sex… Sucking you off." Bucky frowns and blinks a few times, and Steve has no idea where he just went, but he's getting seriously worried now. "I… I don't feel so good."

"Okay, c'mon." Steve blows out a shuddery sigh and steps back a pace, reaching down to help Bucky up off the floor with both hands. "You gonna puke?"

"No." Bucky shakes his head, his good hand resting on Steve's waist gingerly. His sex-kitten persona is gone, and he just looks pale and anxious in its absence. "M'tired."

"We'll put you to bed then, c'mon." Steve pulls one of Bucky's arms over his shoulders and carefully helps him across the apartment.

His mind is going a hundred miles a minute. He needs to call Sam and Natasha, ask them what the hell to do or, more likely, just spill his guts and talk to someone about this shit. He feels like he's scrabbling in the dark here, and every time a candle gets lit Bucky accidentally blows it out again. This is so over his head he can't even see the surface anymore.

"Your bed?" Bucky's hesitant voice and warm breath against his neck breaks him out of his thoughts. Steve nods and changes direction to head for his bedroom. "M'sorry Steve. I dunno why… I shouldn't have tried to do that."

"It's okay, Buck." Steve carefully deposits him on his bed and watches as Bucky immediately curls into a defensive ball, knees drawn up to his chest and arms around them to keep himself shielded. "You're not in trouble, you didn't do anything bad."

"Will you stay?" His eyes are already closed, his slurring voice quieter.

"Course I will." Steve lies down beside him, and he immediately has his arms full of spider-monkey Bucky, curling around him like he doesn't intend to let go any time soon.

When Bucky's settled, Steve has to figure out how to deal with this new slip-up, call his friends and try to handle with the new situation. Before then, there can't be any harm in him enjoying the warm weight of Bucky's arms around him, his head on his chest. There can't be any harm in him stroking Bucky's hair and enjoying the contented sigh he makes at the comforting motion.

Maybe they can both take a little comfort while they can, before they have to deal with how fucked up everything is again. Just a minute of calm before the storm starts again.

Just a minute.

Chapter Text

Steve handles it, because there's nothing else he can do.

Without Shield's insurance coverage, Bucky can't afford to see a therapist. Dr Erskine is kind enough to help him work out a payment plan, but even then it's not something he can manage without a steady income. That doesn't look promising, as it seems like Bucky's backsliding every day now.

Brock comes around more often, and Steve's grown to despise the man. It's not the overly-polite conversation or the sarcastic Cap and salute when he sees him, Steve can handle a lot worse than a little teasing. It's the fact that he knows whenever Brock and Bucky leave the apartment, Bucky's going to come back wasted. He's going to come back with blown pupils or gritted teeth, and a few times his friend doesn't even bother to take him as far as the apartment. Steve's found him curled up in the hall a few times, has taken to checking outside his door every so often when Bucky's out with his new best friend. Just in case.

Steve feels totally helpless. He's still working for Shield, sure, and Captain America is extremely popular, but he just about makes enough money to take care of them both and he can't put Bucky on his insurance. There's no rehab, no therapy, no doctors. He feels like they're floating in the middle of the ocean and there's no bottom in sight, only blackness that they can sink down into forever, and Bucky has his feet tied to a rock.

"He's not your responsibility." Sam sighs, knowing his words aren't going to have any impact. Steve just shrugs, sitting with his hands wrapped around his coffee mug at Sam's kitchen table. Beer has kind of lost its appeal since Bucky fell off the wagon again. "You can't run yourself into the ground over this, man."

"What else can I do?" Steve keeps his eyes on his coffee, feeling defeated. "It's not like I can lock him in the house or ban him from seeing his asshole friend."

"You could stop giving him money." Sam suggests, but Steve is already shaking his head.

"I don't. He doesn't even have access to his own account right now, he lost his cards when he left Hydra and never got new ones. Talking to authority freaks him out too much to go to the bank right now." He knows all of Bucky's tics by heart, but he still can't do anything to help get rid of them.

"So this guy is buying him drinks out of the goodness of his heart?" There's nothing but scepticism in Sam's voice. "Who is he, again?"

"His name's Brock. Bucky said he used to work for Hydra but he's gone legit now." Steve shrugs.

"Brock…" Sam frowns before his eyes widen with recognition. "Brock Rumlow?"

"Maybe, I dunno." Steve watches his expression change apprehensively, worry swelling in the pit of his stomach. "Why? Who's Brock Rumlow?"

"He used to work at Shield, a shitty top who never listened to safewords unless the director called cut. His ass got fired pretty quick when Stark found out he'd been selling information about Shield projects to Hydra."

"Bucky said he met him working at Hydra." Steve nods, chewing on his bottom lip anxiously. Sam sighs and grabs his laptop from the coffee table.

"That's what I was afraid of." He mutters, doing a quick image search.

Steve looks over his shoulder and almost chokes on his coffee when he sees screenshots of the first Winter Soldier tape. Sam glances back at him apologetically and angles the screen away as he scrolls. He stops and enlarges an image, turning the laptop back to Steve as he points it out.

Bucky is on his knees in the woods, and it's the moment before they shock him with the tazer for a second time. The camera angle lets them see the guy holding the weapon, looming above Bucky as he presses it to the back of his neck.

"Is that him?"

Steve seriously thinks he might puke.

This is the guy who's been giving him sarcastic salutes and patting Bucky on the back as they leave for the bar. This guy has been sitting on his couch with his feet up on Steve's coffee table. This guy has been responsible for getting Bucky home when he's too drunk to walk straight.

This guy raped Bucky on camera and Bucky's out drinking with him right now.

"Why would Bucky… After what he did to him…" He trails off, unable to wrap his head around words right now.

"Hydra fucked with his memory, maybe he doesn't know who Rumlow is." Sam shuts the laptop quickly, getting rid of the image as soon as Steve confirms who the guy is. "But he sure as hell knows who Bucky is. That explains why he's been paying for his booze and whatever else he's on."

"How does it explain that?" Steve frowns, trying to get his head back online after the shock of information. Sam sighs, he hates being the bearer of bad news and that's all he seems to do for Steve lately.

"How do you think Buck's been paying him without any money?"

Natasha's words from what seems like forever ago echo through Steve's head.

"Bucky used to do escorting."

"Fuck."

*

"Are you sleeping with Brock?"

