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Repercussion

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       It was fifteen minutes to ten when the sound of keys jingling against the door finally traveled through the house. Steve perked up, his entire body immediately turning to face in the direction that the sound came from, his shoulders relaxing and tensing again. This was always the worst part. Even through watching her go, through the counting of every moment as it ticked by painfully slowly towards her return, through the lump in his throat the entire time she wasn’t there, this was the part that Steve hated most: the return. Not to be mistaken, though–Steve relished having her back, oh, he did so. Every particle of tension and worry in his being dissolved as soon as she was back in his sight, as if her mere presence soothed his soul. Which it did, no doubt. No, this part was the hardest because he always had to remind her, and he hated if his tone got just a little too serious, and her face fell as a result of it. He hated being the reason for the light leaving her eyes.

      He pushed any and every thought to the back of his mind and prepared himself as she entered the kitchen, pushing the hair back from her face. Her eyes slanted slightly as she pouted at him, letting him know right away that she was aware of her misstep. He dipped his chin and gazed up at her from under a furrowed brow, waiting for her to stand up for herself.

      “Hey Steve,” she smiled, then pursed her lips hesitantly before shaking her head and continuing. “I know I’m late. I’m so sorry. I know I should have been here on time to have dinner with you. I appreciate that you’re so patient with me, I don’t deserve it. I’m really sorry, it’s just that my friends wanted to catch a movie and it went on a little longer than we expected.”

      Damn it, he thought. She just about covered everything. I can’t even be mad at her. Steve raised an eyebrow, the corner of his mouth already preparing to pull up into a smile. Thank goodness he was thickly bearded across the face, saving his smile lines from giving him away. “Do your friends help you prepare these lines while they’re keeping you away from home?” he asked, his tone witty.

      She giggled in a pout, knowing full well what her expressions did to his stern personality. “I’m just being honest. I don’t want to lie to you! And hey, I didn’t even eat all day so I could have dinner with you. See?” She grinned and he finally let himself return it.

      “You must be starving, go change quickly and I’ll set the table.”

      She smiled at him sweetly, clearly happy with the result of her efforts. “I’ll be back down asap,” she chimed, turning around and hurrying down the hall. Steve watched the sway of her skirt as her hips moved, his jaw clenching with loath. He couldn’t stand her wearing those kinds of things outside of the house, but he didn’t want to hail down on her like an authoritarian. He wanted her to be open with him, to see him as reliable and understanding. He let her wear whatever she liked, and she thankfully didn’t have too skimpy of a taste in fashion.

      Just as she reached the bottom of the stairs to the upper floor, Steve called out to her, making her turn around and look at him expectantly.

      “Yeah Steve?” she waited.

      “I’ve told you a hundred times, Mel,” he spoke with a glint in his eyes that she could see from across the dim hallway. “Dad. Not Steve.”

Chapter Text

            The alarm clock rang at exactly six in the morning, and Steve’s eyes flew open to sunlight creeping in through the curtains. To his dismay, the scene before him was not quite as nice as what he had been dreaming of, and he felt quite pissed that the dream had to be cut short. He lay in bed for a few minutes, completely aware of the heaviness between his legs begging for attention. The who of Steve’s fantasies was across the hall in her own room, fast asleep and unaware of his desires.

 

            He lifted the blanket and peaked down, hesitantly touched the bulge in his boxers and hissed. It had been a few months since he’d received proper attention at all–it was difficult to be with other women when there was only one face he ever saw, only one name he ever wanted to call out.

 

            After a few minutes’ contemplation, Steve reached for his phone and dialed his voicemail.

 

            You have no new messages. You have twenty-seven saved messages. To play your messages, press one.

            He tapped the keyboard on the indicated digit and stuck the phone back to his ear, reaching his other hand down and grasping himself tightly. His eyes immediately shut closed as a wave of anticipation washed over him. The first message from almost a year ago began playing.

 

            “Steve, I miss you,” her voice came through, consuming his entire mind. He envisioned her before him, touching herself, cheeks flushed and lips swollen. “I’m waiting for you to come home.”

 

            To replay this message, press one. To save this message, press nine. To delete this message, press seven.

 

            The sudden voice of the operator threw Steve off his rhythm, but he shook it off and pressed one again, resuming the steady pump of his hand southwards of his body.

 

            “Steve, I miss you. I’m waiting for you to come home.”

 

            Again, the operator interrupted, and again Steve pressed one, wishing he could just play her message on repeat without any cuts.

 

            “Steve, I miss you. I’m waiting for you to come home.”

 

            Steve pressed nine before the operator could ruin it for him and chucked his phone aside, focusing on the task at hand, wishing desperately that his imagination of her would be enough. It took him quite a while, what with the grogginess keeping him from focusing properly and sleep threatening to take over again every few seconds. Finally, as he pictured her doing a very specific thing, he felt himself closing in to the finish and reached for a tissue to keep himself from making a mess.

 

            Dirty boxers were tossed into the hamper just as Steve was simultaneously thrown into another fit of guilt from the realization of his issue. After pulling on semi-clean tracks, Steve went to the washroom to formally clean his hands under the sink and paused to look at himself in the mirror.

 

            What is wrong with you? His reflection had slightly flushed cheeks and dark, dilated eyes. He looked perverted and felt ashamed. What was he doing? She was sixteen. She was his step-daughter.

 

            Only your step-daughter, the vile voice in his mind debuted for the first time that morning. She’s not your blood. You’re not wrong to feel this for her.

 

            But it was wrong, and even though he rarely came to terms with the truth and only let himself feel shame every once in a while, it didn’t mean he was blind to the fact of the matter. She was a child, basically, and he was her guardian. He was her father-figure.

 

            She doesn’t see you as a father. She sees you as Steve. And very soon she won’t be a child anymore.

 

            Steve splashed his face with cold water and pushed his blond locks backwards to lie flat. Look at you, the rational part of his mind thought. You could be well off with any woman your age, live normal. Feel normal. You’re not unattractive. You’re just stupid.

 

            But he didn’t–couldn’t–feel for any other woman what he felt for her. Just the sound of her sighing made a hundred hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention. This was crazy, it was insane, to some extent messed up, yes. But it was real. It was the realest thing Steve had ever felt.

 

            And he had tried. He’d tried to see her as a daughter, as his daughter. When she was younger, it was easier, because she had kept to herself as a child and had resented him in the beginning. Hell, she’d even resented her mother in the beginning for allowing Steve into their lives. But then she turned seven, and he bought her a bike and taught her how to ride it. Then she turned eight, and he helped her every night with her math homework and snuck her out of school to go to the movies or the park without her mother knowing. When she turned nine, he found the group of boys after school that bullied her and scared them shitless. At the age of ten, when she had nobody to go to the school dance with, he took her, and all the girls in her grade swooned over a thirty-something-year-old man that reminded them of their celebrity crush.

 

            Then, when she was eleven, her mother was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. As a little girl, she didn’t know how to deal with the sight of her mom coughing up blood and losing her voice. Somehow it was excruciating for Steve more because of the little girl and her tears and less because his partner was dying. For some reason, it didn’t take that long for her death to happen soon afterwards.

 

            Mel didn’t spend a single day away from Steve after that. She followed him everywhere, her eyes on the ground, her little hand held in his. By her twelfth birthday, she told him she wanted to cut her hair short and dye it blue. He did the whole hair job for her, and she loved it, regardless of how the kids made fun of her at school. She was his little mermaid, with her blue hair and sparkly brown eyes, always a little shy, always a little small for her age.

 

            But then things changed. She turned thirteen, and her body began to change. She filled up in places even her mother didn’t have, and it happened so quickly that Steve was swept off his feet. One day she was still the short, fragile little Mel sitting on his leg as he gave her a pep-talk on her first day of grade eight. Six months later she was Melody, who had to wear bras and put a lock on her room and couldn’t sit on his lap anymore for obvious reasons. Her hair grew out the blue dye and became brown again, reaching halfway down her back, and now she veered towards all the girly things that she didn’t appreciate before. Steve had to give her more privacy and be more careful about how he touched her or where he touched her, and perhaps it was this sudden surge of suspenseful intimacy that jerked something upright in him. He found himself looking at her in a different way, in a way that freaked him out a lot at its start. So, he went on business trips more often, trying to get away from the whole setting, leaving Mel to her grandmother for a few weeks at a time. But he should have known that the more distance he put between her and himself, the more normal it would seem to look at her the way he did every time he came back. And every time he returned, her face was a little older, her body a little fuller, her scent a bit sweeter, and his desires much stronger.

 

            He had to miss her fourteenth birthday, then forced himself to stay away on her fifteenth as well. But both times he came back with grand gestures: a new phone on her fourteenth with a tracker and for her fifteenth, a shopping trip where she could buy anything she wanted. To his utter satisfaction, his humble Mel only asked for a computer to use for school and games. She was so simple, so effortless, unlike other women–including her own mom–in many ways. Steve had brought her up to be bold and be herself; luckily ‘herself’ was just a straightforward girl who liked some mainstream stuff, like the latest movie or book or music, while also liking unusual stuff that only Steve shared with her, like stargazing or pottery or going to public settings just to sit and point out things about people that walked past, laughing everything off at the end.

 

            Last summer, when she turned sixteen, he left for “business” a couple of weeks before her birthday to avoid seeing her on the day of. She would always wear something nice for her birthday and send him pictures, so he decided his tradition of leaving before the big day was a safer bet. He didn’t want to be around her when she got all dressed up; he knew he couldn’t handle himself.

 

            And he was right, because she ended up calling him before the big day and pleading for him to come back. “I don’t want to spend this one alone again,” she’d puttered through trembling lips, and he hated the anguish in her voice. “I want to spend it with you, please.” So he booked the first flight back, and on the flight was when she left him that first voicemail that he loved listening to. He’d heard it for the first time and immediately felt himself giving in. He’d rushed to the washroom on the plane and pumped one out furiously, remembering the sound of her voice. When he got home, she was so happy, telling him that that was the best birthday present ever. When the day came, she wore a pretty dress and pulled back her hair to show more of her face, and Steve took her out on a makeshift date to properly wish her a sweet-sixteen. That night he barely slept and lay awake with the realization that he was right: he couldn’t handle himself. No matter what happened, he couldn’t be away from her anymore. He couldn’t deny these feelings any longer.

 

            She clung to him and cried at the end of the summer on the anniversary of her mother’s death, and it took every particle of his being to keep himself in check while her body was flush against his like that. Every single day was another step on a downwards spiral and Steve couldn’t even control his pace. Eventually he gave in, at least privately, to his needs. Since she was sixteen, he let himself get off to her and fantasize about her, but never tried to touch her in that way.

 

            But now, she was turning seventeen.

 

            Seventeen meant a whole different mentality. A whole new boundary because she was older now, and she would understand more. He had to be careful with his every move: he didn’t want to scare her away. She was his lifeline. She was his, and he was hers.

 

            After what felt like forever, Steve left his reflection in the washroom to check on Mel. He knocked on her door quietly at first, then a little harder when there was no response.

 

            “Mel, let’s go, you’re going to be late for school,” he called, his voice still harsh from recently waking. After another couple of knocks, he heard movement, and a load moan that went straight to his crotch.

 

            “Five more minutes, Steve…” she trailed off towards the end.

 

            Steve sighed. “It’s your junior year of high school, Mel. This is the time to make it right. You can’t go on staying up late reading those weird stories on the internet and then showing up to school late. That’s not how you get a PhD.”

 

            After a moment, the door opened a crack and her face peered through, eyes bloodshot and dark circles omnipresent. “Actually,” she croaked, “I was up late studying for a math test. The more you know.”

 

            “Maybe if you’d been home on time last night, you could have started studying earlier and wouldn’t have had to stay up,” he raised an eyebrow.

 

            “Maybe, you should make me some breakfast and some coffee,” she slurred, leaning her head against the side of the door as her eyes drifted close.

 

            Steve snapped his fingers in her face and she popped one honey-brown eye open, looking at him with sincere irritation. “I will do that, but I better see you downstairs in ten minutes.”

 

            “You must be really fun at parties, Steve,” she mumbled.

 

            “Dad, Mel. How many times do I have to remind you?” He placed his hands on his hips.

 

            She rolled her eyes and shut the door, and he rushed downstairs to fix her something to eat and her coffee, which she seemed to survive on. She was down in eleven minutes instead of ten, wearing clothes that made her look somewhat like a homeless person. Steve noticed she paired one of his old flannels with her sweatpants and the sight of her wearing an article of his clothing did wonders for him. He drove her to school as she went over her notes in the passenger seat next to him.

 

            “I have a question,” she said, turning to him as he pulled up in front of her school.

 

            Steve quirked a brow. “Which would be?”

 

            She bit her lip and he focused on it a bit too long, tearing his gaze away to look at someone walking their dog across the street. “You never used to insist on my calling you dad. Why now?” he heard her ask, and his brain stopped working.

 

            What was he supposed to tell her? That he needed a reminder for himself so that he wouldn’t do what he wasn’t supposed to be doing? That he wanted to feel like she saw him as her dad so he would be forced to cooperate and not let the situation get the best of him? There was no plausible excuse in his mind at the moment.

 

            “Why don’t you call me dad?” he rebutted instead.

 

            She watched him through thick eyelashes as she thought for a moment. “Because…you’re more than that. You’re Steve. You’ll always be Steve. My Steve.”

 

            His heart skipped a beat. They stared at each other for a long time, for different reasons, he knew, but they stared nonetheless. Then he gave her a small smile and ran his hand over her hair.

 

            “My little Mel.”

 

            Her smile widened. “If I do well on this test, you have to take me out for ice cream.”

 

            “You know I would take you out for ice cream anyways, right? What else?”

 

            She shook her head. “Just ice cream.” Then, after a moment, her smile disappeared and she looked unsure. “You’re going to be here for my birthday, right?”

 

            Steve tensed up, pursing his lips. “I…might have work stuff–”

 

            “Steve, please. Please don’t leave again. Come on, it’s my seventeenth. This is an important birthday,” she reasoned. “I’m becoming a woman.”

 

            A chill ran up Steve’s spine and he frowned at her. Her eyes sparkled in the sunlight from the window and for a second all he could see was the child that his ex-wife left for him to take care of, the one he was trusted to protect. A woman.

 

            And very soon she won’t be a child anymore.

 

            He shook his head. “You’re still a kid. Don’t rush it. And if it means that much…I’ll be there.”

 

            “You mean you’ll be here,” she corrected him as her hand reached out to hold his. Steve quickly moved his hands to the steering wheel and gripped it as tightly as possible.

 

            “I’ll be here, Mel,” he nodded, giving her a tight-lipped smile, hoping she couldn’t see what was happening to him. “Now go, you have five minutes left before class.”

 

            She opened her mouth, then closed it, clearly hurt by his rejection of her touch. If only he could touch her without feeling what he felt…

 

            “Bye,” she said finally, getting out of the car.

 

            “Good luck,” he called, but she walked away without turning back.

 

            As she neared the front entrance Steve watched her walk up to a young, tall boy that greeted her with a hug. She immediately began chuckling at whatever greeting he passed to her, and then they both disappeared inside the building. A rage built deep in the pit of Steve’s stomach and traveled up to his face. His knuckles tightened on the steering even further.

           

            Who the fuck was that?

 

            The Tesla stayed parked outside of the school for quite a few minutes with Steve sitting behind the wheel, a thousand punctured ideas blooming in his mind per second. Before his anger could spill over, he forced himself to breathe and calm down. He’s just a classmate. You can’t keep her from making friends. After what seemed like forever, he finally shifted the gear into drive and pulled away from the curb, racing towards the main street.

Chapter Text

            After getting home and taking a cold shower to clear his mind, Steve decided to do some laundry. He went about the house gathering towels, socks, and anything else miscellaneous to be put in the washer. When he stepped into the laundry room, he found Mel’s laundry hamper sitting there, still full.

 

            “This girl,” he muttered to himself, throwing the load in his arms down towards the floor to move her hamper out of the way. The jolt of his push caused a t-shirt on the top to fall off, revealing to Steve a dooming and simultaneously torturous sight.

 

            “What the fuck?” he whispered, taking in the pairs of black, red and beige lacey underwear that lay there. As he picked one of them up, he could only wonder when she had started wearing thongs and who exactly she might be wearing them for. He held it up to his nose and inhaled, and that was all it took for him to become fully erect. She smelled so sweet, he could only imagine how good she tasted. Every pair he sniffed was virtually dry, and as he made his journey through the museum of her lacey adornments, he palmed himself through the sweats he wore, teasing himself.

 

            Then, Steve came across a particular, regular cotton pair. When he touched them, they were still moist around the crotch area. His heart lurched as he held them up to his face, inhaling deeply. He could see the dampness still on the fabric, it was that fresh. These are from this morning, he thought. His mind started racing. She was dripping into her underwear; she was that horny. Had she woken up wet? Or had she done something after waking up? Who did she think about?

 

            Steve used the hand that was already dedicated to touching himself to push down his sweats until his cock was free and hung heavily in the air, awaiting some affection. He gripped himself gently, rubbing his thumb over the head repeatedly, his chest rising and falling heavily. He brought the damp part of the underwear that must have directly touched her flesh to his mouth and pressed his tongue to the cotton that still shone with slick juices. A deep growl escaped his throat as he sucked the fabric further past his lips, devouring it like candy while his hand worked up and down his shaft quickly. She’s going to taste so good. She’s going to taste so sweet. These thoughts played repeatedly in his head as he imagined touching her in the most intimate of ways, in filthy ways, in disgusting ways. Just as his cock began to sputter, he brought the fabric down to catch everything in it, leaning against the wall as he came onto her panties, her voice trapped in his ears.

 

            After a moment of cooling down, Steve opened his eyes to see how nicely his fluids had covered her underwear. He folded them up and used the somewhat clean side to wipe himself down, pulling his sweats back up to his hips. He tossed her garment into his own pile, deciding he would keep it as a gift to himself.

 

*****

 

Mel finished junior year with a commendable average, making Steve proud. Leading up to the last day of school, Steve spent every night touching himself desperately to thoughts of her or the voicemails he had saved, or the pair of her underwear he’d kept, and then acted every morning as if everything between him and Mel resembled a normal, healthy relationship between a young girl and her guardian. On the last day, he woke up to see her already standing by the front door, wearing a sundress and a cardigan, over half of her legs bare. Steve’s hands itched to rake his fingers across her thighs.

 

             “I’m going with Alex this morning,” she’d told him, and he’d nodded with a smile, trying to stifle his thoughts. In his efforts, he completely forgot to ask her whether Alex was a girl or a boy. “A few of us are going to go out tonight to celebrate finishing the school year. I’ll be home by nine.”

 

             “Good girl. Look at that, today is your last day of school and in four days it’s your birthday,” he’d pointed out, cherishing the grin on her face. “Have fun with your friends, Mel.”

 

             But the next time Steve saw her, which was quite later that night, the smile was absolutely gone. He’d gone to the washroom after finishing dinner when the front opened and closed over the running tap. He’d also listened as she rushed straight upstairs and slammed the door to her room shut. He shut off the tap, sensing immediately that something was different.

 

             He made way up the stairs quietly, nearing the wooden door and knocking on it gently. “Mel? Are you alright?”

 

             She didn’t respond at first, but he could hear vague sniffling and his heartbeat picked up pace with worry. “Mel?” he knocked again. “I need to know if you’re okay.”

 

             After a long pause she called out. “Come in.” Steve was startled to know that apparently, she hadn’t even locked the door. He turned the handle and slowly cracked it open. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, her hair hanging around her face, her frame shaking every few seconds.

 

             “Can I sit?” he asked, nearing the bed. She just nodded, still not letting him see her face.

 

             He sat watching her sniffle and tremble for what felt like hours, not daring to touch her at all. Finally, she lifted her head and looked at him with wet eyes and flushed cheeks.

 

             “Is there something wrong with me?” she asked abruptly. Steve was taken aback.

 

             “What? No. Of course there isn’t,” he shook his head. “Who told you that? Why are you crying?”

 

             She looked at him for some time, unblinking, before closing her eyes and squeezing more tears out. “Am I not pretty enough? Or am I not fun to be around? Is there just nothing likable about me?”

 

             “Mel, why are you saying all this? Would you tell me what happened?” he pressed.

 

             She shook her head. “I can’t tell you. You don’t even like me. You don’t care.”

 

             Steve was shocked to hear this, and somewhat upset too. “How can you say that? Of course I care about you. I like you very much, Mel. You’re–”

 

             What? What was he supposed to say?

 

             Mel drew a shaky breath. “You want to leave me. You run from me all the time. When I was little you used to love me. You used to call me pet names. You used to spend time with me. I used to fall asleep in your lap or on your chest. I thought I actually had someone, besides my mom.”

 

             “Mel, you’re not little anymore,” was the first thing he said. “I still care about you. Trust me, I do.”

 

             She continued crying, seemingly unaffected. “This isn’t how you comfort a crying person, Steve.”

 

             “Is this what it’s about? Are you crying because of me?” he asked, feeling broken that he’d caused her to feel this way.

 

             “No!” she cried. “But everything that’s happened just led me to think about it.”

 

             “So what really happened? You went out with your friends, didn’t you? I thought you would be happy.”

 

             She wiped her cheeks with her knuckles. “Afterwards, I…”

 

             “You what?” he encouraged, fearing whatever was about to unfold.

 

             “I was with Alex. At his house.”

 

             Steve closed his eyes momentarily. So, Alex was a guy. “Who’s Alex, Mel? You never told me about him.”

 

             She looked at him as if she couldn’t believe what he was saying. “I did mention him to you before. You’re just always too busy avoiding me to listen to me.”

 

             True enough, she had mentioned the name before, Steve remembered now. But he’d always just assumed that Mel only had girlfriends. It never even occurred to him that Mel interacted with men other than himself.

 

             “Did he hurt you?” was his first concern.

 

             “What do you mean?” she asked, not meeting his eyes.

 

             “You know what I mean. Did he…did he touch you?” Steve found it suffocating to even say the words.

 

             “Yes,” she nodded after a pause. Then she added “But it wasn’t forced.”

 

             Steve’s eyes widened. “You let him?”

 

             Mel didn’t look at Steve or say anything. She was ashamed and embarrassed to talk to him about this. “I would share it with mom, but she’s not here. And you don’t seem like you want to hear about my life. And, honestly, this is just really embarrassing and awkward to talk about.”

 

             “Bullshit, Mel,” he snapped, and she flinched. “I’ve known you since you were six. How is it awkward? I’ve been trying to be here for you like a parent. You just won’t accept me as one.”

 

             “Because you don’t act like one!” she cried out. “Look at you! You’re sitting five feet away from me. If you were my dad you would be hugging me, or at least holding my hand, and I would feel okay to talk to you about his kind of stuff.”

 

             Steve braced himself, calculating the risks. Then he sighed, rolling his eyes, and moved closer to her. “Okay, relax. I am not sitting five feet away from you.”

 

             He opened his arms and wrapped them around her, and she immediately responded by leaning into his chest. He rested his chin on her head and rocked her gently back and forth for a long while as her sniffles died down. At some point he thought she’d fallen asleep, and just as he was about to shift their position she spoke up.

 

             “He hurt me,” she whispered.

 

             Steve rested his cheek against her head then. “How?”

 

             “He…we… Please don’t be mad, please,” she begged.

 

             “I’m not mad, sweetheart,” he soothed her.

 

             “He wanted to have sex. So…I said okay. But it…it hurt Steve. It hurt so much. It didn’t feel good. And he got mad. And he drove me home, like there was nothing left if I couldn’t give him that one thing.”

 

             Steve fisted the fabric of her cardigan as he clenched his fists and bit the inside of his cheek. At the moment, he couldn’t even decipher whether this was fury or lust. Was he angry and wished to avenge his little girl? Or was he completely, hopelessly turned on by the idea of how deliciously tight she must be, how warm and good she must feel? There was no doubt in his mind that he absolutely wanted to snap off this Alex guy’s neck–how dare anyone touch his Mel? How could anyone else lay a finger on her? She belonged to him.

 

            “How did it hurt, Mel?” he breathed, using any excuse to hear more about the part of her that he couldn’t have.

 

            “It was my first time,” she said in a small voice. “He…put…he used his finger… It hurt so much.”

 

            Steve worded his next question carefully. “Did he do anything else?”

 

            She shook her head. “No…just his hand. I didn’t like it.”

 

            He let out a sigh of relief. She was still a virgin. There had yet to be any man’s seed inside of her. And he would be that man, the only man. He shook the intrusive thought off quickly.

 

            “I’m sorry Mel,” he muttered, kissing the top of her head. She shifted her body so that she could look up at him. Her brown eyes were innocent and wide.

 

            “Can you stay?” she asked.

 

            Now it was Steve’s turn to crack his eyes wider. “What?”

 

            “Can you stay with me tonight? I don’t want to be alone.”

 

            “Mel–”

 

             “It’s okay, forget it. I shouldn’t have asked,” she cut in, shaking her head vigorously while keeping her gaze averted.

 

             Steve watched her with a tense brow. He weighed and reweighed his options critically, several rounds of this alike. Finally, he sighed, collecting her frame once again tightly within his hold. A euphoria lit him up from head to toe, but a silently deadly, heavy chain also tightened around his heart; he was letting his walls down slowly, and that was not good. This was not right.

 

             “I’m right here,” he muttered in her ear. “I’m not leaving.”

 

Chapter Text

            Steve inhaled her scent deeper and deeper each time, his large hand gently running the length of her back as she lay atop his chest. He was propped up against several pillows stacked to the headboard of the bed, his legs sprawled out, and Mel lay between them, her face hidden in his chest. Too often, he gently pressed his mouth against the crown of her head, inhaling the aroma of something like vanilla, his lips left tingling with excitement. The night seemed to pass too quickly, the hours sprinting by as if mere moments of him dozing off and awaking every time to the feeling of her latched onto him as if clinging for dear life. Not once did the throbbing in his crotch go unnoticed by him, but he hoped to any deity that would listen that the case wasn’t the same for Mel, who seemed to be sound asleep enough. As the sun rose, he gently pried her off of himself, letting his hand linger a little longer on her waist than anyone would deem necessary between a step-father and step-daughter. He watched her with longing in his eyes, knowing he had to leave–before she came to, before she saw what she did to him–but it certainly killed everything in him to do so. The only thing that refused to die down was the apparent rise beneath his pants, sore to the touch now from how long it had been ignored. He would have to take care of it himself. Just like always, he thought to himself, before finally slipping into the dark hallway, his mind thick with sinful fantasies.

 

            There was no way he could go back now.

 

*****

 

It was the evening of Mel’s birthday; a warm, timid summer night. She was getting dressed in her room, her paranoid eyes flickering back to the windows again and again to make sure she’d drawn the curtains properly. She went through a few different dresses before she found a dark red frock that flared around the hem. The neckline was a modest crewneck, but her arms stayed bare. She wondered if this was a good look for her body, thinking she would have looked twelve if not for the generous slopes of her chest and hips.

 

            She tied her hair back and did her makeup as best as she could, spending most of that duration wiping mascara off of unwanted places across her face. She thought about the night ahead and her stomach dropped with a flutter of excitement; she couldn’t stop wondering what was going on downstairs. Had anyone arrived yet? It didn’t sound like it. All was pretty calm, letting her know she still had some time to herself to perfect the look as much as she could.

 

            Mel looked at herself in the mirror, scrutiny forming in her features. Screw it, this is as good as it gets. She thought back to the recent rejection she had faced from Alex and an intense heat crept up her face all the way to her eyes, but she forced back the sting. No, she wouldn’t cry about it now.

 

            As she stepped hesitantly down the hardwood stairs in her short heels, she wondered why exactly it was so quiet. Steve should be cooking dinner right about now, or watching the latest football reruns on the TV, maybe with some bills in front of him. But now that she thought about it, there wasn’t any sound throughout the house at all, nor many lights shining either, for that matter. Her legs stopped at the bottom of the stairs in anticipation.

 

            “Mel?” Steve’s voice called out from somewhere–the living room, she guessed–and it was so gentle she wouldn’t have heard it had she been breathing any harder. She frowned, edging towards the destination. Her eyes grew wide as she neared it, taking in the scene before her: a few dim candles, a record player by the fireplace, a cake on the coffee table, and Steve. Steve, standing in the middle of everything in a tight pair of black slacks and perhaps a tighter matching dress shirt, his blond locks combed back neatly, his beard lined even more carefully, the soft glow of the candles flickering inside his oceanic irises. The contrast between his all-black attire and the stark blue of his eyes was electrifying. Mel’s lashes fluttered at the sight of him; for a second, she almost forgot who he was to her–all she saw was a breathtakingly beautiful man. Then, she tore her eyes away and towards the ground, biting her cheek tightly. What’s wrong with you? she asked herself.

 

            Steve seemed like he was in less of a hurry to stop looking at her. His eyes drank her in even long after she’d ceased contact, his heartbeat picking up triumphantly. It was a wonder how he kept himself standing in place and refrained from just slamming himself into her body full-force. He waited for her to look at him again, and when she did, those shy brown eyes took him right in the gut.

 

            “Happy birthday, Melody,” he said softly, and she could see the affection in his eyes, hear the honey in his voice, and then it wasn’t weird anymore. It was just Steve. She stopped fidgeting with her hands and walked towards him, smiling giddily.

