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Natasha and Clint met Steve and Bucky at the front entrance.

Clint and Bucky were both wearing black jeans, white shirts and dark vests.

Clint had a royal blue collar set with four black sapphire gems on either side of the ring, and the leash was blue with black accents.

Bucky’s red collar was coupled with a black and red leash.

The two subs looked at each other and then wordlessly entwined their fingers, the only real sign of nervousness. Other than shopping, they really hadn’t had any public outings since the fundraiser last year. Definitely no outings to high classed restaurants.

This was a way for Steve and Nat to introduce their subs to high society. To show the world what an abused sub could become. They’d had so many requests from news companies and celebrity magazines for a follow up to the charity dinner a year ago. So this was it. Steve and Nat were going to a place where media was allowed and they would be under a microscope.

Steve kissed Bucky’s cheek. “They’ll probably ask a hundred questions. You don’t have to answer any. I’ll do that.”

“Okay,” Bucky said.

“They’ll probably want to know about the therapy he’s taking,” Nat said.

Steve shook his head. “I’m not saying much about that. The therapy is going well. I talked to his therapist earlier today. He’s doing real good.”

Bucky’s eyes flew to his Dom’s face. He’d called the therapist? Everything was good? He suddenly felt betrayed. Steve wasn’t going to save him from therapy? It was normal? He’d been trying to get the courage to bring it up but there was no point now!

He dug his blunt nails into the palm of his flesh hand. He was alone with his pain. He had been hoping maybe Steve could save him before he had to go see the therapist tomorrow.

Steve noticed the sudden change in Bucky’s mood. He was starting to think Bucky was sick. He was scraping himself a lot lately, always anxious and upset. He was moody. There was something going on with his darling sub. He just didn’t know what.

Natasha patted Clint’s hip. “C’mon darling boy. Car’s here. Let’s go.”

The four climbed into the waiting town car and settled back for the ride to the restaurant.

Clint chattered to Bucky about what the restaurant might be like.

Bucky was uncharacteristically quiet but he grinned at Clint here and there, agreeing with the fact that it would be fun to see what big name people might show up.

Clint laughed. “I told my therapist I was gonna be here tonight. She said she might come and check out how I’m doing!”

Bucky’s face fell and he let his head fall forward, face hidden by his hair. He didn’t want to talk about therapy or think about therapy.

“That’s great, Clint,” Steve enthused. “You guys are both making great progress at therapy. I wonder if Jay will show up tonight?”

Bucky shrugged and sincerely hoped not.

Steve and Nat turned to a discussion about the ins and outs of going public.

Clint leaned on Nat, getting some cuddles before dinner.

Steve kept an eye on Bucky. He wondered again if he was ill? Maybe that accounted for the clumsiness and the lack of bladder control and even the mood swings.

A few minutes later, Steve had no more time to worry as the car pulled up to the restaurant and the door was opened by a doorman.

Steve got out, holding Bucky’s leash.

For the first time in ages, Bucky balked. He pulled back, until Steve gently tugged. “C’mon Bucky.”

The sub unwillingly stepped onto the sidewalk, head down and hair covering his face.

Steve didn’t want to make a scene so he kept a firm hold on the leash, clenching his jaw. He smiled tightly at the crowd of social elites lining the walk to catch a glimpse of the two Avengers and their highly publicized abused subs.

Questions were being called out to them but Steve merely said, “Questions will be answered at a different time.”

He didn’t know why Bucky was suddenly being so difficult. They’d talked at length about the leash and what Steve expected when he was wearing it but tonight was not starting well.

Natasha noticed. She gave Steve a questioning glance but he just shrugged a little.

Once in the restaurant, the maître d’ seated them at a table close to the centre of the room with two plush pillows beside the chairs for Clint and Bucky.

Here they could be observed by the other patrons and the media personnel who had paid to be allowed in so they could take pictures and ask a limited amount of questions.

Steve gripped Bucky’s pull ring. “Down,” he said softly.

Bucky’s eyes were stormy and defiant as he slowly sank to his knees on the cushion.

Steve wished he’d never agreed to this. Bucky wasn’t ready; clearly!!

The sommelier came by with a bottle of expensive wine in a bucket of ice. “Good evening. Wine for the beautiful couple?”

Steve nodded slightly.

The man carefully poured the rich red liquid into the wine glasses. “And for your subs?”

“Lemon water,” Nat said.

“Cold mint tea.” Steve smiled.

Bucky frowned but didn’t say anything. He was feeling very frustrated. Steve was just good with his sub being in distress. It didn’t make sense!

He needed to relieve the pressure and just cut a little bit. He wondered if he could snatch the corkscrew from the sommelier. Probably not. He eyed the edge of the table. If he banged his head hard enough against it....

The drinks were brought, and menus laid down.

Steve gave him his drink and he sipped the tea, enjoying the mellow flavour.

