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Smile for the Camera

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Bucky’s always been told that he could have whatever he wanted. Growing up, it was repeated to him time and time again to the point that it was actually ingrained into his skull before he could even walk. The statement was a possibility, the promise of a future that wasn’t clear yet, but it seemed so big to a little ‘ol him at the time.

Even from a young age, he knew that his family was better off than most. His dad’s real estate development company (which had been his grandpa’s company before that) was building an upscale neighborhood at the edge of town. Tall brick walls sat on either side of the paved lane that led into the area, protecting the massive cookie-cutter homes behind them. It practically screamed exclusivity, which now that he’s older, it seems kinda laughable and completely unnecessary in a town like Hampton, Virginia.

The project had been huge and time-consuming, and Bucky vividly recalls his dad not being around much then. It had been right after his fifth birthday that his parents had drove him through those gates in their shiny, top of the line Escalade. His dad had steered them through  the streets that were in varying stages of construction until they turned one last time.

The street had been perfect. There were only four houses-- huge, multiple floor homes with stone columns and winding driveways with groomed to perfection lawns on display in the front.  Back then, they looked like the castles he’d seen in the books his mom had read to him at night, filled with princesses and princes who battled fire-breathing dragons. And while the house they had lived in at the time wasn’t small by any means, it had been nothing compared to that one.

His young eyes had zoomed in on a white house, the biggest of them all. It was different, with brick details and a stunning, wide porch that went from one end of the house to the garage. It had looked so special to him at the time. So special that he had leaned forward against the window of the backseat and pressed his fingers against the window (which his parents had strict rules against doing) with the biggest smile on his face. He had sat up tall in his booster chair and squealed, “Daddy, can we have that one?”

Even so young Bucky had known he would get it. Because he never asked for anything and not gotten it. He didn’t know at the time that asking for a house was beyond ridiculous but it wasn’t like his parents had ever taught him otherwise.

“Son,” his dad had said, turning in his seat with a wide, proud smile. “You can have whatever you want.”

Bucky had found out later that his parents had picked out that house beforehand, but in his young mind, he was the one that chose it.

His life was simple. He got what he wanted. He got a lot of things. It wasn’t until he turned seven that Becca was born so in those long years beforehand, he was doted on like there was no tomorrow and essentially in the end, being the only son, he was their future.

But now, Bucky knows that after seventeen years of this, there’s a fine print to the statement he was told at such a young age. There are terms and conditions to the life he has been given. There are rules and expectations. And it hasn’t just been his parents putting them on him, or his friends. He can admit now that somewhere along the way, he’s put them on himself too.

He’s followed them so closely all of his life without questioning. The worst part is that he did so gladly, because he hadn’t known there was any other way. For the longest time, he didn’t know that there was more that he wanted.

Now he does.

It’s been festering for a while, this feeling. He’s not exactly sure when it started, can’t pinpoint an exact date or moment when he thought, “ this is it ?” All he knows is that throughout the summer it’s gotten louder and louder. The voice, the truth , has been screaming at him. So badly now that it’s hard to hear anything else.

It’s like looking at one of his photos, thinking he’s captured something perfect at first, and then when he looks closer, he can see that it’s slightly out of focus or some people have their eyes closed or their mouths set in awkward angles.

Bucky does some of his deepest thinking, some of his best decision-making in the shower, but today the water pouring down on his head hasn’t brought him to any immediate conclusions. Instead, their is unease that churns through his gut, mixing around his insides like sludge.

He isn’t asking for his life to be perfect. He knows firsthand how impossible that is. It’s an illusion. He’s been given everything but knows now that it all came at a price, and he’s done paying for it. Now, all he wants is for his life to be his.

It’s been everyone else’s for far too long.

Bucky steps out of the shower and pulls a fluffy white towel from the rack to loosely wrap around his hips. As soon as his feet hit the granite floor of his bathroom, he glides across it towards the mirror. Steam clings to the glass, a thick film of condensation that he wipes away with the palm of his hand. His mom has told him time and time again not to do it, that he’ll leave fingerprints, but he likes leaving his mark. It’s the only place he does it mostly; either in here or his bedroom, where there are no eyes and people to pass on their judgements. Besides, fingerprints aside, it’s the fastest way to get the steam off and tonight, he needs to see himself.

