Bucky was reading his script and jotting notes in the margin when a blue coin dropped onto the table in front of him, spun on its edge, and then seesawed until it rested on its face. Bucky glanced up to see Steve Rogers standing there watching him.
“Agent said I gotta convince you I’m worth the risk. That’s my six month coin.”
Without breaking eye contact, Bucky reached out and picked up the coin, rubbing over the relief with his thumb. He raised an eyebrow at Rogers, who just huffed, caught the chair in front of him with his ankle and dragged it out, then dropped into it with a grunt.
“Six months sober. I promise you I’ll deliver the one year medallion. If you give me the chance.”
Bucky rolled the coin between his fingers, unconsciously repeating the magic trick he’d learned when he was thirteen and on the cusp of discovering his sexuality, because of this very man sitting across from him. He realized it as such as he stared across at Steve Rogers, the man who’d grown out of the boy who’d shown him the way of his sexuality by being the cutest boy he’d ever seen as Iron Man’s sidekick in The Mighty Avengers.
That had been before news had broken of Rogers’ chronic substance abuse, his stints in and out of rehab, and a number of mug shots shared on TMZ.
Bucky had been inspired to pursue a career in acting because of Steve Rogers, just as he’d discovered his attraction to men wasn’t a passing phase.
But Rogers’ history in the business was tumultuous, and studios weren’t willing to bank on his stability or promises of sobriety. Worse, insurance companies were loathe to cover productions featuring Steve Rogers on the roster.
But Bucky had risen up through the ranks, and he’d been careful with his cash. He owed more than he could ever say - literally - to the guy who sat across from him, clear-eyed, sober, and hopeful.
He blew out a breath and set the coin down equidistant between them. “And the role you want to play?”
Steve sat up, and cracked the seal on his bottled liquid, arching an eyebrow at Bucky as he did. “Just water, I assure you. As for role, I’d be happy with anything, to be honest. I loved the book, and I’d really like to just be a part of it. It’s, um, it’s an important story for me.”
Bucky reached for his own water bottle, spun off the cap, and took a long drink, using the action to mask his shock and burning curiosity. The film in question was based on a novel that had burned through the bestseller lists the year before, a frank and erotic examination of two friends growing up closeted, learning each was gay only in their twenties when tragedy struck unexpectedly. It was a love story that spoke to Bucky’s soul, and the dreams of romance he held close in his heart.
Bucky had gone after the rights to the book almost as soon as it was published. It was a dream project, his first with executive producer credit. His first with casting control.
He’d planned to play one of the boys, but he hadn’t decided yet who should play the other.
Honestly, if he could stay on the straight and narrow, having Steve Rogers play the role would be just about perfect. Bucky was a good actor - he could keep his teenaged crush a secret, and he could will away any inappropriate boners inspired by charged dialogue and erotic scenes.
It was a great story, and the script was brilliant. It was a great vehicle for him, and one he was proud to champion on behalf of the LGBT community.
But why was Steve Rogers interested in this specific property?
“If you could pitch for the one role you’d kill to play, who would it be?” Bucky asked then, looking directly at Steve, surprised at the steady gaze that met his.
“Henry,” he replied without hesitation. Henry was the other boy, the other half of the relationship central to the film. The love interest to Bucky’s character, Jimmy.
“That’s quite a departure for you.”
“Yeah. I know.” There was more than just an edge of bitterness in Steve’s voice, and it piqued Bucky’s interest.
“Playing against type could give your career a boost, especially if you get any notice in awards season.”
“That’s not why. It’s an amazing character. And yeah, it’s against type. It’s not the kind of role the suits would’ve let me play back in the day. Not on screen. And not in real life.”
Steve Rogers had been on the cover of every teen magazine, showing off his muscles, smooth skin, and cheeky grin for all to see. He’d been linked romantically with every Teen It Girl of the time, swept every teen awards show three years running, had thousands of fan sites dedicated to his every move, and had ridden the wave to his own fashion line, signature kicks, and even his own fragrance.
Then had come the reports of arguments on set, fights that delayed shooting. Then drugs, alcohol, running with a bad crowd. His first stint in rehab. Crazy shit that kept escalating until he ended up on the wrong side of the wrong camera, and more than one overnight stay in jail.
