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You have a friend named Molly, and she has a crush on a guy who comes to the store regularly: tall, good looking, unfailingly polite, biceps that you could hang taxi cabs from. Mostly interested in pencils and paper, but Molly talks to him about whatever is new, whatever is on special. She is convinced that he's kinda lonely, that he's new to the city and wants somebody to chat with and that's why he comes around as much as he does.

The first time he stands in your checkout line, in fact, he has a box of the oil pastels that are twenty percent off that week. You're looking down, trying to find the barcode to scan, and you almost choke on your tongue when you realize that he is wearing a --

"Nice watch," you say.

He looks down at it, as if not quite sure which $30,000 watch he might be wearing that day.

...

"Present from a friend," he says.

"Nice present. Nice friend." You smile.

"She works for a guy who has a lot of watches," he says and considers your face for a long, long moment.

He doesn't come in for two weeks after that. When he does, he buys exactly one random bottle of red acrylic paint and gets in your line and stays despite the mom with three kids with six different goddamn summer camp art projects and oh, could she return this half-used bottle of glue?

The guy's name is Steve, and two visits after that, he asks if you want to get coffee.

...

"Where are you from, Steve?"

"Brooklyn. We moved between a couple neighborhoods."

Over the summer, you're working full-time at an art supply store; Steve stops by regularly. One time, he stands in your line. Two times after that, he asks if you want to get coffee, and you think about it for a second and tell him that you get off shift in an hour or so: he says he'll come back, and he does, so the two of you go around the corner.

You know the girl working the register, and she takes the measure of Steve, big as a house, offering to pay for your coffee, too. You let him, so he hands over his credit card and gets, for himself, a tall regular, a little room for milk, one sugar -- regular sugar, not Splenda or Sweet n' Low, just Domino's. Rips the top off, pours it in, and you pick up your medium latte, and the two of you settle on the chairs in front of the window. Up close, with other people around doing normal things like talk on their cell phones or drink coffee or work on the laptops, he looks impossibly broad-shouldered. Impossibly blue-eyed.

He smells like shampoo and soap; he is wearing a brown-and-cream checked shirt that goes with how nice his eyes and hair looks, and you tell him about growing up in the suburbs of Arizona. Elementary school, junior high, high school. All with the same assholes, so for college, you only applied to schools in New York City, because this is where you wanted to be. You're going to be a junior next year at NYU, and you're working this summer to pay your bills.

Your mom still lives out in Arizona.

"What about your dad?" he asks.

You roll your eyes. "When was he around?"

He laughs and drops the subject.

When your break is over, you go back to work, and Molly is working returns. She pointed him out to you originally, and somebody told her where you were, because she smacks you on the shoulder. "Jesus, really?"

You shrug, pulling the apron-smock thing that the store requires everybody to wear to make you look more helpful or something, and you're tying it in the small of your back. "Like you were going to do anything about it."

"I can't believe he's gay."

You have your doubts about this, personally, but pretend you're busy straightening your name tag, and she snorts and stomps away. She doesn't talk to you for the rest of the shift, but is over it the next time you see her. What was she going to do anyways?

Before leaving the coffee shop, you made plans to see him again. An art gallery opening by a friend of a friend from school.

...

The view is --

...

The view is --

...

For your first date, the two of you go to an art gallery by a friend of your friend, and afterwards, the two of you guys go out to a bar: you want to test out what this is, what he is willing to spend, so you make it a nice place -- not the most expensive one, but definitely pricey. Not a club, but slick lighting and a slicker dance floor. He orders a beer; you order one of the more expensive mixed drinks. "You want anything to eat?" you say over the noise, menu in your hands.

"Whatever you want," he says.

Actually, you aren't hungry, but you wanted to see his response: he watched you at the gallery; he watches you drink. He watches you smile at the waitress; he hands her his credit card and tells her to run a tab. He nurses his beer, and you ask him if he wants to dance. He looks at you for a second, then shakes his head. At the end of the night, at the subway station, you go your way; he goes his. He doesn't kiss you. He doesn't put a hand on you, but standing outside the the 23rd Street Station, he asks if you'd like to go out again. You suggest a music show, next Thursday out in Brooklyn, in his neck of the woods.

...

The view is spectacular.

...

The show is not actually your style, but it's pretty different from the place the two of you went drinking before, and by triangulation, you figured that if he didn't like the first place you took him to, he had a reasonable chance of liking this. He wears a blue t-shirt to this, nice jeans, nice leather shoes. Nothing remarkable about any of it, but he's still wearing the Patek with the crocodile strap. He doesn't know any of the bands or any of their songs, but by the third time through the refrain on the fourth song, he's singing along. He has a good time. You smuggled a flask of whiskey in under your jacket, and you pass it to him. He takes a nip; he hands it back to you. The two of you do that all night, and afterwards, he says he'll walk you back to at least the subway station.

The night is rainy, and the air smells like wet asphalt. Three blocks away from the station, you pull him into an alleyway and kiss him.

"You're not as drunk as you pretend to be," he says, pulling away and watching your face very carefully in the headlights from a passing car.

"You want me to get that way?" you whisper and pull his head down to you.

...

The view is spectacular. His apartment is gorgeous: the living room is floor-to-ceiling, almost wall-to-wall windows, and the view is -- spectacular is the only word for it. Brooklyn Bridge, the shining lights of Manhattan, one of those cruise-and-dinner boats going down the East River with all of its lights on, and you turn around and see him dropping his keys into a dish on the table by the door. Top floor, private terrace outside from the look of things. You take in the furniture in the room, and you price the art on the wall, the little statue next to the bowl of fruit on the end table.

"Jesus," you say.

"A friend helped me pick it out," he says, assuming you mean the art, and he's hanging his coat up in the closet. "Would you like me to hang up your coat?"