Maybe even find himself.

He doesn’t know exactly who he is anymore, not really. He has the roles he plays: the straight-A student. The popular guy. The rich guy. Sharon Carter and Matt Murdock’s best friend. Brock Rumlow’s boyfriend. According to some, the stuck up asshole.

None of them take the time to find out that he’s actually really reserved, sometimes even too shy to fucking function properly when it comes to people he doesn’t know.

In their eyes, he’s the boy who gets everything and wants for nothing. The boy who strives to be everything his parents want him to be.

These days, he’s the boy who succeeds at making everyone happy.

Everyone but himself, that is.

His parents have always stressed the importance of close friends, good grades, and proper behavior. He stayed within the close-knit confines of their community, which worked for him because those were the people he knew. It was comfortable, a life that he had fallen into easily. He pushed himself to excel academically. Grade school had been easy in every respect. Even then him and his friends knew they were the leaders of the pack. They were the ones who had the name brand clothes, wore perfectly clean shoes every day, were the ones who had kids lining up to try and be their best friends (and then be the ones who turned those kids away with a laugh at such a ridiculous idea). Middle school was the same except instead of best friends, it turned into boyfriends and girlfriends-- basically who was worthy enough to date or brave enough to approach their lunch table. It’s no shocker that high school turned out the same too; all of them together, all the kids within the neighborhood who eventually turned into teenagers. Even still Bucky gets exceptional grades, has stayed at the top of his class, worn all the right clothes, and dated the right boy. They all skate through life, him and his friends.

They always have.

Bucky’s parents have always said that they want him to have so much more than they did. But they have so much that Bucky doubts that it’s even possible.

Which brings him back to that voice in his head that asks: Is this it? Or is there more to life? More outside these walls that he’s subconsciously built up around himself all of these years?

God he hopes so.

Sometimes he gets a taste of how good it is to do something simply because he wants to do it. Not because his parents require it or Sharon and Matt drag him to it or Brock wants it. There are things that have nothing to do with the expectations everyone has, the rules he’s enforced upon himself.

Like his pictures.

Bucky discovered photography in middle school, right in the summer entering his seventh grade year. His dad owned an old Nikon which had been hidden away in a box with some random stuff from his days at Vanderbilt ( summa cum laude ; he loves to remind Bucky). Bucky had been bored and pulled out the yellowed manual and spent the rest of the rainy afternoon reading about the device. The more he read, the more engrossed he became. He wanted to make sure he did everything right, so he absorbed every word. He didn’t touch the camera until he knew exactly what he needed to do.

The very next day his mom had taken him to get film. He had started taking pictures immediately and fell in love just as fast. The next month he was enrolled in an arts summer camp program that had an entire itinerary revolved around photography. When school started that year, he had begged his parents to let him take a photography class that was offered at the school but they were adamant that his schedule was already ‘full’ that year. The same went for the year after that. And the year after that. He knew, deep down, that it was just their way of keeping him focused on academics but it still burned. They tried to soothe it by buying him a top-of-the-line digital camera during his freshman year, then again his junior year by surprising him with a Mercedes-Benz.

He’s kept photography up on the side since then, finding time to sneak it in when and where he can because it’s what gives him the most joy.

Because when Bucky has his camera up to his eye or when he’s doing volunteer work at the local Lions Club (he can call Bingo numbers like no one’s business), he’s real. When he’s not doing that, he feels like he’s just there, playing his role but not understanding his part specifically. Bucky doesn’t know why he’s even doing it anymore.

Bucky takes a deep breath and focuses his attention back on the mirror in front of him. Already the stream is slowly beginning to creep back, filling in where he’s able to see himself  clearly, this reflection of his seventeen year old self. But… but there’s a weariness that makes his eyes look heavy, in feeling if not in appearance. He wonders if anyone else can see it.

