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Secrets Wrapped in Bloody Lace

Chapter Text

 

At first the police thought it was isolated instances.

 

A young woman went missing, then one or two more. They thought they were unconnected, but the numbers kept rising. Men and women- teenagers too, not only from the United States but from Europe as well- from Russian- from Germany, and they soon came to realize that this was bigger than anyone had anticipated. It wasn’t a shark- it was a kraken- its malicious tendrils far-reaching, and hidden below layers of murky lies, fake fronts, and deceit. People were disappearing and none of them had turned back up. Not even remains.

 

Something had to be done.

 

--------

 

The frothy, hot latte sloshed, but didn’t spill as FBI agent James Barnes set it down on the desk across the station from his own, his mouth tugging into a smile. “Caffeine, Agent?”

 

Steve lifted his eyes from his paper work, following the other officer’s figure from his legs, where he’d half sat himself on his desk, up his strong torso to his face. And Steve smiled, letting out a breath as he reached for the latte. “God- Perfect timing, Buck.” He sighed, his eyes having just started to burn from fatigue. Agent Barnes was no stranger to him...just the opposite in fact….Bucky was Steve’s best friend. But best friends left a little too much unsaid...To be fair, he was his ex as well. Fortunately, that rough, and painful part of their relationship was in the past now. They’d rebuilt. They’d gotten close again, and Steve just did his best not to focus on the ‘ what-ifs.

 

Bucky smiled at the grateful little moan that rumbled in Steve’s broad chest as he took the first, sorely needed sip of the drink. He leaned back in his chair and closing his eyes, and Bucky couldn’t help but notice that, even though they’d completely reformed the basis of their relationship, he still looked exactly like the man he’d fallen in love with. His posture and body language were still all the same. His hair was the same style he’d had for years, and his eyes- his eyes were always going to be the eyes he’d fallen for, no matter how many years went by. Like Steve, Bucky didn’t focus on the ‘ what-ifs’ but he was human, and they did sometimes slip into his thoughts. Like what if the risk hadn’t been too much? If they maybe weren’t both FBI with dangerous, high pressure jobs? Could they have made it liked Bucky had so deeply hoped?...

 

Maybe . But that wasn’t their life now. That wasn’t their life anymore .

 

“You hear Sharon got her guy?” Bucky asked, picking up a conversation they’d left off some time before. “-caught him right in the middle of a shipment too.”

 

Steve looked up from his drink, blinking, his mind having drifted as he’d closed his tired eyes. “What?”

 

Bucky gave him an odd look. It wasn’t like Steve to zone out. He was always so earnest and attentive- like a golden retriever, or a sponge that soaked up every little tidbit so that sometime later he could use it to make someone’s day brighter. “Sharon caught the dealer she and her team has been after.” He reiterated, watching Steve’s eyes now. “He had finally crawled out of the woodwork to supervise a shipment of heroin they were bringing in and they nailed him.”

 

Steve’s mouth pulled into a smile. “That’s fantastic!” He said warmly. “I’ll have to treat her to lunch sometime. She’s worked hard enough for that.”

 

Bucky nodded, taking a sip of his own coffee. “Damn right. Now it’s just if they pay credit where credit is due.” He muttered and watched as Steve grimaced at the thought. It was hard for female officers to get half the credit they deserved and Steve knew it….but he didn’t respond, when Bucky had expected a sharp retort about the disgusting trend in their line of work...and that worried Bucky. “Hey…” He nudged Steve’s leg with his foot, still sitting on his desk. “You okay, Steve?...”

Steve blinked again, letting out a measured half breath. “Yeah...I just didn’t get much sleep last night.” He said, the weariness presenting itself in the low rumble of his voice. “Uhm...Director Fury got intel about that rash of kidnappings, they’re figuring its sex trafficking…” He said quietly, and Bucky waited him out. There was more, he could feel it. As much as Bucky put stock in Steve’s empathy, he knew in this job you had to let the unsettling things roll off of you. The realization that the kidnapping victims were likely kidnapped for the sake of sex trafficking was disturbing, of course, but if it knocked Steve down he’d never be able to survive in this field. There had to be something else.

 

Steve looked up, letting out a half breath. There was something frightened in his eyes “...He wants me to go in under cover.”

 

Bucky’s stomach dropped out from under him. “What?” He could hear the thick, rough disbelief in his own voice but he couldn’t strangle his tone back to the professional. His system was suddenly flooded with alarm and worry, and feelings he should no longer feel for his friend. Protectiveness- a longing to take him in his arms and keep him far away from the filthy amoral cesspool that was the world they lived in. It all flared up at once at the understanding that their superior officer wanted Steve to let himself be taken...to place himself in harm’s way to try and dismantle this ring from the inside. And suddenly Bucky understood why Steve hadn’t been able to sleep.

 

Steve held his gaze for a moment longer- let his fear show for a moment longer before he dropped his eyes. He lifted a hand to his face, pinching his brow with his thumb and index finger to relieve the pressure building in his head. “Yeah…” He said quietly, looking down. “But- but it’s okay...it makes sense.” Steve swallowed, letting out a rough breath. “This ring has taken men and women so they’ll probably spring for the bait...but trends are trends….I’m less likely to be hurt or wanted than a female officer.” There was no way he’d leave this job untouched, but maybe he’d draw less attention...just enough to make him worth keeping, and little enough that he could keep his attention on gathering intel rather than purely surviving.

 

There was silence for a long time, and Steve could feel the emotions coming off Bucky in waves. Rage. Fear. Reluctance. And finally….

 

“-You gonna do it?” Bucky murmured after a million potential reactions had run through his mind. As an Agent and Steve’s co-worker, this was the most appropriate one. As his ex through- As his friend?

 

“I already said yes.” Steve’s voice was quiet and rough. He sounded a little nauseous, and Bucky couldn’t begin to imagine what Steve felt facing this task. Steve dropped his eyes to the coffee in his hands- warm and comforting. “...I’m going to respond to a lure Wednesday evening….”

 

Bucky tried to pretend he wasn’t swallowing back a knot of pure panic in his throat as he nodded. He and Steve faced all kinds of dangers every day, but this felt different….Steve was going to be essentially helpless….He was going to have to do things in there Bucky never ever wanted for him...and the thought made Bucky sick with fear. He just kept picturing Steve when he’d met him- still coming into himself, his muscle just beginning to catch up to the growth spurt that had hit him so fast it had left stretch marks all over his back and thighs. He could see him smiling, and joking with him...he could see him bleeding, and swaying as he took another swing at a stranger to give someone else a chance to get away...He could see him later on in that perfect and painful year when he got to call him his...laying there in the bed beside him with hair tousled from sleep and sex- with that sweet smile on his lips as he reached out to stroke bucky’s hair back from his face. He remember him making breakfast, belting out the song that was on the radio thinking Bucky was still in the shower….Bucky saw him now. Tired, and stressed, and scared- coming to terms with the things he was going to have to do to bring justice to the hundreds of victims...and he loved him so much his whole body hurt….

 

And now he was walking into something that he might not walk out of….and if he did, the man Bucky had love….the man he still loved...wasn’t going to be the same man at all.

 

Bucky wet his lips and slid off Steve’s desk, his hand finding Steve’s broad shoulder to squeeze the tense muscle. “How about we grab lunch out today?...” He murmured lowly, unable to face the topic without trying to convince Steve to fight this order- to pass this gruesome and scarring mantle to someone- anyone else. But Bucky knew Steve would never, ever do that. So he changed the subject. “Give you a break from that paperwork…” He added quietly. If he couldn’t stop him, than all Bucky wanted was to help Steve shoulder this weight...make this lot easier to bear, even if all he could do was distract him.

 

Steve looked up at the contact, his mouth pulling into a tired smile as he resisted the urge to press his hand over Bucky’s. “I’d really like that.” he said trying to look fine. He wasn’t...of course he wasn’t. He was terrified- the idea of walking into a sex trafficking ring and giving himself up made him nauseous….but It was the right thing to do. Dozens upon dozens of people had been taken from their homes- their families. It had gotten too big for the police, the investigation being surrendered to the FBI...it was their job to stop this, and that meant it was his. He couldn’t just sit back and wait for someone else to take this bullet.

 

Something had to be done.

 

Bucky nodded. “Okay….I’ll swing back around at 11, maybe?” He asked, reluctantly letting his hand drop from Steve’s shoulder.

 

And Steve granted him a nod. “Yeah, 11’s perfect.”

 

Bucky gave him a little half smile. “Alright….hold tight, Agent.” He said, his knuckles just grazing his arm in the platonic, neutral affection that was all that was allowed to them any more, and he turned to go. As soon as his back was turned to Steve, Bucky’s expression hardened and his gate turned sharp, purposeful, and aggressive. Because Steve going undercover was a choice between Steve and their superiors.

 

But god save the man who tried to stop Bucky from being his support.

 

Chapter Text

Somehow, Steve wasn’t even surprised when he found out there had been a last-minute addition to the task force. And when he saw Bucky in the room for their final debriefing, staring at him with grim determination, all he could feel was gratefulness and the almost unbearable fondness he still had for him. Lingering below the noticeable surface there were less comfortable emotions too. Fear- of course, but also a poisonous twist of shame. Bucky would be privy to everything that happened to him under cover now...and Steve wasn’t sure he wanted Bucky to see him that way….

 

But it was too late now. It was getting on to evening and Steve was about to fall into a trap, but he wasn’t going in with nothing.

 

The FBI technicians had developed a tracking device only a little bigger than the head of a pin and encased it in a hard, plastic pill. Steve would swallow this as he went in, and the tracker would stay in his system, hopefully, long enough for them to reach their final destination. It wouldn’t be found to incriminate him in any search, and it would pass inconspicuously from his system within 24 hours. But that was all. It was all they could give him without the risk of blowing his cover. It wasn’t much, but at the very least his support team would know where he was.

 

------

 

Bucky swallowed, reaching forward abruptly to push his fingers through the front of Steve’s hair, messing up the neat blonde strands. And Steve- taut as a bowstring- drew in a sharp breath. Bucky’s brow furrowed. “Relax….” He murmured, stepping closer to continue fussing with his hair, Steve trying to ease back.

“Aw C’mon, Buck- what are you doin’?” He huffed, his tension obvious as his Brooklyn accent started to slip through thicker, his eyes shifting anxiously.

 

“Helping you, that’s what.” Bucky retorted in a low rumble, undoing the top button of his shirt. Bucky watched as Steve’s frown deepened- as he started to pull away when Bucky huffed. “ Relax .” He ordered again, looking up at him, before letting out a half breath. “...It makes you look more vulnerable....” Bucky explained quietly, “Clearly that’s not a natural look for a guy your size so we’ve gotta manufacture it a little. Channel that lanky kid I met in the academy a bit.”

 

Steve stopped trying to pull away and nodded.

 

Bucky wet his lips before gripping his shoulder, rubbing at the tension with his thumb. “And you really do have to relax.” He insisted for the third time. “You go in this tense and you’ll blow your cover…” His eyes flickered to Steve’s throat which bobbed as he swallowed, nodding his head. And Bucky let out a soft breath. “Come on. Com’mere Stevie….” Bucky’s hand found Steve’s forearm, leading him over to Steve’s own office chair and pressing him down into it before moving around behind him to knead at his neck and back, and even Steve had to admit it felt good.

“...I’m a little nervous.” He finally murmured between soft moans as Bucky’s strong thumb pressed deeply into a tight muscle. Behind him, Steve heard a low scoff.

 

“A little?” He muttered, gently rubbing up one side of his neck, feeling the tension start to ease. “Steve this probably the most fucked up thing that’s ever gonna happen to you, and that’s a lot considering our field.”

 

Steve was already shaking his head. “No, it’s-” He started before Bucky turned the swiveling office chair. Steve’s lungs hitched with surprise as Bucky leaned down, bracing his hands on the arms of the chair, face inches from his.

“Look at me, Rogers.” Bucky said, low and quiet. He waited as Steve’s eyes flickered down and then reluctantly back up. He leaned a quarter inch closer. “It’s fucked up.” He repeated, keeping Steve’s gaze. “It’s fucked up, and you’re not doing yourself any favors pretending it’s not. You’re gonna hurt worst, and heal wrong if you ever try to tell yourself it’s not.”

 

Steve’s eyes were latched on Bucky’s, his mouth dry. Because he was scared to admit that. Maybe because he was still hiding from it- because he could use optimism and a sense of duty as a shield...but Bucky was right. It wasn’t going to work. It was all wrong. It….

 

“...It’s fucked up.”

 

Bucky’s nod was sober. “Yeah it is.” He eased back, giving Steve space to breath, satisfied now that his friend had a grasp on what was going to happen. If he was ready, eventually he’d be able to heal….

 

Steve mimicked the little nod, a little dazed, but as he sat there, a strange calm seeped through him, his mind latching onto a peace that had eluded it up until now. This was fucked up….it was going to hurt to hell and he wasn’t going to be the same. It was fucked up... And Steve was ready for it. He looked up to Bucky, standing slowly. They were almost chest to chest, Steve’s eyes locked on his in unspoken fear, and gratefulness, and determination. “Thank you…”

 

Bucky drew in a deep breath, nodding, his eyes dipping. “...yeah…” He murmured, not looking now….Because Bucky was scared too. Scared he wouldn’t see Steve again- Scared he’d lose him...and in the face of that, Bucky wanted to spill everything - that losing him was the worst thing Bucky had ever been through- that he still loved him- that he thought every day of how to undo what had happened to them….He was afraid he’d kiss him.

 

It was the last thing Steve needed, so Bucky stepped back and cleared his throat. “Uhm..” His voice was uncomfortably hoarse. “...Fury’s gonna want you in his office….”

 

-------

 

Steve reported to Fury’s office for the last time, and when Fury offered him a chance to bow out, Steve calmly declined. He knew having an agent who felt cornered into this role under cover was more dangerous and damaging than no agent at all. Fury would rather him give up than crack under the pressure.

 

But Steve wouldn’t crack. Not now. He’d accepted the reality, and he was ready to do everything in his power- even give himself up to possibly save the hundreds of victims...and if it was too late for them- to stop any more from being taken.

 

So at 7:30 that night, Steve responded to the lure.

 

It was a flyer that had started cropping up on college campuses. It promised a well paying job with flexible hours and travel benefits. It had no address attached, only a phone number and a woman’s first name. Like they’d expected, she seemed all but ecstatic to ‘hear from a candidate’ and even though it was late, suggested they meet immediately. It was smart….it instilled a sense of urgency in the victim, making it less likely that they would spare even a moment to call anyone. It made the disappearance cleaner...harder to track. No one would know where the victim had been last.

 

Steve quickly agreed to the last minute ‘meeting,’ his heart in his throat.

 

------

 

“I can see him.”

 

The words were intoned into the piece on Bucky’s lapel, his low, murmured words transmitted to a van parked a block away. Inside they would be keeping eyes on the tracker showing them where Steve was. Bucky’s job was more intimate than watching a green dot on a screen. He was watching Steve himself...watching him fall into these people's hands….

 

He shifted, laying on his stomach on the rooftop of the apartment building adjacent to Steve’s destination. It was more housing, similar to the very building where Bucky was perched, but it was crawling with dying ivy- rough and distressed- and Bucky had felt his heart crawl up into his throat when Steve had disappeared inside.


But now he had spotted him through the apartment window, and Bucky’s blood pressure rose. Steve stood, just barely in view of the window greeting a woman with graying blond hair. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as she gestured for Steve to sit, handing him a drink.

 

God- get him out if there- it wasn't too late-  the voice was frantic and panicked in his head, screaming at him to drag Steve out of there, but his rational mind froze the instinct. It was his choice.

 

He was going to get hurt

 

Someone had to help those people

 

It didn't have to be Steve- God Damnit, Bucky- MOVE!

 

Bucky's body was still as death, his eyes fixed on Steve through the scope as his mind screamed at him to do something . But Bucky just laid there. And he watched as Steve downed a heavy swallow of the drink, and his frantic mind grew bitter and resigned.

