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When Life is Not Coming Up Roses Look to the Weeds (and Find the Hidden Beauty)

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The greeting alone has Steve’s heart falling. It feels like someone’s reached into his body and pulled out his stomach.

“This is Amy Jones from Brookdale Hospital Medical Center. I’m calling in regards to a patient wearing your Collar of Protection? James Barnes?”

Weak at the knees, Steve needs to brace himself on his desk so he doesn’t fall over. A hospital. Calling about Bucky. The room spins around him.

“Yes.” He can barely hear his own voice. “He’s wearing my Collar of Protection. What’s… what happened?”

“There’s been an incident involving Mr. Barnes,” she says. “We need you to come down as soon as--”

“I’m on my way.”

If she has more to say, she can say it to Steve in person. He’s not about to wait any longer to get down there, and he’s certainly not wasting any time on the phone. Not when Bucky is in the hospital.

Steve is in such a rush to get out of there he almost forgets to tell Chief Fury that he’s leaving. He makes sure to do that. It’s his legal right, of course. A sub under his protection is in the hospital. He’s allowed to leave work, even as a cop since he’s not on a call.

“Go on, go,” Nick says. “Check in when you can, okay?”

Already halfway out the door, Steve waves over his shoulder and sprints out of the station without even telling Sam what’s going on. To be honest, he doesn’t even really know. And he has to find out. Has to get to Bucky.

His mind is already coming up with every horrific scenario imaginable as he weaves in and out of traffic on his Harley. Bucky was crossing the street when someone made an aggressive left turn and slammed right into him. Someone mugged him and stabbed him numerous times in the process. He’s been shot.

Whatever’s happened, Steve could just kick himself for not being there. It’s irrational, of course. He knows that. He knows that’s not quite his responsibility. Just because Bucky’s wearing his Collar of Protection doesn’t mean he’s expected to be at his side at all hours of the day to make sure absolutely nothing happens to him. Even if Steve was Bucky’s Dom the notion would be ridiculous. Sure, he’d be meant to take care of him, but he couldn’t protect him from life happening.

This, though?

This is Steve’s worst nightmare. He has no idea what’s going on and his stomach keeps knotting as he blinks tears away so that he can see where he’s going.

And everything’s been so wonderful. Maybe even straddling the impractical idea of perfect.

 

Ever since that morning two months ago when Steve woke up to the smell of bacon and eggs. And coffee tickling the very outside of his nose. He’d rolled over, not sure why his apartment smelled better than Angie’s diner and cracked his eyes open to see Bucky kneeling at the side of his bed with a breakfast tray.

Steve inhaled heavily and sat up. Blinked a few times since he couldn’t be sure if he was dreaming or not. It wouldn’t be unlikely. How else would that angel have gotten there unless he envisioned him from the golden rays of Heaven.

The collar from the previous night was still around Bucky’s neck while he himself maintained such a proper pose, Steve was sure he’d been sculpted out of his greatest fantasies.

“What’s all this?” Steve asked.

Breaking position for just an instant, Bucky gaze fell from Steve’s and roamed over the tray of prepared food.

“Breakfast, Sir,” he answered, softly. “For you.”

Steve smiled. “Thank you, Buck, but you didn’t have to do that. I’d’ve taken care of it.”

A disgruntled look passed over Bucky’s face. He tried to hide it, tried to maintain his proper submissive training, but Steve caught it. Confusion trickled through Steve, the corners of his room whispering with it. As Bucky’d proved time and time again, he was a sub, but his personality was far from submissive. Their scene from last night was over. Sure, Bucky was still wearing Steve’s Scene Collar, but that hardly called for domestic sceneing, especially when Steve hadn’t requested anything from him.

“What’s wrong?”

Eyebrows stitched, Bucky shook his head and sighed. He nibbled on his lip just slightly before he answered with a shrug.

“No, really, Bucky, what is it?” Steve asked. “You can tell me.”

Bucky took in a deep breath like he was preparing for confession. “This is all I know, Steve.”

Heart falling, it then dawned on Steve just what Bucky meant. Last night was the first date he’d ever been taken on. He wasn’t used to be pampered. The idea of someone really wanting to spoil him and do these things for him probably made no sense. By all rights it didn’t make sense.

Textbooks said it didn’t, anyway. Subs were supposed to serve their Doms, not the other way around. They existed to please their Doms. All their choices were to be made based on whether or not it’d please their Dom. Their greatest satisfaction was supposed to be knowing that they’d pleased their Dom.

While a great many subs had taken to interpreting such beliefs in their way and not settling for a Dom who didn’t see it as such, those ideas had been indoctrinated in Bucky by one too many asshole Doms. No, he didn’t believe that submissives, in general, were meant for this or that, but it was the life he knew, and if Steve was ever going to show him that he could keep saying yes to him, he was going to have to take it slow.

“Well.” Steve sat up straighter and pointed to his lap. “What are you waiting for, little sub? My breakfast is getting cold.”

A smile brightened Bucky’s face. “Yes, Sir.”

He placed the tray over Steve’s lap while Steve asked if he prepared his coffee the right way. Bucky nodded and assured him he did. Milk and two scoops of sugar.

Though he said he didn’t need it, Steve insisted -- ordered, really -- for Bucky to kneel on a pillow. As he ate, he handfed Bucky bits of food. Pet a hand over his head until a dreamy expression fell upon his face as his head gradually came to rest on the side of the mattress.

There probably isn’t a dreamy expression on Bucky’s face right now. Steve just hopes nothing’s happened that’s so bad he won’t be allowed to see him. The thought makes his glands swell even more as he parks in the garage, almost forgetting to turn the ignition of his bike off before sprinting to the nearest elevator.

Steve jabs his thumb several times against the button until he gives up with an angry grunt and decides to just run for the stairs. He’s about ten paces away when he hears the elevator doors ding.

Skidding to a halt, Steve spins around to dash back only to have the doors close almost right in his face. He smashes his finger into the button to no avail. The numbers above the elevator mock him, each lower one lighting up as it goes down.

“Oh, fuck you!” Steve yells, smashing a fist into the closed door and turning for the stairs again.

By the time he reaches the front desk, Steve is completely out of breath and his heart is ready to burst through his ribs. He still somehow finds enough energy to talk.

“I’m looking for Bucky Bar--” He shakes his head. “Uh, I mean, James. James Barnes.”

The lady behind the desk nods and then does something on the computer. Asks from the correct spelling of Barnes, and Steve knows she’s doing her job, but he swears he’s never seen someone work at such an impossibly slow pace before, though he’s sure it’s all a fabrication of his panicked mind. Not that the reality side of his brain isn’t arguing with his infuriated side to not leap over the strangle her.

Finally, fourteen hours later, she looks up and asks, “Family or Dominant?”

“Uh…” If Bucky had a legal Dominant, it’d be in his files. “I’m… his Dominant? Or, well, he's under my--"

“Protection, yes,” she says with a polite grin. “He's a lucky sub.”

She nods at her assumption and asks for his identification. Eyebrows stitched, Steve digs his wallet out and hands her his license. After a good look, the woman hands it back to him and Steve only briefly notices the steel bracelet around her wrist.

“Very good, Mr. Rogers. You’ll find Mr. Barnes on the fourth floor in room one oh seven.”

Without even taking the time to put his license away, Steve hurries through the halls. He does his best not to actually run so that he doesn’t crash into anyone. Twice on the way, Steve finds himself mixed up and turned around, having to ask for directions from hospital employees.

When he finally gets to the elevators, Steve swears it’s the slowest he’s ever been in. It’s never taken so damn long just to go up four floors, and that’s with no stops along the way. Finally, the doors open again, and Steve rushes out. Stares at the sign on the wall in front of him for a second so he doesn’t go the wrong way again, and heads down the hall.

The room is only around the corner, and when Steve gets there his heart plummets to his stomach. There’re three officers standing right outside it. Talking to each other. Filling out paperwork. Getting statements, Steve thinks, from a doctor. That’s who Steve heads to first.

“What’s going on?” he asks, out of breath and near shaking. Not at all professional looking despite still being in uniform. “Where is he? Is he okay?”

Before the doctor can answer, even to verify who Steve is, one of the three cops is interrupting.

“We’re working this case,” he grumbles. “What’re you doing here?”

“I’m not here for that,” Steve says as simply holds out his I.D. “I’m here for Buc- for James Barnes. They called me. The hospital. He’s wearing my--”

“That’s your Collar of Protection?”

The way he says it, with that hard, disgusted edge, like Steve should be ashamed that Bucky’s wearing it, it’s like a stab to Steve’s chest. The last thing he expected.

“Yes?” Steve shakes his head as the three of them exchange glances. “Why? What’s wrong? What happened?”

“He’s not trained very well.” The words roll off his tongue cool and nonchalant as he flips through paperwork and chuckles darkly, getting ready to drop some sort of bombshell. His gaze coolly lifts back to Steve’s. “Is he?”

A breath catches in Steve’s throat, those words slamming into his chest like a battering ram. He was called down here for Bucky. Something is wrong with Bucky -- he’s hurt, he’s sick, or he’s dying -- and the first thing Steve’s told about is their opinion on his behavior. If it was at all appropriate, Steve would be taking a swing at the nearest of them. Somewhere in the darkest depth of his soul, he can imagine himself pouncing. Can hear cracking bone and see the pain he’s caused just to make sure none of these people get anywhere near his Bucky.

Strange, that. He’s never imagined truly hurting anyone before. It’s almost frightening, and yet he doesn’t have it in him to regret it. Steve signed an agreement to protect Bucky. It’s not only in writing -- signed and notarized, outwardly shown by the collar around Bucky’s neck -- but it’s a part of who he is now. Keeping Bucky safe just feels right.

Fingers curling into a tight fist, Steve feels like he’s breathing around a lead pipe. He’s already having trouble seeing past the three condescending smirks in front of him. Portraits of just the right amount of tradition that causes grief and pain.

“What are you talking about?”

All Steve can think about is how impossibly wonderful Bucky’s trained. Flawless, really. From his posture to his eyesight to just how fluid he makes everything look. For someone to suggest that Bucky hasn’t been trained is just ludacris.

“Well, for starters,” the first cop says, “you might be interested to learn that at 7:12 this evening, the sub your protecting assaulted a Dominant at the Red Star Pub.”

“Bullshit!”

And there he is. Mouthing off to a handful of cops, sure, but Steve couldn’t care less. It’s music to his ears. Even if his voice is angry and yelling, just hearing Bucky at all his a huge relief.

“It was a fight!” Bucky goes on to yell. “A fuckin’ fight, god damn it!”

Someone inside the room tells him to please remain still and calm. There’s a loud noise like maybe something’s fallen. Steve takes a look over the shoulder of the third officer, the one who’s just stepped in front of the door. He only catches a glimpse of Bucky, but what he sees makes his insides boil.

Why,” Steve growls at the doctor, “is he strapped to the bed?”

Rolling his eyes, the doctor looks into the room, but never actually gives Steve a reply. Instead, one of the cops answers.

“Standard procedure for a crime like this.”

“What crime?!” Bucky shouts. “This isn’t a fucking crime!”

While Steve takes perfect note of what Bucky says -- how he says it, his tone of voice, all that anger -- the rest of them ignore his shouts. Background noise to them, Steve supposes.

“He hasn’t exactly been the most cooperative, either,” the doctor says as he pulls the door closed and blocks off the rest of Bucky’s yells. “Like your fellow officers explained, the sub your protecting doesn’t come off as very well-trained. He’s been quite hysterical, as you can tell.”

Steve’ll deal with his so-called brothers-in-arms later. Right now, he has more pressing matters.

“He’s hurt!” That’s a mere assumption, but it’s the best he has to go on right now. “You’re supposed to help him, not belittle him.”

“And what exactly do you think I’ve been trying to do?” the doctor asks, his pride and own clear Dominance rising to Steve’s questioning. “But how can I do that when he’s so untrusting and won’t behave? He’s clearly lacking any basic submissive training and can’t control himself.” He shakes his head, sharing a laugh with the cops -- a joke that Steve just finds no humor in. “We all know that a sub’s biology makes them prone to hysteria, but I’ve seen submissives just out of their orientation tests follow orders better than him.”

Steve scoffs. “You’re a stranger, what do you expect?”

“I’m a Dominant,” is the answer Steve gets. As though that’s a good enough reason for Bucky to be docile and complacent to just anyone. “These officers of the law are Dominants. I expect him to be trusting and obedient.”

There’s a headache building in the back of Steve’s skull. A dull throbbing that’s getting worse and worse the more these men speak of such absurd notions. He rubs between his eyes. Sighs. All he wants to know is if Bucky is okay.

“Look,” he asks the doctor. Tries for polite and probably gets twelve percent at best. “I’m not trying to be difficult and I’m sure he wasn’t either. Just, please, tell me if he’s okay.”

The doctor first glances to the other officers, as if he needs to check with them to answer. Not having any of that, Steve steps around the doctor so that he's the only one in sight.

“Doctor,” Steve says, voice growing stern. “The submissive wearing my Collar of Protection is currently under your care. You are obligated to share with me any information you have regarding his case. If you don’t, I won’t hesitate to report you to the Board of Medicine.”

Eye closed, the doctor takes in a deep breath and nods before flipping through the charts he’s been holding onto.

“A few cuts and bruises,” he tells him. “Mostly minor. Stitches above his right eye and abrasions on his right knuckles. There seems to be some slight dislocation with his left shoulder, so I’d like to have one of our surgeons to take a look--”

“No.” Steve shakes his head and is already taking his phone out. “Not one of yours.”

“Not one…” The doctor looks over Bucky’s charts like that’ll clear the confusion. “I’m sorry, Officer Rogers, does he have a--”

“I’m getting Tony Stark to come in himself to look at it,” Steve answers. “You can have your surgeon talk to him.”