He wonders if anyone cares enough to bring it up.

No one else sees this boy but him. They’re all too busy looking at the outer shell.

Bucky hastily leans forward and wipes his hand through the drops of condensation again, desperate to find himself in there.

Him. More than a last name, who his parents are, who his friends are, the car he drives. Him .

The steam hovers around him like a cloud, spreading out and up towards the fancy ceiling. As quickly as Bucky sees him , his reflection is fogged up again.

Bucky reaches for the wall, flipping on the fan. He can hear his mom, mentally warning him about how steam ruins paint. She had had an interior designer come in from New York a few years ago to completely redo the house, fancy pain included because yes, there is such a thing. It just about cost an arm and a leg, making her even more anal about keeping everything in the house perfect.

He watches in silent contemplation as the mirror defogs, until slowly but surely, there he is again, clear and focused. His dark hair drips around his shoulders and down his back. His face is fresh and rosy, practically glistening from the facial mast he used a few days ago. Even still, he leans forward and does his daily inspection, making sure his pores are un-clogged and that there aren’t any blemishes that will need him to go into code red mode and pull out his emergency facial medications. There are none, thankfully, so he tries to smile instead, practicing for the millionth time. It almost hurts to see his attempt through the mirror, seeing how it’s so obviously fake and how the skin stretches tight in his effort but no matter how hard he tries, it still never reaches his eyes. He still doesn’t understand what that phrase exactly means but he’s read it more than enough times to know that it’s an actual thing and that there are people (obviously none that he knows or hangs out with) who can spot the difference.

Bucky lets his smile drop and moves his arm to reach up and runs a finger down his nose where it’s gone pink from the day at the beach. School started this week and by Wednesday, Sharon had already started complaining about how much work she had.

“We don’t get to skate by just because we’re seniors, Sharon,” he had reminded her as they had strolled down the hallway, swollen with students that were much too loud and active for Bucky’s liking. Unlike Bucky, she wasn’t the one taking as many AP classes as humanly possible.

She didn’t listen to him, of course, only rolled her eyes as she was apt to doing when she thought he was being too serious (which was more often than not) and gave him a sideways look. “Really?” she dragged the word out and Bucky internally cringed at how basic his best friend could be sometimes. “You couldn’t even wait a week before you turned into Nerd-ucky? Your dedication to homework this early in the year is evidence that you need to blow off some steam.”

At the time he wasn’t entirely sure how blowing off steam equaled time at the beach, but he had stashed his camera in his tote bag next to a beach towel after school that day anyway. They had spent the entire afternoon there; him, Sharon, Matt, along with Phil, Elektra, Brock, Jack, and Tony (who they’ve all known forever and somehow, some of them have started dating along the way). Bucky had watched from the sidelines, absentmindedly drawing in the sand as Sharon and Elektra ran around at the water’s edge, their jeans rolled up to their knees. Phil and Matt kept picking them up, swinging them by their waists and pretending to throw them in. Thankfully Brock had been out in the water (he thinks he can surf) so it left Bucky surrounded by the sound of the crashing waves and the seagulls.

In that moment, away from it all, he had felt more like himself than he had in awhile.

The sparse families that had been around had left by dusk and left behind a large patch of flattened sand and a few sandwich crusts. The seagulls had swooped, not even waiting until they were gone before they started scavenging for food. Usually, the birds scared him, dive-bombing with no general regard for personal space. Earlier today, though, Bucky realized they were just doing their thing. He could respect that. The waning light reflected off their feathers, turning them silver in the fading light and Bucky had reached to his side, carefully pulling his camera free and bringing it up to his face.

Bucky had played with the settings before laying down on the blanket so he could see the birds on their own level. There had been a few circling overhead and Bucky had angled his body up, snapping a few pictures of them before going back to the ones scampering on the sand. Just when he’d found the shot he wanted, a foot had disrupted the scene. The birds had jumped, slightly jostled, but not deterred in the end.

