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Collar Full of Chemistry

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——STEVE——

Steve is waiting.

He hates to admit that it’s with any actual anxiety or trepidation, but he’s been waiting for this divorce to be done for months. He finally got the call earlier today. Peggy would sign with her lawyer and then the papers would be couriered to Steve to sign with his own. All civilized and official.

All their assets and the life they tried to build together would be divided and dissolved, respectively.

Great.

Except the papers should have arrived by now. He can see it by the way his lawyer keeps checking her watch. Sighing, Steve presses the intercom on his desk. "Ms. Chavez, could you please—"

"Sorry, Captain Rogers, there’s just been...a delay."

"What? Why?"

"The envelope went to the mail room instead of straight to me. The clerk is trying to find it."

"What do you mean they’re trying to find it? You know what, I’ll do it myself." He stands, picking up his jacket and putting it back on from where he’d draped it on his chair. He marches out, hesitating only briefly at America’s desk.

Blessedly, she points. "East side of the building, second floor."

Second floor. Steve can’t remember the last time he was on the second floor. His lawyer stares after him. "I can’t sit and wait for it another second. I’ll be right back."

This is good, walk off some of the extra energy, get the papers, it’s fine. Mistakes happen. Steve’s not unreasonable.

He takes the elevator down, and then follows the convenient signs posted for MAIL ROOM.

He’s not quite expecting what he sees when he goes in. A man—maybe 22? 23?—cursing wildly to himself as he holds a piece of cardboard and tries to fan...a drenched stack of papers, stained with brown coffee marks.

The man is, quite simply, a disaster; there is coffee all down the front of his button-up shirt and the crotch of his slacks, and Steve spots a puddle of it spreading over the edge of the desk, where the papers caught the brunt of it.

There's a venti Starbucks coffee cup lying on its side on the floor, coffee pooling into the carpet.

"Fuck!" he cries, giving up on the cardboard and attacking the papers with a wadded up ball of tissues. He hasn’t noticed Steve yet. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, you idiot, you goddamn fool, aw, fuck me—"

Steve's eyes narrow at him as he steps over the threshold, draws himself up to his full height and clears his throat.

The man startles, jumping up, eyes going wide as he takes in all of Steve. "Shit! You scared me."

Pursing his lips, unimpressed, Steve points to the sign on the wall that reads NO LIQUIDS very clearly. "Might help if you paid attention to the rules of your workplace," he says coldly. "I was expecting an urgent letter. Addressed to Steve Rogers."

The man's face goes pale. "Uh," he says, and his gaze darts to the desk, where the wet papers lie. "I, uh, I did receive it, yes. I think."

"You think," Steve repeats. He walks over and starts to peel apart coffee-stained mail.

"It was an accident," he says defensively. "I'm sorry, mister—"

"Captain," snaps Steve. He hasn't actually wanted anyone to call him that in a while, but it just comes out as his anger and frustration builds. "Captain Steve Rogers. Your name?"

"James. James Barnes."

Steve spots the sealed envelope plastered in between several other documents just as Barnes gives his name. The ink on the envelope is smeared and with hands that he absolutely refuses to let shake, he opens it and pulls out the thick agreement within. It's ruined. Utterly and completely. Peggy's signature is a smeared blob and the words are illegible. The whole thing will have to be reprinted and resigned.

"Listen, Captain, I'm sorry I—" begins Barnes.

Steve can't hear it. He can't deal with this right now. He turns stiffly around. "Stop talking. Collect your things. You're fired."

Barnes entire face falls. "But it was one mistake, it was just—"

"Are you deaf as well as unable to read clear instructions posted on the wall?" snaps Steve, pointing at the NO LIQUIDS sign again. "You're fired, Barnes. Go collect your things and turn in your badge."

Barnes's lip gives a distinct wobble, but then he squares his shoulders and looks Steve directly in the eyes. "You're a real prick, you know that?" he says, voice only trembling a little before he turns and marches out of the room.

Steve stares after him before he departs himself, bringing the ruined pages of the contract back upstairs. His lawyer will have to deal with this.

And ultimately, it's fine.

Embarrassing, sure, but neither Peggy nor her lawyer make a fuss. They don't demand anything extra, the deal remains fair and the marriage remains ended. In the end, Steve is a dick to someone who maybe didn't quite deserve it, and he's still divorced.

Pepper contacts him later in the day, beginning the conversation with, "Did you fire a mail clerk?"