 

For a few minutes, nothing changed. The woman sat across from him, one leg crossed over the other. Steve talked to her, open and animated as he always was.

 

And then he started to sway.

 

Bucky felt a twist of nausea in the pit of his stomach as he watched Steve’s brow furrow. He watched as he waved off the hostess’s question, trying to continue talking before putting his head down in his hands. He bent forward, his center of gravity shifting lower as the woman stood. One of Steve’s hands reached out feebly to stop her- to hold himself up- to seek help in a situation gone dangerously wrong...

 

...and he crumpled forward, dropping like a sack of rocks to the living room floor.

 

Bucky touched his mike with a clammy hand. “Agent Rogers unconscious.” He rasped out in a tight whisper. “Repeat, Agent Rogers is unconscious….They have him....” His eyes were locked on the scene as the woman stepped over his unconscious body, walking to the window and lifting it open. She tossed the rest of the drink out, wiping down the glass and leaving it on the windowsill. And behind her, two men entered the living room from unseen rooms in the apartment.

 

Bucky whispered their descriptions, and their actions as they lifted Steve, binding his hands and removing him from the apartment.

 

And that was it. Bucky couldn’t see him any more. He couldn’t follow him without blowing his cover...to do so would all but ensure Steve would be killed on the spot...So he laid there, frozen, and gutted, murmuring mechanically through the exchanges with the team, only dimly hearing that Steve’s tracker was intact and operational. He was gone.

 

He was gone.

 

Steve was gone.

 

And Bucky was suddenly crushed with the realization that he may never see him again.

 

Chapter Text

Bucky faced danger every single day and every single day he faced it head on. A test, and a challenge, but nothing he ever let himself fear. But this- this was the scariest thing he’d done in a long time. Because Steve had been his best friend since they’d worked in the same police precinct years before. Before they’d ever thought they would decide to become FBI Agents together. Before Bucky had known how he would come to feel about him.

 

But Bucky understood all too well now. And he knew he didn’t want to live the rest of his life without knowing if Steve felt the same way.

 

He sat there at his desk as Bucky approached him, looking so focused, and involved. That dedication to his own high standards was one of the things Bucky admired about him, but the things he loved about him ran much deeper. It was his humor...his bravery and almost annoyingly consistent moral character. It was his laugh- so warm and deep Bucky felt like it could fill him up like a mug of hot chocolate in the dead of winter. It was his smile, and his bright, gleaming blue eyes. And Bucky reached out to cautiously touch Steve’s shoulder.

 

As Steve turned to look up at him, his mouth bloomed into a smile, and Bucky’s knees turned to jello.

 

“Buck!” He smiled warmly, lightly touching his arm, so natural and comfortable he didn’t even realize he’d done it. “Hey, how's the-”

 

“I like you.” It fell out of Bucky’s lips in a rush, as clunky and unnatural as Steve’s physical affection had been easy and uncontrived. And he watched Steve’s expression freeze. Something close to panic welled up in Bucky’s throat and he abruptly seized Steve’s hand before it could drop away. “I like you.” He was committed to the sentiment now. “I-I’ve been meaning to tell you forever, and I haven’t because I’m the biggest goddamn coward in the universe but I don’t wanna hide it anymore because I like you so fucking much and I just gotta know if you like me too.”


And still, Steve just looked up at him, dumbfounded, and blinking, and Bucky swallowed hard.  “I just...wanted to tell you….”

 

Steve lurched to his feet, and Bucky’s whole world burst into fireworks as he took his face in his strong, soft hands and kissed him. It was deep and clumsy, and hungry. It was so sweet and so perfectly, perfectly Steve. Bucky’s hands fumbled as he grabbed his face in return, whining as he crushed their mouths together. Suddenly he could feel all Steve’s passion and longing and he wondered how he hadn’t seen it before. How could he have wondered when it was suddenly clear as day? Steve had been burning just as long and hot as he had. He’d wanted him back, and Bucky’s body went blissfully weak...

 

Steve broke the kiss, his breath coming hard as he stared at him, his eyes shining, looking like a daytime sky, yet full of stars. He smiled, gaze flickering to Bucky’s flushed mouth. “That answer your question?” He panted.


Bucky stroked his hands from his face down to cup the sides of his neck, letting out a breathless laugh. “Yeah, but say it anyways….”

 

Steve beamed. “I’m all yours.”

 

--------

 

“He’s all yours.”

 

Adrenaline washed through Steve’s body as he came to, his stomach plunging sickly. He’d been taken. Of course it had been planned and of course, he’d been prepared, but that didn’t change the horror of the reality setting in. It was no longer an abstract concept. Here was here , blindfolded, laying on a concrete floor, the texture of the rough floor pressing into his bare skin, and Steve’s stomach turned nauseously as he realized he’d already been undressed.

 

He’d been taken by a sex trafficking ring. And he was going to be hurt.

 

A few feet away, he could hear conversation; the woman who’d drugged him and a man’s low voice. And then the murmur of voices trailed off, replaced by the sound of the man’s heavy footsteps.

 

He was ready for this. Steve reminded himself. Whatever this man was going to do to him, he was ready. Physically, and emotionally. His attempts to reassure himself felt hollow and desperate.

 

His footfalls sent reverberations through the floor, and Steve’s body coiled was tension. As an FBI agent, he would have controlled the reaction, but as Steven Bauer, a terrified kidnapping victim with no idea what was going to happen to him, the reaction was just what they'd expect to see. He curled in on himself with a raw little sound, his muscles going tense as he tried to pull against the cuffs that fastened his wrists behind his back.

 

The vibrations stopped, and Steve’s flesh crawled as he felt a hand ghost over his ribs. And for a brief second, legitimate fear twisted inside him, because Steve didn’t want this- He didn’t want to be touched, and hurt, and used any more than the other hundreds of people this ring had taken. He’d never wanted to be sold like a toy- to be used and thrown away like so much garbage only to be forced to do it all again the next day. He didn’t want this-

 

And then Steve dragged the fear under his control. Because he was here to learn their secrets regardless of the personal cost.

Someone had to help.

 

The hand slid over his bare chest, and then down his stomach, feeling the hardened ridges of his abs: appraising the appeal he’d have to their clients. “It's time to wake up now, Mr. Bauer...” A low voice with a subtle German accent murmured. Steve could feel his hot breath washing over his neck and a shudder ran through him.

 

“What the hell is going on?-” Steve rasped out, his voice cracked as he tried to curl away from the touch, his whole body tightening in a show of panic as he felt the fingers trailing down his hips. “Stop it- No!”

 

“Relax,” the voice purred, moving closer as Steve tried to squirm away, his chest heaving with nauseous horror.

 

“No! What the hell is going on!? LET ME GO!”

 

As the last, screamed syllable ripped from Steve's lungs, the blindfold was ripped from his eyes and a hard hand grabbed his jaw. Steve’s eyes flashed wide with pain as he struggled against the grip. But his kidnapper was unrestrained while Steve was bound hand and foot and he wrenched Steve’s head around so hard he cried out in pain. And then a choking gasp rattled from his lungs.

 

There was a photo held inches from his face.

 

In the man’s hand was a picture of him and Sharon. In the photo, they were smiling, his arm around her shoulders. It had been staged right before he’d responded to the lure and it had been placed in his wallet, along with other items, to mislead them about his identity. He had been given a fake drivers license with a fake name. Fake credit cards, and fake pictures of a family he didn’t have. But even so, Steve was chilled at the sight. Because in that moment he knew what a real victim- confused and terrified- would suddenly understand. That they had already lost.

 

If it was just their own life on the line, maybe people would struggle and fight until their dying moment, but having the blindfold ripped off only for the first thing you see to be a picture of someone you loved..they would know right then and there that they were powerless. Because they already knew who to hurt to control you. Steve’s screams of protest dried up with a hoarse choke. And as he fell into raw, horrified silence as the photo was drawn away, and he caught the first look at his kidnapper.

 

He was a sharp-faced man with light eyes and hair, his head shaved, and he wore a monocle over one weak eye that seemed to drift ever so slightly to the outside. He wouldn’t tell Steve his name, but he would learn later, though hushed whispered that he was called Baron Von Strucker. His kidnapper turned the photo in his hand, looking briefly at the image with an expression of almost non-interest before turning it over. “Ashley and Steven Bauer, 2016.” He read the lightly penciled label off the back of the photo, something menacing in his quiet voice. “You must be very close...your sister maybe since we didn’t find a wedding ring.” The Baron’s eyes turned to Steve’s expression which was frozen in wide-eyed horror.  

 

Steve’s tongue dipped to shakily wet his lips, eyes stinging as he gave a tiny shake of his head. “No-” He rasped out. “Whatever you want, you leave her out of it- you understand me? You leave her alone!”


Strucker released his jaw with a shove hard enough to crack Steve’s head against the concrete, Steve crying out sharply. He folded the photo, tucking it in the pocket of his shirt. “That’s up to you, Steven.” He said coolly, watching as Steve gritted his teeth, eyes squeezed closed against the pain. The expression looked good on him. Strucker couldn’t help but think that this man was a good find. He was handsome and had an obvious pressure point with the sister. He’d be easy to control, and maybe it was just him, but he thought Bauer would attract plenty of attention once they got him dolled up...there were those that would pay very well to see a pretty man like Steven cry.

 

He reached down, taking a handful of Steve’s hair with almost perverse calm and dragging his completely naked body closer across the rough concrete floor. He pulled back, wrenching Steve’s face up- exposing his neck as he stared into those wet, angry blue eyes. Strucker liked seeing the variety of reactions. Some victims broke down into complete hysterics, while others blocked everything out and refused to acknowledge what was happening to them. Some fought. Some screamed, and swore, while others bartered. But in the end, they only really had two choices. “...I’ll make this very easy for you to understand, Steven…” He said in that low, rumbling voice. “You can do exactly as I say, and your family is left alone...or we can make you do what we need of you, and you can sentence your family to the same.”

 

So this was what they did...because for many the only thing worse than being sexually exploited themselves was having it being done to someone they loved, and being made to believe it was their fault.

 

“The first time you make trouble for yourself, we will break you.” Strucker hissed, pulling Steve close his mouth almost brushing his. “You might think you’ll be strong enough to take it, or that you can just block it out, but I promise you, you can't imagine pain intense enough to even come close to what we can do to you if you jeopardize our arrangement….and if that’s still not enough- if you don’t learn your lesson...we’ll break her .”

 

Steve’s eyes went huge, anger flashing through them as he lurched forward “No-” He barked out, his words hitching as the Baron gripped his hair tighter, warning flashing in his eyes. Steve hissed in pain, squeezing his eyes closed. His muscles were taut as a bowstring, expression contorted with pain and fear and anger….and then a shudder ran through his naked body and Steve looked up at his kidnapper, his lips parted, eyes tormented with fear and resignation. “...What do I have to do?....”

 

Strucker’s mouth curled into a smile.

 

Without warning, he dragged Steve up by the hair, shoving him against the wall and baring into his space. Strucker pressed flush against him. His eyes were bright with a sick kind of thrill, his mouth tugged cruelly at the corners as his gaze dragged up and down Steve’s heaving body. “You do what we tell you.” He breathed, his air hot against Steve’s mouth, triggering a curl of nausea inside him. “You wear what we say. When we tell you to dance, you dance. Whoever wants you gets you...if you make trouble, you go somewhere you don’t come back from, and our insurance-” He patted the pocket with Sharon’s picture in it. “-gets to take your place. Understand?”

 

Steve swallowed, eyes huge as he managed a tiny, sick nodded. “O-okay- okay, just leave her alone, I’ll- I’l do what you want-” The gripped through his hair tightened and Steve squeezed his eyes closed. “I’ll do what you want…”

 

Strucker’s mouth curled, reaching up to trace his fingers over Steve’s clammy cheek and down his tense neck. “Yes you will…” He breathed, and Steve’s stomach dropped out as Strucker pulled down on his hair.

 

He closed his eyes, taking a moment in his own mind to balance the act of being an innocent victim with his duty to pursuing justice- balancing it with the very real fear still inside him. He reminded himself he was on the inside now, and his kidnappers were none the wiser. He wasn’t helpless the way Strucker was making him feel. Quite the opposite. He was dangerous . He was going to tear them apart from inside- and not from the rank of one of their men but from the position of one of their victims- someone they viewed as so much less than human that he would be bought and sold like a piece of meat- fucked with no thoughts to willingness or consent. And that’s exactly why this was going to work. Why Steve- naked, battered, and trembling- was more dangerous than any fully armed squad of officers on the outside.

 

Because he wasn’t even human to them, so why bother hiding their secrets? He was just a toy. Voiceless and disposable. He couldn’t hurt them.

 

But he could.

 

So Steve sunk to his knees, and let the tears slid down his cheeks. And Strucker thumbed open the button of his slacks, his mouth curling into a smile that said he had no concept of what the man at his feet was capable of.  

 

“...Now show me what a good boy you can be….”

 

-------

 

They had traced Steve to Philadelphia.

 

The tiny green light on their screens had placed the tracker in the worst part of the city- filthy and dangerous- in a club crawling with violence, drugs, and disease. And Bucky would be on the inside every moment he possibly could until he found Steve. His belongings were in a dirty hotel room with mold creeping up out of one damp corner. His backup was in a van parked across the street, and Bucky was sitting at the bar- watching.

 

The club was dirty and crowded, music blasting so loud and heavy Bucky could barely think. Smoke hung overhead like a fog, stinging Bucky’s throat as eyes as they scanned over eyes face. Mere feet away, a man did a line of coke of a topless girls stomach while two others screamed and shoved each other nearby. But for all the drugs, and violations, and aggression, and filth Bucky didn’t make a call. Because they weren’t here to catch people doing drugs, or to catch minors sneaking in with fake I.D’s. They weren’t here for the indecent exposure. They were here to get information on an international sex trafficking ring.

 

But the more Bucky looked, the more he was afraid that a sex trafficking ring wasn’t what he was looking at. The more he looked, the more he was afraid this was just another seedy club in a bad part of the city.

 

Panic started to tighten in Bucky’s chest, despite the steely professionalism he projected on the outside and his eyes snapped around. They skimmed for any discrepancy, anything to tell him this wasn’t just a club. Because if it was something was wrong. Steve’s tracker placed him here, and he wasn’t. And that meant something had gone horribly, horribly wrong.

 

Oh god- Steve could be dead….

 

Bucky’s hand trembled slightly on his glass as he took a swallow, his gaze dragging over every corner- every wall. And suddenly-

 

There it was. The one thing out of place.

 

Bucky had thought he was just another bouncer. There was a half dozen of them in the club, moving around- checking ID’s- throwing out customers when violence broke out. All of them- except one. He was just standing by the wall, expression hard, and fixed. And maybe he was just lazy. Maybe he wasn’t doing his job like the other bouncers were, but something in Bucky’s gut told him this man was serving a different purpose.

 

He lifted his phone, getting a blurry picture of him across the room, and taking down his description. Short and heavily muscled. Bald with a close, rough beard and mustache and, if Bucky wasn’t mistaken, a piece on his hip. He was just standing there as the minutes passed, as Bucky slipped off his seat and worked his way inconspicuously closer. He danced to blend in but shoved off anyone who got too handsy, continuing to observe the bouncer.

 

And finally, he moved-

 

His head turned to the side, inclining towards the wall behind him- listening. And Bucky watched as he shifted to the side, his pulse skyrocketing. Because he was guarding a door . It wasn’t meant to be invisible, just inconspicuous. It was the same color and texture as the wall, tucked away in a dark little corner of the club, half hidden behind a stack of cardboard boxes filled with gaudy, plastic confetti. Bucky eased closer, watching as the bouncer stepped away, the door opening to admit a pair of men. The one closest to Bucky was tall, with thick hair that was slicked back. His jaw was hard and sharp with a scar on the right side and he wore a tight black turtleneck. The second, Bucky almost missed.

