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Deep as a secret nobody knows

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To be fair, Steve is moderately drunk the first time. Not smashed, but drunk enough to make Tony and Clint’s ideas sound brilliant and hilarious. He’d like – really, he would very much like - to blame the two of them, (Sam is never to blame – it’s a rule) but he’s always believed in taking responsibility for his own actions, even the really stupid ones. In fact, especially the really stupid ones. So yes, he is drunk, and yes, the dare is childish and stupid, and yes, he does it anyway.

“I gotta tell ya, you don’t sound like my usual sort of customer, you know?”

“Um. Sorry?”

The man on the other end of the line — Bucky, apparently — laughs. It’s a nice sound, genuine, almost startled out of him. It makes Steve smile back, even though he feels like a moron.

Steve looks at his mostly full glass of vodka with about three drops of orange juice, “for flavor.” He’s hanging at that point where if he stops now, he would probably sober up pretty quickly.

“No, seriously, man. You learn to pick up a lot over the phone. What’s a nice boy like you doing on a phone line like this?”

He knocks half the glass back in one swallow.

“Honestly? It was a dare.”

“Huh.” Bucky’s voice still has a smile in it. “So, you ever called a sex line before?”

It’s not like Steve is a prude or a virgin; he just doesn’t generally talk about sex — especially not to complete strangers. So by the time he gets a forced-casual, “Nope,” out, he can feel his ears burning.

“How’d you end up dared to call a phone-sex line?” Bucky asks.

“Urgh, it’s a long and stupid story,” Steve says, taking another sip of his drink, “revolving around a friend and his complete inability to refrain from pissing off his girlfriend.” There’s an encouraging noise from the other end of the line, so he continues. “Which led to commiseration boozing, and poor life choices all around.”

Bucky seems amused, which is probably the best Steve can hope for out of this. “So what, you’ve called a 1-800 number and you’re just going to chat with me for a bit?”

“Oh, sorry. Should I not be wasting your time? I’d hate to get you in trouble.”

“Pal, I’m on the clock and you’re paying — you can talk about whatever you want.”

Steve shrugs. “It’s Tony’s phone bill.”

There’s a slight hitch in Bucky’s breath, and his voice is just a little lower, a little rougher when he replies. “Good call. So, what did your friend do to get cut off?”

“Wait, are you— Are you?” He doesn’t even want to say it, not least because it’ll sound incredibly arrogant if he’s wrong. But Bucky’s breathing has gone deep on the other end of the line. Steve’s pretty sure he’s not wrong.

“You’ve got a nice voice,” Bucky replies, without actually answering the question. There’s a hint of a sound in the background, of skin on skin.

“Oh my god, you are, aren’t you?” Steve’s vaguely mortified, but also a little turned on. And then a bit more mortified about being turned on, and it’s all starting to turn into some horrible spiral in his head, so he finishes off his drink in hopes of silencing the whole mess.

“Well, it is a sex line,” Bucky offers. He’s a little breathless now, and if Steve is brutally honest with himself, it’s starting to make his skin prickle with heat, a low burn that settles in the pit of his stomach and his balls. “Someone should be getting something out of this.”

Steve can’t really argue with that.

There’s a low sound from Bucky, the kind that’s not really voluntary, and then he says, “Hey, you ever had phone sex?”

Steve hasn’t. It’s always seemed weird, and lacking all the wonderful intimacy of touching someone else, seeing and feeling their responses. But his dick is half hard in his pants, and he thinks he could probably be convinced, at least by Bucky. “No.”

Bucky laughs, and there’s something joyful and reckless in it. “Wanna?”

He still hesitates.

“Come on. Are you even a little bit turned on right now?”

“Um,” is all he manages.

Luckily, Bucky takes up the slack. “It’s a little weird, working a sex line,” he says. “Most of the time you’re not even listening to yourself; you’re just talking shit for the benefit of the other person on the line.”

Bucky stops long enough to give a little moan that lights up something in the back of Steve’s brain, and before he can even think about it, he’s opening his fly.

“But sometimes all the talk about touching, and how good it feels, and how bad you want it— Mmmm.” He breaks off, and Steve bites his lip to keep in a whimper. “It gets to you, you know? And then you’re sitting there alone with a raging hard on, and no one to do anything about it.”