"Sure did," drawls Steve, because he is drained, and while there is a small part of him that feels a bit bad for the severity of his reaction, he feels it was justified. "He spilled coffee all over the mail he was supposed to be sorting, directly in front of the sign telling him he wasn't allowed to have liquids in the room."

"And what were you doing in the mail room, Steve?" asks Pepper evenly. "I didn't think you even knew where it was."

"I was getting a piece of mail that should have gone directly to America," says Steve. "My divorce papers."

There is a long pause. "Ah," says Pepper. "Ruined?"

"Ruined," confirms Steve.

"I'm not very happy. Barnes is the fourth person to either quit or be fired from that position."

"So he hadn't been there for long," says Steve.

"About two months."

"Then I'll find you a new one, and you won't even notice," says Steve dismissively. "I'll get America to recommend someone."

Pepper sighs noisily. "Next time, call me first, please."

"Promise," says Steve. They hang up, he finishes his day, goes home, orders dinner, and falls asleep on the couch.

America recommends someone else, and Pepper is happy. Life moves on. Steve tells himself if that job has been vacated three times before Barnes, it's probably not that great to begin with, and Barnes would have quit eventually anyway.

And then he stops telling himself anything about it because he forgets.

A month after his divorce, Steve gets up early on a Sunday and takes a look around his penthouse. He moved after they separated, bought all new furniture, hired a decorator, the works. But it doesn't change the fact that it's empty except for Steve. He scowls at his living room and then turns back to his room to get dressed. There are some things he can work on at the office. Might as well.

The only really bad thing about working on Sundays is that he refuses to make America come in on the weekends. She deserves days off even if he's a workaholic. So he has to fend for himself, which includes getting coffee. That's fine. There's at least three Starbucks locations between his penthouse and the office, and he could do with a walk today.

His phone dings as he pushes into the Starbucks closest to his home, and he drags it out of his pocket to check the message.

Tony: jarvis said you weren't at home
Steve: why are you having jarvis check up on me
Tony: i just wanted to see if you were up for dinner. pepper is asking.
Steve: maybe. busy today.
Tony: doing what?

"Can I help you, sir?" asks a familiar voice, interrupting Steve's train of thought.

He looks up and realizes he's made it to the front of the line. Staring at him is James Barnes.

Oh. Oh, this is awkward.

Steve clears his throat to buy a moment to process this entire situation, because—

For all that a job as a mailroom clerk was probably not great, Barnes would have been salaried, with benefits, because that is how Stark Industries works. There are no contract workers, temps, or part time employees.

And here is Barnes, at Starbucks. Part time shifts, shit pay...

Steve did this. Steve made this happen.

Barnes is staring right back at him, lips pursed, face red. With embarrassment? Anger? "Sir," he says tightly. "Can I take your order?"

"Sorry," Steve says crisply, and he's not sure if he's apologizing for the situation or his absent-mindedness. "Venti, dark roast, please."

"Coming right up," says Barnes. He has not stopped staring at Steve, all through ringing him up, scrawling something furiously on the cup, and then handing it off.

As Steve takes his change, he puts it into the tip jar, and then adds a twenty dollar bill on top of it.

Barnes flicks a scornful gaze at it, and mutters, "Course you would," as Steve moves down the bar.

Steve takes a breath and waits—patiently—for his coffee.

"Captain Rogers?" calls the other barista after a short time.

Steve cringes. "Yeah, thanks," he sighs, taking the drink and with one last backwards glance, he hurries away.

It's fine. Barnes is an adult. He made a choice which cost him his job. That's not Steve's fault.

Four days later, he leaves the office midday to grab something to eat and clear his head with a walk again. He heads straight for his favorite diner where the cheeseburgers and shakes are as big as his head. Comfort food is what he needs. He's being led to a booth toward the back when he sees Barnes, who is drinking a water and eating what looks like a kids meal of a plain small cheeseburger and a tiny portion of fries.

He lifts his gaze immediately from Barnes's plate, but it's too late. Barnes sees him seeing it and scowls in his direction.

Steve swears he's not sure why he does it, but he turns to the hostess and says, "I'm going to join my friend instead," and then he drops into the booth across from Barnes.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" snaps Barnes.

The hostess puts the menu down in front of Steve and walks away without a word. Steve doesn't blame her.

"Joining you."

"No, you're not."

"Yes, I am."

