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It's not as if he likes doing it. But when he'd passed the - brothel, the name sour on his tongue even in his mind, he'd been cold, hungry, and desperate. Bucky had been working as much as he could, but his wages were shit. Steve felt useless, on and off sick through the winter and always out of work - who would want to hire him? But Bucky's earnings just weren't enough for them, so they skimped and barely made rent and sometimes went a bit hungry. Bucky always said it was important that they had each other, but Steve felt like money would make things a lot easier. He couldn't stand seeing Bucky working himself to the bone to try to support the both of them.

Steve knows Bucky would do anything for him, which is why, when the woman out front asked if he wanted to make a few bucks, he'd accepted, knowing full well what she was implying.

It's just a couple hours a couple nights a week, to prevent from being noticeable, but they have enough now that they manage to buy some new clothes and blankets (well, used, but new to them), and enough food that they aren't going hungry. Bucky isn't worrying about them as much; Steve knows by the lessened circles under his eyes and the smile back on his mouth. He goes out more often, has a good time, and because of that, Steve can't regret anything.

***

He never thought being small would ever help him at work, but here he is. They manhandle him with their wedding rings digging into his scalp or his waist, and his fragile body is littered with bruises more often than not. It's not the worst job, he supposes, most of the guys are half decent to him, and quick, which is a relief.

Lying to Bucky is the hardest part, and it never gets easier. When Steve comes home smelling of smoke and sweat and sex, he feels Bucky's eyes on him, but he never brings it up. Steve always showers as soon as he gets home after, so that he smells like himself when he and Bucky lay down to sleep. He can always feel the questions Bucky wants to ask, but he only needs one look at Steve's face to know he shouldn't.

It's not as if Bucky is always home waiting for Steve, he's no saint. Sometimes he comes home weaving a little, all grime and cheap alcohol and the perfume of whatever dame he was with. Steve stings with jealousy at his hazy eyes and lipstick-smeared mouth, and if he's particularly drunk, tales of his encounters. Steve has to swallow the acid in his mouth and listen, tries not to show the way Bucky's words are burning him from the inside out. He thinks he doesn't, probably. Turns out he's a pretty good liar after all.

***

There are times Steve thinks Bucky's figured it out. Bucky walks in when he's shirtless after an encounter with a particularly rough guy and Steve can see his eyes flicker to the fingertip bruises and smattering of hickeys left on him. Steve throws a shirt on and Bucky says nothing. It's unusual, how quiet Bucky is about it. He's so loud about everything else, the lack of conversation about the topic makes Steve uneasy sometimes.

Most of the time Bucky is his same old self, though, dragging Steve on double dates and to the movies, rescuing him from scraps when he's getting his ass kicked. He still worries and takes care of Steve whenever he gets sick, and his face when Steve pulls through is still the relieved, lingeringly fearful look, and Steve knows he wishes he could do more than provide simple care of him.

There's no way Steve could ever tell Bucky the extent to what he does for him, or the way he feels about him. Bucky's not queer, and Steve knows one day he's going to have a beautiful wife and a small army of children. He doesn't know what's going to happen to himself. He thinks he'll probably get sick and just... not get better. His heart aches at the thought of leaving Bucky alone, so mostly he tries not to think about it.

***

Of course, it all has to fall apart eventually.

They're walking down a pretty empty street on a day in autumn, red and gold leaves blowing around, and laughing at some joke Bucky tells when someone walks up to them.

"Hey, baby," the guy with slicked back hair that Bucky has never seen before says.

"Keep walkin', buddy," Bucky says, noticing the way Steve has frozen.

The man shoots him a strange smile. "I wasn't talking to you, buddy, so I don't think I will," he says, turning to Steve.

Steve is a swirling mess of anxiety. He's pretty sure he's going to sweat through his clothes or faint, and he can't bring himself to look at the man's face, even as he says, "I haven't seen ya in a while, baby, where ya been?"

Maybe if he pretends he's not really there everything will be okay.

Bucky is looking at him, and he sees him better than anyone. Steve knows Bucky can see the way he's panicking. Steve doesn't think Bucky has ever seen him like this, but then again, he's not sure he's ever felt like this, so nervous he feels he's going to vomit. It makes him think of one time where Bucky interfered in his getting beaten up, something he said after. "You're so fucking calm, even when you're getting beat to shit, so fucking brave I can't take it, you huge idiot."

