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Things Done on Purpose and Things Overlooked

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Most days, Bucky’s not even sure why he still hangs out with Sam.

That’s a lie. Honestly, it probably has a lot to do with the first time they met. Bucky had eyed Sam from across the bar and spent enough time staring at his hands that it was definitely bordering on creepy. Sam’s fingers were long and delicate but strong and Bucky wanted to know exactly what they looked like wrapped around his headboard.

So Bucky had done he did best and sauntered across the room, hands wrapped loosely around a beer bottle of his own and hair artfully tousled to give it that perfect, bed-head-but-not-too-messy look. He had smiled a winning smile and looked up through his lashes at a carefully calculated angle; one he knew that when combined with his tightest jeans and the v-neck shirt that was just this side of transparent were a killer combination that had brought many a strong-willed man to their knees.

Sam had taken one look at Bucky, eyes traveling from the tattoo curling loosely across his collarbone to the laces of his worn-but-still-stylish converse, before laughing and saying, “I appreciate the effort but you are barking so far up the wrong tree.” The comment should have stung but Sam had immediately followed it with another appreciative glance and a “But congratulations on your ass in those jeans man, very nice”.

Bucky didn’t like to think of himself as a quitter, so he had stubbornly stuck around even though Sam proved to be painfully straight if for no other reason than that Sam also had nice biceps and kind eyes and an endless parade of equally straight, annoying relationships.

It was the eyes that were getting him now. Sam has the uncanny ability to give puppy dog eyes while somehow also exuding an air of general disappointment in all of Bucky’s life decisions.

“So what do you think?” Sam asks, watching Bucky carefully over the rim of his glass.

“I don’t know,” Bucky says, pulling a face as he takes a swig of his own beer. “I don’t really want a roommate right now.”

“Bullshit.” Sam also has the worst habit of calling Bucky out on his lies. “I have listened to you complain about the cost of living alone in Brooklyn every weekend for the past year, at least.”

“Okay, fine.” Bucky’s willing to concede that point but he still rolls his eyes just on principal. “I wouldn’t mind someone to share the financial load, but I don’t want to live with a stranger.”

“Don’t know why. You’re strange enough yourself.”

“Ha, ha, very funny.” Bucky tries, really tries to glare at Sam, but between the two shots and four beers he’s already consumed and the affection for his friend, it turns into something more like a grimace.

Bucky had kind of hoped that would be the end of it, but Sam was apparently relentless in his quest to get Bucky to let a stranger into his personal space. “You guys have a ton in common.”

Bucky raises an eyebrow at that as he drains the last of his beer. It was remarkably coordinated for the amount of alcohol in his bloodstream. “We have taking our clothes off for money in common, Sam. I don’t think that’s exactly a basis for a lifelong friendship.”

“Well first off, you don’t have to be best friends with him. Steve’s a good guy-“

“Who strips for a living.”

“-a really good guy,” Sam finishes, giving Bucky The Look that usually meant he was either tired of Bucky’s shit or disappointed in him as a person. Usually it was a combination of both. “That’s a little ‘pot calling the kettle black’ of you, isn’t it, Barnes?”

“I never said I was a good guy,” says Bucky.

Sam stares at him and now Bucky can definitely see the exasperation on his face. “We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one.”

Bucky shifts a little in his seat, feeling distinctly uncomfortable. He was all for a good ribbing now and then from his friends, but he was much less equipped to handle compliments. As expected, he lasts about ten seconds into the silence that followed before declaring, “I’m going to get another drink. Want one?” Sam wordlessly hands over his empty glass and Bucky makes for the bar with the determination of a man steadfastly ignoring good common sense.

Bucky Barnes: Master of Deflection.

If he was lucky, maybe Sam would even forget about trying to push some guy Bucky had never met on him.

Bucky has not ever, and will never be, a lucky person, so as soon as he sits down and pushes a frosted glass across the table to him, Sam says, “So? What’s your answer?”

Bucky sighs heavily. He doesn’t even care that he’s coming off pouty; he feels pouty and he’d love for Sam to know that Bucky’s current mood is entirely his fault. Bucky has a hard enough time managing his own life these days without other people coming along making it more difficult, thank you very much. Then he sighs again for dramatic effect as Sam watches him with one eyebrow raised and a slight smile on his smug face. Sam has never been especially taken in by Bucky’s theatrics, damn him.

“Fine,” Bucky says finally. “But only because my landlord raised my rent another hundred a month. Tell him to come by tomorrow. Oh, and Sam?” Bucky does his best to fix Sam with his own version of The Look. Judging by Sam’s face, it is not very effective. “If he shows up before noon, I’m killing you in your sleep.”

 

---

 

Bucky leaves Sam at the bar around eleven to head to work. He’s pleasantly drunk and the October air is brisk but not freezing yet, and he’s in an all-together better mood than when they’d arrived. He always enjoys spending time with Sam, even if he feels like a garbage person for having to lie through his damn teeth every time he talks about work.

Although, to be fair, it isn’t a complete lie, as he liked to tell himself whenever the guilt caught up to him too badly. He had been a stripper for a while and he had even enjoyed himself a little doing it. Bucky’s never shied away from attention and the feeling of all of those appreciative eyes on him had been nice, and the money that those people had slipped him had been even nicer. It was just that, at the end of the day, he needed more money than he could make shaking his ass on a stage for a couple hours every night.

So he’d resorted to selling it instead.

It hadn’t exactly been a difficult transition. It was still showmanship, still all about the ability to keep the attention on himself and his body, it was just that the audience was now limited to a party of one. Sometimes two, but guys willing to pay that much didn’t normally go to hookers like Bucky.

And the change had been worth it. The first week, he had made more money than he had ever made with a month of stripping. And that was before he started working for Rumlow. With proper representation, Bucky was able to make twice as much as he could on his own, even if Rumlow took more than was probably fair off the top. He also got to work out of a hotel, even if it was on the seedier side. It was clean at least, and it beat a dirty alley any day of the week.

Not having to find his own customers was also a perk; Rumlow always sent the johns to him. Of course the downside of that was that Bucky couldn’t exactly refuse a guy if he gave him the creeps and since they paid Rumlow and not him, he also didn’t get much say in what services Rumlow offered them. But Bucky had a few hard lines he wouldn’t cross, and so far Rumlow hadn’t sent him anyone that tried, so it wasn’t too bad.

Hell, for hooking, it was downright pleasant sometimes.

Bucky makes it to the room a few minutes before his first appointment of the night. He tosses his wallet and phone into the tiny hotel safe- a habit he’d picked up after one guy tried to rob him instead of paying him. Bucky had broken the guys nose for it, and Rumlow had screamed at him over the phone for nearly an hour, but he hadn’t sent the guy back to him, so Bucky guesses his point got across.

After he takes care of his stuff, he stops by the bathroom to check his hair and tug at the fit on his too-small t-shirt. Most of the johns don’t care what he looks like clothed, but Bucky still takes a certain pride in his appearance anyway. It’s a heady experience, to see the way he can make someone’s eyes go dark with lust at the fit of his skinny jeans on his ass or the planes of his chest with the right cut of shirt.

Bucky swishes some water around his mouth and pops a breath mint. He doesn’t kiss all his clients- some want it, some don’t- but he tries to make it good for the ones he does kiss. They are paying for it, after all.

There’s a tentative knock on the door of the room and Bucky has to suppress an amused grin as he pulls it open. The guy practically screams ‘first-timer’, nervous and furtive-looking as he is. He keeps darting nervous eyes back and forth down the dimly lit hallway as though he expects a cop to jump out of the shadows and arrest him on the spot.

“Don’t worry,” Bucky purrs, slipping into his work persona as easily as putting on a well-worn coat. “Everyone here’s on the payroll. Nothing to worry about.”

He reaches out and tugs the man in by his tie. His shirt is untucked and wrinkled at the bottom like he’s been worrying at it with his hands. As Bucky watches, the man drops his fingers to the material, smoothing it over like a nervous tic. Definitely his first time doing this, Bucky thinks. First-timers are always nervous, and he usually has to guide them through it, but on the upside they typically don’t request anything too crazy either.

Bucky looks at the man from under his lashes in a way that he knows drives peoples wild and pulls him towards the bed. He letser his voice slide into a low register that rumbles in his chest and says, “What’ll it be tonight, baby.”

It turns out that this particular john has paid for a blowjob and the little bit of extra on top for it to be unprotected. Back when he was finding his own customers, Bucky never would have dreamed of doing anything without protection, but another perk of working for Rumlow is that all the men who come to him have been screened. Regardless Bucky has to bite back his distaste; he’s terrified of the day that Rumlow fucks up on this particular front.

Despite his misgivings, Bucky makes sure to slip into his best seductive look for his client, eyes dark and mouth upturned in just the slightest hint of a smile. He knows it makes him look fuckable and if the speed with which he undresses is any indication, so does his client. Bucky takes a bit more time removing his own clothes, mindful of the amount of money the man has paid to see him do so.

Between the man’s nervousness and Bucky’s admittedly well-honed skills at giving head, the man comes quickly enough. It’s hot and slightly bitter and unpleasant in Bucky’s mouth as he swallows and the hands in his hair are gripping so hard it’s painful, but Bucky’s a professional so he smiles up at the guy until he’s come down from his post-orgasm high and his hands have relaxed, releasing their near death grip on Bucky’s hair.

He doesn’t linger once they’re done, just pulls on his clothes and mumbles a quick thank you as he rushes out the door. Bucky drops his smile the minute the door closes behind him and goes to wash his mouth out in the bathroom before putting his own clothes back on. It seems futile, since he’ll just have to end up taking them off again for his next appointment, but Rumlow’s big on making the johns feel like they’re the only customer of the night. Bucky gets it; no one’s a fan of sloppy seconds.

His second appointment shows up just as Bucky’s staring into the mirror, trying to flatten his hair back into some semblance of a style where it’s been roughed up. This guy is one of Bucky’s regulars. He comes in once a month or so when his wife’s out of town. Bucky’s not crazy about aiding and abetting that kind of behavior but he’s also more than aware that he makes at least half his money off this exact kind of scenario and he’s not here to judge anyone, so he ignores the little twist of his stomach that tells him he’s a bad person for doing this. He’s perfectly aware, thank you, and doesn’t need his conscience reminding him of that every five seconds when he’s just trying to do his goddamn job.

Frank- at least that’s the name he’d given Bucky months ago, although he’s fairly certain it’s fake- is very much into bondage, which his wife refuses to do. Bucky knows this because Frank is also a huge talker during sex. He doesn’t mind the talkers; it actually makes his job easier since he can let Frank chatter on and on and doesn’t really have to put forth too much effort into being coy and charming himself. Frank must like it because he keeps coming back.