The doctor is saying more -- maybe protesting -- but Steve isn’t paying any attention. He’s more concerned with focusing on his phone ringing and hoping that even if Tony’s not around, he’ll still come in to help.

“Hola, mi amigo! Que pasa?”

“Tony, hi.” Steve swallows the lump in his throat. This is one of his best friends, but he doesn’t just want to jump into favors. “How’s it going?”

A pause. Then, “Hangin’ in there. What’s up, big guy? What’s wrong?”

That shouldn’t be surprising. Tony, though he might act tough and play like he doesn’t care, knows when something is going on. Steve sighs.

“It’s just… you remember that submissive from The Armory? The one with the metal arm?”

“Oh, yeah, sure.” There’re some noises. Sounds like maybe Tony’s tinkering on something. “Something happen?”

Though Steve still hasn’t gotten the full story, he explains to Tony as much as he knows. Once he’s filled in, Tony is asking Steve to hand the phone to the doctor. When the doctor takes the phone, he attempts, several times, to say something, only to have Tony interrupt whatever he’s trying to say. It happens so many times, that the doctor crushes his jaw in frustration and even, once, stomps his foot.

Mr. Stark.” He huffs. “If you’d please just come in and take a look so we can--” The doctor rolls his eyes. “Okay, fine. Thank you.”

Sighing, he hangs up and stares at the phone for a few seconds. Not an unusual reaction to interacting with Tony Stark. Steve smirks when the doctor hands the phone back.

“He’s, Mr. Stark is, well.” The Doctor scratches the back of his neck. “Mr. Stark is on his way down here. To take a look at--”

“Good.” Steve stuffs his phone back in his pocket and turns his attention back to the cops. “Standard procedure?” he questions. “For what?”

“We told you,” says the first cop. The defensive cop who greeted him earlier. “He assaulted a Dominant.”

“Or was there a fight and he needed to defend himself?” Steve asks. “Which is it? Because I know him well enough to know that he’d never just assault someone.”

“Really?” One of the other two scoffs. “This James Buchanan Barnes has quite the record. Over two dozen arrests for shoplifting and conning and prostitution and drugs. Broken contracts.”

Try as he might, Steve can’t quite keep the surprise off his face. Bucky may have mentioned some run-ins with the law, but never anything like that. Sure, Steve knows about the times Bucky’s been taken in because of sub raids. These are entirely different charges. From within the room, silence.

“Nevermind his past records,” Steve replies. “What I’m concerned about is what happened today. I want those details.”

Rolling his eyes, the cop with today’s incident report hands it over to Steve. Steve’ll have to sign off on it anyway since Bucky’s wearing his Collar of Protection. He quickly scans over the words scribbled on the page, easily able to tell when the cop realized he was dealing with a submissive who stood up to a Dominant. Even the strokes of handwriting change from professional to personal, as though offended by the very notion of a sub doing whatever it was that Bucky did. Which, according to a witness…

“According to the other bartender working there this evening,” Steve says, “the Dominant you’re so quick to defend was harassing the submissive under my care all afternoon.”

One of the cops snorts. “A few comments, if they were really made, is hardly a reason to pick a fight. Doesn’t sound like there was a need to defend himself after all, hm?”

“I guess that depends.” Steve, report in hand, folds his arms over his chest. “Was he wearing my collar?” The only answer he gets to that is their continued staring. Good enough. “That’s what I thought. And I’m sure this Dom is well aware that it’s illegal to make any advancements on a submissive wearing a Collar of Protection?” Steve is already signing the report. “You should also be aware that if he tries to press charges, I will counter with charges of my own.”

Really, though, Steve’s not opposed to just pressing charges anyway. No matter what Bucky did in retaliation, he was provoked illegally. Had every right to fight back. Bucky’s own statement is that this Dom followed him to the back and continued to make his comments. He’s wearing a Collar of Protection. This guy had no right to be speaking to him at all if Bucky already turned him away.

All they say after Steve shoves the signed paperwork back over to them is that Bucky will be released to him once the doctor clears him. He’ll need to remain with Steve for the next four-eight hours, too, while the investigation is still pending. An old, outdated law that these cops will clearly enforce. Just a nice way of saying a submissive is remaining in a Dominant’s custody rather than just being allowed out on their own. Too many emotions for such a fragile mind to overcome so quickly, of course.

Once Steve is done with the business he needs to handle out here -- and he certainly has no desire to spend even a minute longer with these people than necessary -- he brushes by them and reaches for the doorknob. Hand around it, Steve pauses.

Inside the room, Bucky is still strapped to the hospital bed and hooked up to IVs and looking completely miserable. Steve is willing to bet he’d be able to fry an egg on his head right now. See steam coming out of his ears if he looked close enough. Flames in his eyes. And any other clever cliche about red-hot anger.

Taking a deep breath, Steve pushes the door open. The second he does, Bucky’s eyes flick up to him. They stay that way until Steve closes the door behind him. Then, Bucky drops his gaze back to his lap.

“Excuse me, sir,” the nurse in the room says, “you can’t be--”

“That’s my collar he’s wearing,” Steve interrupts. “He’s under my protection.”

She glances from Bucky to Steve to Bucky again before simply nodding and doing something on the computer in the room. As though Bucky being strapped to the bed's completely inconsequential.

“You can take the straps off of him now,” Steve says. “I’m here.”

“I’m not authorized to do that.” She doesn’t look up from what she’s doing. “That’s up to the doctor on call.”

The woman does nothing else. She doesn’t even seem to notice the angry tears that fill Bucky’s eyes. Or the curl to his lip as he goes on glaring at his lap. Steve does. And it hurts right down to the center of his stomach as he marches straight up to the nurse and takes hold of her elbow. She looks quite startled by the sudden contact and pulls away, backing into the counter.

“Take off the straps, ma’am,” Steve demands, steel and authority filling every bit of him. Voice. Stance. Eyes. “I won’t ask again.”

Mouth falling opening, the nurse, hit with the force of Steve’s words, just stands there, likely dumbfounded. It takes all of two seconds for the world to catch back up to her and she goes right for Bucky’s bedside. Starts undoing the straps. She muttering things to him as she does. Steve catches a few things in there. Something about this sub getting special treatment and wouldn’t hear me mouthing off like that.

Somehow, Steve manages to keep his mouth shut. He doesn’t know if it’s just to get her out of the room quicker or if it’s the way Bucky rubs at his wrists the moment they’re free. So… soft and endearing. Almost like he’s afraid of moving too quickly and finding the restraints right back on him.

It takes Steve a few moments of hearing machines -- of monotone beep beep beeps -- and nothing else for him to realize that he’s alone with Bucky. There are so many things he wants to say, but nothing seems good enough. Steve wants to fuss over him, to make sure not a single hair on his head is in pain. But that might be overstepping his bounds. Steve wants to greets him, but how small is too small? Bucky hasn’t even looked up at him since he first walked in and Steve hasn’t heard his side of the story and he wants to beg for Bucky’s forgiveness for not being there for him when he needed him.

“Hey, baby,” Steve settles on as a greeting. “I’m here.”

Steve holds his breath. Hopes that maybe the greeting is an okay one. Maybe it is. He can’t really tell. Bucky just goes on staring at his lap and doesn’t make much of an expression.

“Yes, Steve,” he responds shortly, “I see that.”

Steve winces and looks around. On the small table to the side is a plastic pitcher. Just from where Steve is standing he can see it’s filled with water and ice. A plastic cup sits next to it. They both wait patiently, even when Steve starts to reach for it and then draws back.

“Do… do you want something to drink?”

Steve asks it softly, so as not to startle Bucky, but Bucky only shrugs anyway. Doesn’t look startled at all. In fact, the question seems to anger him.

“I don’t know,” he answers. Teeth grit and muscles tight. “Do I want a drink? I don’t think I’m allowed to make my own decisions in here.”

Head spinning, Steve does, in fact, reach for the pitcher and pours out a cup of water. He hands that over to Bucky, who doesn’t quite take it but does look at it like he’s both offended and unsure of the gesture.

“I think you should have a drink,” Steve says, softly. “That’s not… it’s not an order or anything. But I’d like you to have one.”

Lips set in a line, Bucky sighs and accepts the plastic cup. As he goes to take a sip, Steve gets the first real look at his face. The air is punched right out of his lungs. Bucky’s face… oh, his face is…

“Oh,” Steve breathes. “Oh, Bucky…”

Steve reaches for his chin only to have Bucky jerk away. The drum beating in Steve’s heart only quickens. To have Bucky move from his touch-- he hasn’t done that since the night Steve chased him from the station.

“M’fine,” Bucky grumbles. “I’ve had worse.”

Worse. That makes Steve’s stomach tie in such a knot he almost doubles over. The thought of Bucky in worse condition is so horrible, he could just scream. Maybe Bucky doesn’t think it’s so bad, but it makes him shake all the way down to the very marrow of his bones. That black eye and the split lip. The dried blood around his nose.

“Are you in pain?” Steve asks. “Have they… have you had ice? Painkillers? Anything?”

Bucky doesn’t answer that right away. At first, Steve’s not sure he’s going to answer at all. Not until he touches at his eye and makes a soft sound akin to a whimper.

“I’ll get you some ice,” Steve murmurs. “Just sit tight.”

Right outside of the room, that doctor is still lingering with one of the cops. Steve knows the cop won’t be leaving until Bucky is checked out and makes sure he leaves with him. The doctor only has to cross the hall to grab an ice pack which sees Steve having to bite his tongue from asking him why in the hell wouldn’t he get this for Bucky himself.

He thanks him for it anyway and hurries back to the room so he can wrap it up in paper towels for Bucky. When Steve is back by the bed, he, without the help of his brain, attempts to gently apply the ice to Bucky’s eye himself. At the same time, Bucky reaches to take the pack from his hand. Their fingers collide. The ice pack falls to the floor.

“Sorry,” Steve mumbles, bending to retrieve it. “I’m sorry. That was stupid of me. I… um…” His hands fumbles with getting the towels around the ice again. “Here. Here you go.”

Without so much as a thank you, Bucky takes it and presses it against his black eye. He hisses a bit and groans out a sigh of pain, and knowing he doesn’t want his help leaves an ache right in the middle of Steve’s chest.

It’s what he’s supposed to be doing. The whole reason Bucky’s wearing that collar. Right now, it’s like Bucky despises having it around his neck.

Sniffling, Bucky wipes under his nose -- wincing when he does -- and leans back against the pillows more. It becomes clear to Steve then, that the pillows had been holding most of his weight that whole time. Bucky’s finally let himself just collapse back on them as though he’s been needing to do that the entire time.

Now that he has, so much more color drains from his face. His eyes squeeze close and he bites down on his lip. Bucky lets out a jagged breath before switching the ice from his eye to spot on his left shoulder where metal meets flesh. But the way he whimpers, the way he instantly yanks his hand away, it makes Steve’s heart just shatter.

Bucky -- the sub who agreed to wear his Collar of Protection -- is in so much pain and he won’t let Steve help. He won’t even let Steve offer any sort of comfort.

“They took all my stuff,” he abruptly states. The first thing he’s said on his own. “I don’t have my phone. I dunno if they’ve called anyone besides you.”

“Oh.” Steve is already reaching into his pocket. “You can… do you wanna borrow my phone? And I can go find out for you if you want. Do you want me to?” When Bucky just shrugs, Steve sighs and puts the phone down next to the pitcher of water. “I’ll go find out for you. You can use that, y’know, if you want.”

Halfway to the door, Steve gets an idea. It’s not a bad idea, in his opinion. Bucky might not like it, but, right now, he’s just going to have to deal with it. He did sign a legal agreement with Steve and that gives Steve certain rights. Rights Steve never has any plans on taking advantage of, but he is going to use them when he feels he needs to.

“Bucky, I’m… I’m going to give you an order, so I need you to listen to me.”

Even Steve can feel the weight of those words, all of them piling up on an already heavy chest as Bucky gradually lifts his gaze. There’s a shift in the room. A chill in the air. Steve can feel it skitter down his spine as a bit of color returns to Bucky’s cheeks, those steel-blue eyes, like ice glistening on the sea, fixed on him.

He doesn’t answer any more than giving Steve that focused attention, but for now, Steve’ll take that.

“If someone happens to come in while I’m gone, you don’t have to do or say anything to them, understand?” Steve explains. “You can wait until me or Tony are here.”

Bucky’s eyebrows pull in, confused. Well, at least Steve knows he’s listening.

“Tony? Tony Stark?”

Steve nods. “He’s coming to check on your arm. I don’t want anyone here damaging it. Once he makes sure it’s good, you should be set to go.”

“Yeah,” Bucky huffs, his grip tightening around the ice pack. “That means with you.”

That utter disdain behind the idea of leaving with him, it’s like a red-hot poker between Steve’s ribs. Steve can almost hear it sizzling as it sears his skin. He tries to ignore it.

“Do you understand, Bucky?”

Bucky leans his head back against the pillows again. “Yes, Steve. I understand.”

“You can… you can use my phone,” Steve whispers. Heads for the door again. “I'll go find out if they called anyone else.”

When Steve exits the room, he needs a second to compose himself. He leans up against the door, eyes closed as that headache crawls from the base of his skull up to the top of it.

“Like I said.” The voice makes Steve’s skin crawl, his eyes popping open to see that cop sitting right outside the door. “Not even basic submissive training.” He hisses a sarcastic laugh. “Does he even know what it means to wear your collar?”

Of course he does. Bucky knows what it means to wear Steve’s Collar of Protection. Bucky’s gone through more certified training than most of the people in this hospital. He accepted Steve’s Collar of Protection. While it’s worn, Steve, as the Dominant, takes a certain responsibility for Bucky. And as the submissive, Bucky represents Steve as the Dom providing his protection.

Apparently, this cop doesn’t think very highly of how Bucky’s representing Steve.

