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When in Rome

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It was tough being the delinquent son of not just one, but two United States Presidents. James Buchanan Barnes sighed heavily as he looked out from the window of the embassy in Rome, watching the group of young people around his own age across the street, laughing and chatting excitedly as they walked in a group towards their destination. They were probably going to a club given the time of night, and Bucky wished more than anything else that he could tag along.

Earlier in his teens, James Buchanan – Bucky to his friends....if he had any - had made a few devastating mistakes: there had been an incident at boarding school where he’d been caught giving his English teacher a blow job; and then there had been a slight cocaine problem in the next school he’d been sent to. The problem was, the White House was a fishbowl and the pressures on him to be a Good and Dutiful Son had been too high. James Barnes had only ever really wanted to have a normal life, but instead he had been paraded out at rallies and hounded by paparazzi at school and out with friends, and it seemed like everyone he met wanted something from him.

Anybody would have cracked under the pressure, and fifteen year old Bucky had done just that. Afterwards, his parents had taken him out of school altogether to have him tutored at home, and put him under the watchful eye of Alexander Pierce. He couldn’t even pee without Pierce knowing about it – the man was in charge of every aspect of his life, from his schooling schedule to the people he could interact with to the activities he was allowed to do. In three years, James Buchanan Barnes hadn’t so much been allowed to sit outside of Starbucks and drink a latte in the sun by himself.

He understood why is parents had done it – they loved him and wanted to keep him safe, but most of the time he just felt like a prisoner. What he wouldn’t give to just be free of it all for a single day to do what he wanted instead of having his entire life dictated to him. Tomorrow was his eighteenth birthday, and instead of spending it doing fun things, like exploring Rome for example, he was going to be shadowing his father on his trade relations tour. It was entirely depressing.

“Come away from the window, James,” Pierce hailed him from inside the room. “You’ll catch a cold.”

Bucky sighed dejectedly as he tore his eyes away from the group of kids in the street, still laughing and chatting to one another, and allowed Pierce to close the window and draw the curtains as Bucky clambered into bed and settled down against the mountain of duck feather pillows.

“You’ll never sleep with all that noise going on outside,” grumbled Pierce as he helped Bucky pull up his covers.

“I won’t sleep anyway,” Bucky replied petulantly. “Too tired to sleep.”

Pierce ignored him as he took his glasses from his jacket pocket and picked up the diary from the bedside table. How Bucky hated that diary.

“Now,” Pierce continued. “Tomorrow’s schedule....or ‘skedule’, whichever you prefer – both are correct: eight thirty, breakfast here with the Embassy staff; nine o'clock, we leave for the Polinory Automotive Works where you'll be presented with a small car.”

“Thank you,” Bucky murmured, practicing his acceptance with a strained smile.

Pierce looked at him from over the top of his spectacles.

“Which you will not accept.”

Bucky rolled his eyes. Of course.

“No, thank you,” he muttered, folding his arms across his chest.

“Ten thirty five,” Pierce continued, as though Bucky hadn’t even spoken. “Inspection of food and agricultural organisation will present you with an olive tree.”

Bucky made a face.

“No, thank you.”

“Which you will accept,” Pierce hold him sternly.

“Thank you,” replied Bucky, resigned.

“Ten fifty-five, the Newfoundling Home For Orphans. You will preside over the laying of the cornerstone; your father will give the same speech as last Monday.”

Bucky looked up from picking absently at the bedcovers.

“Trade relations?” he asked, confused.

“Yes.”

“For the orphans?”

Pierce looked up from the diary and waved his hand dismissively.

“No, no, the other one.”

“Youth and progress,” he murmured, feigning brightness.

He could have recited that speech by heart, he’d heard his father give it so many times.

“Precisely,” Pierce replied, turning back to the diary. “Eleven forty-five, back here to rest. No, that's wrong... eleven forty-five, conference here with the press.”

“Sweetness and decency,” muttered Bucky, rolling his eyes.

“One o'clock sharp, lunch with the Foreign Ministry. Three-o five, presentation of a plaque.”

“Thank you.”

“Four-ten, review special guard.”

“No, thank you.”

“Four forty-five back here to change to meet the international...”

It just went on and on. Every single day of Bucky’s life was endless times and activities from that god damn diary and it never stopped. He was going to spend his entire eighteenth birthday with a forced smile, shaking hands and staying mostly silent as to not embarrass his father in front of important people, and it was all too much.

“STOP!” Bucky shouted. “Please stop! Stop...!”