Frank’s slower about getting undressed than the first guy and it’s almost half an hour before he’s got Bucky leaning over the side of the bed, naked and on his knees. He’s got Bucky’s arms tied up behind him in some sort of intricate rope and a gag in Bucky’s mouth and Bucky really, really hates it. He hates giving up the control because even though this client is a regular he still doesn’t know him, not enough to trust him. But the money he gets for bondage is more than for normal sex, so he swallows his anxiety as best he can and makes all the right sorts of agreeable noises around the gag in his mouth as Frank fucks him against the bed.

 

---

 

It’s almost four in the morning by the time Bucky finally slips out of the hotel room and towards the nearest bus stop. The neighborhood’s not the best, but he carries a knife and he’s got enough of a don’t-fuck-with-me look that no one’s ever approached him. He slides down into a seat, ignoring the way the bus smells faintly of urine and unwashed bodies.

He’s got all the usual soreness that comes from a full night of work, plus some more besides. He had seen two more clients after Frank, though both had been fairly tame in comparison. His left shoulder has never been the same since the accident and having his arm pulled behind him and held there for over an hour is wreaking havoc on his muscles. The arm aches in a way it hasn’t in a long time, and the feeling has him in a black mood. He rolls his neck and glares at anyone who looks like they might try to sit near him until he gets to his stop.

He’s halfway home when he makes the decision to go see Natasha. She’s probably his best friend, before even Sam, and she works second shift, so he knows she should still be up. Whether she’ll be thrilled to see him is another matter, but Bucky’s never put much stock in other people’s opinions, so she’ll just have to deal.

The look Natasha gives him when she opens up her apartment door to find him standing there is impressively unamused.

“You know,” she says, “some people call before they drop by unannounced at four in the morning.”

“But then you would have told me not to come over,” Bucky replies, grinning at her. “Are you saying you don’t want to see your very best friend in the entire world?” The answer to that question comes in the form of a impeccably manicured middle finger pointed vehemently in his direction. “I knew you missed me,” he says as he trails after her into the apartment.

“Fuck you, Barnes.”

“Already done plenty of that tonight, but thank you for the offer.”

Bucky doesn’t need to see her face to know she’s giving him another extremely unenthusiastic look. Natasha is the only person that really knows what Bucky does. It wasn’t so much that he had told her, but more the fact that Natasha seemed to have the preternatural ability to see into his soul. Lying to her was as pointless as lying to himself, and he’d always been shitty at that.

“Let’s go out,” he says suddenly. He’s got that weird sort of energy thrumming under his skin that he gets after a successful night and the money from Rumlow has already been deposited into his accounts under the guise of a paycheck from a fake business. “I’ll buy you a drink.”

She looks up at him from her seat on the worn, plaid couch. Much like Bucky, she’s not swimming in excess income, so her apartment is decorated in pieces that all have a distinctly second-hand feel to them. She makes it work in that mysterious way of hers, the one that also gives her the ability to make even the most worn-out of thrift store clothes look like designer pieces when she puts them on.

She flicks her eyes to the clock on the wall. “Four am, Barnes. Unless that drink is coffee, I think you’re out of luck.”

“Coffee, then. Come on.”

She laughs, but not meanly, and pats the spot next to her. “Sorry, but some of us spent the night on their feet instead of their back.”

The dig makes him wince a little, because while he’s not ashamed of what he does, he’s also not exactly proud, and she knows that better than anyone. They’d talked about it ad nauseam when he first got into the business and she’s been the shoulder he’s cried on when things go bad ever since.

“Sorry,” she says as he drops down beside her. Reaching over, she pulls his head down against her shoulder and pats his hair absently. The warmth of her body next to his is nice. He’s normally not crazy about being touched- he spends so much of his life being touched by strangers- but he never begrudges her this closeness. Bucky knows she’s just as prickly as he is about human contact on most days. They make an exception for each other. The position pulls on his left shoulder though, and he shifts minutely while trying to hide a grimace.

“How was your shift?”

Natasha’s a nurse for the ER of a local hospital. It fits her; she’s calm and collected in a crisis and radiates authority in a way that makes people flock to her automatically. Bucky’s got a healthy respect for her job, the importance of it, while at the same time knowing he himself could never do something so taxing. The thought of people’s lives in his hands makes him shudder.

“It was fine. The usual drunks and idiots. And I made it the whole night without anyone throwing up on me, so that’s exciting.” He’s opening his mouth to drily offer his congratulations on her ability to not get puked on, when she reaches over and squeezes his left shoulder, hard. He’s not able to hide the pained grunt or the way his face twists up on itself. “That’s what I thought,” she says, sounding far too pleased with herself.

“The fuck was that for?” he mutters, rubbing at the tender spot where the pain seems to be the most concentrated. She’s already gotten to her feet and left the room, and he can hear rummaging through a drawer in the bathroom.

“Here,” she says when she returns, handing him a half-full glass of water and a pill. “Take this. It should help. You know, you really should be doing some physical therapy for that shoulder if it’s still hurting you like this.”

“It’s not.” He scowls at her but still takes the pill and downs the water. “Had the bondage guy tonight. My arm’s just not used to having that kind of stress on it. What was that anyway, oxycodone? You stealing from work again?”

She smiles beatifically at him. “It’s not stealing, it’s borrowing. Besides, I’ve got to keep something around if I’m going to keep patching up your sorry ass.”

He purses his lips. “It’s only borrowing if you intend to return it, Nat.” He kind of wants to lecture her, but he’s painfully aware that he gave up the moral high ground the minute he started accepting money for sex. He doesn’t care what she does, nor does her judge her for it, but he also really doesn’t want to see her lose her job or get into trouble. Honestly, it’s probably the exact same way she feels about him. They make quite a pair, the two of them.

“Thanks,” he settles on eventually. He means it though, he really does.

She doesn’t acknowledge his thanks; Natasha is just as bad at that kind of stuff as Bucky. They’re eerily similar sometimes, and Bucky thinks that must be why they’re such good friends after all these years of knowing and annoying each other. And if Bucky swung that way, he’d lock her down in a heartbeat, but as it is he’ll settle for being her best friend.

“Go home, Bucky.” She’s got a complicated look on her face, but it’s overshadowed by the fondness in her eyes and Bucky knows that she feels exactly the same as he does. “Before it hits. I don’t want you falling asleep on the bus. Try not get murdered, okay?”

He smiles at her, soft and happy. “Okay,” he agrees, and after a quick hug goodbye, he lets her push him out the door.

 

---

 

Bucky groans when the shrill sound of the doorbell pulls him out of his sleep. He’s had success in the past with just ignoring it until whoever is at his door just goes away, so that’s the strategy he opts for now. They’re relentless though, and just as Bucky’s drifting back to sleep, the doorbell chimes again. He yanks the pillow over his head, curses vehemently into his sheets, and then pulls his tired body out of bed so he can verbally assault whoever has such a pressing need to see him that they’ve felt the need to wake him up this fine morning.

Actually, make that this fine afternoon. There’s sunlight streaming through the blinds on all his windows as he makes his way to the door, and Bucky squints his eyes until they adjust. His shoulder still aches, but it’s much less sharp than it had been the previous night, and Bucky takes a moment to mentally thank Nat for her store of pilfered pharmaceuticals.

“What,” he says bluntly as he wrenches the door open. The man on the other side is caught in the act of raising his hand to press on the doorbell yet again, and looks so startled that it’s almost comical. Almost.

The first thing Bucky’s aware of is that the man on his doorstep is unfairly, cataclysmically hot. He’s a little bit taller than Bucky and wearing jeans that cling to his thighs and a shirt that’s way too small but hell if Bucky’s going to complain about the view. His face is as nice as his body, with a classic jawline and blonde hair that catches the sunlight and turns it golden. He’s kind of perfect and for a moment, Bucky’s so stunned that he almost forgets how annoyed he is at being woken up.

The second thing Bucky’s aware of is that he is very, very underdressed for meeting a tall, handsome stranger, in just his boxer-briefs and one sock that he hadn’t managed to kick off last night in his oxycodone-induced haze. But damn it, he’s in his own home and refuses to be shamed. So he’s doing this exactly the way he is and if the man’s uncomfortable, than Bucky dares him to say something about it.

God, he hopes he says something about it.

“Are you James Barnes?” the man asks, and holy shit his voice is perfect too, a lovely deep baritone and Bucky can’t help but imagine what that voice would sound like purring in his ear.

“Bucky,” he corrects automatically. He’s a little more awake now and putting it all together in his head; this must be the friend Sam had mentioned. He glances behind him at the clock on the wall; it’s fifteen minutes past noon, which means he doesn’t get to make good on his threat to kill Sam in his sleep. “Um,” he says, searching his memory for the name.

“Steve,” the other man supplies.

Bucky stares at Steve for what is probably uncomfortably too long. Steve purses his lips nervously and rubs a hand across the back of his neck. Bucky’s still staring. Definitely too long now. He should really stop.

“Um, Sam told me you were looking for a roommate?”

Well that’s not entirely true; Bucky had been complaining about not already having a roommate, not actually actively looking for one. Bucky’s suddenly tempted to close the door on Steve, just to prove a point to Sam, but Steve’s just so damn attractive that he can’t bring himself to do it.

“Yeah,” he answers, “come in.” Disappointingly, Steve’s gaze hasn’t dropped once from Bucky’s face down to his almost completely naked body. He turns to walk further back into the apartment and really hopes that Steve’s enjoying the view, because Bucky firmly believes his ass is his nicest feature.

There’s a soft click as Steve shuts the door behind him and follows Bucky into the tiny living room. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with his hands and keeps alternating between shoving them into his pockets and picking at his fingernails. Bucky thinks it’s adorable. He’s also painfully aware that he’s still pretty much naked, but once again, he’s never been a quitter, so he plows on ahead.

“Your half of the rent would be a thousand. Yeah, I know, it’s disgusting. We don’t even get hot water half the time, but it’s Brooklyn.” Bucky waves a hand like that explains everything, and it sort of does. “This is the living room and that’s the kitchen,” he says, pointing. “That door goes to my bedroom and that one would be yours. Feel free to take a look. Only one bathroom so we’ll have to share.”

Steve nods along the entire time Bucky’s talking and then ducks his head into the various rooms. He seems pleased enough with the setup, and Bucky lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding at the thought that Steve might actually want to move in.