The waitress chooses then to walk up. She looks unsure, glancing between them, but Steve just says, "I'd like 2 #2s with chili cheese fries and two chocolate shakes, and you can take this away," and he picks up Bucky's plate and hands it over to the waitress along with a crisp $50 he pulls from his wallet.

She stares at him while Bucky looks on in shock, but then seems to decide she doesn't want any part of whatever argument is about to happen. She takes the plate and the $50 bill and leaves.

"You have GOT to be kidding me. What the hell is WRONG with you?" hisses Bucky.

"I'm buying you lunch."

"I had lunch."

"Didn't look very good. If you're going to eat here, you should enjoy it."

Barnes's expression collapses into a singularity of barely-restrained rage. He's a good looking kid, strong jaw, big blue eyes, the kind of soft, pouty mouth that probably drives girls wild.

Of course, he also looks seconds away from throwing himself across the booth and choking Steve out, but Steve's always been into murderous lookers.

Not that he's doing this to hit on Barnes. He's not really sure why he's doing this. Guilt, maybe.

"You that fucking clueless?" demands Barnes. "You always just throw money around when you feel bad? Help you sleep at night?"

"I don't feel bad," says Steve shortly.

"You tipped twenty bucks," says Barnes. "Now you're buying me lunch? After you fired me? What else would this be, besides totally oblivious pity? What, you realized I'm broke, and you're gonna buy me off?"

"Pretty sure I can't buy you off with a diner lunch," says Steve evenly.

"No fucking shit," snaps Barnes.

"James, was it?" asks Steve, ignoring his sputtering anger.

Barnes glares at him. "You fired me. You should know."

"Clever," says Steve. "You always that good with your mouth?"

And okay, that's...over the line. But it's not as if he can get in trouble for sexual harassment. Barnes isn't his employee anymore and he's fully capable of walking away if he wants to. He hasn't even paid for his lunch yet, it would be no loss to him.

Barnes just goes instantly red, bright and burning, his mouth snapping shut as he glares at Steve.

"Guess not," says Steve with a shrug. "Maybe you should just sit there and enjoy the food like a good boy."

Steve knows he's being a dick. He knows he is, but...he just can't seem to help himself.

"You're such an asshole," seethes Barnes, crossing his arms. "I don't understand. Does this get you off? Nice power trip for you?"

"Not really about the power or getting off. I saw you, and I wanted to join you, so I did. I've made a good career out of following my instincts," says Steve with a shrug. "I'm going to sit here and enjoy a meal with you."

Barnes's jaw works a moment and then he sits back and turns away from Steve, staring out the window without a word. Steve lets him sulk for as long as he wants, until finally Barnes turns his attention back to Steve. "Fine. You want to buy me lunch? Be my guest. But I don't forgive you and I don't like you."

"Good thing I didn't ask for either of those things, and I don't care," says Steve, shrugging.

The waitress arrives, then, with their platters and shakes, laying everything out on the table, and Barnes snaps his gaze to the food in front of him with clear interest.

For a moment, he doesn't move, staring down at the fully loaded cheeseburger and chilli cheese fries and the chocolate shake. Then something in him seems to break, and he dives in, eating with the kind of controlled hunger of the truly ravenous.

Steve doesn't comment, tucking into his own food at a much more sedate pace. Barnes is struggling, then, financially. He doesn't have a lot of money, if what he'd ordered was a good indication of the kind of cash he had to spare.

Well, and the comment that he's broke.

Steve still wouldn't say he's guilty, but he also doesn't like to see someone struggle. Especially when Steve has an overabundance of...everything. Regardless, he doesn't think Barnes's pride could take much more of Steve today.

When the server comes around again, Steve pays the bill, tips generously and says, "Thanks for sharing that meal with me, James."

Barnes stares back and then gets up. "Okay. See you...hopefully never again."

He walks out, and Steve lets him go without comment. He probably won't see Barnes again. He's certainly not going to choose to return to the Starbucks he works at, and he doubts he'll be seeing Barnes at his usual dining establishments. So...that's that.

And it is until that weekend.

Saturday night, Steve goes with Sam to take clients out. He hates doing this and usually leaves it to Sam to manage, but these are especially big clients who want to be wowed. So the Vice President of Design gets dragged along.

About three hours in, the clients are drunk, and Sam has them well in hand. He leans over to Sam. "Think they'd notice if I left?"

Sam snorts. "Nah, they're more than occupied. Get out of here. I know you're hating every second of this."

Steve pats Sam on the back and gets up from their VIP booth. He heads to the bathroom, planning to escape after that.