You give him a handjob on the couch in front of that spectacular view, and when he reaches over, sort of hesitantly, because he suspects he should reciprocate, you peel his shirt off him instead, climb into his lap, and kiss him until he gets hard again.

...

It's just a hand job followed by a lot of making out, then him rubbing himself against your thigh, so you don't sleep over. Afterwards, you just go to the bathroom and wash your hands and straighten your hair and make sure your shirt and jeans don't have anything obvious on them. When you come out, he's put his shirt back on; neither of you took your pants off, and he has his hands in his pockets. "I should get back," you say. "I'm opening the store tomorrow."

He asks how you're getting home, and you tell him that you'll just grab a subway: there is a pause, and then he goes and gets his wallet and pushes a couple bills into your hand. "Get a taxi back," he says, and you make a gesture of giving the money back to him, but he closes your fingers around the money. "It's late."

You don't protest after that, but you take the subway back to the couch in Harlem that you're renting from a friend of a friend of a friend, and you pocket the cash. It's almost eighty bucks, after all, but on the long, long ride up to 115th Street, you're wondering if you played your cards wrong. Would you ever see him again? You'd given him a hand job, and he'd clearly been thinking that he should do something back from you, but it was obvious. You could practically see the waves of I don't usually fuck guys and I don't usually want to fuck guys coming off him. Who was he trying to work out of his system? Why wouldn't he just go with a professional?

Two weeks later, when you've pretty much written him off in your mind, he comes back in the store, buying the biggest Cintiq tablet that you guys carry in stock.

"I'm going to need some help getting it set up," he says.

You make a show of asking what kind of computer he has, what he intends to use it for, but he knows and you know, and this time, the two of you go into his bedroom. He takes off his pants.

...

That time, you sleep over, and in the morning, after he takes you to brunch and bloody marys at a place that you suggest, you go back to his place and introduce him to the joy of oral sex with another guy: you're pretty sure it's his first time with somebody who knows their way around, which surprises you. He's a handsome guy. He isn't a social idiot. Even if he usually doesn't have sex with guys, even if he spent the last twenty years of his life in Straightsville in the Commonwealth of Hetero, you figure some woman would have gotten his dick into her mouth by now, but from the way it goes, you suspect somehow, he's managed to get away with it.

He gets his shirt off, and you sit him down on the edge of that big, expensive bed and untie his shoes. You pull off his socks. You unbuckle his belt. He cooperates by lifting his hips, and that's how you get his pants and underwear down and off. You kiss the inside of his right thigh, just above the knee, and he makes a noise low in his throat. You kiss the inside of his left thigh, a little further above the knee and touch your tongue to the skin; he jumps like you've run an electrical current through him, and he arches upwards, but you look up and --

You decide to ignore him for a moment. You're still on your knees in front of him, but you fold his pants. You line the shoes up by the bed. You tuck the laces in, put the socks in them, and when you look up this time, he is breathing shallow and staring at you. There is no hiding the fact that he is hard, and he is still staring at you. You look back at him and don't make a move, so he puts his hand around the base of his cock and starts to stroke himself.

You lean in, take his hand away from his cock, and put it on the back of your head.

It's hard to tell, but you're pretty sure that he keeps his eyes on you the whole time, because when you come up afterwards, he doesn't so much as blink while you swallow and lick the corners of your mouth.

You go to the bathroom and rinse out your mouth. When you come out, he's on his stomach and half-asleep already -- given the noises he was making, the things he started gasping when he was close, you're pretty sure that it was in the top ten orgasms he's ever had. Top five, maybe.

"I'll get cab fare home," you say, bending down to kiss him on the cheek. Your breath smells like his mouthwash; he makes a drowsy sound that could be read as yes, but definitely isn't no, so you get a hundred bucks out of his wallet.

...

Like you've noticed: Steve isn't a social idiot. He sizes people up quickly and well. He doesn't waste anybody's time, and you're pretty sure that he knows -- well. In the middle of July, he comes by the store, and at this point, the two of you have been fucking off-and-on for a little more than a month. You see him an average of twice a week; you spend at least a night at his place every week.

At this point, Steve doesn't pretend to need to buy anything in the store, though he picks up one of the novelty key chains around the register.

"I'm going to be gone until at least the end of the month," he says. "Work. Do you need anything?"

"I'm not that broke," you say back to him. You don't quite point to the name tag on your chest, but you come close, because you're not exactly sleeping with him for rent. "I have a job."

He smiles a little and looks at you for a moment, with a surprising amount of emotion on his face, but he doesn't say anything

Who do you remind him of?

Steve doesn't show up again until the second week of August. He looks tired, run down, and he tells you to pick someplace really nice for dinner, so you book a table for two at Corton in Tribeca, and the two of you try molecular gastronomy.

...

The next morning, Steve asks if you'll fuck him, and this surprises you, in a way: call it stereotypes that die hard, but you could've sworn the first time would work the other way around. On the other hand, are you going to turn it down?

He's pretty hot. You missed him while he was gone; you don't ask questions where he was because he doesn't want to talk about it, and instead, at dinner the night before, you caught him up on the gossip at the store. You told him about Molly and her new boyfriend; you told him about the friends you were staying with during the summer and how they were in the process of breaking up because she cheated on him with his best friend. You talked about a bunch of your friends who were trying to put an exhibition together for the fall; you mentioned some of the shows that you'd gone to while he was away for a month, and you end up back at his apartment after dinner.

And the next morning, he asks you to fuck him. You brought a bag because you were pretty sure that you were spending the rest of the weekend with him, and you have condoms and lube in there.

After he asks you, the two of you kiss for a while. Then, you tell Steve to turn around and put his hands on the headboard.

"Knees apart," you say, and he puts his shoulders: he sucks in his breath when you touch your tongue to ass. He hadn't had a blowjob before you, so you're guessing that he's never had a rimjob; you're guessing he's never so much had a finger in him, so you slick your fingers good and proper. You work them into him, slowly, taking a lot of time to lick around your fingers, dribbling more lube around your fingers as called for. It makes a mess, running down the back of his thighs and down your chin, and you've never particularly loved the taste of lube, but the man makes a lot of noise. A lot of it. And he looks fantastic like this.