“Seems good,” Steve says, and reaches out to shake Bucky’s hand. His skin is warm and there’s a ink smudge on his wrist and Bucky has to stop himself from staring again.

“So um, I work at night, but Sam said you do too, so that shouldn’t be a problem. I don’t really have any rules except don’t be a slob, but you don’t look that’s gonna be a problem.” Steve raises an eyebrow at that, and Bucky resolutely wills himself not to blush. “I don’t care if you bring anyone into the apartment, but please don’t keep me up with sex noises unless you’re having it with me.”

Bucky laughs because he’s hilarious and his jokes are amazing, but Steve just gives him a thoughtful gaze, like he’s turning an idea over in his head. “So that’s on the table?”

“What?” Bucky says stupidly.

“Sex. With you. Is that on the table?”

Bucky had been mostly joking, but Steve is ridiculously good looking, so why the hell not?

“Absolutely.” Bucky gives Steve his most lecherous grin. “But be warned, I’m kind of amazing and I don’t do feelings. So don’t come crying to me when you fall in love.”

Steve rolls his eyes and smiles back when he answers. “I’ll do my best not to.” The sarcasm dripping off the statement is practically lethal and so, so perfect. They’re going to get along just fine.

Bucky fishes his keys out of the pocket of the jeans on his bedroom floor and pulls off the one for the apartment. Steve promises to make a copy and be back in a few hours with his stuff. Bucky’s not even a little bit sorry for checking out Steve’s ass as he walks away.

Chapter Text

True to his word, Steve returns a few hours later with a second key and a car full of stuff. Bucky’s dressed by now, and if he put a few extra minutes into styling his hair and picking out a shirt that shows off his chest, well that’s nobody’s business but his own.

“You have a car?” he asks, a little incredulous, as he pulls a box from the backseat and makes his way up the stairs.

Steve follows with a box of his own. “I’m a studio art major at NYU, and I got tired of lugging a bunch of canvases on the subway, so I saved up some of the MHA of my GI bill to buy this clunker.” That’s an accurate enough description of the car, Bucky thinks. He wasn’t going to say anything, because despite what Natasha might insist, he does in fact possess the ability to be polite.

“Oh,” Bucky grunts as he wedges the box between his body and the doorframe so he can reach the knob. “What branch?”

“Army. Five years and an honorable discharge.” Steve shifts the box he’s holding and sketches out a lazy little salute. Bucky very pointedly does not stare at the play of muscles under his shirt that the movement creates. “You?”

“Ah, no,” Bucky replies with a little laugh after he’s managed to open the front door and walk to the empty bedroom. He sets the box down with a grunt. “Definitely don’t have enough discipline for something like that. They’d kick me out in a week.”

“It’s not so bad,” Steve replies and he looks a little wistful before shaking his head. They make short work of unloading the rest of the car and Bucky, who’s got nothing better to do at the moment, sits on the edge of the air mattress that’s Steve’s just finished blowing up to watch him unpack. He’s enjoying the chance to not-so-subtly check out Steve’s stuff, when Steve says, “So Sam mentioned we’re in the same line of work, but I’ve never seen you around. Where do you work?”

Bucky bites down the urge to laugh at that; line of work, like they’re business professionals meeting at a cocktail party. “Hydra,” he says. It’s his go-to answer whenever anyone asks. The club is across town and is so exorbitantly expensive to get into that most people never bother, instead choosing places without massive cover fees and cheaper drinks. It keeps the most curious of his friends from trying to go see him, and so far, he’s been successful in keeping anyone from knowing that he doesn’t, in fact, work there at all.

Steve whistles appreciatively. “Fancy. You must be good. I’m just over at SHIELD. I’m not the best, but the pay beats a campus job and working at night doesn’t interfere with class.”

Someone had told him what SHIELD stood for at some point, but Bucky’s long since forgotten it. Either way, it’s a good joint, high-class enough to draw clientele with a decent amount of money, but not so much that it scares away the working stiffs. It strikes a good balance and Bucky’s weirdly glad to hear that at least Steve’s not working in any of the more sketchy places around town. In a purely practical way of course, he tells himself. He’s just not interested in rejoining Sam’s quest to find him a roommate if Steve gets knifed in some back-alley.

“SHIELD’s nice enough,” he says absently, and then because Steve’s opened up another box and Bucky is a shamelessly nosy person, “Oh my god, is that what you wear?”

There’s five or six extremely tiny pairs of lycra shorts sitting on the top of a pile of nicely folded jeans. They’re white, with concentric circles of red and blue sequins that form a bullseye right over the crotch. They are quite possibly, the ugliest thing that Bucky’s ever seen.

“That would be correct.”

Bucky’s not sure his body was built to contain this amount of glee. “That’s fantastic. They’re so tacky.”

Steve raises an eyebrow at him. “Oh, and I’m sure whatever you wear is the very height of class.”

“Hold on.” Bucky scrambles off the air mattress and into his own room to dig through his closet. Technically, now he does most of his work nude, but he’s still got the shorts he used to wear back when he actually was stripping. “Here,” he says, returning to Steve’s room. He holds the shorts over the top of his thighs like he’s modeling them. They’re black and silver with shiny red stars. They are also encrusted seam to seam with rhinestones courtesy of Natasha, copious amounts of vodka, and a bedazzler from the home shopping network.

Bucky still maintains that it had seemed like a good idea at the time.

“Oh no,” Steve says in mock horror, hand up to his mouth. Maybe a little bit of real horror too. The shorts are very, very shiny. “Those are so much worse. Can you even walk in those?”

“Not really,” he admits, “but I always kinda hoped they’d catch the stage lights and blind everyone in the room so they wouldn’t notice what a shitty dancer I am.” They both crack up at that, before Bucky returns the offending piece of clothing to his room and comes back to lean against the doorframe. Steve is still unpacking, hanging clothes in the closet, and the silence between them is nice and comfortable. For just a moment, Bucky’s glad that Sam suggested this; he likes Steve so far and it will be nice to have another friend.

“What’s this?”

Scratch that.

Steve emerges from the tangles of several winter sweatshirts holding a messy bundle of papers. Bucky blushes and takes it from him, pushing the edges of the pages back in as much as he can, but it’s a futile effort; Steve’s apparently already seen enough to pique his curiosity. Bucky stares down at the drawing laying on top, a complicated schematic with scribbled equations in the margins. “It’s my, uh, my senior thesis. Robotic prosthetics.” he mumbles.

“Like the Terminator?”

“More like help for amputees. You know, people who have been in accidents, war vet. Stuff like that. There’s a whole neural interface and- well, you saw the picture.”

“Oh,” Steve brightens, “that’s really cool. I didn’t realize you were in school too. Where do you go?”

“I’m not,” Bucky answers and desperately wishes he could sink straight into the floor. Or possibly go back in time and remember to clean out the damn closet before Steve got there, he’s not picky. Because the universe hates him, neither of those things happen. Instead he stands there, increasingly uncomfortable under Steve’s thoughtful gaze. “I dropped out my senior year.”

“Oh.”

And because Bucky’s an idiot and a complete fuck-up, he continues, “For my sister.” Steve cocks his head to the side in a way that invites Bucky to continue and doesn’t feel too much like judgement; Bucky’s grateful for it. “Car crash right before my senior year. Becca and I made it out fine, parents didn’t. I mean, I hurt my shoulder, but it’s mostly fine now. But they didn’t leave us a lot of money and I couldn’t pay for my school and Becca’s too. She’s always been so much smarter than me, so I… yeah.” He says this all matter-of-factly, because it hurts less that way.

To Bucky’s immense relief, there’s no pity in Steve’s eyes when he looks up. The blue intensity of them looks vibrant even under the crappy overhead lighting and there’s an emotion in them that Bucky can’t read, but it’s definitely not pity; Bucky knows more than most what that looks like. “That’s-“ Steve looks like he’s struggling for the words. “That’s amazing Buck. You’re a really good person.”

Bucky’s breath catches in his throat and he immediately laughs to cover it up. It comes out harsh in the quiet of the room. “People keep saying that,” he says, his attempt at a light-hearted tone falling completely flat. “I’ve actually gotta go run some errands before work, so… yeah. I’ll see you later okay?”

“Bucky, wait-“

He doesn’t stick around long enough to hear the rest.

 

---

 

Bucky obviously doesn’t have any errands, but the second he’s out of the apartment, he immediately feels better. He can breathe again, and as his feet take him nowhere in particular, he does his best to squash the bitter feeling in his stomach. He likes Steve, he really does, and he knows rationally it’s not his fault, couldn’t have known that he was picking at the barely scabbed over wounds of Bucky’s life. Doesn’t mean Bucky can’t still be a little pissy about it though.

He ends up at a local coffee shop with overpriced drinks and the kind of hipster, rustic furniture that supposed to be cool but is just supremely uncomfortable. He bums around for a few hours, sipping on a sugary, foamy concoction that is definitely not worth the money he spent on it. He should probably feel guilty but his stomach is still all in knots. He splurges and gets himself a chocolate chip muffin too and doesn’t even feel bad about the waste when he only eats half of it.

His sour mood carries over into his work that night, and although he does his absolute best to cover it with a smile, one of his clients must have noticed. Five minutes after the last guys leaves, just when Bucky’s headed out the door himself, he gets a call from Rumlow.

Bucky winces. They mostly communicate by text messages that Bucky is very careful to delete every day. Rumlow only calls when Bucky’s fucked up and judging by the anger in his voice when he answers the phone, this is definitely one of those times.

“Barnes.”

Bucky can hear the disdain behind the word. He pictures how Rumlow must look right now, all red-faced and fuming. They’d met once or twice in person, when Bucky first started working for him, and he thinks Rumlow might even be attractive if it weren’t for the sour look perpetually twisting his features.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Rumlow’s practically spitting the words at him and Bucky’s suddenly glad this conversation’s not face to face. “I just had to refund one of your clients. Do you know what that says about my business?”

“It’s been a bad day,” Bucky says tiredly. He knows even before the words are even out of his mouth that it’s a bad idea, but then again Bucky’s never been the champion of good decisions.

“I don’t give a fuck what’s going in your personal life, Barnes. No one wants to pay to fuck a sad whore. I don’t care if your fucking mother just died, you put on a goddamn smile and act like that’s the best goddamn dick you’ve ever seen in your fucking life. Capiche?”

Bucky grits his teeth, anger flaring sharp and hot in his stomach. He’s weighing his need to have a steady influx of cash against his sudden need to find Rumlow and punch him in the face. “Got it,” he spits out.

“I’m keeping everything from tonight. You fuck up again and you’re not getting paid for a week.”