It's a good plan, except on his way to the exit, he spots Barnes at the bar down in the main part of the club. He’s wearing tight black pants and a tight black t-shirt and he looks...good. Steve gravitates toward him before he can even bother to question himself.

Barnes has a drink in hand, and he's leaning over the bar, flirting with the bartender as he takes a sip. There's a guy leaning up alongside him at the bar, broad across the shoulders, with dark hair and a scruffy chin, strong brow and jaw.

He's got the kind of look on his face that Steve finds particularly insufferable, smug and knowing, like he's convinced he's already succeeded in picking up Barnes.

"Thanks for the drink, Brock," Barnes is saying, turning to face the other guy, "Real nice, thank you, but I'm still not interested."

"Saw you dancing," says Brock. "Alone. You seriously expect me to believe you're here with someone?"

Ah. Perfect. His cue.

"Hey, baby," says Steve, sliding in on Barnes's other side. "There you are. I'm all done, you ready?"

Barnes, to his credit, only startles a little. He takes a brief moment to scan Steve's face, eyes narrowing just a fraction before he smiles wide and leans right into Steve's hold, angling his body toward him, hand sliding up Steve's arm to his shoulder. "Ready to dance with you, sexy."

"Hmmm," hums Steve, dipping his head down to whisper in Barnes's ear even as he smirks over his shoulder at the schmuck. "You sure I can't just take you home?"

"I'm sure," says Barnes sweetly. "Think I want a few more drinks before we head out. You're okay with that, aren't you?"

God, he's such a little shit. Steve smiles back and lets his hand slide over Barnes's side to his hip, since Barnes is taking his own liberties. If Barnes doesn't want a simple rescue from a creep, that's fine by Steve. He can play along.

"Then let me get you another drink, doll," murmurs Steve, smirking and flagging down the bartender.

Barnes drains the drink in his hand and then gives the empty glass to Brock, turning his body away from him to press up alongside Steve, looking at him meaningfully. There's an edge of something in his eyes that is delicately fearful.

"You can go," Steve says to Brock, dismissing him with a wave of his hand.

Brock's face briefly turns murderous before it smooths out. "Fuck this," he snaps. "Waste of a goddamn drink on this uptight twink!"

He stalks off and Steve can feel Barnes relax just a little.

"Uh," says Barnes, dropping the act now that Brock is gone. "Thanks, I think."

Steve lets his arms fall away from Barnes, too, albeit somewhat reluctantly. He clears his throat. "You're welcome. I'm sure you could have handled him on your own."

Barnes shrugs one shoulder, turning to pick up the drink the bartender drops off. "Sure, I guess."

"You come here often?" asks Steve, uncaring that it sounds like a line. Maybe it is? He still hasn't figured out what it is about Barnes that gets under his skin so badly, aside from having the unfortunate luck to spill coffee on Steve's divorce papers.

Barnes snorts and rolls his eyes. "Jesus, does that work for you often?"

Steve purses his lips. "Do you know how to have polite conversation? Or did your parents never bother to teach you how?"

Something furious and hurt flashes across Barnes's face and he straightens up, not quite as tall as Steve but close enough. "My parents are dead, asshole. So no, they didn't get the chance. God, you just can't help yourself, can you?"

Oh, fuck. That was all Steve.

"Sorry," says Steve quickly, with as much sincerity as he can reasonably muster that hopefully won't further offend Barnes. "I'm sorry, that wasn't—" He sighs, shaking his head. "I'm sorry. Inappropriate. Bad call."

"Yeah, it was a fucking bad call," snaps Barnes. "I get that you think I'm amusing to you, or something, and that you think you keep doing me favours by throwing money my way, but you don't get to fire me, humiliate me, and then act like I owe you polite conversation just because you bailed me out with the bare minimum required amount of common decency."

When the bartender delivers the fresh drink, Steve takes it, turning away and sipping at it. "I guess I can't help myself," he comments mildly. He is not stung, exactly, by Barnes's biting takedown. Nor is he embarrassed. It feels more like a challenge he has yet to overcome.

"Jesus," huffs Barnes. "Okay, well, I release you. Go back to whatever you were doing before you white-knighted me. I don't need this."

"You don't need anyone, I assume," Steve says, turning his gaze back onto Barnes. Who is, all told, definitely drunk. An angry, articulate drunk, but a drunk nonetheless. His cheeks are flushed and his eyes are glassy, and his pants are very, very tight. "Except for all the people buying you drinks tonight, right? I feel like you haven't bought a single drink for yourself."