It sounds like many a lonely wank Steve has had while between partners, only worse. At least he can just not think about it for a while if he’s down.

“So, you with me?”

Steve is in Tony’s rarely used library with his dick out, rock hard in his hand. He’s not drunk enough not to feel embarrassed, but he’s never been a liar or a coward. “Yeah.”

“Oh, thank god,” Bucky breathes out in a rush. “Because I am so fuckin’ hard right now, and I’d really like to talk about you touching me.”

Steve’s hand tightens on his dick, and he makes some sort of noise that’ll probably make him cringe to remember when he’s got some blood to spare for his brain. “How— “ He clears his throat and tries again. “How do you want me to touch you?”

“Gentle at first. I bet you’d like that, yeah? Yeah, like stroking, and just touching. Like I’m all sprawled out naked on the bed, and you just want to touch at first.”

And god, Steve has no idea what this man even looks like, but he can see it in his head and it’s glorious. Acres of pale skin spread out for him, and his hips are shifting in the chair like he can’t help himself.

“Go on,” he grits out, breath coming heavy.

“What would I have to do to convince you to bite a little?” Bucky asks, and Steve’s breath goes out in a whoosh.

“Oh geez,” he breathes.

“Because I love that,” Bucky continues, on a roll now, “I fucking love a little tooth, the scrape of it, and the marks the next day that still sting. Fuck. I’ll tell you a secret, I’ll tell you—“ He’s panting for breath now, and there’s something desperately exciting about hearing how turned on he is, knowing that he, Steve, is doing that. “I love it in a blowjob. Fucking bulletproof – little bit of tooth on my cock and I’m done every time.”

In Steve’s head he can see it, the bite marks on neck and chest, a nipple worried to rosy attention, and full sharp bite set on Bucky’s belly, just in Steve’s line of sight as he takes Bucky’s dick into his mouth, his throat.

“Would you do that?” Bucky asks. “Would you suck me off?”

“Yes,” Steve says without hesitation. His hand is flying over his dick now, a squeeze at the base, a twist at the tip, and he’s so close, so very close, and suddenly there are words coming out of his mouth, words he’d never dream of saying out loud. “I’d blow you till you couldn’t take it, till you were begging me to let you come, and then I’d stop. I’d stop, and you’d be so mad, and I’d just lick you real gentle, just to make it worse.”

Bucky makes a noise of protest, as if Steve had really stopped, and it’s a heady rush of power.

“And then I’d take you in, as far as I could, and I wouldn’t be careful with my teeth and you’d come in my mouth, you wouldn’t be able to help yourself, would you? You’d just— you’d—” And that’s it. Steve’s done. He just barely manages to think to cup his hand over the tip of his dick so he doesn’t come all over his shirt, and everything else is a blur of orgasm.

As the haze wears off a little, he realizes that he’s still clutching the phone to his ear, and he can hear Bucky’s final grunts before he goes over the edge as well. For long moments they just sit there, listening to each other breathe.

Then Bucky laughs, still a little breathless, and says, “Hey, I think you got the hang of that, pal.”

Now that his blood’s not needed elsewhere, it’s rushing to his face in a furious blush, but he laughs as well anyway. “I guess so?”

There’s another silence, but this one’s a little awkward. Or maybe that’s just Steve, with phone in one hand, and a load of jizz in the other, desperately hoping that Tony’s staff keep a box of tissues somewhere in the room.

“So,” Bucky says, clumsy for the first time in the call. “If you got the phone sex line, what dares did your friends get?”

So Steve explains about Thor’s thong-clad expedition to the store for poptarts while he cleans himself up — he thankfully hadn’t underestimated Tony’s housekeeping staff — and by the time the conversation winds down he’s feeling less like he just wanked himself to death over a stranger on the phone.

“Bucky’s not your real name, is it?” he asks during a lull in the conversation.

“Uh,” Bucky hedges. “For legal and safety reasons, I am not allowed to give you my real name. Anyway, it’s not like you — Oh, Jesus Christ.” He breaks off and takes an audibly deep breath. “For future reference, Steve, people don’t generally give their real names when they call sex lines.