Bucky pulls the phone away from his ear and exhales long and slow, doing his best to center himself so he doesn’t start screaming. He’s already mentally calculating how much he can afford to spend on groceries this week and still put aside enough money for Becca’s textbooks next semester. “Understood, sir.” He sincerely hopes the sarcasm comes through on Rumlow’s end loud and clear.

Rumlow either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. “Good. I was gonna call you tonight anyway. I got you a new client. He’s got deep pockets, and he liked your picture. You’re welcome,” he says, like he’s doing Bucky some big favor and not just doing his goddamn job. “Fuck around with this one, Barnes, and I’m dropping you. You can go back to working on the streets for all I care.” Bucky makes what he hopes is a noise of agreement. “I’m still working out a schedule with him, but expect the first appointment sometime soon. Don’t fuck it up.”

Rumlow hangs up without preamble and Bucky has to desperately fight the urge to throw his phone against the nearest wall and pretend it’s Rumlow’s face. The only thing that stops him is the fact that he can’t really afford a new phone right now.

On his way out the door, Bucky decides he’s going to salvage this godawful day the only way he knows how.

Tequila.

 

---

 

He’s five- or was it six?- shots into a bottle of the cheapest tequila he could buy at the corner store when Steve gets home. Steve hasn’t even fully stepped in the door before Bucky’s deeply regretting the choice to drink in the living room instead of the privacy of his bedroom. Truthfully, he’d wanted to get smashed with Natasha but she was one of her rare days off and he didn’t feel like dragging her down into loserville with him on this particular occasion. He groans quietly to himself as Steve locks the door behind himself and steps into the living room; he’s just not equipped with the mental faculties to handle human interaction right now. Especially interaction with someone as stupidly attractive as Steve.

“Hey Buck,” Steve greets him with a toothy smile, and wow, Bucky’s drunk enough that he doesn’t give a shit whether Steve notices him leering or not. Steve’s got on black track pants that highlight the muscle of his thighs and his tight white t-shirt has Bucky’s mind going in all sorts of sinful directions that all end with Steve underneath him. And now he’s definitely making Steve uncomfortable; the man in question coughs nervously and scratches at the back of his neck with one hand..

“Is that lipstick?” Bucky asks, and yeah, he’s slurring pretty badly. It may have been closer to seven shots of tequila if he’s being honest with himself.

Maybe eight.

Steve grimaces and twists his arm around back and forth to look at the all the streaks of color decorating it. It sort of looks like he’s been mauled by the makeup counter of a department store. “Private bachelorette party,” he says, by way of explanation. “They’re not supposed to touch-“

“-but they always do,” Bucky finishes for him, grinning. He had done enough of those back in his stripping days to be intimately familiar with that particular unpleasant experience. “I don’t miss those at all.” Steve gives him a confused look and Bucky immediately backpedals to cover up his slip. “I mean, it’s just been a while since I’ve done one. Definitely not my favorite part of the job.”

Steve shrugs and Bucky sighs heavily. Being three sheets to the wind drunk and keeping secrets about his life are two things that don’t mix well. This kind of shit wouldn’t happen if he still lived by himself. Fucking Sam and his puppy dog eyes.

He’s so lost in thought about the general unfairness of his life that he’s startled when the tequila is suddenly plucked from his hands. He glares up at Steve, but he’s having trouble making his eyes focus and his gaze actually lands somewhere just over Steve’s left shoulder. “I didn’t say you could have any,” he says petulantly, because he’s a child.

Steve shrugs again and takes a long drink from the bottle. “Think of it as me doing you a favor because if you plan to drink the rest of this bottle, you’re in for a hell of a hangover. I’m just doing my part to lighten the load. Your future self will thank me.”

After a couple of seconds where he’s forgotten how his hands work, Bucky finally summons up the wherewithal to flip Steve off. “My future self agrees with my current self, and they both say ‘fuck you, give me back the booze’.

Steve, being the absolute asshole that he is, just laughs and plunks the bottle back down on the coffee table. “I’m going to take a shower,” he says and strips off his shirt right there in the living room. Bucky’s brain short circuits a little with the combination of tequila and the perfection that is Steve’s chest. There’s just the faintest hint of body glitter on him and it catches the light in a way that sends Bucky’s drunk-ass self reeling. As he lays his hand on the doorknob of the bathroom, Steve calls over his shoulder, “If you’re not too drunk, you’re more than welcome to join me.”

He is definitely, 100% too drunk. But hell if that’s ever stopped him before.

To Bucky’s credit, he does spare at least a few seconds to wonder if this is going to make living together awkward, but it’s been so long since he had sex with someone that he actually wanted to have sex with that he’s a little desperate for it and half hard already. He’s up and moving so fast that he almost falls flat on his face when he trips on the coffee table. He doesn’t knock the bottle over, thank god. He’s not sure he could handle that kind of disappointment in himself right now.

He sheds his clothes clumsily behind him, getting stuck momentarily in the arm of his shirt, as he makes his way to the bathroom. The steady hiss of the water and the steam filling up the tiny bathroom help to cut through his drunkenness a little. He joins Steve under the steady spray of water. He’d taken a quick shower when he’d gotten home- he always does, because the scent of strange men on him makes him want to crawl out of his own skin- but Steve runs the water much hotter than Bucky’s used to. It’s nice, though. The combination of steam and alcohol makes everything soft and dreamlike.

And god, Steve is just as gorgeous naked as Bucky had imagined he would be. He’s all long, hard lines and golden skin. Bucky wants to lick up the drops of water trailing down his chest. Bucky knows he’s no slouch himself, but Steve is built in a way that obviously comes from countless hours in a gym. It’s impressive to look at; Bucky’s own lean physique comes more by way of not eating as much as he should so it’s more a general skinniness than anything. Steve doesn’t seem to mind though, if the way he’s looking at Bucky is any indication.

The alcohol must really be slowing Bucky down because one minute he’s staring at Steve’s eyes, which are blown black with lust, and the next minute he’s blinking and Steve’s on his knees in front of him. The water’s hitting his back and Steve’s hair is plastered to his head and he looks so goddamn beautiful, like a fucking work of art, and Bucky wonders for a moment what he did to deserve this.

And then Steve’s mouth is on his dick and Bucky forgets to think at all. Steve’s apparently a goddamn pro at this, because he takes Bucky almost down to the base on the first try, wrapping one hand around the part that he can’t fit into his mouth. His mouth is hot and wet and god, he’s always been the one blowing other people but it’s been so long since anyone’s done it to him that he’s forgotten how amazing it is.

Bucky keeps his gaze fixed on Steve, who’s looking up through his lashes at him. The sight is almost too much, the drops of water clinging to his skin like diamonds, his pink lips stretch around Bucky’s cock, the ripple of his muscles on his back as he bobs up and down. Bucky lets out a quiet curse and tentatively puts one of his hands on Steve’s head, silently asking permission. Steve hums in assent and the vibration sends a wave of pleasure through him.

Bucky laces the his fingers through the wet strands of Steve’s hair, pulling softly at first, earning another throaty purr from Steve. He pulls harder, yanking at the golden strands, pulling Steve down further on his cock. His hips thrust forward involuntarily and Steve reaches his other hand up to grab at Bucky’s ass, spurring him on until he feels the familiar tightening in his belly and thighs.

Steve must feel that Bucky’s close to release too; he sucks him down in earnest and moans as Bucky comes. Bucky’s gasping and Steve continues to mouth at his cock, easing Bucky through the aftershocks as he looks up at Bucky like he’s the most beautiful thing he’s even seen. And god, Bucky can’t even think of the last time he was with someone that gave a shit if he came. Hell, most of his johns don’t even care if he gets hard in the first place, not so long as they get what they paid for.

He doesn’t realize how weak he is on his own legs until Steve’s standing, helping to brace Bucky against the wall of the shower. His lips are swollen and red and his body is pressed into Bucky’s, erection digging into both their abdomens. Steve’s fingers ghost over a deep purple bruise on Bucky’s hip from an overzealous client and the knot of scars on his shoulder, like he’s mapping all of Bucky’s imperfections. It makes Bucky feel supremely uncomfortable, so before Steve can ask about any of it, he pulls him in for a kiss.

He can taste himself in Steve’s mouth when he pushes his tongue inside. They kiss, hot and searing and hungry, as Bucky wraps his arms around Steve’s back and digs his fingers into his skin. He pushes his own hips up and Steve ruts up against him, thrusting into the space between their bodies. The kisses get sloppy and open-mouthed as Steve gets closer, and he comes panting against Bucky’s open mouth. Bucky grins and kisses him again, slowly this time as the water washes them both clean, and thinks that maybe today didn’t turn out to be a complete disaster.

Chapter Text

The quickness with which Steve settles into Bucky’s life would be alarming if it didn’t feel so natural. A month passes before Bucky’s even aware of it; one day he looks up and realizes that he’s forgotten what it was like to not have Steve there, burning food in the kitchen and leaving his socks on the bathroom floor. Steve went to school during the week and Bucky did odd jobs, and at night they both worked, Steve at SHIELD and Bucky at the hotel. They’d trade blowjobs and handjobs and the occasional make-out session the same way other friends might trade shirts.

It’s not a relationship, which is perfect in Bucky’s book, because he wasn’t lying when he told Steve that he didn’t do feelings. They don’t cuddle or share secrets late at night under the covers, but it’s fine, it’s perfect really. And maybe Bucky’s a bit jaded, but his life is exhausting enough without adding the stress of a relationship into the mix. It’s definitely not a relationship, but it is nice.

Honestly, it’s the happiest Bucky’s been in years, so he shouldn’t have been surprised that it couldn’t last.

 

---

 

“I swear to god, Barnes, if you come over one more time to drink my beer without actually bringing any, I’m never hanging out with you again.”

Bucky laughs and shoves Sam’s feet off the end of the couch so he can sit. The look on Sam’s face when Bucky tilts the bottle of beer he’d stolen out of Sam’s own refrigerator was downright murderous. “I’ll bring some next time,” he promises.

Sam grumbles at that and readjusts so his feet rest in Bucky’s lap. Bucky wrinkles his nose at Sam’s mismatched and frankly, disturbingly dirty, socks. “Can you not?” he asks pointedly.

“Hey, my house, my rules. And I say my feet can go wherever I want them to go.”

Bucky mutters, “We could be at my house, you know. You just don’t want me to have all the power.”

“Hell no. Your head gets any bigger and you’re not gonna be able to fit it in the door.”