This might not be the best time to ask that question.

Bucky is standing in the doorway of Steve's apartment, shivering. He's wasted, Steve can see it in the pallor of his cheeks and the unsteady hitch in his chest as he breathes, and in the fact that he's totally drenched from the rain. Apparently he'd lost his jacket altogether at some point tonight and hadn't been reasonable enough to wait for the rain to stop before he walked home.

This is totally not the time to confront him about the Brock issue, but Steve can't wait any longer.

"Well you wouldn't fuck me, so…" Bucky shrugs, that sarcastic, couldn't-care-less look on his face as he avoids Steve's eyes. Steve recognises the defence mechanism when he sees it, a ghost of the Bucky he'd first met.

"I wouldn't fuck you because you're too fucking drunk to consent to anything most of the time." Steve doesn't even feel bad when Bucky flinches at his raised voice. "Do you even know who he is?"

"Of course I do. He used to work for Hydra." Bucky frowns at Steve like he's crazy. Steve ignores the urge to grab a blanket to wrap around his skinny shoulders and steps closer. He's getting angry now, and he isn't even sure why he's pissed at Bucky when he should be feeling sorry for him.

"No, I mean do you know who he is, what he did to you before?" Steve can't read his expression as Bucky drops his gaze. "He was involved in the Winter Soldier project, Buck."

"No he wasn't." The denial is too fast for it to be honest.

Steve's mouth actually falls open when he realises Bucky knows what Rumlow did to him.

"Yes he was, and you know that." Bucky shakes his head vigorously, but Steve is still moving closer to him. "You know what he did to you, and now you're hanging out with him?!"

"Pay's good." The comment is a mumble, like he means it to be sarcastic but the energy got lost somewhere between his brain and his mouth.

"Are you fucking kidding me?!" Steve's yelling now, but his anger is cut off when Bucky raises his head suddenly and comes back at him with just as much force.

"No, Steve. The pay is good. I need the money for—"

"You need the money for booze and drugs! I pay for everything else!"

"Exactly!" Bucky shoves him in the chest with his good arm, his cheeks turning pink as he yells. "You're just pissed someone else touched your fucking property!"

It feels like a slap to the face, and Steve hates the surge of hot anger in his chest that tells him the words are partially true. He's pissed because Bucky is destroying himself, true. But there's a smaller, guiltier part of him that's mad as hell because Bucky's sleeping with someone who isn't him.

His Bucky is fucking someone else, and he can't stand it.

"You don't own me just because you keep me! I'm not your fucking pet, Steve!"

"I didn't—" He backs up a couple of steps, jolted out of his angry thoughts as he's shocked by the words. Bucky doesn't stop, not now the dam is broken on everything he's been keeping bottled up for so long.

His eyes are bright with rage and his chest is heaving as he yells, and this is the most alive and animated Steve thinks he's ever seen him. Maybe Bucky could do with getting angry every so often instead of shoving it all down where no one can see how he feels.

"If I wanna drink, I'm gonna drink! I'm a fucking adult and I can make my own decisions, no matter how much you try and treat me like a kid!"

"Bucky, I—"

"I went from Sasha telling me I couldn't take care of myself to you acting like I can't walk down the street without someone holding my hand. You make all the decisions, you take care of everything, you tell me what's best for me. It's like living in a fucking zoo! I'm nobody's fucking pet!"

"That's not what I—"

"I'm fucked up, okay?" Bucky gestures wildly, his arm brace glinting in the too-bright hallway light. "I'm broken and I don't work right and I can't get fixed, but that's me. That's who I am. If I wanna fuck someone for money then I can do that! I'm a human and I can fuck up however I want to!"

"I—"

"You're not in charge of me!" He beats his fist against his own chest, and Steve's sure it'll leave bruises. "Nobody owns me! I own me!"

"Bucky, stop. Bucky." Steve catches the fist that comes at his face and then catches Bucky as his face twists. He crumples into Steve's chest, boneless and shivering and unable to stand it anymore.

Steve holds Bucky tightly as he starts to sob, finally breaking down under the weight of everything that's been piling up on him for God only knows how long. His skinny shoulders hitch and Steve squeezes him tight, no longer worrying about maybe hurting his arm if he hugs him too hard. He's been treating Bucky like glass for too long, that's part of the problem.

"It's gonna be okay, Buck." He promises softly, running a hand over too-long, unwashed hair as Bucky cries into his shirt. "We'll fix it. Together, not just me."

"What if it can't be fixed?" Bucky gasps through his tears. He wants to stop crying but he can't, and Steve just presses his lips gently to the top of his head.

"Then I'm still gonna be here. If you want me." He murmurs. Nothing has been about what Bucky wants for a very long time, and he thinks it's about time something was.

Bucky lets out a reluctant whimper and hides his face in Steve's shoulder. Steve's pretty sure that's a yes.

Chapter Text

"It's probably better if you stay here for a while. You and Steve both need a break."

Bucky's been back at Clint and Phil's house for the last month. Steve had been on the edge of burning out completely after what happened with Rumlow, and Bucky had enough self-awareness to call Natasha and tell her he needed to leave. Steve had been reluctant to let him go, but he didn't have much choice at that point. He was running himself into the ground, and it was a case of either having them both crash and burn or getting enough space to get himself together and be able to help Bucky in the future.

Bucky and Steve aren't good for each other right now.

That's how Sam puts it anyway, when Steve falls into a week-long funk of feeling like a complete failure because Bucky leaves. He's not a superhero, Sam keeps reminding him, and he's got no experience dealing with Bucky's problems. Clint and Phil's life is mostly calm, mostly structured, and they live far enough out of town that Bucky can't really walk to the bar from their house. Clint's PTSD shit is mostly under control but their life is still set up to handle it, and so Bucky slots right into a routine that will probably help with his too.

For a whole month, Bucky does exactly as he's supposed to. He promised Steve that he didn't need saving, so he figures it's time to try and save himself. Not all heroes wear capes.

He goes to AA, NA, and the counsellor mostly paid for by a non-profit that helps victims of sexual abuse. It had taken some wrangling, but apparently guy in charge of the charity (and Bucky still thinks Happy is a ridiculous nickname) knows Stark somehow and he owes Phil a favour. Steve had never even thought of looking to charity for helping Bucky, he'd never considered anything except how he could fix the problem, but Clint grew up poor and knows when pride is less important than getting what you need. He and Phil cover the cost that the charity doesn't, in return for Bucky looking after Lucky and taking care of most of the cooking in the house.