 

            “Thank you,” she breathed, and he took her up in his arms, swaying her back and forth as he held her with all of his strength. Which was apparently too much for her, as she soon patted his back, signaling she needed to be relieved of the tight grip. When they pulled away, he kept his big, calloused hands on her bare arms, igniting a chill and simultaneous fire that seemed to run straight through her spine in sync. She seemed dazed for a few seconds, then pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, looking around the room. “What’s all this?”

 

            “It’s your birthday,” he shrugged simply, looking around at the assortments himself as if they were no big deal. “I wanted to make it nice. This one’s important. After all, you’re not a child anymore.” His eyes flickered between hers with anticipation as he said the last part.

 

            Mel sensed a shift in the atmosphere but couldn’t place her finger on what it was that her gut was telling her. She blinked a few times, then adjusted her focus back on him. “This…it’s really nice, Steve. But it’s too much.”

 

            “I actually think it’s not enough,” he raised his eyebrow in amusement. “Hey, we might have some time before your friends get here to pick you up. Come on, let’s cut the cake.”

 

            She walked over to the couch behind the low centre table and sat down, picking up the spotless cutlery knife with red ribbon around the handle. As she placed the blade of the knife on the frosting of the large, extravagant cake, Steve began singing and her face lit up with a blush.

 

            “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Melody… Happy birthday to you,” he sang softly, his eyes never leaving her. “Make a wish before you cut the cake.”

 

            She focused now on the baked masterpiece in front of her, closing her eyes a moment before blowing out the candles. Finally, she applied some pressure and the knife sank into the sponge of the cake. Before Mel could cut out a piece to offer to Steve, she heard a slow, lazy tune fill the vicinity. She looked up to see Steve retreating from the record player until he reached where she was seated and held out his hand. Mel looked between his outstretched hand and his face for a moment before he nodded, further beckoning her to accept his offer. And he just had that effect on her, he left her swooning with pride and happiness that she had him–no, she didn’t have a lot, but she had Steve, and Steve would always make sure she had everything she wanted.

 

            She placed his hand in his with all her trust, their smiles very different in motivation yet never faltering, as if etched into their faces. Steve guided her to the open space in the middle of the room and twirled her around once, causing her to giggle, before he placed one hand on the dip of her waist, his other still holding her smaller one firmly. They stepped from side to side gently, her eyes still wandering around the room, unsure of where to make a home, although her hand stayed calmly on his clavicle. There was space between them that Steve hated, but he didn’t try to close it yet, keeping his eyes locked down on her slightly tinged face.

 

            “What’s wrong?” he asked after a long segment of avoidance on her part. “Now who’s avoiding whom?”

 

            She glanced up at him in slight shock, then quickly lowered her gaze to his broad chest. God, his shirt was tight. Was his shirt that small or was his body just that big? She’d never noticed the generous muscle on his person; it had never been a focal point for her attention before. But now, it was all she could see since she refused to shift her gaze to look at him.

 

            “I just feel…different.” Different? What does that even mean? They both wondered this at the same time.

 

            “Different how?” he asked. She didn’t miss the way his hand moved from her waist to the small of her back. He didn’t miss the way her hand pressed down on his shoulder blade, no doubt trying to keep the distance between them. He smirked at her weak efforts, though she didn’t see it, her eyes too busy switching lanes constantly between his shirt button and the pocket on his left breast.

 

            “Melody,” he spoke again after she didn’t answer.

 

            “I don’t know,” she shook her head. At this point, the worry was clear on her features. “I feel confused.”

 

            Steve pressed on her lower back and stepped closer at the same time, the space between them being swallowed to a mere couple of inches. He took her hand that he was holding and placed it on his corresponding shoulder to mimic her other one. His own now both held the end of her back, and he enjoyed the way it was engulfed easily in his massive hands. She slid her hands to his arms and applied pressure, cursing at how tight his biceps were, not to mention the circumference of the muscle.

 

            “Mel, relax. It’s okay. It’s just me,” he spoke softly. “It’s just Steve.”

 

            She let out the breath she was holding. What was wrong with her? This was Steve. What was she being so cautious for? She played in this man’s arms. He couldn’t hurt her.

 

            Mel sighed, shaking her head, and finally look at him, her vision clearing. “I’m sorry. I’m just nervous about the party.”

 

            “It’s okay,” he told her. “But if it helps, you look absolutely brilliant.”

 

            She blushed again and Steve physically couldn’t control himself. He pushed them completely flush against each other, wrapping his arms around her body, bending down to rest his chin on the back of her shoulder. They couldn’t see each other’s faces now, but he could feel her trembling, and she could feel the heat emanating from his body.

 

            “It’s going to be fun,” he soothed her. “You’re all going to have a great time.”

 

            “Thank you. I hope,” she spoke, her breath fanning past his ear. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. He squeezed the small of her back tightly with his hands and she gave a tiny squeak of surprise.

 

            “Steve, what–”

 

            He shushed her, running one hand firmly up the length of her back to rest on the back of her neck. Mel was frozen at this point, not budging at all, her breath caught in her throat. Steve slowly turned his face towards the crook of her shoulder, letting the tip of his nose make known his presence on her skin before his lips followed.

 

            Immediately, Mel, pushed him and stepped away, her eyes wide, her chest now heaving to compensate for the long, breathless moment. They watched each other carefully; Steve’s eyes were clouded with understanding and something else she couldn’t place quite well. But Steve recognized the look on his little girl’s face for the startled expression she often wore throughout her childhood, after a bad dream or incident. He could tell she was just as misplaced and shocked right now.

 

            “What–” She started but never finished. The words wouldn’t come. What was she supposed to say?

 

            All Steve did in response was slightly raise an eyebrow, his expression doubtful but certain. “Did you really never realize?” he asked her calmly.

 

            She just blinked at him pathetically. She felt completely out of place. What was worse was that she was completely clueless about what she was supposed to do now or what would happen next.

 

            Steve took a cautious step towards her, testing the waters. Every muscle in his body was braced in case he needed to take action, in case she tried to run, and he would have to launch after her. But every muscle in Mel’s body seemed to be frozen; the only thing that was apparently still moving was her hammering heart. When she didn’t back away, Steve continued towards her until they were mere centimetres apart again. He touched her cheek with his hand, his thumb catching a stray tear that had snuck past her waterline without her realizing it. He looked into her eyes with sincerity, as if he were pleading.

 

            Mel didn’t move as Steve leaned down and brushed the tip of his nose against hers. She didn’t flinch away when he cupped her jaw, the length of his thick fingers reaching into her hair while his other arm snaked around her back. She certainly didn’t stop him when he brushed his lips carefully against her own, waiting for a reaction before he pressed his mouth on hers fully. Mel’s eyes shut closed immediately, her brain fusing off as her entire body was alight with shame and confusion mixed with fear. Steve locked their lips together into a shy kiss, fighting the urge to push it into something more than that. They didn’t have time. Not now.

 

            When he pulled away, her eyes were still closed, tears slipping down both of her crimson cheeks now. Steve took in the sight of her that close to him, in his arms, her lip gloss messy from the intrusion of his mouth. Suddenly, the sound of the doorbell taunted them and Mel’s eyes flew open as she took a shaky breath.

 

            Steve gently swiped the tears off her skin with the pads of his thumbs, then went on to even adjust the smudges of colour around her lip line. Mel just watched him with glassy wide eyes, unable to say anything.

 

            “Go have fun with your friends, Melody,” he spoke, kissing her forehead in the way that only fathers did with their daughters. In the way he had done to her through her childhood, a way she had always assumed to be completely innocent.

 

            “I’ll be here when you get home. And you will be home by ten.”

 

            It was a warning, a reminder, and an order. To Mel, it was just frightening. Nevertheless, she snapped herself out of her daze of shock, took a deep breath, and nodded.

 

            “Okay.” She turned quickly and rushed away.

Chapter Text

            Mel couldn’t bring herself to pay attention to the party. Every hair on her body was at attention, every nerve was wracked. Her eyes hurt as if she hadn’t blinked them since that moment. She was afraid that if she let herself relax for even a second, she would try to overlook and forget the situation and think everything was normal again.

 

            Everything was not normal.

 

            But she would always make it that way in her head. Because she loved Steve, it was as simple as that. Loved him as something even more than a parent, but definitely as family. He’d raised her, taken care of her, clothed her, fed her, tucked her into bed, and done everything else that was involved in a parent-child relationship.

 

            No, he wasn’t related to her by blood. But some bonds were stronger than blood, and Mel’s sight had never wavered far from that line when she saw Steve. She had always felt safe and at home with him. She never once caught herself thinking of him in a…that way. And it wasn’t like she hadn’t had ample opportunity to.

 

            However, Steve had now made clear what he had brewing in the depths of his mind. Who knew how long he’d been stirring up that concoction? Had she ever done something to encourage it? She reeled every action, every exchange between them through her mind; every kiss on the cheek, on the forehead, every touch, every smile, every instance of prolonged eye contact, every embrace, it was all tainted now. It was all different now.

 

            “Mel!”

 

            She snapped her head in the direction of the voice, which had come from not that far down the table. Mariam prodded her chin up towards Mel once, her face confused as she held her hands up in a what’s wrong? gesture.

 

            “Sorry, I was just thinking about…” She caught herself. “Alex, again.”

 

            “Oh my God,” Farah shook her head, clearly disturbed by the name. “Really Mel? Is he really worth it?” She scrunched her face teasingly, the freckles across her pointed features meshing together with her brown skin for a moment.

 

            Mel forced herself to smile, now shaking her own head in correspondence. “I know he’s not. He just…took me by surprise, you know? The whole thing threw me off completely.”

 

            That was an understatement.

 

            “Bitch, I’m about to throw you off completely,” Farah snapped back, pouting her lips with an attitude only she could pull off. “I might have the patience to have my mama put all these braids in, but I do not have the patience to sit here and watch your sorry ass mope the entire time.”

           

            “The braids really are so nice,” Blaire gushed. “I wish I could pull something like that off.”

 

            “You could,” Farah pointed out. “But it would be cultural appropriation, so don’t do it.”

 

            Mel watched her two best friends bicker up near her side of the table as the other girls were currently busy either scoping the menus or scoping each other’s outfits and complimenting each other. She sighed. No part of her wanted to be surrounded by people at that moment. So where did she want to be?

           

            “Mel I swear to my past and future generations, if you do not–” Farah snapped her fingers in Mel’s face, catching her attention again if only for another few minutes. “Come on man, we all came here for you. I understand Alex acted like a complete moronic bag of dicks, but you should be grateful that you learned who he really is early on.”

 

            “Yeah Mel, good riddance,” Blaire declared, pushing a napkin under her thick black bangs to dab at her forehead. “Farah and I always agreed he wasn’t good enough for you. He’s not even good enough for the garbage chute in my apartment building. And multiple people have thrown up in it.”

 

            “Okay first of all, you need to stop wiping under your bangs every two minutes,” Farah scolded her from Mel’s left side. “Looking like your forehead’s going to the toilet all the damned time.”

 

            “It gets sweaty up there!” Blaire hissed back, seated to Mel’s right. “I feel so uncomfortable if I don’t do anything about it.”

 

            “I feel uncomfortable when you do something about it,” Farah retaliated. “That’s besides the point here. Okay, look, Mel,” Farah began, turning their attention back to her once again. “Alex is like Blaire’s bangs. You think you want him, but you don’t, because he will make your life so hard, and everyone around you so uncomfortable.”

 

            Mel giggled at that, clamping her hand on her mouth to keep from bursting out laughing. Blaire widened her eyes at Farah, leaning forward to whisper-scold her. “I have a big forehead, okay? Screw you.”

 

            “Blaire, you know I love you, but you don’t have a big forehead.” Farah emphasized every word as if she were speaking to a five-year-old. Blaire looked between her two best friends, and Mel nodded her head to agree with the statement.

 

            “It’s true, Blaire, you really don’t have to worry about your forehead. I’ve seen bigger–not that big foreheads are ugly,” she added pointedly.

 

            “You know who has a big forehead?” Farah inquired. Then she jerked a thumb to the right, just a little behind her. “Look at Cruella over there. That’s a big forehead.”

 

            Just as Mel and Blaire both whipped their bodies around in the direction of the very bougie-looking lady seated at a table a few feet away from them in a large fur coat, the lady also lifted her head and stared straight at them, expectantly. All three girls turned right back from her, holding back snorts and giggles as they hid behind their menus.

 

            “Are you guys ready to order? I’m so hungry,” Lia whined from the far side of the table, clutching her stomach over her tube dress.

 

            “I can’t wait for you guys anymore, I’m signalling the waiter over,” Mariam imploded, shaking her head impatiently. “This is the most disorganized group of people I have ever come across.” Nobody missed how quickly her half-bare leg was ticking with impatience, stuck outward a little for everyone to see.

 

            Gemma poked her head into the conversation for a moment before going back to her phone screen. “Mariam, we all know you just wanna hit on the waiter. Keep your tits in your bra, he doesn’t wanna see them.”

 

            “Fuck you, Gemma,” Mariam chided. “We all know you’re on your phone reading that dumb fan-made story shit. Yeah, I said it. You’re not fooling anyone with that bored expression, dumbass.”

 

            Gemma stuck a single middle finger up to the entire table as they all collectively burst into a fit of hoots and laughter, announcing their selections from the menu to let on that they were ready to order.

 

            “You were right, by the way,” Blaire leaned across Mel’s lap towards Farah as the laughter died down. “That is a big forehead. I think that’s me in my thirties.”

 

*****

 

Mel was reluctant to head back home. She hung on to the last few minutes, surrounded by her friends on the city bus, all sitting at the very back and laughing over Mariam and Gemma sniping remarks at each other again. Lia had her phone out and was trying to take a nice picture of herself, but the shake and rattle of the bus gave her no avail. Mel looked around at all of them and sighed; this was what teenage-hood was supposed to be about. She shouldn’t have had to worry about getting home and being alone with Steve again. That wasn’t fair.

 

            Consequently, Mel was the only one getting off at the next stop. None of her friends would be unboarding with her, because none of them lived there in her area. The next two getting off would be Blaire and Lia, and they wouldn’t depart the bus until three stops after Mel’s. For some reason, tonight she was less afraid of the walk alone at night than she was of what waited ahead of that walk. No, she had never actually feared getting home. It had never occurred to her as something worrying. Mel always looked forward to being home, feeling safe and in place.

 

            Tch. Things just couldn’t go well too long for her, it seemed.

 

            “Happy birthday again, Mel-bell,” Mariam chided, quickly squeezing Mel into her arms before the bus came to a full stop. The rest of them passed her around, taking turns, quickly passing her a farewell. The bus driver seemed to be patient enough, recognizing the situation based on the balloons and bags of presents that Mel was carrying. With the rest of the bus empty, she didn’t mind waiting a few seconds as the group of friends bid the birthday girl adieu before she hauled the bus toward the next stop.

           

            As Mel made her way toward the exit, she realized it would be a long walk up the hill with the gift bags and balloons. The bus had stopped a few feet past the actual stop, and the lights on the bus were the only source of illumination on the more than dark street. As the bus rushed off, Mel turned around and waved one last time to her friends before bracing herself for the anxious journey. She should have been expecting what she saw next.

 

            Steve stood at the bus stop, arms crossed on his chest, every inch of his upper body bulging. His sleeves were rolled up now, a couple of buttons at the top of his black shirt undone. The contrast between the dark of the night and of his suit against the paleness of his skin would have been quite beautiful otherwise. Mel stopped in her tracks when she saw him, absolutely unwilling to go forward. She had really hoped to just sneak up to her room and lock herself in and never have to face him again. She had tried to ignore how impractical and childish of a thought that was, of course.

 

            “Melody,” Steve spoke up. “Did you have a good time with your friends?”

 

            She didn’t answer. Her mind was calculating her chances if she just dropped everything in her hands right now; if she just turned around and made a run for it and went anywhere away from him.

 

            Away from Steve?

 

            Never once in her life had Mel expected she would ever have to worry about getting away from Steve. She never once thought she would find herself threatened by him enough to avoid him.

 

            Steve seemed to be reading her facial expressions, her eyes blank as her mind overworked itself. The movement of his arms as he slid his hands into the pockets of his slacks caused her to snap back into focus. She watched him dip his chin and raise a question brow at her.

 

            “Are you going to run from me?”

 

            She shuddered. “No,” she barely called out. There was a couple of cars’ worth of distance between them. Even if she tried to run, he would definitely catch her. Mel had never been a runner. Maybe Lia, Gemma, or Farah, but not Mel. In fight or flight situations, she was always the one who was forced to stay and fight because she didn’t have the stamina for flight. And while her friends like Farah, Gemma, or even Mariam did, they were the ones who enjoyed the fight scene more than the flight route. The universe was unfair.

 

            “So why don’t you let me carry your stuff for you and we can get home?” he asked, clearly taunting her now. The night air was a suffocating, sticky-skin type of warm, but Mel was shaking slightly, her body devoid of warmth.

 

            Home. Was it still really that?

 

            “I’m not–” She tried to say something, but the slightest change in Steve’s expression stopped her in her tracks, knocked the wind from her. Would he actually hurt her if she defied him? He never had in the past. Then again, there were a lot of things present now that hadn’t been in the past. A lot of emotions and truths that weren’t so apparent back then. The past was a different life, apparently. Far from this one.

 

            “Melody,” he warned. “Come. Let’s go home.”

 

            His words were slow and calculated, every syllable a warning and command. Mel knew the chances were against her. What if she screamed and yelled for help? No, she couldn’t. The closest houses were a couple of city blocks away. Who would hear her besides perhaps whatever animals were resident to the grass and trees?

 

            Slowly, she pushed her feet forward, inching herself in his direction. As she neared his towering frame, he held out his left hand and she passed him all the gift bags, which apparently didn’t feel like anything to him. “Carry the balloons with your right hand,” he told her, and she did. As she walked past him, letting out a quiet exhale, she felt his hand latch on to her left forearm. He leaned down and spoke near her ear, quiet but firm.

 

            “Don’t try anything.”

 

            His big, rough hand stayed locked around her elbow as she walked beside him, her footsteps so reluctant that at some point he just was dragging her up the hill. Not a single sound came out of her as she thought of a million things in the time that they walked.

 

            What is he going to do to me?

 

            Will he hurt me?

 

            Will he kill me if I try to stop him?

 

            How could we have trusted him this entire time?

 

            Why did I never see this?

 

            “I still haven’t given you your birthday present.” His voice broke her out of her thoughts and she flinched, constantly expecting him to lash out at any second.

 

            “You’ve surprised me enough today,” she mustered the courage to say. Steve stopped walking and turned to look down at her. She couldn’t read the look in his eyes as they flickered between her own, finally causing her to break away her gaze.

 

            “I have a lot more to show you.”

 

            With the current context in place, Mel couldn’t decide if every word he said just came as a perverted threat to her ears or if he genuinely meant to cross a new line with every sentence. Nonetheless, Mel cringed, twisting her face in remorse.

 

            “I still can’t believe any of this,” she said more to herself than to him. Steve didn’t have an answer to that, so he just began walking the both of them again.

 

            Once they reached the house, Steve pushed her inside the door and quickly secured the main lock and the hatch locks on the very bottom and at the very top, too, which he never did. Only now did the entire severity of the situation wash over Mel, and she backed away from him carefully, heat rising up her neck. It had taken everything in her to not start screaming for help as soon as they had entered the vicinity of houses, but now there was a bellow building in her chest, and she needed to let it out.

 

            “God, I love it when you blush like that,” he said, dropping the keys on a shelf fixated higher up on the wall by the entrance, both of them aware that she couldn’t reach that height without stepping on something.

 

            Mel twisted her face in disgust. “What are you going to do Steve? How could you?”

 

            He gave her an incredulous look. “How could I what? I haven’t done anything yet, Melody.”

 

            “Why do you keep calling me that?” she questioned him, only now realizing he’d consistently used her full name since that evening. Did she even want him to call her by her pet name? ‘Mel’ had certain connotations to it, and she didn’t want them tainted.

 

            “It’s your name,” he told her simply, his body always inches from her own as she continued moving backwards into the kitchen now. He was just waiting for her to cage herself in until she couldn’t get away. It wasn’t like she could escape him anyhow, but this was fun. This gave him a nasty thrill he hadn’t felt in years. And Mel could see it, too, the glint in his eyes and the complete ecstasy of it all in his face. Her mind was so unused to thinking of him negatively that still, it kept throwing at her memories from a different day. How could someone who appeared so angelic have such ulterior motivations?

 

            “You only called me that if you were angry,” she mumbled, her back finally reaching the island part of the kitchen counter, her body slotted between two of the stools. Steve stared her down, his skin prickling to touch her.

 

            “I’m not mad at you, if that’s what you’re wondering. You said so yourself, you’re a woman now. You still want me to use childish names with you?” His voice was low, a mere whisper. He raised his hand and ran his knuckles from her shoulder downwards, slowly, gently. “You want me to call you something else? You said you wanted me to use pet names with you, like I did when you were a kid.”

 

            His tongue teased his lower lip as his other hand reached up and he ghosted the backs of his fingers across her cheek. Mel shuddered, but she couldn’t look away from his face now as she watched it change constantly between soft and craving. “You want me to call you sweetie?” he asked, his thumb tracing her lips. He moved his hand from her lips to her neck and she felt his fingers entangle in her hair before he clutched and pulled it backwards, not harsh but firm enough to have her neck outstretched before him. He traced her skin with the tip of his nose until he reached her ear.

 

            “Angel?” he asked, his lips pressing beneath her earlobe. Mel gasped, her hands flying up to grip the counter behind her until her knuckles were white. He smirked against her flesh, kissing down her neck until he was at the apex of her shoulder. “Doll?”

 

            He waited, but she didn’t push him away. It was as if her hands were glued to the counter, her body frozen. The only part of her moving at all was her chest as she breathed heavily. Steve pushed her head gently forward again, their eyes meeting briefly before she cowered under his gaze. He brought his face close to hers, mouths seconds apart.

 

            “Or do you want me to call you different names?” he asked, spreading his hand across the bottom of her jaw and holding the lower half of her face easily in place, squeezing her cheeks slightly until her lips were pouted out at him. His other hand came up to her hip and travelled up her waist. “Sweetheart?”

 

            Mel’s eyes fluttered shut when Steve sealed their lips together, moving his hand back to where her jaw became her neck. He pulled back the slightest bit, both of their respirations abnormal. “Baby girl?” he breathed before slamming his mouth to hers again, and this time the kiss was harsher, hungrier. Steve forced her mouth open and shoved his tongue inside, darting it against her own. The pure bliss he felt at the soft wetness of her mouth made every ounce of blood in his massive body drain to his aching crotch, which he ground against her in need.

 

            Mel let out a sound somewhere between a scream and a moan, her mouth still completely engaged by his. She brought her hands up to his bearded jaw and pushed it back, turning her face away. “Steve, stop,” she panted.

 

            “Stop what?” he groaned, grabbing both of her hands and pushing them down against the tent in his slacks. “You think I can stop this? Do you see what you do to me? I’ve been dealing with this by myself for the past four years. All on my own.”

 

            Mel tried to pull her arms back, her face burning from what he’d forced her to feel. But his grip on her was ironclad, forcing her hands around his bulge and pushing his hips into her warm touch, his hot breath fanning across her neck. The look of her swollen lips and flushed cheeks almost drove him to the edge alone.

 

            “I don’t want to do this by myself anymore, Melody,” he pleaded. She couldn’t bring herself to look at him while her hands were touching him like that, even if she had no choice. It felt so illicit, the heat and firmness of the huge protrusion under the fabric. But when she finally looked up at his face, she saw just how desperate and unforgiving he was right then.

 

            “Steve, please! This is wrong,” she begged. “Please let me go.”

 

            “Melody, we can do this the easy way,” he warned. “Or we can do this the hard way. Either way, I’m going to get what I want.”

 

            “Steve!” she exclaimed, looking him right in the eyes. “What is wrong with you? Do you know what you’re doing right now?”

 

            Steve looked at her helplessly, his pale skin flushed and enamoured with a light sweat. He was still the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, but she had never wanted to see him in this light.

 

            “I know what I’m doing, and I’ve waited a long time to be able to do it,” he nodded. “I didn’t want to take advantage of you when you were still young.”

 

            “When I was young?” Oh, God!” she spat, disgusted. “How long have you wanted this?”

 

            He grabbed her jaw with one hand and used the other to keep her arm at her side. Mel tried to claw his fingers off her face with her free hand, but his grip was tight on her flesh. “Don’t pretend to be so innocent, so naïve,” he said through gritted teeth. “You haven’t wanted this? You’ve never thought of me this way?”

 

            “No!” she managed weakly as he squeezed her cheeks harder.

 

            “All those times you begged me to be with you. What about the other night, Melody? ‘Steve, stay with me. Steve, hold me. Steve this, Steve that. Steve, you keep running away from me. You don’t care about me. You don’t want me.’ Like hell I don’t!” he shouted in her face, instilling fear in her. He was too capable of completely destroying her, he was too strong.

 

            Mel dug what little nails she did have into his wrist, clawing at his flesh. “I’ll call the police,” she threatened.

 

            “Oh, yeah? Are you gonna call the police, little princess? Where’s your phone, Melody? Did you look for your phone at all?”

 

            Her eyes widened at that. Where was her phone? Had she even taken it to the dinner party? She had, because she remembered using it to take pictures. Where was it now? If she could just get to it…

 

            “You won’t find your phone now,” he revealed, the look on his face sinister. “You’d think I was smarter than that, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you, Melody?”

 

            The way he spoke to her just reminded her of all the bullies she’d faced as a child. All the bullies Steve had fought off for her. It was all insanely ironic.

 

            “I tried to hold it off,” he started, leaning down to speak right in her ear. “I tried to not think about you. I tried to stay away.” He pulled back and looked at her face. “But you wouldn’t let me, would you? ‘Steve, come back. I miss you. Steve, stay. My Steve.’ Isn’t that what you said to me? Huh?”

 

            “I never meant any of it in that way,” she cried, the tears springing past her eyes now. “Believe me, please. Let me go.”

 

            “I told you. I kept telling you: call me dad. I kept telling you to call me dad, to remind me of who I was supposed to be,” he sneered, his own eyes glassy with unshed tears, his face tinged pink with frustration. “But no. You wouldn’t do it. Because I was always Steve, right?”

 

            Mel’s eyes widened. She was bent so far back over the counter in order to avoid him, her back was in pain because of the angle. “I did see you as a father! You raised me! You are my dad.”

 

            “No, I’m not,” he snarled. “What good is it now? I begged you, with words and otherwise, to not let this happen. I tried to avoid you. I didn’t want to impose this one you. But you brought this onto us.”

 

            Had she? In her mind, everything she’d said and done to him came from a place of wholesome affection. He’d filled in for both of her parents at some point of her childhood. He was the only family she knew of. But a part of her mind now wondered if she truly had played a role in disengaging his self-control by pestering him to be closer to her.

 

            “I did it out of love,” she sobbed. “Because you’re my only family. You’re all I have left.”

 

            Steve’s face softened slightly, a couple of tears finally leaking down his cheeks. He caressed her face gently now, loosened his grip on her arm a little. “And you’re all I have left as well. There’s love on my side too, Melody. That’s all there is.”

 

            She shook her head. “This isn’t love.”

 

            “It is,” he breathed out.

 

            “No, this is wrong. This is so wrong, on every level.”

 

            Steve wiped his tears away, his expression changed once again. Suddenly, he spun her around to face the marble island, his arms encasing her in place from behind. “Does it feel wrong to you?” he asked, grinding his hips against her ass, hard and precise. Mel bit her lip to keep quiet, trying to pry Steve’s hands way, but he was belligerent. He knocked her head to the side and latched his mouth onto her neck, digging in his teeth to suckle harshly, then running his tongue over it in circles. All the while, his massive hands cupped the underside of her breasts, squeezing with good pressure as he continued to grind his arousal against her plush behind.

 

            As against the entire situation as Mel was, she couldn’t help how her body reacted to his encouragement. She involuntarily let out the quietest whine from how confidently he was working her, and it only encouraged him.

 

            “You like that?” He flicked his tongue against her earlobe now, suckling it gently as one hand travelled down her front. “Doesn’t feel so bad, does it?”

 

            Mel didn’t realize how her hips were moving in correspondence to his. It wasn’t until she felt his warm hand on the inside of her thigh travelling upwards that she shrieked, trying to reject his body.

 

            “Steve, I don’t want this.”

 

            “We’ll see,” was all he said before cupping her crotch, his thick legs between hers, spreading them apart for access. He could feel the heat of her flesh on his hand, feel the dampness through her underwear. A feral growl came up out of his throat when she gasped at how he touched her most intimate parts. “Fuck, oh fuck, my baby’s so wet for me.”

 

            Mel was disgusted; with his actions, and with her own body’s reactions. She couldn’t stop the way her hips twitched back and forth, trying to gain friction against his thick, rough fingers. She could hear herself saying no, but she could feel some monstrous, immoral part of her body giving in already.

 

            Is it so bad? He’s beautiful and he’s infatuated with you.

 

            “No!” Mel cried out, clawing harshly at the skin of his muscular forearm with both hands. “Let me go.”

 

            “The more you touch me, the more you hurt me,” he groaned in her ear as he watched her nails leave red streaks in his skin. “The more I want you.”

 

            He pressed his front into her ass as if to emphasize his point. Mel had never felt something so daunting, so tight, so powerful, ever before. When she’d been with Alex, she’d been a little underwhelmed by what he was packing. But this was something else. Something completely different.