Bucky snorts in amusement. Despite his arguments to the contrary, the fact remains that they’re at Sam’s house and not Bucky’s, so Sam’s nasty feet stay exactly where they are. It’s not so bad though; they don’t smell at least and Bucky’s pretty sure he’s touched way worse in his life, so he does his best to ignore Sam’s feet and concentrate on the movie he’s only half-watching.

He’s been surreptitiously checking his phone every fifteen minutes or so. Steve’s been working on a project for one of his classes for the last week and a half, and today’s the day he’s supposed to get the grade back. Bucky’s a little anxious to see how it went, not because he necessarily cares about Steve’s grades one way or the other, but because if it goes well Steve will be in a good mood all weekend, which bodes well for Bucky’s sex life. Not to mention the fact that it will be nice to recover his kitchen table out from under Steve’s massive stacks of art supplies.

“Waiting on something?”

Bucky’s eyes dart up from his phone quickly and he does his best to hide the guilty expression he knows must be on his face. Sam’s watching Bucky instead of the movie and he’s got one eyebrow quirked just so. “Nothing,” Bucky says, aiming for nonchalant and falling completely flat. Sam’s eyebrow is unrelenting. “It’s nothing, really,” he repeats. “Steve’s got a school thing and I’m just wondering how he did, is all. No big deal.”

“Hmm.” Sam purses his lips in a way that Bucky knows from experience will not end well for him. On screen, something explodes. “We haven’t really hung out since Steve moved in, have we? How’s that going?”

“It’s going fine. We’re getting along.”

“Hmmmm,” Sam says again. Bucky has the sudden distinct impression that he’s under a microscope. “And how long have you two been a thing?”

Bucky chokes on his beer. The liquid burns his nose and his eyes water as he says quickly, “We’re not. We’re not,” he repeats again for emphasis when Sam doesn’t look convinced. “It’s just sex. We’re not anything, Sam. You know me.”

Sam gives him a look that very succinctly says that he does, indeed, know Bucky better than Bucky may know himself. It’s not comforting. “Okay,” he answers finally, before dropping the subject completely. Bucky’s so out-of-sorts that he doesn’t even notice when the movie ends and Sam switches it out for another.

 

---

 

Bucky’s beginning to suspect that Rumlow might have been lying to him about the new client. It would be just like him too, to get Bucky’s hopes up about landing a john with money and the willingness to spend it on Bucky’s services. He’s moderately disappointed; he’s already been doing up the math to see if he can afford to get Becca one of the better campus meal plans for the next semester with the extra cash.

Bucky can hear the insistent buzzing of his phone from where he’s washing his mouth out in the hotel bathroom. Silently he berates himself for not turning it off before stowing it in the safe; he’s just glad it hadn’t gone off in the middle of an appointment. He’s been being careful with everything he does since getting reamed by Rumlow. Bucky’s not eager to miss out on another night’s worth of pay for something stupid.

The buzzing starts up again, persistent and loud in the relative silence of the room. He swishes the water around his cheeks one last time and spits into the sink, sparing a second to check and make sure his hair is still acceptable before retrieving his phone from its hiding place. He unlocks the screen. There’s three texts from Rumlow.

VIP client we talked about on his way. you know what to do

dont fuck this up barnes

seriously dont fuck it up

Bucky scowls as he powers down his phone and tosses it back into the safe. He’s tired. He’d spent the afternoon underneath Steve’s trash heap of a car trying to figure out why it was rattling and he’s worked a full night of appointments and being talked down to by Rumlow of all people is really just the icing on top of a shit day.

God, the money better be worth it.

He tidies up the room a bit while he waits, tossing a torn condom wrapper into the trash and splashing water on his face. It doesn’t do much for the ever-present bags under his eyes but it does make him feel a bit more alert. He’s just starting to get annoyed again at the gall of rich people and their self-absorbed timetables when there’s a knock on the door.

Bucky takes a deep breath and puts on his most sultry smile. He knows it looks good, a little dark and mysterious but still open enough not to be intimidating. Armed with his wits and nothing else, he opens the door to let the man in. Bucky can’t help the appraising glance he gives the man as he shuts the door behind him.

He’s a little bit younger than Bucky was expecting, but not by much. If Bucky had to guess he’d put him somewhere in his sixties, but then again, guessing people’s ages correctly has never been Bucky’s strong suit. He’s sharp, in well-fitted trousers and a dress shirt that probably cost more than all of Bucky’s closet put together. Bucky supposes he was probably pretty handsome too, back in the day, but now his face has had too much sun and there’s a permanent furrow between his eyes from frowning.

“Hello,” Bucky says, pitching his voice into something dark and husky. He steps forward into the man’s space and tugs a bit on his expensive tie. It’s a move that’s gotten him good results in the past.

This man doesn’t seem into it though. Rough fingers close over Bucky’s and remove them, before smoothing the tie back into place. There’s something dark in his eyes when he looks at Bucky and Bucky has to forcefully repress the urge to back away.

“Alex,” the man says, but he doesn’t hold out his hand to shake or anything, just continues looking at Bucky with that predatory gaze. The way the name rolls off his tongue, sure and steady, rings alarm bells in Bucky’s head. He’s almost sure that it must be his real name. Bucky can’t decide if that’s incredibly stupid or incredibly ballsy or somewhere in between the two.

“Bucky,” he replies, because his at least is not his legal name and he’s found it difficult to use a fake name in the past. He’s always a beat too slow to answer to anything else and it throws off his game. “What-“

“No talking.” Alex’s hand is on his mouth so quickly that Bucky hardly registers the movement. Bucky sucks in a breath past the sweat and soap scent of the fingers on his lips. The greedy look is back in those dark eyes and Bucky hasn’t been this uncomfortable with a client since he first started in this business.

But at the end of the day, Bucky is a goddamn professional, so he swallows any apprehension and smiles coyly past the hand on his mouth.

“Are we understood?” Alex asks, and Bucky nods and lowers his eyelashes a little, playing the part of the apologetic lover. “Good, let’s keep it that way.” Bucky seethes a little on the inside and smiles all the more on the outside for it.

“Strip,” Alex commands next, and something in his tone says he isn’t looking for any kind of show. Bucky rids himself of his clothing quickly, feeling Alex’s eyes on him as he shimmies out of his skinny jeans, baring himself to the slightly cold room. Bucky always goes commando when he works; it just makes things easier.

Once he’s naked, Alex takes a long, appraising look at him. Bucky’s used to being nude around strangers of course, but something about this makes his skin crawl a little. Alex looks less appreciative of the human form and more like he’s deciding what cut of meat to buy at the grocery store. He breathes carefully through his nose until the feeling passes. Even so, he still has to remind himself that this is the most important client he’s maybe ever had.

Suck it up, Barnes.

Without any preamble, Alex is crowding up against Bucky and pushing him against the wall. The sudden movement almost knocks him off his feet. Only the fact that he has plenty of practice being roughly handled keeps him from reacting badly. Bucky’s back hits the wall and his shoulder blades knock into the plaster uncomfortably. Alex is breathing roughly in his ear, but he hasn’t made a move to kiss him.

So he’s one of those. Bucky’s used to these clients; the ones that lack some kind of control in their personal lives and like to take it out on people like Bucky. And that’s fine, it’s part of his job description, but he’s always on edge with clients like these. He can only be a human punching bag to a point, before it starts to feel dangerous. He’s been lucky in the past, the johns who liked it rougher have always toed the line. There’s a lot of manhandling, but never any actual violence.

There’s a metal clink as Alex undoes his belt buckle and pulls down his pants and underwear, letting his cock spring free. It’s already hard and flushed, leaking at the tip, and Bucky notes with relief that it’s fairly average in size because so far Alex has given absolutely zero indication that he’s going to give Bucky any kind of prep at all. Thank god Bucky usually handles that on his own before he ever sees any clients. It had been a painful lesson to learn back when he’d first started.

He’s right. With no prep and no warning, Alex is shoving himself into Bucky and thrusting. The smooth cloth of his expensive shirt rubs against Bucky’s naked chest. It’s not altogether a comfortable feeling. Normally by this point Bucky would be playing his part, making noises of encouragement and enjoyment to spur the client on, but Alex had said no talking so Bucky keeps his mouth shut. It’s not hard; he doesn’t think he’s ever been less turned on in his life.

The room is silent except for the slap of skin on skin and Alex’s soft grunts. Bucky starts to drift a little, resolutely not allowing his thoughts to turn to Steve and what he might doing right now, when suddenly there’s a hand on his throat. Alex’s fingers clamp down and Bucky chokes. His vision whites out with panic and he bucks against the door, trying to force Alex off and away from him

“Stop-“ he gets out the word in a rush of air when Alex pulls the hand off his throat but the rest of his sentence is cut off as that same hand comes back in a vicious slap. Alex hits him so hard that Bucky feels his head bounce off the wall behind him and sparks go off behind his eyes. His cheek aches and there’s blood in his mouth. Alex puts the hand back on his throat, not pressing hard enough to cut off his air, but enough to show he’s in control.

“I said no talking.”

He hasn’t stopped fucking him once during this entire exchange. If anything, the violence has got him going faster and finally Bucky feels him come. Alex grunts as he slides out of Bucky and something like revulsion fills Bucky’s mind. Alex makes quick work of pulling up his pants and retucking his shirt. He leaves without even another glance at Bucky.

The whole thing lasts less than ten minutes from start to finish. It's horrifying, how quickly something can happen that makes Bucky feel like he's coming apart from the inside out. He stays leaning up against the wall for a long moment after the door clicks shut behind Alex. His face is hot and aching and he can feel come sliding down the inside of his thighs. He wants to cry, which is ridiculous, because he’s a this is what he does, it’s his job, but it’s been a long time since he’s felt this used after an appointment. Finally he takes a shaky breath and scrubs a hand through his hair.

Normally, he’d head home and shower in his own apartment, but tonight all he wants to do is get the feeling of Alex off of him. He turns the water in the hotel shower up as high as it will go and lets steam fill the bathroom as he inspects himself in the mirror. The skin around his left eye is already darkening and there’s a split in his bottom lip. His mouth tastes like old pennies.

When he’s got his head a little bit more together, he grabs his phone. With the water still hissing away in the background he calls Rumlow.

“What?” Rumlow sounds pissed to hear from him. “Client gone already? You better not be calling me to tell me you fucked this up.”

“Fuck you,” Bucky hisses into the phone. Now that he’s had time to process, the anger is a seething, roiling thing in his belly. “I told you when we started I don’t do choking. Tell him he can keep his goddamn money and go buy someone else before I let him do that to me again.”