Well, that’s just too damn bad. Steve’s been more than satisfied with Bucky’s behavior before giving him his Collar of Protection and these past two months with it have certainly done nothing to change his mind. Including today.

If anyone has a problem with how Bucky represents Steve out in public, well, it’s their problem.

So many things are already rushing through Steve’s brain that it’s hard to sort through it all. Snippets of old conversations with Bucky sneak in like static through the rest of the noise.

My second Dom said an educated sub was a waste. I stopped going to school after that.

No Dom believes in the submission is a gift spiel. I doubt any ever did.

I had to see him off everyday in Kiss the Floor.

It doesn’t happen to me! It can’t happen to me!

He sold my violin for gamblin’ money. I never bothered playin’ again after that.

“You don’t know anything about him,” Steve grumbles. “Just leave him alone.”

As Steve pushes away from the door to find whoever will know if anyone’s been in touch with someone else for Bucky, the cop mutters one last thing.

“Doesn’t look like you know much about him either.”

***

The young lady Steve spoke to was just as sweet as could be. A godsend, really, given the rest of the day. When he explained that Bucky wasn’t sure if anyone else knew if he was there, she politely told him that only he’d been contacted.

She’d even gone a step further and asked if Steve wanted to add any other type of procedure to Bucky’s files in case this ever happened again. The thought of this ever happening again was overwhelming enough. Steve even had to hold onto the edge of the counter so that he didn’t fall over.

“Oh, I’m… I’m sorry, sir,” she had said. “I didn’t mean to…”

“No, no.” Steve shook his head. “It’s not your fault. These are things I should’ve taken care of already.” He gathered his bearings. Steve was a Dominant and knew how to take control even when it felt like life was falling apart all around him. “I’ll speak with him about this first. He’s wearing my Collar of Protection, but he’s not legally my submissive.”

The look she gave him was warm, maybe even awed, a honeyed glow about her as she typed something into the computer and assured him that in the event Steve couldn’t be reached, they’d attempt to reach his other two emergency contacts -- Clint and Natasha. Steve thanked her and headed back to the room, anxious to return to Bucky.

By the time Steve got back, Tony was already there and, much to Steve’s surprise, found Bucky smiling with him. It was that fabulously shy smile. One Tony probably didn’t even notice since he was too busy chatting away and barking orders at the doctor who’d returned shortly after.

When Steve sat back in the seat next to the hospital bed, he gave Bucky a warm smile. Or tried to anyway. It was difficult with the way Bucky tensed and moved away even though Steve had made no attempt to touch him. Tony, maybe noticing the reaction, maybe not, winked at Steve while he was explaining the motor function tests they were going to perform to Bucky.

“They didn't call anyone else,” Steve told Bucky once Tony was preoccupied with setting up tools and directing the doctor around. “No one else knows you're here.”

Bucky nodded and for a minute Steve thought that was going to be it. But before Tony could come back over and really start much of anything, Bucky lifted his gaze and gave Steve a twist of his lips.

“Um… thanks,” he murmured. “I… just… thanks.”

He didn’t look at Steve when he said it, but he said it nonetheless, and at least Steve got that much. Steve almost put his hand down on Bucky’s but he rolled his fingers in just shy of the touch.

“You’re welcome, Bucky.”

Since then, Bucky’s made those phone calls, assuring Clint that he’s not alone and Natasha that she doesn’t have to come up from D.C. He calls his sister in Indiana and sounds pleasantly content to be asked a million questions. Between calls, Bucky either sits quietly while Tony lifts and twists and turns his left arm -- having already apologized straight off for having to poke and prod at him -- or sits quietly while Tony makes assessments, calculations, and deductions with the surgeon.

“All right, kid,” Tony says. He’s got a little screwdriver slightly lifting one of the plates of Bucky’s left forearm. “Lemme see you wiggle those fingers.”

Bucky takes in a deep breath and closes his eyes. The last time he did this, it caused sparks to fly out of the spot his arm is connected to his body. He clearly tried to hide it, but the pain rippled across his face anyway. His whole body nearly leapt into the air and, he might’ve tried to pull back at the last second, but Steve is pretty sure he reached for him. Steve would have gladly held his free hand, but Bucky’s kept it to himself, pulled in tight to his belly.

There are beads of sweat kissing the edge of his hairline and Tony’s been working a hell of a lot more carefully. Which is saying something given how carefully he was working already.

The anticipation in the room rises and stretches over everything. It lingers in the corners, just waiting for what’s going to happen.

This time, when Bucky wiggles them, the sparks aren’t nearly as bad, but that doesn’t stop him from jumping again. Though Steve goes to place a hand on Bucky’s hip to steady him, Tony gets there first. Tony’s comfort, Bucky doesn’t shy away from. Seems Tony’s is acceptable.

“Okay, it’s okay.” He nods, either to himself or to Bucky or maybe even to the both of them. “I see where the problem is. Steve?” Tony waves him closer. “Kid, you’re probably gonna wanna take his hand for this. I’m gonna make this as fast and painless as possible, but I think it’ll be better to have Steve close.”

At first, Steve isn’t sure whether or not Bucky will follow Tony’s advice. But when Steve stands, Bucky’s hand opens. It trembles slightly, so Steve is sure to gather it in both of his, something Bucky doesn’t object to.

To the surgeon, Tony is saying something about the connection of this plate to that muscle. The way Bucky’s arm isn’t sitting correctly and just how they have to fix it. They’re both looking at small x-ray slides and seem to be on the same page.

“You didn’t get painkillers, huh, kid?” Tony asks as he gets another tool out. This one looks like an excavator. A dentist’s tool with the hook on it. “Not even Motrin or anything?”

“Mm-mm.” Bucky shakes his head. “Nothing.”

“Sucks I bet, but it’s gonna be better this way in the long run.” Tony tapping spots on Bucky’s shoulder. “This isn’t gonna be pleasant, but it’s gonna be real quick. Promise.”

Without another word, the surgeon places a hand on Bucky's other shoulder. As if suddenly understanding that Tony meant this is going to hurt, and hurt a lot, Bucky’s eyes slam closed. Within Steve's hands, he can feel Bucky’s searching for something. Maybe a better grip. Steve gives it to him, readjusting their positions so that Bucky can hold on as tightly as he needs to.

“Deep breaths, kid,” Tony says. “On the count of three…”

It happens fast. Tony hooks the tool under the seam of Bucky’s arm, counts to three, and then lifts. Eyes wide and filling with tears, Bucky screams and squeezes Steve’s hand so hard it would hurt if Steve wasn’t so concerned with Bucky.

Just like Tony promised, it’s over in less than a second. He’s dropping the tool back on the tray and saying that’s it, that’s it over and over while dabbing a cotton ball on the spot. Bucky’s still got a grip on Steve’s hands, but that only lasts the amount time it takes for Steve to even realize he hasn’t let go yet. Once he does notice Bucky’s hand still in his, Bucky pulls it away and sobs a laugh.

Oh! Oh, god!” He cups that free hand over his mouth. “Oh, thank you, Mr. Stark!” Bucky sniffles and rubs fingers into his eyes. “Thank you.”

Like earlier, Bucky collapses again, only this time, it’s forward and against Tony’s shoulder. His breathing is erratic, but each breath is filled with such relief the room is becoming saturated with it. Bucky’s trembling from head to toe, a few tears sliding down his cheeks. Steve can’t tell which he’s doing more, crying or laughing as Tony -- awkward as he appears doing so -- pats a hand over his head.

“Hey, it’s okay, kid,” Tony says. “You’re okay now.”

Tony even manages to swing an arm around Bucky in a friendly hug. Funny. As outgoing and wild and gregarious as Tony can be, his affection tends to be reserved for those he knows personally. Sometimes even only intimately. Steve counts himself lucky to be one of those people. Still, here, in this hospital room, with Bucky close to hysterics from either relief or shock or just too much of everything, Tony’s holding him close and petting him the way a Dominant might and even kisses the top of his head.

“I know, I know, it’s okay,” he comforts, and although Steve would give anything to be the one giving Bucky comfort, he’s just glad someone is doing it. “You were lots of pain, weren’t ya?” Bucky hiccups and, head still on Tony’s shoulder, nods. “All fixed now. Won’t happen again without some real trauma, kay?”

Wiping at his eyes, Bucky sits up now and nods. He’s no longer crying and his breathing has calmed and he even settles back into the bed with a soft, gentle smile on his face. Already there’s so much more color returning to Bucky’s cheeks. The sweat his drying. A sense of ease and relaxation rolls over him like a midnight fog.

“Okay,” he whispers. “Thank you.”

That patent Stark smirk turns up on Tony’s face and he wipes at his shoulder as though what he’s done is just all in a day’s work. He then leans in really close to Bucky and whispers something in his ear. It’s allowed, of course. Two submissives can talk privately amongst themselves. Sure, if their Dominants asked for the specifics of the conversations it's generally required, but Steve doubts either Rhodey or Pepper would make Tony tell, and he’s not about to make Bucky if he doesn’t want to.

Steve does, however, place his hand over Bucky’s. He’s slow and gentle about it, afraid he might give the wrong impression. If Bucky wants to pull his hand away again, no matter how much it’ll twist Steve’s insides, that’ll be his choice.

But Bucky doesn’t move his hand. In fact, he even starts rubbing soft circles on Steve’s skin with his thumb.

Steve, although ecstatic inside, keeps all his joy contained in one gentle smile. If he let it out any more than that, the entire room would be radiating with pure, unfiltered sunlight.

“Steve?” Bucky’s whisper makes Steve’s skin flush. “Can I…” He clears his throat and isn’t looking when he goes on to ask, “Can I have another drink? Please?”

“Yeah! Yeah, of course. I’ll…” Steve is already fumbling with the pitcher to pour some more water into the cup. “Here you go.”

“Thank you.”

Bucky takes it with both hands, almost as though he needs to make sure he can use them properly, and slowly sips. As he does, Steve grows a bit bolder and reaches over to brush some stray hairs away from Bucky’s face. When his fingers brush against Bucky’s skin, Bucky starts a bit, but he doesn’t cringe away.

They spend a little more time there -- with Tony having Bucky moving his arm this way and that, flexing his fingers in and out, curling his wrist around -- until the doctor finally comes in with release papers. Tells Steve -- not Bucky, but Steve -- that he can leave with Bucky whenever he’s ready to.

Since the cops from earlier confiscated Bucky’s clothes in the name of evidence, the hospital provides a pair of scrubs for him to change into. Steve’s already called down to the station. Put in a word to Nick asking for some help on that.

“Don’t worry about it, Rogers,” Nick said. “This isn’t gonna amount to anything, your boy was well within his rights. How’s he doing?”

Bucky had disappeared into the bathroom to change.

“I, uh…” Steve shook his head. “I dunno. He’s better than I expected, worse in other…” Clearing his throat, Steve decided he didn’t want to get into that. “He’s bein’ released to me for the next forty-eight hours.”

“Figured that. Don’t worry about here. Do what you gotta do.”

“Thanks, Fury.”

Steve is still standing out in the hall, waiting for Bucky, when someone claps a hand down on his shoulder. It comes so out of nowhere that it startles him enough to hop forward. Turns around to see Tony with his palms out and a big smile on his face.

“Sorry, big guy,” he says. “Didn’t think you’d be so jumpy.”

“S’alright.” Steve chuckles. “Long day.”

“No kidding.” Tony nods and seems to think on that. “Your sub should be good though. You should--"

“He's not really my sub,” Steve interrupts. “I mean… y’know… he’s…”

The look on Tony’s face keeps whatever words -- and, to be fair, Steve’s not sure what he’s trying to say -- wrapped around his tongue.

“Maybe not on paper,” Tony says. “And maybe not that particular type of collar. But that kid is yours.”

Steve’s head swims with thoughts of that being the truth. Of Bucky wearing a Permanent Collar. Steel locked around his neck, sitting comfortably as a sign of his submission to Steve. Maybe they’d marry, too. Steve can picture it, even now -- getting down on one knee and asking for Bucky’s hand in marriage.

It’d be amazing, really. They’ve talked about the idea of Bucky saying one yes after another if that’s what felt right. Steve’s heart buzzes with moonlight, iridescent streamers that tickle his insides with excitement. The idea of Bucky not only saying yes to a full commitment to submission but to giving his heart over as well just fills Steve with so much joy he might burst. And it’s just a dream. One so far away it’s not even within reach.

But with everything that went on today, Steve’s not so sure the idea that makes his dreams fly away have turned into nightmares for Bucky. One filled with disappointment and misery.

“I don’t know, Tony,” Steve murmurs. “You weren’t here all afternoon. He… Bucky didn’t seem too happy to have me there.”

“Mm.” Tony, fingers stroking his chin, bobs his head. “It’s… not always easy.”

“What isn’t?”

“Being submissive. This world isn’t always so kind to us, even in this modern age.” Tony shrugs. “Imagine being strapped to a bed in the hospital just because a doctor is a Dom and doesn’t like the way you’re behaving? Even the most well-trained and well-behaved sub can only take so much from a stranger.”

That makes Steve look around for the doctor in question. All the paperwork is folded up and shoved in his pocket. Though Steve shouldn’t be able to feel it, the papers weigh a ton.

“I could ring that guy’s neck,” Steve mutters. “I don’t even wanna think about it.”

“Course ya don’t,” Tony replies. “You’re a Dom.”

Steve straightens and snaps a shocked gaze towards him. “No, I… I didn’t mean--”

“Nah.” Tony grins and pats Steve’s back. “I know ya didn’t. No worries.”

“I’ll tell you something though, Tony,” Steve says. “The way you were with him in there? You’d make one hell of a Dom.”

Face crinkling, Tony pulls his arm back and moves away from Steve like he’s said a most insulting thing to him.

“Ugh.” He makes a face as if smelling something bad. “And play for the bad guys? How dare you.”