 

He was barely visible behind him, small and young, Bucky’s gut tightening as he realized he couldn’t have been much more than eighteen, and that was a generous estimate. He was wrapped up in a long coat that looked like it belonged to the older man, the coat covering what he was or wasn’t wearing. His gait was crooked, and unstable, wobbling on a pair of heels.

 

Bucky wasn’t one for carelessly jumping to conclusions. He knew how that could damage a case, so he didn’t rule out that the young man was working the streets of his own volition. But then he stumbled over the heels, falling just far enough behind the older man that Bucky could see him fully- that he could see his eyes. And Bucky’s heart broke in his chest.

 

Fear. It was laced with bitter resignation, but more distinctly than anything else was the fear, and the victory tasted like bile as Bucky realized he’d found exactly what he was looking for. What he was looking for was right behind that door. The base of an international sex trafficking ring was behind that door - Steve-

 

Steve was behind that door.

 

But it wasn’t enough to burst in there now. It was just one base. Just one head of the Hydra that was this brutal and perverse monster. All he could do was to watch and try to figure out a way to get in and get in touch with Steve. All he could hope was that Steve would be able to find a way to get to the heart of the beast.

 

So Bucky slipped out of the club and followed the pair into the night.  

 

Chapter Text

The rain was coming down in soft, consistent sheets, hitting the bedroom window which was cracked open just enough to let the air through. It rustled the thin, white curtains, and Steve cuddled in deeper against the slight chill. Knowing what he needed- always knowing exactly what he needed- Steve felt Bucky’s powerful arms wrap around him to warm him and hold him close. A smile touched his lips.

 

“T’s nice, Buck….” Steve whispered, eyes still closed as he listened to his boyfriend’s steadily beating heart. “You’re like a space heater…” He mused, nuzzling his chest, pressing a sleepy kiss to one pec before starting to shift. “But I should get up...warm as you are, there’s-”

 

But Bucky cut him off, pulling Steve back in as he tangled him in his arms and legs. “Shhh….” Bucky breathed, squeezing him close, speaking again as Steve tried a huff of protest. “No, no way. We both finally have a day off. It's raining so we don’t even have to pretend we’re interested in anything happening outside of this room, and you’re going to shut your beautiful, beautiful pie hole and nap here with me.”

 

Steve gave a little scoff, starting to shake his head before he caught sight of Bucky’s face.

 

He was staring at him, soft, and sleepy, and unguarded. His eyes were half closed and there was a tiny, groggy smile on his lips...and the look of pure, tender love on Bucky’s face sent butterfly fluttering in Steve’s stomach. “Come on….” He whispered, voice rough from sleep. “One day off...one day where we don’t have to be FBI agents…I don’t want Agent Rogers….I want you. I want Steve, hm?....one day?…”

 

And Steve caved. He stopped resisting the pull of Bucky’s strong arms and flopped against him with a smile. He burrowed in tight, smiling against his chest before he started tracing a finger down over Bucky’s firm, round pecs. “One day...” He whispered, smiling as he let himself forget about work. “You got what you wanted, Barnes.” Steve’s eyes flickered up to him playfully. “But are you sure you just wanna nap?...There’s uh- there’s something pressing into my thigh that’s making me think not.”

 

Bucky’s chuckle had to be the sweetest sound Steve had ever heard in his entire, goddamn life. He looked up at Bucky, smiling as he watched his boyfriend laugh. It was a beautiful sight; the way his eyes crinkled at the corners- the way his cheeks dimpled and his eyes glinted like stars. His hands found his jaw, drawing Bucky down into a kiss. He wanted to taste that perfect laugh.

 

Bucky gave a playful little growl as he returned the kiss. “Spunky this morning, aren’t you Rogers?” He murmured against his mouth, hitching him closer as Steve teasingly rocked his hips against his, delighted that he still felt the sting from last night’s sex.

 

“Yeah I am. You gonna complain about it?”

 

Bucky grinned, nipping his lower lip. “Not a chance.” He purred, watching the way Steve’s smile lit up his face.

 

“Good….so why don’t you just lay back and let me do all the work, huh?” Steve’s eyes were bright and loving and playful as he flicked his tongue teasingly over his lips, and disappeared under the covers to find his place between Bucky’s thighs.

 

---------

 

Before all this, Steve had never imagined that waking up from being drugged would hurt so bad. But now he’d experienced the sensation twice in less than 24 hours, and he could honestly say, from the bottom of his heart, that he’d rather die than feel this way again. He felt like his skull had been cracked open and boiling water poured over his brain. His eyes burned, the chemicals that were processing through his body making his joints ache. Steve’s head was pounding- his body throbbing as his eyelids fluttered weakly. The stale air stung his eyes. His mouth was dry and stuck like musty, damp cotton. He could-

 

Steve’s stomach turned.

 

He could still taste Strucker… The humiliation tasted bitter, and earthy, his gut clenching as his throat tightened in a reflexive gag. He curled tighter in on himself and the sound that escaped him was thick and ugly. With his whole body throbbing from being dragged around and then drugged with some god-awful chemical- with his knees smarting from the hard concrete and his throat so tight with disgust he could hardly breathe, Steve was having a very hard time reminding himself that he had any hand in this disgusting game. In the back of his mind, he knew he had an ace up his sleeve, but laying there, naked on what felt like a battered mattress on a concrete floor, Steve didn’t even feel like he had cards , much less an ace… He felt weak and ashamed. The taste in his mouth and the memories burned into his mind made him nauseous… and Steve just wanted to cry. He curled up closer-

 

-and felt something slide over this body.

 

A harsh cry broke from his lips, Steve’s eyes flashing wide as he wrenched away. Someone’s body lurched back away from his as his back hit the wall. God- the room was small- too small. Claustrophobia rushed through Steve, tightening his chest. All Steve wanted was something to protect himself- But as it was, all he had was his own body...and even that he’d have to surrender when the time came. He couldn’t see- All he could make out was grayish pink shapes blooming in front of his poorly adjusted eyes, and then, slowly, they began to clear. His eyes adjusted to the dim, grimy lighting, dropping briefly to something caught around his legs. It was a scratchy, faded green blanket, and in the back of his mind, Steve registered that that’s what he had felt sliding over his body. His eyes flickered back up, tense and wary, and gradually he made out a figure.

 

She was halfway across the small, dim room, crouching. Her weight was pitched backward, ready to push herself away if Steve made another unexpected move. And she watched him. Her eyes were keen and sharp, and cautious. The flickering amber bulb highlighted just a suggestion of dark red hair, and her only clothing discernible under a rough, Carhartt jacket was a pair of dirty stockings.

 

Steve swallowed hard, his eyes dropping back down to the blanket as he drew it over his uncomfortably naked body. He drew his knees up a little, finally breaking the thick, stale silence in the room. “...thank you…” He breathed quietly, recognizing that she’d been covering him. It was a small blessing in this vicious place and Steve was grateful for it. He glanced up as the woman shifted pulling the dense jacket closer around her.

 

“...yeah.” She murmured, her voice a low, raspy alto, tinged with just the suggestion of a Russian accent. Her tongue briefly flickered out to wet her lips. “...I know it’s scary...waking up like that…” And as the two seemed to come to an understanding that they were both in the same boat, her severe posture eased and she sat back, cross-legged on one of the mattress. There were six of them crammed into the tiny space, and Steve’s stomach turned. If all the mattresses were meant to hold one of Hydra’s victims...He nearly shuddered at the thought of how hot, and cramped, and dirty a room like this would become...It was inhumane. “...I didn’t mean to scare you.”

 

Steve pulled the blanket closer, surely wishing he had a jacket like hers, but it seemed they took what they could to give themselves some illusion of dignity. For Steve, that was a blanket around his waist. For the other victim, that was a heavy jacket even if she had scarce little else. Steve gave a little nod, “I know you didn’t…I’m sorry if I scared you .” He said, cautiously looking at her a little closer. She was definitely malnourished, but fairly clean- or...not filthy at least, and Steve couldn’t help but think that if Hydra was to present them as desirable good they’d have to be… Again...small blessings.

 

“I’ve certainly had worse scares.” She replied quietly. “I knew you weren’t one of them, so I had a bit of an edge.” There was a hint of bitter sarcasm in her voice and Steve responded with a thin huff.  

 

“Yeah...I’m sure you take any kind of edge you can get….”  He murmured, the woman nodding. And after a quiet second, she met his eyes.

 

“What’s your name?” She asked quietly,  knowing it was the one agency they couldn’t ever truly strip you of.

 

“Steven.” He murmured, fussing with the edge of the blanket.

She gave a little nod. “Steven…I’m Natasha...I’m gonna do what I can to help you, but it’s not gonna be pretty.” She told him. Natasha remembered how desperately she had wished for a little guidance- a little comfort when she’d first been thrown in here- terrified, and confused, and violated. She tried to give that to the other’s now. And Steve felt his pulse jump.

 

He could see in her eyes that Natasha had been here for some time, and the more he could learn from her, the faster he could bring her, and anyone else in here, justice. He carefully shifted away from the wall, moving to sit on one of the ragged mattresses. “Okay…” He breathed softly. “I...I get the idea- I…” He swallowed, closing his eyes. “...I know what’s gonna happen to me...but it doesn’t feel real.”

 

“It won’t.” She said lowly, pulling her jacket closer. “It’s gonna feel like a bad dream. It won’t feel real when you leave this room, or the first time a client takes you. You’re gonna watch it happening like you’re not even in your own body and you’re gonna wonder why you’re not waking up…” Natasha’s mouth with set in a hard, pained line, the memory of her own denial running through her mind. “But when it sinks in you’re gonna need to remember some things. First of all- everything they threaten?-” Her eyes met his. “It’s not a power play. It’s not a trick. They really will find whoever your pressure point is and bring them here, I’ve watched it happen…” Across from her, Steve let out a shaky breath at the thought. “...There was a girl in here six months back who thought it was a bluff...a week later they kidnapped her thirteen-year-old niece.” Her scowl deepened, but her eyes were locked on Steve. She didn’t want to see that happen again. She needed him to know he couldn’t try to be a hero. “The best choice you have is to do as they say….I know it feels dirty, but it keeps you alive, and it keeps them the fuck away from your family….”

 

Steve gave a tight little nod, filing away every word she said. Any sliver of information could be useful. He just had to store it all away in his mind under his team reached out….until Bucky made contact. And the mere thought of seeing him again made his chest ache. He shifted where he sat, eyes lowering. “The man with the eyepiece-” He started, looking over at her. “...who is he?”

 

“-Strucker.” Natasha supplied. “He’s one of the officers….He works with that viper, Cassandra Romulus in ‘recruitment.’” She spat the words like a poison as Steve committed them to memory. The names were priceless informational currency. Natasha’s eye lifted to his. “Listen, Steven...in here, you’re going to run into clients and officers. A client will pay for you and from that moment on you live and die to be worth their money.” The sentiment was spat out- ugly and bitter. “Especially early on. If the clients have complaints, the officers will get rid of you. We don’t know what they do with the workers who don’t come up to par, but we don’t care to find out. All we know is they don’t just turn up back out in the free world.”

 

Steve nodded, the ominous warning sitting like a rock in his gut. “...so be good for the clients.” He breathed quietly. “...but Strucker’s an officer. What about them?...”

 

“The officers are harder, you-”

 

But before Natasha could finish the thought, the heavy door shuddered and was shoved open, and a young man was pushed through into the small room. He was underfed like Natasha, his skin tight around his narrow ribcage. His fair skin was badly covered by rumpled, cream-toned lingerie that disguised very little, least of all the bruises and abrasions that seemed to mark every inch of his body. He was shaking, barely keeping his feet on a pair of heels that cut bleeding welts into his feet- and he was sobbing in blind panic.

 

“Peter-”

 

Steve lurched out of Natasha’s way as she jarred past him, rushing over to the young man. His eyes were huge, chest heaving in aborted gasps as he grabbed at Natasha’s arms. Tears spilled down his cheeks, dripping off his chin as he babbled to Natasha incoherently, pressing into her. “Peter- Peter, it’s okay-” She breathed, wrapping him in her arms, cradling him close as he sobbed. “ya zdes', Peter…I’m here…” She translated herself, stroking a hand over his sweat damp hair. Her eyes flashed over her shoulder to Steve. “Blanket.” She ordered sharply and Steve broke out of his stillness, grabbing for one of the other blankets and handing it to her. Natasha took it in one hand, wrapping it around the boy’s rattling body.  “What happened?...” She breathed, wiping at his cheeks.

 

Peter- the same young man Bucky had seen leaving the club some hours before- shuddered violently against her. “I did what you said-” He babbled. “I didn’t look at him- I didn’t draw any attention but he picked me, Nat- he took me-” He sobbed, Nat’s face hardening.

 

“That bastard from Central?” Her voice was low and dangerous and Steve’s heart lurching in his chest. Central . Something bigger than this one base. Whatever Central was, Steve got the feeling he needed to get there at any cost.

 

In Natasha’s arms, Peter choked on a sob, nodding. His bony fingers clutched at the back of her jacket as she gently tucked the blanket around his slim body to give him some form of privacy. “Okay, alright, Peter, look at me.” She turned his face up with gentle hands and serious eyes. “Look at me. This doesn’t mean anything-” She pressed, Peter’s eyes widening with panic.

IT DOES!” He broke out. “It does, Nat, you know it does!”

 

Nat squeezed his arms. “They’re not gonna take you, Peter. I won’t let them.”

 

“Everyone who gets picked by an officer gets taken! You know that! You know they’re gonna take me!” He looked absolutely nauseous with fear and Nat shook her head.

 

She drew him forward, pulling him down to one of the mattresses on the floor and Peter dropped with her. He let out a pained sound, kicking the heels off his bleeding feet as he slumped onto the floor. He looked up at Natasha with terrified eyes as she pushed back his hair. “They’re not gonna take you.” She said again, her voice firm, waiting until Peter’s panicked eyes had settled on hers. She cupped the side of his face, looking at him intently. “Did you do what I told you?....”

 

Peter swallowed, and nodded. “...be good enough that they like you, not so good that they remember you.” He said back. It sounded to Steve like a mantra. Natasha nodded and wiped at his eyes, pushing back his hair.

 

“If he doesn’t remember you, he’s not gonna take you to Central...that’s that…” She murmured, watching as the young man drew in a slow, ragged breath and nodded, pulling the blanket closer around him. “They’re not gonna take you. I promise…”

 

Peter gave a tiny nod, the panic slowly giving way to resigned exhaustion. All the fight seemed to drain out of his body, his eyes going heavy, shoulders slumping like a marionette with cut strings. Nat knew the feeling. She rubbed his back softly. “Get some sleep, Peter…” She murmured, the young man looking up at her. He swallowed, and for the first time, Steve felt his eyes land on him. They flickered with anxious suspicion, and Nat continued to soothingly rub his tense back. “...it’s okay.” She whispered. “That’s Steven. He’s our bunkmate now, and he’s brand new, so be nice to him, okay?” Nat smiled, switching the perspective to paint Steve as the one who was afraid and not Peter.

 

It worked. Peter’s expression of frightened suspicion melted away and he offered Steve a tiny smile that might have been an attempt at comfort. “Hi…” He breathed, his voice a little hoarse and rough from crying. “The- uhm...the mattress next to mine is gonna be yours...all the others are taken, so-”

 

Steve tried a little smile, his heart aching. God this poor kid… “Thanks, Peter.” He said, careful to keep his tone gentle. “I’m gonna need the sleep, but it looks like you might need it more.”

 

Peter was already easing onto his side, nodding. “Take it when you can get it.” He said quietly, and despite the fact that it was presented as a joke, it felt thin and dismal… it didn’t help that it was spoken by a young man who looked stretched to his physical and emotional limits. And as Steve nodded Peter curled up under his scratchy, green blanket and closed his swollen eyes.