“That man is paying more your pathetic ass than you make in a month, asshole. I don’t care if he wants to hog-tie you and feed you to a pack of rabid dogs, so as long as he keeps paying. And if you want to keep working with me, I suggest you get with the program. Don’t call me about this again, Barnes.”

There’s a click and the line goes dead. Bucky lets out a noise in frustration that’s somewhere between a scream and a whimper and just barely stops himself from chucking his phone at the wall. His hands are shaking and when he steps into the shower, the water is so hot it scalds him.

 

---

 

By the time he gets home, Bucky has more or less schooled his face into a fair approximation of his usual laid-back expression. He finds himself wishing for the first time in a while that he still lived alone. He’s dreading seeing Steve. All Bucky wants to do is collapse onto the couch and stay there until he feels better or he dies. Whichever comes first; he’s not picky.

Steve’s not actually home yet when Bucky gets there. It’s a small blessing, but whatever, Bucky’s willing to take it. His hands have long since stopped shaking but he busies himself fixing tea in the kitchen anyway. He’s already got the hot water going on the stove and is searching the back of a cabinet for the teabags he knows he keeps in there, when he feels someone step behind him and slide their arms around his waist.

Bucky jerks so badly at the contact that he narrowly misses headbutting Steve in the face as he whirls around. Steve’s look of surprise is almost comical and Bucky mentally berates himself for being an idiot. The appointment with Alex has left him jumpier than he’d like to admit. There’s a sharp inhale as Steve gets a good look at Bucky’s face. He had cleaned up the best he could, but the swelling around his cheekbone has only gotten worse.

Steve puts both his hands up in the air in the universal sign for surrender. “Sorry, sorry, didn’t mean to spook you. Jesus, what happened to your face?”

“It’s fine,” Bucky mumbles and goes back to his search for the missing tea.

“Here,” comes Steve’s voice a moment later, and then Bucky’s being handed the box he was looking for. “You’re looking in the wrong cabinet.” Bucky can practically hear how badly Steve wants to pry for more details about the sorry state Bucky’s in.

“Thanks.” Bucky means to actually sound thankful but what comes out of his mouth is more acidic than he’d intended.

“Did you get into a fight or something?” Steve says as he leans up against the counter and watches Bucky.

“You could say that.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

Bucky huffs out a sharp laugh. “That would be a definite no.”

“Well,” Steve smiles at him, and it’s fond and playful at the same time. “Bet I could make it better.” Steve steps up to Bucky, being careful to telegraph every move in advance and makes to kiss him. At the last second, Bucky jerks his head to the right and Steve, undeterred, lays several soft kisses on the sensitive skin behind Bucky’s ear.

“Steve,” Bucky says after a minute, and then more forcefully, “Steve.” He pushes Steve away and flicks off the burner on the stove, abandoning the tea. “Not tonight. I just- I’m going to bed.”

He can feel Steve’s confused gaze on him as he stalks out the kitchen, but he just can’t bring himself to care. He tries really hard not to direct his anger at Steve; it’s not his fault, there was no way he could have known about Bucky’s night. And besides, he likes having sex with Steve. It’s always fun and Steve’s hot as all hell, but the thought of being touched sexually right now is making his stomach want to crawl up out his mouth.

He makes it to his bed and actually manages to undress before collapsing on it. He’s no longer in danger of throwing up now, which is nice, and as he drags a pillow over his head, he makes a mental note to wash his damn sheets sometime this weekend before they get any grosser. After a couple of minutes, his mind is wandering and he’s riding that edge right between awake and sleeping, when the mattress dips down beside him.

“Go away Steve,” Bucky groans into the mattress.

Steve, the stubborn bastard, does not go away. “Talk to me, Buck. What’s wrong?”

“I’m fine,” Bucky insists, but it’s hard to put much conviction in his voice. He flips onto his side, dragging the sheets with him in bundle and facing away from Steve.

“You’re clearly not.”

“I said I’m fine.”

He feels Steve shift slightly, like he’s hesitating, and then the weight’s gone and the mattress springs back up. Bucky huffs out a small sigh of relief now that Steve’s finally going to leave him alone, but he’s immediately proven wrong when he feels Steve lay down behind him. Steve approaches in increments, giving Bucky plenty of time to tell him off again, which Bucky ignores for reasons he can’t fathom through his exhaustion. Eventually they’re pressed together, Steve’s broad chest warm and comforting against Bucky’s back and one of Steve’s hands rubbing small circles into the skin between his shoulder blades.

Bucky’s done fighting for the night. He doesn’t have the strength right now to remind Steve that this is not something they do. They joke around and get each other off occasionally; they do not talk about difficult things or cuddle. But all Bucky wants to do right now is sleep for a year, possibly two, so he doesn’t argue. Besides- and he will never, ever admit this to himself in the light of day- it’s kind of nice, having Steve there. He falls asleep to the spicy scent of Steve’s shampoo in his nose and the steady sound of Steve’s breathing.

Chapter Text

“I don’t like this.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, “I’m not crazy about it either.”

Natasha lays a cool hand on his neck, tipping his face until he’s looking straight into her eyes. “I’m serious, James.” And wow, she must be. Natasha only ever uses his first name when she’s upset. “This is escalating. I’m worried about you.”

Bucky attempts nonchalance. He’s not very successful. “I can handle it.” The confidence of his statement is immediately undercut when Natasha presses none-too-gently on the deep bruising on Bucky’s jaw.

“Sorry,” she say, “I know it hurts, but I’ve got to make sure it’s not something worse than a bruise. Can you open your mouth a little?”

Bucky follows her instructions, wincing and cursing Pierce. He’s had three more appointments and each one has been just as unpleasant as the first. He’s gone through half a tube of concealer in an attempt to hide bruising. Luckily, he’s been mostly successful, even if it’s a pain in the ass to make sure it’s hidden even in his own home. Another thing that wouldn’t be an issue if he lived alone, but honestly that list is getting smaller and smaller.

He won’t admit it out loud, but he kind of loves having Steve around. Their relationship is still the same as it’s always been, casual and friendly and occasionally sexual, but Bucky’s also found a deep comfort in their friendship that he hasn’t felt with anyone but Nat. It makes him feel unexpectedly warm when he thinks about it, even if he’s in the middle of lamenting the loss of his kitchen table to Steve’s ever-growing pile of art supplies.

“You should be fine,” Natasha concludes finally. Bucky silently mourns the loss of her cool skin against his. “I think I’ve got some tylonel with codeine if you want it.”

He nods, grateful. “Thanks, Nat. What would I do without you?”

She snorts in amusement, eyes crinkling. “Pretty much exactly what you’re doing now, just much, much worse.”

“I appreciate the vote of confidence.”

“Anytime,” she murmurs. “I really think-“

The noise of the front door opening draws both their attention, Bucky turning his head slowly to avoid the twinging pain that accompanies fast movement. Clint, Natasha’s newest flavor of the week, breezes through the living room and drops over the back of the couch with an exaggerated groan. Bucky secretly thinks that this one’s different; he’s never seen Nat so open with any of her previous boyfriends, but he has enough of a desire to protect his balls to keep that opinion to himself.

“Hey babe,” he greets Natasha, laying a smacking kiss on her that she pretends not to enjoy, despite the blush coloring her cheeks. “Bucky,” he says, whistling low when he catches sight of him. “Yikes, what happened to you

Bucky grins even though it hurts. “Yeah, well you should see the other guy.”

Beside him, Natasha purses her lips, looking unhappy. Bucky resolutely ignores her.

 

---

 

Although they hardly ever get the chance, talking to Becca is one of the highlights of Bucky’s week. The sound of his sister so bright and happy and doing well is more than enough proof that he’s doing the right thing. Even on those weeks where it feels like the world’s closing in on him, the sound of her laugh is like a balm to Bucky’s soul.

He’s in the middle of typing out a text to Steve to see if he wants to meet for dinner before they both go to work, when her call comes through. Bucky can’t help the smile that spreads across his face.

“Becks!” he answers happily. “How’s it going?”

“Bucky!” her tone is admonishing and exasperated and loving all at the same time. “Why did I have to hear from Sam that my own brother is dating someone?”

“Oh my god,” he groans into the phone. Any good feelings he had about his sister are wrong, he decides. She’s a fucking menace. “Not you too. I’m not dating anyone.”

“That’s not what I heard.” Yep, definitely a menace.

“Can I not have casual sex without you people playing matchmaker all over my personal life. I don’t want you talking to Sam anymore. It’s clearly messing with your head.”

“So, tell me about him, let me form my own conclusions.” She sounds far too pleased with herself.

“Pass,” Bucky says, but there’s nothing but fondness in his voice. “How about you tell me about school. How are your classes going?”

She seems willing to drop the subject, for which Bucky is eternally grateful, as she launches into a story about her constitutional development class that segues into a story about something one of her friends did at dinner the other day that turns into a diatribe about whether or not talking with your mouth full past the age of ten should be punishable by death or not. Bucky nods and hums in agreement at all the right places and generally lets himself be filled with the kind of peace he only feels when he’s talking to her. It’s one of the nicest feelings he knows, besides spending time with Steve.

Oh.

He’s not sure where that particular thought came from.

“How’s work?” She tries to hide it, but Bucky can hear the hesitation between her words as clear as day. Becca’s never pretended to understand his sudden desire to drop out of school and if Bucky has his way, she never will. All he’s ever wanted is for Becca to be successful, even if he has to sacrifice his own for her to do it. But he’s also not an idiot; he knows there’s no way Becca would see it as anything other than an extremely misguided attempt at being noble.

“It’s fine,” he says. It comes off sounding forced but neither of them acknowledge it. “Same old, same old.”

“What does your boyfriend think of your job?” She’s clearly being playful and trying to lighten the mood, but it makes him prickle up all the same. That’s not how he wants to talk to his sister though, so he forces himself to adopt a joking tone.

“One, Steve is not my boyfriend, and two, he does the same thing. So nice try, but it’s impossible to try to shame someone as shameless as me.”

She laughs, which is what he was aiming for, and he feels some of the tension go out of his shoulders. “Oh, so that’s his name? Steve? What’s his last name? I’ll need it so I can start printing the wedding invitations.”

“You can’t see me right now, but I do want you to know that I’m flipping you off.”

She laughs again, then her voice quiets into something a little more thoughtful. “Seriously Bucky. I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I really wish you would let yourself have someone. You don’t have to be a badass loner all the time.” He swallows thickly and huffs into the phone and she seems satisfied with that as an answer. “I love you, idiot,” she says before they exchange goodbyes and promises to talk again soon.