Steve Rogers, you realize, is a man who really likes fingers up his ass and a tongue on him at the same time. You file that information away, but eventually get to the job at hand: the man asked you to fuck him in the ass. You put a condom on, and he puts his arm over his face and braces himself against the headboard. He has to have an idea of what it'll feel like, after all, because you've been finger-fucking him up to the second knuckle, but he makes this noise you get halfway in, then this other noise when you're all the way in for the first time, and the noise he makes when you start to move slow, and careful -- you touch Steve's hips to get him to move in the right rhythm.

It almost sounds like Steve is trying to say something, so you hold up for a second, but Steve grabs you by the wrist, so you pull out, then slide all the way back. The noise Steve makes, the sight he ends up being --

It's pretty hot. Afterwards, you lie on your back in the bed in the morning sunlight and watch Steve finish himself off.

...

Things that get Steve Rogers off really, really hard: rimjobs with fingers in him, blowjobs when he's on his back and has his legs hanging off the bed. Also, Jesus, he kind of loves it when you make eye contact with him during sex. In fact, you've never quite gotten a reaction out of him like you did when you were kneeling by the side of the bed and folding his clothes in your hands.

He had been naked; you were still wearing all of your clothes, so it wasn't the usual, expected thing you get when men look at you during sex.

Who does he think of?

Who are you supposed to remind him of?

...

You're five nine, five ten. Brown hair. Neatly built, but not too much muscle in the shoulders. Steve likes having a boyfriend for certain values of boyfriend; Steve doesn't mind when you spend his money.

Do you have blue eyes?

...

It's July, and the two of you are at Megu in Tribeca, eating dinner. Steve came from a planet where they didn't serve sushi or soy sauce or tempura or Japanese food; you introduce him, he gets the hang of chopsticks, masters them easily enough that you think he might be lying about never having used them before except it's Steve, who either tells you the truth or looks at you, calmly, in a way that lets you know this isn't a question he'll answer or a statement he'll respond to. He doesn't particularly care about sake, but will drink with you and doesn't mind if you order a bottle. Or two. Or four.

The lights are low. You've had a couple drinks, most of the two bottles of sake on the table. Steve is still nursing a cup just big enough for him to dunk his thumb into. The two of you aren't exactly holding hands over the table, but under the table, his knee bumps against the inside of your thigh.

He surprises you. After the order, but before the fourth bottle shows up, he stops giving you the that is not a question or inquiry I am going to answer or statement to which I will respond look for long enough to tell you a story. When he was a kid, he says, he had a friend who got into some scrapes. The kid's dad was no good; the kid's mom was busy working and trying to keep a roof over their heads, and she didn't have the greatest taste in guys.

"So what happened to your friend?" you say.

"He grew up, passed the fitness test. Joined the Army."

This story, you decide, has a seventy five percent chance of actually being about a friend and twenty-five percent of being about him: Steve tells the truth, generally, which is more than you can say about most people, including yourself. Any other person, you'd say, one hundred percent about himself with a coda of and then I got out of the Army with a side order of and then I decided I liked dick, or at least your dick.

Steve picks up the check, of course, but when the two of you get back to the apartment that night and he tries to kiss you up against the wall, you push him off of you. You find yourself strangely angry. You're still thinking about the story with his friend.

He considers you for a second, asks if you're feeling all right.

"I'm fine," you say.

He considers you for another moment, then goes to shower and get ready for bed. He sleeps on his side of the bed; you stay awake on yours, and you are still strangely, obscurely angry.

What does he think he's buying?

...

You aren't stupid. Your parents might have lived in a gated subdivision with deed restrictions and Range Rovers in the driveways; they may have used the money from Grandmother Elizabeth to send you to a school where everybody wore blazers and called the teachers professor and the worst thing that ever happened to anybody was only getting into state schools, but you recognize --

The body, the way of standing, the quick reflexes, the commitment to exercise. He gets up in the morning when it's still dark and runs. You thought, at first, maybe professional athlete of some kind, but the only sport he ever talks about is baseball, and he's not a baseball player. He's willing to be seen out with you in public. Then, too, the the neatness, the thing for folding clothes up neatly and putting them aside, and the fact that he can be noisy when fucking, but when it's time to go over the cliff, he bites down and comes, silent, almost goes still. He doesn't even buck against the hand or mouth. The most you ever get out of him while coming is a shiver, maybe a repressed noise in the throat.

You aren't stupid. He comes back from four weeks away without explanation, looks tired and beat to shit. He takes you out to a really expensive dinner, and he wants to get fucked up the ass. You oblige, and some time after that when you see him, you happen to have some --

...

Not being stupid, not being blind, you've solved part of the puzzle. Even if the story was actually about a friend who grew up shitty and went into the Army, there were plenty of other clues, So you're out with some friends at Diesel on Spring Street, and there's a set sitting in the display case by the register.

...

You're lying on a couch the couch that you're sleeping on for the summer. The window unit is going; the guy and girl you're renting from have gone to spend a weekend with her parents in upstate New York. You went out the night before with some classmates from your anatomical figure studies class that you've kept in touch with, and you're still a little hung over.

The guy you came home with comes out of the shower with a borrowed towel around his waist and sits down next to you on the couch. The TV is on, but softly, because you're definitely still hung over; you had a crush on this guy for weeks, weeks, all the way from Studies of the Face halfway through Waist and Lower Torso, and he leans over, puts his hand under your jaw, and kisses you slow and lazy, and you close your eyes, listen to the news thing about the Avengers.

This is what being twenty-one is about, isn't it?

You hear the traffic. You hear the window unit. You let the guy roll you onto your back, and you let him lie down on top of you.