 

He was asleep in what felt like moments.

Nat was quiet for some time after Peter had closed his eyes, making sure he was deep enough asleep that the voices wouldn’t disturb him before she spoke. “... that’s ‘ what about the officers’.” She murmured, smoothing the blanket over Peter’s bare shoulder. “You don’t wanna get noticed by an officer cause if you’re not good enough for them they get rid of you like you're nothing…” Her brow furrowed. “Like garbage…” Steve could tell from the look in her eyes that she’d seen that happen too- that she was fighting to not let it happen to herself or the people she protected.

 

“...and if they do notice you?” Steve asked in a hushed tone, remembering the terror on the young man’s face.

 

Nat shook her head helplessly. “Really, it’s all just guesses...rumors…” She murmured. “But every so often, people will show up that are higher ranking than the normal clients….officers from somewhere higher up in the food chain...the officers from here try to impress them...they get whoever they want, however they want...And if they like who they picked, sometimes when they leave, they take the worker with them.” Nat’s brow was furrowed. She didn’t love thinking of them as workers. It implied they had some choice in the matter, or that they were somehow getting something back for all they were demanded to give...but it was the only term that allowed them a shred of dignity. It was that or what the officers called them… Nat turned, walking back to her mattress against the wall, near where Peter was sleeping. “...we don’t know anything about Central,” She said finally, her voice quiet, and tired, “but at least here we know we’re alive. That’s all we got….most of us aren’t in the mood to risk it…”

 

Steve nodded. “I understand…” He said softly, his eyes lingering on Peter’s small, battered figure, his heart aching. “...Jesus….how old is he?...” He whispered, forgetting for a moment about everything but the abject horror of seeing someone so fresh and young as Peter subjected to this kind of abuse.

 

“Eighteen…” Nat murmured. “Just.” She sighed quietly, looking down before turning her gaze to Steve. “But he’s been here for three months now....he understands the nuances...the rules. I’m gonna try to tell you everything you need to know so you don’t get killed, but there’s stuff you’re just gonna have to learn by experience,” she sighed. “I can’t predict how you’re going to react when you go on shift…”

 

“On shift?” Steve asked softly, Natasha nodding.

 

“When they put you in with the clients. They probably won’t have you do any performing for a while until they see how you behave, but when you go on shift that means making yourself look good for the clients. You go out there. You smile, you mingle- ” She bit out, her disgusted snarl the farthest thing from a smile Steve could imagine. He couldn’t believe she could make a client believe that she could actually smile at them and mean it. Even knowing the edge he had, Steve wasn’t sure he could make himself do it. Natasha’s face was hard. “Going on shift means if someone touches you, you let them, and if they pay for you, you go into a room with them, and you let them fuck you...you do what they tell you to until they’re done with you,” and Natasha’s voice turned raw and resigned. How many times had someone used her until they were done with her?...how many times would Steve be?....

 

Nat let out a sigh. “I’m gonna do what I can to help you, but-”

 

Natasha’s words were cut off as the door to their bunk was wrenched open. Steve startled, Natasha moving instantly to her feet. An officer’s figure filled the doorframe, his eyes finding Steve and then Natasha. “Both of you- up.” He snapped, Nat shooting Steve a level, tense look. She’d thought she’d have more time to prep him, but their time had just run out. They were going on shift. Now.

Steve pulled himself up to his feet, matching Natasha’s movements- following her experienced lead as she stepped out of the cramped, dirty bunk room, moving in front of the officer. Steve’s body flushed with hot, urgent tension as he recognized the gun in his hands, and God he wished he had his own.

 

But he didn’t have time to linger on the thought. Nat was already walking, her pace brisk, and tense, the officer shoving Steve forward to keep pace with her. As Steve drew back up beside her, Nat shot him a little. “Officers carry a piece, clients don’t. Know the difference and don’t draw an officer’s attention. If a client takes you into a room, don’t think you can try to overpower them or barter. You probably could, but there are cameras in every room. They are monitored and if you make trouble the officers will kill you.”

 

Steve flashed her a wide-eyed look, trying to quickly process to sudden dump of information. But they had minutes and Nat was trying to squeeze in as much as possible.  

 

“Clients are supposed to use condoms but it’s for their protection, not ours and they know that. If they decide not to use them, we don’t have a say. After a client, you take only as much time as you absolutely need to clean up and then you have to be back on the floor. Workers with a slow turnaround time don’t last.” Nat pressed on sharply as they were lead to a room with racks upon racks of tight dresses, lingerie, and large mirrors. It was as dirty as every other room Steve had seen since being taken but the clothing was all neatly pressed and cleaned. He could hear the heavy thumping of music not far away. And Nat was right...it didn’t feel real. It struck Steve that he was about to be thrown out into the midst of people who would touch him- buy him- violate him-...and it didn’t feel real. Everything Natasha was telling him went against every instinct Steve had. He’d always fought back. He’d always spoken out against injustice and he’d never been afraid to rip into someone for being demeaning, bigoted, or cruel. And yet here he was...and he was going to have to let himself be hurt, and used, and humiliated. And he would only be allowed to smile and pretend it didn’t make his blood boil with rage.

 

Nat let out a breath, looking over Steve. “Okay.” She breathed. “Let’s get you ready.”

 

Steve gave a tense nod. “So I just put on anything?” He asked, not sure if what he was seeing on the racks would be better or worse than being totally naked. His gut was telling him worse.

 

“Whatever you’ll fit in.” Nat replied, going over to one of the racks. “You’ll be able to find something though, there are a few other guys your size, but give this a try.” She turned, handing him a set of lingerie- all soft creams and pale blues- all silky straps and sheer material.

 

Haltingly, Steve let the blanket drop and started to figure out how to put it on. A few feet away, Natasha had taken off her heavy jacket and dirty stockings, dressing with brutal efficiency in a pair of blood red panties and a bra with multiple red satin straps that crisscrossed her chest, one band clasping around her throat like a collar. Thin straps of ribbon connected her panties to a fresh pair of black stockings that came up to her mid-thigh, and Nat looked over sharply as she pushed her feet into a pair of tall heels. “What are you doing? Hurry-” She pressed, Steve looking up from where he’d just managed to get himself tucked into the delicate, lacy panties.

 

Steve shook his head. “I’m trying- I don’t know how to get this stuff on!” He said honestly, the translucent bralette that had come with the set a tangled mess in his hands. His mind was caught up on how he was supposed to survive this, not on how to get what felt the like hundreds of straps untangled and onto his body.

 

Nat took the piece of thin sheer from his hands, untangling it deftly and helping him get it on. It lifted Steve’s firm, full pecs, the sheer tight over his nipples and Steve felt his cheeks heating as he caught his reflection in one of the mirrors. Beside him, Nat pulled a corset off the rack, wrapping it around Steve just under his pecs, Steve momentarily mesmerized by the look before a sharp breath was forced out of his lungs. Natasha had pulled the laces hard , cinching Steve’s waist and driving the air from his body.

 

“Nat-” He protested, making a little, strangled noise as she pulled again, tying the laces in a bow at the base of his spine.

 

“Trust me.” She said, looking shortly to the officer, noticing his impatient ticks. She turned Steve to face her. “The men out there- they’re all about power. They want to feel strong, and in control, so they’re going to pick workers who can make them feel that way.” She looked briefly at his physique. “You’re not built for that, so if you wanna compete well enough to survive in here you’ve gotta make yourself look as small, and soft, and vulnerable as possible.”

 

And as Nat’s sharp advice embedded itself into his senses, Steve felt his heart tightened at the memory of Bucky’s words. ‘It makes you look more vulnerable....Clearly, that’s not a natural look for a guy your size so we’ve gotta manufacture it a little.’ Steve remember the feeling of his partner’s hands running through his hair- those strong, clever fingers unbuttoning the top few buttons of his shirt, and in that moment, Steve missed him so badly he felt nauseous. He wanted him here...desperately. He wanted to be able to look into Bucky’s intelligent, stunning eyes and hear him telling him he was going to be okay, that this was fucked up but he was going to survive it...His skin burned to feel his comforting arms around him, hugging him close to whisper in that sweet, low voice of his that he could do this- that he was strong enough to survive it. But all he had was his memory and his advice- that advice that now sharply paralleled Natasha’s. ‘Channel that lanky kid I met in the academy a bit.’ ‘ make yourself look as small, and soft, and vulnerable as possible.’ And Steve let out a ragged breath.

 

“Okay….I’m ready.”

 

Natasha nodded, her eyes darting again to the officer as he turned to them the door open. “Good. Cause we’re out of time. Come on.” She breathed, her hand just resting on the back of his arm as Steve quickly tugged on the heels she’d found for him and followed after her.

 

The officer took them the rest of the way down the hall, and Steve’s skin prickled as he felt the energy of the man’s stare drag down from the back of his neck to the painfully narrow cinch of his waist and down over his ass. He felt naked under the stare, his stomach flushing with heat as he bottled up the instinctive urge to turn and snap at the man. But he was trusting Natasha’s experience. He wasn’t to draw attention to himself. He stood there, stiff as the officer moved close in behind him, just a pace to the side, one hand sliding down his ass, gripping hard as he opened the door in front of them,

 

And Steve’ stomach dropped away.

 

The space was massive and dark. It had the aura of a warehouse, but the air pressure and something about the smell beneath the heavy scent of alcohol and smoke gave the impression it was underground. And the sheer number of workers Steve could see even at a first glance turned his stomach with horror. It didn’t seem to matter to these people. Steve could see workers of all ages, sizes, and ethnicities. Men and women, victims too who Steve knew at a glance were underaged. They were all dressed similarly to him and Natasha, all of them dressed up to appeal to clients who viewed them as nothing more than meat.

 

A stage dominated one side of the cavernous space. Several women danced and teased the clients below who reached and touched and claimed them for after their performance with bills tucked into their scant garments. Drinks were carried around on trays, given to the clients to loosen their inhibitions and encourage them to indulge in the living delicacies Hydra put on show for them.

 

Steve took in a steadying breath, his eyes fixed wide, his throat tense, stomach in a knot. But every face here was valuable currency. Every name brought them closer to shutting down this entire disgusting operation. Steve just had to keep reminding himself of that because he knew, as the officer shoved him forward into the malicious crowd, it was the only the only way he was going to survive.   

Chapter Text

“Look I’m sorry!” The words broke from Bucky’s lips, sharp and bitter as he paced the kitchen, dinner uneaten at the table, Steve on his feet on the other side of the room. His chest was tense with hurt, and worry and anger. His jaw ticked as he clenched it, eyes boring into Steve. “Is that what you wanna hear, huh? I’m sorry!”

 

“No!” Steve snapped, turning sharply to face him. “No, I don’t wanna hear your ‘I’m sorry’ cause you don’t mean it! You’re just saying it cause you’re so fucking passive aggressive that you want me to just buckle for you and say this is my fault!”

 

“Maybe it is! Maybe for once you could stop being a self-righteous asshole and admit that you fucked up, but God forbid you ever consider that!” Steve’s stubbornness was infuriating. It wasn’t endearing, it wasn’t admirable, it was fucking infuriating. How couldn’t he see that Bucky just wanted him around? He wanted him to show up for dinner. He wanted him to follow through on plans- to be there when he fell asleep at night. Bucky wanted him to be alive in five years! Not killed on a job that he was too fucking bullheaded to accept help on!

 

Steve shook his head, holding up a hand. “Oh stop.” He snapped. “ You can’t possibly think you can just shelter me! I chose this field! I chose this job! You think I’m gonna be happy if you try to keep me from it?” His usually fair, amiable features were twisted into a dark scowl. Bucky knew he hated this! He knew he hated being babied, or fussed over- told he wasn’t strong enough! He’d told him about how infuriatingly small, and pathetic, and helpless it had made him feel when he was a young sick kid- when people would shunt him to the side because he ‘couldn’t handle it.’ He didn’t need that from Bucky too. He did this to help people! It was all he’d ever wanted, and Bucky was treating it like it was for some egotistical, over-inflated sense of self-image and heroism.

 

“I’m not sheltering you. I’m not taking you away from your job-” Bucky’s brow was furrowed his jaw set. “But that doesn’t mean you have to jump on every one of the most dangerous cases we get!”

“So I should sit back and let someone else put themselves in harm’s way?”

 

“Maybe!” Bucky shot back. “They chose that job as much as you did, I’m just saying I want you around in ten years, and I don’t see that happening if you’re gonna be a self-righteous martyr and volunteer to take any bullet before someone’s even pulled the trigger!” He snapped savagely, watching the way Steve’s eyes flared with anger, his hands tightening.  

 

“Maybe you shouldn’t have signed up for this if you couldn’t handle it.” Steve gritted out. And his chest hurt. He hated this. He hated this so much his body ached. He hated seeing the look on Bucky’s face like he’d been slapped, but his emotions had run away with his words. “I’m gonna do my job,” his voice was low and hard, “and I’m gonna help people, and I don’t care if that means I'm not around in ten years.”

 

And eventually, that’s what destroyed them. Because all Steve wanted was to help people, and all Bucky wanted was to see Steve alive at the end of the day...and at the end of the day, Steve thought losing his life would be worth all the good he could do, and Bucky couldn’t imagine any greater evil in all the world than seeing Steve Roger’s vibrant, fiery life crushed out.

 

-----------

 

More than ever now, Bucky wondered what would have happened if he’d won the argument that had signaled their end...they’d held on for a while longer, but they’d both known from that moment on that their love was playing out on borrowed time. Maybe Steve wouldn’t be under cover right now...maybe he would have passed the mantle to someone else…maybe they’d be home together, curled up in front of a fire having a glass of something strong with music playing softly in the background… Instead, Bucky was in his dirty, musty hotel room, the bedside lamp on as he paged through file after file to distract himself from the knowledge that Steve had been undercover for close to two weeks now.

 

He would be hurt. He would be violated, and hungry, and exhausted...and Bucky couldn’t do a thing for him until he could find an in. And by now, Bucky was desperately hoping that his way into that hellhole was somewhere in the files in front of him. Every day a different agent canvassed the club. Bucky had pushed his luck by going there three separate times, but he knew he couldn’t push it any further. Someone might notice a repeated face and get suspicious, so he had to let the team rotate in. They all observed the door and the bouncers that guarded it. They shadowed clients that came and went, getting pictures and descriptions.

 

Mid-week they had had their first real breakthrough. A man had started going through the door to the trafficking hub but he always seemed to leave without one of their victims. This set him apart from the other clients. It indicated he had a greater, more involved purpose there than to find someone that he could buy to get himself off. It had focused the team’s attentions on him and, unable to spend his time in the club waiting for a way in to contact Steve, Bucky had invested all his efforts into shadowing this one man. And eventually, his persistence paid off.

 

Bucky had followed him to a coffee shop in the center of the city. He’d placed himself a few chairs away, his eyes on his phone, watching him out of the corner of his eyes: waiting. He wasn’t an overly tall man, but he carried himself like one. There was something powerful and senselessly cruel even in the way he looked at people- like he was inherently higher than them. Like everyone else lived and died to either perform a service for him or as something to be crush were it to get in his way. He had a hard, sharp face and rough stubble; his hair was thick, and dark, and pushed back away from his face. Bucky had watched him practically throw his card at the barista, and after taking a sip of his coffee, make a barbed, snide commented before stirring four sugars into his coffee. His eyes followed his every movement as his target took up a whole table with his papers, absently checking his phone as he licked off the coffee stirrer and pitched it into the trash.

 

And just like that, Bucky had him. His DNA. There for the taking the moment he walked out of the coffee shop.

 

Bucky collected the stirrer as soon as he left, sending it back to the mobile lab for testing. Unsurprising, the man was already in their database. His name was Brock Rumlow. Priors; aggravated assault and possession with the intent to sell. It had been thought that Rumlow had been part of a drug ring, but he’d never incriminated himself or given up anyone else. Clearly, he’d moved out of the drug business and down into filthier circles of crime. Just maybe he was the one Steve needed to find on the inside. All Bucky needed was a way to get into the trafficking hub and find Steve so he could tell him. All he needed was a cover- all he needed was-

 

Him.