It's not much of a trade, but Bucky at least feels like he's doing something to pay them back. He only reflexively offers to suck Clint's dick once, and somehow doesn't feel ashamed of the trained question slipping out when the response is 'Nah I'm good. What I do want is help with these fuckin' dishes though.' The indifference and redirection is easier to cope with than Steve's horrified protests, and Bucky doesn't feel so much like a broken toy when Clint seems to understand that it's not about sex when he does this. It's about what he's been trained to do, not what he wants.

He's starting to realise that maybe he shouldn't be doing anything sexual altogether. Not for a while at least. That doesn't give him much hope for getting into something normal with Steve any time soon.

He feels better letting his tics show after he wakes up one night to Clint checking the house for bugs. There are smoke alarms and light switches dissembled on the table, and Clint's fingers are too swift and too steady as he takes them apart and puts them back together once he's satisfied they're clean. Bucky sits with him until the clouds clear from his eyes and Clint looks up sheepishly, but Bucky just twitches a half-smile and they both go back to bed.

The next time it happens, Clint teaches him how to check the house for surveillance. Bucky feels better, slipping quietly through the dark behind his friend and learning how to keep himself safe. He's not broken here.

The counsellor is trained in CBT therapy, so that's what Bucky gets. For a month, he gets trained in how to recognise when his thoughts are slipping into something they shouldn't, how to stop that train before it spirals out of control, and how to redirect his thoughts to something different. It's like a roided-up version of the little things Clint had been teaching him before, and Bucky kind of doesn't hate it. His panic attacks get easier to divert, and the urge to fall back into his Hydra conditioning slowly lessens.

He still wakes up five times a night from nightmares that make him shake and puke and cling to Lucky so hard he doesn't know how the dog hasn't bitten him yet, but things are slowly getting better.

At the one-month mark of his sobriety, Clint and Phil (mostly Clint) throw a party. It's not much of a party, really, just their friends coming over to fire up the grill while the good weather lasts, but Bucky appreciates it all the same. He changes his shirt three times before he's satisfied with how he looks, and he wonders why it feels like such a big deal.

Then he realises it's probably the first time he's been around all his friends sober, and his palms start sweating all over again.

Nobody brings booze, and he wonders if they've been instructed not to or it's just a hive-mind decision. Sam brings alcohol-free beer (which he tries a tentative sip of and quickly dumps), Steve brings a six-pack of vanilla Coke (which Clint promptly appropriates), and Natasha brings a box of assorted fruit juices and a set of instructions for 'mocktails.' Bucky's not really sure what a 'Lusty Lime Virgin' is, but he's having way too much fun with the dirty names of the cocktails to give much of a shit how it tastes.

Everyone ends up in a heap of laughter when Phil politely requests an 'Abstinence on the Beach.' Natasha garnishes it with a little pink umbrella. Bucky even smiles.

It's the first time Bucky's seen his friends laugh like this in a long time, but the moment is tarnished by knowing that he's the reason they've been having such a hard time lately. He ends up on the edge of the party, leaning against the kitchen wall with Lucky whining every time he stops petting him. Steve comes over with a slightly cautious smile, reaching down to scratch the dog's ear along with him.

"You wanna take a break?" He asks, seeing the tightness in the smile Bucky gives him in return. He's started to be able to recognise when his friend is getting overwhelmed. "I was gonna go to the store and pick up more Coke."

"Yeah. Please." Bucky nods quickly in relief, going to grab Lucky's leash from where it hangs on the back of the kitchen door.

Steve tells Sam where they're going and then follows Bucky outside, catching up to him where he's already waiting on the sidewalk. There's a lit cigarette between Bucky's fingers already, and although his hands still shake all the time they don't tremble as hard as they did when he was still drinking. Bucky looks up with a little smile, his hair constantly falling out of the low ponytail he'd scraped it into in an effort to look less unkempt, and Steve feels his stomach flip.

"You okay?" He asks, careful to keep his voice neutral as they start walking, Lucky tugging on his leash in front of them.

"Yeah. Just needed some air." Bucky shrugs, taking another drag on his cigarette and keeping his eyes on the dog. He feels good today, better than he has for a long time, and he keeps sneaking sideways glances at Steve through his unruly hair. "Haven't exactly been around that many people at once for a while."

"Phil said you've been doing group counselling." The back of their hands brush against each other and Steve tries not to blush. He's not going to push anything today, not when this is the first time he's been alone with Bucky in a month.

"There's only three of us at a time, there's not a lot of guys in the program." Bucky looks across shyly when at Steve. He feels like he's in high school again. "Phil's been telling you about me?"

"I've been asking him how you're doing. Him and Natasha." Steve admits, hoping Bucky doesn't mind. "I… I didn't want to get too close for a little while. I wanted to give you some space, I hope it's not weird."

Bucky nods and drops his gaze, not looking up again until they reach a crosswalk and have to stop. He raises his head and looks at the shadows falling across Steve's face as the light dims. Bucky's used to seeing him in pieces, in tunnel-vision snatches of eyes or mouth, in dizzy lines or blurred through tears. Seeing him with sober eyes is a revelation.

"I'm sorry about what I said before." Bucky mumbles, nudging Steve slightly with his elbow. Lucky looks up from the tug on his leash but stays waiting for the lights to change. "I shouldn't have been such a dick."

"No, you were right." Steve meets his eyes, not letting Bucky look away again. "I didn't realise I was being overprotective and smothering you. I just… I wanted to make everything better. I can't, I get that now. I'm sorry I made you feel so shitty, I never meant to."

Bucky shakes his head and looks away with a tiny smile. Things aren't perfect, they're not even good right now, but they're better than they have been. He doesn't have a job or any prospects, he can't sleep through a night without freaking out, he can't even hang out with his own friends for a whole night without having to run away. But somehow Steve being here makes him feel like he's not about to backslide again. Not immediately, anyway. He can't make plans for the future yet, but he's clean and sober and Steve is right here being handsome and kind and…

Bucky reaches out and takes his hand. Steve looks down at where they're joined in surprise, looking up at Bucky like he's scared he's going to panic. But Bucky isn't planning to break down any time soon, his head is clear and Lucky isn't even looking at him like he's about to start freaking out. He chews on his lip for a second before he looks up at Steve again.