“Fucking rats with wings,” Brock had said. He had yanked the cord on his full bodysuit, shooing them away with his feet. He had kicked up the sand and very nearly kicked them in the process. If birds could glare, Bucky was pretty sure they did so towards Brock before they had grabbed the last crumbs and scattered.

“Are you kidding me right now?” Bucky had hissed, more than a little mad that Brock had messed up his picture and even more pissed that he’d nearly kicked an animal. Like, who even does that?

Brock had only rolled his eyes as he flopped down beside Bucky on the blanket, kicking sand up again and almost getting it on the lens. Thankfully Bucky had the reflexes and enough common sense to move the camera to the side just in time, so the sand had hit his shoulder instead.

“Why the hell would you want a picture of them anyway?” Brock had said instead. “It’s just a waste of film.”

It’s a fucking digital, asshole, Bucky had thought at the time.

Of course he couldn’t say that aloud. Brock was his boyfriend, after all. But Bucky had a sneaking suspicion that Brock knew his feelings had been changing and fading over the past few months even if Bucky hadn’t actually verbalized anything. The worst he could do is be indifferent, but Brock seemed content to ignore all of that.

Basically, they were both really, really good at pretending.

Eventually, Brock’s hand had found his hair, caressing it in a way that Bucky was sure Brock thought gave the illusion of endearment, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt possessive, like everything else Brock did. Bucky had wanted nothing more than to bat that damn hand away, to get away from him altogether. Instead, Bucky had sat up and put his camera in its case, grateful for a reason to shift to the far side of the blanket.

He had also looked towards the water, scanning the shoreline for their friends to get them to act as a distraction, but they were all gone. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that they’d all scattered too-- under the boardwalk, to their cars, just to be alone. Jack and Tony were used to it by now and had coincidentally taken to the waves to pretend all of their friends weren’t in various processes of hooking up.

So with them all gone, Bucky had a strange welling of panic in his chest when he realized that Brock and him were alone. It wasn’t like they had never been alone before, because there had been countless moments, hours, and nights. There had also been countless moments, hours, and nights over the past three years where Bucky hadn’t wanted to be alone with him but didn’t really have a choice.

But he had never wanted to run. And right then, sitting on that blanket with Brock looking at him in that cool, appraising way, as though Bucky belonged to him-- it made Bucky want to get as far from him as possible. Bucky didn’t want to be alone with him. He didn’t want Brock at all . He didn’t want to feel like that anymore, like he needed to escape. Brock was the biggest symptom of his discomfort, the biggest lie he’s been living and he didn’t want that anymore.

Thinking that had lifted the burden a bit, made it a little easier to breathe right there on that beach. He must have been smiling, or at least looking less standoffish than usual because Brock had squinted at him, using a hand to shield his eyes from the sun and had given Bucky that look.

“You wanna…”

No. No, he didn't wanna.

Bucky sighs as he towel dries his hair, remembering the of indifference on Brock’s face when he told him he just wasn’t in the mood (too much sand, Brock, you know I hate when it gets in my hair). Sure Brock was a little agitated but boo fucking who, there were more important matters at hand like, oh, their failing relationship.

But had their relationship ever worked?

For whatever reason, today was the last straw for Bucky. He was done. He knew that he was going to have to be the one to take the bull by the horns and end it.

And he’s going to end it tonight.  

After Bucky spritz on the conditioning spray his mom insists will give him stronger hair follicles, which is imperative for whatever reason, he combs out his hair slowly and silently counts the strokes.

Mrs. Carter, who is one of the regular ladies at Bingo and insists to be called Peggy (and coincidentally is Sharon’s great aunt), told him once that thirty brush strokes is the magic number for shiny hair. He’s pretty sure her information is outdated, but that’s all he can think about every time he brushes his hair out now. And then inevitably Bucky thinks of the look on her face when he gave her a picture he’d taken a few months back. It was of her and one of her granddaughters (because Sharon wouldn’t get caught dead at something so bleh), snapped after Bingo one day when the community room had pretty much emptied out. Bucky had stayed behind to help put away the equipment and had noticed them sitting there, heads bent close, inspecting her bingo cards and laughing. It was one of those moments that Bucky loved capturing. It was something that seemed insignificant at the time, but when captured it somehow became important, something special. Bucky knew when he showed it to Peggy that she really appreciated it. The warmth of her smile went straight to his chest at the time.