...

Steve has a phone about three inches long by two inches wide and a full inch thick. He carries it with him; it works in the subway, it works in elevator shafts, and he explains it's from work. A secured line. The screen is color; it doesn't come with a qwerty keyboard, and it's definitely not a model that came from the Verizon store. He calls you sometimes from it. The number shows, every time, as a different number: do you ask what he does these days now that he's no longer in the military? You don't, because you can see the expression on his face when you're about to, but you're sitting on the edge of the couch with the guy from your anatomical drawing class asleep behind you.

The window unit is going; traffic is light, but you can still hear cars. Buses.

Steve calls; your phone is on silent, but you see the screen light up, you don't recognize the number, but that's pretty much standard. You pick up. He asks if you're doing anything that afternoon, and you look at the TV, then at the guy behind you, then back at the TV. You tell him no. Steve says that he was thinking about coming into Manhattan. You tell him you'll see him in an hour.

"Hey," you say, nudging the guy. "You gotta go. The people I'm renting from are coming back."

The guy opens his eyes, blinks, a little confused. You nudge him in the ribs again, and when he is still sort of dazedly smiling at you, you pick his pants up from under the couch and toss them at him. He catches them: you remember him talking about playing lacrosse in high school.

"That was them on the phone," you say. "You need to get going."

He gets the message, gets dressed. You take a shower, get dressed yourself, and -- on the way out the door, your hand hesitates, and you start to go, but then, you come back and grab the dog tags that you picked up from beside the register and loop them over the back of your neck.

...

You wear the dog tags around all day; he hears them jingle when you lean over to grab a napkin when the two of you stop for something to eat. You keep them on your neck while walking around Central Park with all the tourists; on the back of your neck, they go up higher than the edge of your shirt, and you know he's looking at them. In the heat, with the sun and the amount you're sweating, they feel warm on the skin.

Five thirty, Steve suggests that the two of you head back to his place. You order dinner from the place around the corner. He puts the Mets game on.

...

Things that get Steve Rogers off really, really hard: rimjobs with fingers in him, blowjobs when he's on his back and has his legs hanging off the bed. Anytime the two of you fuck when you're wearing the dogtags. The first time it happens, you're sitting on a couch next to him in that room with the ridiculous view, and you've got his laptop. You're messing around on the Internet, looking at Time Out, and you look over. He's studying your neck, a little intently, and you slide over into his lap; the Mets are still playing the Houston Astros, and you take the dog tags out of your shirt. They clink a little. You see his eyes go from the tags, up to your face, then back to the tags.

He reaches over and takes the dog tags in hand. He reads them -- you have no idea what they say; you assume they just have DIESEL printed on them or something similarly stupid, but it doesn't seem to matter. He looks from the tags, up the chain, back to your face, and then starts to wind the chain around his fist. Slowly, steadily, plenty of time for you to pull back or slide away, but you don't. You lean in. You brace your hands on the back of the couch, and he pulls you in until your lips are almost, almost brushing his.

You let your breath out. He closes his eyes, and then he kisses you: you could pull away if you really wanted. The chain isn't exactly strong, even if the fist that he's got next to your throat is.

Still kissing you, he unbuttons, then unzips, then slides his hand down the front of your jeans.

...

Are you proud of the fact that he gets off so hard with dog tags? Is it somehow obscurely satisfying to have a physical manifestation of the fact that, at the end of the day, you're standing in for somebody or something else?

It is. You needed the reminder; you let him give you a handjob.

You come with your mouth wet and hot against his ear, and you make sure to make plenty of noise.

...

In the morning, you wake up when he kisses you on the forehead: it's early August, and you assume he's going out for a run before it gets hot. The lights are off. You can see through the window that the sun isn't up. The sky is all blue-black outside. You say something; you can't remember what, because you're still half asleep.

"Stay in bed," he says. "I have to take care of something for work."

You mutter something else.

His lips are still against your forehead; his hand is still against your chest. You took the dog tags off, and they're lying on the bedside table. The light in the living room is on, and he must have gotten up, because he still smells like the bed. Steve pauses for a moment.

"You want me to leave you anything?" he asks.

You shake your head and go back to sleep; you assume he goes because when he wakes up, the sun is pouring in the windows. You're alone in the apartment. You put on a pair of boxers that you keep at his place, pus a t-shirt, then fix yourself a bowl of cereal from the pantry. You use some of the milk in the refrigerator, and you put on the TV. Half an hour later, a red-headed woman lets herself into the apartment. It isn't really hot yet outside, so at first, you assume this is why she's in jeans and a red t-shirt and a short leather jacket.

"Steve sent me by to pick up a few things for him," she says. She's tiny and doesn't appear to have sweated at all, despite the jeans. Despite the jacket.

You look at her. She looks back at you. She doesn't introduce herself, so you don't either.

"Work, right?" you say, putting the bowl down. You're mostly done. "I guess he's going to be away for a while."

She has a black duffle bag in her hand, and after another moment, without answering you, she goes into the bedroom, puts the duffle bag on the bed, and starts to pull clothes from the drawers. You watch from the couch for a little bit, then go and stand at the door of the bedroom. She takes out a week's worth of undershirts, a week's worth of the Y-fronts that Steve likes to wear. Socks. She goes into the master bathroom and knows which toothbrush is his.

"Are you going to pack his sketchbook?" you ask. She looks up at you.

"I'll put the small one in," you say, and you go to the desk and open up the drawer where Steve keeps it. You put it on top of the open duffle bag, and you put a box of his drawing pencils in the side pocket, so that the box won't pop open and smear graphite everywhere.

She watches you do this, then says, quietly, her eyes a little narrowed, "You should be careful."

You look up at her. How tall is she? Five two? Maybe five three? She wears flat shoes, some kind of black boots that aren't exactly street-fashionable summer wear.

"Is that a threat?" you ask.

"No."