 

            Steve slid his first two fingers lightly back and forth across her underwear and Mel’s mouth fell open at the same time her body rose up on her toes from the tingling sensation that shot through her entire form.

 

            “You still want to deny it?” Steve mocked her quietly, his voice a lethal hiss in her ear. The hand that was on her chest rose up to hold her throat, pressing her head against his shoulder as he forced her back to arch. This angle made it easier for him to grind the entirety of his boner against the full flesh of her ass.

 

            “You don’t want this, huh?” he asked, pushing her underwear to the side and dipping his fingers into her slick folds. Mel writhed against him; a moan caught in her throat, but she wouldn’t let herself release it. “I can smell you in the air, sweetheart.”

 

            A furious heat washed over her at his words, her eyes perpetually shut tight to block out the visuals of everything that was happening. Steve kept his fingers gently caressing her warm, wet lips, his cock growing harder as if it were even possible for that to happen.

 

            “Don’t hide from me, Melody,” he said darkly, forcing her face to the side and upward towards his own. “It’s okay to like it. Don’t feel bad.”

 

            He wasn’t blind; he could see the flush of her skin, her swollen pout, her helplessly raised brow. Her hips were moving consistently against his tight slacks now, her hands pushing his palm against her flesh instead of clawing it away. Steve moved his fingers in a circular motion between her wet folds and her mouth opened in a gasp again. He quickly took the opportunity to push his tongue past her lips, battling hers for victory. He kept the commotion on her heat going until she was panting and moaning helplessly into his mouth.

 

            “Open your eyes,” he commanded, and she did, her lids hooded with lust and need. He couldn’t believe the sight in front of him. He couldn’t believe he was touching her like this and she was enjoying it.

 

            But of course she was. She was his.

 

            “Watch me make you come,” he told her. “Does my little Mel want to come?”

 

            She brought one hand up and placed it on the back of his neck, her nails digging into the sweaty skin. He hissed, his blue eyes invaded by dilated pupils. His hand left her flesh to slap her thigh and she gasped, feeling the wetness his fingers left plastered to the skin there. She was soaked.

 

            “Answer me,” Steve commanded, raking his moist fingers up and down the inside of her thigh. His other hand moved from her face back to her chest, reaching through the opening of the sleeveless part, travelling further under the cup of her bra and kneading her bare breast in his calloused skin. “Does Mel want to come?”

 

            She arched her back against him further, her thighs clenching around his wrist. “Yes,” she whispered, ashamed and humiliated, but her body too curious to abandon ship now. She needed to feel the end of whatever he was doing to her. The delicious tingle between her thighs was growing bigger in her abdomen and her mind was getting hazy with desire.

 

            “I didn’t catch that,” he taunted. “Does little Mel need daddy to make her come?”

 

            Mel cringed at the putrid idea, then nodded furiously. “Yes,” she gasped, keeping her eyes closed.

 

            Steve forced her legs apart and slapped her inner thigh again, harder. “I told you to look at me,” he snarled. “Look at me and tell me what you want.”

 

            Mel opened her eyes and peered up at him, relishing how beautiful he looked even in his demonic conduct. His swollen, ripe scarlet lips, his flushed skin, his sapphire blue eyes constantly drinking her in, his blond locks sweaty and falling forward now. Mel clutched the nape of his neck and with her other hand, she bunched the skirt of her dress up to her waist and held it in place. Steve sank into the sight of her body as she willingly bared it to him, her thick hips grinding against him, her plush stomach mimicking the rise and fall of her chest, her full thighs trembling as she waited for him to touch her again. Steve was on the damn edge; he knew at that point that he would come if they continued just the way they did.

 

            “Melody,” he commanded, needing to touch her flesh again. “What do you want?”

 

            She never looked away as she said the words. “I want daddy to make me come.”

 

            “Fuck!” he hissed, hitching her leg up with one hand, his nails clawing at her skin. He brought his other hand from her breast down to the apex of her legs and began massaging circles into her heat. “Keep your eyes on me, Melody. Tell me what you want.”

 

            Her face was on fire with shame. How could she even blame him for this anymore? She was just playing along at this point. She was giving him the wrong message.

 

            But oh, God, it felt so good.

 

            “Make me come,” she whimpered. “I wanna come, daddy.”

 

            “Daddy’s girl wants to come?” he whispered, his hot breath teased her neck and face. She kept looking into his eyes as he watched her mouth twitch in pleasure, then went back to gazing into her eyes. “Dirty little Mel. So filthy, so good for daddy.”

 

            Mel squealed suddenly as the pleasure knocked her out cold for a few seconds, her eyes rolled back into her head with euphoria. The intense waves of pleasure started at her core but travelled all the way to the tips of her fingers and toes. She rocked against Steve maniacally, her body spasming, the blush on her skin going from her face all the way down into her chest. Steve kept hold of one of her thighs, massaging her lips slowly all the way through her orgasm, his own cock rocking against her ass and pressing into it with magnificent force. It was only seconds until he released his own hunger in a hot, wet splurge within his pants. Mel felt the dampness of his release on her bare skin as they continued writhing against each other, riding out the highs together. She didn’t realize until she could think with her brain again that she’d been gasping and moaning his name the whole time, like some idiot.

 

            Steve held her tightly against him, kissing up and down her neck and shoulder. “Fuck, I want to play with every inch of your body.”

Chapter Text

            Mel was at a loss for words. The first thing she’d done as soon as Steve slipped away from her to head to the washroom to clean up was to rush to the landline. But, of course, Steve was smarter than that. Mel cursed when no dial tone sounded through the headset, pressing all the buttons in urgency, willing for anything to work. Defeated, she slammed the handheld down into its place.

 

            “Who are you trying to call?” Steve asked from behind. She turned to see him leaned against the staircase, chiselled arms crossed against his expansive chest. Mel made a mental note about how much he was putting that poor black dress shirt through–but he looked absolutely indelible in it.

 

            “I–nobody, I just…” Her lips remained parted, as if she were waiting for any excuse to just make its way out.

 

            Steve was amused. “You gonna call the cops on me, Mel?”

 

            She grimaced. “Don’t call me that.”

 

            “Why?” He stalked over to her, venturing out of the shadowy dark hallway and into the illuminated kitchen. Every step he took towards her decreased the amount of air in her lungs until eventually, he stood before her and she held her breath.

 

            Suddenly he grabbed her arm and she yelped. “No, please, not again, please.”

 

            “What’s wrong, Mel-bell?” he muttered, running his eyes down her body before fixating them back on hers. “Too good for daddy all of a sudden?”

 

            “You’re disgusting,” she whispered.

 

            “You’re disgusting,” he spat, slapping her square across the face. Mel lost her balance from the impact but managed to catch it again after stumbling a few inches back. She clutched her stinging cheek as heat flared across her face and chest, tears pricking her eyes. She didn’t dare to look up at him and kept her eyes on the ground.

 

            Steve knew he’d hit her too hard because even he felt a slight afterburn in his palm. The impact of what just happened set in when he watched a tear fall past her lashes and splatter onto the black marble tile on the ground. She stopped holding her sore cheek to wipe her eyes and he saw the crimson print across her skin, wincing at the sight of it.

 

            “Mel, I’m so sorry,” he whispered, reaching out to her.

 

            “Please, don’t,” she barely got out, more tears splashing past her eyes. She made a barricade between them using her arms, positioning them as if he were going to hit her again. Steve ignored her efforts and collected her in his arms anyways, holding her tightly against his chest.

 

            “I’m so sorry baby.” He kissed her temple, then the top of her head, followed by her other temple. Mel felt weak in the legs and let herself crumble to the ground, and he went with her, still holding her tightly to himself, his own eyes tearing up. She shook as she sobbed into his chest, her fists weakly punching his shoulders until she was out of energy and all she could do was tremble more and more. Steve’s tears were absorbed by her hair as he kept pressing his lips to it, muttering constant apologies that she couldn’t focus on through the storm in her head.

 

            “I don’t know what got into me,” he confessed. “I’m so sorry Mel.”

 

            She finally pulled back, swiping at her face with her hands, still unwilling to meet his eyes. “You never hurt me before,” she whispered. “You never hit me. Ever.”

 

            “I know sweetheart, I just–I get so frustrated when I feel like you don’t understand me. I know it’s no excuse. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have reacted like that. But I don’t like it when you talk to me that way.”

 

            A fresh wave of sobs engulfed Melody and Steve pulled her in again before she could hit the ground flat on her face. He gathered her in his arms and stood up, carrying her up the dark staircase. He took her to her room and was about to lay down in her bed with her in his lap when she perked up, her whole body shaking.

 

            “No, no. Don’t come into my bed. I don’t want you in my bed, please,” she said frantically.

 

            Steve sighed, clenching his jaw before taking a deep breath. He set her down and tucked her in, positioning himself on his knees on the floor beside the bed. He ran his fingers through her hair, wiped a few tears before they made it past the brim of her eye. Mel lay shivering and sniffling, her eyes far away and unmoving. After a while she said, “Leave me alone, please. I can’t sleep with you here.”

 

            His heart broke at that. He pulled his hand back and rested both on his legs, watching her carefully. She hadn’t looked at him once since he’d hurt her.

 

            “I know you feel a certain way about me, and about things, right now. But you and I are for each other,” he told her, as if it were factual. “We’re all we have. And we will be together. And you will learn to live life as I will give it to you.”

 

            He kissed her cheek and stood up, turned and walked towards the door. He barely heard what she said next as his back was to her.

 

            “You are not all I have. I have friends. They love me. They’ll help me.”

 

            Steve stopped in the doorway, his hand on the light switch, his posture and gaze on her challenging and demeaning.

 

            “Friends?” he scowled. “I can rid of them, too.”

 

*****

 

Mel spent most of the night screaming silently into her pillow, her tears never-ending. She hated everything that had happened in the past twelve hours, but out of the two people under that roof, she couldn’t decide who she loathed more at the moment. Steve, for breaking everything that her life and trust were built on? Or herself, for playing along in his sinful, evil game at the whims of pleasure?

 

            A surge of want rushed through her core as she remembered the events; the look in his eyes as he watched her writhing in his embrace, as he pulled sounds out of her that she didn’t even know she could make. The feeling of his nails raking the insides of her hot, bothered thighs, his fingers playing with her most private parts. Fingers she had never thought were capable of such skilled movements. The sound of his pleasure rang in her ears, the low, guttural groans and growls. The feeling of his stiff, thick cock pressing between the cheeks of her ass.

 

            Mel scowled, yelling into the pillow again, this time in the morning light. No, no, no. You’re no better than him.

 

            As if he could hear her thoughts, Steve pushed the door open and walked into the room, his tight t-shirt a white one, contrasting only in colour to the black he’d donned the night before. His navy pyjama bottoms were slung low on his hips, and his hair was unruly from sleep, no doubt. Well, at least one of them had slept soundly.

 

            Mel still didn’t meet his eyes, keeping her gaze on the ground as she remained lying in bed, protected by the warm duvet encompassing her.

 

            “You didn’t sleep,” he observed, walking over and sitting on the edge of the bed. She immediately moved further away, unable to stand the heat of his body near her.

 

            “Try getting raped and beat up and then tell me how easily sleep comes.” She honestly didn’t know where that comment came from. She hadn’t been prepared to speak.

 

            “I didn’t rape you.” Steve spoke the words as if he’d bitten into a lemon.

 

            “You assaulted me.”

 

            “You enjoyed it,” he threw back. “You welcomed it at some point.”

 

            Mel then forced herself to look at him. He saw the hatred in her eyes, and he hated it more than she hated him. “Why are you here?” she asked through clenched teeth.

 

            He reached out and she flinched away before he even touched her. Steve glared at her in warning, waiting until she let him run the backs of his fingers across her forehead. “I missed you,” he mumbled, tucking the piece of hair covering her cheek behind her ear. Immediately his breath caught in his throat. There was a borderline maroon bruise on her skin where his hand had struck her.

 

            Steve swallowed thickly, looking away in shame. Mel noticed his weird reaction and sat up, peering curiously in the vanity mirror across the room before she saw what had caught him off guard.

 

            “Oh my God,” she breathed, touching the marked area gently. “You really did hurt me.”

 

            Steve was ashamed, of course he was. But he didn’t know if there was anything he could even say to make up for what he’d done. After a moment’s silence, she spoke up.

 

            “I didn’t love you any less than I loved her.”

 

            Steve looked up at her in surprise. “Whom?”

 

            “Mom,” she gulped. “I didn’t love you any less than I loved her. I didn’t think of you any less than her, either. In my head, she was my mom and you…were my home.”

 

            “So you never thought of me as a father?” he questioned. Mel looked at him, her eye twitching in what seemed to be rage.

 

            “I thought of you as more than that. You were both mother and father for me at some point. All my life, I told myself it was okay if I didn’t have anything else, as long as I had you.” Her voice was shaking with fury. “Because I told myself that you would keep me s–”

 

            Her voice broke off and she looked away, closing her eyes in hurt. Steve’s attention was entirely on her. Just like it always had been, from the very start. “I would keep you what?”

 

            She scoffed. “Safe.”

 

            “I will keep you safe,” he promised quietly.

 

            Mel shook her head in disbelief. “You’re blind. You don’t know what you’re doing. Do you not see what you’re doing?” Her eyes were wide in horror. “You raised me Steve. You brought me up! You watched me grow up! I’m your kid! Or did you never accept me to be your own?”

 

            He looked taken aback at this. “Mel, you were never anything but mine.”

 

            “So would you do to your own biological daughter what you did to me?” She was yelling now.

 

            “Keep your voice down,” he ordered. “You’re still living under my roof.”

 

            “Then kick me out! I don’t want to be here! I feel disgusted with everything that happened,” she cried.

 

            “You want to try living in the real world on your own?” he challenged. “The real world is filled with people like Alex. People who will trick you with illusions. People who will play with you, with your feelings. Your friends and everyone else, too. They’ll use you when they need you and then leave you to rot.”

 

            She threw her hands up in defeat. “You’re using me, Steve.”

 

            He shook his head in denial. “I would never use you, Melody. You’re mine. I care about you. I lo–”

 

            “No!” She held her hand up. “No. You don’t say that to me. Ever. There is no love here.”

 

            Steve gazed at her sadly for a bit. “There is, Mel. So much of it. You’ll see. There is love here that you won’t find anywhere else. You’ll beg for it and nobody will give it to you.”

 

            “You’re so delusional,” she scoffed, holding her head in her hands momentarily. “I don’t even know if I should hate my mother right now for bringing you into my life.”

 

            “Are you going to act like I didn’t give you some twelve years’ worth of care and affection? Time and effort? Like I wasn’t there for you in the good and bad times? As if you didn’t dote over me for most of your life the way I have over you?” he questioned.

 

            “It was clearly all different in your head, you sick fuck,” she spat.

 

            “Melody!” he shouted, his eyes ablaze with anger as he moved forward and she lunged from the bed, cowering against the wall.

 

            “Are you going to hit me again?” she jibed, her back to one corner as she watched him crawl easily across the mattress and get to his full height right in front of her.

 

            “Not like that,” he spoke in a low tone. “But if you keep talking to me like that, I will punish you for it.”

 

            She blinked in absolute confusion. “Punish me?”

 

            “Yes,” he nodded once. “And if you listen to me, if you cooperate, then I’ll reward you.”

 

            Mel stared at him, her mouth agape and her brow twisted. “Like a dog?”

 

            “Tch. No,” he sighed, exasperated. It honestly was amusing to Steve just how clueless his little girl was sometimes. He thought for a moment before sidling up to her, his hands on the wall either side of her head. She looked up at him carefully, fearing what would happen next. Steve got that same dark, twisted look in his eyes in the following moments. She coiled under his ravaging gaze as it travelled across her body, embedding itself into every inch of her skin. She could feel him seeping into her.

 

            “Do you remember what I did to you yesterday?” he asked.

 

            Of course she did. It still made her body clench at the mere thought. Excitement jingled itself like a song through her core at the mere mention of what her body had experienced the night before.

 

            The truth was, no matter how disgusted Mel was by the whole scenario, Steve had caught her body and mind at a vital developmental stage. Her biology was yearning for this physical attention he was tending to her with, even if it disturbed her entire schema of the world and her life.

 

            “Answer me when I ask you something,” Steve commanded.

 

            “Yes,” she mumbled, looking away in shame.

 

            He cocked a brow at her. “Yes?”

 

            “Yes, I remember what we–you did,” she stammered.

 

            Steve leaned down, resting his lips against her hairline. “You remember how you begged me to make you come?”

 

            Melody turned her face away in disgust, her skin flushing beautifully. “Yes.”

 

            “Fuck, I love it when you do that,” he breathed in awe. His finger traced down the tinged skin of her face, neck, chest… “Get on the bed.”

 

            “What?” She was caught off guard.

 

            “Get on the bed, Melody.”

 

            She could still feel the soreness where he’d last hit her. She remembered the pain, the humiliation, the shock. She didn’t want that again. With utter embarrassment, she shuffled from the nook she was leaning against to the bed and sat down on the edge.

 

            Steve stepped towards her, tall, broad, and daunting, a rare malevolence in his eyes as he stared her down until he was standing before her. His gaze undressed her, slowly, intensely, until she felt naked even in the clothes from her birthday. His hands came up and rested on her knees, pushing her legs apart slightly to stand in between. Mel couldn’t help but glance down at his crotch where his pants were beginning to tent. A bile of putridity travelled up her throat but she swallowed it down.

 

            “You didn’t change last night,” he whispered, his fingers playing with the hem of her dress.

 

            Mel swallowed thickly as Steve pushed the hem higher and higher up her leg, enticingly slow, his touch searing her skin as it travelled. All the while, Steve brought his face down and closer to hers, his eyes constantly flickering to the hand on her leg, to her lips, to her heaving chest.

 

            She could deny him, but he loved the effect he had on her.

 

            Steve’s fingers brushed against the cotton of her underwear just as his lips had only just touched hers. Mel jolted in surprise, a breathy whimper eliciting from her mouth. He brought his other hand up to hold her face in place so he could mould their lips together. There was a taste on her tongue he hadn’t picked up on earlier.

 

            “Did you drink alcohol last night?” Steve asked, their lips a mere second apart.

 

            Mel was taken by surprise. “Just–a little.”

 

            “How? You’re underage.” One hand was still up her skirt, fingers teasing patterns into the warm skin of her leg.

 

            “Gemma, fake ID,” she managed weakly, her breathing picking up every time he would grow closer to her heat. “Drank some of her wine–”

 

            Steve caught her in a wet, open-mouthed kiss. His tongue swirled around hers, frantic, greedy, but skilled. He finally pressed his fingers into the cotton between her legs and they both moaned filthily; she at the feeling of his touch and he at the blatant dampness of the fabric.

 

            “Dirty, naughty girl,” he whispered, before deepening the kiss. Mel couldn’t tell if she was kissing him back: she didn’t have to. His mouth was fervent enough for a dozen people, exploiting her lips and tongue like no tomorrow. When she backed away for a deep breath, Steve wasted no time in pulling his t-shirt up and over his head. She marvelled at the expanse of his incredulous body, how chiselled his shoulders were, the firm, swelled pecs of his chest; how easily he could undoubtedly crush her if he decided on it.

 

            It was all different now when he looked down at her. She knew what was coming. “Come on,” he egged timidly, his fingers never ceasing to brush against her core teasingly. “Show daddy what you’ve been hiding.”

 

            Mel chewed the inside of her cheek, contemplating her chances of getting out of the situation. But the way he was touching her was just too inviting; she knew how much her body was yearning right now. She could smell the odour in the air. They both could.

 

            Slowly, she reached back and tried to pull down the zipper of her dress as best she could. Steve forced himself to be patient and not rip the fabric from her body; it was just different to watch her bare her body to him, intimately and shyly, and he knew she really liked that dress in particular. So did he. He didn’t want to ruin it.

 

            Eventually, the zip was down, and the shoulders of the dress fell forward, slipping down her arms. Her bra sat snugly against her chest, cradling her blushed flesh magnificently. Just the sight of it took Steve all the way there; there was no denying his own arousal now.

 

            He cupped her breasts gently with both hands, convinced he must be dreaming. His eyes drank in the amount of skin she was showing him until the image was engraved in his mind. He kissed her slowly this time, but hard, nonetheless. His intentions were more than clear in his actions and expressions. “My sweet baby,” he muttered into the kiss, applying some pressure to her chest. Mel arched her back into his touch, whining against his mouth. His preference of names for her were confusing at times, but either choice paired with his apprehensive touch ignited her to the bone.

 

            Steve reached back and unhooked her bra easily, one-handed as his other went back and buried itself between her clenched thighs. He smirked at the fact that he still hadn’t lost the sleazy ability to rid a girl of her bra in seconds; an old high-school trick he’d used a lot up until his late twenties. For Mel, it was a shock: one second, she was secure with a last barrier still between him and her bare skin and the next second, he was pulling it easily away from her chest as if it were never there.

           

            A very ecstatic Steve whipped the undergarment aside, not caring where it went as his sight was zeroed in on her now. The blush bloomed lower over her ample chest, full and enticing like a grown woman’s. He touched and caressed with both hands, squeezing here and there lightly, teasing her purposefully. Mel kept her face to the side and her vision lowered in shame, wishing the ground would swallow her up. But she couldn’t deny what she felt and what they could both smell and see as her back arched inwards every time he assaulted her.

 

            It was after long moments of patient teasing that Steve let his thumb run gently over her nipple and she squirmed in delight, head lolling back momentarily. “So responsive,” he commended, stroking her nipple again and again gently, his opposite hand mimicking the movement against her core. There was no denying how much she wanted it now: her underwear was vehemently wet.

 

            “S-Steve,” she hissed, rolling her hips into his hand. She held his wrist and pushed it harder against herself. “Please.”

 

            “Oh, you want it so bad, don’t you?” he teased, pinching her nipple and rolling it between his thumb and finger until it was pebble hard. “You play good girl until daddy gets you all riled up and then all you wanna do is come, don’t you?”

 

            Mel leaned back on her hands, offering her chest up to him more. All she could do was nod, but Steve wasn’t having that. He smacked the tissue of her breast, not too hard but enough to make it sting. “Answer me,” he spoke through gritted teeth.

 

            “Yes!” she gasped as her mouth fell open.

 

            “Yes what, Melody?” To his delightful surprise, being struck by him so only made her wetter, her nipples even tighter. She didn’t appreciate the idea of it, but her blood rushed to all the right places when he played with her body like that. It was like her mind and body became two different beings; she couldn’t think straight anymore.

 

            “I wanna come,” she mewled.

 

            “You have to be a good girl for daddy if you want to come.” He held her face and whispered against her lips. “You can’t keep denying how greedy you are for daddy’s cock, sweetheart.”

 

            Mel cringed at the finish of the sentence, closing her eyes tightly. Part of his fingers were digging into the bruise on her jaw, and it hurt. She refused to acknowledge his needs verbally. But Steve was prepared for her defiance. He pushed her underwear to the side and dipped his fingers between her slippery folds, his cock throbbing at how wet he had made her. He then brought his fingers up and held them before her.

 

            “See? See how wet you are for daddy? How ready your pretty little pussy is for me?” he taunted, and Mel could see the shiny slick on his thick, pale fingers. Her eyes widened in shock as he wiped her body’s betrayal across her mouth, shoving his digits past her swollen lips. “Taste how good I make you feel.”

 

            But Mel honestly didn’t know what it was supposed to taste like. She hummed around his fingers as they hit the back of her throat, knuckles-deep. Steve pulled them back out and now focused all of his attention on removing whatever was left covering her body. The dress was tossed onto a chair nearby and he revelled in the sight as she lay before him now in just her underwear, her groin only inches from the relentless rise in his pants. He pulled her closer by her thighs and she yelped beneath him, but she was quickly distracted when his hot, greedy mouth met with her chest, nipping down the valley between her breasts before he attacked the peaks one at a time, sucking, flicking his tongue across the hard points, grazing his teeth lightly. She was so responsive to every action, writhing and slithering on the sheets desperately, that he didn’t even mind pulling out every trick he knew. He wanted to figure out what did her over, what her weakness was. Fortunately for him, whether it was because she was still fresh or she really just did enjoy his touch that much, everything seemed to work.

 

            Steve flicked his tongue across her nipple quickly before sucking it past his teeth. She flew her hand up and bit down on her thumb to stifle a moan, but it was quickly swatted away. He then held both of her hands down securely by her head, unrelenting of his attention on her sensitive regions.

 

            “So fucking good,” he breathed against her flesh. “So hot, so tight…and you’re all mine.” He looked right at her as he continued working his mouth against every inch of bare skin. When he finally began to move down her shaking form, Mel grew shamefully excited with anticipation.

 

            She peered down at him curiously. “What are you doing?”

 

            Steve kissed up and down the inside of her thigh, massaging his fingers ever so gently over the fabric of her soaked underwear. He loved that his hands now smelled like her arousal and nothing else. She was all over him.

 

            “What does Mel want daddy to do?” he asked, never breaking eye contact. “Look me in the eye and tell me what you want.”

 

            Melody swallowed thickly, blushing even harder, if it were ever possible. “I want you…” She didn’t know the term for it. What was she supposed to call it? Her inexperience was suddenly very humiliating as she came to a loss for words.

 

            Steven stood up, hands everywhere on her body but patient as he waited for her to confess her desire. He pulled her by the thighs right up to the edge of the bed, thought of just releasing his cock from his pants and relieving himself in her. But he held back. His little girl was still fresh, still innocent. He needed to prepare her for what was inevitably waiting not far ahead.

 

            “Melody,” his tone was clipped with an eerie calmness. “Tell daddy what his little princess wants so daddy can give it to her.”

 

            She had not felt more pathetic in her life as she responded. “I want you to play with me.” She led one of his gigantic hands down to her groin and bit down on her lip, hoping it had the desired effect. “Taste me, please?”

 

            Steve’s pupils visibly grew in the sunlight protruding into the dim room, his skin flushed. “Holy fuck. So fucking filthy,” he muttered, shaking his head in disapproval, but she could see his face consumed in delight, voice exuding satisfaction. He tugged her briefs off and slid them past her ankles. Mel immediately closed her legs together in worry of how weird she must have looked at that angle, but Steve pushed her thighs back apart.

 

            There was a sharp intake of breath as he took in the sight: slick, glistening pink flesh, the kind of lips that protruded shamelessly, waiting to be touched or devoured. Steve used his fingers to gently part her soft, silky folds.

 

            “Such a pretty little pussy,” he mumbled into the inside of her thigh, watching her blush a new shade of red, an image that went straight to his pulsating cock. He loved how much his derogatory vocabulary bothered her, adored how it assaulted her innocent mind. “I can smell you, Mel. So wet, dripping onto my hands.”

 

            Get on with it! a part of her was screaming wildly on the inside. She needed to feel what was coming. The throbbing arousal of her loins was beginning to ache. If he kept on like this, she would just come undone without getting to the part that waited next.

 

            Steve smirked, bent down; he parted her lips further, a beautifully swollen, ripe clitoris waiting for his attention. He blew cool air across her burning hot flesh and Mel squealed in frustration. “Daddy needs to know how badly you want it, princess. Won’t you tell me?”

 

            His face was so close. She ran the pads of her toes across his muscular shoulder, fisted the sheets, bit her lip again, hoping to encourage him whichever way was possible. “Please,” she pleaded.

 

            “Not enough,” he tutted. “You can do better. I taught you more manners than that.”

 

            “Please…” She still convulsed on the inside as she said the words. “Taste me, daddy. Make me come.”

 

            “Oh baby,” he whispered, leaning briefly over her, his face hovering seconds above hers. “You don’t know how much daddy wants your pretty little pussy around his cock. You have no idea how hard it’s been–literally.” He slid his finger through her folds and she whimpered, her body arching yet again. “Thinking of you every night. Every morning. Touching myself to the sound of your voice, to pictures of you… Fuck, you get me so hard.”

 

            Mel knew what he was saying was absolutely petrifying, but it only added to the heat in her body. She convinced herself it was shame and guilt, however, no matter how much closer it pushed her to the edge.

 

            “Steve, please, I need you, please,” she gasped, arching her back until her bare chest rubbed against his own. For a split second, her pebbled nipple spontaneously rubbed against one of his and Steve cursed as his cock twitched with delight.

 

            “My baby gets whatever she asks for,” he smiled sinisterly. She watched enthusiastically as he pulled the desk chair right up to the edge of the bed and sat down, pulling her close once again. And then glory coursed through every nerve in Melody’s body as he caressed her flesh with his warm lips, licked up her folds delicately with his tongue.

 

            A lethal, illicit sound between a moan and a squeal filled the room as carols of pleasure chorused through her entire body. Her eyes fluttered closed as Steve lapped up every drop of arousal she had to offer, suckling her clit, pushing against it with the tip of his tongue. “Fuck,” he moaned. “So sweet. So good.”

 

            The hum of his voice pushed her over the edge and she cried out as the pleasure racked her off a cliff of climax; the entire room was filled with her moans and ecstatic sounds. It was music to Steve’s ears who devoured her right until the very end, greedy for more and yet more again. The strain of his cock was agonizing now, he couldn’t hold himself back any longer.

 

            “Steve,” she gasped, aftershocks swimming through her muscles every few seconds. When she couldn’t feel him on her anymore her eyes flew open in curiosity, only to find him standing at her legs again, running his hand over his boner.