Steve chuckles and bumps their shoulders. At the same time, Bucky comes out of the bathroom wearing the scrubs given to him by the hospital. Though they look comfortable, he doesn’t look pleased at all to be in them.

“Well,” Steve says to Tony, “Thanks for all your help today.”

Holding his arm out for Bucky, Steve just happens to notice the quick wink and nod that Tony gives to him. It makes Bucky’s entire face fill with a blush as he holds up his hand in a shy wave.

“Thanks, uh…” Bucky clears his throat. “Thank you, Mr. Stark. Y’know, for, um… the help…”

“Gotta stick together, huh?” Tony shakes his head and throws a fake, gentle punch across the edge of Bucky’s chin. He starts walking away before they do, calling back to Bucky as he does. “Remember what I said, kid!”

Once they’re alone in a hospital full of people, Steve closes his eyes and counts to three. It’s up to him to get Bucky out of here now regardless of how either feels about the situation. It’s way too cold out for Bucky to ride on the back of his bike. Even if Bucky had his regular clothes, Steve’s not so sure this is the emotional time for a bike ride. He’s already called for an Uber.

Without even thinking about it, or maybe it’s just instinct, Steve’s not sure, he finds his hand moving to the small of Bucky’s back.

“Come on,” Steve says. “Let’s get you out of here.”

There’s no protest. Bucky moves right along with him, towards the exit, following Steve’s lead, but the hesitation is clear elsewhere.

“Out of here,” Bucky repeats. “Does that mean back to your place?”

Steve sighs. “Yes, Bucky. That means back to my place. Just for two days.”

Then you can leave, Steve thinks. And never come back if that’s what you want.

The idea leaves him cold, of course. Bucky leaving and never coming back, especially after what Tony said. That kid is yours. Such a small thing, really. Just a tiny, sliver of gold shined in the possible realm of hope that he might be right. Ice cakes around it now. Freezing and heavy as they make their way down to the lobby.

When Steve steers Bucky towards the car waiting for them, Bucky might actually start to question the vehicle. He doesn’t really take the time to though. It’s cold. The thick, winter clouds covering the skies and blocking out the sun. Snow clouds, Steve’s mama used to call them. Maybe the forecast calls for snow, Steve’s not sure, but he does put his leather jacket around Bucky’s shoulders. This, Bucky doesn’t seem to mind at all.

Even when they get into the back of the car, with the heat cranked up and doors keeping them safe from the cold air, Bucky buries himself in a cocoon of Steve’s jacket. Steve might be imagining things, but he thinks Bucky even takes the collar of the jacket up to his nose and inhales deeply.

As though he needs to commit the scent to memory.

***

Late afternoon traffic sees them taking over an hour getting back to Steve’s place. At some point during the drive, Bucky leaned his head against the window with a sigh. He’s since fallen asleep, Steve’s jacket still tucked tightly around him.

“Bucky,” Steve whispers when they get there, gently placing his hand on Bucky’s shoulder. “C’mon, honey, wake up.”

“Hm?” Bucky moans. Lifts his head and smacks his lips together. “Wha…?”

“We’re here, sweetheart.”

“Here? Steve?” He looks around a bit, the confusion clearing and a dark expression replacing it. “Oh. Right.”

Saying nothing more, Bucky lets himself out of the car, pulling Steve’s jacket as tightly around himself as possible, and goes straight up the front steps to wait. Before following, Steve checks to make sure everything is good with the driver, gives her a cash tip, and thanks her for the ride.

“Are you hungry?” Steve asks as he lets them into the building. “I can make us something to eat if you want. Or order out. Anything you want.”

“Can’t I just shower?” Bucky asks. “And then sleep? M’tired.”

As a Dominant, Steve knows he needs to think on his feet to make quick decisions. Hell, it’s the same with being a cop. He takes a light hold on Bucky’s wrist. Light, but domineering.

“Yes, you can shower,” he answers. “I’ll give you clothes to change into, too, if you want. But you’re going to eat something before you lay down. You need to eat.”

A puff of air rolls between Bucky’s lips as he frowns, but he otherwise doesn’t put up an argument. Even if it’s not the most eloquent of agreements.

“Fine. Whatever.”

A pang of anger rattles inside Steve’s chest. He’s trying. He’s trying so hard to make something go right for Bucky today, but he’s not exactly giving him anything to work with.

“Anything in particular you want?” Steve asks. He’s in the bedroom, fishing through his drawers for a pair of sweats and a t-shirt that might fit Bucky. “You want me to make something?”

“I don’t care, Steve,” Bucky huffs as he snatches the clothes out of Steve’s hands. “Just do whatever you want.”

Lips folded in to keep from snapping at Bucky himself, Steve sucks in a deep breath and pinches between his eyes. All he’s been trying to do, all day, is help. Having Bucky snip and snap at him at almost every chance he gets isn’t what he deserves.

“Pizza, then?”

Steve asks through mostly clenched teeth. He can try to keep his cool. Bucky’s had a rough day. Like Tony said, no one is perfect.

“Fine,” Bucky says with a sigh as though Steve’s irritating him with all these questions. “Can I shower now?”

Yes,” Steve growls and jabs his finger at the bathroom door. “Go, just… go, Bucky.”

Bucky, appearing startled and a bit off-balanced doesn’t wait for any other instruction. He heads for the bathroom. Right before he gets to the door, Bucky reaches behind his neck and wrenches at the back of his collar. The velcro that’s keeping it snug in place rips apart. The sound it makes tears at Steve’s heart, the shock of it blossoming into something he never imagined.

All Collars of Protection are sealed by velcro so that the wearer can take it off, but to see Bucky rip it off like that… To see him just fling it down on the coffee table like it’s a piece of garbage he never wants to see again…

Nothing could have prepared Steve for this kind of heartache.

He touches the inside of the collar. It’s still warm, the plush leather. This isn’t the standard Collar of Protection. Steve had replaced that simple black one within two weeks of taking Bucky to City Hall.

That had been such a good day. The cool fingers of autumn reaching out to tickle the world with colorful foliage. The picturesque streets of Brooklyn painted in oranges and reds. The warm scents of coffee swimming in the wind.

“You’re sure you want to do this?” Steve asked as they trotted up the front steps of City Hall. “We can wait. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”

Bucky, a near bounce in his walk, skipped up one step ahead and spun around. Hands on Steve’s shoulders, he planted a kiss. Bold and outgoing behavior for a submissive -- in public, anyway -- but Steve most definitely didn’t care. Not seeing that sparkle in Bucky’s eyes. The crinkle around his grin.

“That’s one more yes outta me, Sir,” Bucky answered. “Do you plan on askin’ me again inside? And again before we get to the clerk?”

“Mm.” Steve rolled his eyes. Tried not to laugh. “You’re a brat, you know.”

“Yes.” Bucky nodded. “Oh! Look, another.”

The spark in Steve’s eyes must’ve been obvious. Bucky had lit up with a smirk and twirled around with a fit of giggles in an attempt to jog up the steps, but Steve was quicker, his hand swatting that sweet little ass just hard enough to make Bucky yelp.

“Y’know what, Steve?” Bucky said as they waited on the benches for their turn. He had just convinced Steve to take a selfie with him so he could text Natasha and Clint to tell them the news.

“What’s that, Buck?”

“You’re the first Dom to let me be a brat. Well.” He snickered. “Other than, like, Tasha, but we’re just friends.” Bucky then grew very serious. “I… is that okay, Steve? Sir? I know how to behave, really. None of my other Dominants would let me act that way, so I can--”

“Hey, hey.” Steve gathered Bucky’s hands in his. “You listen to me, little sub.” The pet name may have been awkward given their lack of contract and legal collar, but Bucky had called him Sir just then. It felt right. “I liked you when you were irritating the hell out of me at The Armory.” He let their brows bop gently, Bucky giving him a sly, little grin. “I think you being a brat is the least of my problems. I like it just fine, Bucky.”

Eyes falling closed, Bucky nibbled on his lip and then reopened them. He smiled and breathed out softly.

“Okay?” Steve asked. “Little sub?”

“Okay,” he breathed. “Sir.”

They weren’t kept waiting much longer, and there wasn’t much of a ceremonious event when it came to a Collar of Protection. Mostly business. The clerk spoke to each of them individually to make sure the agreement was consensual. They signed the agreement that Bucky would represent Steve while wearing his Collar of Protection and Steve would take a certain level a responsibility over Bucky.

Before it was official -- before the clerk signed off and notarized it -- Steve secured the standard velcro collar around Bucky’s neck. And, though Bucky would vehemently deny it later, he was all smiles when Steve did it.

It was two weeks later when Steve surprised him with this collar. Custom created and handmade. Steve had The Armory in mind as inspiration. Plush leather on the inside. Embossed leather, red, on the outside. Black lace on the outside. A dark, Victorian-era inspired collar, complete with brass, ornate heart-shaped finishes and a centered o-ring.

Steve swears, still, that Bucky had stopped breathing when he gave it to him, asking if it was really for him.

“You’re kidding, right?” Bucky’s eyes still hadn’t lifted from the collar in the velvet box. “This isn’t really for me…”

“Not kidding,” Steve told him. “And… if that’s another yes…”

The first answer Steve got was a very enthusiastic submissive straddling his lap, cradling his cheeks, and kissing… kissing… kissing… and Steve needed to remember that he was the Dom and supposed to keep the clear head.

“Is that a yes?” he asked. Only able to get the question out because he readjusted their positions as he did. “Hm?”

“Oh, it’s a yes. I think I can get used to being spoiled.” He flicked his hair back, fanning it out as he did. “Can’t you just see it? Your pretty sub. Dripping in diamonds. Laced with gold. Decadence and perfection all wrapped up and on your lap? What could be better?”

Nothing. Steve decided it then and he still believes it now. He had said it to Bucky that night he chased him: But I want to fall in love with you. Because I will. I’ll fall in love with you and hold you in my heart with all that I have.

It’s happening already. Steve feels the beats of his heart singing with Bucky’s name.

Just like at City Hall, Bucky had happily knelt on a kneeling pillow in a formal Collaring position that day--knees spread and wrists crossed behind his back. Head bent forward and presented to Steve for the new collar. He admired it, excited and blushing and glowing, in the mirror, as though he couldn't believe that was his reflection.

But the warmth inside of Bucky’s Collar of Protection is already fading away from the soft touch of Steve’s fingertips.

Chapter Text

Only three slices of pizza are left in the box. One regular, two pepperoni. About a quarter of a bottle of Pepsi. All of which has been eaten in mostly silence.

Though Bucky went into the bathroom with a pair of socks that Steve gave to him, he’s sitting at the table barefooted, his toes tapping on the linoleum every now and then. He’s got one sleeve of Steve’s shirt pulled down over his hand and the other pushed up to his elbow. Cheek in his hand, Bucky’s been staring at the same spot over by the oven for the past ten minutes now, probably at nothing in particular.

The collar he ripped off is still sitting on the coffee table in the living room. Bucky didn’t make any indication he wanted it, and Steve isn’t about to force it around his neck.

Bucky keeps on sighing, and every time he does, Steve has the urge to tell him not to sigh his life away. Just like his mama used to.

“More soda?” Steve asks just after he pours himself a little more.

Bucky shrugs a shoulder but pushes his glass towards Steve. Steve can only assume that means he does want some more. He pours some and slides the glass back to Bucky, who drinks it all in one shot.

“Okay, so, I ate,” Bucky grumbles. Picks up the last remaining bits of pizza crust on his plate and nibbles on it. “Does this mean I can go sleep now?”

The clock on the wall says it’s a little after six, which means it’s actually a little before six. A little trick Steve picked up from his college years.

“No,” Steve answers, and finds himself on the killing end of an ‘if-looks-could-kill’ expression. To be honest, he’s pretty sure Bucky’s not doing it on purpose. “I want to talk about what happened today first.”

That look that makes Steve think Bucky wants to reach across the table and strangle him begins to ease into something more understanding. As if why Steve’s once again stopped him from going to sleep suddenly makes sense. He shifts in the chair. Faces Steve a little more.

“What…” Bucky scratches at his nose and then rubs the spot on his shoulder that Tony helped with. “What do you wanna know?”

“I want to know what happened.”

Hand still on his shoulder, Bucky’s very quiet when he says, “You heard them. They told you what happened.”

Steve shakes his head. “They told me their version. I want you to tell me what happened.”

Twisting his lips, Bucky reaches into the box for that last regular slice and starts picking the cheese off of it. As he eats those little bits at a time, Steve pours a little more soda in his glass for him. Just in case.

After another few seconds, Bucky sighs and finally just picks up the slice to take a big bite. Mouth still full, he gives Steve his story. Right away, Steve is seeing red.

“He wouldn’t leave me alone…”

First things first, the Dominant in question complimented, actually complimented, Bucky’s collar. Not a crime, of course, in fact, it’s a perfectly acceptable thing to do. But to persist with pursuing Bucky the way he did, no. Not acceptable. A good way to get punched in the face if Steve was there. Especially when the lewd talk started.

Commenting on Bucky’s good looks was one thing. Telling Bucky he was the finest piece of submissive ass he’s ever seen, was something else entirely. Making kissing noises and gestures while Bucky was attending other customers was just crass and inappropriate. Suggesting that he could make Bucky feel better just by taking him in the back alley than Steve does in the bedroom was never okay. When Bucky’s wearing his collar, it could be considered illegal. It’s harassment, either way.

This man could have just let it be at that, too. Plenty of fuel to make Steve’s blood boil already, but not enough that it couldn’t be put behind him. That’s if Bucky wanted to drop it. Because if Bucky wanted -- wants -- to press charges, Steve will happily get the paperwork drawn up.