Bucky lays a hand on the guy's shoulder. He's only got a couple inches on him, but it's enough to be intimidating. Or, it would for any other guy but this.

"You don't want to start this. I just wanna talk to Stevie over here," the guy says, but Bucky blocks him.

The man grins again, but Steve can see the malice behind it. If it had been anyone but him...

"You didn't tell me you had a boyfriend, Steve," he says, and finally Steve can speak over the lump in his throat, with a sharp, "Shut up, Andrew."

"You haven't been at Annie's in weeks! I've been looking for you," Andrew says.

Steve can see Bucky's hand grip Andrew's shoulder harder, and he starts praying silently. Bucky is quiet, and behind the sheet of ice slowing his mind, he sees Bucky's eyes flickering between the two of them, and Steve frantically wonders if he's going to figure it out.

"I told you to leave us alone," Bucky says, and his voice is lower than Steve had ever heard it.

"You know you're the best one there, Steve. There aren't any other whores who suck cock like you do," Andrew says, and maybe he would have kept going, but Steve's ears are ringing and Bucky is reacting.

"You shut up about him!" Bucky yells angrily, and his hand flies, punching the man in the face.

He curses the both of them out and staggers away clutching his nose, swearing and threatening.

They watch him go for a minute, tension between them growing. Steve feels a pit in his stomach like someone's dropped a melting rock in there, like he can't feel anything but dread.

A moment later Bucky has his hands in his shirt and is pushing him against the wall of an alley.

Steve hasn't been afraid of Bucky since he first saw him, thinking he was going to help the other guys beat him up. But he's afraid now, pressed against the wall by Bucky, who's holding him too tight and leaning into his face with half-crazed eyes.

"What the fuck is he talking about, Steve, huh?" he asks, and Steve can feel Bucky's breath hot on his face. "Tell me he's lying," and he's shaking Steve a little and Steve must wince because Bucky is releasing him like a gust of wind and backing up, some kind of fear in his eyes.

Steve's mouth is dry and he starts to inch away. He doesn’t know what's going to happen or what Bucky's going to do.

But Bucky just catches his arm, shaking his head. "We're going home, you're not going anywhere," he says, his voice unlike Steve has ever heard it, and he doesn't let go of Steve the whole way home, leading him like Steve would blow away if he dared let go.

***

Steve has as no idea what to expect when they get home.

The door clicks closed behind them and when Bucky pulls away from Steve, he feels cold. He can still feel the ghost of Bucky’s hand on his arm

Bucky sits on the edge of the bed and looks up at Steve with a defeated expression.

"Tell me he was lying. Tell me he was just some guy on the street," he says, pleading.

Steve stares and finds he can't bring himself to do it. His voice is soft when he speaks. "Buck..."

He wraps his arms around himself as Bucky lets out a shaky sigh and runs a hand through his hair. Steve can't stand the look on his face; he's never felt ashamed of what he's been doing, but the sick expression on Bucky's face is only adding to the swirl of dread and self-loathing Steve is feeling.

"Jesus Christ, Steve," Bucky says, his voice weary. "Just - why? Why are you-"

"Whoring myself out?" Steve asks with what's attempting to be a wry smile. He can’t seem to make himself do it. It feels like everything he's been keeping in for all these months is finally going to get out.

"Because they don't care that I'm too small and took sick to hold a steady job," he continues. "You can't support the both of us, and I wasn't going to let you work yourself to death trying." Steve swallows thickly, mouth going dry. "You don't have to anymore. I'll move out and you won't have to be around me," he says, voice shaking a little at the thought.

Bucky lets out a humorless laugh. "I thought I was protecting you," he says looking up at Steve, who makes an inquisitive noise.

"I thought you were just... queer. I thought you'd found yourself a fairy to be with and you didn't want to tell me. I'm not stupid, Steve, I noticed that you were gone more, and the - marks. And I told myself I didn't care, but. Steve, jesus, why didn't you tell me? We could have figured something else out!" Bucky's voice is tinged with desperation, and suddenly he's rising and striding across the room to stand before Steve, wringing his hands.