 

            A part of her felt like she owed it to him to at least help his situation out a little. He looked so helpless and desperate as he stood there, subtly palming his very blatantly stiff cock. His eyes were hooded and glassy, his pale skin flushed down to his carved-out abs. Mel studied his crafted body with admiration before she sat up on her knees before him on the edge of the mattress.

 

            “Do you–” She stopped, swallowing hard, knowing every second of this was so terribly wrong. And she didn’t want it, never had–but he looked so helpless. She felt like she owed it to him. “Do you want me…”

 

            She never finished, but his eyes lit up, knowing what she meant. He nodded desperately, bending forward to slam his lips into hers, holding her face in his large palm. “Yeah, baby girl, yeah. Daddy’s cock is so hard for you.”

 

            Mel had barely touched him over the pants and Steve was already hissing in steamy need, pushing her hand flush around his thick girth. They both moaned filthily into each other’s mouths; Mel noticed how hot he felt against her fingers, even under the fabric, and the wet patch that seemed to grow under her touch. The stench was strong and Steve was grinding against her hand and it was disgusting, but an island of her mind knew she could enjoy it. And it didn’t hurt to have a grown, volatile, powerful man utterly crumbling at the mere stroke of her fingers, especially after her recent letdown with a certain peer her age. Alex had made Melody feel worthless and rejected, but Steve made Mel feel as if she were worshipped by him.

 

            She broke the kiss and watched his expression as her hands pulled the elastic of his pyjamas down. Steve’s thick, heavy cock sprang forward like a cannon ready to blast, swollen and begging for release. Mel’s line of vision was frozen in shock on the length and circumference of his forlorn appendage, simply massive. He truly could literally tear her apart if he wished.

 

            Melody forced herself to focus, shifting her eyes back upwards to look right at him as she wrapped her small hand as best as she could around his cock. Steve’s eyes rolled back in his head and his hips jerked forward at the initial feeling of her touch. Never, ever in a hundred years would Steven have ever thought he would get to see her like this, feel her like this. His limbs were mangled at this point with the ecstasy he felt. All she had to do was pump him a few times and he would come undone right there.

 

            She rocked her wrist once and Steve let out a feral growl, his fingers making a home in her hair. “I love it when you touch me,” he whispered. “You don’t even know what you do to me, do you? Fuck me, oh fuck.”

 

            Mel didn’t break eye contact as she continued her service. His skin was satiny smooth and slippery with milky fluid. She loved how it smelled, how each stroke of her hand brought more white pearls squirting out of his cock, slobbering down her wrist, landing on her thighs. It was deliciously dirty, the whole scene. An idea popped into her head and Mel bit down on her lip, her expression suddenly conniving as her irises locked with his.

 

            She brought her chest forward, arched her back to angle her breasts nicely. Her hand guided the swollen, red tip of his cock to one of her stiff nipples and rubbed both sensitive buds against one another.

 

            “Oh, fuck,” Steve groaned, bending forwards. “Fuck, so dirty, shit.”

 

            She drew circles around her nipple with the head of his cock until he was writhing in her palm the way she had been for him. “No, no, fuck this, ’m gonna come,” he shook his head frantically, out of breath. “Keep doin’ that, ’m right there. Fuck, ’m coming!”

 

            And he did, across her chest and stomach, loud and unabashed as she stroked every last drop out of him, loving the way the hot spurts of his release painted her. He was breathing shakily as he let himself fall on the bed beside her, panting harshly. After he’d caught his breath, he turned his face to the side to look at her in disbelief.

 

            “You better not have done that to anyone else before,” he warned, his tone peculiar.

 

            Mel also shifted to look up at him, laying only inches away from his massive, sweat-washed body. “I haven’t.” Then, after a long moment of contemplation, she added, “Although, you came surprisingly quickly…”

 

            “I came like a virgin,” he spat in self-loathing, looking up at the ceiling. There was crimson in his cheeks that went all the way to his ears.

 

            “Have you not…?” Was she supposed to be asking about his sex life? But she was too curious now. “When was the last time you–?”

 

            “Had sex?” he raised a brow, then craned his neck to look at her again. “Three days ago. But I’ve never come…so easily.”

 

            She found that hard to believe. There was no way that she, as an amateur teenager, had brought a grown, sexually-cultivated adult man to orgasm so simply. Mel wasn’t unaware of Steve’s successful sex life; she’d watched him bring the occasional woman home after her mother had passed away, and that was only on the off-chance that he hadn’t been able to sneak them out before she woke up. So there definitely had to be a body count there.

 

            “You think I’m lying?” he asked. “I honestly haven’t. I’m not some whimsy virgin in bed.”

 

            She gave him a questioning look. “So?”

 

            He shifted suddenly to cage her body with his own, his breath hot on her neck and chest. “So I’m not lying when I say that you do things to me. You take me there.”

 

            Melody sighed in defeat, shaking her head. “It doesn’t matter. This is all wrong.”

 

            “Why do I have to have you on the brink of orgasm for you to agree with me?” he asked, clearly exasperated.

 

            “You won’t understand how alien this all is for me.”

 

            “Don’t let it be,” he cooed, kissing her lazily. “Just let it happen until you start to see how natural it is. You and me. Us. This is how it’s supposed to be.”

 

            Melody frowned when he pulled his face back to gaze down at her. His hips lowered between her spread-eagle legs until she could feel the silky skin of his cock pressing into her tingling flesh, eliciting a whimper from her lips. Evidently, they were both already craving each other’s bodies again.

 

            “You can’t expect me to go along, no questions asked.” It was getting difficult for her to formulate words as he began nudging his growing length gently against her folds again and again, his hips slowly rocking as he began kissing her fervently.

 

            “Don’t stand opposite of the current, Melody,” he breathed against her ear, preparing to leave blooming marks all across her skin. “You won’t win.”

Chapter Text

           Steve wouldn’t leave Melody alone; after perusing her body that morning, he’d crawled into her bed against her wishes and held her securely against him until she’d inevitably fallen asleep. When Mel opened her eyes again it was afternoon, but Steven was still chest-to-back behind her, his own light snores continuing to breathe some life into the quiet, gloomy room. It seemed the morning sunlight had eclipsed into heavy, grey clouds. The scene outdoors wasn’t unlike the storm brewing in her head.

 

            She lay against him in despair, the sheets grimed to her skin from sweat. There was an odd discomfort in the pit of her stomach; she would never have thought this would happen. She had been close with Steve since childhood, gone to sleep in his arms, been kissed and caressed by him all her life, but, in her mind, it was perpetually innocent–never in a million years had she ever expected to wake up next to him in this state: naked, hot and–admittedly–pleasantly sore.

 

            She needed to clean herself.

 

            Her hands, legs, chest; they all still smelled of sin and regretful deeds. Her hair was out now, stuck to her skin in irritating coils. Mel turned slightly, suddenly but immediately becoming aware of what the pressure against her ass had been. Steve was undeniably erect, again. She could have sworn his body did not lament whatsoever. It was as if he had the stamina of a super soldier.

 

            They hadn’t had sex. Not yet. Mel felt sick and simultaneously hot at the thought of it; she didn’t think she would bear to live through it if they did that. She couldn’t help but wonder how fierce of a crime it would be to have something that had once been in her mother’s body be inside hers. No. She couldn’t do that. She didn’t know what she would do if the situation came to be. Die in an ocean of her own self-loathing, probably.

 

            Did he not realize how intensely he had ruined everything?

 

            And yet, she couldn’t deny him–at least, not physically. So where did that leave her?

 

            Mel pondered the thoughts, over-chewing the material until it turned to bitter bile on her tongue, as she moved carefully out of the bed and went to wash her hands off in the washroom. She didn’t dare look at herself in the mirror; she knew she would see the ghosts of his mouth on her skin, his excitement dried across several of the crevices and curves of her body. Shame on me, she kept thinking. Shame. Stupid, stupid, disgusting. So wrong. He’s like your dad.

 

            Except he wasn’t her dad. Not by blood, anyhow. Yes, she’d seen him as that for the past ten years or so. But perhaps it was the fact that this idea–of him having raised her, watched her go from child to woman, having brought her up with his own two hands, of her having held his hand as a little girl, relying on him, seeking safety and protection in him, and now, they were crossing a very crucial moral boundary on the map of their relationship, together–this idea snapped some vile, lethal twig deep inside her, made her limbs tremble with life. She wouldn’t admit it, because she hated it, anyways. Even she, herself, didn’t want to know of this twisted, secret disease inside.

 

            Melody collected towels from the cabinet in the corner of the washroom and turned the lock on the handle before stepping behind the shower curtain. She opted straight for the scalding temperature in water, needing to feel the pain as a punishment to herself. She slapped herself as hard as she could manage, clawed and scrubbed at every inch of skin until it was raised red. What seemed like fleeting hours passed with her positioned under the showerhead, continuously turning the tap further to the red side as the water kept losing its heat. In a moment of desperation, she wrapped her hands tightly around her throat and squeezed, shutting her eyes in the process.

 

            Steve threw on his clothes from the night before, picked up a hair clip from Melody’s vanity and sauntered over to the washroom door, fully absorbed by his plans to join her in the shower. He pushed the thin edge of the clip into the slit of the simple lock and turned it open, entering the sauna-like atmosphere of the room quietly. When he pulled the curtain aside abruptly, he had not expected to see his little girl trying to asphyxiate herself with her bare hands. Her face was red and blotchy, clearly from tears and lack of air. Her eyes flew open in surprise as he looked at her, frozen in shock, his heart torn out of his chest.

 

            Melody was stunned into a short loss of consciousness from the lack of air and then the trauma of having been caught by him. She tipped forwards, her sight blacking out momentarily, and Steve pushed past his shock to catch her easily in his arms, stalking out of the washroom and right out of her room towards his own. Mel was shaking against him, her eyes squeezed shut and yet spilling fresh tears every second. He set her wet, jittery body down on the high-level mattress and rushed to grab towels and a bathrobe, using them to wrap her up snugly.

 

            “I don’t even want to ask what that was,” he muttered, gently patting down her body with a towel. The violent, red streaks on her skin didn’t go unnoticed for a second. “What is…what did you do to yourself?”

 

            “I hate myself,” she spat, her eyes stuck on the carpeted ground. “And I hate you for changing everything.”

 

            Steven shook his head. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re a kid.”

 

            “Then stop touching me!” she exclaimed suddenly.

 

            “Really? Do we seriously have to do this every single time?” he asked.

 

            Mel looked at him then, her nostrils flared, her eyes wild with purpose. “I’m going to kill myself.”

 

            “I’m not gonna let you do that,” he stated surely.

 

            “You won’t be there to stop me.”

 

            Steve’s lip trembled ever so slightly, but she noticed it, and it surprised her very much. “You have no idea how much it hurts when you say that.”

 

            “Then why don’t you just stop this? Do you have any idea what you’re doing to me? You’re just taking advantage of me; you don’t even realize how fucked up this all is.” Melody was clearly exasperated. “What happens when you’re done with me? You can just move on. I have to live the rest of my life with this…weight on my chest, Steve. My childhood is wrecked, and my future will be too. You have no idea how painful this all is for me.”

 

            He listened to her intently, unmoving, patient. “And?”

 

            Melody looked to the nightstand at the opposite side of the large bed, the blood draining from her face at what she saw. “You have a picture of mom right there? That woman was my mother!”

 

            “She was also my wife,” he pointed out.

 

            “And I’m her kid,” she spat. “Do you seriously not see the red light?”

 

            “No,” he admitted. “What I had with her…it was good. It was sanctuary. But it was based on certain things in the beginning that you won’t understand. I began this journey because of her, Mel. But I stuck because of you.”

 

            Melody gawked in disgust. “You’re fucking sick.”

 

            “I don’t mean it like that. I stuck because of you meaning I developed a care for you that I’d never experience before. I asked for something to make me want to live, and then the universe showed me a door that led to a home.”

 

            He passed an affectionate hand through the wet clumps of her dark hair. “Your mother was the door. You were the home.”

 

            She inhaled deeply, feeling empty and weak. “Steve, I never had a dad. And I never felt like I needed one. But then you came, and you filled in any empty holes there were in my life. I accepted you as my father.”

 

            “I know,” he said quietly, his own eyes teary.

 

            “When mom died, you loved me enough for both parents. You were all I had, and I was happy, because you were all I wanted.”

 

            “You still have me,” he said.

 

            “Why couldn’t things have stayed that way? Why did you have to do this?” she pleaded. “What would you have done if she were still alive?”

 

            Steve calculated his answer. He didn’t want to shatter whatever was left of her world. “Mel…she wasn’t going to stick around anyways.”

 

            “How do you even know that? If she hadn’t been sick, she would have been here today.”

 

            “No, she wouldn’t have been,” he countered.

 

            Mel squinted in confusion. “Are you even listening to me? What are you talking about?”

 

            “Figure it out, Melody. I don’t want to have to say it to you.”

 

            She just stared at him. “No…I don’t understand. What? Tell me what the hell you mean.”

 

            Steven sighed, looking around the room. “She shared a lot with me, you know. We were friends. Before we were…married–we used to be friends. You never met your dad because…”

 

            “Because what?” she raised a brow, challenging him.

 

            “Because, Mel. You were an accident.” He barely got the words out; they hurt even him to have to say them. “You were a mistake. An unplanned incident. Your mother made a wrong decision and you happened.”

 

            Melody blinked at him, a fresh wave of pain crashing over her. She felt choked up. “Okay? So?”

 

            “The odds weren’t in your favour, Mel. She wasn’t even in your favour.”

 

            “What does that mean?” Melody pushed. “Tell me what you mean, Steve.”

 

            He watched her begin to crumble and it broke his heart. “She wanted to get rid of you right away…she had planned on aborting.” His voice cracked towards the end; he swallowed and kept going. “But it didn’t work out, she ended up having to keep you. She and I had been childhood friends, then high school friends, then college friends, but for a few years we fell apart. When I met her again, she already had you. She was trying, Mel. She really was.

 

            “But she never found herself completely in motherhood. She used to talk to me about how difficult it was to raise a child on her own, a child she hadn’t even wanted in the first place. I helped her as much as I could, as a friend I couldn’t do much besides listen to her and come by every now and then.” He smiled briefly through tearful eyes, caressing her cheek. “You were such a beautiful baby. So happy. So alive.”

 

            Melody crumbled into tears and let Steve collect her into his arms again. He rocked her gently, kissed the top of her head. “I was out of country for a couple of years and we sort of fell apart again. When I came back, you guys were in the exact same place, but you were a bit older, and she was diagnosed with the cancer by that time. She told me she wanted to give you up to foster care before things got too bad. I didn’t want that to be your story, Melody.” He pulled back shortly to look at her. “I asked her to marry me, so I could be there for both of you.”

 

            The gears in Mel’s head crashed against each other, hectic and overbearing, until she could only think of one conclusion. “She didn’t love me?”

 

            “No baby, she loved you,” he whispered, kissing her temple. “She did her best, Mel. The world wasn’t exactly fair to her. She went through a lot that she probably never got to tell you.”

 

            Suddenly, childhood memories started making sense. Mel realized most of the scenes in her mind from when she was a kid weren’t really dreams at all; they had in fact been real. Watching her mom tear up often when Mel smiled at her, asking for a bedtime story only to hear the response mommy’s exhausted, sweetie; spending most of her time playing alone with some stuffed animal or doll as her mother watched television in the next room.

 

            “I ruined her life,” she choked out. “I remember things. She was so sad.”

 

            “You didn’t ruin her life, Mel,” Steve assured. “Everyone else did. You were the one person that didn’t hurt her.”

 

            “She didn’t want me,” was all she said, coming apart again in sobs. Steve rubbed his hand up and down her back, soothing her with hushes.

 

            “I promise she loved you. She was just lost in this life.”

 

            Melody rose to her knees and wrapped her arms securely around his neck, hiding in his chest from the truths she would now have to deal with. He let her sob into him for a long time; there was a lot he still had to tell her, and it was only the good stuff that was left to say.

 

            “You know, it was like I imprinted on you or something,” he smiled lightly at his fond memory. “The first time I ever saw you, I felt this lightness in my chest. I would spend time with you to relieve my anguish, my worries. The world began to look different to me.

 

            “My affection for you wasn’t always…tainted, if that’s what you consider this, Melody. I wasn’t some bloodthirsty creep trying to prey on a little child. I just knew I had to have you in my life, I had to care for you, give you everything I could. You deserved a fair chance at life. You deserved to be happy, and I wanted to give you that. I knew she wouldn’t be able to do it, no matter how she tried.”

 

            Melody tucked her face in the crook of his neck, sniffling, her fists clutching the fabric of his t-shirt on his back. She couldn’t decide if his words were relieving the guilt inside of her or introducing her to new arenas of pain and difficulty.

 

            “Your mom and I, we never had that kind of relationship,” he carefully pointed out. “So, you don’t have to worry about betraying her, in that sense. I loved her, and she loved me, but it was because we were so familiar with each other. We were the only consistency in each other’s lives at one point. We were friends to the point of being family.

 

            “Imagine, I felt so much for her,” he breathed, craning his neck to look down into her tear-streaked face again. “But I feel a thousand times that for you. I never thought it would be like this. I spent a lot of time feeling ashamed about it. But this is where life has left us, Mel. So what if it’s wrong by societal standards; so what if it’s wrong by law? So what if you don’t feel what I feel? As far as I’m concerned, feelings change. You’ll feel it one day, Mel. And as for what others think, I don’t care. You’re the only person that matters to me.”

 

            She felt like she should have been touched–and to some length, she was. But these revelations had left cracks in the mirror that seemed impossible to fix. Melody didn’t want to think. She didn’t want to be.

 

            “Steve, let me sleep,” she hiccupped.

 

            “Okay,” he agreed immediately, laying her down and surrounding her with the pillows and blanket.

 

            “Can you turn the air conditioning on?” she asked weakly.

 

            “Yeah, of course.” He kissed her meekly on the cheek before backing away. “Tell me if you need anything, Mel. I’m right here.”

 

            She hummed faintly in subconscious agreement as her worn out body was already drifting off, mind blank and empty.

Chapter Text

            Melody slept for what felt like days but was in fact a regular bout of a sleep cycle. Night had fallen outside–how long ago, she was not sure. The room was a bit frigidly cold and completely dark; it took some time for her eyes to adjust and be able to find the door handle. She slowly made her way to the downstairs level of the quiet house, the thick bathrobe offering a shield against what she now recognized was the power of the air conditioning she’d asked for.

 

            Steve was sitting at the kitchen table on his laptop, wearing his slim, rectangular glasses on the bridge of his sharp nose, his eyes focused on the screen only until Melody made an appearance in the doorway. She could see he’d been waiting for her to arrive; there was a tray of covered food sitting on the table a little away from his laptop. There were a few file folders beside the MacBook that Mel couldn’t recognize but caught her focus, nonetheless.

 

            “Hey, you’re up,” he greeted, the laptop immediately forgotten as he sat up straighter, at attention for her.

 

            “How long was I asleep for?” she asked, her throat dry, which she relieved with the glass of water he had prepared.

 

            “It’s, uh…” He peered at his screen once again momentarily. “One in the morning. You slept for about nine hours.”

 

            “Somehow I’m still tired,” she remarked.

 

            “I’ll warm your food for you. You must be hungry.” He got up, took off his glasses and set them on the table, reaching for the tray of food.

 

            Melody held his wrist, halting him. They exchanged a look for uncertainty. “I’m honestly not feeling it.”

 

            “Don’t be like that,” he frowned. “You haven’t eaten since yesterday.”

 

            “I’m not hungry,” she shook her head.

 

            He was insistent. “Well, why not? You–”

 

            “Steve,” her tone was clipped, her eyes closing briefly. “Do you honestly expect me to have an appetite after everything?”

 

            He stood up before her, across the round table, his features on edge as he shook his head. “This is the most difficult you’ve ever been.”

 

            “It could be worse,” she pointed out. “I could be kicking and thrashing, screaming my lungs out.”

 

            He propped a brow in amusement. “So why don’t you?”

 

            Melody played with her fingers, picking at a hangnail on her index. “This is all screwed up. It’s a mess. But I can’t just wave the flag and leave you cornered.” She looked up at him briefly. “You’re playing with me, but I still care about you too much to get you into trouble.”

 

            “Why do you think I’m playing with you?” He was disturbed by her thought process. Her simple mind was as dangerous as it was harmless; equally threatening to their relationship if left to wander as it was beneficial if shaped correctly.

 

            “You could have anyone you wanted, Steve. Before all of this, I saw you as someone perfect. Any woman would be stupid to reject you, or extremely lesbian, I guess.” There was humour dotting the last part, and the corner of Steve’s mouth twitched upwards, until she continued. “So I don’t understand why you’re…relieving your urges with me. Is it just because I’m accessible to you? Because I won’t do anything to hurt you, because I rely on you?”

 

            Steve pushed his fingers through his hair, pinched the bridge of his nose. He walked around the dining table and sat across from her, saw that she had picked her finger to the point that it was spouting blood. He reached for the short stack of file folders and handed the first one to her. Her eyes questioned him, refusing to take the packet, to which he explained, “You think I’m just using you. This is something to try and convince you that I will never do that.”

 

            Melody peeked inside the folder, saw a thick package of papers. She shuffled through them slowly, one by one, her judgement only clouding further. Outside, the sky rumbled suddenly, as if in frustration. Melody’s stomach let out a similar growl, signifying her lie about loss of appetite.

 

            “Take the time to actually read them, Mel,” he said softly, getting up to warm the forgotten food as her eyes scanned the papers diligently. It seemed to be a will of sorts; a holograph presented in neat, slanted handwriting. Melody read through it carefully.

 

            To all persons of concern or authority, here follows the will of me, Steven Grant Rogers, resident as of present and hereon forth at 48 Oak Avenue in Larchmont, New York of the United States of America.

 

            This is my first and only attempt at any document that constitutes as my will after my death or any potential impairment in life that prevents my ability of executive decisions on my own behalf.

 

            From the time of my death or any other ailment that befalls my person, I leave all of my Estate to my Executor, as of yet known as Melody Valerie Grace, also resident at 48 Oak Avenue in Larchmont, New York of the United States of America. Should she be under eighteen by my passing of rights, no decisions may be made regarding my Estate until she comes of age. However, in that meantime, my substitutional onlooker, James Buchanan Barnes, should be sought out.

 

            Melody blinked furiously in disbelief. He wanted her to look after everything for him. She searched out Steve from across the kitchen, who was warming up the last bit of her meal, and who nodded for her to continue.

 

            I leave my Executor to direct the services of my funeral or to make any and all of my medical decisions, should I be unable to do so or be out of sound mind. I leave my Executor with no debts or financial quarrels with the State or the government. All of my estate is privatized, and all of my mortgages paid.

 

            All of my business profits, business schemes, company, market, personnel, and any other work-related possessions, I leave to Melody Valerie Grace.

 

            All of my money, earnings, and belongings, I leave to Melody Valerie Grace.

 

            All of mine and my (previously) family-owned land in Brooklyn, New York, I leave to Melody Valerie Grace.

 

            My vehicular devices, my personal artifacts, my shares in Stark Industries and Shield Security Services, and my personally owned law firm across the border, I leave to Melody Valerie Grace.

 

            I leave the trust fund I began for Melody Valerie Grace’s education or any other future expedition for my trustee and substitutional onlooker, James Buchanan Barnes, to deliver to Melody Valerie Grace whenever she should need it. No other persons are permitted to access this trust fund.

 

            All of these possessions of mine become hers as soon as this will comes into action, regardless of her age.

 

            Signed,

            Steven Grant Rogers

           

            Melody scanned the page for the date it was concluded, and her eyes widened. “This is from my first birthday…”

 

            Steve sat back down, presenting a tray of now steamy food, a bandage ready in his other hand. “That was technically my first ever birthday present to you.”

 

            Melody gawked at him. “You would leave everything to me? Just like that?”

 

            He searched her eyes hopefully. “Everything is nothing compared to you, Mel.”

 

            Her stomach bubbled, not from hunger, but from a giddy emotion that she didn’t want to feel, because it made her wall less resolute. She looked away from him and placed the papers aside, beginning to pack into the food before her. The soup smelled heavenly, and the rice made her mouth water. She tried to distract herself with the first few bites, but there were questions bouncing off the walls of her mind that she couldn’t ignore.

 

            “Who is James Buchanan Barnes?” she asked lightly.

 

            Steve was taken aback. “You don’t remember Uncle Bunky?”

 

            Now Mel was surprised. “That’s his real name? James Buchanan Barnes? That sounds so…I don’t know. Nineteen-forties.”

 

            Steve smirked, ripping open the band-aid as he picked up the damaged hand from where she had it rested on her lap. He applied disinfectant as he spoke. “He hasn’t been around in a long while, but you should remember him from when you were young. He used to come around, he brought you those books you read as a kid.”

 

            “It’s been a while,” she commented. “What’s going on with him now?”

 

            “Nothing new, as far as I know,” he shrugged. “Still in Brooklyn, still running that prosthetics lab.”

 

            Melody quieted down at that, remembering the odd, clearly artificial arm Steve’s best friend had. It had always been like that, and she’d noticed it often but never dared to ask about it, knowing it was a point of bitterness for him. He always kept it under long sleeves, sometimes gloves when he could get away with them. But she didn’t remember too much.

 

            “I think I was, like, twelve, the last time he visited?” She watched as Steve held her hand up to his mouth and kissed the finger that he’d wrapped. Melody pulled her hand back, picking up the glass of water as an excuse.

 

            “Mm,” he scratched his beard. “I remember it as thirteen. But yes, it has been some time. He’s actually, uh, been caught up in a divorce.”

 

            “He got divorced?” she asked in shock. “I didn’t know he was even married.”

 

            “Well, he was,” Steve nodded. “Briefly. I guess he met her, and he thought, ‘now or never.’ He eventually ended up regretful.”

 

            Melody quieted down after that, eating slowly as she began to feel full. Soon she pushed the tray away and leaned back in the chair, eyes cast to her bandaged hand. She could still feel where his lips had touched her. The will lay on the table nearby, and her eyes continuously drifted to it, reminding her again and again of what she’d read but was so exclusively foreign that her mind kept forgetting about it.

 

            Everything. He’ll leave everything to me.

 

            “Why do you trust me so much?” she asked then. “What if I ruin everything? What if I use your money selfishly? What if I lose it all?”

 

            “Then that’s what you do. I’ll be gone at that point, Mel. All that matters is your life. I want to give you the best life I can, even after I’m not here anymore. You deserve everything.” He reached out and caressed her cheek lightly. Mel forced herself to shift her face away.

 

            “You never told me you were so…wealthy.” It truly was a surprise; paid off estates and property? A whole business? Melody had only ever known that he worked in business. She hadn’t known that he owned any businesses. From the looks of it, he was rich. What was he doing here, in this simple cottage-style house, in some New York suburb?

 

            “There’s a world beyond the one you know of and live in,” he replied, obviously put down by her physical energy at the moment. It seemed that the more evidence he laid before her of his dedication, the more holes she dug for him to fill. “I want to keep you away from all that. I want you to live a normal life. I know my Melody isn’t about the flashy lifestyle.”

 

            She scoffed. “Well, you think you know somebody, until they show you a whole different side.”

 

            Her words ate at his heart like acid, but he didn’t let down. Next, he picked up a second packet and held it before her. Melody took it after a stagnant pause and found some kind of written testimony inside. The hard, black leather cover indicated a year in golden print that indicated the book was about twenty years old. She skittered the pages from front to back in a flurry; it was a journal.

 

            “What…?” she trailed off, looking at him expectantly.

 

            “It’s a diary,” he resolved. “From a very long time ago.”

 

            “You want me to read this?” She wondered what he was trying to do.

 

            “Read it,” he nodded. “Not right now. On your own time, I suppose. Here,” he handed her yet a third package. “This is another one, from around the time your mother and I reconnected with each other.”

 

            “I’m confused,” she confessed.

           

            “Read them, they will help. I want you to read the older one first, then the later one. I want you to know.” He leaned forward, gazed at her longingly, seriously. “You think I’m using you. You think you don’t matter. I’m trying to show you that you will never be insignificant to me. There will never be a time in my life where you are not my number one priority. You are all that I have to live for. You are everything.”

 

            She looked away, feeling a flood of warmth on her cheeks sell her out. “Steve, there’s no point. Whatever you’re expecting, it won’t happen. This has to stop.”

 

            “You don’t get to decide that,” he told her confidently. “I didn’t get to decide when my life became all about you. Some plans are in motion before you even come into existence. Death is inevitable, but life is an even stronger predecessor of that. I learned that eventually, and so will you.”

 

            The words he spoke and the look on his face told Melody this was a race that would never end; it would leave her exhausted but ever-running, constantly trying to reach a finish line that didn’t exist. Life truly was a circle, and she was having difficulty placing her finger on where it began or where it ended.

 

            “I have to fly north of the border for a few days,” he spoke up, interrupting her mind of rhetoric. “It’s for work. I don’t want to leave you here, but I can’t bring you with me.”

 

            Melody’s head began buzzing. He was really going to leave her alone? Just like that? She could contact the authorities, no problem. She could reach out for help. Hell, she could walk out of the damned house and never come back.