Pierce didn’t even seem startled by Bucky’s outburst, calmly removing his glasses and regarding him coolly.

“Whatever is the matter?”

Bucky could feel himself getting hot, his heart start to beat faster as the knot of anxiety in his stomach began to tighten.

“I can’t stand it. I can’t take another single day of this...bowing and scraping and ‘yes, sir’, ‘no, sir’, ‘thank you’, ‘so happy to meet you’, ‘charming’...”

“You’re ill,” Pierce replied, voice still as annoyingly calm as always. “I'll send for Doctor Karpov.”

“I don't want Doctor Karpov,” Bucky said, ripping one of the large down pillows from behind his head and covering his face with it. “Please let me die in peace!”

“You're not dying,” Pierce told him sternly. “It's nerves; control yourself.”

“I don't want to!” Bucky yelled, voice muffled by the pillow.

He heard Pierce sigh irritably.

“I'll get Doctor Karpov,” he said, turning and heading for the door.

Bucky lifted the corner of his pillow so he could shout after him.

“It's no use; I'll be dead before he gets here.”

Pierce didn’t reply and Bucky let out a frustrated groan into his pillow as Pierce’s footsteps faded. He was going to end up paying for his outburst and for acting like a spoiled brat, but at least he’d stopped Pierce from telling him any more about his full birthday schedule. Removing the pillow from his face, Bucky took a few deep breaths to calm down and closed his eyes against the bright lights, listening to the bustle of activity in the embassy hallway outside his room and caught the sound of extra footsteps approaching his room.

“He looks like he’s asleep,” said the Doctor in his heavy accent.

“He was threatening suicide three minutes ago,” Pierce replied impatiently.

“I was not,” muttered Bucky.

He’d never meant for his words to be taken that way – honestly, Bucky had just been acting melodramatic. Karpov put his bag down on the bedside table and pressed a hand against Bucky’s forehead.

“I'm okay, Doctor Karpov,” Bucky murmured as a thermometer was placed in his mouth. “I don’t know what came over me – it just all got a little too much.”

Karpov gave Bucky’s shoulder a reassuring pat.

“It’s a perfectly normal thing to do,” he replied. “Don’t worry too much about it.”

“It’s important that he’s well-rested and calm for tomorrow,” said Pierce sternly.”

“I will be,” Bucky insisted as the thermometer was removed and Karpov peered at it. “Don't worry, I'll be calm and relaxed and I...I'll bow and I'll smile and...I’ll be quiet and I, and I won’t...”

“There he goes again,” Pierce said, unimpressed. “Give him something, Doctor, please.”

Bucky watched helplessly as Karpov brought out a syringe and a vial. Pierce was stony-faced.

“What's that?” Bucky asked in a small voice.

“Sleep and calm,” replied Karpov gently. “This will relax you and make you feel a little happy. It's just a sedative, quite harmless.”

Bucky scrunched up his face at the sharp scratch of the needle, and didn’t at all like the feeling of the liquid being pushed through his veins.

“I don't feel any different,” he murmured as he watched Karpov pack up.

“You will,” the doctor replied. “It may take a little time to take hold. Just now, lie back.”

Bucky, as always, did as he was instructed and lay back against the multitude of pillows, avoiding Pierce’s eyes. He watched as they both retreated from his room and Pierce turned off all the lights before closing the door behind him. Bucky wasn’t even sure Pierce had even looked at him before he’d done so, which meant he was done with Bucky’s shit for the day.

Inhaling slowly he looked around the dark room, his eyes adjusting to the gloom as they picked out the ornamentation on the ceiling and the huge sculpted headboard. From outside, he could faintly hear music and laughter, and Bucky suddenly remembered the group of friends he’d seen across the street from the embassy. He quickly threw back the covers and ran to the window, opening it and leaning out. The group of young people were long gone, but the breeze was warm on his face and he could see the buildings of the city lit up in night, far into the distance.

Nobody would notice of he slipped out for a few hours, would they? As far as he knew, nobody usually came to check on him during the night, so as long as he was back by morning it would be fine. He wouldn’t be missed. He didn’t want to get up to anything nefarious, it’s just that he was never going to get the opportunity to explore Rome if he was subject to Pierce’s rigid schedule, and on his birthday no less. He just wanted to take a few hours for himself for the first time in three years. That wasn’t exactly a crime.

Quickly, he hurried to his wardrobe, pulled on some clothes – a plain white shirt, slim tie, and perfectly cut indigo jeans – and stole to the door, silently opening it and peering out. Rumlow, his Secret Service agent, was stood at the end of the hall with his back to Bucky.