Steve opens his mouth to say that there’s unlikely to be a next time, but he’s not actually sure that’s true, so he sticks with, “I’ll keep that in mind, thanks.”

By the time he rejoins Tony, Sam, Clint, and a triumphantly returned Thor in the den, the others are apparently dying of curiosity. Steve tries not to think about the come-covered tissues in his pocket — he’s not stupid enough to leave evidence in Tony’s house — as he shrugs and says, “He was an interesting guy, actually.”

Sam gives him a sharp look, but the others are distracted by Thor’s tales of narrow and scantily clad escapes from the police, and someone’s dog.

***

The second time, Bucky answers the phone with a flirtatious, “Hi, Steve,” that Steve is surprised but pleased to realize that he can recognize as put on.

“Er, hi,” he says, and suddenly the pretence is gone from Bucky’s voice.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. What did I tell you about giving your real name on a sex line, Steve?”

“I know, but I did only say I’d keep it in mind,” he replies. “Which I did.” There’s a noise from the other end of the line. “Did you— Did you just actually facepalm?”

“Of course not,” comes the slightly muffled reply. “That would be unprofessional.”

Steve relaxes back against the pillows on his bed with a smile.

“So,” Bucky says, more clearly now, “we on Tony’s dime again?”

Steve doesn’t even know why he hesitates, but there’s an awkward pause before he says, “No, not this time.”

There’s another one, long enough to make him feel uncomfortable, and he sits forward just before Bucky says, “Oh really,” in a pleased tone.

This time Steve ends up with his pants off and his legs spread, coming on his own fingers as Bucky murmurs filthy encouragements and praise in his ear. After Bucky finishes, they talk for a while again, although Bucky is careful to avoid giving away any personal details. It’s not that Steve doesn’t notice; he just respects his privacy, even if he does want to know what Bucky does with the rest of his time. They talk a little about music and a little about art. They both like Green Day, but Bucky mocks Steve’s music-crush on Florence Welch, then gets flustered and defensive over Bruce Springsteen. Bucky’s not much into art history, but has seen the Cezanne and Picasso exhibition at the Met.

After they hang up, Steve falls asleep with the phone on the pillow by his head.

***

Steve’s phone bill skyrockets, but he cooks a few more meals at home rather than eating out or getting takeout, and ditches his rarely-used gym membership for jogging, which covers the worst of the damage. He’s not ashamed, although he wouldn’t like to have to try to explain it to anyone.

The worst thing is that the phone calls are becoming unsatisfying. Not in that the sex part is any less brilliant than ever, and they just never seem to run out of things to talk about. But he wants more than a voice on the phone.

Which wouldn’t be a problem — he’s a good looking guy, he can pick someone up for a one-off, or get a date easily enough, if he wants. The problem is that he doesn’t want. Or rather, that his wants are very specific. He wants Bucky to be more than a voice on the phone. Which kind of is a problem. Because he really, really doesn’t want to be that creepy guy who starts stalking sex workers because he thinks he’s in love with them. So although he can’t do a lot about thinking — being pretty damn convinced, actually — that he’s at least a little bit in love with Bucky, even though he doesn’t even know the guy’s real name, or what he wants from life, or where he’s from, or… The point is, he doesn’t have to get creepy and stalkery about it.

So he makes sure he doesn’t call Bucky’s line more than once or twice a week. He makes sure that he sees his friends, goes out with them. He even picks up his old sketchpad and pencils, and is startled to find how much he has missed the feel of them in his hands as he brings something in his mind’s eye to life on the page.

He can’t honestly say that his life is under control, but it’s off-balance in a way that’s almost exciting, so he stomps down the desire for more and does his best to make the most of what he’s got.

***

Fall rolls around, and something Bucky says has Steve looking into art classes that he can do around his work hours.

He doesn’t think he’s changed his life all that much, but even Tony picks up on it. It becomes like a game when Tony’s in the ‘off’ part of his on-again off-again relationship with Pepper, who is basically a saint as far as Steve can tell, to make up outrageous stories about what Steve is doing, and why.

Thankfully Sam usually reins him in before Steve gets too uncomfortable, but everyone’s curious, and Steve kind of hates it.