But, even with Steve’s subtle offers to do such a thing, Bucky insists he just wants to forget about the whole thing. Steve’ll follow Bucky’s lead on this one. Time has already seen the swelling in his eye go down. His lip is scabbed over. That doesn’t stop Steve from wanting to fuss over him. Which is why Steve’s gotten him another ice pack and some Tylenol as he tells him the rest of what happened.

Even with all Bucky’s told Steve, though, he hasn’t even reached what pushed him over the edge.

“He followed me to the back,” Bucky says, “When I needed to refill the kegs. I didn’t know until after I came back out.”

“And then he attacked you?” Steve asks. “Is that what happened?”

Bolting out of his chair, nearly knocking it over in his haste, Bucky just shakes his head and tosses what’s left of his pizza into the garbage. His plate goes into the sink with a crash.

“What does it matter?” Bucky shakes his head, leaning over the sink. “Why does any of it matter to you?”

“Because I want to know, Bucky,” Steve says, still in his seat and just watching Bucky’s back. “I wanna help you.”

Another, horrible thought strikes Steve right in the stomach. This guy, this so-called Dominant with no taste and zero respect, mentioned something about taking Bucky to the back alley. What if he…

“Did... Bucky, did something… more happen?”

Bucky stands up straight and turns around with a shake of his head and what appears to be the end of an eye roll. As if Steve’s worries are just a nuisance to him.

“No, Steve.”

Something hits Steve in the chest. Hard. Makes so many emotions ripple through him. Like a rock tossed right into the middle of a pond. There’re so many at once. Leftover anxiety from earlier. The helplessness that descended upon him that has yet to truly leave. An utter disappointment in the whole world. And anger. So much anger, he’s not sure where one emotion ends and that begins.

“Well, then…” Steve rubs at his temples. “What is it, Bucky? Why won’t you just tell me what happened?”

Outright snickering -- snickering -- Bucky just shakes his head and starts to walk out of the kitchen.

“I’m tired,” he mumbles. “I’m goin’ to--”

“No!”

The slam of Steve’s hand down on the table stops Bucky in his tracks. He stares at the spot for a second before lifting his gaze back to meet Steve’s.

“No?” Bucky questions. Caught, most likely, by complete surprise in Steve’s reaction. “You’re saying I can’t go lay down?”

“Oh, you know what the word no means? Cause, yeah.” Steve slowly rises out of the seat. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

Bucky crushes his jaw and tilts his head back. “What do you want from me, Steve?”

“I want you to stop talking to me like that, Bucky. I’ve done nothing but try to be there for you today and all you’ve done is snap and yell at me, so just cut it out.”

Lips set in a line, Bucky stares at Steve and then gives him something of a nod, as if to say okay.

“Good.” The word, undoubtedly, causes a biological response in Bucky -- his cheeks immediately turn red and his lips turn in. “Now. What’s wrong? What happened?”

“Just forget it, Steve,” Bucky grumbles but manages to keep his voice low and even, unlike the way he’s been snapping at Steve almost all day. “I’m fine. Nothing’s wrong.”

“No!” Steve exclaims. He hates hearing his voice this way. Loud and demanding. It just doesn’t feel natural. “No, I won’t forget it. Something is wrong. Is it me? Cause you were fine with Tony. You were fine on the phone with your friends. Did I do something wrong?”

Grunting, Bucky shakes his head and tries to leave the kitchen again. He’s headed for Steve’s bedroom, probably aiming to shut the door and Steve out. Not allowing that to happen, Steve takes hold of Bucky’s arm and keeps him right there in the room with him. It’s not a rough move. Steve doesn’t even use all that much strength, but Bucky complies and doesn’t leave.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Steve scolds. “No. No, this is not how this is happening. The last time I checked you were wearing my Collar of Protection and that does grant me a little responsibility.”

“What do you want from me, Sir?” Bucky shouts, bursting free from the light grip Steve has on his arm. “I already told you everything is fine!”

“I want you to stop lying to me!” Steve yells back. “And I want you to treat me with the same respect I’ve been trying to show you!”

“Respect?” Bucky tosses his head back in a humorless laugh. “You want to talk about respect? When I was strapped down to a bed today? And for- for what? Huh?” Bucky’s breathing has picked up. His chest moves hard and heavy, and Steve wonders if maybe he should sit him down. “Just because I was pissed off? Because… because I’m a--”

“Submissive,” Steve says for him. Soft and calm. “Yes. Yes, I know. And I know, that I can’t ever understand that.” He reaches out to tuck some hair behind Bucky’s ear only to have Bucky recoil. “And I’m sorry, baby. I’m so sorry for how you were treated today, but, Bucky, why are you taking it out on me? I did everything I could to get them to treat you as an equal. What did I do?”

“Nothing, Steve!” His hands fly up in the air and then Bucky doesn’t seem to know what to do with them. He has them curling into fists over and over again. “I told you, it’s--”

“Not fine! It’s not fine! If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine, but then tell me that! You don’t have to pretend like everything is fine with me, Bucky, that’s why I offered my Collar of Protection in the first place.”

The night beats around them in hard, heavy punches as they stand there, seething at each other, in Steve’s kitchen. Every hit thrown feels stronger than the last. All they can wonder now is which strike, if any, will be the one to knock them down for good.

“They told you what happened,” Bucky growls through his teeth. “The cops. You read their god damn report.”

“Yes.” Steve hisses his response. “I read it. What I’m asking you is when did he attack--”

“He didn’t attack me, Steve!” Bucky yells, all the air coming out of him like popped balloon. “I hit him first!”

Those words, the very notion of what Bucky’s saying, they come barreling at Steve at full speed, making him stagger back upon impact.

“You…” All the fight in him is slowly disappearing as Bucky’s exclamation settles upon his bones. “You… what?”

Fist against his mouth, as though he can somehow shove the words back inside of it, Bucky has to take in several deep breaths before he can answer.

“I hit him first. Those cops’re right, Steve.” Bucky shrugs as if done with pretending. “I attacked him.”

It takes a few breaths for Steve to process that. To think of Bucky attacking someone. And the way he says it. Just so sure and absolute. As though he’s just adding another brick to a foundation he never meant to show Steve.

“Okay,” Steve says. “Okay. So, why?”

Bucky’s face blanks.

“What?”

“Why did you hit him? What did he do?”

Again, Bucky just stares at him. Eyes blinking and mouth barely open. He backs away, cheeks paling. Bucky doesn’t drop Steve’s gaze this time, his eyes wide and shocked.

“He… he called me… subby.”

Steve’s heart sinks. The use of such a slur… just the fact that someone in this day and age would have the audacity makes Steve sick to his stomach. That’s not a word one uses in everyday conversation let alone says to someone.

“He called you that?” Steve whispers. “Really?”

Knees wobbly, Steve feels the world teetering off-balance. Even if Bucky doesn’t react beyond another shrug as if that’s just the way things are and there’s nothing more to it.

“So, you hit him?” Steve asks.

“Yeah, well,” Bucky grumbles. “Now you know that that cop was right. You don’t know me all that well. Do you?”

Bucky falls silent and glares at Steve with this horrible vindictive look all over his face. As if the idea of Steve not knowing anything about him is some cruel joke he’s been waiting to spring on him for weeks.

“Why do you say that?” Steve whispers. “Why’re you acting this way, Bucky? What did I do to you?”

An almost cruel sneer curls up on Bucky’s lips. His eyes, though, it doesn’t reach his eyes. There’s something missing in them. Something that’s lost and desperate to find whatever he’s looking for.

“You wanna know me, Steve?” Bucky singsongs. “You wanna know all about my record? You wanna know about the shoplifting? How I’d go into stores and just slip whatever I wanted into my pockets. Or how I’d lift people’s wallets right out of their pockets. How about all the lies I told people to make them give me their money?” He flicks his eyebrows up. “You wanna hear about the guys I sucked off to make a few bucks?”

A brick falls right into Steve’s stomach. It lands hard and painful, and no. No, Steve doesn’t want to hear about any of those things and Bucky says them all with such malice in his voice it’s like he’s aiming to hurt him.

Steve can’t imagine why. Why would Bucky want to hurt him? All those words are delivered with such precision, striking right into Steve’s heart. And yet, those eyes are still looking for something. Searching.

Heart thumping and rising to his throat, Steve racks his mind for some reason for Bucky to be doing this to him. He's still going on. Mocking Steve with that tone. With those words. With the sinful way his tongue drags along his lips in tantalizing strokes.

Those eyes, though… they're still telling an entirely different story. Like he's waiting for something to happen. Something in particular.

“Is that what ya, Steve?” Bucky asks. “You wanna know how I walked out on three contracts?” He chuckles softly. “Just… walked away from them. Try to imagine how I paid those fines. Or do you need me to spell that out for you, too?”

“Stop it,” Steve whispers.

“How about--”

“I said stop it!”

The words explode from his belly, rising up and out his throat in a hot burst of steam that silences everything in the kitchen. Everything, for just that heartbeat, is still.

Eyes still lost, yet wide and somehow endearing even with the razor sharp words that cut through Steve’s soul, Bucky just stands there with his mouth clamped shut. His nostrils flare before he goes to say something more. Before he can, swoops in and slaps a hand over his mouth.

No,” he growls, pushing him up against the wall just rough enough that their bodies collide when Bucky’s back hits against it. “No, you’re done talking.”

One look into Bucky’s wide, and now shocked, eyes, the lack of resistance underneath him, and the pieces start to fall into place for Steve. A breath catches in Bucky’s throat when Steve moves his hand from covering his mouth to squeezing his cheeks.

Something explodes inside Steve. The need to dominate Bucky and stake his claim on him curls through him in new, strange -- even profane -- ways. It’s in every crevice of Steve’s mortal soul.

After a quick once over, Steve snickers darkly and slams his lips against Bucky’s. Bucky moans against his mouth, becoming almost pliant under Steve’s kiss. A grunt rushes out of Bucky’s lungs as Steve pulls aways and snatches his wrists to pin them above his head. Bucky struggles under his hold, Steve’s hip keeping him to the wall.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Steve coos. “You stay right where I put you.”

There’s a fight on Bucky’s face, but it’s simply a mask. Other than a few half-hearted pushes and twists and squirms, the mask is the only fight Steve really gets out of Bucky.

“Let go’a me…” Bucky says, though he hardly puts up a struggle any more than his hips wiggling under Steve’s hold. “I’m gonna--”

You,” Steve growls, low and heated, right in Bucky’s ear, “are going to tell me everything you wanted me to hear. One thing at a time.”

Mouth agape, Bucky sucks in the slightests of breaths, as if he can’t believe Steve’s stumbled upon what it is that he’s looking for. Being chastised for the sins of his past isn’t something Steve ever considered, but if Bucky is seeking atonement for them in such a way, then he’ll do it.

In a way, this straddles the line between green and yellow for him. Steve’s already not very pleased that this is the way Bucky’s gone about getting it. For one, he doesn’t feel the need to make Bucky relive his past deeds, especially by making him think Steve thinks any less of him because of them. Second, Steve’s not entirely sure if this is going to make things better.

There’s more to all of this than just having Steve reprimand him for his behavior in order to wipe the slate clean -- and by the way Bucky’s knees tremble, those quick intakes of breaths, how his eyes are so unfocused now, that is what Bucky’s after. But Steve can only focus on one thing at a time.

“What’s the matter, little sub?” Steve asks, faking pleasantries with an added smile that only makes Bucky squirm even more. “A second ago I couldn’t get you to shut up.”

“Steve…”

“Mm-mm.” Steve shakes his head. “Not Steve. There is no Steve here to you.”

Bucky makes a noise in the back of his throat. Almost a whimper, but there’s a snarl wrapped around it. Steve almost laughs. He never knew this dark, twisted place existed inside of him, but now that he’s discovered it for Bucky, Steve’ll open the door; see what wild fantasies are let loose when he does.

Steve lets one of his hand slide down the front of Bucky’s body, fitting it between Bucky’s legs. Bucky releases a soft moan as he begins to harden under Steve’s grip.

“You weren’t very nice to me today,” Steve murmurs, “were you, little sub?”

His hand presses harder and Bucky stiffens further under his palm. Bucky’s mouth opens like he might want to say something, but no word is formed. Not even air comes out. Steve can’t truly bring himself to stay cross with Bucky for his behavior today, and certainly not any of what happened at the hospital. Still, Steve’s standing here, shaming Bucky, and Bucky wants it; like he needs Steve to purge him of his actions -- past and present -- to forgive him properly.

“You weren’t,” Steve answers his own question. “I didn’t like that. You hurt my feelings.”

“I’m…” Bucky swallows hard and heavy. Frightened, even, as though saying a word about it is an admission to the unholiest of sins. “I’m sorry, Sir…”

“Oh, I know.” Steve leans in and presses a chaste kiss to the corner of Bucky’s mouth. Nibbles gently on his lip. “We’re gonna make it all better. You’re gonna confess all your sins to me, baby.” He gives Bucky’s cock just enough of a squeeze that Bucky hisses with a whimper. “And everything’ll be okay. But first…” Steve squeezes again. Bucky whines. “You’re gonna give me the details of what you did, then I’ll make you forget.”

A blush fills Bucky’s whole face, traveling right up to the tips of his ears. He tries to duck his head down, but Steve’s hold on him prevents him from going anywhere.

“Hm?” Steve inches closer and ghosts a kiss right across Bucky’s mouth. “Don’t wanna tell me now? How about we do it this way…” His hand continues to rub against Bucky’s crotch, while his other keeps Bucky’s arms over his head. “Were you mad at me today?”

Bucky shakes his head as though Steve’s question is the most prosperous thing he’s ever heard.

“No!” He sighs, his lip beginning to tremble. “I wasn’t mad at you. I wasn’t, I wasn’t.”

For just a moment, Steve second-guesses himself. His expression softens, he relaxes his hold enough that if Bucky tried he could easily push him away. He’s not angry about any of this. While Bucky taking out his anger on him isn’t something he deserved, Steve understands. This day, in particular, was rough; Bucky was treated like garbage.