Pausing as he closed the door, he climbed out of the side window onto the balcony outside and walked along to the edge of the adjacent balcony, jumping down with a slight noise onto the ground. Glancing furtively around, he entered a large, empty room, looked around on either side and then continue, going through the door and finding himself on a corridor upstairs, encircling the large central area. He ran along to the end, turning the corner and then onto the other side, continuing on to a staircase and down it towards the exit. Outside, still in the grounds of the Embassy, he ran along a courtyard area, keeping his back against the wall. Looking round the corner he spotted a man jumping out of a small supply truck.

Bucky took his chance, running over to quietly hop into the back of the truck. The man returned within a moment, throwing a couple of bags into the back where Bucky was hiding before climbing back into the van, starting the engine, and driving off. Guards at the entrance of the Embassy grounds opened the gates and the little truck was out, driving Bucky to freedom.

He looked round with delight, moving the bag out of the way, leaning his arm on some goods to see out the back better. It was exhilarating, this small taste of freedom; watching the truck go past a sidewalk cafe, busy with people, then waving to a couple driving behind on a scooter. The goods rattled in the back as the truck bounced around, and Bucky rested on a box, closing his eyes, happy.  He wondered what he should do and where he should go as the truck continued to drive through the city. Bucky hadn’t even so much as looked at a guide book for Rome.

He must have dozed off but he had no idea how long for as the truck stopped abruptly and horns blared, startling Bucky awake. There was some shouting in Italian, and Bucky thought it best to abandon his escape vehicle while he could. Jumping out, Bucky ran to the footpath as the truck screeched away, and he leaned against a tree, yawning again.  He felt warm and relaxed, the whole world seemed like it was slowing down and the lights brighter than they had been before. It was pretty, and Bucky had never felt so glad of doing something naughty in his whole life.

 

****

 

Steve Rogers stepped out of an apartment building into the brightly lit street and started to walk, hands in pockets, down the street to catch a taxi. He’d just lost a sizeable amount of cash in a poker game at his friend Sam’s and now he was down to his last hundred Euros. Wilson had got lucky on that last hand, clearing Steve out of at least six hundred on a straight flush, and Steve had decided that was a good time to take what he had left and go home seeing as that money had to last him until the next pay day. With any luck he’d get some decent pictures of the former President of the United States at the press conference the next day, which SHIELD Press would buy and Steve would make enough to keep himself ticking over until the next job.

He was twenty-two, fresh out of college with a bachelor’s degree and trying desperately to establish a foothold in the world of photojournalism. He just needed to find his story. Steve slowed down as he passed by a park bench, glancing curiously at the young man lying face down upon it. 

“Sooooo happy...” the lad murmured. 

Steve stopped, turning round to look at him. He couldn’t have been much older than eighteen years old, dressed remarkably smart for a kid. Steve blinked as the boy stirred on the bench and groaned luxuriously. 

“Mmmmmmmmm.... hmmmmm.... mmmmmmmmmmm..." 

He rolled to the side and Steve darted forward to prevent the kid from rolling off the bench and onto the pavement. 

“Hey!” he said loudly, rolling the boy onto his back. “Hey, wake up!” 

“Thank you very much,” the kid murmured, eyes still closed. "Delighted...” 

He sounded drunk as hell, which was just what Steve Rogers didn’t want to deal with in the middle of the night in Rome. 

“Wake up,” Steve said again, shaking the boy’s shoulder. 

“No, thank you,” the kid murmured, still half asleep and raising his hand to Steve. “Charmed.” 

Raising his eyebrows, Steve glanced around and then tentatively shook the proffered hand. 

“Yeah, likewise.” 

He looked around again. There didn’t seem to be any groups around, only the odd straggler on their way home and nothing but Italian to be heard all around. Steve wondered who this kid was and what he was doing drunk and alone on a bench in the middle of the night. 

“I think you’d better sit up,” Steve added, sliding his hand under the kid’s arm and hauling him upright. "You’re much too young to get picked up by the police.” 

“Police?” he asked sleepily. 

“Yep, po-lice.” 

The kid wobbled slightly and Steve tightened his grip. 

“Two-fifteen and back here to change. Two forty-five...” the kid trailed off, still not awake. 

Steve shook his head in mild amusement. 

“You know, people who can't handle liquor shouldn't drink it,” he said. 

The young man turned his head slowly to look at Steve, blinking unsteadily. 