You zip the bag. "Scared I'll out Captain America?"

She blinks, slowly, but she isn't surprised that you put it together.

After a moment, she says, also slowly, "He likes you. A lot of people don't like him. You should think about it."

He leaves for three weeks; you hear something about terrorists, an attempted assassination in Malaysia, but you're busy registering for classes. Steve calls when he comes back.

...

He comes back, looking tired, but mostly fine: the two of you go out for dinner. Short notice, you can't get into any of the places on your list, so you settle for a nice place in the neighborhood that does modern sushi. The two of you get a booth in the back. Steve wears one of those checked shirts and his usual slacks. On the second bottle of sake, he mentions that he was in Europe. On the third, he says something about Vienna, and he doesn't look you in the eye, but when the two of you get home, he closes the front door. You lean him up against it. You kiss him; he kisses you back. His mouth tastes like sake, and you've been watching how much he drank: he doesn't act drunk, even though he should be.

"I'm going to take a shower," he says.

So he goes to the bathroom, and you sit in the living room for a while, looking at Gawker and thinking.

Fifteen minutes. The water is still on.

Twenty minutes. The water is still on.

You take your clothes off, drop them on the couch, and slip into the bathroom. He has been in there for close to half an hour, and he has his forearm up against the tiles and his head braced against his arm. Steam hangs in the air, and the shower runs along the side of the room; it's glassed along its length. You say his name loud enough to be heard over the water, then open the glass door. You touch his back with your hand, and when he straightens up, you kiss him. He kisses you back, but more slowly than normally: there is an area in the back of the shower with a sort of bench, large enough for two normal people or one Steve-sized person to sit and rinse off or lather up.

You back Steve onto it. He sits down; you slide onto his lap. You take his right hand by the wrist, squeeze out some of the shower gel that you keep at his place, and you close his hand around your dick and start to tell him, in his ear, how you like it.

The water is still on; Steve's hand is on your dick. You tell him about rubbing small circles under the head, quietly; on his own, he figures out that you like to be kissed on the neck while he does that.

"Place is soundproofed," he says, sounding a little distracted.

...

You and Steve are at a student art show: a couple of your friends are seniors and are doing a group exhibition for their senior project. Steve says he wouldn't mind, so the two of you go.

"I wanted to go to college," Steve says. "Managed a couple classes, but didn't take anything more than that." Your eyebrows hitch up, and he bends down for a closer look at a sculpture that, as far as you're concerned, looks like a giant blue sea star frozen in mid-wriggle through a fake sheepskin dyed banana yellow. You study him studying it for a second, and then he glances over at you, and both of the corners of his mouth sort of twitch.

Yours do too.

...

"So I saw you outside Third North the other day, and I yelled and waved, but you ignored me," a friend from Human Anatomy II says to you.

Across the room, Steve is talking to a girl who did a video art project. It's loud in the room; the project involves a lot of people standing in saran wrap in front of the camera for long, long periods of time. Steve is bent down maybe eight, nine inches so she can yell in his ear, and he asks questions. Points at a bit in the video. The track lighting above makes his hair look very blond, and the way he crosses his arms makes him look --

"What?" you say, distracted.

"I yelled, waved. You totally ignored me. Like you're doing now. Are you going to introduce me?"

...

In the shower, Steve says, "Place is soundproofed."

So you pull back, away from his hand, and you kiss him for a while. He reaches for your dick, but you push him back against the wall. You loop your hands over the back of his neck and kiss him for a while; it's kind of peaceful with the water from the shower hitting you low on your back, plus the small noises he makes when you do something he likes. He settles one hand between your shoulder blades and just rests it there.

When you've had enough time to catch your breath, you say to him. "Up. My turn on the bench."

So he gets up. The shower is big enough for two; he slides past you, and you sit down on the tiled bench, and he isn't sure what you want him to do, so you put one hand on his hip and push down.

He looks at you for a second, then takes a step back, tilts the shower nozzle so it won't hit him in the back of the neck, and then, slowly, gets down on his knees. You scoot forward a little on the bench. He puts one hand on the bench on either side of your knees, and he bends his head down.

"Put two fingers around the bottom," you say. "It'll be easier."

He makes a noise, and you feel it go straight up your spine. He puts two fingers around the base of your cock, and you put your right hand, lightly, on his shoulder.

You talk Captain America through giving his first blowjob.

...

Steve says, "Place is soundproofed."

You can take a hint; you make it worth his while, and he kisses you afterwards, still in the shower. His mouth tastes like your come; you'd managed to get out a few words about him pulling off because you were going to come, but he kept his mouth on you. He swallowed, and it was messy to start with, it was messy in the middle, and it was messy at the end.

You start laughing, a little embarrassed, and he kisses you some more, some on the mouth, some on the shoulder, some on the cheek.

...

The student show is being held in a gallery space next to a stairway. "Hey," you say. "I've got something you should see." He looks at you for a second, then says goodbye to the classmate of yours that you'd been talking to; you tell him to ditch the punch at the too-full trash can at the door, and the two of you go out into the hallway. He blinks. You take up him the stairs, up past the second floor, up past the third, halfway to the fourth; the lights are off, it's professor offices up here, and the noise from the show on the first floor sounds very far away. You're one step ahead of him, and you turn around and grab his shirt in both hands and kiss him.

The two of you make out on the stairs like kids.

...

The first time he fucks you up the ass, it goes like this: he blows you on the bed. Maybe it's the night of the student show; maybe it's another night, but afterwards, you're lying back, catching your breath. You know your cheeks are a little flushed, and Steve is sitting up, leaning back against the headboard and looking at you. You look at him for a moment, then ask, "You wanna fuck?"

"I thought that's what we just did."

You roll your eyes at him, but clarify. "Do you want to fuck me up the ass?"