But when Steve tries to lighten up, Bucky’s eyes go wide. He shoves his groin right back into Steve’s hand and the frantic shake of his head tells Steve all he needs. Green. Bucky’s saying green. Steve keeps going.

“Mm. So you took it out on me?”

Bucky bites his lip. Whispers, “I’m sorry.”

“I won’t ever treat you like that,” Steve says. He hasn’t let Bucky move even an inch away from the wall or stopped rubbing his hand over his crotch, but Steve wants to get this out. “I will dominate you. I’ll accept any submission you’re willing to give. But you are my equal. And I will fight for that, understand me?”

Tears fill Bucky’s eyes. He makes an attempt to duck his head down, but Steve knots his fingers through his hair and won’t let him.

“Yes,” Bucky whispers. “I understand.”

“Okay. Good.” Steve helps himself to a kiss, invading Bucky’s mouth with his tongue. Bucky groans and tries to kiss him more when he moves away. “So,” Steve says. “You used to shoplift, hm? You used to take things that didn’t belong to you?”

“I… I…”

Bucky’s shivering all over. Maybe he’s cold. There’s a very good possibility. But he hasn’t answered beyond broke whines so Steve gives him a stone cold glare as if just daring him not to answer.

“Yes!” Bucky shouts when Steve starts vigorously rubbing over his sweats. “Yes, I did, I did!”

This next response, Steve is going to hate. He already knows the answer to it, even if they’ve never gone into great detail concerning his time on the streets.

“Don’t you know it’s not right to take things that don’t belong to you?” Steve asks. This time he presses himself against Bucky’s body, too. Grinds into him and necks at the back of his ear. “Are you some kind of wild animal?”

“Mm-mm, no, Sir…” Bucky gasps and might try to put his hands at Steve’s shoulders, but doesn’t dare move them away from the wall without permission. “But I needed… I… oh, please, take it out, Sir…”

“Take it out?” Steve questions. “Take what out exactly?”

“My dick.” Bucky’s panting, his head stuck between his raised arms and tilted up towards the ceiling. “Please, take my dick out, Sir…”

Your dick?” Steve scoffs. “You want me to take your dick out?”

Risky move, that, and Steve knows it. They haven’t consented to a real scene even though Steve’s already assumed the role of Bucky’s temporary Dom. But Bucky doesn’t oppose. He just whines. Squeezes his eyes closed tighter, a few more tears slipping out.

“N-no, Sir. Yours. Your dick, Sir.”

“So… this?” Steve gives Bucky’s dick a hard squeeze. “This right here belongs to me, right?”

“Yes!” Bucky yelps. “Oh, take it out, please!”

“Keep talking,” Steve murmurs. “Maybe I’ll take it out…”

Bucky whines, shows a few signs of frustrations like the way he grinds his teeth and jerks his knees, but otherwise gives Steve the answer he already knew.

“I… I needed to, Sir. To steal.” He cries anyway. “To take from people. That wasn’t mine. I was… I was hungry, Sir. And I… it was wrong, Sir, I know… I could’ve… a job, I could’ve gotten one, but I… I stole and I’m sorry…”

As much as Steve wants to wrap Bucky in his arms right now, stroke his hair, kiss him, make sweet, endless love to him, and assure him it’s okay, he’s safe, he’ll never have to be on his own again, he can’t. All that, for some reason, Steve hasn’t figure out, isn’t what Bucky is after. It’s not how he wants to absolve himself for the past and start fresh with Steve.

So, Steve sticks with his guts and continues with what they’ve started. Does his best to ignore those tears dripping from Bucky’s chin and keeps rubbing his hand against his cock.

“So, you just took what wasn’t yours?” Steve asks, and when Bucky, breathless and knees knocking together, nods, he scolds, firm and authoritative, “You were a bad boy then, weren’t you, little sub?”

Biting his lip, Bucky makes an embarrassing whimpering sound as he looks back to Steve helplessly. A big tear rolls from the corner of his eye. Leaning in, Steve gives Bucky’s mouth a chaste kiss before brushing the tear away. Bucky’s eyes close and he moans desperately.

“Say it,” Steve demands.

Bucky shakes his head, lip quivering. “Please, Sir…”

Steve changes tactics. Just a slightly different approach as he goes right on with his demand. He leans in, gently swiping hair away from Bucky’s ear.

Softly, calmly, he whispers, “Don’t worry, sweetheart. It's going to be okay. You're going to be okay. I'll take care of you. I take care of what’s mine. But first I need you to own up to what you did.”

A sob cracks through Bucky’s chest and his head drops right onto Steve’s shoulder. It rips Steve’s resolve right in half. No, he can’t just stand here while Bucky just cries. Half the tears might be a mix of adrenaline and endorphins while the other half are real, but Steve can’t just ignore them. He turns his head. Kisses them. One by one.

“Yes.” Bucky hiccups and admits, “I was… I was... a b- a bad boy, Sir.”

“Mm.” Steve nuzzles the spot between Bucky’s shoulder and neck. “I know, I know. It’s okay. Keep going. I’m gonna make it all better for you, little sub.”

He moves away and tells Bucky to keep his arms against the wall as he lowers Bucky’s pants just enough to let his erection free. The brim of the sweats skim just under Bucky’s testicles, and Bucky holds his breath as though worried Steve is going to simply pull the pants back up right away.

But Steve leaves the pants right where they are and smiles at Bucky’s swollen cock, all irritated and slightly purple from the material rubbing against it.

“Look at that pretty little cock,” Steve murmurs. “You want me to fix this, baby?” He smears a bit of precome over the head of Bucky’s dick. “Want me to make you feel real good?”

“Sir…” Bucky nods. “Yes… please… Sir…”

“I can do that. But.” Steve narrows his eyes. “You’ve got to finish telling me the things you’d say if you were trying to try con money out of me.”

Eyes going wide in shock, Bucky’s mouth drops open with a startled shake of his head. Red blossoms across his cheeks, his gaze falling even if he can’t let his head fall with it. Steve’s seen embarrassment flush through him before. This is so much more. The way his hips thrust against nothing. His adorable little whimper as he shakes his head.

“Oh, no…” he squeaks. “No, please… “

Steve chuckles darkly. “Did you just say no to me?”

“Mm,” Bucky whines and shakes his head. “I didn’t… no, Sir, I…”

“I think you should do what you’ve been told.”

That whine grows even more desperate and Bucky’s lip turns down. His eyes squeeze close, but when Steve lowers himself to his knees, he gasps and hurries to do something.

Oh…” He whines some more. Clocks his head back on the wall. “Please… Sir…”

Steve’s tongue touches the very tip of Bucky’s cock. Makes Bucky shudder and whimper.

“I suggest you start, love,” Steve whispers, licking Bucky’s cock from base to tip. “Go on, Bucky. Con me…”

Lips folding in, Bucky squeezes his eyes closed again, likely trying to keep those tears in and only making them roll out.

“I… I’m lost…”

Bucky’s voice is so quiet. Endearing. High-pitched enough it could even be considered childlike.

“You’re lost, huh?” Steve asks. “Where’re you trying to go?”

The place he says might be made up, Steve's certainly never heard of it before, but Bucky says it with such truthfulness, such conviction Steve would have no trouble believing him. Even when he pulls out a story so outlandish, so far-fetched, and yet Steve still can't help being drawn in by every word of it.

Strange, being so fascinated by a story while giving head. Steve works his mouth up and down Bucky’s cock as he gives his tall-tale, pausing every now and then as Steve speeds up or sucks harder.

“Keep going,” Steve has to encourage. “You’re not done.”

“It’s just that my little sister,” Bucky goes on to say, “is having surgery tomorrow, sir, and I promised my family that I’d be there.”

His voice lowers, and though Steve has both his hands pressed against the wall on either side of Bucky’s hips, he doesn’t touch him other than with his mouth. Steve pays special attention to sucking on him just the way he likes. He has to. With Bucky telling his story, and all Bucky -- hard as a rock and drowning in precome and need just crazed within his eyes -- can do is continue with his story.

A few tears sparkle in the corners of his eyes when he pauses again. He sniffles. Steve glances up as he continues to suck. This time, Bucky doesn’t need to be told to go on. He’s just making that helpless expression again. Needy and ashamed and liking it as Steve goes on to suck him off while making him repeat the story he used to tell people to con them.

“Please, sir, if you could just… just point me in the right direction,” he says. “I’m the only one with her blood type and if something goes wrong well…” Bucky sucks in a jagged breath and folds his lips in. “I’ll figure out how to there, I just need to know which way it is…”

And just like that, Steve understands Bucky’s angle. He’s not once mentioned money. And yet Steve knows that if he was out on the streets and heard this story out of Bucky’s mouth, he’d be giving him whatever cash he had on him. Going to the ATM if he didn’t have any. No doubt Bucky would say it wasn’t necessary. He’d thank him profusely just for offering but insist that he didn’t need it.

Steve would give it to him anyway. He’d get him the money even though Bucky didn’t ask for any and Bucky would walk away with his pockets full.

“Oh.” Steve chuckle darkly and lets Bucky’s dick fall from his mouth. He kisses up and down Bucky’s neck, behind his ear, and across his cheek. “You’d’ve had me eating out of the palm of your hand.”

Bucky doesn’t answer that. Not verbally, anyway. He does, however, take a glimpse down at his dick, so hard between his legs and pressed up against his belly and shiny with Steve’s spit. He probably doesn’t do it on purpose since the second he flicks his eyes back up, his head thuds back against the wall and he thrusts uselessly at the air.

“How do you feel about that, hm?” Steve asks. “About me eating out of the palm of your hand?”

Without given Bucky a chance to think of an answer, Steve takes a tight grip around his dick; starts to jerk him off like there’s no tomorrow, vigorously moving his hand up and down it makes Bucky scream out, “Fuck!” and try, to no avail, thrust in rhythm with Steve’s movements.

Answer me, little sub.” Steve ignores the crazed lust in Bucky, how much he needs this. He just keeps him pinned to the wall while he thrusts wildly into his hand. “Now.”

The expression on Bucky’s face begins to unravel. Steve still doesn’t slow his hand. He doesn’t loosen his grip. He just keeps going and going. Not even when Bucky shakes his head in a most obvious lie, but to be honest, Steve’s not so sure Bucky’s aware he’s lying.

“N-No, Sir. I wouldn’t want you eating out of… of…” Bucky’s face contorts, his words frittering away to nothing but sounds. “Mmm, Sir-- ah… I'm gonna…”

“Oh, don’t you dare.”

Bucky’s eyes snap open. They don’t quite focus on Steve, or on anything at all really. He makes a pitiful little sound in the back of his throat, the start of an argument, maybe, but all he gets out is, “...Sir.” His best attempt at begging. “I-- can’t… please.”

“No,” Steve replies. “You don’t come until I say you can.”

At this, Steve abruptly changes tactics. Over the years, he’s learned techniques ranging from basic to intermediate to advanced. Every partner is different, of course, but these few months with Bucky have taught Steve a thing or two and he knows how to change strategies just right. He grabs hold of the base of Bucky’s cock, tight and hard, stilling his hand.

He lets his thumb trail over the head, rubbing circles in the drooling precome, and slides his hand up slowly. So slowly that Bucky lets out an almost painful howl.

“You’re not going to come, Bucky,” Steve growls right in Bucky’s ear. Nibbles on it. Sucks on it. Kisses it. Then says, soft, and calmly, barely even a whisper, “You’re going to be my good boy and listen and wait until I say you can. You can do that, can’t you? Be my good boy? Don’t you want to be my good boy?”

A few deep, heavy breaths, and then the tension begins to melt out of Bucky’s body. Not all of it. Not by any means. He picks his head back up to find Steve’s eyes. Looks right into them, deep and unblinking.

Sir…” Bucky breathes; sucks in a deep breath when Steve drags his thumb across that oversensitive tip again to spread all that precome. He nods. “Yes.” And swallows. “Yes, I can be good. For you.”

Heart swelling to sizes Steve didn’t even think possible, he wonders for a moment if it’s entirely possible to explode from feeling too much at once. This is all he’s ever wanted. Someone who wants him--no. Someone who needs him. Someone? Not even that’s right anymore. There is no someone. It’s Bucky.

This is all he could ever want -- ever need. Bucky wanting him. Needing him in a way that no other person could give to him. Same as Steve doesn’t just want to take care of Bucky. It’s a built-in need for him now. Sewn and stitched into the fabric of who he is.

“That’s is, little sub,” Steve whispers. “Just a little more. You can do it.”

Steve’s hands are all over him. Caressing his face, his shoulders, his body. All he can do is devour every inch of Bucky as he can.

A thought passes through Steve’s mind. Bucky spoke of other men. Of the things he did to pay the fines for broken contracts. Steve scowls at the wall, his stomach turning to ash.

”Tell me about the others, Bucky,” Steve demands. “Tell me about the guys you fucked. Were they better than me?”

Mouth going slack, Bucky attempts to answer behind the groan that comes out when Steve cups his testicles. He doesn’t do anything to them. Just waits for an answer. All he gets at first is a whine, all pitchy, all over the place. Unshed tears glisten in his eyes. Bucky tries to blink them away.

“N-no, Sir.” Bucky quickly shakes his head. “None of them. You’re the best. Swear. I swear it.”

“Oh, how flattering.” Steve says it with a dead, flat voice, but if there’s any truth to that, and good lord he hopes there is, he’d fly away on that alone. “All those guys, huh? Were you their little sub, too?”

The thought of it just kills Steve. It’s all wrong. This is an obsession. Steve’s never felt so possessive of someone before. The idea of anyone else putting their hands on Steve’s property just sets him off to no end. Stronger than any emotion he’s ever felt. He never knew he’d be this person. To be honest, Steve’s not sure how to be, but having Bucky here, trusting him to be it, is all he needs right now.

