The entire world shuddered to a stop.
Tony lifted a hand to the side of his face and it was already tender, hot to the touch, the sound of the impact still echoing.
“Tony,” Ty said roughly, his eyes wide in shock. “You... You know I didn’t mean to do that, I never would have done that if I wasn’t so stressed out over this presentation, baby, you know that.”
Dad had always had excuses, too. Ty waited for Tony to say something, but there weren’t words.
“Come on,” Ty cajoled, “it was just an accident, right? I’m not really mad at you, okay?” He crossed the room and reached, then pulled back when Tony flinched away. “Don’t be like that, I’ll make this up to you, all right? I’ll--” His phone started beeping urgently.
Ty cursed and dragged it out of his pocket to glance at the screen and silence the alarm. “I have to get back,” he said. “This presentation, it’s important.” It was important to Ty, anyway. His promotion -- his future in the firm -- hinged on it.
Tony kept watching Ty, only half-listening, more aware of the way his face was stinging as blood rushed into the damaged tissue on his cheekbone and the side of his eye.
Ty had sworn. He had sworn, when he’d asked Tony to move in with him, that Tony’s days as Howard’s victim were done. That no one would ever hit Tony again. And Ty... Ty had a temper, but he took it out on things -- dishes and knicknacks and books and Tony’s laptop, once -- but he’d never hurt Tony. Not until now.
“I know I’ve been working too much lately,” Ty said, “but it’s just... it’s so important to me that I can be able to take care of you, Tony. I need to be able to make you happy.” He put on his most winsome smile and sad eyes. “You... know that, right?”
“I know,” Tony said, because arguing with Ty was pointless. Even that bit of talking made his face hurt more. “You should go. You don’t want to be late.”
“Yeah, I just... You’re gonna be okay, right baby?” Ty scooped up his suit jacket from where he’d dropped it when he’d come in to have lunch. “This is going to change our lives, Tony, you’ll see. I’ll come back right after, as soon as I’m done, and then I’ll make it up to you, okay? Anything you want, I promise.”
Tony nodded, and Ty flashed a brilliant grin. He swooped in and ignored Tony’s flinch to plant a gentle kiss on his uninjured cheek, and then dashed out the door.
What I want, Tony thought, his thoughts running slow like syrup but crystal clear, is to never be hit again.
It was several long minutes before he could even move, and then it was only to slump down onto the edge of the bed, shivering and gasping for breath.
He wasn’t sure how long he sat like that, waiting for his heart to stop fluttering in his chest like a frightened bird, fighting for air like he was sucking it through a straw, his skin running alternately hot and cold.
God, he’d been so stupid. He’d thought Ty was the best thing that had ever happened to him, given him a foothold and the courage he’d needed to get out from under his father’s thumb. Why hadn’t he seen that he’d just been trading one bad situation for another? And now that Ty had hit him once -- it would certainly happen again, if Tony forgave it, let it go. It would happen again. And again. And again.
No. He couldn’t go through that again. He wouldn’t. Never again. He’d spent years coddling Ty’s jealousy, letting Ty pull him further and further from his few friends, letting Ty take more and more control of his life.
And now, what could he do? The apartment was in Ty’s name. The car was in Ty’s name. The bank account was in Ty’s name. Tony had to leave, but all he had was the cash in his wallet and whatever he could carry, and he hadn’t spoken to anyone who wasn’t a friend of Ty’s in... two years? Three?
Tony scrubbed his hands over his face, hissing as he scraped over the swelling bruise, and gave himself just five more minutes to give in to the pain and the fear and the grief. Five minutes, and that was all, because he had to be gone before Ty came back.
Five minutes passed, and Tony forced himself to stand up and go to the closet. He considered the expensive travel luggage, but no -- it would be too hard to lug around, and too conspicuous. He dug past it and found his old backpack, from when he’d been a student. (Ty had promised that he could go back to school some day. But those had been empty promises, hadn’t they?)
He pushed that aside; he didn’t have time to list all of Ty’s wrongs against him. Tony had to pack. Underwear and t-shirts. One extra pair of jeans. Socks. A hoodie. A minimal tool kit: multitool, some coiled wire, duct tape. He didn’t want to keep any of the things Ty had given him, and the things that might be worth pawning were engraved. Recognizable. He didn’t have time for it, anyway. He considered his books, but books were heavy.
Tony glanced at the clock. Fuck, he’d wasted too much time to the shock. He had maybe an hour left before Ty came back, and he needed to be long gone before then. He tossed his phone onto the bed -- his account was attached to Ty’s, of course -- then fished his wallet out of his pocket and rifled through it. The credit card followed the phone as being too easy to track. Driver’s licenses had RFID chips in them now, too, didn’t they? His Metrocard was trackable, but it would get him as far as Grand Central, at least. He wouldn’t need his Kung Pao Takeout loyalty card, or half-a-dozen old receipts, or... Christ, there was a lot of junk in his wallet. Hurriedly, he dumped it all out and counted the cash; he had about fifty dollars. Shit.
One last time check -- Shit, he’d have to run to catch the next train -- and he was out the door. He left it standing open; if he was lucky, some opportunistic robber would come in and help themselves to Ty’s things and confuse the trail.
Grand Central Station was a madhouse this close to rush hour. Tony clutched his backpack tightly and twisted through the crowds, making sure to drop his Metrocard. Someone would find it and use it, and if Ty had it tracked, it would go... somewhere that Tony wasn’t.