"Like what? You work even more hours? No." Steve says.

"I could have done it instead! What if someone tries to hurt you, huh? Could you protect yourself? Or god forbid you get caught, or fucking arrested, and where would we be then, Steve? What would we do?" Bucky says, the pitch of his voice climbing.

"Why are you getting so upset about this? You can't take care of everything all the time, stop trying to save me when I don't need it! Why do you even do it?" Steve asks.

"Because I goddamn love you!" Bucky spits out, his voice strangled. His eyes are bright and hair wild from his fingers twisting their way through.

Steve makes an aborted movement toward him, a clawed fist tight around his heart. "What?" he whispers, barely able to get a sound out.

"I love you and I can't stand the thought of you - doing -" Bucky closes his eyes. "I tried for so long, to be normal. And I like being with dames, but even when I'm with them I can't stop thinking about you."

Bucky extends a hand and gently touches Steve's face as if everything is fragile. It's different from how Bucky touches him normally - rough and playful, or when he's sick - desperate, like he's trying to make Steve well just through touch. This is tentative and so unlike the Bucky Steve knows.

"Why didn't you say anything, if you knew about me?" Steve asks.  

Bucky half-shrugs. "I thought you were with one guy. And I didn't think you'd want me."

"Everyone wants you," Steve says. His lips are numb, like his mind and his skin and his heart; he can't feel the words he's speaking.

"Do you?" Bucky asks, and it sounds like the words barely make it past the lump in his throat. He tries to smile, one side of his mouth stretching up his face for a moment before it fades into an unreadable expression.

A beat, and then, "Of course I do."

Bucky's eyes flicker to his lips, and Steve watches his throat as he swallows.

"This is wrong, you know," Bucky says, but Steve just lays a hand over Bucky's on his cheek and shakes his head, feels the pull of the muscles in Bucky's wrist and arm as he stretches them minutely.

He has so much to say locked away behind gates in his head, and he doesn't know where to start, but then he doesn't have to because Bucky is leaning down.

It's not his first kiss, but it's the best, because it's Bucky's hand and Bucky's mouth and the smell of Bucky's soap around him.

It's closed mouth and over in a few moments, but it leaves Steve with a blush blooming across his face and down his neck.

Bucky lets in a shuddering breath, his forehead pressed against Steve’s and his eyes closed. Steve can feel the brush of Bucky’s hair where it’s falling against him. He can feel every point on his body where Bucky touches him, and it feels like blissful burning, on his cheek and his lips, waist and hands. His thumb is tracing a path along Steve’s jaw and it leaves him aching. “Steve,” Bucky says reverently, and his voice is thin, nearly a whisper.

And they’re kissing again, and this time it’s hungry and desperate, fists balled in each others’ shirts and the slick sound of their lips the only sound in the room except for the breathing and whimpers they’re trying to get out of each other.

The back of Steve’s knees hit the bed, and before he can think he grabs Bucky’s shirt tightly and pitches them backward, feeling the weight of Bucky over him as he leaves a trail of kisses down Steve’s neck, careful not to leave marks somewhere easy to see. He can feel Bucky, the hard line of his cock pressed against Steve’s thigh. He’s sure Bucky can feel him, and he lets his eyes flutter closed as Bucky licks a long stripe up Steve’s neck to his ear, where he nips the lobe.

“Steve,” Bucky breathes. “I want you. Can - can we,” he fumbles, unsure, but Steve is already nodding.

“Yes,” he says. “I want you. Wanna feel you, c’mon.” He reaches under Bucky’s shirt, feels the spot at the bottom of his back that makes him shiver against Steve.

They’re twisting, then, Bucky stripping his shirt off and throwing it on the floor, pulling Steve’s off over his outstretched arms. Bucky kneels over Steve, one leg on either side of his waist, and he looks down at Steve so tenderly that it makes Steve hurt. Bucky traces patterns along his skin, gently, before cupping on hand over his heart. He presses for a moment before leaning down and brushing a kiss against Steve’s skin. His eyes are closed but Steve can see his eyelashes fluttering.