"’Course I haven't," snorts Bucky. "If you have to buy your own drinks, you're doing it wrong."

"And I guess you're doing it very, very right. Got yourself a reputation as a... What did he call you? An uptight twink? So maybe you do come here often...and they all try their best to loosen those tight pants with all the free drinks you could possibly want, huh?" asks Steve, flicking his gaze down Barnes's body and back up.

Barnes lifts a challenging eyebrow. "And?"

"And that's a smooth little setup you got going, Barnes. Sounds a little lonely, but to each their own," says Steve dismissively, taking another drink.

"Oh, please," snaps Barnes, cheeks going even more pink, and Steve doesn't think it's from the booze either. "You don't know the first thing about me, but you think you have me all figured out, huh? I bet you think you could offer me something better too, don't you? If only I would drop to my knees in the bathroom for you. Or drop my pants in the alleyway. Or...I bet someone like you has their own private VIP room. Should I go up there with you, bend over and forget all my problems?"

"No, wouldn't really want an audience for the things I'd like to do to you, and I'm afraid our VIP room is full of clients," says Steve honestly, giving Barnes the barest smile. Maybe the booze has gone to his head or maybe he just doesn't like being told no. "But you are right about one thing. I can offer you something better."

"That what everyone thinks," says Barnes. "That's what every rich prick like you thinks—that you can offer something better. How'd you get so confident, huh? How'd you get so entitled? You get everything handed to you your entire life?"

"I had help, when I needed it," Steve says evenly. Help seems to be something Barnes is not accustomed to receiving, and something he definitely doesn't ask for. "You're not going to make me feel bad about the privilege I have now. I worked for it, Barnes."

"God, stop," groans Barnes. "That's not—you call me that one more time, I'm gonna lose it. Bucky. My name is Bucky."

"Your name is James," says Steve, raising an eyebrow.

"Yep," says Barnes. "Sure is. First name, James. Middle name, Buchanan. Bucky."

"Okay," says Steve. "Bucky. I like you."

Bucky narrows his eyes at Steve. "Do you? Or do you like what you think I represent? Some poor kid you wronged that you think you need to make something up to? Because I told you, I'm not interested."

"I do," shrugs Steve. "Like you, that is. Something keeps pulling me back. And like I said, I think I can offer you something."

"Oh yeah? If it's a job, I'm not going anywhere near Stark Industries again," snaps Bucky. Growing impatient, now. Get to the point, Steve.

"No," says Steve. "Not a job. An arrangement."

Bucky's face flushes scarlet. "I'm not a whore."

"Okay," says Steve agreeably. "And I wasn't asking you to be one."

"So you don't want to fuck me?" asks Bucky bluntly.

"I didn't say that, either. I said an arrangement." Steve leans forward again, close to Bucky to ensure no one else hears their exchange. Not that there's much chance of it, considering how loud the music is, the bustle of other people and voices in the crowd. "Would you like to hear the terms of the arrangement?"

Bucky looks torn between horrible curiosity and stubborn resentment. He doesn't want to give an inch to Steve.

Steve wants to take a mile.

"Fine," he huffs, not backing away. "What are the terms?"

Steve smiles. "You do everything I say, whatever I say, for...hmm, let's say...a whole year. You dress how I want and you go where I want and you behave like I want and yes, Bucky, you get fucked how I want."

Bucky's breath catches, pupils wide in the dim lights, staring at Steve. "And in exchange?"

"In exchange I'll make sure that when that year is up, you have an apartment in your name and a job at any company that isn't Stark and enough money to go to any school of your choosing. And you never have to see or hear from me again."

"You're fucking crazy," hisses Bucky, shocked into a knee jerk reaction. "What? How is that not prostitution?"

"I think the kids these days wouldn't call you a whore, they'd call you a sugar baby," says Steve, shrugging. "I don't really like to split hairs."

Bucky licks his lips, expression wide open and vulnerable. His gaze darts around the room, then back to Steve, and Steve sees his eyes unfocus for a second; he's very much aroused by what's happening right now. "How do I know you're even legit?"

"Oh, please," scoffs Steve, echoing Bucky's earlier statement. "You looked me up after I fired you. My entire professional history is accessible online. You know I'm 'legit'."