He knows it’s weird, his whatever-it-is with Bucky, but it makes him happy and he doesn’t think it would survive exposure to the wider reality of his life — the very sensible questions about ‘what does he really know about this man,’ and ‘does he really know what he’s doing,’ and ‘wouldn’t he like to meet someone real’.

But he hasn’t felt this awake since Peggy’s accident, and it hurts a little, like pins and needles, but mostly it feels good.

“Just promise me,” Sam says to him over coffee one day, when it’s just the two of them in the private corner of Sam’s favorite café, “that whatever it is, it isn’t going to get you into trouble.”

It’s tempting to play innocent, the way he does with Tony and the guys, and even Carol when she calls, but Sam has pulled Steve out of a pool of his own puke and never said a word to him or anyone else about it, and he deserves better from Steve. So Steve promises, and Sam turns the conversation to the Super Bowl.

***

The crocuses are just starting to bloom against the mostly bare soil when Steve’s art class has its show.

He heads to campus to drop his pieces in on a Tuesday. He’d already booked the day off, knowing he’d be no good to anyone.

(“Hey, ‘s me.”

“Are you drunk?”

“I was engaged once, you know.”

“I— No. I didn’t know that. What happened?”

“Bad weather and a drunk driver. Tomorrow would have been our wedding anniversary.”

“Um. Wow. That is extremely shit.”

“Yeah. Yeah, it is.”

There’s a silence on the line, and he thinks hazily that perhaps he shouldn’t have called, but he just wants to hear Bucky’s voice.

“What’s your number?”

“What?”

“Your number, Steve. Tell me what it is.”

“But you’re working.”

“Yeah, and let’s hope this isn’t one of the calls they pick for quality assurance checking. I work from home, Steve. I can more or less do what I want. Now give me your number and get into bed, OK? I’ll call you back in a couple of minutes.”)

In the afternoon he carefully packs the pieces he’s selected for the show into his folio and takes it to campus. He’s fairly hungover and wrung out from visiting the grave, but he’s also feeling lighter than he has in nearly two years.

It’s still chilly, but the sun’s out, and the cool air is doing at least as much for his head as the Tylenol he took earlier. He’s just ambling across campus when he hears bodies colliding and people yelling. He turns to see a kid on a skateboard racing off, leaving a man sitting on the ground, yelling after him, “You better run, you fuckin’ little shit for brains dickhead!”

Steve stares at the man, and it’s not because his left sleeve is folded up neatly where an arm isn’t, or the scars on the left side of his neck and face, or even because he’s extremely attractive, with dark hair and stubble and a vivid face. It’s his voice.

“What the fuck are you looking at, asshole?” shakes him out of his stupor. It probably isn’t Bucky, because what are the odds, but either way he shouldn’t stare.

“I’m sorry,” he says, walking closer. The man pushes himself up with a practiced movement, then bends to pick up the spilled contents of his book bag. “You just… sound like someone I know.”

The man swears as he drops the bag again, turning to face Steve, his eyes wide with alarm. “Shit. Steve?”

Steve can feel the ‘B’ forming on his lips, but he swallows the name. He doesn’t know what is public about Bucky and what isn’t, and he’s damned if he’ll spill anything incriminating. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean— I wasn’t looking for you, I promise.” He gestures with his folio. “I was just— “

“Art class,” Bucky finishes for him. “Right.”

Silence falls as they sort of stare at each other. Steve’s a little hazy on the details of the end of the night before, but he’s reasonably sure he fell asleep listening to Bucky talk softly after crying down the phone at him. It had felt pretty natural at the time, but now it seems awkward and intrusive, and he suddenly feels horribly exposed.

Bucky looks at the watch on his right wrist and swears again, then starts picking his things up off the ground again.

Steve hesitates, because he’s pretty sure he knows what response he’s going to get, but, “Can I help with that?”

Bucky’s jaw tightens, and he doesn’t look up as he jiggles a book to try and stop its corner catching on the sides of the bag. “I’m not actually fuckin’ helpless, you know.”

“I didn’t think you were,” Steve says. “I just feel like a jerk standing here watching you pick up your stuff.” He shrugs helplessly, even though Bucky’s not looking at him.

Bucky glares at him for a second, then sighs. “Hold the damn bag open, would you?”

Bucky gets his things together, and slings the bag over his shoulder.