 

            “You wouldn’t,” he cut in, reading the dazed expression in her wide eyes. “You wouldn’t do any of what you’re thinking of doing. I trust you, and I know you hate breaking my trust. I’m Steve, remember? The Steve you care about so much. If you say a word to anyone–well, first off, they wouldn’t believe you. I’m a regular source of financial support for the regional police department; I’ve funded enough youth and recreational programs in town to create a persona; I’ve sat in on PTA meetings and attended other parent-concentrated conferences; I’ve even made an appearance at church enough times for people to recognize me as a man of God, Melody. So believe me, if you try to reach out to anybody, they won’t do anything for you, but it will put a thorn in our relationship.”

 

            There he was again, that sinister, unbeknownst, calculating man that stepped into the frame of her Steve from time to time, made him a conniving monster instead of the fun, loving person she had always adored. In all honesty, it was this side of him that was putting her off more than anything else. To find out that he had this ability in him–to seek the truth out, to use it against someone, to intentionally hurt and threaten–frightened Melody. If she ever even decided to give in to him, she would be letting all of her guards down to a wolf disguised as a fox. Between all his gentle, graceful leaps, she was now beginning to notice his sharp teeth and predatory eyes.

 

            “You tried to tell me that this is love,” she spoke dryly. “Love doesn’t threaten people.”

 

            “Love does whatever it needs to do to get wherever it needs to be. It is unmatched in its ferocity and haste.” He moved to kneel before her, standing on his knees, his head still somehow slightly higher than hers. He held her hand carefully in his, kissed the palm and knuckles. “It’s gentle and kind; lenient, even when it’s hurt.”

 

            Melody yelped as he suddenly gripped her wrist and yanked her whole body forward, their faces seconds apart. She watched with panic as his eyes became wild again while he continued speaking. “But it is also punctual and harsh when it needs to be, Melody. Love always wins in the end. It always gets what it wants.”

 

            She shuddered at the last part, tried immediately to free her wrists of his grip. “Let go of me,” she whispered urgently. “This isn’t who you are. I don’t want this part of you.”

 

            “Then you don’t know a thing about love,” he spat.

 

            “That’s not what this is!” she exclaimed. “And you were never like this before! What happened to you?”

 

            His eyes settled then, calming down as abruptly as they had blown out. He loosened the hold and she yanked her hands away, pushing her chair back to stand up. She distanced herself from him, backing away cautiously. He didn’t miss the tears that brimmed her eyes; she looked terrified and helpless. Steven receded from his lewd composure and softened noticeably, immediate guilt taking over him as she began to cry, her eyes unblinking in fear.

 

            “Mel, I–”

 

            “No. Don’t. Do not.” She held her finger up, moving backwards until she was at the staircase, upon which she ran up until she was out of sight. Steve bit the inside of his cheek, the previous rage he’d felt becoming shame and confusion for his own actions. He stood in the kitchen staring down at the proofs he had tried to convince her with. It seemed words on paper wouldn’t be enough to keep him from losing her, as long as his fear kept taking control of his actions.

Chapter Text

            Melody once again spent the night in avid wakefulness, her body jittery to the point of exhaustion but her mind snow-banked in dread, too energized from the feelings of confusion and panic. Every minute seemed to trudge by so slowly as she sat in the armchair by the window, occasionally walking around the room. She refused to touch the bed; it was still perverted by the stench and stains of what they had done that morning. Things he had done to her, things she had let him do, and things she had done to him. It brought a sourness to her tongue to even think back to the scenes of that day; how the break of dawn had coveted their moans and whispers, barricading their deeds from the rest of the world. She remembered kissing his mouth and other places across his body, engulfed by the sudden urge to rinse out her mouth.

 

            She did. She scrubbed her teeth to the point that her gums bled and sored. She showered her body in hot water, stood under the spray long after the suds had made their exit through the drain. She spat at herself in disgust. Despite what he told her, despite how he made her out to feel, regardless of everything good, this was absolutely, irrevocably treacherous. What Melody couldn’t get past was how insidious the whole shift had been; one day he had just been Steve, same old Steve who dressed in baggy tracks and tees and was an all-around homebody, harmless and fatherly in all of his instincts. And then, that same evening, he had become Steve; dark-eyed, impatient, pervasive in his attempts, a whole new person. Nothing even predicted the change before it happened, and she didn’t get a chance to catch up at all.

 

            Melody dressed in pyjamas and a hoodie, moving past the confines of her room with her eyes peeled and constantly checking her surroundings, as if she were prey to a hunter. She narrated her situation with silent commentary, like one would hear on the Discovery channel as a gazelle were chased down by a lion. The dark silence of the house was comforting for once–it meant Steve was probably asleep.

           

            Except he wasn’t.

 

            Mel made it to the dark kitchen and filled herself a glass of water, drinking it desperately. She hadn’t finished the last bit before she heard another body’s presence in the open area and froze with her lips on the brim of the glass. Her heartbeat picked up as she breathed into the glass, fogging it up. Like a critical agent, the lion has the prey cornered and bent to his will.

 

            “I couldn’t fall asleep,” he spoke finally.

 

            Mel carefully finished her water and placed the glass on the countertop without a sound. “Welcome to the club.”

 

            “I feel terrible about earlier,” he added, and continued after Mel stayed silent. “I don’t mean to lash out, Mel. I would never hurt you on purpose. It’s not my intention.”

 

            Melody turned around, even though neither of them could see one another. It was better this way; somehow it gave her more confidence to not know how near he was standing. “Most of the time, people hurt others unintentionally. It still doesn’t justify it.”

 

            “I’m not trying to justify it.” He sounded closer; Mel moved backwards.

 

            “You’re not trying to change it either.” She could hear the uneasy edge of her own wavering voice now. So much for trying to act tough.

 

            Suddenly he was there, caging her against the marble top behind, the heat of his body suffocating her. “I am. Don’t you see? I’m trying my best.”

 

            “Get away from me,” she huffed.

 

            “Listen to me.” It was an order, but it wasn’t harsh, like before. He sounded extremely delicate, and Melody stopped tittering against him, stilling to look absently into the dark, her breaths quick. “I’m leaving for the airport now. I’ll be gone for a week.”

 

            “You’re leaving right now?” she asked.

 

            “Yes, in a bit, but soon.” He seemed to be piecing words together in rehearsal. “I did groceries, cooked some food and put it away in the freezer. You should be alright until I get back. Don’t go out without my permission, and don’t invite anyone over, either.”

 

            After a moment’s silence, she asked, “Anything else?”

 

            She felt his hand on her cheek, his fingers venturing into the hairline behind her ear. “Try to read the diaries, Melody. Try to trust me. And take care of yourself, please.”

 

            She felt him move in–supposedly for a kiss and an embrace–but she turned her face away, her hands against his shoulders in defiance. Her body was rigid in disagreement, waiting for him to move off of her.

 

            “You won’t see me off?” he asked. “You always do.”

 

            Melody shook her head. “I have nothing to say to you. What you want will never happen. I’ll be right here, in this house, against my will. But you and I will never be the way you want it.”

           

            Too quickly, he asked, “Is that your final word?”

 

            “My only word,” she responded without a beat, feeling confident in her speech.

 

            Steve nodded, his heart broken, and stepped away from her. He felt a pain and despair within himself that he had not experienced for years now. How could someone be so close, and yet be miles away? He had tried to prove his intentions to her, told her decades’ worth in concealed truths, and none of it had been enough to turn the cards over. What more did he have to do? In that moment, he was so helpless, his heart could have lurched itself to death. But he made brave and shuffled out of the kitchen carefully, silently, to go pack his luggage into the car.

 

            Melody heard the engine of the Venza roar to life and slowly fade out as it drove down the street while she listened from her room. Her sleeping arrangement was still off limits to her; she would have to do something about it. As soon as she was sure that he was absolutely gone from the vicinity, she trudged her tired body through the hall in the obscenely haunted light of the brink of morning to the master bedroom and let the big bed and its cool sheets swallow her body up. The scent of his cologne and sweat blanched her mind into sleep.

 

 

*****

 

 

From the moment she awoke in the afternoon, Melody busied herself in laundry and cleaning, blaring music on the TV sound system to accompany her in the deadly quiet two-story. She washed all the towels around the house, all the sheets, all the clothes and socks she could find anywhere–but she didn’t take anything out of Steve’s bedroom. Though she’d let herself sleep there, nothing else in that room she could touch without pangs of searing discomfort running through her.

 

            She cleaned the kitchen, vacuumed carpets and swept and mopped floors. She overworked herself until the house was spotless and smelled fresh. She looked around at the end, gazing at the extent of her efforts admirably, wishing bitterly that it were just as easy to clean out her thoughts or memories. It was evening by the time she decided to get to the kitchen and eat something. In the midst of reheating some lasagne, Melody’s eye was caught by the thick paper packets that sat on the kitchen table. She sauntered over, passed her fingers over them, remembering what he’d said.

 

            Try to read the diaries, Melody. Try to trust me.

 

            Trust him, after he had so carelessly broken it? She shook her head before noticing a smaller file folder amongst the other, full-sized ones. This one seemed empty, for the most part. She peeked inside curiously and found her cell-phone, pulling it out immediately, and booted it up.

 

            He’d left her cell phone there for her to use, just like that. What if she called the police? Of course, she wouldn’t. She hated to admit it, but he was right: nobody would believe her, and it wasn’t as if she hadn’t given in to him at some point. Also, history didn’t exactly go down in favour of women all too often, especially when their opponents were well-placed, desirable men.

 

            The cell phone chimed immediately after it turned on, a message popping up on screen.

 

            Steve:

 

I’m leaving this for you in case you need something. I trust you to not do anything foolish.

 

            She frowned, sliding the pop-up off the screen. Another text immediately made its appearance under her hovering thumb.

 

            Farah:

 

                        Yo, we’re planning a get together. U down?

 

            Melody stared at the message for a long time, worrying her lip between her teeth. He was out of country. What could he possibly do or know?

 

            She quickly typed back a positive response and sent the text off, marveling at the timing of Farah’s text. What if Melody hadn’t had her phone back by that time? What if Steve had it instead? What if Farah received no response at all, and thought Melody was blowing off her friends?

 

            She had to give it to Steve for giving her phone back on such good timing.

 

 

*****

 

 

Melody ate her lasagna on the couch in front of the TV, watching yet again the same show she enjoyed indulging in over and over again. However, this time, her attention kept drifting back to the packets on the table in the kitchen. Why did he want her to read them? Would it really make a difference?

 

            It took about another hour of disconcerted debate with her own self, before Melody shot up from the couch; quickly getting the spine of the diary cracked and read before she changed her mind against it again would be the only way she would get to those entries, she decided.

 

            She sank back against the cushions and plushes of the couch, pulled her legs up in front of her as her mind trained completely towards the book in her hands, but she kept the television on as comfort noise in the background.

 

            The writing on the pages of the earliest diary was very different to what she’d seen in the will, albeit visibly worn out to time. The only similarity seemed to come from the scribbling of letters that joined together, as if written in a furious battle. The first entry was dated as the sixth of May. 

 

            It doesn’t surprise me anymore. It doesn’t shock me to see how empty of vigour the world is. How cold and fruitless life has come to be. There is no motivation left, no energy, no time, no patience, no longing, no desire, nothing.

 

            There is nothing for me, not here. Not anywhere, probably.

 

            The days are short and barren. Nothing comes from anything. Birth and death happen everywhere around me and yet, not a single leaf has turned somehow. Were I to be another mindless freak, I too could go on, flipping across the pages of this book called life, eyes fleeting across the words while my heart absorbs nothing. But I am usurped by the need for reason. I need quality. I need matter.

 

            Melody frowned at the tone of the passage. It felt as if she were reading an old Victorian novel of sorts, about loss and grief. This didn’t sound like the diary of an adult from even twenty years ago.

 

            I have all that I do not want, but I have none of which I need. The degrees, the money, the house, the supposed career; a different body every week to flush my system with, only to feel even emptier afterwards. I do not need the people, not time, nor materials of life, and yet, these are the only things I have. What I wish I had–equity, home, love, belonging–these are demons that haunt my dreams but strip away from me in the light of day.

 

            I am tired, exhausted, run down. I am tired to the point of nonexistence.

 

            She closed the book and took a deep breath, distracting herself momentarily with a few scenes from a favourite episode. Even as she tried to pay attention, the words from the pages rang in her ears.

 

            Whose words were they? The reality was that she couldn’t figure out whose voice was supposed to correspond in her mind with the writing that her eyes were seeing. And then it came to her, the calculation she should have made right when the books had been given to her: This was her mother’s diary.

 

            Melody continued to read the entries, all of them ultimately carrying the same pace and tone as the first: misery, bitterness, regret, lack of commitment to living. There were outnumbered mentions of the word ‘barren’ and the ‘absence of value in life’. One entry in particular caught her attention; it was more than halfway through the diary, dated in December, just after Christmas.

 

            This has been more than enough. There isn’t an ounce of blood within my body that beats with purpose anymore. I have decided.

 

            Tomorrow. Tomorrow will be my last. Perhaps, it will be a first, too: a first for actually feeling something. But it will be the last day of artificiality. The last day for empty hellos and goodbyes, for exchanges of conversation that start nowhere and lead to an even less pronounced destination. The last day for a life that has amounted to no victory or definition.

 

            The meaning of this life comes from the bonds and relations of care and love that people make along the journey. I am not one of those fortunate souls.

 

            Her eyes rushed over the words again and again in hurried commitment, trying to figure out the meaning behind the message. When it dawned on her, Melody’s eyes stung with unshed tears of refusal.

 

            Her mother had wanted to kill herself.

 

            Had the world really been so cruel to her, to the point that she had tried to take her own life? Where the hell had her family and friends been? Where were the relationships that were supposed to look after her, the ones she had talked about again and again while coating the thick, cream pages of the leather-bound with her despair?

 

            Melody felt a sudden surge of anger. Where was Steve when her mother was suffering? Friends, he’d called them. Family. Was this how friendships ended up? He was supposed to be her childhood friend, and yet, he had abandoned her completely.

           

            And where were her parents when all this was happening? Melody wanted to call her grandmother right away, scream at her, scold her for being such a faithless parent. How could she abandon her daughter like that? And what had caused Melody’s mom to go back to her parents afterwards?

 

            How did she end up surviving?

 

            The questions were endless; every single thought unlocked a dozen others, each one branching and budding until there was a forest abloom with riddle and suspense. She flipped the page to read the next passage. To her surprise and disarray, it was dated two years from when the incident would have happened.

 

            To this day, I hate that I survived. I’m not even fortunate enough to die. Every breath is a sin, and the universe is an unforgiving, merciless Creator.

 

            Melody held the book against her chest, tears raining down her face silently as she took everything in. Her mom had been so broken, so alone, and so helpless, and nobody had cared.

 

            Why had Steve wanted her to read this?

 

            Would her outcome be the same?

 

*****

 

The next diary had the same scribbles, but the ink was less faded, seemingly more fresh. Steve had said this second one was from the time that her mother had met him again, which meant Melody had probably also been present at the time. She braced herself for another collection’s worth of sadness, flipping open the contrasting brown leather-back to the first entry, dated roughly only four years after her birth.

 

            This is an ode to the universe and whatever force is responsible for running it.

 

            I have waited for what seems like lifetimes. But my patience has not gone unnoticed, after all. It seems somehow, somewhere, something had sympathy for this pitiful being. I was given not only a second chance, but a second life, it seems. I was given a reason to live. I have what I wanted. I found purpose. I found faith. I found hope, a willingness to be here, to be alive. I found signs of life blooming from the earth of a cemetery. I have been given a force of drive so omnipresent, it takes up every particle of my being at any given moment. Her name is Melody.

 

            She blubbered, tears springing once again to her eyes, and she wiped them away quickly to continue reading.

 

            That little girl is mine to call ‘home’. She is a part of my heart that beats outside of my being. She is every drop of blood I have ever lost, every loss I have suffered, all returned back to me tenfold. I haven’t even had her for long enough yet, but I see how integral she is to my life. Melody is the centre of my universe. Everything I have and possess is only for her. Every tarnished memory of day has led to this time that I get to have with her.

 

            I have never been sure about anything in my life, but for the first time ever, I am sure. I am sure about the love that rushes through me every time I look at her. I am sure about the warmth and comfort I feel when she looks at me. I am sure she brings out in me what the sun brings out in nature. I am sure that I would lay down my life for her. I will never let anything hurt her. I will never let her feel less than valuable. I will never let her feel alone. I know what all of these things feel like, I have felt them my entire life. But that will not be Melody’s story.

 

            To whatever power in the universe that led me to her, thank you. For the first time, my heart is full. I never thought I would get to experience a belonging like this, but now that I have, I know I couldn’t survive its deprivation again. She is my little lifeline, my hero, my angel. My here and now.

 

            The drastic shift in tone and speech was overwhelming. The affection that poured from these pages had moved Melody to some of the strongest emotions she’d ever experienced, to the point that she was choking back sobs. Her mother had loved her. She had loved her so much. She had fundamentally changed her mother’s life.

 

            Steve had tried to tell Melody that her mother wanted to abort her, to get rid of her, to give her to foster care. Melody scoffed; Steve was a liar, and nothing but. Whatever he’d been hoping to achieve by delivering these diaries to her, he had caused the absolute opposite to happen. Now, the distaste she felt for him, the mistrust he’d placed in her, it was even stronger than before.

 

            As she went to read the next passage, Melody found that the first entry was in fact the only one in the entire book. This utterly confused her, until she flipped a few pages and came across the first of what would be continuous sketches and drawings across every page, all the way to the end. Each sketch was amicably detailed with hard lines, soft strokes, shading, and intricate design. What caught her completely off-guard was when she realized that they all were drawings of a baby, gradually getting bigger, until they were drawings of a little girl. Every sketch was dated, the last one being done just a few weeks before her mother had passed away. Melody came to the understanding that they were of her; she was the subject of all of these drawings.

 

            This left her in even more of a mess than before, and she clutched the book tightly against her chest, trying to ingurgitate even an ounce of all the love and care that was pressed into the thick sheets of the journal, saving them for herself now that she needed them most.

Chapter Text

            Steven couldn’t focus. His eyes constantly shifted to his phone screen, anticipating a text, a call, anything at all as an attempt for contact from Mel. But through all the messages, rings, and emails he was getting, none of them were titled with her name.

 

            He was fidgety. Nobody could dismiss it at this point. The usually calm recluse of a man had always exuded clarity, but today he was sat uneasily at the glass conference table, shifting endlessly in the hefty leather wheelie seat, his hand periodically turning on his phone to check the screen.

 

            “Hey, hello, excuse you,” Tony gibed, snapping his head towards the blond in frustration. “Did you listen to a word I said?”

 

            A visible blush made debut across Steve’s face as he sat up straight and pushed a hand through his hair. “I’m listening, Tony.”

 

            “So, what did he say?” A menacing redhead sat across the panel smirked. “Recap.”

 

            “I second Nat,” Sam spoke up, his expression giving away how quickly his focus had recollected back to the current scene with the change in conversation. In fact, the entire table seemed to be waking up from a lull.

 

            “Have you got ants in your pants, my friend?” Thor’s gruff voice teased from further up the table, a cheeky twinkle in his stark-blue eyes as his face lit up in amusement.

 

            “Because you’re acting antsy!” Scott dropped the punch line from across Thor, and both of them reached forward to complete an arched high-five over the table.

 

            “You’re all a bunch of jerks,” Steve mumbled, yet again checking his phone.

 

            Bruce was the only one still sulking in his chair lazily, but even his attention had ventured back to the meeting now. “Seems like our captain’s got his panties in a twist for some lady.”

 

            “Okay, he might lead the business negotiations, but I still run the show here,” Tony piped up, clearly aggravated at the amount of attention everyone was now paying. “Any one of you could try a little harder to at least pretend you’re even semi-interested in what I have to say. Jesus, I’ve never seen this group of people so focused together on anything ever before.”

 

            “We do the work we need to, Tony. Why you gotta get all worked up ‘bout it, dog?” Sam leaned back, sipping heartily from his coffee. “Let us have some fun with Cap here.”

 

            “Look at Clint,” Tony pointed at a figure hunched over the table, just beside Natasha. “Learn something from him. He was sleeping when I was talking about the budget increases and he’s still sleeping.”

 

            The redhead jabbed Clint with her elbow and he shot up, knocking over an empty cup of coffee. “I agree!” he slurred immediately, eyes furiously blinking themselves awake.

 

            “How does he sleep after downing a venti black coffee with twelve sugars?” T’Challa leaned to his side and directed the hushed question towards Rhodey, who shrugged in exasperation.

 

            “Ion know man, I’ll have whatever he’s having. I didn’t sleep all night,” he muttered from behind clasped hands. “But this meeting might be lullaby enough.”

 

            “Don’t think I can’t hear you, Rhodes,” Stark jabbed, his back to the table as his fingers danced across a holographic screen.

 

            “I wasn’t tryna be quiet man,” Rhodey challenged. “The whole conversation needed some more seasoning. Turns out Cap might be packing on flavour today.”

 

            “Ohhh that’s right!” Sam was having a hoot. “Tell us again, Cap. What’s got you so…on edge?”

 

            There was a smile playing on Natasha’s lips as she added to the banter. “You’re acting like you’ve got a vibrator attached to your knickers, Rogers. Tell us, who’s got the remote control?”

 

            Steve flushed furiously this time, readjusting himself in his seat to look as intimidating as possible. None of the individuals at the meeting were nearly as big in size as he was, save for Thor, who was the equivalent of two men-and-a-half with his grizzly build. The only other person present that could stare anyone down was Natasha, who didn’t seem to be afraid of anything that could breathe. Pepper and Carol were also part of that classification, but both were currently in China delegating an ecological changes project, so Steve had less to match up to.

 

            “Last I checked I’m in charge of all of your paychecks, so I would watch what you say and how you say it,” he remarked coolly.

 

            “Oh, are we teasing Cap?” Clint seemed to finally understand the situation after replacing the earpiece and turning it on. “Sorry, take it off sometimes to save the battery for important occasions, y’know?”

 

            Tony’s jaw was on the floor. “Do you do that every meeting?”

 

            “And you miss it every time. It was beginning to look sad, Anthony,” Thor chuckled. Everyone around the room heard Scott add a hushed mumble of I thought you agreed on calling him Antony.

 

            “You are unbelievable.” Tony glared at Clint for a brief second before turning back to his screen. “You’re all inconsolable.”

 

            “If it matters, I have been listening very intently,” T’Challa offered. “And I will be forwarding the ideas for the new technology to my little sister, who will have lots of constructive criticism to give.”

 

            Even Steve laughed then as the entire gathering burst into a fit of hoots and knee slaps while Tony looked at them all as if they were headless. “Since when did we go from yacking at him to picking on me?”

 

            “Since you started grumbling like a grandpa,” Scott shot off, tongue in cheek.

 

            Steven hid his cell phone between the seat and his thigh and checked all his inboxes again. Just in case something glitched and I missed it, he thought to himself, excuse after excuse as he felt more and more let down every moment.

 

*****

 

Melody spent two days without any contact with Steve or anyone else. She didn’t mind the isolation, really; she spent her time reorganizing, reading, and going through her ‘to watch’ list of shows and movies. Every now and then, the thought did occur to her, of how nice it might be out and how she wanted to feel the sun. But paranoia won every time: what if he were monitoring her every move? What would he do to her if she even stepped foot outside of the threshold?

 

            So, she sat in line of the huge bay windows in the book room, drinking in sunlight from her back as she hunched over a good read. She often would fall asleep basking in the warmth as her eyes began to droop and lull over the words. She would wake up in a pleasant bliss, momentarily forgetting the whole situation.

 

            On the morning of the third day, however, she awoke with a strange pang of pain in her stomach, and it was only moments after that that she found herself hurling pasta from the night before into the toilet. Her assumption that the sickness would be a one-time occurrence was proven incorrect when she continued to heave all her energy and fluids out until her body was lax from fatigue.

 

           

Steve jumped in furious shock when his phone buzzed and Melody’s name appeared on the screen. Electricity ran through him as he answered the call, slapping the device to his ear.

 

            “Hey, Mel,” he greeted.

 

            “Steve,” she sighed hoarsely. “I’m sick, I…can’t stop throwing up.”

 

            He was immediately alarmed and stepped away from the computer screen to focus on the conversation. “Oh, baby, what happened?”

 

            “I don’t know.” She swallowed thickly. “It hurts a lot.”

 

            “I’m so sorry I’m not there, Mel,” he cooed.

 

            “It’s okay,” she mumbled, then asked, “Steve? Where’s the stomach flu medication?”

 

            Steve bit down on his lip before answering. “In my washroom, right-hand drawer. Leave everything else alone, you only need the blue bottle. Take two of those, twice a day. Do you understand?”

 

            “Mhmm,” she managed.

 

            “And listen, don’t eat from what I left you, if you’re sick. I’ll call Olivia, she can bring you soup or something.”

 

            “No, don’t bug Olivia,” she began, but he cut her off.

 

            “Olivia has always liked taking care of you, Mel. And I pay her well enough to do it.”

 

            “That was when I was younger,” she grumbled. “I’m grown now.”

 

            He smiled slightly. “You’re not that grown yet. You’re still young.”

 

            Melody sneezed, feeling a burn go through her sinuses from all the acid in her throat. “Oh my God…”

 

            “Just hold tight, I’ll send her right over. Go take the meds, they’ll make you feel better. And if you want to sleep, there’s a pink bottle with tiny white pills. Take two of those as well, but they’re strong, so please, be responsible,” he warned.

 

            “Okay,” she mumbled.

 

            “Mel? I miss you,” he whispered, staring out the glass wall at the dark city skyline. He waited a long moment for her to respond, his body tense.

 

            “I’m gonna be sick again,” she groaned, sounding already far away from the phone, and then the line went dead.

 

            Steve sighed, hurt and unmotivated to continue doing any work. He contemplated how to deal with the rejection and loneliness for a while, pondering over a brimmed glass of whiskey. Finally, he picked up his phone and dialled again.

 

           

Monica took less than thirty minutes to cross the city, seemingly unaware of being a blatant booty-call. Past 2 am in the city, she was not the only one venturing the rapidly vacating streets, but she did happen to be the only one desperate to be used.

 

            Steve knew her from the last time he was in Vancouver. She had been hired as an attorney by the firm that Steve was intent on buying; he had ended up with more than one exchange that day.

 

            Monica was a more-than-willing female who sought out male company to validate herself, so Steve found her as a safe bet of an opportunity in a country where he had very few personal connections, and for nights where his libido saw no plateau. Here she was now, in his hotel room, knelt between his legs with her blatantly fake tits rubbing against his knees while she sucked him off as if it were a competition. She looked like something out of a porno, and while it got Steve off in a turbulence of lust, it never left him satiated.

 

            Every time she said his name, or looked into his eyes, or led his hands to tweak at her nipples and slap her ass, he zoned out and let himself think of who he truly wanted to be with. Though it was difficult due to the difference in their builds–Monica was tall and slender where Melody’s body was short and filled–Steve thought only of his girl back home as he snapped his hips furiously against Monica’s, squeezing his eyes shut against her neck to avoid any sort of emotional intimacy.

 

            Monica wasn’t bitter; in all honestly, she often didn’t even notice his lack of will. It wasn’t as if he used her and threw her aside, after all. She always enjoyed their encounters, because even if Steve didn’t have a will, when it came to sex, he certainly did have a way. She would orgasm easily two or three times without any exertion of effort towards her on his part. And she always appreciated that he took her out for breakfast or brunch the next day. If Steven’s lifelong affection for his little girl had taught him anything, it was that he wasn’t a soiled bastard like the other men. He only ever wanted to be who Mel had always seen him as.

 

            Steven pulled out and bit down on her shoulder as hard as he could to refrain from letting out any noise as he released his climax onto her toned, flat stomach. She stroked his back with her nails, encouraging him–as if he needed it, now that what was done was done.

 

            “Fuck,” he groaned as he got up off the bed and noticed the mess on the sheets. “My bad. Call room service, I’m just gonna head to the washroom.”

 

            “Okay baby,” Monica jeered, stretching herself out on the sheets. Steve cringed once his back was to her; there was a flame searing his conscience over two predicaments. One: he had been unfaithful to her. Even if she didn’t accept it yet, they had another relationship now, he and Melody. He had been unfaithful to her, but the second reason for his pain came from the knowledge that even if she were to find out, she probably wouldn’t care. And he wanted her to–he really did. He wanted her to want him all to herself, to miss him, to yearn for him. It seemed that the more he tried to involve himself with any other woman, the more he became severely attached to Mel.

 

 

*****

 

 

Melody was overtaken by a new problem now.

 

            She had downed the blue-bottle pills he had told her about after Olivia left, and they had instantly resolved most of her stomach sickness. But she hadn’t known that the pain would be gone so soon, and so, to not have to deal with that agony, she had swallowed down four of the sleeping pills.

 

            Except the sleeping pills couldn’t bring her an ounce of sleep due to the fit of anxious heat that had engulfed her.

 

            She lay in her room with her legs pressed tightly together, her chest hot with sweat. Every which way she turned, she couldn’t get comfortable. It was like she was on fire, to the extent that she had stripped of everything besides her undergarments. The air conditioning in her room wasn’t doing it for her; after an hour, she gave up and trudged her abashed body down the hall to the master bedroom, immediately sighing in relief as the cool hit her.