 

Bucky knew from the moment he opened the file that this was exactly the man he’d been looking for. He hadn’t known it until he had seen his face, but he was perfect. One of the other FBI agents working the case had taken a picture of him leaving the club with one of the victims. He’d been in and out several times and the notes in the margins by his blurry picture put him at about Bucky’s height. His jaw was sharp and defined, his eyes were close enough in shape to Bucky’s that even the color wouldn’t be a problem. All he would need was colored lenses, a haircut, and his name.

 

Over the past two weeks they’d seen so many clients going in and out of the club that there was no way the bouncers would remember all of them, but a note of familiarity- maybe a name in a log supposedly ‘proving’ Bucky had been there before would get him in. Because this man- this client that the trafficking ring had already let into the walls before, would be easy enough to copy. They just needed to bring him in, get a name and get everything he knew. And Bucky didn’t care what he had to do.

 

He was going to make him sing like a bird if that’s what it took to get him to Steve.

 

--------------

 

His whole body ached.

 

In all his life, Steve had never felt anything like this- not when he was a sick little kid and fevers left his muscles tired and sore- not in the academy when the relentless training left him tense and wound. No- this was different. This was every fiber in his body- strained and hot and screaming out for rest. His cheek muscles hurt from forcing a smile that left his mouth feeling dirtier than the acts he was forced to perform with it. His eyes burned from blinking back angry, humiliated tears on shift, and vulnerable, lonely, frightened ones when he was marginally safe in the cramped, dirty bunk. His body was covered in bite marks and bruises.

 

It hadn’t taken long.

 

Natasha had been right. The clients like to feel powerful and they liked Steve to feel powerless, and delicate, and small. So they bit. They bit and they gripped with brutal hands. They pushed his legs apart until the muscles strained and pulled, slamming into him until the pain became numbness. His whole body ached, and Steve wasn’t sure he could take much more of this.  

It had been two weeks, and Steve was gonna lose it in here.

 

The only thing keeping him sane was his task: collecting every name- every snippet of conversation. He could draw every officer he’d seen with his eyes closed. He could identify every client. Steve would run through them in his mind, matching names to faces as he tried to fall asleep, like some perverse game of Guess Who. Without that one task, Steve was sure he'd spiral. He could always feel it- ever present in the corners of his mind, waiting for a chink in his armor so it could suck him down into a mire of brokenness and depression that he could never free himself from.

 

Steve wasn't sure how the other workers survive- how they faced day after day knowing there was no hope of ever seeing the outside world, or their friends, or their loved ones again. Hydra left no room for happiness, but just the sheer fact that they were surviving astounded Steve. And they deserved more... So- so much more….so much better than this putrid, disgusting pit of perversion and filth…

 

The sting between his legs as he carefully cleaned himself with a damp cloth rooted Steve’s mind back in reality and he winced, pulling away. It felt like the millionth time he’d done this today- slip out of one of the dozens of rooms off the main floor, come dribbling down his thighs. It felt like the millionth time he’d hobbled to the dressing room to clean himself up- change his outfit- freshen his aching, forced smile only to walk out into the vicious mass and do it all over again. It was the sixth or seventh this shift at least but that didn’t stop the feeling. He closed his eyes, taking a moment to breathe.

 

“Okay, man?”

 

The voice was low and quiet and Steve started opening his eyes. And then the tension dropped out of his shoulders. The man who’d slipped, ghost-like into the room, wasn’t a stranger. He was one of the six workers that shared his tiny, cramped bunk, and though it was hot, and close, and rank, Steve was grateful for all of them. There was a solidarity between the six of them that had formed even faster than the kinds of bonds that formed on the force. Steve had thought that having to trust a partner with his life had been the fastest he’d ever grown close to another person but this was different. They shared everything they had even if that was nothing at all. They took care of each other, and even after only a few days, Steve felt like he knew these people on a raw, personal level that he wouldn’t have felt any other way. He had met Natasha and Peter on the first day. Natasha had proved herself to be hardened and wickedly intelligent, yet tender and protective of the younger workers. Peter was quiet, but Steve sensed a vivid, humorous, creative soul inside him...it had just been buried under so much fear and trauma it only barely flickered through.

 

Since that first day, he had met Wanda, a quiet young woman who spoke only broken English, and Pietro, her twin brother, who’d been dragged in when she hadn’t cooperated. The language barrier was intense, but they still expressed a deep protectiveness for one another and a grim bravery in the face of their situation. And then there was Sam. It was Sam who had spoken to him from the doorway; who stood there in an outfit of close-clinging burgundy lace against his dark brown skin and looked at him with an expression of tired, knowing understanding.

 

Steve wet his lips, ducking his head as he quickly pulled a pair of clean, pale blue panties up over his hips, tucking himself away with lowered eyes. While the workers were cornered into having no capability for modesty with the clients they were always careful to afford it to each other. Sam’s eyes stayed directed away until Steve had gotten at least a little something on his body. He looked up to Sam, the other man’s eyes landing on his. “Yeah- yeah…” Steve breathed, nodding as he fussed with the strap of the lacy bra that pushed his pecs up; full and firm. “I’m fine….just tired.”

 

Sam nodded, moving a little closer into view of the mirror now that Steve was clothed, running a hand over his dense, natural hair which had grown out so much from the tight, close cut he usually preferred. “Gets to being a constant state, huh?....” He murmured and Steve huffed, inclining his head.

“...I wish I could say you were wrong.”

 

“Yeah no...none of us are gonna live to see the day that I’m wrong,” Sam returned, just a hint of a joke in his voice. And Steve’s mouth tugged into a wane smile. He liked Sam. He hadn’t expected anyone to be strong enough to retain a sense of humor in here- however dry and jaded, but Sam somehow did. He wasn't an optimist, the humor he clung to was sarcastic, and sometimes bitter, but when it was just the six of them, all cuddled in close to offer protection and comfort, sometimes that beautifully real, beautifully brutal humor that Sam held to was enough to make them laugh despite all the horror.

 

He huffed, looking over at him with the closest thing to a smile he had any more. “You planning on outliving all of us?” he asked, leaning in close to the mirror to undo a twist in the collar-like band of lace around his throat. He kept finding more things to fuss with; a strap to tighten, a thread to pick, a spot of the peachy lip gloss Nat had picked for him to dab at.

 

“Just not planning on ever being wrong.” Sam returned, keeping up the banter because he understood where Steve's head was, and it wasn't in the conversation. He was trying to put off going back onto the floor. He was tired. He was sore. He couldn't face being touched again. Carefully, Sam's hand came to rest on Steve's lower back, and he felt Steve start and then the tension melted from his body, his weary eyes closing. “Alright, Steve….a few more hours.” he intoned quietly, his eyes on Steve's face as he nodded slowly.

 

“I know,” he breathed. “Sorry, Sam. I shouldn't- I mean...you've been here so much longer, I've got no excuse to-”

 

“Man, shut up.”

 

Steve blinked, his eyes turning to Sam, who gave a soft huff, tugging Steve gently closer. “You're new…. that's just as exhausting….and yeah-” His voice wavered. “I've been here forever...and yeah, I'm fucking spent but none of us have it any easier and you're still adjusting... Cut yourself some slack.”  

 

And Steve swallowed, nodding his head. “Thanks….“ He breathed, pulling himself together. Grounding himself. “What do you do?” he breathed. “How do you make yourself go back out there?....” Steve's question was edged with raw exhaustion. He'd never felt this way before. He'd always been able to stand up and keep going...but he'd never been in a fight like this.

 

Sam's eyes flickered to the door and then back to Steve. “You have to,” he said simply. “You stay in here and eventually you get noticed and you disappear and none of us want that,” he said firmly speaking about their close, strange little family. “...you just have to...” Sam murmured, watching the exhaustion wash through Steve's expression and his mouth tugged. “But I'll show you what makes it easier...come on,” he murmured, leading Steve back to the door out of the dressing room, Steve- by this point- only tripping once or twice over his heels. Sam pushed open the door that spilled out onto the main floor, the music, and heat and stench crashing over them like breakers, Sam pulling Steve closer. “Look for the new ones,” he instructed. “Someone who looks like they haven't done this before….they're usually easier...give you enough of a breather to get back on your feet.”

 

Steve look to him, eyes latched intently onto Sam's firm, determined expression, light by the flashes of colored lights. “You're a lifesaver. I mean that Sam.” He called over the music, his friend’s eyes turning to his.

 

“You know we look out for each other,” he said simply, and as Steve nodded, Sam lightly cupped his face, pressing a platonic kiss to his lips. It had surprised Steve at first- how tactile the workers were with each other. But for everyone who was receptive to it, the workers shared touch and soft kisses, and laid, tangled close together at night. It was a desperate grab for normalcy. A resilient, human effort to remind themselves that touch wasn't inherently bad...and Steve was grateful for it.

 

So he kissed Sam back, brief, and chaste before letting out a slow breath. “Someone new, huh?” he asked, and Sam nodded.

 

“Yeah...I saw a guy heading towards the bar not long ago. He was trying to play it off, but he's a fresh client….you should try to catch him….”

 

Steve nodded. “I’ll try.” He touched his arm. “Careful out there.” The floor was brutal and dangerous, the clients no less. Even in his short time here, Steve had seen workers wind up dead in the rooms by a client's hand. The thought of the same happening to any of the people that shared his bunk made Steve nauseous. Sam gave him a tight, half smile.

 

“Take your own advice, Bauer. I'll see you tonight….”

 

And with that, Sam disappeared into the packed crowd on the floor Steve watching until he'd lost sight. And then- alone once more- he took the plunge himself.

 

------------

 

Bucky had sat in a chair for hours while they fixed every detail. The scissors had hissed and scraped and his long, dark chestnut hair had coiled to the floor; lock after lock. One of their professionals had contoured his face, carefully adjusting every shadow and highlight to draw his features closer to those of the man they’d brought in that afternoon. His name was Arthur Woodman, and part of their team was still wringing him for information, but Bucky already had enough to assume his identity. He had his name, his clothing, his identification, and now, his face. It wasn’t exact, but as Bucky looked at his reflection in the grimy mirror, he’d known it would be enough to get him through the door.

 

It’d be enough to get him to Steve.

 

----------

A hand snagged the satiny laces of the corset, tied in a bow above Steve’s ass, pulling at them in an attempt to stop him. Another man’s hand found his thigh, fingers sliding up the high blue stockings. Steve kept his eyes low. He acted like he didn’t feel when fingers brushed over the front of his panties. Voices called after him as bodies ground close, and Steve felt his throat tighten with panic. These clients were aggressive and bold. They were return customers and they’d already tasted the power they perceived came with dominating, controlling, and demeaning them. They would be malicious, and cruel, and Steve knew he was stretched too thin to handle it.

 

And suddenly a pair of hands grabbed his waist and Steve’s eyes snapped up.  

 

His stomach plunged.

 

The client’s hands squeezed the obscenely narrow point of his waist so hard it hurt, his eyes half-lidded, mouth curled into a lazy smirk. And Steve knew the look. He’d picked him and Steve couldn't just pretend he didn’t realize it.

 

“Slow down, gorgeous.” He purred, looking Steve up and down, pulled his body against his as one hand slid down to his ass, the other trailing up his ribs. “Lemme look at you…” His tongue slid out slowly, wetting his lips as he pressed into Steve’s space.

 

Steve’s breath had frozen in his lungs and he resisted the urge to square his shoulders and draw his body up to its full height. Instead, his loosened his muscles, his expression easing and going softly doe-eyed. This was the armor he’d need to survive this encounter despite every cell in his body screaming for him to fight- even run. He didn’t want to do this- he couldn’t face this. But not facing it wasn’t an option and Steve knew it.

 

The client’s hands found Steve’s pecs, as he ate him up, rubbing over the firm, full swells before pinching one nipple so hard Steve’s eyes watered. The expression of pain that spasmed briefly over Steve’s expression turned the man’s gaze hungry. “You’re a pretty little girl, hmmm?” He breathed, watching the way the demeaning tone turned Steve’s cheeks and ears red. “I’ll bet you just need a real man to take care of you, don’t you, pretty baby?....”

 

Steve swallowed the disgust and rage twisting like a white-hot blade in his gut. “Yes sir,” He breathed instead, lashes lowering and the client wet his mouth, the visual turning Steve’s stomach.

 

And then the client’s attention broke from him. A pair of hands had slid up his sides and around the front of his body, and Steve felt the man’s grip loosen on him as his eyes turned back. Natasha had slid up behind the man- intoxicating and experienced- her hands gliding over his chest as her blood red lips caressed his neck. The man’s eyes dropped closed for a moment, a smile twisting his lips as he let out a low moan, Steve easing back from his hold. And Natasha’s eyes lifted to Steve’s darting to the side as though to hurry him away. The workers were all each other had in here. They watched out for each other, and Natasha could see he hadn’t been equipped to handle this client right now. She knew if it was down to him, she would trust him to do the same for her.

 

Steve dipped his head in a tiny nod as the client let go of him to reach back, taking Natasha’s hips- feeling the black lace of her panties against her fair skin. Steve mouthed a desperately earnest ‘thank you’ and Nat’s eyes snapped to the side again. Promising himself he’d make this up to her, Steve pulled away, escaping the attention of the client, and pressing on through the crowd. All too soon, Steve would be stuck with a similar fate, but he needed just a short rest- a less malicious client- just enough time to pull himself back together so he didn’t fall apart…

 

-------

 

Bucky’s heart was slamming against his ribcage as he wove his way through the filthy club, eyes set on the hidden door, guarded- always guarded - by the bald-headed man with the hard face, and a piece on his hip. For the first time, he was going to learn what lay behind that door. He was going to walk into a hub of one of the largest sex trafficking rings in the world. And he was going to find Steve. He had to find him…

 

But it was all rooted in the desperate hope that he hadn’t been moved since Hydra had delivered him here. The tracker had only stayed in Steve’s system for 24 hours...it had been two weeks. At any time during those long days and nights, they could have moved him- taken or sent him anywhere. He could be completely off their radar and the FBI- and subsequently Bucky would never, ever know...unless by some miracle Steve found a way to reach out to them. But what trafficking ring would be so careless as to let on of their victims get their hands on a way to contact the outside world? No….Bucky’s best- and the missions only- hope rested on Steve being here. In this club. Right under their noses.   

 

As Bucky approached the guard looked up and a knot somewhere deep inside of Bucky’s chest eased as he realized there was no suspicion etched on the man’s expression. And there shouldn’t be. For all the man knew, he’d seen him before, and he reached out, gesturing with one hand before opening his palm. “Identification.” He said lowly, his voice thick with a rough French accent.

 

‘Arthur Woodman’ handed over his driver’s license, and the guard glanced at it and then over Bucky’s carefully crafted appearance, nodding. He reached back, opening the door. “Enjoy.” He murmured, Bucky nodding as he slipped past him, his pulse spiking.

 

The door off the club opened onto a dimly lit hallway, only a few of the wane, flickering bulbs in the ceiling functional. The carpet under his feet was stained, and threadbare from being traversed so often, by so many people. Bucky’s whole body was tight with guarded alertness. There were a few others in the hallway seemingly involved in their own worlds. A man pieced through a closet to find a long coat for the young girl who stood against the wall. Her eyes were fixed and unseeing as she waited to be taken out by the stranger who’d bought her. Through a door on the side, Bucky could see another man smoking out the window of a filthy bathroom. His feet carried him to the end of the hall.

 

He was drawn by the sound of heavy, thumping music, but it didn’t emit from the club behind him. It conflicted with it. A different audible background, disguised by the cacophony of music and shouting from the club. A perfect cover. Bucky reached out, turning the handle and drawing open the door, finding himself facing a staircase. It was poorly lit, and narrow, descending only a few steps before ending in a sharp turn that lead down a much longer flight of stairs. And Bucky followed it, feeling the pressure changing as he moved into what must have been an immensely deep basement, the music growing louder with each step.