The text he had been writing to Steve is still on his screen when the call disconnects. He stares at it for a moment before methodically erasing it and putting his phone away.

 

---

 

His good mood at talking to his sister lasts through his first two clients, then dissipates completely at the arrival of Pierce. At least it’s his last appointment. He never sees anyone after Pierce, and he suspects that Rumlow plans it that way, given Pierce’s propensity to get rough with Bucky. It’s a small blessing, at least, though Bucky’s not always sure that’s the right word for it.

Pierce has only been fucking him for a few minutes when Bucky feels the tell-tale creep of fingers toward his throat. It doesn’t take him by surprise anymore, and to his credit, Pierce is usually slower about reaching for his throat than he was that first night. Bucky almost suspects that Rumlow must have said something to him; not enough to stop him, but enough to get him to ease up a little. Another one of those small not-blessings.

Bucky takes in as big of a breath as he can manage without being too obvious about it. It’s hard, his face is pressed none-too-gently into the mattress underneath him, Pierce’s other hand in his hair and holding him down. Bucky figures that first night was an anomaly; Pierce has taken him from behind every time since. Or maybe he’s just decided he doesn’t like Bucky’s face. Bucky isn’t too fussed either way. It’s not like it changes the job any. Truth be told, he always finds it somewhat easier when he doesn’t have to make eye contact; it’s easier to separate from himself a little and it makes the appointments seem to go faster.

The breath lasts him until a particularly hard thrust and the consequent tightening of the hand on his throat pushes the last of the air out in a sharp burst. He doesn’t hide the choked sound that results; it always seems to turn Pierce on more, which in turns means he won’t last as long. Usually at this point, Pierce would loosen his grasp slightly and Bucky would suck in air while he could. It’s not happening this time and Bucky gets more desperate in his attempt to pull in more oxygen. He bucks involuntarily beneath Pierce’s weight and feels the older man laugh.

There’s black spots dancing on the edge of his vision and he’s starting to panic. It’s bad, to the point that he starts trying to get out a choked ‘please’, even though he knows there’s a strict no talking rule when it comes to Pierce. The only thing that stops him is the knowledge that it will only makes Pierce squeeze tighter and it will deplete what little air he has remaining all the quicker.

Pierce drives him all the way to edge of consciousness and the black has all but obscured his vision when he finally, finally hears a grunt from above him and feels the pulsing of Pierce’s cock as he comes. The fingers around his throat take a touch too long to uncurl for Bucky’s liking, but he’s so grateful for the resulting air that he doesn’t bother to hide his relief, gulping in great lungfuls even though his face is still pressed into the sheets. He can hear Pierce huffing in some kind of morbid amusement as he gets dressed. He never seems to care what Bucky does when he finishes, just lets him lie there. It’s a break he doesn’t get with some of his other clients that expect a show from beginning to end.

God, his throat hurts. His only consolation as he heads home for the night is that the weather is finally cold enough for him to wear a scarf.

 

---

 

There’s something amiss when he gets home and it takes him a second to place it. The light in the living room is on, which is weird. They never leave lights on if they can help it; neither he nor Steve have the money to deal with the resulting electricity bill.

The reason for the light is immediately apparent upon stepping into the living room. Steve’s sitting on the couch. The look on his face is alien to Bucky, and it takes him a second to place it. Anger, mixed with something else that Bucky can’t identify. He’s not sure he’s ever seen Steve angry, though he has to admit this isn’t how he imagined it would look. He thought it would be louder, more energetic. Instead Steve looks like he’s seething with a quiet ferocity, like his fury is making him fold in on himself, concentrating and condensing in the core of him.

“Steve?” Bucky says carefully, coming to stand beside the couch. He hasn’t removed his coat or his scarf and the apartment is a touch too warm, but this seems more important right now. “What’s going on?”

“I went to Hydra.” Steve’s voice is so quiet that Bucky almost has trouble hearing him. The words are tight and controlled, but Bucky can feel the anger roiling beneath the surface.

“Oh,” Bucky says.

For the first time he meets Steve’s eyes and there’s something in them that makes him want to duck his head. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say that Steve looks almost… sad underneath it all. “They didn’t even know who you were.”

“Wait.” Bucky’s hands clench and unclench at his sides. “Why were you looking for me?”

“I-“ Steve looks a little lost for words. “I got cut early tonight. Not enough of a crowd. I wanted to see you.”

Something clicks in Bucky’s head at this point and suddenly, he’s a little angry himself. Who does Steve think he is, prying into Bucky’s life like this? They’re roommates, nothing more, and what Bucky does is none of Steve’s goddamn business.

“It’s sex, Steve. Just sex, in case you’ve forgotten,” he says, blunt and angry. Steve flinches minutely and Bucky barrels ahead, childish enough to enjoy it. “It doesn’t mean anything. We’re not anything. You live your life and I’ll live mine.”

Steve’s jaw is set and Bucky recognizes it’s familiar, stubborn jut. He’s seen it before; it’s Steve’s biggest tell that he’s not willing or able to let something go. Even when that something is doing it’s best to hurt him.

“It’s not nothing to me. And I know it’s not nothing to you either, Buck.”

Bucky clenches his fists tighter to quell the urge the lash out. “I told you in the beginning. I warned you. Don’t go putting this on me because you were too fucking stupid to listen.”

“It might not have started that way, but it’s something now Bucky, and you can’t say it’s not.”

“Yes, I can.” And if Steve thinks he can out-stubborn Bucky, it’s only because he’s never seen Bucky at his most obstinate.

Steve must sense he’s not going to win this one, because he quickly changes tactics. “So where were you? Don’t bother lying, no one at Hydra even knew your name. Where have you been going every night?”

“I was at work,” Bucky grits out between clenched teeth. He’s shucked off his coat at this point and is now working on unwrapping the scarf just to give his hands something to do besides hit Steve in his stupid face.

“You keep saying that,” Steve says, “but you won’t explain it. What are you- oh.”

There’s a soft little inhale and suddenly Steve’s eyes are fixed on Bucky’s neck. His hands move almost involuntarily and Bucky, transfixed, lets Steve’s long fingers sweep gingerly across the ugly purple bruising. The distinct pattern of fingerprints leaves no question as to what they are.

“Bucky,” Steve’s almost whispering now and his eyes are wide and Bucky finds that he can’t keep looking at them. “Are you…?”

“We’re both adults, Steve,” Bucky says harshly. Steve’s anger wilts a little in the face of Bucky’s own and he thinks, good, he should feel bad about this. “You can say the fucking words. I’m a hooker. I have sex with people for money. It’s pretty fucking obvious.”

“Bucky,” Steve repeats, but his tone is now more admonishing than anything and Bucky can tell he’s just gearing up for a lecture on the rights and wrongs of the world as seen by Steve fucking Rogers. “It’s illegal. Do you know how much trouble you could get in if you get caught doing that?”

“Oh, because Steve the stripper is such a pillar of the goddamn community.” Bucky laughs, and it’s a hard, spiteful thing. “Please tell me what it’s like to be such a bastion of morality. I’m not an idiot Steve,” he snaps. “I know what I’m doing.”

“And you let me sleep with you,” Steve says, looking a little horrified. “How do you know you didn’t-“

The insinuation stings, and it’s not one that Bucky can really hold against him, but he does anyway. “Once again, not an idiot, Steve! I didn’t give you any fucking diseases, jackass.”

Steve doesn’t even have the decency to look ashamed and quickly switches tacs again. “Bucky, it’s dangerous. How often does this happen?” He waves his hand at the bruises on Bucky’s neck. “Someone could kill you like this.”

The raw, exposed nerve that Bucky’s been carrying around ever since he started seeing Pierce blooms bright with pain. “I’m fucking done talking about this,” Bucky says, turning on his heel and stalking off towards his bedroom. “I’m not your boyfriend and it’s not your problem, Steve. Leave me the fuck alone.”

Bucky slams his bedroom door shut behind him and leans up against it, breathing like he’s just run a marathon, and only lets himself relax when he hears the front door bang shut.

Chapter Text

The first week after their fight consists mostly of slamming doors and muttering under their respective breaths when the other one enters a room, followed by hasty retreats. Bucky passive-aggressively gathers up all eight hundred dirty socks that Steve seems physically incapable of not leaving all over every surface in their apartment and dumps them onto Steve’s pillow when he’s out at class one day. Steve responds by doing exactly half the cleaning and leaving angry post-it notes on every single thing that he deems to be ‘Bucky’s problem’.

One night, Bucky gets blazingly, stupidly drunk at a bar and brings home a blonde-haired, muscled, brick wall of a guy in whom he resolutely refuses to see even a tiny resemblance to Steve. He leaves his bedroom door cracked accidently-on-purpose and fucks the guy loudly in the late hours of the night when he knows Steve is most definitely home. Steve- again, not to be outdone- parades through their living room two days later with a guy dressed in skinny jeans and sporting artfully mussed brown hair that’s almost the exact same shade as Bucky’s. The glare between the two of them is so intense that Bucky’s almost surprised it doesn’t set any of the nearby furniture on fire.

They only stop when the landlord leaves them a politely worded but very firm request to knock it off.

Bucky finds out over the course of the next week after that, that it’s surprisingly easy to ignore someone you live with if that person is just as committed to pretending you don’t exist as well. And as it turns out, with their combined stubbornness, Steve and Bucky are fucking pros at it.

Bucky goes out drinking with Sam, who looks distinctly unimpressed when Bucky spends nearly the entire evening fuming about ‘Steve and his fucking inconsiderate sex life, I mean, come the fuck on, some of us work for a living, he’s such an asshole’.

“Why do you care so much, man?” Sam asks, raising an eyebrow in what he must think is an entirely innocent manner. “I thought you guys weren’t together.”

“We’re not,” Bucky grits out before downing the rest of his drink with a grimace.

Natasha is similarly unconvinced by his ranting, although by the time he talks to her Bucky has drawn up an impressively thorough list of Steve Roger’s character flaws.

“And for another thing,” he says vehemently, “he never finishes his goddamn drinks. He just leaves half-empty bottles and glasses fucking everywhere, like I’m his fucking maid. And-“

“Oh my god,” Clint groans from the couch, where he’s lying with his face pressed into Natasha’s thigh, like if he doesn’t look at Bucky maybe he’ll just go away. “How long is this fucking list?”

Natasha doesn’t even try to suppress her amused snort of laughter.

Bucky very quickly runs through his short list of friends and he absolutely refuses to call and complain to his sister, because her smug ‘I told you so’ is the last thing he needs right now. One night, after he’s had a few more drinks more than he should have, he almost calls up Steve to complain to him. His fingers are already dialing on autopilot before his brain catches up and he belatedly remembers that Steve’s the problem in the first place.