"I… I can't promise I'm gonna be able to…"

"I don't care." Steve blurts it out before Bucky can even get his words together. He looks shocked at his own hurry to agree with Bucky, but that doesn't stop him. "I mean it. I know things are gonna be hard, I know you're gonna have stuff to work through. But Buck, if all we ever do is hold hands then I'm still gonna be here."

Bucky doesn't kiss him, but he laces their fingers together and squeezes Steve's hand. Steve bumps their shoulders together gently and Bucky grins at the floor. Things aren't great, but maybe they could be.

When the lights change, they cross the street together.

Chapter Text

"Guys, we kinda have an announcement to make."

"Clint's pregnant?!"

Sam bursts out laughing and Steve tries not to do the same as Bucky steps all over the moment. Natasha breaks a piece off her cookie and whips it at his head, wiping the shit-eating grin off his face and turning it into a scowl in her direction. Maybe a coffee shop isn't the best place to meet up in a group for them, there are way too many projectiles.

Steve's just happy to see his (boy?)friend acting like his old self again. He's only been out of Clint and Phil's house for a week, back in his old apartment on his own, but it seems like he hasn't got worse for it. Bucky had even asked Steve to go into his apartment beforehand, sheepishly told him where he used to hide his stash of pills, and Steve had cleared everything out so he didn't even have to look at it. He seems committed to staying sober, no matter how fragile that sobriety is so far.

"Will you guys stop being your dumbass selves for five minutes?" Clint rolls his eyes and bangs his mug on the table like he's bringing the meeting to order. It's more effective with a coffee mug than a beer bottle that fizzes up ninety-percent of the time. "Me and Phil have an announcement, shut your holes."

"You're definitely not in the right line of work if you want people to shut their holes." Bucky mutters, making Steve let out an unattractive snort of laughter.

Bucky glances across at him with a proud little smirk on his face. There's always a kind of uncertainty under his expressions now, like he's always waiting to see if he's done the right thing, made someone react the way he intended to. There's not much of the cocky guy Steve had first met left, but he's slowly re-emerging day by day. Steve thinks he kind of likes the sweeter Bucky he has these days. 

"It's funny you should say that." Phil cuts in, and he always sounds like a schoolteacher chastising a particularly unruly class. "Because that's what our announcement is about, actually. Clint and I are leaving the industry."

"What?!" Sam doesn't even let them have a moment of stunned silence. Steve blinks in surprise and Natasha raises her eyebrows pointedly at Clint.

"This is the kind of thing we usually discuss, Barton."

"I know, I know. But we've kinda been working on something big and we didn't know if it was gonna happen until recently." Clint explains, his face lit up like an excited child getting to show off his favourite new toy.

"So don't keep us in suspense forever." Sam sits back in his chair, looking them over. "Spill, what's the plan?"

"Well… Okay, so it's kinda a long story." Clint glances across at Phil and waits for a nod before he goes ahead. "The whole reason we got into the industry in the first place is because Phil got discharged from the military through injury. His unit got hit with friendly fire and… anyway. The guy who dealt with his case was Colonel Rhodes who—"

"Rhodey?" Natasha's eyebrows are going to disappear into her hairline if she raises them any higher. "Stark's Rhodey?"

"Stark's Rhodey." Clint nods. "That's how we got involved with Shield. He knew we needed something to tide us over until the case got settled, and Stark owes him about a million favours. It was only ever gonna be a temporary move, though we ended up staying longer than we expected. But Phil's compensation check came in a few weeks ago, so we're officially out of adult entertainment."

"Well, congrats." Steve smiles and raises his coffee cup, toasting them both. "At least now you can stop being paranoid about your guy being around porn stars all day, Barton."

"He has a Captain America screensaver, punk. I'm still watching you." Clint points at Steve warningly.

"A-ny-way..." Sam makes a face and breaks into the conversation awkwardly, not intending to wait for Clint to start throwing sugar packets at Steve's head. "So what's the plan, guys? Round the world trip? Adopt a million dogs?"

Phil gives Clint a withering look before he can even start begging for them to do the second one.

"We're going to be staying in New York, actually." He explains placidly. "We bought a bar."

"You bought a bar?" This time Bucky's the one whose eyes bug out. "That's awesome."

There's part of Steve that worries at the enthusiasm for a moment, but he shakes it off. Bucky's just excited for their friends, there's no way he thinks this is an opportunity to go back to drinking. One thing Bucky isn't is stupid: he knows there's no bar in the city less likely to serve him than one run by his best friends.

"We bought Angels." Clint grins and everything falls into place for Steve. So that's why he's been running into Clint when he picks Peggy up from work at the club: Clint now owns the club. "We're gonna redecorate, change the interior and the name probably, but we're intending to keep it as a burlesque place. Have like a retro theme, maybe."

"Why'd you decide to run a bar?" Sam asks, curiously.

"It was either that or a diner. We figured we had more contacts in, y'know, strippers and nightlife and shit." Clint is still grinning like a little kid, and Steve can't help grinning too. "It's a childhood dream, c'mon. Who doesn't wanna own a strip club?"

The enthusiasm is infectious, and pretty soon everyone is busy discussing plans for the bar. Even Natasha is showing some excitement, which is rare, and Bucky and Sam are arguing over colour schemes within ten minutes. Phil sits like a benevolent parent, quietly pointing out every so often that they're not actually making any decisions about what happens in his bar, not that it makes any difference to them.

Clint loudly announces that he needs more coffee and gets up, beckoning Steve to follow him with a motion of his head. Steve grabs his and Bucky's mugs and follows, pausing to squeeze his (and he should be able to say boyfriend now without blushing, really) shoulder as he goes. He catches up with Clint downstairs, at the end of the line for the counter and more precious caffeine.

"So what's up?" He cuts to the chase straight away, because he knows Clint didn't get him down here just for coffee.

Luckily his friend is just as direct as he is, and only pauses to glance over Steve's shoulder and make sure everyone else is still upstairs before he speaks quietly.

"We're thinking about offering Bucky a job at the bar."

Whatever Steve was expecting, it wasn't that. He's pretty sure he's goldfishing all over the place right now.