 

At the bottom, another guard checked his ID, this one also patting him down for weapons before opening the last door. And Bucky’s breath ripped from his lungs.

 

It was worse than he’d ever imagined. So many people- so many innocent, helpless people… He tried not to stare- tried not to let his eyes snap around the massive space packed with people who’d been dragged away from their homes and their families to be subjected to vicious sexual abuse every single day… He tried to pretend none of this was surprising as he wove his way through. As he worked towards the bar he tried to pretend it didn’t make him sick.

 

He needed to find Steve and get him out of this hellhole as fast as fucking possible.

 

----------

 

The distance between the dressing room and the bar never seemed to close, but Steve kept his eyes low, and his pace even. He didn’t look at anyone. He didn’t respond to any calls or touches, and finally, finally, his hands came to rest on the bar as he caught in a breath. His whole body hurt and the adrenaline from being on the floor was making him nauseous, but Steve knew his place in this hellhole and it dictated that if he didn't take another client soon someone would notice. And if that someone was an officer, Steve could lose his life… he had to find someone soon, but the best favor he could do for himself was to follow Sam's advice and find someone new.


Steve steeled his nerves, his eyes flickering up as he skimmed the crowd of clients that hung around the bar like flies around a carcass. He watched for the indicators- for the telltale signs of a new client. You could see it in the posture- in the eyes- the slight lift of the chin as they tried to take in everything all at one...drinking them in with the knowledge that every beautiful thing was there for them to consume...to sink their teeth into and rip apart as they wished…

 

And there it was.

 

It must have been the man Sam had mentioned to him. Though his back was to Steve, he could see his movements as his eyes dragged over every figure in the crowd. His posture was slightly stiff yet, not relaxed and confident like the return customers. He would be overwhelmed and likely not as likely to be rough and violent...that was a learned behavior that came with the confidence and entertainment of experience. Once they'd tasted what if felt like to have someone under their power- subject to their whims..they only got worse.

 

Steve drew closer.

 

--------------

 

Bucky knew he should be taking in everyone but his focus had tunneled. He was only looking for one. One person in all this horror and filth. He needed to find-

 

---------------

 

“Hello, handsome….”

 

--------------

 

Steve.

 

Bucky whipped around and all the breath was suddenly driven from his body. He felt like he'd been punched in the gut as more emotions that he could name- more feelings that he'd realized he'd been capable of- crashed through his body and soul.

 

Because there he was. Steve . His beautiful Steve. Right there in front of him.

 

Steve stood- inches away- looking like Bucky had never seen him look before. His first reaction was that he was beautiful. Steve's lips were painted in a soft, peach lip gloss that looked sweet enough to taste, a band of ribbon and lace delicately circled his throat. His pecs were cupped and lifted by a bra of cornflower blue lace and ivory-white ribbon. It was all for show. The material was pale, and all but transparent, betraying just a peak of Steve's rosy nipples through it. The corset- creamy white and brutally elegant- started just under his bust, pushing up his chest and tightening his waist to give Steve a jaw-dropping silhouette, the cinch of his middle so tight it almost hurt to look at. And that panties- god the panties . They rode low on Steve’s hips, showing off the sharp cut of his adonis belt, the front accentuating the fullness of Steve’s girth. The very edges were trimmed with a subtle ruffle that lay against his thighs as Bucky’s eyes were drawn down- down the lacy garters around his thighs- to the sheer pale blue stockings on Steve’s powerful legs- down to heels that accentuated every flattering curve and swell of his muscles that so contrasted the delicate femininity of the lingerie. He was so beautiful Bucky couldn’t catch his breath.

 

And the second emotion that crashed through Bucky’s chest was rage.

 

Because Steve was so clearly battered, and hurt, and hungry. His eyes looked starved and exhausted, and every inch of his skin was marked with bruises. In the dark, poorly lit floor, Bucky could make out patterns of abrasions around his wrists, and dark, mottled splotches around his throat. And Bucky wanted to break the bones of every person who’d dared to treat him this way.   

 

The stunned surprise gave way to rage- gave way to relief- gave way to a sharp, narrowed focus that wiped the traces of every other emotion from his face. And like a switch had been flipped, Bucky dropped abruptly out of his own head and into the mind of a client. His eyelids lowered, gaze turning hungry. His mouth curled into an unpleasant, indulgent smile.

 

“Hello, lovely.”


Chapter Text

For a hot second, Steve didn’t know what he was seeing. Heat washed up his spine, his stomach turning as he found himself staring at something that felt like it should be as familiar as his own hands but looked warped, and perverted and wrong. His expression fractured as his mind tried to understand what he was seeing. Because he wanted to be seeing Bucky. His aching, exhausted soul wanted this man to be Bucky so badly his eyes blurred with sudden tears. But he wasn’t- it wasn’t right. The angles of his face that he’d memorized so lovingly were skewed, his hair cut short, piercing blue eyes as green now as sea glass. It wasn’t- it wasn’t-

 

And suddenly, everything clicked sharply into place. A thrill of realization sparked up Steve's spine, butterflies exploding in his stomach as he realized what was happening.

 

Bucky was here- He was disguised, his gorgeous hair cut short, steel blue eyes obscured by colored lenses But he was here. And it took everything Steve had not to throw himself into his arms. And how badly he wanted to.  Steve hadn’t felt the keen sting of the loneliness and hurt and vulnerability as sharply as he did then. Because before, he’d had to be strong for himself- for his own sake, and for the sake of his mission. He’d had to hold himself together so he didn’t miss something critical that could save his life and the lives of all the workers later. But now all Steve wanted was to break knowing Bucky could carry his shattered pieces through. His soul ached for his touch- even the gentle comforting touch his shared with his bunkmates here wasn't the same. He wanted to forget where he was. He wanted to forget that he no longer got to call Bucky his, and he wanted to kiss him. He wanted to cling to him and sob and beg him to hold him close and tell him this would all be over soon.

 

He wanted a lot of things he couldn't have.

 

Because right now, he had work to do- they had work to do, and that meant forgetting that this was Bucky and treating him like he was a client.

 

The sharp click of Steve’s heels on the hard floor was lost amid the heavy, cacophonous base of the music. It pounded around them like drums announcing a sacrifice- the sacrifice made every time a worker was taken into one of the rooms lining the floor. Steve’s slow strides took him closer, his head canted just slightly to the side as he looked up at him. The expression on his face was one of suggestive submission, blended with a hint of something else- something more confident. It was better if the clients couldn’t totally pin them down. Better to leave them curious. His chest just brushed Bucky’s, the elaborate lingerie pressing against Bucky’s slacks and button down as Steve’s hand found his thigh; light and teasing. He didn’t speak, workers didn’t generally initiate, but his eyes lifted to Bucky’s, half hooded under long, soft gold lashes.

 

Bucky wet his lips. Being this close to Steve set every fiber in his body aflame. He was burning all over. His hands twitched to grab him in his arms, his soul aching to hold him close and kiss his hair as he whispered comfort against his battered skin. But Bucky couldn’t be himself right now. He had to be a client- possessive, and greedy and entitled. He had to make Steve his so he could get a moment in private. And so Bucky’s lips curled into a smirk.

“Y’know...I think you’re the prettiest little thing I’ve seen in here tonight- and aren’t I lucky- you found me.” He purred, his arms looping around him, hands gripping his ass as callously as though he were above the need for consent. He watched Steve’s eyes flash- felt his chest lift in a short intake of breath and Bucky purred. His fingers slipped under the lacy material of Steve’s panties. “I’m gonna need you on my cock.” He growled, feeling Steve’s breath hitch against his lips as he leaned in close enough to taste. “And I’m gonna need you moaning.”

 

Steve would be lying if he said he didn’t experience a nauseating flash of doubt. Because the makeup team was good and Bucky barely looked like himself anymore. He spoke like an experienced client- the kind that sank Steve’s stomach when they caught his eyes and for a horrible moment, Steve wondered if he’d just wanted this to be Bucky so badly he’d been blind.

 

And then Bucky’s sharp, clean white teeth caught his lower lip-

 

-and of all thing, that was what soothed his doubt.

 

Bucky had always bitten. That short, perfect time when they’d been together- before their polarized differences in values had fractured their foundation- before everything had fallen apart, Bucky had always used his teeth to tease Steve. To get his attention. To turn him on. He’d bite just hard enough to mark during sex. He’d nibble Steve’s finger after Steve offered him frosting from the sweets they’d baked together. He’d catch his lip between his teeth when they kissed just to hear Steve moan. And the feeling was familiar- comforting even, and Steve slipped back into his role without fear of the man whose hands gripped his aching body.  

 

“I can give you anything you want if you can afford it.” Steve breathed, his lip smarting from the bite. Bucky played his role well. He wasn’t gentle.

 

Bucky squeezed Steve’s ass hard. “Do I look like I can’t afford it?” His tone was hard and Bucky abruptly switched his grip. He dropped his hands away from Steve’s ass, grabbing the tight, lace collar around his throat and pulling so hard Steve stifled a yelp. Bucky dragged him to the bar, his tense, purposeful presence drawing the bar tender’s attention in an instant. “I want this,” Bucky said sharply, not deigning to even give Steve the dignity of a pronoun. He wasn’t a he, he was an it- a this.

 

The bartender made quick work of pointing Bucky to an officer, and Bucky pulled Steve by the collar through a tight knot of people to pay for him. Steve had watched this happen more times than he cared to remember. Hands changing money- the officer handing the client a couple condoms and packets of lube. ‘ Take your time,’ ‘enjoy yourself,’ ‘he’s always nice and tight.’ All too many times he’d watched the officer give him a sharp look- a reminder to behave himself- while the client looked at him with greedy, lust-filled eyes.

 

Only this time things were different. This time it was Bucky.

 

His hand was hard on the lace collar, two fingers loop through it, drawing it so tight Steve struggled to breathe. He pulled him through the crowd towards the small rooms that lined the floor, his other hand holding a paper stub. A goddamn receipt for a human being. Even after all this time, this den of horrors never ceased to disgust him. He stumbled after Bucky to the edge of the floor, the crowd thinning and Bucky opened the side door.

 

It was one of many. Small and clean, mimicking the look of a commercial hotel room. They were mostly soundproof- cutting out the deep thumping of the music and the yelling of clients and officers- and they housed a bed, and a nightstand, with a lamp mounted to the wall and an alarm clock at hand. They were designed to make this whole thing feel less seedy and disgusting. To let the clients feel like they were just having a fling in a hotel, not fucking a frightened person who’d been kidnapped and forced to play their game or die.

 

And then the heavy door closed with a harsh click and Bucky let go of the collar.

“Steve-” He gasped, his expression dropping, and Steve’s eyes flashed wide.

 

He grabbed Bucky’s hips, watching his eyes flicker sharply with confusion as Steve plastered himself to his front, his mouth ghosting over his. “The rooms have cameras.” He breathed against his mouth, feeling the tension in Bucky’s body shift as he realized how close he’d come to blowing their cover. Steve knew if Bucky had been any more visibly relieved- if he’d hugged him- or even said another word it could have been all over. He didn’t know how closely the footage was monitored but he did know it wasn’t a risk they could take.

 

Steve nuzzled Bucky, his lips parting, lashes lowered, as he ran his hands up Bucky’s strong chest. “You gotta fuck me.”

 

Bucky’s whole body went hot.

 

This was the last thing he’d expected- Steve- dressed like a wet dream, telling him he had to fuck him. If this had been any other agent, Bucky wouldn’t have thought twice. Everyone had to go to uncomfortable lengths to protect the operation regardless of how dirty it felt…. But this was Steve. They had history. Bucky knew deep in the hidden part of his soul that he still had feelings for him, however ill-defined those feelings might be.

 

But he also knew what Steve wanted- what he’d always valued. Saving people. Doing the right thing regardless of the personal cost. So when Steve’s eyes lifted to his- When Bucky looked at him as saw that he was tired, and scared, and spread all too thin- desperate for even the briefest rest, he still knew what Steve would want.

 

Bucky shoved Steve’s hands off his hips viciously pushing him back. He stalked towards him like a powerful animal, jaw set, eyes dark. Steve watched him, wary, and reserved.

 

And Bucky pushed Steve down on the bed.

 

The breath left Steve’s lungs in a gasp, his eyes wide, chest heaving as Bucky prowled over his body. He felt strangely disconnected as those familiar hands slid up his ribs, one thigh pushing up between Steve’s. He almost didn’t feel like this was happening- like this was real at all...It felt like the stuff of story books that after all this time they would have sex again...like they had- so wonderfully- so gently and earnestly in the past… Only now it would be rough and one sided to protect their mission….painful….

 

But just as the strange disconnectedness engulfed him, it receded with a sharp twist of realization. Because Bucky’s fingers were curled over his waist but not digging in. His thigh was between his legs but not jammed up against him purely for the sake of making him squirm. Bucky’s posture was powerful and aggressive enough to be seen as typical client behavior from the view of a hidden camera, but his touch was soft. Steve’s eyes met Bucky’s and he slowly arched up into the contact as Bucky pressed him to the bed.

 

Flushed, perfect red lips brushed Steve’s ear. “I’m so glad I found you-” He whispered in his ear, barely above a breath, Steve shivering as one hand ran over his full pecs. Suddenly he felt his throat tighten, his hands gripping the back of Bucky’s dress shirt.

 

“Bucky-” He wanted to cry. “I-” He wanted to break. Steve swallowed hard, his lips parting in a soft sound as Bucky spread his legs. “I-...know where I need to go.”

 

But the mission came first.

 

Bucky’s left hand slid down Steve’s thigh over the sheer blue material, feeling the way it clung to every curve of his muscles, as familiar under Bucky’s hands as the time he’d been his.  He squeezed his thigh, hitching Steve closer. He could feel everything- his heat- his shape. He could feel Steve’s cock through the thin, delicate panties pressing against his stomach. Bucky mouthed at his jaw. “Tell me everything.”

 

“There’s a place called Central-” Steve’s voice wavered as Bucky kissed down his neck, licking a flat strip over one pec before going to nibble at the edge of Steve’s tight, virtually transparent bra. He swallowed, rolling back his head. “Rumors have it that workers get taken there if they catch the attention of a high- ah-” His spine arched as Bucky’s teeth scraped over one raw, sensitive nipple through the lace. “H-higher officer-” He managed.

 

Bucky looked up at him, his stomach tight and hot- growing hotter still with a mixture of embarrassment and shame as he felt his cock twitch at the sound. He liked that. He liked the sound, and the flush on Steve’s face, and the way his spine arched up into his touch. And he was bitterly ashamed of himself because Steve was so clearly exhausted. And he should be doing everything he could to make this as painless as possible. He mouthed back up his throat, his hand sliding down to cup Steve’s cock through the panties. This had to be done. This had to be done.

 

“I know who you need.” He breathed in Steve’s ear, lightly biting on the lobe before giving it a dirty suck. “His name’s Brock Rumlow. 6.4. 280-290 pounds.” He breathed, glancing at Steve out of the corner of his eye, watching the way he almost visually committed the information to memory even with his focus torn between the mission and Bucky’s hand on his cock. Bucky kissed and bit at his neck feeling how warm and soft Steve’s skin was as he scraped his teeth over it. “He has black hair. Brown eyes.” He breathed, keenly aware of the fact that they were being watched- knowing he was expected to be faster- and rougher with Steve. He wasn’t sure he could make himself. Bucky thumbed open the button of his pants, unzipping them and pulling out his cock, curling his hand around it to try to stir a reaction. This all felt so unnatural.