"Okay," says Bucky. He licks his lips again reflexively. He looks so appealing, with his soft mouth and blown-out pupils, trying to work through Steve's offer. "So you just want a fucktoy, is that it? Someone to control? How do I know you'll come through in the end? A whole fucking year? Do I just rely on you the entire time? Do I get an allowance?"

"An allowance is customary," agrees Steve. "I'm sure we could iron out the details to something we're both satisfied with. I would expect a contract, of course. I'm not asking you to make a verbal agreement, here. You should never do that, Bucky."

"And do you do this often?" breathes Bucky, barely audible. "Go around just...buying who you want, when you want them?"

"No," Steve answers simply. "But I told you, I like you."

"And am I just supposed to go home with you right now? Take it or leave it?"

Steve can see that hint of fear in Bucky's eyes again. He frowns. "I said I would take you home, not that you would go home with me. Not tonight. You're drinking, and you deserve some time to think the arrangement over. I'm not unreasonable."

Bucky snorts at that, no doubt thinking of when he lost his job for a single error in judgment, but he takes a trembling breath and says, "Fine. Take me home, then. And I'll think about your arrangement."

"Okay," agrees Steve easily. He flags down the bartender and lays money down for their drinks before he puts his hand on the small of Bucky's back and guides him from the club to his waiting limousine. Bucky rolls his eyes when they're in the back, scooting over until he's on the other side of it from where they got in, nowhere near Steve, and then he starts helping himself to the drinks in the sidebar.

Steve actually has to clear his throat to keep from laughing. Bucky really is such a little shit. Steve hopes his read is correct, that in the light of day Bucky will still want what Steve is offering, crave it. "You know, the driver will need your address, Bucky."

Bucky rolls his eyes again (god, Steve can't WAIT to discipline that right out of him) and then, with a smirk, he digs his wallet out of his pocket and tosses it to Steve. Steve catches it automatically.

"Go on, it's printed on my license."

This kid is so stupid.

Steve purses his lips and takes out Bucky's license, reading the address off to the driver. He also sneaks a look at the details, because Bucky had to realize he'd do so.

James Buchanan Barnes, born March 10, 1995. He is 23 years old. 6 feet tall, blue eyes, no corrective lenses required. He lives in Brooklyn.

Finished with his snooping, Steve tucks the card back into Bucky's wallet and tosses it back to him.

Bucky catches it neatly in one hand, giving Steve a wink. Then he drains the drink he's poured himself and slumps back onto the seat of the limo. "So, like, how rich are you?"

"Multi-millionaire," shrugs Steve. "How broke are you?"

"I have ten cents in my bank account," says Bucky, and his chin juts out, defiant.

"At least you have a bank account," says Steve. "Give me your phone. I'm going to give you my number."

Bucky squirms around obediently, no huffing or eye rolling for once, and he pulls out a cheap looking flip phone, tossing it over to Steve. "It's prepay and I don't have much left on the account right now, so don't expect a lot of messages."

"Noted," says Steve, quickly programming his number in. When he hands it back, he makes sure to catch Bucky's gaze. "Anything else you'd like to tell me in hopes I'll change my mind and won't want you?"

Bucky stares and then blurts: "I'm a virgin still. I won't...know how to do anything."

His cheeks are absolutely burning now but he looks as stubborn and defiant as ever.

Steve takes a deep, steadying breath, keeping his gaze on Bucky. Either he really thinks his being a virgin would be a detractor or it's a test to see if Steve will be overeager. And while Steve doesn't really give a rat's ass one way or another, he won't pretend the thought of making sure Bucky only has good memories associated with getting fucked isn't appealing.

He meets Bucky's stare evenly. "Well, what a shame. Guess I'll have my work cut out for me, telling you exactly what to do to make me happy. I'm sure someone as smart as you will be able to figure it out."

Bucky looks like he's having a hard time determining whether or not Steve is making fun of him. Is he actually calling me stupid? says his furrowed brow.

Eventually, he mumbles, "Well, it's not like I've even agreed to this absolute lunacy. I'm thinking about it."

"Of course," says Steve, shrugging. They're crossing the bridge, now, and Steve turns to look out the window. "I don't want your drunken decision. As long as you get back to me by, oh, let's say...one week from now, then the offer will remain on the table."

"A week," says Bucky. "Okay. Fine."

The rest of the drive flies by, Bucky sneaking drinks right up until the the limo pulls up to his block, and then he scrambles out over Steve's lap and gives him a wide grin as he disappears.