The meals were designed to be shared between a dom and a sub.

Steve went over the menu, mentally ticking off what Bucky wouldn’t eat.

He did like chicken and pasta. That was a good choice. They drank their wine and talked softly.

Clint tried to engage Bucky in conversation but his friend had disappeared into his head somewhere. He was sensing his distress. “Bucky,” Clint pleaded, “Why won’t you talk?”

Bucky put his head up and looked at Clint. “Sorry. I’m just not really feeling good.”

“Tell Steve,” Clint whispered.

Bucky shook his head a little. He had made up his mind that Steve wouldn’t care. It hurt less if he just shut off his feelings.  “Clint, what can we do to liven things up a bit?” He whispered, defiance raging in his head.

Clint’s eyebrows rose. “There’s a lot of people watching!” He glanced around at the cameras and people everywhere.

Bucky pouted slightly. “So?”

Clint wondered what was wrong with Bucky. “Are you okay?” He asked softly.

“Sure,” Bucky tossed out, his tone surly.

Steve looked at him. “Hey. Enough.” He was definitely feeling that Bucky was upset. He just didn’t know why.

Bucky glowered at him. Steve was hyperaware that all the people were listening so he just turned back to his wine.

At that moment the small basket of fresh baked rolls arrived.

Steve took a piece of the bread and broke it. Maybe Bucky was just hungry. “Here honey,” he said softly.

Bucky took the bread from Steve’s hand. It was soft and warm and tasted good! He sat up for more.

Steve ate a few bites while talking to Nat, then broke another piece for Bucky but got sidetracked.

Bucky whined softly.

Steve gave him a stern look. “I was giving you more. No whining.”

Bucky snatched the bread from him and bit Steve’s finger. He looked up at him balefully.

Steve was not pleased at all!! Bucky hadn’t bitten him for months and months! He looked at Bucky with disbelief.  He didn’t like disciplining Bucky and especially not in public. But why was he acting like this? Steve glued a smile on his face and pretended everything was fine as he saw camera shutters clicking.

Bucky was staring at him, anger glinting in his eyes.

Steve simply gave him more bread, keeping his fingers well away from his sub’s teeth.

Their meal came and Bucky settled back somewhat, watching Steve cut some pasta and chicken. He opened his mouth for the bite eagerly, and forgot for the moment that he was angry. The food was delicious! Steve fed him carefully, making sure the food wasn’t too hot and that Bucky was getting enough.

He started feeling cared for again. Then the conversation swept back. But the therapist! Steve had talked to Jay! He said it was good! Bucky was trembling now. He was so confused.

Steve had answered a few questions when, as expected, Bucky’s therapy came up.

Steve said it was going well.

Bucky started shaking and reached for his tea. He needed a drink!

Steve took it and held it for him.

He sucked on the straw like a dying man on oxygen. When the tea was gone he hoped the question would be forgotten.

“Who’s his therapist?” Someone asked.

Bucky felt sick.

“Jay Roberts,” Steve answered. “Bucky really likes him from what Jay has told me.”

Bucky was in shock. Jay was lying! Steve was lying! He did not like the therapist. There was only one way to deal with lies.

Bucky reared back then rocked forward swiftly, cracking his head soundly against the sharp corner of the table. He sank to the floor, unconscious, blood spilling from a deep cut on his forehead.

Steve had no idea what had happened.

People were asking too many questions but Steve held up his hand, gathering Bucky into his arms while Nat held a paper towel to his head.

Clint had seen what Bucky did. He told the media Bucky lost his balance. It was not even close!

He knew without a doubt his best friend was in trouble of some sort. Bucky! He thought, why wouldn’t you just talk to someone.

The town car was there when they got outside, and Steve ordered a trip to the emergency room.

Bucky was still out when the ER nurses hurried him into a cubicle to get stitches.

When he was done and they were back at the tower, Steve gently carried Bucky in. He was starting to come around.

They sat down around the table and Steve gently cradled Bucky, making sure he was comfortable.

Bucky blinked drowsily and touched a finger to the bandaid on his forehead. “Ow.”

“Why’d you bang your head?” Clint demanded, tears close to falling.

“I had to-to let the lies out,” Bucky faltered.

Steve looked at him with concern. “What lies, baby?”

Bucky shrank into a tight ball. “About therapy,” he mumbled into Steve’s chest.

Steve’s heart constricted. His mind went full boar imagining what Bucky was going to say. “What happened in therapy?” Steve asked, tracing the scab on Bucky’s wrist lightly.  Now that he looked at it, it looked a lot more like....a cut. Panic made his stomach twist hard.

Bucky wouldn’t look at him. “I’m scared.” Then he added, “At therapy. Will you please come in with me tomorrow?”

“Of course baby boy,” Steve promised immediately.

Bucky relaxed a little. Maybe Steve did care that his sub was in pieces after all.