He pauses, but doesn't say anything, so you know you're good to go: you get the lube and a condom out from the bedside drawer and get back on the bed. You arrange him so that he's on the bed, on his knees, but resting on his heels, and you put the bottle of lube next to him. You slick the fingers of his hand from fingertip to the base of the palm, and you lean back. One finger at first, because it's been a long time since you've taken anything in the ass, and your heart is going crazy, but you make yourself take it slowly: you count to twenty before moving down another section. Then, two fingers.

You count to thirty, and you start to move, back and forth on his hand. Short strokes at first, then longer, and you don't let yourself stop or slow down or make backwards progress: it's been a while, and before Steve fucks you in the ass, you're going to get yourself ready. He puts his hand on your hip and draws you close to him. You can hear him breathing in your ear; you can feel his dick against your back. You realize you aren't going to have to blow him to get him hard enough.

Once you're moving easily, he doesn't need any prompting to put a third finger in you. You fuck yourself with the three fingers for a little while, and before you're entirely ready to give it up, he asks if you're ready.

You say you are. He puts a condom on, puts a palmful of lube on it, and fucks you. You hear Steve catch his breath when he pushes his dick into you; you arch your back; you hang onto the headboard. He puts his forearm over your collar bones and pulls you all the way onto him.

Steve comes quiet, like he always does. You don't come, but you're noisy, like you always are.

Soundproofing.

...

You go to class. You write papers. You do your assignments for your studio classes, and you work ten to fifteen hours a week at the art store. You call your mother. You go to the gym, and you take care of the parts of your life that don't have anything to do with Steve. Molly asks how long you guys have been going out, and you ignore her.

The weather starts to get cold.

Steve asks if you want a new winter coat, and you study him for a moment, then make him go with you through four stores until you pick something genuinely expensive: Comme des Garcons duffle coat. Button tab collar, beautiful gray wool-cashmere blend with a blue sheen.

...

You worry a little about the coat.

...

You worry a lot about --

...

A week later, you come over, wearing the coat, because you're not stupid and it's cold outside, and there's a note on the door in Steve's clear letterer's print. Work. Back late. You take the note off the door and stuff it into your pocket; Steve left a hundred bucks on the kitchen counter, and you flop down on the couch and stare up at the ceiling and feel stupendously shitty and angry at yourself until you realize that it's a lot colder in the room than it should be. A window is open somewhere, and it isn't from this room, so it has to be the bedroom. You get up, go to the bedroom, and --

...

You get up and go to the bedroom and see that the window is open, so you close it. You go past Steve's desk to do that, and after you close the window, you realize that Steve's notebook is laid out, with the Stark Industries paperweight that he keeps on there -- it's holding a page open, so you look, and you stop in your tracks. That's you, isn't it? Sitting, naked, arms wrapped around your knees. Dark hair. It shares space on the page with a couple rougher studies; Steve took a couple tries to get it right.

That's your back, isn't it? That's your face, right?

There is a long moment where your hands lie against the edge of the book, and then, you laugh, rub your face, and feel really stupid for being happy, but you look at the picture for a little while more, then take the paperweight off, sit down in the chair, and start from the beginning. After you're done, you put the band back around the book, and you put it in the drawer, so he'll know that you saw them and looked at all of them, and you go back into the front room, order a pizza, and Steve comes back late at night and showers.

He gets in bed next to you with his hair still wet. He puts his hand on your waist and pulls you onto his shoulder. Your turn your face against him, and on your way to the subway the next morning for class, you get coffee and throw the dog tags away.

You stop worrying about the coat. You wear it a lot.

...

On your way back to campus in the mornings, you usually stop for coffee. The girl behind the looks up, smiles. "Back for more?" she says.

...

You go to class. You write papers. You do your assignments for your studio classes, and you scale back the number of hours you're working at the art store. You call your mother, wish her a happy birthday. She comes out to spend Thanksgiving break with you in New York and gets you an iPhone for an early Christmas present. You consider: if Steve had been in town, would you have introduced them?

Your mother admires your coat, and you tell her that you got it at a thrift store.

You go to the gym, and you take care of the parts of your life that don't have anything to do with Steve.

...

You go to Doc Holliday's with a bunch of friends. Does the person you've been talking to in Art and Contemporary Reading II try to kiss you?

...

"Listen," Steve says, zipping the duffle bag. "Be careful."

"Me? You be careful." He looks up and over at you.

"I might be a while," he adds.

You're sitting on the bed next to the duffle bag, and what do you say to that?

"I'll see you when I come back," he says and puts his hand on your shoulder. He pauses for a moment. He moves to kiss you on the forehead, but pauses, then bends down the extra five, six inches and kisses you on the mouth. You note the pause, and when he's done kissing you, you look through the open door into the living room.

You can see Natasha is standing, wearing a black zip-up suit. She has guns on either thigh and long, strange-looking gold bracelets and fingerless gloves. Steve goes through the door; she hands him the paper-wrapped thing that she brought in with her, and he slings it over his back. You're guessing it's the shield.

Steve is in black; he's a head taller than you, and you're a head taller than Natasha, so he is two heads taller than her, and roughly two of her across, but he looks at her.

"We'll go over the roofs," she says.

They turn to go, and Natasha knows you're watching, so she looks you in the eye, nods, and then tells Steve to follow her out to the terrace.

...

A week goes by. You turn your single-semester portfolios in to the professors.

...

Two weeks go by.

You write your final Art and Contemporary Viewpoints paper.

...

Three wee -- no, wait, not quite three weeks. You're working the Christmas rush, and fifteen minutes before closing, the store is emptying out. The next person in line is a man, and he's studying your face. He looks oddly familiar. You can't put your finger on it, but he's nicely dressed. Cole Haan overcoat, maybe? The guy gives you a long, assessing look. He smiles.

"I'm a friend of Steve's. He said I'd find you here," he says, still smiling.

You keep your voice casual as you turn the calendar -- capital cities of Europe, Paris to Vienna -- over to scan the barcode. "Yeah?"