Bucky’s lips drag along Steve’s skin, leaving a burning path until he reaches Steve’s mouth and kisses him again. It’s intense, full of passion pent up for years, the harsh sting of unrequited love finally escaping as their tongues brush and their teeth click together as their lips slide.

Bucky pulls away, minutely, watches Steve’s open mouth. “I want you to fuck me,” he says, and there’s a rush of air as Steve lets out a small gasp.

“Are you sure?” Steve asks, one hand an anchor on the small of Bucky’s back, holding them together. “I’ve never done that before,” he admits, and there’s a hint of anxiety in his voice, but Bucky just smiles a little and says, “I haven’t either,” forcing a quiet laugh from Steve.

A breath, and they’re twisting so Steve is over Bucky. “Stay here and take your pants off,” he says, before walking across the room to his desk, where he pulls something out of the top drawer.

When he comes back, he drops them on the bed and says, unnecessarily, “Supplies.”

It makes Bucky laugh. “A little different from your art supplies, huh? I can’t believe you keep them in the same drawer.”

“I needed a place you wouldn’t find them, you jerk,” Steve says, climbing back on the bed.

Bucky is naked, but it’s not the first time Steve has ever seen him. The only thing changed is his cock, hard and lying against his stomach. He doesn’t let himself get distracted, so he takes hold of Bucky’s legs and positions him so he’s spread in a way that’ll make it more comfortable for him. Bucky is quiet and malleable while Steve crooks Bucky’s knees up, and Bucky’s eyes are the only thing about him that betray any hint of nervousness. Steve, on the other hand, is biting his lower lip as he shucks off his pants. He leaves his underwear on and kneels between Bucky’s spread legs, and hesitates.

"I don't want to hurt you," he says, fingers ghosting along Bucky's thigh. "We could do something else, if you want."

But Bucky is shaking his head before he even finishes his sentence. “Steve,” Bucky says, getting him out of his head. “I trust you.”

It works. Steve gets a new look in his eyes, determined and quickly becoming more lustful as he slicks up his fingers.

It only takes a moment before his finger is brushing Bucky's hole and pressing, in in in. It doesn't feel like much, just a little weird, and Bucky wiggles a little at the sensation. "More," he says, eyebrows furrowed.

Steve nods, biting his lower lips and pushing in with two. This time Bucky groans, thighs tensing before Steve lays his free hand on one and calms him down. "Breathe out," Steve says, and he feels Bucky's body relax around him, hears the minute quiet sigh escape from his mouth.

Bucky is looking down at him with eyes unblinking, the blue swallowed up by his pupils blown wide. He’s looking down at Steve tenderly, and Steve’s heart swells as Bucky’s lip curves into a smile.

Steve leans his face down and presses a kiss to Bucky’s hip as he continues stretching him with his fingers. Bucky’s breath hitches and Steve’s looks up at him through his eyelashes, eyebrow raised. He looks back down to where Bucky’s cock is leaking against his stomach, and with a quick smirk he bends down to lick a stripe along it.

Bucky’s hands clench into the sheets and hips jerk a little. One of his hands comes down to wrap into Steve’s hair, and Steve groans and leans back and pulls against it. He wraps his lips around the head of Bucky’s cock and slowly sinks down, swirling his tongue.

Bucky lets out a long exhale, quietly muttering “Shit, Steve,” as Steve continues to bob around his cock.

Steve pushes another finger in and Bucky bears down on them, groaning. Within a minute his fingers are clenching on Steve’s scalp, murmuring to Steve. “I’m ready, just get in me, c’mon, Steve, please,” and Steve can’t wait any longer. He pulls off of Bucky’s cock with a slurp that would have made him blush a year ago and pulls his fingers out, wiping them off on a cloth he set out.

Unwrapping a condom, he levels a serious look at where Bucky is laying on the bed. “Are you sure about this?” he asks, but Bucky immediately rolls his eyes and says, “Put the damn condom on and shove your cock in me, you sensitive -.”

Steve laughs and braces himself with one arm as he leans down to kiss Bucky. With his other hand he grasps his cock and brings it to Bucky’s hole, just pressing against it at first and feeling the breath Bucky hitches into his mouth.