Bucky heaves another sigh when he realizes his thoughts have gone off track. Again. He thinks that even subconsciously, his mind and body are trying to prolong the inevitable, almost as if he himself is against himself in some weird form of self preservation. He just needs to get the fuck over it because it’s happening. Right now.

He gives himself a quick nod of determination through the mirror and turns to cross the threshold into his bedroom, stopping at his dresser. He pulls on some of his softest lounge pants and an equally as soft t-shirt, then orders his Google Home to start quietly playing music. It seems like it’s going to be that kind of night and music is enough to drown out all the nonsense. 

His phone sits in the middle of his phone and without pause, Bucky jumps down onto his bed, staring down at the black screen.

He’ll call Brock in ten minutes. He’ll  tell him they need to talk, that he needs to come over. Bucky is sure he's still with Jack, Phil, and Tony, probably fucking around on the later’s brand new Xbox, and for a second, Bucky feels bad that he’ll be pulling Brock away from them.

But it's short-lived. He has to do this. He wants to do this.

Even though the thought of telling Brock that it's over makes his stomach roll nervously, it also makes Bucky feel powerful. Everything in his life has been just so for so long. He’s done everything that's expected of him, not least of all dating Brock. Brock’s parents are friends with his, and have been for as long as Bucky can remember. Bucky guesses he could have had his pick of any guy, but Brock made the most sense when they got together. They’d been in the same circle since they were in fucking diapers, having hung out with all the same people. They had the same upbringing and lived such similar lives. Brock was good-looking and charming in a cold sort of way, but Bucky could identify with that. Brock thought he was misunderstood, just like Bucky. They had all of those things in common and when Bucky was younger, he thought that was really all that mattered. God, he existed in such a small world.

Now Bucky knows how wrong he was.

Bucky flops back onto his bed and stares at the ceiling, thinking about what he’s about to do. This is going to affect so much more than his relationship with Brock. It will bleed out into their friendships, making things awkward. He’s given no indication that he’s been feeling this way, so he knows it'll shock Sharon and Matt.

He doesn’t even know how Brock will react. It almost makes Bucky sick thinking about it, but the thought of not breaking up with him is worse.

Bucky flips onto his stomach and picks up his phone. It doesn’t take him long to scroll through his contact lists and as he does, he scans every name, thinking about who he could call and talk this through before he does it. Usually all life decisions, major and minor, involve the input of Sharon and Matt, but lately he’s felt this inexplicable distance from them. They both seem so happy and content in their relationships, in their skins. They truly seem to enjoy everything they’re all doing, the way they are all living, and if they aren’t, they’ve given no indication otherwise. They are always so much more involved than Bucky is, planning the parties, the outings, reveling in their popularity and clothing and cars. They all seem to thrive on it all and at this point, Bucky is just along for the ride. Barely .

He’s not sure they'll understand his need for change. What's worse is that Bucky thinks they would try to talk him out of it, because they’re supposed to be with the people they’re with now. It's how it's always been, the six of them together; Matt with Elektra, Sharon with Phil, Bucky with Brock. Even when they weren’t dating Brock, Elektra and Phil, they always sat together at lunch, flirted at camp, went to the movies together. It worked out so well, each of us a matching pair with Jack and Tony as their tagalongs. Well, it did for the two of them. Bucky has always been the shy one, the quiet one. So naturally, when Brock asked him out freshman year, he had shyly said yes (at the excessive coaxing of Sharon and Matt).

Bucky puts his phone back down on the bed, the call for support unmade. This is what he can do to make things better for himself . They'll understand that.

He’ll tell them tomorrow, after it's done and there's no going back.

Something has to change. It's his senior year, an important one in establishing who he is and what he wants to become. He’s not even sure he knows what that is. He just knows that he doesn’t want to be fake anymore.

He wants to be real.