“Aren’t you going to zip it up?” Steve asks.

“Zip’s busted. I should probably replace the fuckin’ thing.”

“Do you want to get a coffee?” It takes a second before Steve realizes that the clumsy question has come from him. He hopes like hell he doesn’t sound desperate. “Or I can just go. I have to drop this off at the art department, and I can just… go. After that.”

He is genuinely going to start poking at the ground with his toe like some stereotypical tongue-tied teenager if Bucky doesn’t stop just staring at him. He’s not sure his dignity could ever recover from that.

“Jesus Christ,” Bucky says, which is actually kind of encouraging. He runs his hand through his hair and sighs. “I have class in like, minus 5 minutes. Meet me outside the library in an hour,” he says and turns to walk away.

“OK,” Steve says wistfully to the back of his head. It’s a meeting, but it feels like a brush-off, and he’s not sure quite what to do with it.

Then Bucky turns around and grins at him, wide and bright. He yells back across the grass, “Nice to meet you, Steve!” then takes off at a steady jog. Steve starts off again for the art department with a smile on his face and a tight, excited feeling in his chest.

***

Steve turns in his folio and spends some time chatting with his tutor, but leaves with quarter of an hour to spare. It’s because he doesn’t want to be late, but in hindsight it’s probably a mistake, as it only takes him a couple of minutes to get to the library. And then he stands outside, trying not pace anxiously, half convinced that he’s being stood up, that Bucky isn’t coming, even though it’s still five minutes early.

Bucky arrives 3 minutes after the hour’s up. He tries to play it cool, but he’s not sure he succeeds. Bucky raises an eyebrow but doesn’t say anything, so he’s going to take it as a win.

“So, how’s the hangover?” Bucky asks as they head to the café by the library, which is one of the nicer ones on campus — high ceilings and wooden tables, instead of formica or plastic, and people who don’t clearly hate all of the customers working there.

Steve blushes a little, and hopes Bucky doesn’t notice. “It’s, uh, sort of getting to that magical point where food stops being the enemy and starts being an urgent necessity.”

Bucky glances at his watch, even though he must already know the time, and whistles. “Only just now? Damn, son.”

Bucky orders an enormous plate of nachos and lets Steve eat most of them. It could just be the hangover talking, but they are the best nachos Steve has ever eaten. The chips are salty and crisp, the salsa is tangy and the guacamole fresh, and the cheese is melted perfectly.

As they get to the bottom of the bowl of salsa, Bucky stops dipping his chips in, but looks at it wistfully. Steve reaches out to hold it still on the plate while he scrapes a bit out of the bottom, then suddenly catches on what the problem is. He puts his chip in his mouth, but doesn’t let go of the bowl. Bucky glares at him, but Steve just makes a ‘What?’ face, like he has no idea what’s going on, and in the end Bucky scrapes every last bit of salsa out of the bowl.

A server comes to refill their coffee cups, and they both thank her. After she’s gone, Steve looks at Bucky and says, “I don’t know what to call you.”

Bucky drops his face against his arm on the table and laughs into it. When he looks up he’s smiling, and he reaches out to take Steve’s hand.

“We are fuckin’ ridiculous, man. You know that, right?”

***

James Barnes is a vet. He was a sergeant in the Army, serving in Iraq before an IED ended his field career and damn near ended his life. Once the worst of the PT was over, and the psychological therapy was down to every two weeks, he decided to go back to school even though he’d hated it as a kid. He hates his prosthetic and avoids wearing it as much as he can.

He funds his apartment, small but with no roommates, by working for a phone sex line where he never has to worry about customers or workmates staring or asking intrusive questions, and the money’s not terrible, all of which is more than can be said for retail. He’s studying journalism.

He kisses like it’s his last chance, and he really does like a little biting during sex. It turns out that he also likes to hold Steve down while he fucks him, which is just fine with Steve.

He will argue Springsteen’s superiority over most any ‘modern pop garbage’ to the death. Although he’s prepared to admit that Florence & the Machine maybe isn’t too bad.

When Steve’s friends ask how they met, Bucky smirks and tells them they met on campus. Unless he says it was a dare. Or possibly love at first sight. Steve just smiles and shrugs when they complain.