“Don’t tease, Steve,” he asks, and Steve pushes in slowly, breaking the kiss. He watches the look on Bucky’s face carefully, watches his eyes scrunch shut and mouth hang open. He doesn’t say anything, but he opens his eyes again once Steve is fully inside him, pressed against his ass.

A small shudder wracks Bucky’s body and he looks more vulnerable than Steve has ever seen him, so different from how he’d looked earlier when he was pressing Steve to the wall of an alley. The desperation is still there, but it’s changed; it’s deeper, a hunger and a craving that’s been suppressed for so long. Steve waits, eyes flickering over Bucky’s face until it smoothes.

Before he says anything, Bucky wraps his legs around Steve’s waist. It’s still gentle, the ever-present fear of breaking Steve lingering even now, but it’s different. They’re equals now, secrets out, raw and exposed in every way.

Bucky draws Steve out with words that echo around the room though they’re whispered in the lowest of voices, simple and crude but no less beautiful.

”Fuck me.”

When he nods, Steve’s hair falls into his face. He’s already sticky with sweat and wheezing slightly, but he does, thrusting into Bucky as he kisses him desperately, lips off-center and sloppy. He angles his hips until Bucky gasps and stares up at Steve in surprise. Steve just smirks a little in response, pulling back and shoving in again, watching Bucky’s face start to grow desperate again as he reaches down to wrap his hand around his cock.

“You’re gonna have to teach me some stuff,” Bucky says, and Steve laughs into Bucky’s neck as he presses kisses there, panting.

For a time, it’s just quiet and rhythmic, the slap of skin on skin and breathing and kissing the only noises in the room until Bucky says, “Steve, Steve, I’m gonna come, please just - ah.”

His hips are rolling with Steve’s now, fucking himself between his hand and Steve’s cock deep inside him, eyelashes fluttering. Steve is close too, need swirling in his stomach and building, spreading all over his body until he can feel desperation in his fingertips as he fucks Bucky as he comes, muffling his whimpers and writhing and splattering come between their bellies.

Steve follows quickly, freezing and shaking apart above Bucky as the legs around his waist fall. He collapses onto the body below him as soon as it’s over, the exertion too much. He’s still inside of Bucky, and the rise and fall of Bucky’s chest is tempting.

Tracing a finger along his chest in swirling patterns, he doesn’t move to look up at Bucky when Steve softly says, “I love you too, you know.”

Bucky’s arms immediately wrap around him tightly before relaxing, and he smiles, managing to push himself up to Bucky’s mouth to press tender kisses there, running a hand through Bucky’s sweaty hair.

Finally pulling out, he makes a sympathetic noise at the look of discomfort on Bucky’s face. “It takes some getting used to,” he says, throwing the condom away. He folds himself to the side of Bucky, whose arm wraps around him. Then, as they register the meaning behind what Steve said, tension builds.

The hand on his back stops moving in the patterns it had been making, and he can almost hear Bucky thinking as he bites his lip. “Are you still going to -?” he asks, unable to say it. The idea is painful and Steve smiles a little sadly.

“I don’t know, Buck,” he says truthfully. “I know that it could never change how I feel about you. Does it change how you feel about me?” The thought of that gnaws at him, wondering if one day Bucky would turn to look at him and be unable to meet his eyes without disgust.

“No, god no, Steve. It could never. I’ll always want you, no matter what happens to us,” Bucky says.

Steve swallows, relief coursing through his body, though the fear remains in the depths of him. “Okay.” He takes a breath. “I think I’m supposed to help clean you up and everything, but I’m not sure I can actually get up to do it. I’m not the best at this,” he admits sheepishly.

Bucky smiles, shaking his head. “Don’t even try to lie to me, or did you miss the part where I came all over you? I don’t care that you’re not up and rushing to help clean me up, that’s not what’s important. I'd rather have you here with me, and breathin’.”

Sighing, he swallows loudly. “This is just like anything else we’ve ever done together, all right? We’re in this together.”

And maybe they haven’t figured everything out yet and Steve is still scrawny and they’re still pretty broke, but when Steve is lying in Bucky’s arms, he believes him when he says that they’ll always be there to take care of each other.