"Uh…"

"We know it's probably a terrible idea, that's why we didn't ask him yet." Clint holds up his hands. "We didn't wanna offer it to him and then realise it was a shitty idea and take it away again, y'know? The kid's had enough disappointment for a lifetime already."

"So why talk to me instead of him?" Steve is defensive immediately, because making decisions for Bucky is how he fucked things up last time. "I'm not his keeper, Clint."

"No, but you do know how he's doing better than anyone else. I even spoke to Natasha and she said you'd know best." Clint pauses as they move forward in line. He looks across at Steve seriously. "I'm just looking for an opinion, that's all. How do you think he's handling being sober? You think he could deal with being around booze and not drink?"

Steve sighs and rubs a hand awkwardly over the back of his neck. He understands why Clint and Phil are doing it like this instead of talking to Bucky straight off, but he still feels weird about it. Sure, Bucky would never tell anyone about the panic attacks and the nightmares that he still suffers from, that some days he zones out for hours at a time and speaks Russian when he comes out of his trance, but Steve's not sure it's his right to either. This is about keeping Bucky safe, he gets that, but it still feels like going behind his back.

"I don't know." He answers, honestly. "He's doing better with everything, but his sobriety is still kinda fragile, I guess. He avoids anything that could threaten it right now, I dunno how he'd do with having it shoved in his face. I've never seen him actively turn down a drink, but then I've never seen him in a situation where he would have to."

"Okay, that's all I need to know." Clint nudges Steve with his elbow as they move further up the line, able to tell that Steve isn't exactly comfortable with speaking on Bucky's behalf and changing the subject quickly. "How are you guys doing, anyway? You both seem happier lately."

"Yeah." Steve smiles to himself. "I guess we are."

*

Bucky is not happy. He's starting to feel totally fucking useless.

It's becoming obvious that his written English is something that's got worse through years of disuse (he can't remember the last time he actually had to write anything down), and job application after job application has been simply ignored. He doesn't even get rejections, most of the time. Even when Natasha helps him apply for things, he doesn't have any relevant experience or qualifications outside of a high school diploma. He's finally got his head together enough to think about getting back into the world beyond his apartment, and it seems like it doesn't want him back at all.

Steve keeps telling him to give it time. It's the same way he deals with their sex life, or what exists of it anyway. They can cuddle now, sleep next to each other, they can even make out. But every time Bucky thinks he can handle something more than that, every time he tries to push things a little further, something goes wrong and he baulks. Last time he thought he'd be able to handle Steve touching his dick, and everything had been fine until Steve had made one little grunt that sounded just like someone else, and Bucky had ended up shivering in a ball on the floor.

To his credit, Steve never gets mad when Bucky freaks out. He's become good at coaxing his boyfriend back to himself, helping Bucky calm down and giving him space when he needs it, holding him tight when he doesn't. Bucky's grateful for it, but it doesn't stop him feeling like a broken toy most of the time. He's sure Steve should kick him to the curb, but he hasn't yet. That still confuses him sometimes.

Bucky's busy fighting with the laptop, trying to fill in a Starbucks application (never mind that Steve insists he's the last person on Earth who should be making coffee for a living, his coffee is just fucking perfect, thank you) when there's a knock at the door. He only hesitates for a second before he gets up to answer it. Steve's in the shower, Peggy isn't home, and he's feeling confident enough to talk to a stranger today.

Except when he opens the door, there's nobody there. Bucky squints down the hall in confusion for a moment before he looks down and freezes when he spots what's on the doorstep.

The bottle is expensive, the good stuff that Pierce used to let him drink when he'd behaved well for an important client, and Bucky picks it up with cold, sweaty hands. He closes the door before he looks at the tag around the neck of the bottle, his heart rate starting to pick up uncomfortably.

Paid in advance. See you around. – Brock

Bucky's hands are shaking now, and he sets the bottle down quickly before he can drop it. There's a mixture of fear (advance payment for what?) and something that feels like sick excitement in his chest. Vodka. He's already making plans, his head running away from him.

He has vodka. His rucksack is right there, Steve never has to know. He can take it back to his apartment and use it to just take the edge off a little. Or there are water bottles in the cabinet. He can fill those with the vodka and take it home, fill the bottle up with water and hand it over to Steve so he still looks like a good guy. He can—

Bucky stops himself, forcefully. That's not what he wants. He can taste the fucking vodka in his mouth and he aches for one swallow, but Steve…

But Steve.

He knocks on the bathroom door.

"Hey, are you done?" Steve answers by opening the door in a towel a moment later.

"Yeah, I was just—" He's cut off when Bucky pushes the bottle into his hands.

"Take that." His hands aren't shaking now, not when his jaw is set and he's made a decision he'll stick to, but he still can't stop staring at the bottle. "You don't have to throw it out, just put it where I don't have to look at it. I don't care."

Of course they'll have to talk about the note, about how they're going to deal with Brock still looming in the darkness, but it can wait. Steve hides the bottle while Bucky makes coffee, and his hands are steady when he gives Steve a cup. Bucky gets upset when they talk about Brock, about what he might be after, but he still doesn't go looking for the bottle. He's leading with his jaw, but he's still on his feet.

Curled up in bed later, with Bucky's head on his chest as he sleeps as peacefully as he ever does, Steve texts Clint.

I think he can handle it.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure you wanna try this?"

"For the last fuckin' time, yes." Bucky sighs and rolls his hips where he's sitting in Steve's lap, making his boyfriend bite his lip as he rubs against him just right. "I want you to fuck me, Stevie. C'mon."

"Are you—"

"Steve." Bucky takes his face in both his hands and looks him in the eye, a look of exasperation on his face. "I'm sober. I'm not doing this because I think I have to. I'm not trying to pay you back for anything. I know what I want, and what I want is to have sex with my boyfriend like a normal fucking person."

Steve can't say no to that.

They kiss lazily at first, Bucky straddling Steve's lap and grinding down against him every so often. It takes him a while to get hard since Hydra, so Steve lets Bucky set the pace as he slowly works himself up. It's not long before he can feel Bucky hard against him, and he starts letting out these mewls at the friction between them that send a bolt of heat through Steve every time.

There's nothing he wants to do more than pick Bucky up, throw him on the ground, and fuck his brains out. But he needs to be patient, has to let Bucky lead this if it's going to work.