“Oh, no.” Bucky’s face falls as though such a thing is unimaginable and even hurts to think about. “Sir, no. Just yours.”

Nothing could sound better than that, the words like an actual song. He feels a spark of electricity go off at such a declaration, making him suddenly lightheaded. Steve kisses him long and hard and deep. His own reward.

“That’s right. Mine.” His heart and soul pulse with the idea. Maybe it can still be true. “Because you’re you’re my little sub.”

“Y-yes.” Bucky nods. Feverishly. “Your property. Y-yours, Sir.”

Steve can’t help but moan at that. Even his own cock twitches. He should get ahold of himself, really. This is just a scene, nothing more. Bucky’s not really his. Steve’s not sure if, after this legal forty-eight hour period is up, Bucky will want to keep their protection agreement in effect. Still.

“God, I fucking want you,” Steve murmurs. Holds Bucky’s cheeks between his hands and kisses all over his face. “All of you.”

Bucky, his arms still up and against the wall, though he’s definitely having some difficulty keeping them there, gasps as he kisses back when Steve reaches his lips.

“You… do?” Bucky pants and rubs himself against Steve’s leg when he slips it between Bucky’s. “You still want me? Even though I...?”

Yes, little sub,” Steve says. He pushes his leg against Bucky’s crotch some more. “Yes, I do.”

“But… but, Sir…”

No.” Steve steadies him by his shoulders. “You wanted to admit everything, right? Confess your sins to your Dom?”

Not his Dom, not really, but close enough right now.

Bucky’s face crumples with a nod. “Yes, Sir.”

“Well…” Steve goes on to pull little red marks out along Bucky’s clavicles. They’ll fade by the time he’s legally allowed to leave. “Now you have. And it's all okay, little sub. You've been a good boy for me. Did everything I asked. You’re such a good boy.”

Oh… Sir…” Bucky cries. “Can I touch you now? Please, lemme touch you.”

“Mhm.”

Steve's too busy sucking on Bucky’s neck to answer more. The next thing he knows, Bucky’s arms are wrapped around his neck, his leg hooking around his waist. Doesn't seem to matter that Steve is fully dressed and it's his jeans rubbing against him, Bucky keeps on grinding into him, needy and desperate.

“Sir… mmm… I… oh god,” Bucky groans. “More… please, more…”

“Hang onto me, little sub,” Steve whispers into his ear. “Tightly.”

The second Steve feels Bucky’s limbs take a good grip on him, Steve hoists him into the air so he can carry him into the bedroom. Tonight is not the night for toys or ropes or paddles. Steve lays him gently on the mattress, pulling his sweats all the way down and off with his foot. He smiles down at him.

“How pretty you are,” Steve murmurs. “My little sub.” He combs his fingers through Bucky’s soft, silky hair. “Don’t you close those eyes.”

Bucky, who probably didn’t even realize he’d closed them, opens his eyes and finds Steve’s. A blush runs through his cheeks and makes his cock give a little jump. Steve grins, and thinks, even if it’s not a night for toys or ropes or paddles, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good time to use something else.

Up at the corner post of his bed, Steve pulls on the cord. The dark, thin cloth that covers underneath the top paneling over the bed rolls back, revealing a one-piece mirror. Bucky gasps and turns his head away. Steve takes him by the chin and guides his gaze back.

“Mm-mm.” Steve leans in and kisses him long and hard, and Bucky moans, parting his legs to get them around Steve to lock him in closer. Even with Steve fully dressed. “I want you to see yourself,” Steve coos. Orders, really, as soft as it is. “You keep those eyes open and on yourself as I make you feel good. You got it, little sub?”

“Yes,” Bucky squeaks. Eyes moving from Steve’s to the mirrors to Steve’s again, as though he’s not sure where to look--not with Steve still right here but with an order given. “I… Sir, I’m--”

“Such a good boy.” He pecks his nose. Slowly running his hand up and down. “Trying so hard to follow my orders. See? What did I tell you? Say it, little sub. Say it and mean it.”

Bucky, shivering and breathless, makes an embarrassed noise in the back of his throat, his skin flushing and dick pulsing. But he nibbles on his lip and opens his out to follow Steve’s directions.

“I’m a good boy,” he whispers. “Sir. I'm a good boy--oh, please, lemme come…”

“Almost,” Steve murmurs. He knows Bucky’s still watching, but asks anyway, “You're still watching yourself, little sub? Still listening like a good boy?”

“Oh, yes… yes, Sir, I promise, I swear!”

“Ah, that's cause you're such a good boy for me.”

Bucky cries out Steve's name this time, unable to hold back tears and more unadulterated shouts. Every inch of his body quakes beneath Steve. He bites down on his lip so hard it might bleed. He's trying so hard to keep his eyes open and focused on the mirror above him, but at this point, the poor boy is concentrating so hard on not coming without permission that it isn't any wonder they keep closing. Tiny little noises keep getting trapped in his throat. Sweat drips down his face.

This is everything Steve could have ever dreamed of. Bucky slowly coming apart by Steve's voice and touch alone. No toys or bonds or anything else. Just Steve. Whose hand still pumps slowly over that sweet, sweet, full and needy cock.

Steve puts his lips right at Bucky’s ear. Whispers, “Come for me, little sub.”

All the air rushes out of Bucky’s lungs, almost as though it’s been punched right out of him. His face twists up, his limbs locking around Steve’s neck despite no permission to do so.

Bucky screams as the orgasm hits, Steve working him through it. Bucky even does his best to keep his eyes open and watch himself in the mirrors above, though Steve had no intention of making him do so.

“That’s it,” Steve whispers as streaks of white still pump out onto his hand. “There you go. Let it all out. You did so well for me. What a good boy you are.”

Still shaking and shivering, sweat-soaked and dazed, Bucky gives a tug at the belt-loops of Steve’s pants. It’s weak and accompanied by a tiny whine, but Steve gets the idea. He comes forward. Straddles over Bucky’s chest where expert fingers make quick work of his zipper.

Steve allows this. Until now, he hadn’t paid much attention to his own need between his legs. Now that Bucky’s made him notice it, it’s hard to ignore the growing ache. The fullness that grows even harder when Bucky takes it out.

There’s no preamble or warm up. Even with exhaustion giving way to a long and hard day, endorphins rushing and probably starting to run low, Bucky just takes him into his mouth. Lets his lips slowly reach Steve’s belly before pulling back again. His tongue runs along Steve’s slit, circles the head, and then sucks him in again.

“Oh, fuck,” Steve breathes, unable to stay upward and needing to use to wall for support. “Oh… Bucky…”

No way is this going to take long. Steve’s elbows are already shaking, his head spinning. His balls tighten and he just can’t help himself. Steve takes hold of Bucky’s head to keep him still. Bucky’s eyes light up as though Steve’s just given him a marvelous gift; to be used in such a way.

All it takes is three thrusts before Steve is exploding into Bucky’s mouth, grunting his name in amazed appreciation. For just a few seconds Steve forgets all about today. Forgets about the world and its cruelty. For those few seconds, it’s just him and Bucky, wrapped in a gossamer blanket of ecstasy.

A bit of come strings between the tip of Steve’s dick and Bucky’s mouth when Steve pulls out.

“Shit,” Steve mutters, kicking his pants all the way off and trying to get back to Bucky. “I’m… sorry, I’ll… I’m…”

That’s when he realizes that he’s made a mess of Bucky’s hair as well by just grabbing hold of it the way he did when his hand was still covered in his release. All Bucky is doing is laying there, watching him. No subspace, Steve doesn’t think. There’s something of a smile on his face. Almost like he’s going to laugh. A good sign, at least.

“Are you okay?” Steve asks. “Feel all right?”

“Yeah,” Bucky whispers. “Was I a good boy, Sir?”

Petting a hand over the clean side of Bucky’s head, Steve nods and kisses Bucky’s cheek.

“A very good boy, little sub. I couldn’t ask for a better submissive.”

Eyes shining, Bucky covers his face with both hands and giggles into them. Well, isn’t that adorable.

“Think you can sit up?” Steve asks. “So I can clean you off? I, uh, sorta made a mess of you.”

Bucky chuckles. “Worth it.”

Though it’s with the aid of several pillows, Bucky does sit up and manages to stay up -- after a little bit of swaying and more giggling. So maybe subspace is on the border of Bucky’s mind.

Along with the array of toys Steve keeps in his room, he keeps things that may be useful in aftercare. The mini-fridge, for example, where he keeps chocolate and cookies and water. Steve also has washcloths and spray bottles. Hairbrushes.

Steve’s already made sure Bucky’s had some sips of water. He’s wiped Bucky’s skin clean with the washcloth. The semen, the sweat. He’s now working on Bucky’s hair, having sprayed warm water into it. Steve’s brushing it out. It’s so soft, and Bucky has a warm, pleasant grin on his face. He’s glowing. Silent, but glowing. Steve presses a kiss to the back of his neck.

“How’re you feeling?”

Bucky hums and puts a hand on Steve’s wrist. Nuzzles his cheek against the top of Steve’s hand.

“Good.”

“Better?” Steve asks. “It was a hard day.”

Bucky sits up and looks over his shoulder, hand still holding onto Steve’s. He brings it to his lips and kisses.

“I… yeah.” He pauses. “Steve?”

Bucky says his name with uncertainty, as if unsure he should be using it at all. Scenes are one thing. Steve isn't a stickler for the whole honorific thing at all times. Besides, in another day, he has no idea if he’ll ever hear Bucky use his name again.

“Hm?” Steve takes the fingers Bucky’s still holding and sucks the very tip of his metal finger into his mouth. “Yeah, Buck?”

First, Bucky jolts, staring wide-eyed at what Steve is doing. He then sighs contently. Steve has no idea if some part of him can feel what he’s doing or if it’s just that Steve is doing it, but either way, Bucky smiles adoringly.

Still, he asks, “Are you mad at me?”

Surprised at the question, Steve gently puts his hand at the back of Bucky’s head to guide him in close. He kisses his hair and hugs him tight.

“No, Bucky,” he murmurs. “I was never mad at you.” Steve rethinks that. “Maybe slightly annoyed when you were yelling at me, but not mad.”

Glancing up from the warm embrace of Steve’s arms, Bucky’s long lashes blink over apologetic eyes. He buries his face again and mumbles something into Steve’s skin, adding several light kisses to the spot. Steve doesn’t catch all of Bucky’s word, but he knows the gist of it. He cups the back of Bucky’s head.

“I did bad things, Steve.”

“So you did bad things, Bucky,” Steve says. “When you needed to. That doesn’t make you a bad person.”

“How do you do that?” Bucky asks. “How do you see someone… that I don’t see?”

“Maybe it’s because you’re not looking at the right person.”

Steve pecks the top of Bucky’s head when Bucky’s arms tighten around his waist. When he feels Bucky shiver, Steve realizes that there’s still a lot more aftercare he needs to provide for his little sub.

“Come on,” Steve says as he pulls the covers back. “Let’s get you under the blankets.”

Bucky makes the quietest of whines when Steve tries to peels Bucky off of him. Steve chuckles at the pouty look he gets as Bucky climb under the blankets, only receiving a smile when he promises he’ll be joining him in just a minute.

“I’m just gonna go to the kitchen,” he explains. “I want you to have more than just the chocolate I have in here.”

A smile touches Bucky’s lips. “Oh. Okay, then.”

Once Bucky knows there’s going to be cuddling involved, he makes himself comfortable in the pillows--all very happy to be part of his excitement.

“You’re sure you’re okay?” Steve asks. “Stable? Warm? You need more water?”

“Mm-mm.” Bucky shakes his head. “I’m just fine, thank you. I can handle a scene, Sir, y’know.”

Steve scoffs. “You are a brat.”

Dropping a kiss to the back of Bucky’s shoulder, Steve rolls out of bed and gives him a light swat on the ass.

“You’ll be right back?” Bucky asks.

“Yeah.” Steve rethinks running to the kitchen. “Unless you need me to stay. Do you need me to stay?”

Bucky smothers his face down into the pillows with a shake of his head as he shoos Steve away with his foot. The pillows don’t really seem to care. They like him. Better than Steve, Steve thinks.

“Sit tight, babe.”

In the kitchen, Steve grabs an apple and takes a minute to slice it up. Natural sugar for aftercare will be good. There’s still a few slices of pizza left. Deciding Bucky hasn’t had enough to eat -- really, just a few pieces of candy in addition to the bit of pizza he had after such a day is not enough -- Steve tosses two slices into the toaster oven to reheat them. The water is good though. That’s why Steve’s got his mini-fridge in the bedroom.

Food all ready, Steve takes it all back to the bedroom to spoil his extravagant submissive. Who he’d gladly cover in diamonds and paint head to toe in gold.

Only when he gets to the bedroom, Steve finds Bucky, still naked, standing right in front of the bed. When Bucky sees Steve’s return, he lowers himself to his knees. It’s like a dance. Fluid, graceful -- one move an extension of the next. He looks up at Steve that way. Ice over a blue ocean though long, black lashes and Steve hits a wall.

Bucky isn’t hard, even if the feel of arousal still floats through the room, clinging to the sheets and blankets and pillows. He stays on his knees for just a few heartbeats before falling forward so that he’s on all fours. Steve’s heart drums hard and heavy beneath his ribs, though no matter how badly he longs to ask what’s going on, he can’t come up with the words. Not even when Bucky begins to crawl over to him.

Frozen in his spot, Steve just waits until Bucky reaches him. When he does, Bucky doesn’t lift back up. He doesn’t look up. He doesn’t speak.

Bucky’s lips press against the top of Steve’s feet. Both of them. He stays down low, almost in the Venerate position, as if worshipping Steve’s feet. But Bucky doesn’t stop there. What Bucky does next makes Steve’s head spin.