 

            She crawled up onto the heightened king-sized bed and sunk into the cold cotton sheets, squirming in bliss. What was this sudden need surging through her? Melody had awoken to the sun and fallen asleep to the moon with her fair share of arousal cases, but she had never experienced something like this. It was as if someone had tightly wound a key into her back and yanked it out; the heat renegading her body was enough to send her flying through space.

 

            For a long, uncomfortable time, Melody lay constantly shifting across the mattress, readjusting the pillows endlessly, wondering if this were a side effect of the medications or simply her body compensating for getting rid of the nausea so quickly.

 

            Even if she were to decide to do something about the need expanding every second within her core, Melody didn’t know how. She had never touched herself before, and she didn’t trust herself to be able to give herself the kind of orgasms that…well, Steve had given her.

 

            “Fuck it,” she sighed, ripping off her bra and underwear. The cotton in the middle was dreadfully wet and she blushed, even more heat distributing to her face and chest. In a second she’d licked her fingers and buried her hand frivolously between her legs, brushing and caressing the wet folds that were begging for affection. The contact made her hiss, and right away, she knew this touch was too direct and rough for her sensitive flesh right now.

 

            No, she needed something gentle and soft. A whine left her lips as she accidentally thought about the feeling of Steve’s tongue diving inside of her, how heavenly it would feel; soft, wet, gentle caresses lulling her into a pit of ecstasy. But she couldn’t have that right now, and she could never admit that she was craving him in that moment.

 

            Desperate, Melody grabbed one of the feather-light pillows from beside her head and smacked it down on the mattress, sitting up and straddling it. Pleasure coursed through her as she let the plush linen stroke her core into oblivion, her mind conjuring images of a certain blue-eyed face to substitute the darkness. Her moans and whimpers could no doubt be heard throughout the house, and she bit down on her lip as the knots in her body flew open and she tipped over the edge, only one name falling from her lips in quiet gasps. The condescension that followed was enough to put her to sleep for a few hours.

Chapter Text

            “Oh captain my captain!” Scott chanted as he and Steve joined Thor and Natasha in the SUV, accomplishment bright on their faces.

 

            “We are just dominating the North American hemisphere,” Thor relished, looking at his team with pride exuding his features. The four of them had been masterminded together this round by Rhodey, who was responsible for statistical analysis of each team member’s feedback and success rate during times of business deals or negotiations.

 

            Thor Odinson was strong in his pursuit of law, having an obtuse habit of doing the right thing but also a sly streak of menace when things became gritty. He was older than the rest of them by over a decade and had been a lawyer for half his life. He knew the laws and rulebooks of most countries they shipped out to, able to trap potential partners and clients in quicksand easily with the amount of information he’d collected across cities and counties. Few stood a chance to Thor, whose towering body was a synonym to his gloriously expansive mind and equally generous heart.

 

            Scott and Natasha were business school graduates. Natasha Romanov was top of her class in Harvard and excelled at commerce and banking; her reflexes were quick, but her wit was unmatched. Most days, even the team feared the agile framework of her mind, trusting her mathematical instincts and congregational knowhow. Scott Lang, who had studied at Yale of Management and also at the Canadian University of Waterloo as an engineer, was a few years newer to the game than the others; he brought an alternative practise and theory to the team with his more up-to-date education. He had broad horizons and a PhD in engineering, so he usually ended up overseeing the com-tech and transportation segments of the businesses they expanded with.

 

            Steve was somewhat of a genius himself, though his education was founded in social sciences and art school; the bulk of his contribution to the team came from the fact that both his World War II veteran grandfathers had left him a lot of land and antiques. This allowed him to develop his friendship with Tony Stark into a work relationship when he offered his acres up as an opportunity for a domestic, civil engineering-based branch of Stark Industries. Other than his bulky shares in the collective Stark businesses today, the team trusted Steven Grant Rogers to make executive decisions across the board as he led them to conquer most of the industry, along with its economy, year by year; hence his title as ‘Captain.’ In order, he was the fourth wealthiest out of all of them, following after Bruce, who was an up-and-comer behind Tony, who was a grazing second to Pepper, who legally owned all of Stark Industries on every document.

 

            Clint Barton, Sam Wilson, and Carol Danvers were all communications and human resources specialists; they took care of the public forum issues, the audience and consumer complaints, the refurbishing, the rebranding, the feedback, the outreach, and the recruitment of new employees and interns. Only they had the patience to deal with so much so quickly, and between Sam and Carol being ex-air force recruits, Clint’s security agency history, and their shared combination of being able to communicate in forty-three different languages, they were pretty much the dream team when it came to public service and interaction.

 

               T’Challa was a minerals and resources provider to the company. His extensively branched connections and power across the continent of Africa gave way for strong, mutual relationships between the African nations and the people who they formerly referred to as “greedy colonizers.” That was the case no more–at least, most of the time. Stark Industries–in compensation for all the goods that they imported from places like Wakanda, Ukarimu and Geseënde, the Big Three among dozens of others–worked with American health providers to install medical and sanitation services across rural and impoverished areas of the continent, complete with facilitations like transportation and equipment. They also had provided means of recyclable power generation, and for all the benefit he had become a liaison for, T’Challa was well known and loved by a whole part of the world that had been long ago left on their own. It didn’t hurt that his sister, Shuri, was a gifted genius who was currently using her inheritance to fund female education across the Third World and had quickly become a sight for sore eyes for a few global news outlets.

 

 

            Colonel James Rhodes, addressed only as ‘Cornell’ due to his alumni experience or ‘Rhodey’ by friends, was also an ex-air force member as well as a connection between the military and Stark Industries, therefore overseeing the initiatives that the company took with the military to ensure safer protocols across borders and providing healthcare insurance to those affected by serving in the military. He also was put to diagnostics about vital employees across the entire industry, especially the board, hence his knowhow of who would work great with whom on whichever project.

 

            Bruce Banner was a physics professor with seven solitary PhDs and a whole lot of brainpower to offer. He helped create many of the vehicular and advanced tech designs that Stark Industry put out, always improving, always redefining specific areas of expertise. He had made quite a name for himself when he introduced a possible preventative measure using traction for the calcium buildup in damaged skeletal tissue that led to paralysis, and the money he was still making from it was serving his shares in the industry quite well, in turn keeping Stark Industries on top of its game.

 

            And of course, there was Anthony Stark, the mastermind who was often dubbed by global news outlets as ‘the Ninth Wonder of the World’; three years prior to the acclimated rise of his company across the far West, he had successfully introduced a new chemical element to the table of hundreds of others, and had become somewhat of a chemistry phenomenon in the scientific world. He had multiplied what his father Howard Stark had left him by sevenfold, and his horizons didn’t seem to be dimming anytime soon. Accompanied by the efforts of his wife, Pepper Potts, who had studied overseas at Oxford and then taught a great deal of business ethics and management at Stanford, and of his several friends, each one a bashful winner, Tony Stark was pretty much sitting on a throne with a line of billionaires waiting to kiss his hand in blessing. If Pepper and their children didn’t keep him grounded, chaos would surely have ensued; with the amount of money pouring out of Tony Stark’s faucets, he may as well be using it as toilet paper.

 

            But the team all knew their target was to improve the globe in every way they could. They had started all of it for the money, but the nations and situations they had come across over the years had caused a ceasefire between them and the chase for riches: each of them was more than content with how much they had and was ready to spend on good causes in the blink of an eye. This was the reason, that with all of the money and power Steve possessed, he refused to let people in his ordinary life catch even a whiff of it and had kept Melody away from the intrusions of a world order that was defecating greed.

 

            “When are we moving on to dominate your part of the world, Father Justice?” Scott leaned forward and reached around the driver’s seat to poke at Thor, who came all the way from Australia, but had stayed on American land for the past couple of decades.

 

            “When there’s enough industry in my country for us to meddle in,” he replied easily. “I’m not too concerned with that part of the world yet. We only just got through to Europe, and if Pepper and Carol do well with China, which I’m sure they will, then we’ve got enough on our hands.”

 

            “A few more countries too much for you to take?” Scott sneered jokingly.

 

            Thor smirked at him in the rear-view mirror. “I could breathe on you too hard and you would be the first man on Mars. Don’t tempt me, little man.”

 

            “That is not how you speak to a best friend, sir,” he scoffed.

 

            “Get a room,” Natasha grumbled from the passenger seat, shuffling through her phone to find music. “You two are a pain in my ass.”

           

            “Hey, how’d you fit both of us up there?” Scott remarked playfully but straightened up immediately as Natasha looked right at him.

 

            “All talk, aren’t you Lang?” she challenged with a smirk. “If we weren’t so good at ensnaring people together, I would roast you.”

 

            “Like a marshmallow, no less.” Thor pulled the Lincoln onto the highway. “Because that’s what he would taste like, probably. So soft and tiny.”

 

            “Whatever, you guys are mean,” Scott muttered, then perked up again as he paid attention to his friend’s remark. “I don’t know if I should be insulted or disturbed by your thought process about me, man. Quit thinking about what I taste like. Perv.”

 

            Steve had been quiet the whole time, pondering over his conversations with Mel, and the night he had spent with another woman. Truthfully, once Monica had fallen asleep, Steve had retired to a sofa in the suite’s lounge, watching television until his eyes dropped heavily. He had taken her to breakfast in the morning before sending her off and reaching his friends for the work ahead of them. Now, he was stuck between the guilt that he felt for touching another woman and the guilt that he felt for ever pulling Melody into his mess in the first place.

 

            He knew deep down that his intentions didn’t have any ulterior motive. He cared about Mel. He loved her, with every ounce of energy in his being. He had lived for her since the day she came into his life, and he would continue to do so until the day his life ended. But that same part of him also knew that to some extent, this was all a mesh of rubble and broken glass; the aftermath of everything that had happened to both of them, and while he needed her, it was wrong for him to bring her so close to the heart of it and want her to stay. A poignant wave overcame him as he told himself that she would always see all of this as something inherently wrong, no matter how inborn his emotions for her were.

 

            Thor caught Steve’s far-away expression in the rear-view and cleared his throat. “What’s got you so glum, Steven?”

 

            Natasha shifted to crane her neck and look behind her seat at him. Sure enough, he looked like he’d stepped on a puppy. “You look the way Tony does when his kids call him Tiny Stark.”

 

            Scott scratched the back of his head. “I’m pretty sure Peter’s taller than Tony at this point.”

 

            “What’s wrong, Rogers? Did we hurt your itty-bitty feelings yesterday? Would you like some candy?” Natasha pouted.

 

            Steve raised an eyebrow at her, clearly unimpressed. “I’m five years older than you.”

 

            “And you’ll die five years before me too, if you keep sulking like that.”

 

            “What’s wrong, Cap? You’re never this down. You’re really messing up my mojo here.” Lang waved his hands around to indicate an imaginary force of some kind.

 

            “It’s just…stuff at home,” Steve shrugged at last, not knowing what to say. He absolutely could not tell anyone of his affair; they knew he had a daughter, because that was what he’d told them. They were led to believe that Steve had gotten married to a girlfriend after they found out she was pregnant, and the child was his own daughter. There were one too many secrets on the line here, a chain of destruction ready to pounce into action.

 

            “Oh, Steven, are you worried about leaving your daughter all by herself again?” They were stopped at a red light and Thor had taken the opportunity to readjust his long blond locks into another neatly-looped bun at the base of his neck. “I’m sure she’ll be fine, she’s old enough now, isn’t she? Fifteen, sixteen?”

 

            “She turned seventeen a week ago,” Steve piped up, smiling slightly. “She’s going into her senior year soon. All grown up.”

 

            “They grow up a bit too quickly, huh?” Scott clapped his hand on Steve’s shoulder in comprehension. “Cassie’s almost seven now.”

 

            The three of them beamed slightly at Scott’s rare display of sentiment, but it was soon over when he added, “Seems like just yesterday I was in college getting laid for the first time.”

 

            “Scott you moron,” Natasha groaned, turning back around to face the road.

 

            “Did you leave your brain back in grade school?” Steve asked after a slight bubble of laughter.

 

            “My brain graduated business and engineering, Cap.”

 

            “It also briefly worked at Baskin Robins for a living,” Natasha casually threw back.

 

            “That was a long time ago,” he justified. “I had to do something for money.”

 

            “Should’ve become a male escort,” Thor teased, and their faces collectively screwed up in surprised confusion.

 

            “Yeah, I don’t trust your intentions with me anymore,” Scott concluded.

 

            “Shut up,” Thor rolled his eyes. After a moment of silence aside from the trap music that Natasha was blasting, Thor added, “Anybody heard anything from headquarters? Did you guys update Tony? Rhodey…Bruce?”

 

            The slight waver of his tone as he said the last name wasn’t missed by anyone; Steve and Scott shared a brief, knowing look, before turning back forwards. Even Nat smiled slightly at the blush that crept up Thor’s thick, tanned neck–a dead giveaway that he thought nobody ever noticed.

 

            “Why don’t you fill them in on it when we get back?” she suggested.

 

            Scott leaned over to Steve, muttering, “We all know he only wants to fill one of them.” Steve quickly turned his burst of laughter into a cough in his fist, glaring at Scott sternly until he recoiled with a smirk.

 

 

*****

 

 

Melody had fought a battle with wakefulness throughout the last quarter of the night and well into morning. She was aching with need again, itching to be touched, but at least it was less of an intense burn than previously.

 

            She had invited the girls over to her house for their get-together, feeling up to challenge Steve’s instructions out of pure spite. He wouldn’t know they’d been there; she would make sure to set everything back exactly how it was, and the knowledge that she’d broken his rules would be her personal, secret victory in a fight that she was well behind in.

 

            As soon as Olivia–tall, voluptuous Olivia with her Italian accent and crazy black hair, always wearing buttoned dress with some kind of flower print and food stains – had finished checking in on Melody for the day and had left her with freshly cooked food, Mel had told her to not trouble herself coming back. I’m really much better now, and I know you have to travel a long distance to get here, she’d said, her thighs clenched tightly together.

 

            Do you have to use the washroom, Melody? Olivia had asked. Melody had nodded vigorously, sending Olivia off, and had bolted the locks behind her before rushing upstairs.

 

            She would try to get some sleep before her friends showed up that evening; that was the final decision as she popped another two sleeping pills and downed them with a load of water, hoping the fluid would relax her. She decided to use Steve’s room again–for the better air conditioning, of course, and no other reason. Laying amongst the cool sheets, her eyes drifted constantly to the pillow she’d bucked against in a frenzy, embarrassment rising hot in her body.

 

            And suddenly, there is was again: the inescapable arousal.

 

            It pooled into her underwear until she couldn’t ignore it, and the feel of the cold cotton sheets against her burning skin sent trembles of pleasure through her. What was going on? Why was her body in overdrive like this?

 

            The sun moved across the sky as Melody tried to distract herself by watching something on the Plasma fixed into the wall. The movies did very little to tire her eyes into slumber; instead she was left with sore eyes and even more desperately sore flesh. At some point, she had clenched everything from her thighs up to her abdomen so hard that she’d almost felt the familiar sensation of orgasm, but quickly she tried to blot it away in embarrassment.

 

            When it was clear that her arousal would remain spiked for whatever reason, Melody slipped off her shorts and mounted the pillow once again, biting her lip to barricade any abhorrent noises. Might as well get it out before the girls show up, she thought.

 

            But it happened twice, then another two times in a row, and then a fifth time, all in the same hour. Her flesh was still throbbing with the sparks of her last orgasm when her phone chimed.

 

            Mariam:

 

                        Gemma and I otw to pick up Lia. B there soon :)

 

           

            Melody jumped down from the bed in a hurry, picked up her shorts and put them back on. She stripped the poor pillow of its cover and took it with her to chuck into the laundry. After a shock-cold shower and change of clothes, Mel waited for her friends in the living room, her leg twitching in anticipation.

 

            The doorbell sounded and Melody welcomed in Gemma, Lia and Mariam. They waited until the second chime a few minutes later, which brought Farah and Blaire, who had picked up Chinese takeout and doughnuts on the way.

 

            “Oooh, what if we did a mukbang?” Lia cooed; her eyes had gone wide at all the food gloriously piled along the marble-top in the kitchen.

 

            “A mc-what? A mook-bong?” Blaire blinked in worry. “Am I saying it right? A muke-bing?”

 

            “Jesus, Blaire! Nobody let her say it again, please,” Gemma warned from the back of the group.

 

            “A monk-bung?” Blaire was only doing it now to further unnerve her friend.

 

            “I’m gonna monch-bong your face–”

 

            “Keep it in your pants, you funky little lesbian,” Farah interrupted, holding a hand up to Gemma, who was the tallest in the group.

 

            “There is so much food in front of my eyes right now… Tonight we eat like kings,” Mariam approved.

 

            Melody caught how fondly Gemma was gazing at the shorter, dark-skinned girl as she spoke; even noticed the way her eyes dropped down to Mariam’s ass, sitting precariously in a tight tank-dress.

 

            “Ya heard me nuh? Me nah gun wait,” she repeated, a strong Caribbean accent now making full-show in her excitement while she went to grab a plate from the cupboards.

 

            “I can’t understand her when she talks like that. What did she just say?” Blaire whispered to Lia, who responded with, “Your guess is probably better than mine.”

 

            Farah followed behind Mariam, passing a sly remark about how ‘Nigerian jollof is better’ and the other girl threw what was presumably an insult back in Caribbean. Farah was left awestruck, her mouth hanging open, which rarely happened.

 

            “You dutty little bitch…”

 

            Mel knew Gemma had always felt uncomfortable with the fact that Farah and Mariam had something connecting the two of them, therefore making their friendship strong in a way Gemma couldn’t replicate. She had always had eyes for Mariam, since the day the group had taken her in, but as far as they all knew, Mariam wasn’t into girls. She would practically sweat at the sight of any man with a beating heart, so Mel hoped Gemma knew it was unwarranted to be jealous of the bond between their two other friends–except that Farah was an outgoing, pretty little bisexual who rarely ever had to try. Her sandalwood skin tone, muscular frame, the freckles, the doting black eyes and bleached blonde braids–she was a model waiting to be photographed.

 

            It’s a miracle Gemma doesn’t have the hots for Farah instead, she thought.

 

            No, instead Gemma had always seemed pulled towards Mariam, who was of a much darker complexion, short and thick, wore her dreads always in a high ponytail, and had never, in the history of ever, seemed shy about anything. Gemma pined after her so much that it killed her every time Mariam got caught up in a guy, hence their constant bickering and teasing; Gemma had confided this to Melody. She always wished she had a softer, more intimate connection with her crush.

 

            The girls all piled their plates and gathered in front of the flat-screen in the living room, flipping through Netflix for a movie they all agreed on.

 

            “If you guys make me watch a horror movie again I’m rioting,” Lia announced, tying her sandy blonde waves out of her face before she began eating.

 

            “Okay so get out,” Farah instructed promptly, causing Lia to whine in complaint as the rest of the girls laughed.

 

            “Guys, no romance either, please,” Melody added. She hoped she didn’t sound too disturbed or desperate.

 

            “Okay, so I’m hearing we all want to watch a sappy romance movie?” Mariam was teasing as she looked around at the rest of them. “Girls? That is what you heard as well, yeah?”

 

            “Mariam,” Melody warned, but she couldn’t wipe the smile off her face. Being there in the living room surrounded by her group of friends, each one more chaotic than the last, plates of food in their laps as they disagreed constantly–it all felt like a normal childhood again, for Mel. She wished she could freeze the frame in this moment and have it forever.

 

            “Let’s watch something funny,” Gemma offered. “You guys seen White Chicks?”

 

            They all nodded one by one. “Even I’ve seen it…” Blaire felt elated.

 

            “Okay well, I haven’t. I guess I’ll just watch it another time,” she mumbled.

 

            “Actually, no. We’ve all seen it, but it is a classic. Let’s watch it,” Mariam said. “Kudos to Gemma for saving our movie night.”

 

            “Okay so White Chicks? Say less.” Farah pushed the buttons on the remote rather aggressively as Gemma quietly beamed at Mariam from across the room. Melody decided she would talk to her about her little crush–but later, when her body wasn’t churning with tingles.

Chapter Text

            The girls finished the movie with a lengthy discussion about their pet-peeves, which then branched into a panel about what they first noticed in a person. Gemma was glad to learn that although Mariam promptly drooled over looks, what kept her interested in a person was their personality once she got to know them. Farah talked about the importance of humour and sarcasm, neither of these confessions coming as a surprise to the group, who all agreed that Farah was one of the two wittiest girls in the group, neck-in-neck with Mariam.

 

            “You guys should date,” Blaire tossed out absent-mindedly, picking sprinkles off her doughnut and nibbling them individually.

 

            Melody immediately looked between Gemma and Mariam; the former looked visibly offended at the suggestion, and the latter scoffed a second too late.

 

            “Not into gyals, honey-bun,” she shrugged casually.

 

            “I wouldn’t date her even if she were.” Farah downed the rest of her root beer. “Our families would never get along. Also, she’s like a sister to me, so…”

 

            “Yeah, that’s weird,” Lia agreed. “What do you guys want to do now?”

 

            “Ay, Mel-bell.” Mariam directed her attention to her. “Your step-daddy’s not home, yeah?”

 

            Melody’s body wound tightly at the mention of her ‘step-father’–because that was exactly who he was, who she was supposed to see him as. He was not someone who should have touched her, felt her, kissed her–been intimate with her, no less. She shouldn’t have allowed it, ever.

 

            “No, he’s out of the country,” she informed.

 

            “You guys wanna go snoop around in his room?” There was a gleam in Mariam’s eyes, a grin plastered to her heart-shaped face. “Who knows what we’ll find?”

 

            “A crazy lady waiting under his bed to fuck him, maybe,” Gemma snorted.

 

            Farah whipped around to look at her. “I thought your eyesight automatically dismissed men?”

           

            Gemma scrunched her face in confusion. “I’m gay, Farah. I’m not fucking blind.”

 

            “Uh, can we not–” Melody cringed.

 

            “I would climb him like a tree,” Mariam hissed with a roll of her eyes. “So fucking beautiful.”

 

            “He is, man. God really put His Almighty best foot forward when He created that,” Farah agreed.

 

            “You wanna eat jollof rice off of his dick huh?” The Caribbean sniped at her friend obnoxiously.

 

            “I wanna eat his dick,” Farah corrected.

 

            “I never know how to talk around him, he’s so breathtaking,” Blaire gushed. “I will never look at any other man the same way.”

 

            “Have you guys noticed how big he is?” Lia asked in awe. “My parents saw him at a PTA meeting two months ago. My dad thought he was a professional football player, and my mom still talks about him sometimes. It pisses my dad off.”

 

            “I don’t need to be hearing all this, guys. Please,” Mel pleaded, knowing she was blushing red.

 

            “You get to live with him, baby doll. Let us at least voice our emotions,” Mariam sighed.

 

 

 

After lots of confessions about Steve from her friends that made Melody light up in embarrassment, the girls decided they were in fact going to raid his privacy and see just what exactly an average, extremely hot, single forty-year-old’s master bedroom looked like.

 

            Melody was the last one to enter a room she had already been inside of numerous times, but which she had to pass off as unfamiliar to her. The girls dispersed right away; Lia and Blaire were in the washroom, Gemma was going through drawers, Mariam was in the walk-in closet, and Farah had chosen to just flop down on the bed and turn on the Plasma. Melody swallowed guilt down as she watched her friend lean back on the pillow that she had in fact used to her own whims earlier that day.

 

            Gemma scrunched her nose suddenly. “Anybody noticed? The room smells weirdly like sex?”

 

            They all flared their nostrils, inhaling for proof. “Yeah, it smells like wet pussy in here,” Farah said slowly, sniffing around her. “Actually…holy shit, the bed, it’s the bed.”

 

            She jumped off of it and backed away in disgust, shuddering. The other girls chewed out the new information relentlessly.

 

            “Mr. Rogers has sex with women, that’s so weird to think about, and somehow also very intriguing at the same time,” Lia said.

 

            Melody was petrified by the conversation. How was she supposed to explain to them that she was ‘women’? She couldn’t, that was the thing. She couldn’t say, and they couldn’t know, ever. Nobody could.

 

            “Dude, Jesus Christ.” Gemma had been fishing in the bedside drawer and pulled out a messily opened box, shaking it for everyone to see. “Condoms! The largest size.”

 

            “I know his dick is big,” Mariam exclaimed, massaging her temples. “I just know he has a big dick. He’s packing.”

 

            “Do you guys not know how weird this is? I don’t want to know all this.” Melody tried to sound regularly displeased to hide how truly disturbed she really was.

 

            “Aw, Melody,” Blaire cooed, and they all turned to where she was hunched over a small desk by the window, Steve’s desktop computer turned on in front of her. “You’re his background.”

 

            “Yeah, there’s an album with pictures of her in his night stand, too,” Gemma added.

 

            “He has a framed picture of the two of them from when she was a kid, up in his closet.” Mariam pointed back at it. “There’s also a random pair of underwear in there that looks quite…childish.”

 

            They all looked at Melody, whose eyes widened in terror as she rushed to the closet. Sure enough, on the ground, there was a piece of cotton fabric that was her own. She snatched it up and walked back out to face the rest of them, her face red.

 

            “That must be embarrassing,” Gemma laughed.

 

            “I don’t know how they got there.” Melody was burning up again. Of course, she knew how they had ended up there. Now she did. She wouldn’t have known the cause, say, two weeks ago. But it didn’t miss her now.

 

            “They probably got mixed up during a load of laundry, relax,” Farah offered. “I’m sure he’s not pressed about it.”

 

            “Yeah, Mel-bell. It’s clear he loves you very much. He probably ignored it completely,” Maryam shrugged.

 

            It was to her relief that her friends automatically assumed the safest scenario in their minds. Little did they know of who Steve really was behind closed doors, and ultimately, they were all safer that way.

 

            “I would die to have someone who cares about me that much,” Lia sighed. “I still remember when he scared those boys at school shitless, back in sixth grade. Just because they were making fun of you. Whenever I complained to my parents, they just told me to stay away from the boys.”

 

            “He’s always been so involved in everything that you did,” Blaire agreed. “Remember when he organized the school bake sale, back in first grade? He baked all the treats all by himself. Everyone fell in love with him.”

 

            “Yeah, he’s…cool,” Mel shrugged tensely.

 

            “I’m just going to be honest, if this were my situation, I would be all up on that,” Mariam cut in.

 

            “Ugh, you ruined it,” Farah groaned. “But I do agree. Even if he were my step-dad or whatever. I have never wanted to suck a dick so badly.”

 

            “Okay, okay, enough.” Melody opened the door and waved them all out. “This is done. Let’s get back downstairs.”

 

            As they all teetered and giggled their way back to the main floor, Melody grumbled from the back about never having friends over again.

 

 

*****

 

 

It was well past midnight when they all cleaned up and said their farewells. The only reason they had been allowed to stay out until 2 am was because their parents knew they were all getting rides from either Farah or Gemma, and because all the parents trusted the infamous Steve Rogers of Larchmont and had assumed that he would be supervising. How ironic, thought Mel as she waved off her friends. If they really knew him, I would never get to see any of my friends again.

 

            Melody had taken another couplet of the sleeping pills Steve had directed her to, before her friends had left, just so she could crash into sleep as soon as she were alone. To her utter frustration, she found herself once again in the more-than-comfortable king-sized bed feeling everything but comfort.

 

            The fantasies her friends had shared openly kept drawing her back in, no matter how far she pushed all thoughts about her step-father. Now, she was once again craving what he had done to her body those two or three times, envying the fact that she couldn’t do that for herself.

 

            It came as a surprise to her to realize that some part of her–the part that was still attached and cared and cherished their sacred bond–also missed Steve. She hadn’t spoken to him properly in a few days, hadn’t seen him at all, nonetheless. It was always weird spending time away from him when he had been such a consistent, extraordinary part of her tiny, ordinary life.

 

            She suddenly needed to hear his voice.

 

            And so, before her mind could flip back again, she picked up her cellphone and dialled his number, eyes closed in anticipation with every ring.

 

            “Hello?” His deep voice came through, urgent and surprised. “Mel?”

 

            “Steve…” A sheer excitement played through her naked body. She squirmed against the cool cotton beneath her, rubbing her thighs together as she sighed.

 

            “Hey,” he spoke softly. “I didn’t think you would call me again.”

 

            “I miss you,” she blurted out, heat rising in her cheeks, becoming too much. “When are you coming back?”

 

            “I miss you too, sweetheart,” he replied. “I’m coming back soon. Three days.”

 

            “I can’t wait until then, Steve,” she gasped, kneading her own breast in her hand. Every rational part of her mind was too exhausted to function for the moment. No, right now, it was just the overpowering need in her limbs that was monitoring her.

 

            “Why baby? What’s wrong?”

 

            “I need you.” She shut her eyes in shame as her fingers toyed with one of her nipples. “I want you.”

 

            There was an unwelcome emotion that made face as she admitted this to him–a surge of longing and bliss in saying the words out loud.

           

            “Melody?” he asked, surprised. “What are you talking about, baby?”

 

            “I want you to…touch me,” she admitted weakly. “I need you.”

 

            She heard him curse under his breath; heard the hurried undoing of a belt and zipper. Phone sex. The thought only fuelled her actions more.

 

            Melody reached between her legs and brushed her fingers against her heat, arching her back with a lewd gasp. “Steve, I’m so wet,” she whispered. “I can’t stop thinking about you.”