"Too many clothes." Bucky pants when they break apart, tugging at Steve's t-shirt. Steve yanks his shirt off in record time and almost knocks over a lamp when he tosses it away, making Bucky break into breathless laughter. He waits for permission before he pulls Bucky's shirt off too, being careful not to catch it on his arm brace.

There's a shield in Captain America colours painted around the red star on the brace now, after Bucky stopped trying to protect Steve from the worst of what had been done to him and told him that the tattoo hadn't been his choice. He likes it better this way, the lines of the shield hugged protectively around its sharp points. It doesn't hurt when he looks at it now.

"Wanna leave the brace on?"

"Yeah, wanna be able to touch you." Bucky murmurs from where he's mouthing at Steve's collarbone. He pauses, sounding hesitant for a moment. "Is that okay? I can take it off and—"

"It's fine." Steve knows he's self-conscious about the brace, and he presses a kiss pointedly to the metal before he goes back to trying to explore every inch of his boyfriend's skin.

Bucky has filled out a little since he got sober, but he's still skinnier than he really should be. There are the beginnings of wiry muscle developing under his pale skin, and Steve can't help but smooth his hands over his back, smiling when he can only feel the faintest hint of protruding ribs. He pulls back and runs his hands over Bucky's chest, feeling him alive and warm underneath his fingertips. The heartbeat under his hands is the miracle Steve never knew he was searching for.

"What are you looking at?" Bucky murmurs, his cheeks darkening and the flush spreading down his chest as Steve keeps staring at him, brushing his thumbs over Bucky's nipples and making him shiver.

"You." He smiles, looking up to meet Bucky's eyes that are only partially hidden by his hair. "You're beautiful."

"Shut up." Bucky shakes more hair in his face to try and hide and Steve snorts. "I'm a sure thing, Rogers. You don't have to sweet-talk me."

"Maybe I want to." Steve grins, leaning up to press a soft kiss right over Bucky's heart. "Maybe I wanna tell you all about how gorgeous you are. Tell you everything I wanna do with your beautiful body."

"Will you just shut up and fuck me?" Bucky grumbles, his cheeks still pink.

"If you insist." Steve feigns a put-upon sigh and tightens his arms around his boyfriend before he stands up. Bucky yelps in surprise and quickly wraps his legs around Steve as he carries him through to the bedroom.

"You don't have to show off your ridiculous muscles, either." Bucky mutters as Steve sets him down on the bed, immediately crawling on top of him. It's not like he's complaining, though, because he's pushing his hips up against Steve with more urgency than ever after the demonstration of just how much strength is in his boyfriend's ridiculous muscles.

"How do you wanna do this?" Steve asks, as he quickly shoves off his own pants and pauses at the fly of Bucky's jeans.

"I want you to fuck me." Bucky pushes his crotch into Steve's hand and he takes the hint, slowly working his boyfriend's jeans down until they're skin to skin, lazily thrusting against each other. "Just like this, where I can see you."

"Okay." Steve knows better than to keep asking if Bucky's okay, to keep checking in with him. There's no glaze in his eyes, nothing to suggest he's anywhere but here. He's present, not trapped in his head or any kind of shitty memory. If he needs to stop then he'll say, and until then Steve is going to trust what he says completely.

Part of the reason getting over Hydra's abuse has been so hard for him is because Bucky loves sex. He loves being fucked, and he's missed it like hell. He keens as Steve slides a slick finger inside him, slowly opening him up and watching his reactions carefully for any hint of trouble. There's a moment when he pushes in a second finger that Bucky reaches down, grabs his wrist and makes him pause for a second, but Steve just stills and waits to be told to stop or continue, and after a second Bucky gets past whatever memory he's dealing with and lets him go on.

It feels like no time at all before he's rolling on a condom and Bucky's watching him with hooded eyes, his lips kiss-swollen, red and sinful. They're both clean, all their last Shield-mandated tests came up negative and Bucky got re-tested after Brock, but Bucky's not sure he's ready to feel someone come inside him again. Steve can deal with that, he'll do whatever he needs to if it'll keep Bucky comfortable.

Steve doesn't look at the scars etched into Bucky's inner thighs as he lifts his boyfriend's knee and lines himself up to push in slowly. He's caught sight of the raised white lines before, the words in Russian and English that he respectfully doesn't focus on enough to read. If Bucky wants to tell him about them then he will, in time. Steve's not going to ask for more than he's ready to give.

Bucky is hot and tight around him, and Steve has to pause and breathe when he's all the way inside because there's no way he's gonna let himself lose it too early. Bucky whimpers and pushes down slightly as he adjusts, because Steve isn't fucking small, and Steve waits until the pinch of pain has smoothed from his expression before he starts to move.

"Fuck, Steve." Bucky moans and grabs onto him when he picks up the pace, thrusting a little harder as his body takes over. "God, I missed your fuckin' dick."

Steve pants out a laugh and leans down to kiss him fiercely, swallowing the obscene sounds Bucky's making greedily. He's missed this too, missed feeling this way, missed seeing Bucky writhe like this more than anything. It wasn't like this on camera, there are no hot lights here and nobody telling them how to fuck. There's nothing between them here, and Steve feels like he's got electricity running under his skin. Every touch sparks.

He brackets his arms either side of Bucky's head, leaning down on his elbows, and the change of angle makes Bucky cry out and claw at his back. Steve kind of can't wait to see the scratch marks in the morning. He thrusts harder as he gets close to the edge, Bucky clinging to him and taking it all so beautifully, and he fists his hand in Bucky's hair and uses it to pull his head back so he can –

"Stop, stop!" Bucky's suddenly trying to get away from him, pushing at his chest, and it takes Steve a second to get his brain back online and realise what he's done.

He pulled his hair. Shit.

"Shit! I'm sorry, Buck." He lets him go immediately and backs off to give him space as fast as he can, but the damage is done. Bucky's chest is getting tight as he scrambles away, and he starts gasping for air within moments.

All he can see behind his eyes is Sasha's face, looking down at him with disappointment in his eyes as he holds Bucky in place by the hair. He'd misbehaved, hadn't swallowed when the client came in his mouth without warning and almost choked him. Soldiers are supposed to follow orders, Yakov. His scalp is on fire as Sasha pulls his arm back and slaps him across the face before he forces his head down –

"Bucky, c'mon. Breathe." Steve has his hands on his shoulders and he's squeezing his arms gently, his hands steady against Bucky's shaking as he watches him with worried eyes. "Hey, sweetheart. Are you with me?"