 

Steve too realized what anyone monitoring the footage would be expecting to see and it was certainly more than, petting and necking. His eyes flashed up to Bucky, and Steve’s heart tugged as he saw uncomfortable, near-distress flickering in Bucky’s eyes. And it hurt- like nails digging into a raw, old wound. This wasn’t how sex was supposed to be for them. But Steve knew all too well what was at stake. He leaned in, eyes locked on Bucky’s. “Grab my hair and push me down.” He breathed, his mouth tugging, eyes setting determinedly as he touched over the hand Bucky had futilely wrapped around his cock. “I’ll get you ready.”

 

Bucky was glad the camera was to his back because he had no control over the raw expression that flashed across his face. He threaded his fingers through Steve’s hair, feeling his grip tighten through the soft strands. He felt his body move almost unconsciously, shifting back onto his knees and dragging Steve forward, pulling his face forward.

 

Steve made a soft sound as Bucky pulled his face against his pelvis, his cock brushing along Steve’s cheek. Bucky’s musky scent filled his senses, and Steve parted his lips, dragging them along his shaft as Bucky’s grip eased.

 

And he took Bucky’s cock in his mouth.

 

Even only half hard, Steve had to drop his jaw to get Bucky’s cock in his mouth, his lips stretching- flushed and very red- around him. He took the thick shaft all the way to the back of his throat, his eyes stinging, but he didn’t gag. That reflex was long gone. He swallowed around Bucky, and closed his eyes, going to work.

 

Without his intent, a low moan slipped from Bucky’s lips as Steve’s perfect mouth wrapped around him- warm and wet. He tried not to think about how familiar it was, but at the same time, it was that familiarity that finally began to stir real, fully formed arousal inside him. He started to get hard between Steve’s lips, feeling him bobbing his head, licking and sucking with practiced skill and Bucky swallowed back another moan. “Th- the man-” He swallowed hard again, getting his voice back. “-Rumlow-   He’s been in and out of the club directly above us, but the man at the door never checks his ID. He hasn’t taken anyone out of the club with him so we think he’s here for something bigger. He’s not a normal client.”

 

Steve listened to Bucky’s urgent whispered as he choked softly around Bucky’s fully hard shaft, tasting the bitter, earthy bite of precome dribbling down his throat. His hand found Bucky’s thigh, sliding up the material of his slacks, rubbing and kneading.  

 

“I-if you think he could lead us to a higher level of the ring you sh-should catch his attention.” Bucky stammered his face heating, his pulse throbbing between his legs as Steve’s mouth worked over him. He closed his eyes, drawing in a slow, steadying breath. “C’mere-” It escaped him in a low, gravelly murmur, his hand framing Steve’s jaw. His thumb rubbed along where Steve’s mouth stretched around his cock and he drew him back off of it. The wet little choke that slipped Steve’s lips made Bucky dizzy.

 

Steve went easily with Bucky’s movements, letting himself be pulled, and manipulated and manhandled because that’s just what this needed to look like. And when Bucky pushed him back down onto the bed and slicked his fingers with lube, Steve closed his eyes and spread his legs.

 

“I have names-” He breathed, wetting his lips feverishly as Bucky tugged his panties aside, leaving all the rest of his outfit out- bra, corset- stockings- collar. He shifted, biting back a whine as the tip of Bucky’s finger rubbed over the tense ring of muscle. He was sore and raw, and Steve’s eyes flashed vulnerably to Bucky’s.

 

Bucky pressed his body in close against Steve’s the movement seeming dominating and possessive when in reality it was an expression of comfort. His mouth brushed his neck and then his ear as one finger carefully breached him. “I’ve got you Stevie…it’ll all be over soon...keep going…”

 

Steve swallowed, his eyes stinging but he shifted his legs further apart. His body ached even under Bucky’s gentle hands as he opened him up. “The woman who drugged me i-is-” His fingers dug into Bucky’s shoulder, eyes squeezing closed as Bucky worked a second finger in. “Ca...ssandra Romulus-” He managed, swallowing hard. “F-five-eleven. Blonde hair. Green eyes. She worked with a man named Baron Strucker. Six-three. Th-thinning brown hair- one lazy eye.”

 

Bucky rubbed his side gently with his free hand, committing the names and descriptions to memory as he comforted his partner through his obvious distress as Steve named Jack Rollins and Batroc Goreges as officers. Bucky pressed close, his shirt slipping off his shoulders, cock resting against the inside of Steve’s thigh as they whispered names and information back and forth between soft whines and stifled moans

 

Squeezing Steve’s arm to ground him, Bucky slid his fingers out of his body, lube stringing between his fingertips and Steve’s loosened rim. He heard a breathless little sound slip Steve’s lips- felt his hands on his chest- and Bucky rolled the condom he’d been given down along his shaft. His eyes lifted to cautiously meet Steve’s, his lips close enough to taste. Bucky could see the resolution in Steve’s eyes, but regardless, as Bucky leaned close. He had to offer.

 

“-I can make an excuse.” He breathed. “You don’t have t-”

 

Steve’s grip tightened where his hand had come to rest on the side of Bucky’s neck. “Don’t-” He said tightly, closing his eyes. There was something agonized in his expression. “Don’t...offer me anything. If you do I’ll wanna take it and then I won’t be able to face going back to this when you leave so just do it, Bucky- just soldier up, and do it.”

 

And Bucky didn’t ask again. First and foremost, he knew not taking Steve would raise suspicions even with the most convincing story if they really were being watched. Secondly….Steve had said not to. He didn’t want Bucky’s offer and Bucky could see why. A reprieve left you wanting more and that was something Steve couldn’t afford.

 

So Bucky smoothed his hand over Steve’s thigh and slowly pushed the head of his cock into Steve’s body.

 

Steve rolled back his head with a moan. His chest heaved, body arching up on the mattress and Bucky couldn’t help but be captivated by the sight. His nipples were taut and red, showing plain as day through the lacy bra. His throat was bared to Bucky, stockinged legs drawing up around Bucky’s ribs. His hands slid over Bucky’s pecs and up around his neck, his arms drawing him in close as a shudder ran through him.

 

With his face buried in Steve’s neck, Bucky slowly pushed deeper. “I’ve got you...I’ve got you…” He whispered, holding his obscenely narrow waist in his hands, kissing Steve’s neck without even thinking about it.

 

And as Bucky slowly found his pace- rolling his hips deeply into the strange, familiar heat and tightness of Steve’s body, the formality fell away. Names and faces of officers were forgotten. Duty and obligation fell away and it was just them. It was just raw, broken comfort and reassurance. And Steve craned up into Bucky’s touch as Bucky held him close. His hands stroked Steve’s body and Steve clung to him. They pressed in tight to one another slipping into patterns of intimacy that both of them would say they’d forgotten but neither had.

 

Steve nuzzled into Bucky’s neck, his lashes wet as he felt Bucky's familiar girth stretch and fill his body. And It burned. It sent a spasm of pain through his raw, abused body but Steve pressed into it; Because of the first time in weeks, touch felt safe. His chest hitched softly, steely resolve wavering before completely unraveling as tears spilled down his cheeks. “Bucky-” He choked with a ragged sob and Bucky made a breaking sound.

“Oh, Steve-” He whispered, pulling back just enough to see his face. “Oh, sweetheart I’ve got you-” He stroked his cheeks, brushing away the tears. “I’ve got you, Stevie….” And maybe it was muscle memory or a lapse in cognitive function. Maybe it was just fear. But Bucky leaned in and kissed Steve; deep and tender.


Steve told himself he should pull away- not for the sake of the mission, but for the sake of his own heart- for the sake of the friendship they’d finally rebuilt after their love had broken under the pressure. But he couldn’t. Steve couldn’t pull away- not when his hands were gripping Bucky’s face- his legs spreading to allow him closer- not when there were tears streaming down his cheeks because he missed him so fucking bad, and he wanted him with all his heart and soul. Not when Steve felt safe for the first time in weeks.

 

He leaned into the kiss, parting his lips with a hungry whine as Bucky’s tongue slide between them. Steve’s hands stroked his jaw and down his neck, his chest pressing up against Bucky’s as he clenched around him. “B-bucky-” He whispered as they broke for air, his eyes bright with desperate tears.

 

“Shhhh….” Bucky hushed him, his hand sliding down Steve’s thigh, hitching him closer as he felt the hot, tight slide of his cock slipping in and out of Steve’s body.  “Shh….I’m here, doll...I’ve got you sweetheart…..”

 

“...thank you-” The words were quiet and vulnerable, and Bucky held him all the closer.

 

“Always, Stevie….always got your back.”

 

The blood was starting to pound through his body now, heat pooling low in his stomach and Bucky allowed himself a stifled moan. “I-I’m gonna finish soon, okay Stevie?” He whispered, rolling his hips deeper. Steve nodded against his neck, still clinging close. “It’s okay…” Bucky breathed his chest heaving, his hands drawing Steve closer. He could feel the tension building- the energy pushing outward, screaming for release-

 

And Bucky came with a ragged moan.

 

He spilled into the condom, hearing Steve’s intake of breath, and Bucky instinctively kissed him again. His mouth crushed against his- warm, and firm and grounding. And as Bucky pulled out, Steve lay beneath him and shook, and shook, and shook….

 

Bucky broke the kiss, knowing their time was short. Anyone watching would expect a client to leave the minute they got off or shortly thereafter. He doubted aftercare and cuddling were common, but he couldn't…. to leave Steve so callously- to leave him like this would break Bucky's heart. His hand slid up the side of Steve's neck, eyes gentle as he feathered a soft kiss to the corner of his lips. “It’s gonna be okay. ..” the words slipped him in a whisper. “I'm gonna get you out of here soon...just try to get to Central….try….and we'll take down these bastards together….”

Steve nodded, swallowing hard. “I'll get there,” he whispered. “...j...just find me okay?....”

 

Bucky nodded, his hand slipping into the pocket of his open slacks and he pulled out a tiny, hard plastic capsule. “I will...I promise.” he breathed, slipping it between Steve's lips

 

Recognizing it as the same kind of tracker that had allowed them to find him the first time, Steve swallowed the capsule. And with that, the clock was ticking. He had approximately 24 hours to get the high officers attention and get him to take Steve back with him to Central, regardless of what was waiting for him there. And just like that, it was over. The safety? The gentle intimacy? Over.

 

Bucky pulled back, discarding the condom and tucking himself away. His posture became distant and aloof, his stance powerful and hard as he stood with his back to Steve. Sliding his shirt back on, Bucky tugged at the collar and sleeves as Steve cautiously moved to the edge of the bed.

 

He tried to remember how he moved- how he acted around any other client. His posture was demure and neutrally pleasant for the show of the camera tracking their every move. “You’re really good…” Steve said, standing up and brushing his hands over the back of Bucky’s shoulder, remembering the techniques he’d been taught that stroked the client’s ego and encouraged them to return. He gave a little smile, kissing the back of his shoulder. “I don’t just say that to anyone.” He did.

 

Bucky glanced back over his shoulder towards Steve, his gaze disdainful as he tugged away from Steve’s touch. A harsh little scoff rasped up his throat. “Don’t think flattery’s gonna get you a tip.” He sneered, looking at Steve like he was lower- filthier- than shit. “I’m not interested in getting chummy with the stretched out slut I paid to fuck.” His eyes were apologetic as they flickered over Steve’s.

 

Steve’s held determined understanding. This was his life- his role for as long as it took them to bring Hydra down.

 

Bucky’s expression was hard and dismissive again. “So what? Do I return you somewhere- or- what the fuck am I supposed to do with you?”

 

Steve wet his lips, his posture growing more submissive the way he would if this was the average belligerent customer. “No sir, you can just take your stub back to an officer.” Like a return of goods. The officer would take the receipt from the client and give Steve a once over. If it didn’t look like the client had damaged him, he would be thanked for his patronage and released. If not they were supposed to be held financially responsible, but Steve had never seen that happen. Oh- he’d seen plenty of workers come out of the rooms beaten senseless, but it was all just a sugarcoated lie that the clients would be held responsible. No one gave a shit if they lived or died.

 

Bucky nodded, absorbing the information Steve was subtly offering him on how this operation worked, and he took Steve’s arm in a tight grip. “Then move.”

 

As Bucky opened the door of the small suite, the heat and noise, and the stench of the floor crashed over them, and the tightening of Bucky’s hand wasn’t a display of aggression, but comfort. He knew Steve would have to face this again on his own soon… He lead him to an officer. The officer smiled, and plied Bucky with absent questions as he touched Steve, his hands brushing over him. He tipped up his chin, running his thumb over the redness in Steve’s lips from the bite. He glanced at his back and ass, nudging his thighs apart before nodding.

 

Steve felt like he was watching through a fog as the officer turned back to Bucky, exchanging pleasantries. It didn’t feel real as Steve watched Bucky turn away- watched him leave him here in this filthy, perverted cesspool without so much as a backward glance. It didn’t feel real- it didn’t feel like anything.

 

And then the loneliness hooked its claws into his heart and ripped it out with the force of a volatile black hole- tearing everything out of his place and dragging it into its burning, freezing depths. It ripped at his heart- sucking all the hope and comfort from his soul.

 

And Steve couldn’t see- could barely comprehend as the officer gave him a shove, telling him to get off the Floor. His shift was finished. He barely felt his feet taking him around the edge of the Floor, or when an officer took the back of his neck hard to move him through the dirty, worn hallways running parallel to the floor. Steve stumbled over his heels as he was pushed into the cramped little dorm, and his wet eyes lifted.

 

Five pairs of eyes stared at him from the mattresses on the floor. Wanda sat behind Natasha, brushing through her dirty hair. Sam’s head was in Pietro’s lap as Peter rubbed knots of tense muscle from Sam’s back. This was a nightly ritual. Whoever came off shift could fall apart. They could break, or cry, or shut down, and the others would care for them- loosen their ties- sooth their aching bodies. They would hold them together. This strange, broken, frightened family held each other together. And their eyes turned to him.

 

They didn’t need to ask. Steve couldn’t have told them even if they did. But regardless, there was a deep, raw understanding there, and Sam reached up for Steve’s hand.

 

He drew him down onto his mattress, Steve’s body going weak and numb. He curled up against Sam’s chest, burying his face in the crook of his neck. Natasha’s practiced hands freed Steve’s bleeding feet from his shoes and Peter shifted around to softly loosen the laces of Steve’s corset. And as they all shifted close to one another- as they tangled their limbs together and held each other in an expression of resilience and protection and comfort, Steve fell apart.

 

In the arms of his family, Steve cried.

Chapter Text

24 hours.

 

24 hours was all Steve had to find the higher officer Bucky had told him about and get him to take him to Central. He would have to go against everything Nat had ever told him. Be good enough that they liked you, not so good that they remembered you. He couldn’t just be a faceless, forgettable body to fuck. He had to find Brock Rumlow, and blow his goddamn mind . He had to make him forget about everything but him.

 

Because it was the only way he moved forward….it was the only way they made progress in this investigation...it may be the only way he got home…

 

...to Bucky...

 

Steve’s stomach turned hot and tight at the thought- at the memory of Bucky’s hands on his body- of his cock filling him so full he could burst. Images of Bucky staring down at him with soft, hooded eyes flickered through his memory. Snippets of sound, and color, and sensation wove together in an abstraction of those few, desperate, beautiful minutes when Steve didn’t have to be afraid… But it wasn’t the sex that made butterflies flutter through his body even in this foul place...it was the kiss. The sex had been kind, but still just a necessary part of the job. Bucky had to have sex with him or they would have risked blowing their cover. Someone could have watched the footage. Someone could have questioned why a client would buy a worker only to talk to him...Bucky had to fuck Steve...but he hadn’t have to kiss him. That’s what captured Steve’s imagination...the memory of how warm, and earnest it had been. And Steve couldn’t help but wonder- couldn’t help but doubt .

 

He couldn’t help but wonder if Bucky still had feelings for him.

 

He couldn’t help but doubt his own conviction.