The only upside in all of this is that now that Steve knows what he does, Bucky doesn’t have to bother hiding in his own apartment anymore. He stops using the concealer when he’s at home and he pretends he doesn’t notice the way Steve’s eyes linger when Bucky shows up with a new bruise. Bucky smiles in morbid satisfaction when he comes home, lips red and swollen, and Steve abruptly stands up and leaves the room after staring at him, eyebrows drawn together in consternation.

It’s a hollow sort of victory.

 

---

 

Pierce takes him in the bathroom this time, leaning Bucky over the laminate countertop. He wants Bucky to watch in the mirror, demands as such. Bucky grips the edge of the counter so hard his knuckles turn white, but keeps his eyes obediently on the mirror.

He hates it, hates the sight of it. He wishes that he could just ignore the way Pierce makes him feel like there’s bugs crawling under his skin, but he can’t. He’s started dreading the nights when he knows Pierce is coming, has thought more than once about calling Rumlow and flat out refusing to see the man again. But he’s not stupid; he knows what Rumlow would do if he even suspects that Bucky’s thinking anything of the sort.

“Eyes up,” snaps Pierce, and then he’s using one hand to tug Bucky’s head up from where he’s unconsciously let his attention slide down to the counter beneath him. Bucky looks and hates himself all the more for what he sees. Pierce’s eyes are dark and hungry and Bucky himself just looks weak.

It’s all too much, and when Pierce goes to push his chin up again, something inside Bucky snaps. “Stop,” he says firmly, wrenching out of Pierce’s grasp. Pierce doesn’t stop and Bucky places his palms flat on the counter, pushing back against him. “I said fucking stop!”

Pierce’s eyes go practically animalistic and before Bucky can react, he’s got a handful of Bucky’s hair and there’s a sharp crack and the sound of something splintering and then black nothingness.

 

---

 

Bucky lets out a long, low moan when he finally comes back to himself. He doesn’t know how long he’s been out; it could have been minutes or hours or seconds, there’s no way to tell inside the hotel room. He slowly blinks open his eyes. One of them feels like it’s crusted over and when he reaches up to rub at it, his fingers come back bloody.

He’s on the floor, naked and the inside of his thighs feel wet and cold. Using the counter as leverage he pulls himself up on shaky legs. The mirror is broken, cracks radiating out from a central spot, blood staining the glittering pieces. He reaches out a tentative hand to his reflection; he almost doesn’t recognize himself in the multi-faceted refraction.

He’s pale and wan under the harsh fluorescent light of the bathroom. There’s a gash along his hairline that he suspects is the source of the blood. He’s been out long enough that it’s started to scab and the drips down his cheek are mostly dry.

He doesn’t bother cleaning up like he normally does. Pulling on his clothes turns out to be an unexpected challenge. Every movement sends a wave of nausea through him as his head throbs in time to his heartbeat. He rides out a particularly bad wave by leaning heavily against the nightstand, one hand on his mouth, drawing in careful breaths.

Once he has some semblance of control over the nausea, he moves on autopilot, retrieving his belongings from the safe and making his way to the bus stop. On the bus, he uses his hands to hold his head as still as he can when the bus shudders and jerks, and concentrates grimly on not throwing up. One woman looks at him questioningly, but he closes his eyes and hunches further in on himself before she can get any bright ideas about offering him help.

He makes it to Natasha’s on mere muscle memory alone, his feet taking over when his head gives up. He knocks as quietly as he can, and still each one seems as loud as a gunshot. When she opens the door, he squints against the light from the apartment and the action sends another dull throb through his head.

“Bucky, what’re you-“ He’s still got his eyes closed, and he’s swaying a little on his feet but he can hear the second her tone turns frightened. “Clint, come help me!”

There’s a set of strong arms propping him up and Bucky’s so, so grateful for it. Clint ends up having to drag him most of the way to the couch; Bucky tries to help, but can’t seem to quite get the hang of how to use his feet anymore. He lets himself drift in and out to Natasha’s hushed tones and Clint’s pleasant baritone and the feel of soft, cool fingers on him.

“-don’t you dare, James. James!”

“Stop yelling,” he croaks feebly, and opens his eyes as much as he can manage. Someone’s turned the lights down, thank goodness, and it doesn’t hurt as much as it did before. He’s lying on his back on Natasha’s couch, staring up at the flat ceiling of her living room.

“I cleaned you up as much as I could,” Natasha says as she leans into his field of view. “I don’t have the stuff I need to do stitches.”

“’S fine,” he mumbles, letting his eyes slip closed again.

“Bucky!” Her voice is loud and insistent and why won’t she be quiet, all he wants to do is sleep. “I know you want to, but you can’t go to sleep. We need to go to the hospital and get your head looked at. I think you might have a concussion.”

He still doesn’t open his eyes, partly in defiance and partly because it hurts to do so. “No hospital. Don’t have ‘surance,” he slurs.

He hears her sigh. They had this exact same fight two years ago when Bucky dislocated his knee and had her set it, adamantly refusing to go the hospital all the way up until the point the knee had popped into place. He’d been too busy swearing to say much of anything after that.

“I really think you should, man. That cut looks nasty.” He can hear Clint somewhere off to his left.

“No,” Bucky repeats, as decisively as he can manage, which isn’t much given the current situation. “Jus’ give me a second. I’ll go home.” He determinedly opens his eyes again and attempts to lever himself up off the sofa.

“Yeah, no,” Natasha says, gently but firmly pushing him back down. It doesn’t take much before he collapses back against the cushions. “I’m not letting you leave when you can’t even form full sentences. I’m surprised you even made it here on your own.”

“Fine,” he mumbles, settling in.

Clint leaves after a while, once he’s determined that he’s more in the way than anything; Natasha tends to get rather bossy in nurse mode and is more than capable of handling Bucky in his weakened state. She finally lets him sleep after that, waking him up every two hours on the dot per concussion protocol, and smiling when he lets loose with a litany of curses that would make a sailor blush.

Around six am, she declares him out of danger, and lets him get a full, three uninterrupted hours. When he blinks awake to the morning sun streaming through the window, she’s still sitting there, head in one hand, watching him thoughtfully and looking for all the world like she hasn’t been up all night baby-sitting a grown man with a head injury.

“Thanks,” he says and his voice is rough and crackly. He takes the bottle of water she pushes at him gratefully and downs a third of it in one go. She’s still watching him, her face deceptively blank, as he pulls himself up into a sitting position with a groan.

“How are you feeling?”

He takes a moment to really assess himself. His head aches something fierce, but it’s not even close to approaching the sharp, insistent pain of the night before. “Like I got hit by a truck,” he answers honestly.

“It was that guy, wasn’t it.”

It’s not a question, and Bucky doesn’t bother to clarify who she’s talking about. He starts to nod, thinks better of it, and says, “Spare me the lecture, Nat. I’m done with it. All of it.”

She doesn’t react like she’s startled to hear it at all, just nods grimly and brings a hand up to cup his cheek. He leans into the touch. He’s not surprised, she’s always seemed to know what he was going to do, even before he was aware of it himself.

Miraculously his phone’s still in his pocket and he’d somehow managed not to shatter the screen in all his bumbling last night. Natasha moves to sit next to him while he dials and wraps an arm around his shoulders when he holds the phone up to his ear, wincing a bit as it trills in his ear.

“What?” Rumlow sounds as angry as he ever does, though this time most of it just seems to be a general distaste for the world and not aimed particularly at Bucky.

“Keep the money, Rumlow. I’m done. In a fucked up way, I guess I should thank you, because you actually made this easier in the beginning, but now… yeah. I’m done. Have a good life.”

“Barnes-“

He cuts off whatever Rumlow was going to say by disconnecting the call and immediately blocking the number. It almost feels wrong. This had been a part of his life for what feels like forever now and the theatrical part of him feels like maybe it should have been more dramatic. But in the end, it was easy. Natasha’s got a small smile on her face when he looks at her and he can’t help but mirror it in return. He feels lighter than he has in a long time.

“Proud of you,” she says quietly and kisses him on the cheek.

And yeah, he’s a little bit proud of himself too.

 

---

 

Steve barely lets Bucky get himself through the door before he’s up and talking. Bucky’s still turned away from him, hand on the latch, unwinding the scarf from around his neck. Steve addresses his back and his words have the feel of a planned speech. Bucky wonders idly if he’s been up thinking about it all night.

“Are you okay?” Steve starts with a question but doesn’t wait for the answer, just speeds ahead in a way that is so undeniably Steve that Bucky has to suppress the urge to laugh. “You didn’t come home and I was- Listen, I don’t want to fight anymore.”

“That’s great, Steve,” Bucky says wearily, and really it is, but the part of him that wants to cheer at the news is going to have to wait until the rest of him gets another eight hours of solid rest under his belt. “Happy to hear it, but can we talk about it later? I really want to lie down.”

“Please, let me finish. I just- I need to apologize. I’m sorry, Buck. I’m an idiot. You were right, you did warn me and I didn’t listen. That’s not on anybody but me, but I took it out on you anyway. I let my feelings get in the way and it was messy, but I really, really still want to be your friend. It’s-“

“Steve.” Bucky pinches the bridge of his nose and rubs at his eyes as he turns to face his roommate-who-could-possibly-be-more. The past day has shaken Bucky free from his foundations, but some of the feelings he’s dredging up are good. “Stop apologizing. We were both being assholes. We do need to talk, and we will, but can we please make it after I’ve gotten some sleep?”

“Bucky,” Steve’s voice comes out in a near-whisper, and he brushes across the bandaging by Bucky’s hairline.

“I know. I’ll tell you all about it after, I promise.” It hurts his pride a little, to think of sharing that particular story with Steve, but he’s going to do it because something in him thinks he needs Steve to know.

“Okay,” Steve agrees simply. It’s wonderful, how much intent, how much trust, Bucky can feel behind that one word. Steve’s fingers drop to rest light against Bucky’s mouth. Bucky reaches up with one hand and grips Steve’s fingers with his own, holding them there while he lays a light kiss on Steve’s palm.

“Lay down with me?” he asks, and Steve’s eyes are open and honest when he looks into them.

Steve arranges them like that night all those weeks ago, broad chest warm and comforting against Bucky’s back. Bucky grips the arm that Steve’s thrown over his waist and says, “By the way, I quit my job.”

Steve grips him tighter and buries his face in the back of Bucky’s neck, breath warm against the sensitive skin. Bucky falls asleep almost instantly.