The roller coaster that was Steve Rogers’ life went on for several years until he more or less fell out of the public eye.
But never in that time did anyone suggest he was anything but heterosexual.
As he sat across from Bucky, clearly waiting for a reaction, Bucky knew he had to ask.
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“You came up in the industry after I did. And you started small, did some really choice indies. You grew into the roles, and you got to choose your narrative. You never had to hide who you are. You got to be gay.”
“I am gay.”
“Are you looking for a role in this film to make a statement?”
“I’m looking for a fresh start. With material I believe in. And nobody telling me who I can’t be.”
“Who do you want to be?”
“Steve Rogers. Actor. Not a personality, not a face that sells magazines. I just wanna act. It’s all I ever wanted to do.”
“You’re gonna make me ask, aren’t you?”
“If there’s something you need to know about me, yeah. Just ask.”
“Are you gay?”
“I don’t have to be gay to play a gay man. Anymore than I have to be straight to play a straight guy. But if it makes you feel better to have a label to give me, then ... women are great. I like women. I like men more.”
“The studios, they wouldn’t allow you ... ?”
“I starred on a fucking Disney sitcom, man. I was the next Zac Efron. Shit, they even auto tuned me into a goddamned DCOM musical. I can’t sing worth shit. By the time they were done, there wasn’t anything honest left about me. But what they did have? That was worth millions.”
“Shit. Damn, I liked those songs you sang.”
Steve grinned then, an echo of the cheeky grin of the posters in his youth. “Yeah, well, if you heard my real voice, you wouldn’t so much. Someone said I sound like a moose in heat. I don’t even know if moose go into heat, but I know I sound bad.”
Bucky chuckled, surprised at how much he was actually enjoying this conversation, weird though it was. In a really crazy way, it was better than the scenes he fantasized back when he wanted Steve Rogers to be his first boyfriend. This was real and honest. And honestly, heartbreaking.
“So they suppressed your sexuality.”
“They erased it. I could date the girls they chose, but not really. We went to industry events, things where we could be seen and sell the brand. Maybe some hand holding. A chaste kiss on the cheek. No real touching. Nothing real. I was so fucking touch starved, it wasn’t funny.”
“That how the drinking started?”
He shook his head. “In the program, we learn to own our shit. I hurt and I was frustrated. Angry. Depressed. I chose to medicate. I made those choices. They were all pretty much universally bad choices. But they were mine. And now I want to make better choices.”
Steve tilted his head to the side and looked at Bucky seriously. “Okay what?”
“Okay. You’re Henry.”
“When do I audition?”
“You don’t. Part is yours. I know you can act. I know you can play this role. Hell, it sounds like you’ve been a better actor than anyone knew. Even with my highly refined gaydar and the fact that I totally had a crush on you back then, it never occurred to me that you were actually gay. So yeah, no audition.”
“But I gotta meet the suits, right? I mean, there’s liability and all that shit -“
“No suits. My contract says I have full say in casting. I want you. For the role, I mean. And I’m gonna hold you to this,” he held up the blue coin. “You’re gonna stay sober, and do your meetings or whatever you have to do, and you’re gonna give me the best performance of your career. And that 12 month medallion? That’s mine.”
“Okay. Yeah, okay. And hey, that crush you had on me? I kinda have one on you. Had one. I had one. Yeah. I’ve been following your career for a while now, and you are totally ... well. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to work with you.”
Bucky stared at him in silence for a long moment, thoughts crashing randomly in his head as his brain sort of short circuited.
Steve Rogers had a crush on him? And Bucky actually admitted to his crush. Steve Rogers was gay. And well, so was Bucky.
“Is coming out on the agenda?”
“You mean my big gay agenda? I’ve lived in the closet my whole life. I don’t need to do a press conference or some such shit, but I do need to live honestly. That’s part of the program, too. So yeah, consider me out of the closet.”
“Would you ... would you like to have dinner? With me?”
“What, like a date?”
“Exactly like a date.”
Steve smiled faintly as he appeared to think about it. Then the smile widened and lit his eyes. “I can’t think of anything I’d like more, actually. Yeah, Bucky Barnes. I’d love to go on a date with you.”
In his head, 13 year old Bucky gave a fist pump and whooped loudly. In the now, Steve and Bucky smiled at each other, at the start of something new.