“’If I were dead and buried and I heard your voice beneath the sod, my heart of dust would still rejoice.’ Do you know that poem?” 

Steve couldn’t help but laugh. 

“Huh, what do you know?” he said, sinking down onto the bench, his hand still keeping the kid steady. “You're well-read, well-dressed; you're snoozing away in a public street. Would youcare to make a statement?” 

“’What the world needs is a return to sweetness and decency in the souls of its young men and...’” he trailed off again, slumping sideways into Steve and resting his head on Steve’s shoulder, closing his eyes with a smile. “Mmmmmhhhhhhhhmmmmm...” 

“Yeah,” Steve murmured, looking down at the fluffy dark head resting against his light blue shirt. “I couldn’t agree with you more.” 

The kid’s head was heavy against his shoulder and Steve could feel the heat radiating off of him. Bright headlights rounded the corner and Steve glanced up, spotting the taxi sign. Gratefully, he hailed it and pulled the kid to his feet as the taxi ground to a halt at the curb. 

“Get yourself some coffee; you'll be alright.” Steve said, patting him on the shoulder as he stood up and began to walk over to the cab. 

Behind him, the kid slumped back down onto the bench, asleep again. The cab driver looked between Steve and the kid passed out on the bench and shook his head. Steve indicated for the taxi driver to bear with him and went back to the kid, shaking his shoulder gently. 

“Look, you take the cab,” he said. 

“Mmmmm,” the boy responded without stirring. 

Steve glanced back at the driver who had his arm resting against the window, impatiently. Steve knew how the guy felt: he was starting to feel his own patience wearing away. 

“Come on, climb in the cab and go home,” he said sternly, pulling the young man to his feet. He was taller than Steve had expected; just a few inches shorter than Steve’s six-foot-two. “You got any money?” Steve asked. 

“Never carry money.” 

“That's a bad habit.” 

“Mm,” the kid agreed. 

Steve sighed. He couldn’t believe he was about to do this. Any other guy would leave the kid on the bench. 

“Alright, I'll drop you off; come on.” He supported most of the boy’s weight as they walked to the cab and Steve pulled open the door. 

“It's a taxi!” the kid said brightly, as if noticing it for the first time. 

“Well, it's not the Orient Express,” Steve muttered sarcastically, bundling the boy into the taxi and climbing in after him. 

“Where are we going?” asked the taxi driver in Italian. Steve gave the kid a swift shake. 

“Where do you live?” 

“Coliseum,” he mumbled. 

Steve rolled his eyes. 

“Now, come on, you're not that drunk.” 

To Steve’s surprise, the kid started laughing. 

“Shows how much you know! I'm not drunk at all. I'm just...” he trailed off as his head hit Steve’s shoulder again, “verrrrry haaaappy...” 

“Hey, now, don't fall asleep again,” Steve said, exasperated. 

In the front of the cab, the driver was getting very irate, asking him over and over in Italian where he wanted to go. Steve’s Italian was amateur at best and so, after one last attempt to wake the drunk young man sitting next to him, threw his hands up in defeat and gave the angry taxi driver his own address. He really hoped he wouldn’t live to regret his decision.  

 

**** 

 

The kid was barely awake as he shuffled up the stairs behind Steve to the apartment, resting his head sleepily on Steve’s shoulder when he stopped to unlock the door. “Aw, c’mon now,” Steve muttered, straightening so the boy would stand back up. 

“So happy...” he murmured, swaying slightly with his eyes closed. 

Steve caught him by the wrist before he overbalanced and herded him through the door, turning on the light and closing the door behind them. 

“I must be out of my head,” he grumbled. 

His house guest blinked against the light. 

"Is this the elevator?” 

“It's my room,” Steve replied, offended. 

Alright, so it was the world’s crappiest apartment, about all he could afford on freelance wages and basically a single room with a bed, a couch, a table, and a bathroom you could barely turn around in. The view from the balcony was worth it though – you could see must of Rome from there. The kid wavered and almost toppled over as he walked to the bed and put a hand on the headboard to steady himself. 

“I'm sorry to mention it, but the dizziness is getting worse,” he murmured, looking around him slowly. “Can I sleep here?” 

“That was the general idea,” Steve replied as he walked over and opened the small closet near the front door. 

“Do I get silk pyjamas?” the kid giggled. 

Steve raised an eyebrow. Where the hell had this one come from? Shaking his head, he rummaged through his closet and unearthed a pair of worn, soft pyjama bottoms, and tossed them at the lad’s head. 