Lifting Steve’s foot, Bucky gently rests it over his head for a second before placing it down on the floor and kissing it again. Third Obeisance--such an old, traditional position, Steve’s never actually heard of it being used outside of history books.

“I can be good, Sir,” Bucky whispers, still down low enough he might as well be talking to Steve’s feet. “I know how to behave, I promise.”

“Bucky… I…”

“I know I wasn’t today.” He rises a little. Unsure at first and then more when Steve doesn’t stop him. Bucky ends up in a Kneeling position, backside resting on his heels. “I know I wasn’t a good boy, but I can be. I swear.”

He’s pale again. This time with worry and fear all over his face rather than the pain Steve mistook as just anger and irritation.

“Honey, what’re you talking about?”

“Punish me, Sir, however you want to.” Bucky is so sure about everything he’s saying. It’s a knife cutting through Steve, one assumption after the next. “Just, please… please, don’t let me go.”

“Punish you?” The words sit on Steve’s tongue like poison. Bland and tasteless yet ready to rush through his body to silently kill him. “You think I’m going to punish you, Bucky? Because of what happened today?”

Steve drops the dishes of food onto his dresser and is ready to rush over to his bed. Of course, he has every intention of bringing Bucky with him, but before he can go anywhere, Bucky is grabbing hold of his hand and clinging on so tight he practically pulls Steve to the floor.

“No, please!” Bucky begs. “Please, punish me, Sir. You can do whatever you want, I can take it, I swear. You can whip me, put me in chastity, stock me, lend me out…” He presses his face against Steve’s palm. And then abruptly starts crying. “Just, please, don’t get rid of me.”

“Bucky, stop.”

The second the words -- the order, really -- are out of Steve’s mouth, Bucky is snapping to attention. He immediately has his hands behind his back. His chin is up. Shoulders back. Every intention of showing he can be good and listen.

Hand on the back of Bucky’s neck, Steve guides him back towards the bed with him. While Steve sits down on the edge of the bed, he lets Bucky stay kneeling. A bit of grounding and anchoring as he takes to holding his face between his hands. Gently.

“Is that what you thought, baby?” Steve asks. “That I was going to release you after tomorrow?”

A single tear rolls down Bucky’s cheek. Steve wipes it away with his thumb as Bucky nods.

“Why would you want to keep me?” Bucky asks. “After how I acted today?”

And all this time, Steve had been thinking Bucky would want to be the one to end the agreement. Quite the pair they make. Steve needs to fix this.

Steve pets a hand over Bucky’s head. Guides him into a Nestle position so that he’s cuddled between his legs with his head resting in his lap.

“You know,” he says, softly, “I thought you were going to ask to leave the agreement.”

Head still in Steve’s lap, Bucky’s eyes glide up to his. A few tears dance along his lashes, but Steve can’t miss the surprise behind them.

“Steve… I…”

“Sh, sh…” Steve hushes him. Lets him keep his head down as he runs fingers through his hair. “You don’t have to apologize. I’m supposed to make you feel safe and protected. I didn’t do a very good job of that today.”

Bucky buries his face in Steve’s thigh. A few tears drop on Steve’s skin as Steve runs his hand over his head.

“You might not be my contracted submissive,” Steve says, “but I’m giving you a standing rule to communicate as best as you can with me. I need to know when you’re feeling off so that I can help.”

Steve understands how hard that is. Truly and honestly, he really does. He knows the harsh claws of anxiety and how they dig into the flesh, tightening around the throat and make it so hard to breathe, hard to think. But Steve can’t be a good Dominant if his submissive, even just one he’s protecting, doesn’t communicate with him.

“I was so scared.” Barely the breath of a voice as Bucky snuggles closer to Steve. “I punched a Dominant in the face.”

Hand at Bucky’s chin, Steve gently tilts his gaze up to meet his. Bucky’s eyes are still watery, but no longer overflowing.

“And I’m proud of you for that,” Steve says. “I don’t think I got the chance to tell you.” Not with everything else that happened. “You did exactly what I’d want you to do if you were my sub.”

“I did? Really?”

Steve hauls him up onto his lap. Wraps him in a blanket and rubs circles on his back.

“No one gets to treat you like that, Bucky. And you have every right to defend yourself. Maybe some of the world says otherwise, but you will never get that from me. In fact--” Steve kisses and nibbles a little on Bucky’s neck, just enough to get a reaction from him. “--the thought of you knockin’ that guy around kinda turns me on.”

Bucky snorts and when he lifts his head away from Steve’s shoulder, for the first time today, he looks like the Bucky he Steve knows. Sauce little smirk turned up on his lips. Smart ass remark ready to go.

“Oh yeah?” He fixes his shoulders back and holds his fists up. “Sexy as fuck, huh?”

Always sexy. There’s nothing not sexy about him and Steve leans in to kiss his throat. Every inch of skin exposed he starts to kiss. He just can’t help it. Throat and neck and shoulders.

“You’re amazing.” He taps the spot on Bucky’s neck where his collar once sat. “And I’ll try my best to assure you that you’re safe with me. I’m sorry, little sub. If I wasn’t doing my job well enough. And Bucky?”

“Sir?”

You are a good boy. So far, I’ve had no reason to punish you.”

Eyes glistening, Bucky releases a heavy breath, close to a whimper, and he throws his arms around him.

They stay like that for an immeasurable amount of time. Steve keeps the temperature in the room warm and the blanket is still around them, so Bucky should be all right. He doesn’t appear to be in any discomfort, even still being naked. Every now and then, Bucky’s lips kiss the side of Steve’s neck. On any other night, that might bring him back to arousal, but tonight, it’s just a nice, sweet exchange of affection.

Their eyes are locked, the air stirring up something strange and hot within the room. It’s buzzing. Electric. Steve’s never quite felt anything like it before. Almost like standing on the precipice of the grandest drop that will change his life forever.

“Bucky?” Steve says. “Do you think, maybe, it’d be okay if I told you that I might be falling in love with you?”

Sure it’s the wrong thing to’ve said, Steve feels like he’s been punched in the stomach. The way Bucky looks at him, as though Steve’s slapped him, this was too fast, too soon. Steve should’ve known better. So much better, what the hell was he thinking.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t’ve… I mean… I don’t know why I…” Steve rubs the spot between his eyes. “You don’t have to… just forget I…”

But Bucky grabs him by the front of the shirt and shuts his rambling up with a hard, passionate kiss. Not the most elegant. Their teeth scrape together and their lips smack and at least Bucky feels comfortable enough again to do something like this. Steve’ll take it.

“Is that an order, Sir?” Bucky asks. Wise ass tone lacing his voice. “Do I have to forget?”

The teasing makes Steve smile. He shakes his head lightly, leaning in once again to press a kiss to Bucky’s throat. This time, Steve doesn’t let up. Instead, he suckles the spot, harder and harder until there’s a hand on the back of his hand, keeping him there. Bucky’s head tilts back and he releases a long, hearty moan.

Steve doesn’t let up either. Not when Bucky begins to whimper or shake or rake his fingers through Steve’s hair. He squirms on Steve’s lap when Steve nips at the dark red hickey.

“I’m waiting, little sub,” Steve growls. “Is it okay? Yes or no?”

“Yes,” he groans. “Yes, Sir, yes. More than okay. Very okay…”

Chuckling against Bucky’s throat, Steve gives him one last suck before finally pulling away. Little beads of sweat dot the very edge of Bucky’s brow. He’s slightly out of breath, his cock just stirring between his legs.

Cheeks flushing, Bucky giggles and touches the brand new hickey, pressing his finger into his skin as though looking to give himself the surge of pain it brings. When his fingers touch his neck, though, his eyes go wide. Not with the discomfort of touching the hickey, but from something else. Something he clearly didn’t expect. Something he’s only just noticed.

“What?” Steve asks. Worried now. Maybe he pushed a little too much. “What is it?”

“My, um, I mean, your Collar of Protection…” Bucky folds his lips in. “The, y’know, the special one you bought me?”

Still out in the living room where Bucky ripped it off. On the coffee table where’s it’s been since earlier. Just alone and discarded.

“Yeah?” Steve cups Bucky’s cheek. “What about it?”

“I was just wondering…” Bucky hesitates but must keep Steve’s new order at heart. “Am I allowed to… to have it back?” Before Steve can even have the chance to answer, Bucky rambles on, “I understand if I can’t or if you want me to earn back, it makes sense, I didn’t treat you fairly today, Sir, and that wasn’t right of me, and--”

“Bucky, what did I just tell you?”

A pair of sheepish eyes glace up at him, and, really, it’s not fair just how beautiful and adorable this kid is. Submissive, yes, but he’s already got Steve wrapped around his finger. Steve will dote and spoil and cherish him with every breath in his body.

“About… which part?”

“About punishing you.”

“That you… weren’t gonna?”

Steve smiles. “That’s right. You were wronged today, Bucky. No, it wasn’t okay for you to take it out on me, but your reasons were understandable. We’ve talked about them. As far as I’m concerned, we’re okay. So.” He adjusts Bucky’s position a little. Keeps both his hands on Bucky’s hips. “Do you want your collar back?”

Bucky, who’s still on Steve’s lap, hasn’t exactly been given permission to move out of it, doesn't. Instead, he glances up with his eyes, hopeful and excited, and nods.

“Good.” Steve kisses Bucky’s temple. “Then go get it. Come back and get into a Collaring position.”

The way he hops off of Steve’s lap makes him wonder if Bucky’s forgotten they’ve scened just a little while ago. His limbs move like wet noodles, his body swaying side to side.

“Whoa, there,” Steve says, keeping his hands at Bucky’s sides. “Don’t rush. I’ll still be here when you get back.”

Eyes glowing, Bucky drops his hands on Steve’s shoulders and plants a kiss on his mouth. It shocks Steve for a second. The feel of Bucky’s mouth against his, that tongue slipping through his parted lips, his taste--it’s all so much all at once. Enough that he considers pulling Bucky back onto his lap.

Steve holds back though and instead thinks of another idea. He’s still got his hands on Bucky’s hips. He gives a little push down.

“Wouldn’t want you falling,” he murmurs. “Why don’t you crawl for me?”

Bucky’s pupils blow wide as he drops to his knees onto the plush carpet, a bit breathless and dazed.

“Can you be a good boy for me, Bucky?” Steve asks. “Can you do that?”

“Yes,” Bucky whispers, dreamily. “Yes, Sir.”

He lowers himself to all fours then and starts to turn around. So impressive. So beautiful. Long limbs rolling forward, back arched just slightly. Such a sight to behold. Steve can’t help letting his fingers trail along Bucky’s spine before he’s too far away to do it.

Goosebumps rise over his skin. A shiver passes through him. Steve gives a light tap on his ass and Bucky chuckles.

It doesn’t take Bucky long to come back with the collar, but Steve can’t say he isn’t impressed when he does. Though he didn’t give specific instructions regarding the matter, Bucky comes back with it in his mouth. He holds it by the lace at the edges, clamped gently between his front teeth.

“Such a good boy,” Steve whispers and gets a bright smile from Bucky around the black lace he’s holding onto. He points to the spot in front of him. “Right here.”

Once Bucky gets there, Steve takes the collar, gingerly, from Bucky’s mouth and holds each end in both hands while Bucky gets into the position he’s been told. Kneeling with his legs spread, wrists crossed behind his back. Head lowering.

“This was never not yours, little sub,” Steve murmurs as he leans in to put his collar back around his neck. “It’s yours unless you don’t want it.”

Steve tests it. Makes sure it’s not too tight, checks with Bucky that it’s to his comfort before guiding him back up. There’re tears in Bucky’s eyes. Not overflowing. They just glisten in the dim light of Steve’s bedroom. Bucky wipes at them when he smiles.

“I’m tired,” he whispers. “Can we sleep now?”

Smiling, Steve presses a long kiss right in the center of Bucky’s brow before resting his own on the same spot.

“Yeah,” he says. “C’mon. Let's get you some real rest. And tomorrow I’ll spoil you with massages and bubble baths and chocolate?”

Bucky grins. “Sounds like something I can get used to, Sir.”

“Well.” Steve chuckles. “If you ever agree to be my sub you and Tony are going to be competing for the most spoiled.”

“Is that so?” Bucky’s making himself comfortable against the pillows. His fingers graze over his collar. “So just a few more ‘yeses’ from me and I’ll be lavishing in all the riches you have to offer, huh?”

“I may not have much to offer, little sub.” Steve crawls over him and licks his cheek, getting Bucky to roll into a fit of giggles as he shoves away from him. “But you’ll feel like the richest sub alive, I promise you that.”

For just a second, Bucky casts a longing stare at him, as though he’s not seen him years. A grin then slowly grows wide on his face. Bucky takes Steve’s chin in between his fingers and gives him a soft, sensual kiss.

“Sometimes, Sir,” he murmurs, “I already feel that way.”

They’re quiet for a few seconds, just staring into each other's eyes. Something peaceful whispers through the room. Steve can’t quite put a name to it, but it’s there and it gently brushes against them like soft velvet.

Then a blush fills Bucky’s cheeks. “So… sleep?”

Before any sleep can happen, Steve goes back to his dresser for that plate of apples, forgetting about the pizza. Bucky immediately snuggles up against his chest when Steve gets under the covers with him. He even twines their legs together as though seeing to it that he goes nowhere.

Steve feeds him apple slices as he whispers more words of endearments to him. Tells him how good he was for him and how proud of him he is. Pets him and kisses him. Bucky gets through two and a half slices before he’s snoozing away on Steve’s chest.

As Steve feels sleep beginning to take him, eyes getting droopy and darkness beginning to creep in, there’s only one last thing he knows needs to be said on this day of weeds to sprinkle all the beauty that no one ever pauses to see.

“Bucky Barnes,” he whispers, “I will love you till the day I die.”