 

            “Fuck,” he growled. “Fuck. You’re all I think about.”

 

            “I don’t know how to pleasure myself, Steve.” This wasn’t an attempt at dirty talk; simply a confession on her part. Her fingers worked clumsily against the skin just to the side of her flesh, the lips too swollen and sore to touch directly.

 

            “You can’t do for yourself what daddy can do for you,” he told her darkly. “Fuck, I wanna taste you so bad.”

 

            Melody moaned at the image and pushed her legs together around her hand. She was too lost to bear any kind of filter right now. Her thoughts were translating into words quicker than she could fathom.

 

            “Steve,” she pleaded. “Come back, please. I can’t be without you.”

 

            “I’m coming back soon, baby,” he assured. “Touch yourself for daddy. I wanna hear you.”

 

            “I don’t know how,” she whined.

 

            There was nothing but laboured breathing for a bit. Then, he whispered, “Do what you were doing before.”

 

            Melody sat up straight, her blood momentarily running cold. “What?”

 

            “Do what you did last night, sweetheart,” he encouraged. “The pillow.”

 

            “How do you know about that?” she gasped. Then it hit her. “Oh my God. Do you have a camera in your room?”

 

            “In case of emergencies, Mel,” he justified. “But I didn’t know I would get to see that. You have no idea what it did to me, watching you desperately riding a cushion… Calling my name.”

 

            Humility flooded Melody for a split second before she was alert again, glancing around the room. “Can you see me right now?”

 

            “I can see you all the time,” he stated. “I can go back and see everything you did whenever I wasn’t watching.”

 

            “Oh God, Steve.” Panic struck her as she realized he would know that she had broken a rule that had never before been crossed. “Please, don’t be mad at me.”

 

            “Why would I be mad at you, angel?” he cooed. “My little Mel.”

 

            “Steve, I broke a rule, I’m sorry.” Tears pricked at her eyes.

 

            “It’s okay, sweetie. I trust your friends.”

 

            “Oh, God,” she cried. He knew. He saw everything. “You’re not mad at me?”

 

            “No, baby,” he replied. “You’re such a good girl. I miss you so much. I feel so bad for leaving you all alone.”

 

            “You won’t hurt me?” she asked in a small voice.

 

            “I never mean to hurt you, Melody. I care about you so much.”

 

            She breathed a sigh of relief; now that there was nothing distracting her anymore, all she could do was focus on her arousal once again. “Where’s the camera, Steve?”

 

            “You can’t disable it, Mel–”

 

            “That’s not why I’m asking,” she whispered.

 

            Steve bit down on his lip. “It’s above the bay window, inside the mural.”

 

            Melody turned her head to the right, looking up at the glass-framed painting of a dark forest. She turned her whole body towards it while grabbing the pillow.

 

            “Hold on, I have to put a cover on it.”

 

            “Leave it,” he ordered. “Forget about the pillowcase. Just ride the fucking thing and say my name. I want to hear you come for me in my bed.”

 

            “Okay,” she responded meekly.

 

            He watched with lust-filled eyes as she rolled her hips slowly, hesitantly; she was shy. He loved how innocent his little girl was. Even through the camera film, he could see the blush on her skin, and he moaned as his hand began moving up and down his thick shaft again.

 

            “Don’t be so shy, Mel.” He clenched his jaw, bucking his own hips forward into his hand. “I know your body. I’ve watched it change. I’ve made it break.”

 

            His taunting speech made a loud gasp of his name fall from her lips. She closed her eyes to avoid the insecure commotion in her head and focused on his words.

 

            “Lean back on your hands. Show daddy that pretty little body,” he ordered, and she followed every command, opening herself up to him as she continued to chase her climax.

 

            “Say my name.”

 

            “Steve,” she whimpered.

 

            “Louder. Say it louder,” he growled.

 

            “Steve!” she exclaimed.

 

            “Who am I? You know what I want to hear,” he said darkly. The sight of her breasts bouncing slightly as she ground down against the cushion was driving him insane.

 

            “Daddy,” she whispered.

 

            “Louder, baby, louder,” he directed.

 

            “Daddy,” she called out. “I’m so close.”

 

            “Me too sweetheart. Keep going, yeah. Such a good girl for daddy, puttin’ on a show, so fuckin’ dirty,” he groaned, an accent creeping into his words that she hadn’t heard before. Steve sped up the pace of his hand, hunched over as he peered at her through the screen, his eyes alight with the image of her.

 

            “I’m coming,” she moaned. “Daddy, I’m coming…”

 

            “Fuck,” he hissed, holding on to the edge tightly just until her body convulsed in orgasm, twitching in pleasure, and then he let go too, splattering across his jeans in a hot rush of fluid. “Fuck, Mel.”

 

            “Come home, please,” she mewled, shuddering with the last bouts of pleasure. She buried herself under the duvet and sighed at the ache of her limbs. “Come back.”

 

            “Soon, baby. Real soon,” he assured. “Go to sleep, angel.”

 

            And she did, for the first time in two days, fall into a decent sleep as he hummed into her ear.

Chapter Text

            The next couple of days were the exact same for Melody. She kept taken the sleeping pills–the bottle said Melatonin, so, yes, they were supposed to help her sleep. She just couldn’t figure out why they weren’t working.

 

            She had woken up with her cell phone flung near her feet on the bed and picked it up to a new text.

 

           

            Steve:

 

                        You said my name in your sleep.

 

            It had made her groan loudly in frustration, before she picked up her clothes and left the master bedroom for good. No matter what, she wouldn’t return. She didn’t want him watching her again.

 

            Then she realized that the entire house was most likely set up with cameras. Suddenly she was all too aware of everything she did, and going to the washroom became a conscious difficulty. Surely, he wouldn’t install them in a place so private? But, really, Mel couldn’t know anymore: this Steve was as unexpected as rain in the desert.

           

            She spent a lot of time following the night of the phone call feeling doubtful about her feelings and actions, but the truth was that she still couldn’t bring herself to ponder the circumstances clearly while her system remained racked with spiked hormones. If she could even get rid of this arousal for five seconds–no, it was consuming her as inevitably as air.

 

            Melody found herself constantly taking cold showers to relieve the heat and sweat, trying to relax the irritating tingle of her flesh and the erect points of her nipples. But her body was on something else completely. Was this how everyone’s body reacted to breaking the sex barrier? Did this happen to everyone, once they’d experienced it that first time?

 

            She got down to doing some research, trying to figure out what was going on with her. While Google gave her many different results, the most common one seemed to be WebMD and a bunch of other health sites concluding she had some type of brain cancer.

 

 

*****

 

 

Steve was positively beaming the next morning. It was an elating revelation, to know that she had missed him, craved him, even dreamt about him in her sleep. It showed him what she was hiding deep inside, and it ultimately gave him hope for their future together.

 

            However, the downside was that now he felt even worse for being unfaithful to her.

 

            He had been avoiding Monica’s calls for the past couple of days, letting his voicemail become crowded. Constantly, he wondered how someone could be so acute as to not pick up on the fact that they were being blatantly shut out. Melody had never been the type to beg for attention from anyone; she had always been content in her own company, and besides, Steve had raised her better than to beg others for their time.

 

            “Hey y’all, I think Cap got laid,” Sam chimed as the beloved blond entered the conference room through the glass doors.

 

            “Did you grow taller overnight?” Tony was awestruck and clearly offended.

 

            “No, he was sulking so much that his spine fused inwards. It’s back to normal now,” Natasha informed, plucking a big red grape off of its vine and popping it back with a cocky smile.

 

            “Very funny. Thank you, really, all of you,” Steve drawled as he neared the empty seat beside Thor.

 

            “No, you can’t sit here,” the larger man quickly shooed. “It’s–I–someone’s sitting here already.”

 

            Steve raised an eyebrow precariously, and looked to Natasha, who made rings in front of her eyes with her fingers to signify glasses. Turns out, Thor was saving the seat beside him for Bruce, who still hadn’t arrived.

 

            “You know there are six other empty seats here, right?” Steve bent down and muttered to Thor discreetly.

 

            “Yes, but there is a plan in motion here, friend,” Thor smiled lightly. “You will see soon. Sit your tidy bum down over there, now.”

 

            Steve scoffed, but walked around the conference panel to take a seat beside Sam, who clapped him on the back.

 

            “How you feelin’ Cap?” he asked. “’s good to see that star-spangled smile again, dude.”

 

            “Noted, Samuel, thank you,” Steve nodded. “And how are you? How are things with Maria?”

 

            “Smooth, baby,” his friend whistled back. “Real smooth. We’re like bread and butter. I’m the butter.”

 

            Natasha shook her head in disapproval, but was unable to hold back the slight laughter. “Bring Maria to the next coalition. I miss having some women around me.”

 

            “I also miss having some women around me,” Scott exclaimed, letting the glass door slam shut behind him as he reached Thor for a rewarding high-five at his remark. “Ayo!”

 

            “Scott, where’s the coffee?” Tony gave him a stern look and suddenly, all the light was gone from his colleague’s eyes.

 

            “The coff–what? Was I supposed to bring coffee? Oh my God guys, I’m–I can go back and get some? I mean, I could–”

 

            “I’m fucking with you, Lang,” Tony snarked. “Sit down. Clint’s bringing the coffee. And Thor’s date. Ayo!” This time, Tony reached across the table to complete a loud high-five with Sam as Thor scowled deeply at them.

 

            “I will juice both of you out with my bare hands,” he threatened.

 

            “Tell me something–do you try to make everything sound unmistakably sexual, or do you just have a knack for it?” Tony inquired.

 

            “Leave him alone, Tones,” Scott pouted, reaching over to pet Thor on the head. “He’s just extremely, disturbingly, sexually deprived, that’s all.”

 

            “By the stars, I will strangle the life out of you, Scott,” Thor warned.

 

            “Kinky,” he winked. “Save it for Bruce.”

 

            “Where is Bruce?” Steve asked, curiosity getting the best of him. It seemed everyone in the room knew about the aforementioned ‘plan’ except him, and that was a bother.

 

            “Clint’s holding him back so he can help ‘carry coffee cups’,” Tony explained with air quotes. “By the time they get here, there will only be two empty seats, one beside Natasha, and one beside Thor. Clint will immediately take the one beside Natasha, so Bruce has to sit beside Thor.”

 

            Rhodey came in with T’Challa just as Sam and Scott were further inquiring about the idea. “You really are that ugly, huh? The man won’t even sit beside you unless he’s forced to?” the latter teased.

 

            “Have you seen him at the gym?” Rhodey directed the question right to Scott. “It’s absolutely repulsive…he can bench press three of me.”

 

            T’Challa whistled coolly with a raise of his eyebrows as the two men seated themselves alongside Sam, each dapping each other up. “Then he will have absolutely no problem carrying Banner bridal-style at their wedding, I assume.”

 

            Thor was scarlet-dunked up to his hairline at this point and pretended to be busy tying his gelled blond locks back in a ponytail, grumbling under his breath. “You’re all uninvited from every single one of my future events.”

 

            Natasha took it upon herself to explain to the others. “Bruce isn’t repulsed by Thor. I’m actually pretty sure he’s attracted to him, if my social skills tell me anything. But you know Bruce, he’s a floosy. He can’t even walk in a straight line if someone is watching him. He’ll never have the guts to approach someone, and he’ll gladly change his entire genetic makeup before he lets someone approach him.”

 

            “You better kiss that motherfucker.” Tony pointed a finger strictly at Thor. “Kiss him real good.”

 

            “Hmm, they’re gonna do a lot more than just kiss,” Sam was practically singing.

 

            “I’m immediately withdrawing myself from the company,” Thor announced, standing up from his chair, his burly body towering over the rest. At six-foot-six, he was easily at least three hundred pounds of equal amounts muscle and fat. With the below-shoulder blond hair and thick beard, he was easily one of the most masculine and attractive people in the room.

 

            Natasha grabbed his forearm with both hands and yanked him back down. “Get your ass back in that chair and let us make fun of you for a little longer.”

 

            “Thor, you should give yourself more credit. I’ve seen the way men and women alike look at you,” Steve offered with a smile. Thor beamed at him with sparkling blue eyes.

 

            “You are the only chivalry that exists in this room, Steven.”

 

            At long last, Clint and Bruce could be seen making way towards the glass push-door; where Banner’s hands were busy balancing three trays of coffee, Clint’s were empty as he rushed ahead with purpose. In his urgency to get to the empty seat beside his redhead friend first, Clint missed the concept of a door and walked face-first into the glass.

 

            Bruce shook his head and left him behind, pushing past the hinged barrier to take the seat by Nat, who quickly pushed the wheelie far away with the full force of her leg.

 

            “What was that for?” he asked.

 

            “That chair is broken,” she spoke quickly. “You should take the other one.”

 

            Bruce sighed heavily as he rested the trays on to the table and surveyed the empty chair next to Thor. Finally, he walked around and sat himself down, immediately crossing his legs one-over-the-other.

 

            “Oh, he is painfully gay,” Rhodey muttered to Sam.

 

            Clint finally came into the conference room, rubbing his forehead as he brought the reject chair back in place and took a seat beside his friend. “Oh, that one’s broken, actually,” Bruce pointed out.

 

            “A match made in heaven, then,” Clint responded, and reached up to take out his ear piece as soon as Tony’s back was turned.

 

            “Clint keep that fucking aid in your ear or so help me God–” Tony called behind him.

 

            Scott reached toward the trays of coffee and pulled off a double-double for himself. “Hey, have you guys ever realized–”

 

            “Do not say whatever you are about to say, I beg you,” Natasha sighed in exasperation.

 

            “Every single time he starts off a sentence like this, it turns out to be some segment of unnecessarily gross information,” Sam muttered to T’Challa, who had been very absorbed by the scene of action that had unfolded before them. In particular, his attention had stayed on Clint, who was now readjusting his ear piece half-heartedly.

 

            “Relax, you guys, not everything I say is something sleazy. Sometimes I make astute observations, too. Now, can I talk?” Scott waited until all eyes were on him, expectantly. “I was just about to say, have you ever realized that if you take the letter ‘n’ out of Clint, it becomes Clit?”

 

            Clint burst out laughing and snorted coffee onto his shirt. “That’s the only important thing you’ve ever said. Thank you, Tony, for making me wear my aid.”

 

            The rest of the group was clearly discomforted by the statement, grumbling their complaints. “I thought it was quite funny,” Thor offered quietly to Bruce.

 

            “Oh, it was hilarious,” Bruce muttered with a raise of his brow. “But if we laugh, it’ll only encourage him.”

 

            “Is that so bad?” Thor inquired curiously, enjoying the small dimple that formed in the crook of Bruce’s smile.

 

            “You tell me, he’s your best friend.”

 

            “Mm, not by choice,” Thor shrugged playfully. “He’s here to remind me that I can never be that.”

 

            “Well, who do you want to be, then?” Bruce looked Thor in the eye for maybe the first time, quickly breaking away again.

 

            “That’s a lengthy conversation…to be had over lunch, perhaps?” Thor’s heart skipped a beat as he waited for Bruce to respond.

 

            “I will, uh, clear my non-existent social schedule,” Bruce nodded, licking his lips nervously.

 

            “I will clear my fully-booked social schedule, just for our meeting,” the larger man smirked, and Bruce blushed furiously as the rest of the congregation continued their scolding of Scott.

 

 

Banner was the first to leave after the meeting had ended, hurrying off to a college commencement where he was supposed to be a guest speaker for the graduates. As soon as he was out of earshot, the conversation resumed.

 

            “Clint! Walk much?” Tony jibed.

 

            “Who puts a glass door on a glass wall in a room with all glass walls?” Clint exclaimed.

 

            “That was hilarious what you did, by the way,” Sam bellowed at Natasha, unable to contain his laughter anymore. “You kicked that chair like a crazy.”

 

            “Looked like something a five-year-old would do out of pettiness,” Scott grinned. “I like immature Nat; we would get along well.”

 

            “Immature Nat just decided you’re going to be her next kick-victim,” she replied shortly.

 

            “I’ll take it, anything for my new best friend,” he shrugged.

 

            “Thor, what’s the 4-1-1?” Steven asked, recognizing the dazed expression on his friend’s face as something good.

 

            “I asked him to lunch,” Thor began. The entire table stilled quietly, waiting for the conclusion. “He said he will clear his non-existent social schedule.”

 

            They erupted in a cheer; T’Challa fist-bumped both Sam and Rhodey as Nat and Clint knocked elbows rather aggressively. Scott stood up and started doing hip-thrusts, wiggling his eyebrows obnoxiously at Thor and making slurping noises.

 

            “Another two bite the dust,” Tony nodded in approval at Steve, who chuckled in response. “You better make all of us your groomsmen.”

 

            “Between both of them being the groom, we’ll all get a turn,” Steve observed.

 

            “What will you do, Natasha?” T’Challa asked her teasingly. “No room for a bridesmaid at this wedding.”

 

            “And I couldn’t be happier,” she admitted. “I just want to show up, get drunk, and shout obscene things during the ceremony.”

 

            “Guys, please, you’re all getting carried away,” Thor cut in sheepishly. “It’s just lunch. It’s nothing.”

 

            “That’s what you think, Point Break.” Tony polished off the rest of his coffee and reached for a second cup. “I never told you guys this, but back when you first joined the company, Bruce used to talk to me about you.”

 

            The colour in Thor’s face darkened considerably as his face tensed in anticipation. “He–talk–me? That–what–”

 

            “Smooth, Eye-Sore,” Sam nodded. “Real smooth. You stammer like a virgin caught watching porn.”

 

            “Bruce is the same, though,” Rhodey cut in. “It’s clearly a calculated match.”

 

            Clint popped a piece of gum into his mouth. “They’ll be stammering through their vows, too. ‘B-B-Bruce, I c-c-care ab-bout you.’” He then promptly began choking on the piece of gum while making fun of his friend. Natasha slapped him on the back once, hard, and he came back around, coughing slightly.

 

            “That’s what you deserve,” Thor beamed in glee.

 

            Scott walked up to Tony and got down on one knee, deciding to continue the banter. “Oh, my love, would thee get me laid for the rest of my life?”

 

            “Thee can get laid any time of day,” Tony responded, holding Scott’s hands. “Carry me away, King-Kong.”

 

            “None of you are coming to the wedding,” the large, embarrassed man stated.

 

            T’Challa raised a brow. “You admit you are going to marry him, then?”

 

            “You better treat him right, or else I will be very angry, but I cannot hurt you physically, so I will probably talk a lot of shit about you,” Tony warned.

Chapter Text

            Their project had finished a day-and-a-half earlier than expected, not to the disappointment of the team, who were glad to be laid back for the next however many days until the follow-up ordeals. Tony and Steve were standing by the company jet, watching Clint and Scott lazily pack up the trunk of the SUV for their long drive ahead. T’Challa and Sam were already inside, shuffling through a CD album. The men were now clad in casualwear instead of the usual, daunting suits they wore for work; in t-shirts and polos, they looked years younger and carefree.

           

            “You sure you don’t want me to stay back?” Steve asked his friend amidst their private conversation.

 

            “No, no, get back to your kid. I know what it’s like being away from family,” Tony assured. “The bulk of this deal has been finalized. If the Canadian government can agree to our plans, then we’ll be spending a lot more time on their land. But not here, not in Vancouver. We’ll be starting in the most populated province and branching out.”

 

            “You guys flying out later, then?”

 

            Tony nodded. “Bruce, Natasha, Rhodey, and Thor, they’re invited to my jet tomorrow night. Seeing as we’re all headed to New York,” he shrugged. “Maybe we’ll see some progress between Thor and Bruce. Who knows?”

 

            Steve peered closely at the white Range in the distance, where Scott had climbed into the passenger seat and Clint had boarded into the back beside T’Challa. “Hey, you think Clint’s single?”

 

            “Well that was unexpected,” Tony cocked a brow. “You interested?”

 

            He chuckled. “Not my arena, no. Have you noticed T’Challa’s body language, though?”

 

            “Son of a bitch,” Tony muttered under his breath, realizing his partner was right. T’Challa seemed to perk up with Clint at his side, his posture more rigid, his shoulders set back, as if he were a bird preening for a mate. Clint, the oblivious hooligan that he was, didn’t notice any of this.

 

            “I can’t believe these grown men have to have their friends set them up,” Steve huffed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

 

            “What about you, Rogers? You made any advances in your romantic life?” Tony questioned. “I heard you had someone in your hotel suite the other night?”

 

            Steve flushed, tensing up immediately. “No, I–who told you that?”

 

            “You know Natasha sees everything.”

 

            He shook his head. “It was just a one-time thing. I’m…I’m good with where I am right now.”

 

            “You sure? Could set you up, that’s for sure. Plenty of women I know, all ready to be manhandled by you,” Tony informed.

 

            “You of all people would agree, that’s not appealing once you’re in your forties.”

 

            “So what, then? Settle down? You have anybody to settle down with?” Tony was insistent on getting some information; Steve could tell.

 

            “Nobody yet. And I’m not exactly a lone wolf who can bring anyone into my life, whenever. I got a girl to look after.”

 

            “She’s growing up, Cap. She won’t care sooner or later. She’ll move on with her life, and then who’ll you live your life for?” Tony smiled knowingly; he’d hit the nail on the head with that one. After all, he had known Steven a long while. He knew all too well the struggles that his friend had faced across his life, how he only lived for others.

 

            “Her. It’ll always be her, Tony,” he replied firmly. Then, trying to change the subject a bit, he offered, “Hey, if we get this deal, and we have to fly up to Canada, bring everyone to my place for a few days. We can all travel together from there.”

 

            “What, you’re hosting a bed and breakfast now?” Tony smirked. “Okay, I’ll let them all know. Now I really hope the Canadians pull through. I wanna see your domain.”

 

 

*****

 

 

The sleeping pills continued to make their way into Melody’s system as she tried to shut her body down with sleep. There was nothing else in the house that she could think of, really, that would put her right to sleep. She was so worn out–exhausted, even, but her nerves were too hyperventilated to relax. She needed to scratch the itch that was oozing out of her core.

 

            In the last fifteen hours she’d ingested eight sleeping pills and hurdled through five pairs of underwear. No number of cold showers, relaxing music, reading, or scented candles was putting her to down.

 

            It was near four in the morning and Mel was in the living room, sprawled across the couch in the dark, barely focused on what was playing on the flat-screen. She just needed background noise to drown her thoughts out as she buried her hand inside of her shorts and delicately massaged her swollen flesh. Sighs and whimpers fell from her lips constantly as she grew closer to the end, feeling victorious–she was finally going to do this for herself.

 

            But before she could topple over the edge, the front door opened and Melody jerked upright, pulling her hand out of her shorts in bitterness, and tucked it under her leg.

 

            Steve was as surprised to find her awake in the dark room as she was to see him home.

 

            “Steve?”

 

            “Melody?”

 

            They’d spoken at the same time. He smiled as he turned on the light and walked over, taking in the nudity of her legs immediately. She watched his expression change slightly as he noticed her stiffened nipples through the provocatively thin t-shirt, until he forced it back again to a gentler one. He could feel a familiar heat in his pants–she may as well have been naked.

 

            “Hey, baby,” he greeted, kneeling on the floor in front of her. When his fingers touched her bare legs, she flinched away as if he’d burned her.

 

            I need it, but I can’t let this happen again.

 

            “What’s wrong?” he asked, confused. “I thought you missed me.”

 

            She was still in agony about that phone call. He was never supposed to have known that she had wanted him, that she dreamt about him in her sleep. She hung her head, wringing her hands nervously. “It’s good to have you back.”

 

            “This isn’t how you usually welcome me,” he pointed out.

 

            Melody hesitated a long moment; she didn’t want to upset him, and it wasn’t like her body was letting her think consciously anyhow. She reached forward and slid her arms around his thick shoulders, very aware of the smell of his cologne and the heat radiating off of him. Steve wrapped her in his arms securely, relishing the sensation of her breasts pressed against him, picking up the subconscious rub of her toe against his thigh.

 

            He couldn’t help it; he pushed himself closer between her legs, and the sudden friction of his jeans against the inside of her burning thighs made Mel arch her back in a mewl.

 

            “What’s wrong, Mels?” he asked, running one large hand soothingly up and down her back. This only wound her up more tightly and she clutched the fabric of his button-down in her fists helplessly, trying to contain the wuthering thirst of her need.

 

            “I–oh!” She shuddered and jumped when his jeans brushed deliciously against her crotch, breaking the dam in the river. “I can’t do this.”

 

            She pulled back and grabbed his face before slamming her lips against his. Steve was pleasantly caught off-guard; he’d expected the eventual break in determination, but not this quickly. He knew then just how badly she needed it, and he wasn’t going to let her off the hook so easily.

 

            “Baby, what are you doing?” he asked innocently. She was breathing hard, her face flushed and lips swollen.

 

            “What? We’ve done this before,” she replied with wide eyes. Was he going to suddenly turn good now, when she was absolutely dwindling?

 

            “I thought you didn’t want this.”

 

            Melody looked at him carefully, thinking as hard as she could until her mind was broken. The only thing that mattered right now was what her body was feeling. She ran her hands across his chest and arms, taking in every inch of his beauty with her hungry eyes.

 

            “I want you. Please,” she pleaded. “Steve…I need you.”

 

            He took her wrist and held her hand up to his face, sniffing at the skin. “Were you touching yourself, Melody?”

 

            She reddened slightly, cowering under his intense gaze. “I can’t stop it.”

 

            “Touching yourself while daddy’s away…” He sucked one of her fingers into his mouth and closed his eyes briefly with a moan. “You’re getting naughty, aren’t you?”

 

            “I’m sorry,” she whined. “You weren’t here.”

 

            “I’m here now,” he assured her. “Do you want me?”

 

            “Yes.”

 

            “Who were you thinking about?”

 

            “You.”

 

            “What was I doing?” he asked, eyes darkening.

 

            “Eating me out,” she responded, having recently learned the term for it on the internet.

 

            “Hey,” he warned, taking her face in his hand. “Who taught you that?”

 

            She blinked innocently. “I looked it up.”

 

            “I see.” He ran his fingers along the insides of her thighs, whispering against her mouth. “You want daddy to eat you out? You want daddy’s face between your legs?”

 

            “Mhmm,” she nodded, before he caught her lips in a fervent, wet kiss. Within seconds, her clothes were off and she was sprawled naked on the couch before him, his own shirt unbuttoned to reveal the supreme build underneath. Just looking at his contracting muscles made her all the more delicate; he was a masterpiece, and he was all hers.

 

            Steven played with her body yet, bullying it to the extent of corruption; he teased her nipples, reached up to run a thumb against her swollen mouth, growling ferally when she parted her lips and licked a wet stripe against it. Her legs were parted beyond need, every crevice of her core on display, all for him. He assaulted her thick thighs with his mouth, biting and chewing on the flesh hungrily, bringing little red spots to the skin from the pressure of his teeth.

 

            Melody was writhing before him, arching her back with urgency, her hard nipples standing sinfully at attention. “Please,” she breathed. “I can’t do this anymore.”

 

            Steve watched her folds move as she clenched and unclenched, and the sight made him curse. “I could do this all day. Watch you lose control while I pull your strings.”

           

            “Steve, please.”

 

            “Beg for it,” he ordered. He really needed her to pick up the pace at this point: his own cock was hard to the extent of anguish.

 

            “Please, I need you,” she whimpered. “Please let me come.”

 

            He grunted in satisfaction before spreading her folds open and flicking his tongue against her clit, once. Melody practically shrieked, hiding both hands into his hair and tugging his head against her flesh.

 

            “More, please,” she begged.

 

            Steve kissed the swollen tissue as if he were making out with it, lapping up everything that was spilling out of her. He needed only to suck her clit for mere seconds before she cried out in joy, her body shattering against his mouth beautifully.

 

            What surprised Steve even further was when she pulled his face up to hers and kissed him wildly, pushing herself against him until he was forced to lie back on the floor and she was on top of him.

 

            She clumsily undid his pants and he pushed them down hastily so she could pull him free of the confines between them. He was swollen and red with need, and Melody gazed fondly at the evidence of her effect on him before leaning down and pressing her lips to the tip.

 

            “Fuck, Melody,” he hissed, throwing his hand out against the coffee table with so much force that the heavy oak tipped over onto its side.

 

            Her eyes went wide with fear and she moved away. “Please don’t hit me,” she mumbled.

 

            He sat up and pulled her close, crashed their lips together for an obscene display of dominance. “I don’t wanna hurt you, baby. Jesus, you just get me so fuckin’ good, you know?”

 

            “Can I?” she asked, resting her hand on his engorged cock gently.

 

            “Fuck, yes,” he nodded enthusiastically, leaning back on his elbows to give her room.

 

            Melody kept her hand still around his length as she leaned forward to kiss down his chest and abs. Feeling her lips everywhere on his skin made his cock ooze with more excitement, and the fear that he would finish off without any other effort overtook him.

 

            “Baby, ‘m not gonna last much longer,” he panted. She recognized the accent that crept in whenever he was teetering on the edge, knowing she had to get on with it soon.

 

            He watched her open her mouth and wrap her warm, wet lips around his tip, her eyes hesitantly travelling up to meet his. Euphoria coursed through him as she took a little more of him in, then sucked off with a plop. Steven reached out and caressed her face gently with his hand, despite the rush in his blood that was dying to make an aggressive appearance. He wanted to grip her head and bury himself in her throat, but he knew that was unnecessary. He had to cherish what she was offering him, what with her inexperience and all.