"Yes," he says and blinks, slowly, still, still smiling. "How much does a taxi cab ride from Brooklyn cost?"

Your head snaps up.

He reaches into his pocket and four, five twenties.

"That should cover it, right?"

You stare at him.

...

"That should cover it, right?"

You stare at him

"Or do I need to buy something else?"

...

"I'll see you when I come back," he says and puts his hand on your shoulder. He pauses for a moment. The original idea was to kiss you on the forehead, but he sees the expression your face: all the fear and worry and anxiety and plain, straight emotion, so he hesitates. He bends down the extra five, six inches and kisses you on the mouth. You put your hand against his neck, above the collar of the black tactical suit, and hold him for just a second or two longer.

...

Your mouth feels dry. You don't say anything, and then, a moment later, as if just realizing, the guy says, "I must've misunderstood Steve, I'm -- "

It's the apologetic look on his face that sells you on this being real, that this is actually what Steve thinks. The guy looks genuinely sorry, and you realize, slowly, that you're angry. You are, maybe, angrier than you've ever been in your life. You're so angry that you almost feel -- underwater, somehow, as if it's hard to speak. "No, you didn't misunderstand," you say. It surprises you how steady your voice is, how loud you can speak. "I've got another fifteen minutes, and then I have to close my register. Can you wait?"

"I'll wait," he says. "Front door."

You give him change for a twenty for the calendar and pocket the rest.

...

"Where are we going?"

You assume: a hotel in downtown Manhattan. Instead, he suggests that the two of you get on the subway. Brooklyn-bound train? The two of you get off at the usual stop. The two of you take the usual right turn past the coffee shop; the two of you cut through the park, and he pulls a bunch of keys out of his pocket for the elevator. He hesitates for a moment, then picks the one that you recognize.

"A couple of us have keys," he says, smiling. "Sort of a shared apartment. I guess Steve was using it, too? My turn now."

You have to look away down the hallway. There is a strangely bitter taste in your mouth.

...

The view is spectacular. You haven't been in the apartment in weeks. It doesn't look like anyone else has, either.

...

He puts the deadbolt on the door, and he asks if you want a drink: you shake your head, and he kisses you. It's surprisingly gentle. You keep your mouth closed, but he really wants to kiss you, so you open your mouth, and just keep your hands at your sides while he undoes the front of your coat, both the toggles and the zipper. He pushes it off your shoulders. Underneath, you're just wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and he looks at you. You look back at him, and you're staring so hard at his face, so angry at yourself, so angry at Steve, that you don't see him raise his left hand.

He hits you, hard, across the face.

You stagger backwards. You feel your lip swell, and dark hair, blue eyes, the two of you even have the same sort of build, though he has a lot more muscle on his body than you do, and he crosses over to you in two quick steps. He hits you. Again, across the face. Again, hard, and you go down to your knees and try to crawl away. He grabs you by the collar, and you're desperate to get away. You slip and end up on your stomach next to the coffee table.

First thought: funny, you'd kinda thought that he was right-handed. Why is he beating the shit out of you -- and now starting to choke you -- with his left hand?

Second thought: the statue on the coffee table has a metal finish, and it takes his face, distorts it enough.

"You're the friend he was talking about," you say. His fingers close on your shoulder and flip you over. You struggle back to your feet, and he lets you. "The one he grew up with."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," he replies.

"He said your dad was no good, and your mom had shitty taste in men, and -- "

"Take off your clothes."

He has his arm raised to hit you again, and he's standing between you and the door. Does he have a gun? You don't think he's lying about working with Steve, and if he works with Steve, he probably works with Natasha. Natasha probably has a gun on her when she goes to the bathroom, so this guy has a gun on him.

To buy yourself time, you do. You strip off your t-shirt, then unbutton your jeans. You bend down and undo your shoes, thinking. Natasha gave you a panic button, just in case for situations like this: you can hear her voice now, calm, collected, you should think about it. You refused to be scared off, but she also saw the expression on your face and offered you a panic button, just the size. It's in the pocket of your coat over there on the floor. So is your iPhone. You should never have let him push your coat off your shoulders.

You strip, and you fold up your clothes into a neat little pile. "I'm going to put them by my coat, OK?" You walk over, and you put them down, and you've just palmed the panic button when he hits you so hard that the world goes fuzzy. You drop the panic button.

"I know that trick," he says.

...

So I saw you outside Third North the other day --

You had a bitter taste in your mouth in the hallway, but there is blood in your mouth now. You can taste it.

...

The walls are soundproofed.

Now, you're on your knees in the apartment, naked; the terrace is outside, and it looks cold. Lashed with rain and wind, and Steve's old friend hits you in the side of the head really, really hard.

You go down on your knees. The panic button slips out of your hand, and you're pretty sure this isn't just a case of Steve's old friend liking it rough or being a little pissed that Steve found a younger look-a-like who would fuck him. Something about the way the guy hits you, something about the way he stands. Terror and adrenaline and desperation flood your body as you scrabble for the panic button after it falls on the floor. He hits you again, this time in the face. Blood fills your mouth, but you lunge forward again, so he grabs you by the neck and closes one hand around your throat. There is blood on your lips, in your mouth. You whimper. You can see the panic button on the floor. Natasha promised that where ever you were, all you had to do was push it, and SHIELD or other armed help would be with you in ten minutes.

"I know that trick," he says.

Your fingers close around the statue on the table, and you hit him hard as hard as you can with it.

...

Did you fall in love, just a little?

...

Did you go for Steve Rogers, just a fraction? Kissing in the stairway, the smile on your face when you found what you thought was a drawing of you --

...

You fell in love more than a little. You went for Steve Rogers more than a fraction. You thought that he -- you are pretty sure the guy is Steve's old friend, but no longer quite so convinced that this guy works with Steve or that Steve decided to share you out. It isn't any comfort. You are too scared to think of anything; you hit the guy as hard as you can with the statue, but he staggers for a second and catches you before you can make it to the door. He hauls back and really hits you: you realize he'd just been hitting you for pleasure before.