“I'm afraid you'll have to rough it tonight in these.” 

“Flannel!” the kid said in delight as he unwrapped a pyjama leg from around his face. 

“Sorry, pal, but I haven't worn silk in years,” Steve replied. 

He watched with a mixture of irritation and amusement as the kid meticulously lay out the pyjamas on Steve’s bed before standing up and straightening expectantly. 

“Will you help me get undressed, please?” 

The request caught Steve completely off guard and he hesitated before stepping over. 

“Er...ok.” 

Now that they were in the light, Steve was looking clearly at the kid’s face properly for the first time – hazy gray-blue eyes with long dark eyelashes, an adorably dimpled chin, strong cheekbones. He was positively pretty. Clearing his throat, Steve unfastened the knot of the black skinny tie around his neck, sliding it away from the shirt collar. It felt unbelievably wrong to be undressing an intoxicated teenage boy in his room, and Steve was first and foremost, a gentleman. Handing the tie over, he took a step back and cleared his throat again.

“Er, there you are; you can handle the rest.” 

The boy looked down at it, blankly, then took it as Steve walked over to the table by the front door, pouring himself a glass of bourbon, and swallowing it in one gulp. This was already turning into a longer night than he’d expected. 

“May I have some?” the kid piped up brightly from the other side of the room, pulling the bottom of his shirt from the waistband of his pants. 

“No,” Steve said firmly, setting his glass down and crossing back over to him. “Now look...” 

“This is very unusual,” the young man interrupted him, unbuttoning the cuffs of his shirt, then the top button. “I've never been alone in a strange man’s apartment before. Definitely not half undressed. Boy’s dorms, yes. Strange apartments, no...but I don't seem to mind.” He turned and gave Steve a brilliantly beautiful smile as he began to open the remaining buttons. “Do you?” 

“I think I'll go out for a cup of coffee,” Steve said desperately, turning around. 

The last thing he needed right now was to watch a seriously pretty, inebriated teenager strip out of his clothes in the middle of Steve’s bedroom. 

“Hm...” 

“You'd better get to sleep,” suggested Steve, heading for the door just as the kid began to sink down onto the bed. “Oh no...no no, not on the bed.” He pulled the boy up again and led him over to the couch. “You sleep on this one.” 

“That’s nice...” he murmured, still working on his shirt buttons. 

“And you do your sleeping on the couch, see? Not on the bed, not on the chair: on the couch; is that clear?” 

“Do you know my favourite poem?” the kid asked dreamily. 

Steve rolled his eyes. 

“Yeah, you already recited that for me.” 

He turned to get some blankets from the bed and one of his pillows. He hated that he had to sacrifice one of his pillows for a drunken teenager. Steve guessed he was just a bleeding heart. 

“‘Arethusa arose from her couch of snows in the Acroceraunian mountains’”, the boy began to recite, swaying gently on his feet. “Keats.” 

“Shelley,” corrected Steve automatically. 

“Keats!” he insisted. Steve took a deep breath. All he wanted was for the kid to shut the hell up and go to sleep. 

“If you just keep your mind off the poetry and on the pyjamas, everything'll be alright, see?” 

“It's Keats.” 

“It's Shelley,” Steve replied, exasperated.

“I'll be back in about ten minutes.”   

“Keats,” the boy called after him. 

Steve shook his head as the kid turned back to the task of undressing, and Steve thought it best to put the bottle of booze out of sight before he left – just in case.  

 

****

 

He didn’t go for coffee. It was too late, he was too tired, and he had to be up early for the former President’s press conference in the morning, so Steve just walked once around the block before heading back to his apartment. He didn’t know why he’d actually expected the kid to be asleep on the couch, because he wasn’t. Instead, the boy was on his back on top of Steve’s bed, wearing nothing but Steve’s old flannel pyjama pants which were too big and riding too low on the waist. He was flat out, lips gently parted and sort snores spilling forth. 

“Ah, jeez...” muttered Steve. 

Looking at him, Steve slammed the door shut hard, but the kid didn’t move a muscle. Steve sighed. He did not have the energy for this crap right now. He considered picking the kid up and dumping him on the couch...but he wasn’t that mean. 

“Too nice for your own good, Rogers,” he muttered to himself as he walked to the couch and began to get undressed, throwing his clothes in an untidy heap before crossing to the door to turn out the light and casting one last glance at the snoring teenager.  

“Screwball,” he groused as the room plunged into darkness and he crawled under the blankets on the couch that he was too tall to fit on comfortably.