Bucky nods and swallows hard, trying to force himself to calm down enough to breathe normally again. Steve talks him through the panic attack, helping him count out how long his breaths are until they finally slow down to something near normal. As soon as he comes back to himself fully, Bucky groans.

"Fuck." He drops his head into his hands in frustration. "We were so close."

"Hey, don't start beating yourself up." Steve gently pulls his hands away from his face, but Bucky's already shaking his head. He looks like he's about to cry, he's so mad at himself for fucking up again.

"Fuck, I'm so sorry Steve. I didn't mean to—"

"Bucky, stop." Steve squeezes his hands and makes Bucky look at him. "It is not your fault, okay? I shouldn't have yanked on your hair like that. But the more we get to know your triggers the more we can avoid them, so don't get down on yourself."

"But you deserve to be able to fuck your stupid, broken boyfriend without him spazzing out and…" He chokes on a frustrated sob and Steve squeezes his hands again.

"What'd I tell you, Buck? 'Til the end of the line, right?" He presses a kiss to Bucky's forehead as he struggles to compose himself. "I love my stupid boyfriend, and there's nothing broken about you."

"Love you too." Bucky mumbles, letting Steve help him up off the floor where he apparently ended up in his scramble to get away from the ghost of Alexander Pierce. He doesn’t try and tell Steve he still feels broken, because Steve knows that already. All he can do is try to show him otherwise.

Steve helps him back onto the bed and tosses away the condom that never got filled before he grabs a blanket and wraps it around them both. Bucky is still shivering like hell, he always gets cold when he gets a flashback to Hydra, to the Soldier, and Steve spoons up behind him and holds him tightly. He knows he'll get woken up in a few hours by Bucky's nightmares, but he'll be ready to help him calm down then, too.

When he said to the end of the line, he meant it. Now he just has to convince Bucky of that.

*

Steve goes over to have dinner at Bucky's apartment after work.

He's been banging some skinny little twink (who was also a huge dick to work with) at work, and he's more than ready for this day to be over. He's already showered at the studio, but he feels like he could use another one already. It's getting harder to feel clean after shoots, sometimes, although he's still making good money so he can't exactly complain.

He expects to see Bucky curled up on the couch when he gets to his apartment, marathoning a sitcom or watching one of the weepy movies from the forties that he loves so much. He can't help that he gets the biggest smile on his face every time he walks through the door and sees Bucky cuddled up in one of his oversized hoodies, it just resets his mood to see him like that. Calm and safe and mostly happy.

What he actually sees, when he gets through the door, is Natasha Romanov wielding a pair of scissors.

It's as terrifying as it sounds. That is until he blinks and realises what she's doing with them.

"You're just in time, I just finished." She looks up with a gentle smile unlike anything Steve's ever seen from her before. Bucky seems to have this effect on her from time to time. "What do you think?"

Bucky is sitting on a chair in the middle of the kitchen, a towel around his shoulders and significantly less hair than he had when Steve kissed him goodbye this morning. He's got it short on the back and sides, a little longer on top, and tousled. It's scruffy, chaotic, and perfect.

"Is it okay?" Bucky asks, nervously looking for Steve's approval. "She threatened to shave a dick into it at one point. Tell me I don't have a dick on my head, Steve."

"It looks amazing. It's a great job." Steve says, honestly. "Why'd you suddenly decide to cut it?"

He thinks it might have had something to do with what happened the other night, and although he's sure Bucky has told Natasha what happened already he kind of hopes he won't say it again now. Not only does Steve feel bad about triggering him, but he's also worried that Natasha will give him the shovel talk again if he's not careful.

"I figured I needed a new look to go with my new job." Bucky grins and gets up, carefully catching most of the hair cuttings in the towel. "Clint and Phil offered me a bartender job at their new place."

He hesitates, suddenly, and looks up at Steve with that little flash of submission in his eyes. Steve hates it when Bucky looks at him like he's going to punish him for making decisions without his approval, but he's not about to make him feel bad for something Steve knows he can't control.  

"Is that okay?" He chews on his lip for a moment, anxiously. "I mean, I know I'll be around booze and stuff but I promise I'm not gonna drink. I swear."

"Buck, if you want it then it's very okay. I trust you." Steve kisses him softly, and Bucky relaxes. He grabs the dustpan and brush from under the sink and makes a shooing motion as he starts to help Natasha clean up. "Go look at your new haircut, it looks awesome."

Bucky dutifully goes into the bathroom, nervous with anticipation, and almost gasps when he turns the light on.

He looks like a different person. His hair is short, he's put weight back on, and his eyes and skin are clear. He doesn't look anything like that shell of a man he'd seen in the mirror of the Winter Soldier's apartment. His holding cell. He has to touch his face and make sure his reflection does the same before he really believes it's him, he's been disconnected from his body for so long that he's still having a hard time connecting with the man in the mirror.

There's no trace of the Winter Soldier left here. He's pretty sure this is all Bucky.

"What do you think?"

Steve pokes his head into the bathroom and twitches a smile at his boyfriend's stunned expression. A smile slowly grows across Bucky's face, and he meets Steve's eyes in the mirror without hesitation. He doesn't look like the guy Steve first met almost a year ago. He looks better than that.

"He's gone."

Chapter Text

Being called into Fury's office always feels like being sent to the principal's office, even if it's for something good. Steve isn't sure what he's been summoned for today, but he's already nervous.

"So, Cap." Fury has a new eyepatch, some kind of steampunk stitched-leather thing, but Steve's not sure if it would be rude to compliment it so he doesn't say anything. "You've been working hard for the last few months, and we appreciate it. Personally, I'm impressed that you haven't let your personal life interfere with your work. I understand things have been stressful lately."

Steve just nods, wondering where Fury's going with this. He's distracted, thinking about how he's usually home at this time of day and Bucky's routine is getting disrupted. It's not that he thinks Bucky can't handle being left alone for a few hours, but he had a bad night last night and he's been slipping in and out of Russian all day. Plus the fact that he's supposed to be getting trained at the bar later, and his anxiety has been through the roof since last night. Steve was hesitant to leave him when he wasn't supposed to be working today, but he can't exactly refuse a meeting with his boss.

"How is Barnes?" Fury asks, jolting Steve out of his head.