Your legs fold underneath you. The last thing you see before Steve's old friend hits you again is his left foot, casually kicking it deep under the couch.

Steve Rogers is an Avenger. Natasha warned you what might, so she gave you the panic button. Told you that SHIELD would try to protect you. A threat to you was, indirectly, a threat to --

...

That was your back, you face, right? Steve had been drawing you, hadn't he? But you never asked yourself the questions about why the sketchbook had been out on the desk, or why the window was open. The window looked onto the terrace; from the terrace, it was a seven floor drop to the ground, but much less to the next building. Did you see the figure on the roof of the next building, watching you smile and page through Steve's sketchbook? Did you see --

...

You have a mother. You never talk to him, but you have a father. You have friends at school; you have friends at work. You are taking the year long version of Oil Painting II, and you have a workbook full of things that you might turn into paintings in the spring: a variety of drawings showing New York in the rain, sketches of Molly, customers at the art store, Mark and Jill, the couple you stayed with during the summer. One of your mother, done from memory and photograph.

One finished sketch of Steve Rogers with his head turned, looking out the window at Manhattan.

...

You wake up in the bathroom. Your hands aren't free to move: you look up, and you realize they're tied together with a length of plastic that he must have brought with him. Your arms and shoulders are aching because your hands are looped over the shower head, and your feet just barely touch the floor. The guy is taking his clothes off and leaving them on the bathroom floor, sort of pushing them over to the side, and he takes the holster with two guns off and puts them together with his shirt.

Before he pulls his boots off, he pulls a knife out, and sets that on the bench along the back of the shower. Four, five inches long, curved edge on one side, serrated on the other. If you twist your head around, you can just see it sitting on the bench at the back of the shower.

He sees you trying to look at it, and he doesn't quite smile, but he does take a step forward in anticipation.

He touches your back. He slides his hand up the inside of your thigh.

You know the place is soundproofed, you remember that much, but hoping against hope, you start screaming.

...

What do you know about consequences, Steve Rogers? Bryan fails to show up for work three days in a row, and his friend Molly reports him missing. This sends Natasha an alert on the system even though the panic button hasn't been activated. She mentions it to you in the next encoded burst from the Helicarrier; somehow, you aren't surprised that Natasha was keeping an eye on him for you.

Twelve hours later, while out in Cairo, she gives you the news directly. She's sorry. You wrap things up as quickly as you can. You get back to New York City. The apartment smells like disinfectant, and two days after that, you get an iPhone by overnight mail. There are bloody fingerprints on the casing. You recognize the casing; you recognize the iPhone. Bryan's mother got it for him as an early Christmas present -- someone is going to have to tell his mother. It should probably be you.

But you aren't stupid, so you don't touch the iPhone. You leave it inside the padded envelope and take it up to the lab guys on the Helicarrier.

They dust it; they do what they need to do in order to make sure it isn't booby trapped, and they turn it on.

"There's a video file, with audio," the technician says to you.

"Let's see it," you say.

"Are you -- "

"Let's see it," you say, and after the first couple seconds, after it's clear what this is, the technician leaves. You're alone with the phone in a stand on the work bench. On the screen, it's Bryan, tied up in the master bathroom. His hands are bound, and he's strung up from the shower fixture where it comes out from the wall. It's a fancy shower, and you're a tall guy, so the fixture is set high. Bryan's feet just barely touch the floor. He's naked. So is Winter Soldier. In Jakarta, you got over the strange feeling of seeing Bucky's face again; in Vienna, you thought you understood what the Red Room had made him capable of doing, what his new owners had hired him to do, which was put a bullet through your brain. After Vienna, he went to ground, and SHIELD had an emerging issue in Cairo with a transdimensional portal that was kissing cousins with the one that had formed over Manhattan, so you made a decision.

Through the fake skin coloring on the left arm, you can you see the faint outline of a red star: it looks like an old, faded tattoo.

The Winter Soldier gets into the shower behind Bryan. Bryan's face is a mess, and his throat is bruised, but he's still whole. He still has all his limbs, so he fights and thrashes and screams, but the Winter Soldier leans forward and says something in Bryan's ear that the camera doesn't pick up, and the screaming stops abruptly. So does the fighting and thrashing. It's replaced by soft crying that catches when it particularly hurts, and there is sound and video, and the iPhone is right there, propped up in the corner of the tub.

The Winter Soldier whispers something in Bryan's ear.

"Co -- " Bryan's mouth is bloody; his lips are swollen, and with the shock and adrenaline and pain, it's hard for him to make coherent noise. He is crying. "Conse --"

"Consequences," Bryan manages after the Winter Soldier does something that you can't see, something that makes Bryan scream, briefly, but intensely. Talking is difficult for him, but whatever the Winter Soldier did, it hurt. It was effective.

The Winter Soldier does it again; Bryan screams again, and when the Winter Soldier stops, Bryan half shouts, half-sobs, "Steve, there are consequences."

The sentence is done and out, and the Winter Soldier is done fucking him, so the Winter Soldier steps back and away. He leans over and gets something from the back of the shower.

There's a knife in his hand; Bryan sees it and wakes up enough to trying fighting again, even though there are tears running down his face.

This time, when the screaming starts again, it takes a very, very long time to stop.

...

Steve Rogers is the kind of man who looks people in the eye. Steve Rogers is a man who doesn't waste the time of others; Steve Rogers is a man who tells the truth or will, if he can't tell you the truth, will let you know it's a question he can't answer, or the statement is not one he can make.

Standing in an engineering bay on the Helicarrier, watching the Winter Soldier wipe a knife off in Bryan's hair then reach over to stop the camera, you, Steve Rogers, are a man with a particularly clear understanding of consequences.