The limo pulls away again, taking Steve home, and he sighs and leans back, shaking his head. He's not sure if Bucky will agree, but he has a good feeling about it.

Enough to get a preliminary contract drafted, anyway.

Bucky doesn't actually text him until one day before Steve's deadline. With every passing day, Steve loses hope he'll hear from Bucky at all.

And then, on Thursday, he gets a text.

[Unknown]: I want to talk about this contract
[Unknown]: can we meet? Public place
Steve: Sure. How about the same diner as before?
Steve: Would you like me to email you a copy ahead of time?
Bucky: okay. my email is jb.barnes95@gmail.com
Bucky: what time?
Steve: 12:30pm tomorrow
Bucky: k

So, Steve emails the draft of the contract. It outlines Bucky's role as a private contractor and personal assistant, more or less.

Steve will provide meals, clothes, lodging, and transportation, plus an allowance of $500 per week, after taxes. In return, Bucky will agree to live in Steve's home and "provide support" in accordance with Steve's instructions.

The contract is at-will and can be terminated by Bucky at any time without consequence, but a bonus is provided to Bucky if he completes a year of service. At which point, he will be awarded a two bedroom apartment worth up to 1 million dollars in Manhattan, or the market equivalent anywhere in the United States if he chooses to go elsewhere for school.

His tuition will be paid in full for any program he chooses and is accepted into for one undergraduate and one graduate level degree. While in college, he will continue to receive an allowance of $500/week.

If Steve terminates the contract before a year is up, Bucky still gets the bonus unless Bucky violates a very strict behavior clause—up to and including going where Steve has not given him permission to be or inviting strangers to the apartment without permission (which after Steve's lawyer looked it over, he agreed that it would probably hold up in court).

The contract itself never specifies that Bucky has to have sex with Steve, and though he's entirely certain Bucky will say yes to having sex with him, Steve wants Bucky to know that that's not a clause in the contract. It wouldn't be legally binding if it were.

——BUCKY——

Bucky has no idea what is even going on in his life anymore.

For one thing, he's sitting at a computer in the library reading over a contract outlining the services Bucky will provide to Steve fucking Rogers for a year in exchange for a free apartment, education, and allowance.

What. The. Fuck.

Rich people are wild.

One day, this guy is firing him for spilling his coffee, and two months later, he's offering to essentially become Bucky's sugar daddy.

Christ.

It's so tempting.

Bucky is incredibly broke, one final notice away from eviction. He can't remember the last time he had money for groceries. His heat got turned off this morning, and he's been living months without a computer or internet of his own.

$500 a week.

There's a bunch of weird rules, obviously, but Bucky can't get over the allowance. So he has to let Steve dress him and ask permission if he wants to go out? Who cares. He doesn't have friends to invite over anyway.

And...for all the talk at the bar, there's nothing in here about sex.

Absolutely nothing.

Which. Bucky supposes it would be difficult for him to have sex with anyone BUT Steve unless he asked permission, given the limitations on where he goes and who he's with. Of course, that's not really a hardship considering he doesn't have sex with anyone anyway.

But he might like to. He might like to have sex with Steve. But if he doesn't want to, Steve can't terminate their agreement, at least not without having to give Bucky all this "bonus" shit anyway.

God. Maybe he could do it. Maybe he could just...be this person. It's only a year. And if it's really awful, he can quit, any time. And he still has whatever money he managed to save in the meantime. What does he need $500/week for if all his needs are already taken care of? He could put it all in savings, every penny, and bounce the second it got to be too much, if he really couldn't take it until the year payout.

And maybe it wouldn't be too terrible.

God, he's going to do this, isn't he? He's going to go to that diner and he's going to say yes to Steve Rogers.

It's exactly what he does.

He gets up the next morning, he showers in icy cold water for as long as he can stand it and he styles his hair, and then he goes to the diner for 12.30. Even though he's a couple of minutes early, Steve is already there.

"Hi," says Bucky, sitting across from him in the booth.

"Bucky," says Steve evenly. "Hello." He's wearing a suit, his beard is neatly trimmed, and there is a briefcase on the table. "I'm happy you decided to meet with me."

"Yeah, whatever, so...I'll sign," he says quickly, twisting his hands in his lap. "I assume you brought a copy. I'm good. Let's do this."

"You don't have any questions?" Steve asks slowly, popping open the clasps on the briefcase.

"No," says Bucky. "I get it. I want to sign. I'm in. The sooner the better."