Bucky picks up his phone yet again, determined this time. He knows that Brock is not going to want to hear what Bucky is going to say. But Bucky will say it and he’ll be strong and not back down.

So, he texts Brock, a simple: Come over.

Five minutes go by. Ten. Fifteen. While he waits, he thinks about changing his clothes, maybe make him more presentable but that’s kinda pointless considering him and Brock have seen each other absolutely shit-faced and besides, he’s comfortable like this, so he stays put, lying on his bed and staring at the ceiling. What would he change into, anyway? A break-up outfit? Come to think of it, he’s sure one of the etiquette books sitting on the bookshelf in the study would be able to help him with that. If he cared, that is.

Finally, twenty three minutes later, Bucky hears back from Brock: I'm at Tony’s. Can it wait until later?

Can it wait? Can Bucky wait?

No.

Brock responds with a short and clipped, Fine .

Bucky can almost hear Brock cursing. Tony lives a few blocks away and even though Jack, Phil, and Brock have equally huge houses, they're usually always chilling at his. So Bucky knows that it'll only take Brock a few minutes to get over here, whether he's walking or driving.

Bucky paces in front of his bedroom window for almost fifteen minutes, waiting for Brock to show up. His heart races the whole time, a mixture of nerves, anticipation and irritation to the point where he can feel his pulse in his fucking throat. Brock is obviously taking his sweet ass time on purpose. Until finally, a car turns the corner, its headlights cutting through the dark night and Bucky gets dizzy for a second. The reality of what he’s about to do hits him and he takes a deep, steadying breath before rushing down the stairs to intercept Brock outside. The last thing Bucky wants is Brock coming in and his parents getting wind of what's happening.

Bucky makes it halfway across the foyer before his dad's voice drifts in from the living room. “Bucky? Where are you going?” He’s watching the news like he actually gives a damn about anything but stock market prices. His mom is beside him and in her lap is the demon dog shitzu, FeFe. The dog lifts his head up too, giving Bucky a judgemental glare that Bucky is in too much of a hurry to return. The dog downright hates him and frankly, the feeling is pretty fucking mutual.

Bucky stops short, one ear trained on the engine idling outside. “Brock stopped by really quick. I just… uh, need to give him something.” 

“It’s a school night, honey, and you were out all afternoon,” his mom oh-so-kindly reminds him, flipping through her fashion magazine. As if he wasn't aware of his whereabouts.

Bucky looks up at the ceiling, heaving a deep sigh that he hopes neither of his parents hear. They're not big on sighs. Or eye rolling. Or really anything that shows sarcasm in response to them. "It'll just take a minute, Mom. I'll be right back."

He’s out the front door, shutting it behind himself before she or his dad can argue.

Bucky’s bare feet slap against the sidewalk as he makes his way quickly down the driveway.

Brock is waiting for him.

He's standing in front of his Corvette, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his soccer team hoodie. Even in the darkness, Bucky can see his carefully blank expression. Bucky has seen that face a lot, usually when Brock’s dad is laying into him.

It makes Bucky wonder if Brock knows. He also wonders if that indifference will melt away when he tells Brock what he's been called over here for.

"What's up?" he asks, leaning back against the hood of his car.

Bucky shivers, both out of nervousness and because in his haste to get out here, he forgot to put on a sweatshirt.

"We need to talk,” Bucky answers as strongly as he can. There’s a slight tremor in his voice but it’s soft enough that he doubts Brock of all people would hear it.

"About?"

"About..." Brock’s staring at him, not even blinking, and Bucky hesitates, feeling his confidence waver. God, he hopes that he knows what the hell he’s doing here.

Brock pushes himself off his car and takes a step towards him, irritation coloring his face. Bucky know that expression well. Brock gets like that when Bucky’s not doing what he wants. "Listen, Tony’s got our game on pause, so -"

" I'm breaking up with you ,” Bucky rushes out. The words tumble out his mouth, one on top of the other, because if he didn’t say it right then and there, he might not say it at all. And he knows as soon as he does say it that it's right, even though his heart is racing and his palms are sweating and he has that dizzy, surreal feeling again. His head is too heavy and way too light at the same time.