It was about a mile from Grand Central to Penn Station. The clock ticked in Tony’s ears like a bomb counting down, and he jogged the whole way.
Tony squinted at the bus destination board. No big cities, that was too obvious. No one-cow towns, either; there was no way to blend in. What he needed was a nice, middling-sized city, with a bus leaving in the next fifteen minutes. And a ticket that, preferably, wouldn’t use up all his cash.
Virginia Beach stood out. Beaches were nice, Tony thought, though he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had anything like a vacation. Beaches were full of tourists, where Tony’s accent wouldn’t be remarkable, where people lost their IDs and credit cards all the time and so lots of places accepted cash that wouldn’t, otherwise. They were coming up on summer, so he might be able to find work doing odd jobs. And a transient population meant that it would be easier to not only blend in with the crowds, but to move around.
The ticket was only $35. And the bus was a red-eye due to arrive around dawn the next morning, which meant Tony had a place to sleep for the night, even if it was a seat on a bus.
Right. Virginia Beach it was.
“I am going to kill Bobbi,” Bucky said, shoving Clint’s shit into a duffle bag. This was the third time in two years that Bobbi Morse had shown up, flirted a little with Clint, and suddenly Bucky was short both a renter and an employee. If Clint wasn’t such a loveable asshole, Bucky wouldn’t have given him his job back the first time. That, and no one else really wanted the damn job in the first place. Washing dishes by hand, sweeping the floor, and bussing tables was not exactly fun, and in the tourist town, it was hard work, too.
The restaurant was failing, slowly but surely, Bucky knew that, so the wages he could offer weren’t great, either. The only good thing about the job was that it came with meals and a discount on rent for the little apartment over the garage that Bucky used to try to earn a little extra on the side. Bucky had paid Clint under the table and taken the rent out of it directly, which was a nice arrangement for them both.
At least, it was nice right up until Bobbi had showed up flush with cash -- she was a professional card cheat -- and dragged Clint off for another of their whirlwind adventures. The two of them would be gone for months. And tourist season was just starting. If Bucky had to bus tables as well as manage the restaurant and cook on Steve’s off-shifts, he was going to die of sleep deprivation. “Kill her,” he stressed. She couldn’t have waited until September to steal Clint again?
“You always say that, and yet, you never do,” Nat said, pulling her hair back in a ponytail and grabbing the broom. “I’ll take bus-and-sweep today. Maybe Steve can do dishes in between cooking?”
“I don’t do dishes,” Steve yelled from the back. That man had ears like an elephant, he could hear a whisper a mile away, especially when it was about doing extra work. “I’ll bus, but I don’t like cooking when my fingers are all raisin-y.”
Natasha brandished the broom threateningly. “You know that sex you wanted to have, like ever again? Do the damn dishes, Steve.”
“Call Sam,” Steve suggested. “I heard his transmission is going out. He might need the extra work for a few days?”
“You call Sam,” Bucky said. There weren’t customers yet; technically they opened at eleven on weekdays -- brunch on Saturday and Sunday started at nine -- but they usually didn’t start having sitdowns until half-past. “I’ll put a sign up and call down to the paper.” Who knew, maybe someone in this town had a teenager who needed some work. That wasn’t likely -- there wasn’t any public transportation that stopped close to the restaurant, and teens who had cars also had access to better-paying jobs. But who knew? Some day, one day, Bucky’s luck would change. Maybe.
Bucky went to the supply closet and cussed for a while. Part of Clint’s job was also keeping that room neat, but of course he didn’t do it. Mostly he did dishes and stole food and table scraps for his dog -- oh, Christ, that was another thing to check. Had he left Lucky, or had he and Bobbi remembered to take the dog with them? -- and flirted with the customers. Clint wasn’t a bad guy, he was just… directionless.
On the other hand, Clint was on his way to Nevada with the love of his life and he’d probably come back in four months with a lot of amazing stories, which was more than Bucky had ever done. Dockside had been his parents’ place -- a beach restaurant that served greasy burgers, fries, crabcakes, and whatever catch of the day Bucky could buy off the boats before the bigger places crowded him out -- and Bucky had never been more than two hundred miles from home in his whole life. So, maybe Clint had a better life philosophy than Bucky did. It was just inconvenient for the rest of them.
Finally, Bucky found the signs: Help Wanted and Room for Rent. He brushed them off; Clint had obviously been eating in the closet, since there were crumbs everywhere. Bucky made a mental note to get more insecticide. The last thing he needed at the beginning of tourist season was an infestation of palmetto bugs. Palmetto bugs were enormous, flying cousins to roaches, fully an inch and a half long, and they freaked the tourists right out. Not that Bucky would blame them at all; he’d been known to shriek when one of them scuttered out from under something, too. And then there’d be problems with Maria Hill, the local Health Inspector.
Bucky hung the signs in the window, then took the broom from Nat. The porch should be swept, too, even though that was a hopeless task. The beach sand always ended up everywhere. But it gave him a few minutes to be outdoors, breathing in the brackish scent of the sea, combined with a mild odor of seaweed and dead fish. It was home. He couldn’t give up now.
Turned out Sam had managed to win two hundred dollars on a scratcher, and while he was willing to help Bucky while the Dockside was shorthanded, he didn’t need a second job. Bucky would send Nat out to the S-turn later in the afternoon. The local teens hung out there near the little inlet, and they might know someone who needed the work.