"He's doing okay." Steve replies, carefully. "Had trouble finding a job. He's got something now."

He doesn't say anything else, doesn't think he owes Fury that. Not after Shield went back on their promise to keep Bucky part of the company.

"I want you to know that letting him go was my call, not Stark's. I made that decision even though he wanted to keep Barnes on." Fury meets his eyes levelly. "This is a safe workplace. Shield is the pinnacle of SSC pornography, we protect our performers and we keep them safe. The only thing I could do to protect Barnes was get him out of here, I hope you understand that."

"I do." Steve nods, although he's not sure he's forgiven Shield for dumping Bucky at a time when he really didn't need more crap in his life. "He's getting better since he left."

"I'm glad to hear it." Fury sounds sincere, surprisingly so, and Steve remembers that Bucky was with Shield for a long time. They saw him at his worst, he was scraping rock bottom for a long time even before Steve came on the scene, and he figures it makes sense that they want him to be okay.

It's automatic now for him to shake his head when Fury goes back to his shitty eighties-style bar and offers him a drink. Steve hasn't made a decision to stop drinking, he'll still have a beer with Sam or Clint after work, but he feels bad about kissing Bucky with liquor on his breath. Bucky's never asked him to stop, but it's a temptation his boyfriend doesn't need. Steve just wants to make things easier for him any way he can, and this is a tiny thing he can do while Bucky has to shoulder all the heavy lifting.

"The reason I've called you in here today is because your contract is up for review." Fury sits back down in his padded chair with a sigh, his glass already sweating as he places it on the desk. "The Captain America series is extremely popular, your page view count and ratings are through the roof. We're going to be offering you a revamped contract to reflect that."

Steve feels like he should be happy right now, but he just nods dutifully. A revamped contract means more shoots, more hours, moving into more extreme stuff. He thinks about the first time he'd entered Fury's office, how excited he'd been to get into the adult industry and prove himself, show everyone who thought he was puny or useless that he was desirable, that he could make a living with the body that had betrayed him for most of his life.

He doesn't feel like that anymore. He never thought banging hot guys would lose its appeal, but it kind of has. Having someone waiting for him at home has changed his perspective on a lot of things.

Fury seems to read something in Steve's expression, because he nods like he's found something he'd been expecting.

"I'm also going to offer you something different." The ice clinks in his glass as he considers his words. "I'm going to offer you an out."

"An out?" Steve looks up in confusion.

"We can put your contract on hold. You take some time, do a different job, heal whatever needs healing." Steve knows exactly who he means by that. "And when you're ready, come back to us. You make us a lot of money, Steve, you're a great performer. You'll always have a place at Shield."

"But if I'm making you so much money, why are you letting me leave?" He frowns, not understanding why Shield would let a big earner go so easily. Voluntarily, even.

"Because if you burn out then everybody loses." Fury explains, and Steve silently admits that he's been running himself ragged lately between taking care of Bucky and working all the time. Sam has been nagging him to take a break for a while now. "Take time out, get some perspective, and figure out if this is something you really want. I told you we look out for our people here, you're no different."

A slow smile spreads over Steve's face because, yeah, he hasn't felt positive about something like this for a while. Not everyone is like Natasha, thriving under the spotlight of the industry like a plant seeing the sun for the first time, and not everyone is like Bucky, chewed up and spat out by working in porn. Most people are like him, not entirely cut out for the business of selling sex. He thinks maybe he's okay with not being special, for once. Fury notices his change of attitude and smirks.

"Of course, you could just sign your revamped contract and carry on working for us full time."

Unsurprisingly, Steve shakes his head.

On the way out of the studio building, he pulls out his phone. He remembers calling Peggy the first time he left here, immediately meeting her in the club and getting wasted way too fast because he hadn't eaten to save money. His life is different now, his priorities have changed, and he's calling someone for a different reason when he leaves Shield Studios this time.

"Phil, hi. You guys still looking for bar staff?" He's smiling as he hits the street, getting caught up in the flow of people hurrying about their lives. He's got nowhere to be but home. "Security? Yeah, I think I could handle that."

*

Black screen.

The video clicks on.

Captain America is sitting in front of the camera. It's not set up like his usual videos, the quality is that of a shitty webcam and he's only shown from the chest up. It looks like he's in a real apartment, not on a set.

"Hi guys."

He waves at the camera, surprisingly dorky.

"Cap here. I thought I'd upload a little message, let you know that I'm not gonna be posting anything new for a while. Maybe not for a long while, I don't know when I'm gonna be back. The guys at Shield Entertainment have been good enough to let me take some time off, do something different for a while. My life has kinda changed since I started doing this. The website will still be up here and I'll be posting up pictures and solo stuff now and then, so…"

Someone coughs pointedly off-camera, interrupting the rambling.

"But before I sign off, I wanted to clear something up."

He looks up at someone behind the camera and smiles. A second voice chimes in.

"Do I have to do this? It's stupid."

"It's not stupid, c'mere."

A second man walks into shot. He's instantly recognisable as the infamous Winter Soldier, although his hair is short and he looks healthier than he did in the Winter Soldier Tapes. He sits beside Captain America, eyeing the camera warily.

"This is Bucky."

He waves reluctantly at the camera.

"You might know him by a different name. That's what I'm here to talk about."

Captain America leans forward, looking directly into the camera.

"There's been a lot of talk about Captain America and the Winter Soldier. That there's going to be a crossover, that I'm going to 'defeat' him somehow and fuck him into submission. Let me be clear: that is never going to happen. There is no more Winter Soldier, there won't be any more tapes. And I know this is probably futile, but I'm gonna ask you to please not spread around the ones that exist. Cap and the Soldier are characters, but there are real people behind them that have been hurt by some of the things that happened in-character. So if you could be respectful and not distribute the Winter Soldier Tapes any further, Bucky and I would appreciate it."

Bucky nods, not looking at the camera. Captain America leans across and kisses him on the cheek, looking back at the camera with a smile.

"Also, in case it wasn't clear, I guess you 'gay for pay' assholes can shut the fuck up now."

"Captain America!"

Bucky feigns shock at the cursing, covering his mouth with one hand. Captain America laughs.

"So this is Sergeant Barnes and I signing off. I'll see you guys later."

He reaches to turn the camera off and leans over to Bucky.

They kiss as the screen turns black.