Brock doesn't say anything for a long time. Or maybe it's just a few seconds. It feels like an eternity regardless, and Bucky just stand there, freezing, waiting.

"I'm sorry," Bucky says in a low voice, even though he’s not. Not at all.

"You're sorry ?" Brock repeats. One side of his mouth quirks up at Bucky, but he doesn't move, like he expects Bucky to say something different. When he doesn’t, Brock blinks and then he's not smiling at all. "What the fuck, Bucky?"

Brock’s voice is quiet, like it always is. He rarely raises it. He's so careful not to be like his father Alexander, who has this voice that rattles your bones. It doesn't matter if he's yelling - which is often, at least in Brock’s case - or simply talking. He demands attention. Brock’s dad's an insufferable dick, and as much as Brock doesn't want to be like him, as hard as he tries to do the exact opposite, he's never as far away from his dad as he wants to be.

"I..." Bucky trails off. He doesn’t know what to say after he’s told Brock that he doesn’t want to be with him anymore. How do you explain that? Does he even want to hear why?

Brock gives him a look that is so cold that it sends shivers down Bucky’s spine that has nothing to do with the frigid air. "You what ?"

"I can't do this anymore," Bucky says quietly.

Brock scoffs, rolls his eyes like he can’t believe he’s actually there right now-- like he’d rather be anywhere with anyone than right here with Bucky. "We had a plan,” Brock says, breaking the thick silence that washed down on them. Brock stares at him, waiting for Bucky to say something. When he doesn’t, Brock shakes his head and looks past him, muttering, "Goddamn it."

Bucky licks his lips and can slowly feel the courage building back up. "What was the plan, Brock?” he asks, his voice just above a whisper. “You didn't bother to fill me in on that, although that's nothing new. You do what you want, regardless of anyone or anything."

Brock blinks slowly, like Bucky’s stupid for not simply knowing. Like he's annoyed that he has to tell him.

"This is our last year of high school. This is when we're supposed to be rounding everything out, finishing this shit at the top and then going to college together."

Bucky’s mouth falls open, both in shock and because he wants to correct him. They haven't even talked about colleges, much less going together . The idea of being tied to him like that makes Bucky itchy and he resists digging his fingernails into the flesh of his forearms. Brock keeps going, oblivious to Bucky’s reaction, gaining traction. "I mean, shit, Bucky. You were acting different and sort of distant this summer, but come on. I was figuring you'd get over it. You're doing this now?"

Bucky snaps. It's the expectant tone that sets him off. "I'm sorry, did you want me to wait, Brock? Is this an inconvenient time for you? If not now, when? I mean, what's the point of -"

The rough purr of a car's engine turning onto the street stops him. Bucky snaps his mouth shut and looks past Brock, searching for more to say but grateful for the distraction. This is too much, too heavy and emotional for something he thought would be none of those things. He thought this would be easier.

Say what you need to say and get it done, Bucky.

Brock looks over his shoulder just as the car passes by. Natasha Romanov is in the passenger seat. Steve Rogers is behind the wheel. The car slows down almost infinitesimally and Bucky’s heart stops for a second when he meets Steve’s eyes. Bucky looks away immediately, crossing his arms over his chest. His gaze hops to Natasha and he tries to smile - nothing to see here, move along please please please - but he’s sure it's more of a pained grimace. It's obvious what's happening, the guy standing barefoot in his driveway with his very soon-to-be ex-boyfriend scowling in front of his car, arms crossed.

It's too dark to gauge their reactions and besides, they're nearly past them now. Part of Bucky is relieved, the other part, curious. He doesn’t have time to think about it, or them, though. They continue on down the street, the Jeep turning toward the Romanov’s house. The red tail lights are all that's visible before they disappear completely.

Brock snorts and turns back to me. Bucky’s heart is still hammering in his chest and he lays his hand over it, wrapping the other around his waist.

"You're making a mistake, y’know,” Brock sneers. “You don't even know what you're ruining right now."