 

He’d held to it for so long… He’d convinced himself that what they had now was a blessing after how they’d fallen apart and he should be grateful for it. They were finally close again and there was no chance for love for them anymore. And that was fine . He was fine with just friendship. He wasn’t going to think about that kiss and how Bucky hadn’t needed to. He wasn’t going to think about his lips whispering comforts against his skin as he held him in his arms….He wasn’t…..he wasn’t….

 

He wasn’t going to lie to himself…

 

He was still in love with Bucky and it was as simple as that. It had just taken this brutal, spirit crushing experience for him to see it. It had just taken seeing Bucky’s face in the midst of all the horror and finally feeling alive again for him to realize that Bucky was the one right thing in his life anymore...and he loved him. He loved him so deeply it hurt. So deeply he couldn’t breathe...but he couldn’t.

 

Steve couldn’t focus on that right now. He was already ripped in too many directions- trying to memorize names and faces- trying to survive. He couldn’t linger on the realization that he was in love with his ex. So Steve put it out of his mind. Because his focus was a precious commodity, and loosing it could very well get him killed. He could worry about his love life when he and everyone else here was safe….and the only path to safety was to give himself up...if he gave more and more of himself away and made himself subject to the lowest of filth...and pretend he liked it… Only that could get him to Central. Only that could lead his team to the heart of this vicious predator.

 

24 hours.

 

------------

 

When an officer opened the door to the bunk, every heart in the room lurched. Every body tensed and every eye turned sharp and wary. Mostly their shifts were unpredictable. The officers would pick someone they hadn’t seen out on the floor for a few hours, but their memories were careless. Sometimes a worker could escape their attention for a few shifts back to back. Sometimes they weren’t so lucky and an eight-hour shift suddenly became sixteen.  

 

The officer’s eyes searched them. Steve closed his own, weary to his core. The younger workers in the room smelled of fear. Sam held Steve closer.

 

Girl.” His gaze had landed on Nat. “ Up.”

 

Steve opened his eyes in time to see soul-deep exhaustion flash through Nat’s eyes before it hardened over, protected by the steely armor she wore around her heart. The armor she only took off around her family. She stood, and as her stance hitched- still obviously sore and aching from having come off the floor less than an hour ago- Steve lurched to his feet.

 

“Wait-”

 

Nat’s eyes flashed, and Steve swallowed, picking up his shoes. “...I’ll go.”

 

The flash turned to a scowl. “Steve-”

 

Steve turned, close enough to feel her breath and see the sharpness in her gaze as he looked earnestly into her eyes. “You took that client for me.” he reminded her in a low voice, his hand resting lightly on her waist. “I couldn’t handle it, and you took him for me even though he probably hurt you bad… Go back to sleep, Nat, and let me take this for you.”  His voice was a whisper, and after a raw moment, Nat’s expression lost its edge. She leaned forward, kissing the corner of Steve’s lips, Steve softly pecking her cheek in return.

 

“Be safe out there…”

 

“I’ll be back before you can miss me.”  Steve smiled, gently flicking the zipper of her heavy jacket in a suggestion of a tease to try to ease the severity and worry in her eyes... And with his family left in peace, if only for a few more hours, Steve turned and followed the officer back to the floor.

 

23 hours. Even if he wanted to he couldn’t afford to sleep.

 

----------

 

He was four clients, two hours, and one change of outfit into his shift. The fourth client had liked the sound of lace ripping. He’d torn the lingerie from Steve’s body, thread snapping- satin tearing. After the officer had skimmed through his examination, Steve had made the walk to the preparation room all but naked, his eyes fixed ahead, shame and anger boiling through his body.

 

But it wasn’t as though there was much dignity in his ‘work dress’ either….nakedness or lingerie, they were both states Hydra forced on them…. Still...he felt a little better with something on his body, even if it was just designed to make greedy strangers want to take it off of him....

 

Steve wasn’t sure he’d recognize himself in men’s clothing anymore….street clothing…. client clothing. Steve wasn’t sure he could look at himself in the mirror in slacks and a button down and know the man he saw… All he knew was that the corset cinching his waist didn’t make his eyes water anymore. He no longer stumbled in heels. His feet never stopped bleeding, but he’d learned to ignore it...it wasn’t, by far, the worst ache he felt. The clothing had become savagely normal almost to the point of comfort...at the very least it was better than nakedness….

 

This change brought a black corset that didn’t close all the way, leaving a wide strip open up his abdomen that was crisscrossed in an intricate pattern with black satin laces that stood out starkly against his fair skin. The lacy panties, stretched snug over his cock, were an ivory white, matching the bra that pushed up his pecs, with its soft ruffle along the top of the cups and a black satin bow at the junction. His lips were painted the softest of pinks, a thin line of black accentuating his top eyelids. Close-clinging, black lace stockings hugged every curve and swell of his muscular legs.

 

Steve could feel eyes on him as he mingled on the floor, hands constantly brushing over his body but no one committing fully enough to buy him. His head was throbbing in time with the deep, pounding base of the music. His eyes searched for his target. The only client that mattered right now. The client every other worker would be doing their best to avoid.

 

The high officer.

 

Wanda had been put on shift as well. Steve had caught glimpses of the young Sokovian girl through the crowd, her incredibly long hair left loose, her slim figure decorated in reds and blacks. And it was her eyes that gave Steve’s target away.

 

She dropped them, shying away from a muscular, dark haired man as though she were magnetically repulsed. And as Steve recognized the movement, he recognized that many of the other workers were behaving the same. None of them wanted to be on this man’s radar. None of them wanted him to realize this either. Anyone unlucky enough to be around him seemed to just pray to disappear. This man’s attention was nothing short of a death sentence or at the very least a one-way ticket deeper into Hydra. And that was something no one wanted...no one but Steve.


He moved through the crowd, ignoring other hands and cat calls as the high officer came into sharp focus. Steve took in his sharp, hard face and his deep set, dark eyes. His gaze flickered over his thick black hair and rough stubble. He was the right weight. The right height and build. This had to be the man Bucky had alerted him too, and as Steve drew closer, he solidified his tactic. He could be just any other worker. He couldn’t be a submissive, forgettable face and a pretty body like they all tried to be to survive….not for this client. He had to sear himself into Brock Rumlow’s memory, and that meant taking risks that could very well get him killed.

 

His heels cracked against the floor, his posture growing more certain than he’d let it in the past several weeks. He lifted his chin, his eye clear, his chest lifted, and it didn’t show on his face when his heart constricted at the sight of the high officer reaching out to nab Wanda’s wrist.

 

“Well look at you…”

 

Steve recognized the look of blind terror on her face. It was the same look Peter had worn when Steve had first met him. It was nauseous and panicked. It was instant tears and the realization that you were about to lose the only scraps of a life you had left, all because a high officer decided they liked the way you looked. And Steve pushed faster, all but elbowing his way past other clients.

 

Rumlow turned her face with one hand, his other taking her waist hard. He tipped his head to the side with a nasty little smirk. “Aren’t you pretty...you look like a little witch.” He purred, watching Wanda’s eyes grow wider and more panicked. His gaze dropped to her lips which were frozen- slightly parted. “You speak English, little witch?”

 

“I- speak English.” She mostly parroted, her heart slamming so fast in her heaving chest that she felt the corners of her vision going dark. She was going to be taken. Pietro would be left behind in this horrible place- she could die….likely would. She was going to die.

 

Steve reached out and took Rumlow’s hand from her chin.

 

It wasn’t sharp and defensive the way Steve felt. It betrayed none of the rage that burned in his chest at the thought of a man like Rumlow, with all the power in the world- holding all the cards, taking advantage of a powerless worker, knowing she couldn’t refuse even with her life on the line. Instead, it was firm and confident as he took the officer’s hand to his own waist without a flinch. He slid in, his chest pressing to Rumlow’s as Steve’s lashes lowered, tongue just peeking out to wet his lips. He knew he looked good. His pecs were pushed up, cupped, full and firm in the snug, Ivory white bra, his lips flushed and pink.

 

“You don’t want her,” Steve said evenly, his eyes level on the officer. It was a colossal risk and Steve knew it, but in order to captivate Rumlow, he had to be something no other worker would be and he’d decided that would have to be a challenge. Because under all the flash and show this whole putrid operation was just a game of predator and prey. And if Steve’s guess was right, a predator like Rumlow would get bored of meek prey. He’d want a fight. He’d want to make Steve be submissive because he wasn’t already displaying it on his own.

 

And Steve saw the shift in Rumlow’s eyes and realized he was right.

 

His brow twisted darkly, but there was a glint in his eye that betrayed him- betrayed his interest and intrigue in the forward worker. He pulled back his lips, the bare-toothed grin only a savage mimicry of an actual smile. “Don’t I?” He breathed lowly, his tone poisonous. How stupid was this whore? Would he really challenge him right to his face?

 

Steve eased in closer to Rumlow, his chest lifting as his lashes lowered, but his eyes were still intent on the high officers face. “No, sir,” There was a slight barb in his tone, a barb he’d always kept carefully hidden until now. “You don’t. You want better.”

 

Rumlow wet his lips, his eyes dragging down Steve’s body, surveying him like he was a piece of meat. “And you think you’re what I want?” His tone was demeaning and condescending- designed to make Steve feel dirty and inadequate. It rolled off Steve’s back.

 

“I’m sure I am.”

 

Steve saw the movement as it happened- the tiny shift- his grip easing on Wanda’s waist. He saw the look of wide-eyed disbelief on Wanda’s expression as she felt the painful hold ease- felt safety suddenly come back within her reach. He watched as Rumlow let go of the young girl and stroll forward, his expression curious and cruel. And the officer reached out and yanked him forward by his hair.

 

Steve’s breath hitched in a sharp sound of pain, his eyes abruptly stinging, pulse skyrocketing. God, please work- please-

 

“Who the fuck do you think you are talking to me like that?” Rumlow snapped, yanking his hair hard enough to make Steve yelp. “You think I don’t know what I want, you pathetic, filthy little slut?” He spat. “You think you know better?”

 

Steve looked up at him, his flushed lips parting as he drew in a soft breath. The corner of his mouth just barely tugged in an expression of rebellious insubordination. “I know you’re bored.” He breathed simply.

 

And for a hot, tense second, the high officer’s eyes drilled into him- hard and dangerous, his grip tightening through his hair.

 

And suddenly, his mouth cracked into a cruel smirk and he yanked him closer baring his teeth. “Be good and keep your slutty mouth shut until I get you outta here, huh?” He hissed, Steve barely having time to react beyond the escalation of his heart rate before Rumlow switched his hold to the back of his neck, dragging him towards the door.

 

Steve’s stomach swooped. He wasn’t taking him to another officer. He wasn’t paying for him or checking him out. He was just taking him-

 

-He was taking him outside.

 

---

 

The reprieve Steve offered her hadn’t lasted nearly long enough. Reprieves never did. His gift allowed her only two more precious hours of rest- just two more hours to close her eyes- to let touch at the hands of her family be a good, safe thing- to rest her head on Sam’s shoulder and drink in the mutual comfort...

They came for Wanda first. A half hour in, the officer came back again and took her with him. Another twenty minutes later, they took Pietro too, the young man following in miserable, hostile silence to the same fate as his twin. Two hours after coming off her last shift, Natasha was taken back on as well.

She donned all white this time, the bra simple and Lacey, the panties high cut at the hips. A delicate garter belt fit snuggly around her slim waist, the elastic garters fixing her creamy white stocking high on her thighs. Only her crimson heels slashed through the expanse of clean white though she knew the blood would later too.

Natasha would be lying if she said she’d never thought of giving up, but she knew, even as the thought crossed the threshold of her mind, that she couldn’t. Of course not. She was a survivor to her core, even when she wished she wouldn’t be. Because if she gave up, who would be there for the others?.... So Natasha faced the horror and pain, and disgust all over again because she had to survive. For the ones she loved. For Steve and Sam. For Peter, Wanda, and Pietro.

She had been out on the floor for mere moments before the choice to stay- to be there for her family was taken from her. Survivor or not.                                                        

“You’ll do.”

Natasha had never heard more terrifying- more nauseating words. The two high officers had come in together two weeks ago. They’d been surveying the operation. Meeting with officers, and trading information. They’d helped themselves to whomever they’d wanted and now…now he wanted her.

 

Peter had gotten lucky. He really, truly had.

 

Natasha had told him when he’d come, stumbling, sobbing into the bunk, that just because the high officer had picked him, didn’t mean he was going to take him. It had been little more than a lie. For the next few days, Natasha had lived in fear of Rollins sending for Peter- taking him away to Central to meet god knows what fate... She’d comforted him with hollow assurances that the officer would forget about him, but she hadn't believed them herself. It had taken weeks for her to finally let out a breath of relief- to realize that Peter was safe. That the high officer really wasn’t going to take him.

And now this.

 

Now he looked at her with casual possession and entitlement. You’ll do. It was time for the high officers to move on- to go back to Central… and he was taking her with him.

 

God- this was it….

 

She wasn’t even going to get to say goodbye

------

They reached the door, Steve holding his tongue, reigning in the confident, almost insubordinate façade he’d used to capture Rumlow’s attention. This performance was going to determine whether they disassembled this entire operation, or if Steve was stuck here forever, or worse if he was killed… It all hinged on getting Rumlow to take him to Central. Everything hinged on that. Nothing could get in the way.

Nothing else mattered.

Nothing else mattered….

And suddenly, Steve’s stomach dropped out from under him, his whole body going cold with terror because he’d thought nothing else could possibly matter. And he’d been so fucking wrong-

The second high officer was moving towards the exit, his face a neutral mask, his eyes hard and his hand gripped Natasha’s arm.

 

She looked nauseous. She looked terrified . It didn’t show plainly on her carefully guarded expression but Steve could see it behind her eyes- the fear- the horror. And Steve could feel the same raw fear twist through his very soul.

 

Before it had had always been save Hydra’s victims. But they weren’t a faceless mass anymore. They were his family . They were Natasha- And Hydra was going to take her from him. He was going to lose her- and all Steve wanted in that moment to rip from Rumlow’s grip. He wanted to slam Rollin’s to the ground with every ounce of rage he’d restrained for weeks and make him taste blood for daring to think he could take her. He wanted to break him for trying to snuff out the last flicker of hope for a life she had left. Hurt him. Hurt him for Natasha, and for every other victim, Hydra had ever taken.

 

And then her eyes met his, and a new horror ripped through them.  

-----

She felt like she’d been punched in the gut, the air leaving her lungs in a choke of horror as her mind registered what her eyes were telling her- as she realized she wasn’t the only one being walked to her death.

 

He was taking Steve-

-----

He was taking Nat-

------

Natasha’s eyes widened, her whole body going tight and cold and she lurched against Rollin’s grip, her skin ashy. But her words choked up in her throat as she realized the vivid possibility that lashing out could cost Steve his life. She could scream, and struggle, and spit. She could twist, and beat her way free and pierce her nails into the officer’s sharp, smug face-... but they would kill her... They could kill Steve too, simple by being associated with her. And with that realization, curdling sour in the pit of her stomach, Natasha knew there wasn’t a thing they could do.


They were helpless- facing possible, or certain death.

 

And their family was about to lose two of its members.

 

She knew she should be worrying about herself as one officer took the back of Steve’s neck, drawing him towards to door- but all she could think about were the ones left behind. Who would translate for Pietro and Wanda because Russian had enough common ties with Sokovian that she could often grasp what they couldn't put into English? Who would soothe Peter’s midnight panic attacks, or ground Sam when he hit a low spot too brutal to pull himself out of on his own? They were going to be left behind- in the midst of being kidnapped and abused, they were going to have to face grieving for the loss of two members of their family as well. And it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fucking fair-

 

--------------

 

Steve knew he should be worrying about Rumlow and about his mission, but as the doorway to the outside opened up around him, Steve looked back to Natasha- frightened, and angry- and all he could think about was that the 21 hours he had left weren’t just his anymore. They were Natasha’s too. He had to get to central as soon as possible. He had to take these bastards down.

 

Lives depended on it.