Steve looks at him for a long time and it makes Bucky feel self-conscious. "What? Did you change your mind suddenly?"

"No," says Steve. "I expected you to have questions, but clearly you've spent the last 24 hours thinking about this carefully. We can sign it. You understand that as soon as you do, it goes into effect, right?"

"Yeah, and you'll start bossing me around, and I'll be able to afford to break the lease on my shitty apartment that I'm about to get evicted from anyway," sighs Bucky, scowling.

Steve hums and then instead of ignoring this or criticizing, he says, "You're right. I should have provided for you to end any living arrangements you had previously. I'll have that added in. We'll need to sign it with my lawyer anyway, to make sure it's filed and legal. We can go now if you want, though."

Bucky cannot believe this. "Yeah, fine, okay."

Steve's going to pay for his lease to be broken. One less thing Bucky has to worry about. God, maybe he doesn't mind this at all. Who cares if he's a glorified whore?

So, Bucky goes with Steve to see his lawyer, a nice older woman who acknowledges nothing about this being weird as hell. She even makes sure that Bucky fully understands the terms of the agreement, briefly explaining some of the more complicated clauses that Bucky had googled last night. Then the amendment is added and Bucky and Steve both sign and it's notarized. After which, Bucky gets a copy and another is placed in a safe at the firm.

Cool.

When they're back in Steve's limo, he turns to Bucky. "I assume you have things you'd like to collect from your old place?"

"Um, yeah, if I can have the rest of the afternoon, I can get my stuff and deal with my lease."

Steve glances at his phone and then says, "Alright. I'm going back to the office to wrap a few things up. Why don't you go do what you need to do. Do you have a lot to move? Things that need to go into storage?"

Bucky shakes his head. "No just...clothes, really. The apartment was furnished when I moved in."

"Okay, I'll send a car to your address. The driver can help carry things down if you need help. If you'll text me the amount you need to pay off your lease and your bank info, I'll wire the funds into your account, as well as this week's allowance," says Steve, all business. Bucky can't get a read on him at all when he's like this. It's nothing like the way he spoke to Bucky that night in the club, deliberate and knowing.

"Uh, okay," says Bucky. Because he's not really sure what else to say.

"Can you be finished and ready to return to my place by 7 PM?"

Bucky nods. "Yeah, no problem."

"Good," says Steve.

Bucky gets dropping off at his place, and within minutes a second car arrives and the driver gets out.

"Hey man," says the blond guy that gets out. "I'm Clint. I'll help you carry stuff."

"Okay," says Bucky. This is the weirdest fucking day. "I just have to go to the rental office first."

It's not as painful as Bucky thought. The money's already been transferred, so he pays off his lease and terminates it. Then he goes upstairs trailed by the driver, who whistles as he carries the stuff Bucky hands him to take to the car.

He packs his clothes, goes through the apartment twice, and then shrugs. That's it. There's nothing else.

"Oh," says Clint when he reappears. "That's it?"

"Yeah," says Bucky, his cheeks burning. "I don't have much."

"No big," says Clint. "I can take you to the cap's place, now."

Bucky hesitates. They'll be early. "Sure. Um. Is he, uh...is he...?"

Clint cocks his head as they walk out. Bucky locks the door and then hands the keys in on the way out. "Is he...?"

"He's not, like, a psychopath, right?" Bucky crawls into the back of the car and leans in to speak to Clint through the divider.

Clint laughs. "No. He's a good dude. A bit cold, sometimes. But good." He says the next part carelessly: "Lonely, I think. Don't, uh...tell him I said that."

"I won't if you won't tell him I asked if he was a psychopath," Bucky says smartly.

Clint winks at him in the rearview mirror. "You got it."

Bucky slumps into the seat and stares out the window as they leave Brooklyn. When they get to Steve's absolutely ridiculous Midtown apartment building, Clint helps him bring everything up, and then leaves him. Alone. In Steve's place.

"Bye," says Bucky, a little forlorn. "Thanks for being cool."

"You too, little buddy," says Clint. "I'll tell Steve I dropped you off. See you around sometime, maybe."

The door closes and Bucky looks around.

He doesn't know what he's allowed to do. He explores a little, walking around the living room, kitchen, and dining room. He stands and looks out the floor to ceiling windows for a while. He walks down the hall but doesn't enter any of the rooms.

Then he sits on the couch in the living room and waits quietly for Steve.

He hopes he hasn't made a huge fucking mistake.