Bucky sighs heavily and drops his arms to his sides, exasperated. "What am I ruining? What do we even have to ruin?"

Nothing . Bucky wants to say it so badly, but he bites his lip instead.

"Oh, I don't know, how about three fucking years? How about I'm the only one who can give you what you want? What you're used to?" He flings his arm toward the house behind Bucky, at the Corvette he's standing in front of, the fancy cars in the driveway, including Bucky’s own g-wagon.

Bucky frowns because Brock is thinking of things. The house he would get Bucky with the money he's going to be making thanks to the prestigious education he's sure to get because it's what's expected of him. The nice cars and the beautiful clothes. That's what matters to Brock, though. What he thinks matters to Bucky. What he thinks should matter to them both.

Bucky doesn’t want those things. Because getting those things would mean giving more important things up. Like his own fucking happiness. He’s tired of bargaining with it.

"Really?” Bucky looks at Brock incredulously, dragging the word out. “Is that what you see for us? Because I have to be honest, maybe if you told me that when we were younger I would have bought into it. But I need more than that now. We're not happy anymore. We're not even in this relationship for us, Brock. We're in it because we're supposed to be." Brock rolls his eyes, juggling his keys from one hand to the other, his movements jerky and agitated. Bucky steps closer and Brock stands up straight. "Come on,” Bucky insists. “I can't be the only one feeling this."

Brock turns away, clearly done with the conversation."Whatever." He tosses the word over his shoulder as he starts toward the driver's side of his car.

He obviously wasn't expecting this. Maybe he just thought Bucky wouldn't ever say anything. But Bucky refuses to think that the idea of them not being good for each other hadn’t crossed Brock’s mind too. While the final decision of breaking up only just came to Bucky today, it's been a long time coming. They’ve been distant for months, and they’ve never been the way Matt and Elektra are, or even Phil and Sharon. There's never been a lot of affection, no late-night phone calls or sharing of feelings. No depth, just show. Perfect for the camera but hollow for all the wrong reasons.

Brock’s face is composed - practiced indifference - and again Bucky is reminded of his father. That exact expression is what he’s seen from Brock more often than not, and one of the many reasons Bucky’s pulling away. This isn't love. He’s not even sure it's like at this point.

"I'm going back to Tony’s,” Brock eventually says. He’s turned away from Bucky, already opening his car door, but as he turns, Bucky can see the anger that’s there.

Bucky doesn’t say anything in return, can’t think of something to make this less awkward. Brock does the same and in less than a second, he’s back in his car and peeling out the driveway.

And that’s that.

Bucky exhales shakily and pivots on his heels, making his way back into the house and closing the door behind him quietly so he can slip up the steps without having to talk to his parents. 

Once he gets up to his room, he throws himself face first into his bed again. He hugs his pillow close, tight, waiting for his feelings to catch up to him because he just broke up with his three year boyfriend so he has to feel something. Sadness, relief, happiness-- anything .

But he doesn’t.

He’s not sure how long he stays laying there, waiting. Eventually his phone buzzes. Bucky picks his phone up to look at the notification, thinking that maybe it’s Matt or Sharon checking in. Maybe Phil told Sharon what happened because obviously Brock would have something to say to them when he returned to their oh-so-precious paused game.

It’s a text from Brock instead: Told the guys that I’m thinking about breaking up with you.

Bucky actually laughs when he reads the message. So that’s the way Brock is going to play it? Bucky should’ve known. Any way for Brock to save face, trying to be the breaker instead of the breakee. Fucking typical.

Not that it matters, really. No matter who did it, they were already broken up. 

Bucky rolls onto his back and focuses on his ceiling, breathing deeply as he searches for the ‘inner peace’ that his mom so earnestly stresses ever since she learned it from some yoga guru at a spa in the Caribbean in July of last year. Inner peace is bullshit because instead of feeling better, there’s nothing. 

You can have whatever you want. The words echo through Bucky’s mind. It's on a constant loop, taunting him.

He wants something different. He just doesn’t know how to get it.