 

            “You’re so big,” she whispered in awe, and licked a sinful, wet stripe up the entire length before sucking on the tip again.

 

            Her praise went straight to his head as he slammed his head back against the ground in defeat. “I’m coming,” he snarled. “Melody, I’m–”

 

            Steve had expected her to let off, but she didn’t, instead sucking harder as hot, vile spurts of salty liquid filled her mouth, causing her to gag briefly. He watched her in awe as she refused to relent, milking him eagerly with her innocent little mouth.

 

            “Jesus, fuck,” he spat, relishing in the chills for as long as he could. “So good, holy shit. Let daddy come in your mouth the first time, huh?”

 

            She sat up with her mouth still full of salty fluid, not too sure about what she was supposed to do with it. He straightened himself and pulled her onto his lap. “You still have it in your mouth, Mel?”

 

            Melody nodded meekly.

 

            “You like the taste of my come in your mouth?” he whispered, wiping a drop of it from the corner of her lips. She nodded again, aware of how good his muscular thigh felt against her core. “Swallow it,” he ordered, and she did it quickly without any contemplation.

 

            Her mouth now empty, Melody wiped it with the back of her hand before averting her gaze shyly. “Was that…okay?”

 

            “It was more than okay, Mel.” Steve kissed down her neck to her chest in appreciation, across her shoulders, before he met her lips greedily. “So fuckin’ hot. My little girl has quite the mouth on her.”

 

            She blushed furiously, biting down on her lip. She knew this wouldn’t be her last bout of arousal for the night; she could already feel her flesh getting ticklish again. “Can I…sleep with you?”

 

            Yes, she knew all the regret and shame would hit her like a wall of bricks, in time. Yes, she was still angry at him for the lies; still had a dozen questions to ask. But once again, he’d caught her in a delicate situation. She was too fragile with need to even think straight, let alone fight or argue.

 

            Steve secured her legs around his hips before effortlessly standing up to readjust his jeans, cradling her against him as he began walking towards the kitchen. “Of course you can, baby girl. But I’m not sleeping yet. Did you eat anything today?”

 

 

*****

 

 

As soon as the cool air of Steve’s bedroom hit her, Mel didn’t know how to act anymore.

 

            She hung onto him, belligerent, plump lip pulled between her teeth, wide eyes begging him not so innocently. Not that he didn’t enjoy tossing her body onto his bed, her big brown eyes watching intently as he peeled himself free of clothes. And then he was on her, like a beast devouring prey, licking and biting places that made her sink into the sheets with humility.

 

            “Don’t you ever try to hide from me,” he warned. “Look at me when I speak to you. Watch me as I make you mine again and again.”

 

            She shuddered shyly and bit down on her thumb as he took her left nipple–which he’d learned by now was more sensitive than the right–between his teeth. Immediately he slapped her hand away, pinning her wrists down with one massive hand.

 

            “None of that. I wanna hear you. Don’t try to be quiet.” He grabbed her cheeks and squeezed them until she was pouting. “Who’s your daddy? Huh?”

 

            “You,” she answered with difficulty.

 

            “What did you say?”

           

            “You!” she cried.

 

            Steve moved his hand from her face down to her flesh. “Mm, so wet already. You can’t get enough, can you? So horny for me.”

 

            “Steve!” she gasped at the feeling of his finger dipping the slightest bit into her opening. She noticed it didn’t hurt the way it had when Alex had tried to do it; she desperately tried to shake the thought off and focus on the moment. She couldn’t afford to miss any of the attention being delivered to her body right then.

 

            “You’re so tight, baby. Jesus, wanna feel you on my cock so bad.”

 

            Melody moaned scandalously at the idea, only then allowing herself to wonder what exactly that would feel like. Some part of her that was too carried away in the whole process told her she craved the feeling, but mostly, she knew there was no coming back from it. Having his mouth and hands claw her body to shreds was one thing; having his seed inside of her would seal the treaty eternally, and that was too dark a truth to face.

 

            But you want it, don’t you? You want to be his.

 

            The thought sent a shiver down her spine, right to her core, which became noticeably wetter, and Mel sighed with shame when Steve smirked at the excess secretion. “You want daddy to fuck you, don’t you?”

 

            “No,” she shook her head desperately.

 

            “You want me inside of you, yeah? Fucking your tight little pussy? You want my come in you, baby girl?” He tormented her intentionally, knowing the suggestions disturbed her, but unable to ignore how wet they also made her.

 

            Steve pushed his thick, long finger deeper between her slick, tight walls until it made an obscene squelching noise. “Oh, God,” Melody exclaimed, part humility, but mostly pleasure.

 

            “I wouldn’t call myself that,” he said darkly, curling the digit inside of her, stroking the fleshy wall. The fervent moans and calls of his name that she released only fuelled his ego as he leaned down to whisper into her ear. “God won’t save you from me, Melody. Nobody will. God was the one who gave you to me, to do whatever I want.”

 

            “No,” she gushed quietly, but her hips rolled urgently. The way his palm brushed against her swollen clit every time he pumped inwards was driving her crazy. She could feel the flutter of something new building inside of her, something unfamiliar to the kind of orgasms she’d experienced previously. Steve could feel the clenching of her walls as she became a mess in front of him.

 

            “No?” he frowned, looking at her malevolently. “Are you denying me?”

 

            He stilled his movements and she cried out in complaint. She was so close; he couldn’t stop now. Her limbs were aching with desire, and she had to have it. She had to come.

 

            “I’m sorry,” she pleaded. “Take me. Please.”

 

            “I will,” he sneered, replacing his mouth at her ear, sucking on the soft lobe lazily as his hand moved faster, and her heels dug into the bed. “I’m going to take you when I want, where I want, how I want. You’re mine to do whatever I please, and you will enjoy everything I give you, because deep down, you’re just as hungry for me as I am for you. I know you are.”

 

            She was on the edge but ashamed at how quickly he had figured her out. She was too easy of a target; no wonder he chose to take advantage of her. But whatever reason fuelled his current actions was beyond Melody, who was just dying to fall forward from the climax. There was guilt in her heart at how successfully his perverted thoughts beckoned the fire, encouraging her own barely locked-away demons to come out and play.

 

            “Nobody can stop this,” he reminded her. “I know you, every part of you. You were mine before you even took your first breath.”

 

            “Steve,” she squealed, arching her back. There it was, the trickle of pleasure waiting to tear through all of her.

 

            “Now, let it go. Don’t hold back,” he granted, circling her clit with his thumb as his finger drilled her mercilessly. Mel let out a string of lewd whimpers and moans, constantly repeating his name as she remained falling to the ground for a generous amount of time.

 

            “Yeah, that’s it,” he cooed, stroking her insides gently now, his entire hand wet from the drool of her flesh. “Fuck, I love watching you come for me. So fuckin’ pretty.”

 

            She lay quivering eloquently from the bliss until her mind cleared, letting him plant his mouth everywhere, kissing her down from the high. It was only a matter of seconds until her attention focused in on him.

 

            “Steve?” Her voice was quiet. He came back up, kissing along the way wherever he could, before he reached her face.

 

            “Yeah baby?”

 

            “What about you?” she asked, and they both looked down at his throbbing erection pointedly.

 

            “What about me?” He was curious to see what she would do. Steve would like for her to want to pleasure him, of her own accord. Otherwise, he knew he would get off easily with his own hand, so long as he kept busy with her.

 

            Melody sat up, then, and bit her lip. He could see her contemplating, watching as he slowly pumped himself with patience. An excitement erupted in his belly as he watched her flush pink at whatever conclusion had developed in her head.

 

            “Can I be on top?” she asked in a small voice.

 

            Steve felt his heart lurch at her words, but not with pain or worry. There was sheer pleasance coursing through him as he piled the pillows behind his back and pulled her atop. Melody let out a squeak as she was carried effortlessly forward to straddle him.

 

            “What’s going on in that pretty little head?” He pushed her hair back affectionately, his features devoid now of all signs of menace.

 

            Melody shifted to angle herself, braced her weight on her knees. Steve could see her protruding lips mere inches from his swollen cock and sucked his teeth impatiently, scratching the curvature of her hips with his nails. She held onto his shoulders but kept her gaze averted, slowly lowering until his skin touched her flesh. Mel gasped and Steve moaned, both equally intoxicated. She lowered herself again, letting her folds part and rest against his pulsating cock.

 

            The sensation of her wet heat sitting gently against where he needed her most sent Steven toppling forward. In a rush, he rolled her hips with determination, privy to the way the juices of her arousal spread across his length. The friction of his thick, rigid cock delving between the crevices of her flesh and rubbing deliciously against her clit, it all had Mel parting her lips in awe. She began moving of her own accord, but Steve never relented, controlling her movements to speed them up gradually until they were both calling out for one another provocatively.

 

            “Look at me,” he instructed, but she only raised her sight to about where her fingers were digging into his clavicles. Steve captured her mouth in a slow, sensual kiss before trying again. “Melody, look at me baby.”

 

            She met his gaze with great difficulty, knowing she was doing what she was doing in that moment. Memories of his affectionate blue eyes from a different time flooded her mind and she pushed them away quickly. This would be a lot of shame in the aftermath, but she couldn’t find it in her weak will to stop.

 

            Steve brushed his nose against her briefly as they both locked gazes, lips parted and fanning out harsh breaths. “You drive me so crazy,” he panted, using one hand to caress her cheek gently.

 

            Helpless to her physique being still ablaze with gratified thirst and need, Melody began clenching up not too far into the activity. The wetness that oozed out of her with yet another orgasm hauled Steven over the edge as well, and he held her still against the head of his length as his satisfaction splattered amongst her folds and his groin. Mel shivered at the feeling of the hot liquid against her core and the rest of her prickly skin, still grinding timidly, letting the tip dive in and part her flesh as it milked itself out into every crease she had.

 

            “Steve,” she gasped, chocolate eyes suddenly wide. “We–we didn’t–condom–”

 

            “Hey, hey, shhh.” The big, daunting man kissed her forehead with a chuckle, sitting up now to be closer together. “Relax, it’s okay. We didn’t have sex. As long as it’s not inside of you, I’m pretty sure nothing will happen.”

 

            Melody frowned, unconvinced. “But–it’s…everywhere.”

 

            Steve’s face darkened as he combed her hair back continuously with his fingers. “I know.”

 

            After using a few tissues to wipe the fluid off of external areas, he lay her down against his chest, stroking down her back as he hummed in her ear quietly. Melody hated how tuned her body was to relax immediately when he did certain things like these; soon enough she had dozed off, with a dozen questions still in her mind and a heavy derision in her chest.

Chapter Text

            The night that followed was not uneventful. Before the break of dawn, Mel had stirred from slumber with the same ardent flux inside of her. As if on cue, oddly, Steve had been waiting and awake each of the three times. He tended to her gratuitously–sometimes merciful and soft; other times like a whirlwind of starvation that could only be curbed by bringing upon her orgasm after orgasm. Melody’s skin was raw from the scraping and teasing of his teeth, and the stench of blasphemy was thick in the air when light began streaking in through the curtains. It was morning by the time they finished a fifth session and decided a shower was compulsory, as was a change in sheets.

 

            Melody gaped at the tear in the white cotton cloth where Steve had fisted it to exhaustion. It was a rueful reminder that she had not only received but also delivered; had been equal in the crime that haunted her sanity.

 

            But when she looked at Steve then, in the light of the morning, as he stood in front of her in nothing but bare skin glistening with sweat, she didn’t feel the hatred she expected to. She wanted to hate him, yes, and she’d more than anticipated it–in fact, she would have welcomed bitter loathing for him, if it had come. Given, she was numb with remorse. But as he held her hand gently, eyes peering down at her in that way she knew meant absolute adoration–she couldn’t help it. She smiled up at him, and even though it was tiny and brief to the point of almost having not happened, Steve caught it, and it made his heart jump.

 

            He cleaned her off, shampooed her hair, scrubbed her skin carefully. His eyes never stopped admiring her, the way the water ran off her curves, the seals of his ownership now stamped across various places in dark, crimson bites. Melody felt a new level of shyness; he had never showered or bathed her before, had never seen her body in the days of her youth. And now, under the bright illumination from the shower’s ceiling, she was sure he could see everything.

 

            She helped him, too, by scrubbing across his broadly statured back wherever his arms couldn’t reach. Every dimple of his muscles as he moved still caused her to blush and gaze in awe, and Steve enjoyed how she seemed to cower under his height and build, her face aghast with wonder.

 

            “Hey, eyes up here, sweetheart,” he joked after she had stared at his pecs for quite some time.

 

            “I never noticed before,” she said in a small voice, almost drowned out by the spray of water.

 

            “S’okay. You’re noticing now, aren’t you?” Steve smirked, washing out his underarms and intentionally flexing his chest and biceps. He enjoyed every second as Melody continued to stare shamelessly, then reached out and lay her palm flat against one of his pecs. He stilled, cautious not to disrupt her movements.

 

            Mel pressed against the tissue and blinked in amazement; it was incredibly firm under her touch. She slid a thumb gently over one of his nipples and looked up to watch his eyes cloud over, long, wet eyelashes adding a nice touch to the pink in his cheeks. She stepped right up and pressed her lips to the skin of his chest without lowering herself or craning her neck up. It was the perfect height balance for the moment as she flicked her tongue across the pink peak her thumb had previously teased.

 

            “Fuck,” he sighed, his hand latching on to her ass and groping the flesh. She was surprised by the territorial gesture, nervously taking her lip between her teeth. Steve shook his head in awe. “You know what that does to me, don’t you?”

 

            Melody shook her head innocently, still biting down on her lip, her dark, wet eyelashes splayed out beautifully as she looked up at him. A powerful surge of longing and sheer admiration bloomed in Steven’s heart as he looked down at her; it powered his heart to keep beating day and night, this surge of emotion. It had done so for the past fifteen years, but he would never get used to it. It was new every single time.

 

            The brief moment of wholesomeness lasted not long before he had her against the wall in seconds and kissed her so fiercely that she would have fallen over backwards if not for the hard tile behind her. He had put out untarnished, gentle affection for so long. These days, the hunger that he had caged in finally had a chance to breathe outside of captivity–and it was enjoying freedom more than he could have expected. It was devouring as much as it could for fear of being locked up soon again.

 

            He hoisted one of her thighs up abruptly and latched it around the vee of his hip. Melody gasped when his wet cock pressed against her folds–which had already been swollen and needy again for some time. The burn of her desire was so hot and strong that she didn’t even mind the animalistic way he was dragging a flat tongue in long streaks up her neck and jaw, licking the water droplets off her skin. God knew it only added to the slick between her legs, a hot fire kindling itself at her core. This arousal she had felt for the past few days since her stomach sickness was different to the bearable bouts of thirst she’d felt before. This was powerful, searing desire. It didn’t let her think about anything else until it was relieved, and it blocked out every sane thought that could stop it.

 

            Steve continued the wet assault on her neck and chest as his hands reached behind her to spread her ass apart. She whimpered as he clawed at her flesh harder and harder, until the sting echoed in place even after he’d stopped. But she loved it–or she wouldn’t have been dancing against him the way that she was, clearly greedy for more.

 

            Melody clutched his hair and directed his face down to look at her. “Steve, please.”

 

            “Please what?” He looked constantly between her hooded eyes and parted lips, feeling victorious at how quickly he could have her pinned out on the map.

 

            “Please–do something.” She used her free hand to reach down and parted her lips against his throbbing cock. “I need something, please. Anything.”

 

            Steve could understand what she was going through. After all, it was all his doing in the first place, wasn’t it?

 

            She watched with confusion as he reached behind and unhooked the showerhead from its place. “Does it feel really hot?” he asked, motioning towards the storm between her legs.

 

            She nodded eagerly, overcome with excitement as she guessed what he was going to do. Steve turned the water to cold and brought it slowly up her leg. She was squirming beneath the cold stream until, at a point of desperation, she reached to take it from him.

 

            “Hands up,” he snapped wickedly, pulling the handheld out of her reach. “Against the wall. Keep them there.”

 

            She gave him a pleading look but followed; the way her breasts lifted cheekily with the rise of her arms held Steve’s attention as he tweaked her nipples, knowing the effect it had on her. “Naughty, naughty girl, Mel,” he muttered between soft kisses against her mouth.

 

            “Please,” was all she could get out as he brought the cold stream to her chest and ran the spray in circles around the peaks of her breasts.

 

            “Let me have some fun,” he tutted, his free hand gently opening her folds. The cold water surfed down her body and ran right between her parted, fiery flesh, causing her to hiss in pleasure. 

 

            It wasn’t until she was certainly trembling that Steve brought the jet of fluid down and directed it slowly back and forth against her flesh. Mel held onto his shoulder for support as he kept her thigh lifted with his free hand to give the spray of water more access. Her squeals and sharp intakes of breath filled the washroom within seconds, and soon her orgasm had arrived in battling waves that made her legs weak. Steve let her down slowly, allowing her to sink to her shins until she was seated flat on her knees before him.

 

            Steve put the handheld back in place and switched back to the warmer, main shower, all the while pumping himself steadily. Melody squeezed body wash into her palm and rubbed her hands together before taking over for him, sliding her slippery fingers over his swollen cock.

 

            “Not as shy as before, are you?” he asked, gathering her wet hair in his fingers as he leaned back against the tile now. “You love playing with daddy’s cock now.”

 

            She took the praise as it went straight to her already blooming heat, gripping him with both hands as she twisted and pulled on his length as quickly and as hard as she could.

 

            “Fuck, Jesus–fuck, Melody, slow down baby,” he hissed, hips jerking forward with a surprisingly firm pump.

             

            Melody cocked her head to the side as an idea came to her. She switched from the dutiful pumps to ghostly strokes along his shaft with a single finger. She relished the distress in his features as he watched her tease him, his cock twitching with aching need, hanging straight forward in all its girth and weight.

 

            “You tryin’ to tease me, baby?” he asked, running his thumb across her lip. Again, she opened her mouth and sucked it inside, swirling her tongue around it, her eyes glued to his despite her shame and embarrassment. The width of his pupils against the oceanic blue of his irises lit her up from head to toe. “Why don’t you do what you’re doin’ to my thumb to my cock?” he asked.

 

            “Daddy said slow down,” was all she replied with, teasingly innocent.

 

            “Oh, you’re so naughty,” he hissed, squeezing her jaw again. He held his shaft with his free hand and traced her pouted lips with the swollen pink tip. She sighed against him and her warm breath hit his fiery skin in glory. “Where’s the sweet little Melody who used to do everything I asked her to?”

 

            By now, the water running off his body had washed away the remaining suds. Melody poked her tongue out and brushed it against his leaking slit, making Steve throw his head back in surprise before he returned to watch her carefully. He let go of her face and instead pressed both hands tightly against the walls either side of him, his beautiful body spread open in a position of crucifixion. Melody sighed at the sight, and while her right hand led his cock into her mouth, her left hand reached between her legs to play with her tingling flesh. The scene before him had Steve nearly undone in seconds.

 

            “Come in my mouth,” she whispered with hooded eyes, parting her lips and sticking her tongue out as her hands ran up and down the insides of his sculpted thighs. Steve took hold of his cock and tapped the head against her tongue until the white liquid spurted and gathered against the pink flesh. She swallowed it down with a moan, watching with fascination what she evidently did to him. He never stopped growling her name until the end, when he was panting harshly and she was watching with her hand stuck between her thighs.

 

            “Steve,” she gasped enticingly, accidentally indulging a sweet spot. Steve couldn’t let up; he reached down and pulled her easily up to hook her legs around him.

 

            “You’re gonna fuckin’ kill me, you know that?” he muttered as she rubbed her heat against him, and then he was hard all over again. “You’re gonna drive daddy crazy.”

Chapter Text

           The setting sun cast orange glows across the kitchen and their naked skin as Steve pumped his index and middle finger in and out of her body intricately, his mouth suckling at the engorged clit that begged for attention. She was sprawled out on the kitchen island, the marble cold under her back as he devoured her hungrily while sitting on one of the stools.

 

            He had come back from a session at the gym, sweat-glistened in his too tight t-shirt, and the image had gone straight to Melody’s core, who had already been hot and bothered in her isolation for a few hours now. She’d been sitting at the kitchen table reading a book, but upon seeing him stomping around the house in over two-hundred pounds of packed muscle, skin drenched and gleaming, Mel had reached under her shirt and shamelessly started tweaking her own nipples. Of course, Steve had dropped his gym bag and every other thought right then and there. Within seconds she was spread out naked and moaning, knuckles white from the grip she had on the counter as he’d teased her flesh with an ice cube in his mouth.

 

            “Steve, oh God,” she yelped now as he rubbed his fingers in circles against the upper wall of her flesh. Sparks travelled in a flurry from her head, to her fingers, to the tips of her toes, and a weird sensation of needing to urinate overcame her.

 

            Steven only wrapped his lips more tightly against her pulsating clitoris, sucking to no end, waiting for the commotion to trickle out of her and reward him for his efforts. Melody was not used to Steve being quiet during their capades; his eerie silence now as he focused on her release was making her nervous, albeit bringing her closer and closer.

 

            In a split second, her body was suddenly jittering violently as her walls convulsed in a way they hadn’t before. She was consumed with shame as she felt the fluid spring out of her, but it only added to the pleasure. Steve groaned filthily, finally making noise as the clear water that sputtered out came in contact with his throbbing cock, and he pumped his hand over it to spread the moisture everywhere.

 

            It took a few minutes for Melody to stop shaking, especially since he wouldn’t stop licking and suckling at her clit even as she jerked violently with orgasm. When at last the black dots cleared and she could see and breathe again, she sat up on the counter, blushed with humiliation.

 

            “Oh God,” she whispered. “That’s so embarrassing…”

 

            “What is?” He tilted her chin up and kissed her softly.

 

            “I…didn’t mean to–pee.” She barely whispered the last word.

 

            Steve almost laughed out loud in fascination. “Mel, oh, baby,” he sighed with a smile. “That’s not what it was.”

 

            “Then what–?”

 

            “It’s just a kind of ejaculate, I guess. I was trying to make it happen, anyways, so it wasn’t you. Don’t worry,” he assured. When she looked unconvinced, he held his hand up to her face. “Here, smell it. It doesn’t smell like anything. It’s not that.”

 

            “I didn’t know about it,” she said meekly.

 

            “I know,” he said huskily, now kissing her hungrily. “I’m the one who shows you the ropes. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”

 

            They kissed fervently for a while, urgent and starved to the point that he stood up off the stool to stand between her legs as she pressed her chest against him to get closer. Suddenly, she pulled back with a concern in her eyes he hadn’t seen before.

 

            “Steve?”

 

            “Mm,” he hummed, gazing at her intently.

 

            “Will you ever–will we–you know?” she stuttered, stealing her gaze away again.

 

            He touched her cheek gently, guiding her face back. “Will we what, Mel?”

 

            “Have…sex?” she asked in a small voice.

 

            He sucked his teeth, eyes darkening. “Do you want to have sex?” he muttered, groping the insides of her plush thighs as he spread them apart around him. Melody’s breath hitched as he held his length and ran the spitting, swollen head against her protruding folds.

 

            “You want daddy’s cock in your tight little pussy?” he spoke hotly against her ear before biting into her neck. The continuous soft strokes of his stiff cock against her slick heat was driving her to the brink of insanity again.

 

            “Yes,” she breathed out without thinking. Steve growled into her shoulder before lifting his head to look at her again.

 

            “You really want me, Mel?” he asked quietly.

 

            She peered up at him with poise, her brown eyes shy yet steady. “I want you, Steve.”

 

            “What do you want me to do, Melody?” He pressed the tiniest bit against her opening and she arched her back at the feeling; the idea of their bare, most intimate flesh coming together was gratifying for both of them. Steven was almost vibrating at the thought of being inside of her, at the feeling of the tip of his cock sitting just against her warm, tight walls, ready to be welcomed.

 

            “I want you in me,” she moaned breathily as he slapped her flesh with his thick, heavy length a few times.

 

            “Doing what?” he muttered, pushing his massive hand flat against her chest to lie her down on the marble again.

 

            Melody held his hand and cupped it around her breast, a look of longing gracing her beautiful, young features. “Fucking me.”

 

            “You want me to fuck you?” They were both speaking in nothing but whispers, teasing each other simultaneously.

 

            “Yes, please,” she mewled, when he ground his cock down between her folds and flicked his thumb over her nipple.

 

            “You’re such a good girl for daddy, aren’t you?” He leaned over and kissed her ravenously. “You want daddy to fuck you? Come inside you? You wanna be daddy’s little girl?”

 

            She nodded eagerly, even reached down to further spread her lips open for him. The sight absolutely drove him over the edge, and then he was coming onto her swollen flesh as every muscle in his body flexed.

 

            “I can’t do that to you yet, Mel,” he explained to her after catching his breath. “You couldn’t take it. I don’t want to hurt you.”

 

            “Okay,” she nodded, holding his face with both hands and kissing him sweetly.

 

 

*****

 

 

By now, Melody had almost finished the bottle of Melatonin. Steve had encouraged her to stick to them, saying that it would all be even worse if she stopped taking them now. He’d even bought her a refill for when she finished them off completely. In her thick cloud of confusion, lack of faith, and extreme, constant arousal, Melody had had a rare moment of trust in Steve–surely, he knew what was better for her. Thus, she continued with the pills, hoping whatever this hormonal picnic her body was having would end soon, and she would be able to function again without spreading her legs open whimsically every hour.

 

            After a particularly wakeful Friday night full of desperate passion and pleasure, Steve and Melody had dozed off together in his bed, limbs tangled tightly together. He knew she would need him again in no time and he would be prepared for it; the euphoria that came from being with her made sleep and rest an unnecessary extracurricular for Steve. As long as she was next to him, there was not a lot else he needed.

 

            But the next time he opened his eyes, Melody wasn’t in bed next to him. He was on his feet immediately, pulling on the nearest pair of pants he could find–running shorts–and running into the washroom, where he could hear her breathing harshly and coughing.

 

            “Melody,” he exclaimed urgently, rushing to gather her off the floor in his arms. Her face was red and her eyes kept lolling back in her head. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

 

            She shook her head weakly, lips trembling. “I–I can’t breathe properly.”

 

            Only moments before, Melody had awoken to her heart beating erratically–so fast and loud that she swore she could feel it in every part of her body, right down to the tips of her fingers and toes. And now, directly after, she couldn’t feel anything at all. It was like everything was numb, and there was a huge weight on her chest.

 

            “Can you see everything? Can you hear me?” he asked, dropping her on the bed gently to dress her shaking body as quickly as possible. Her skin was cold to the touch, and it frightened Steve to even look at the way her eyes kept fluttering closed, lifeless and empty. When she didn’t answer his questions, he picked her up in his arms again and rushed out the car to drive her to the hospital with nothing else on his mind besides Melody.

Chapter Text

            Mel woke up to a steady beeping sound. There was an ache in her throat and in her arms, but she couldn’t make anything out quite clearly. She couldn’t even see quite clearly–why was everything pitch black? Why couldn’t she see anything? And her mouth was so dry… Why did her body feel like a cinder block?

 

            Her eyes flew open with a sharp breath and she stared up at the plasterboard ceiling in confusion. What’s going on? she thought, looking around as best as she could without moving. Pastel blue walls, linoleum floors, a wooden door shutting off the room from whatever was outside. She was on some kind of bed that inclined, so that her back was slightly lifted. It was easier to see this way.

 

            There was a two-seater blue leather couch to the left and a large body was curled up on it inadequately. Blond disheveled locks, pale skin… Steve.

 

            “Steve?” she called out, but there was barely any sound the first time. Painfully, she swallowed, trying to lubricate her throat. “Steve.”

 

            He jumped, sitting up immediately, blinking his eyes open after he’d already began stumbling his way over to the bed in which she lay. “Melody, oh God. Thank God.”

 

            Steve kissed across her face eagerly, breathing out words of relief as the life returned to him. He helped her sip water from a cup, eyes never leaving her, as if she would disappear in dust if he stopped looking at her. She was confused but waited until he was sat down and wiping stray tears from his eyes before speaking. “What happened to me?”

 

            “Your blood pressure got extremely low,” he began shakily. “Your heart almost gave–”

 

            He couldn’t even finish the sentence.

 

            “How?” she asked, now taking in the vitals and drips that were inserted into her arms. “What’s this stuff?”

 

            “Just some glucose and electrolytes. They had to pump your stomach…you threw up so much.”

 

            That explained the acidic burn in her throat. But she was still lost. “Why…?”

 

            He looked down and away, a distant hollowness in his eyes. Then he sat up abruptly. “I’m–I have to go do something.”

 

            Melody watched with confusion as he walked out in a hurry, never looking back. She sat alone in the room for about an hour, just thinking. When the door opened again, she eagerly anticipated Steve’s return, but to her dismay, it was a doctor.

 

            “So then, how are we feeling?” the elderly, thin man asked with a smile.

 

            “I’m…not sure?” Melody sat up and swallowed her hesitation. “Doctor? Can you please tell me what happened to me?”

 

            He raised his brow in realization, then flipped through his canary-yellow file folder as he spoke. “Young lady, were you at any public setting recently, where someone might have the motivation to roofie you?”

 

            She frowned. “Roofie?”

 

            “They’re…ulterior motive pills, of a sort. People can slip them into your drink or food. They can…let’s say, make you dizzy, or pass out, etcetera.”

 

            “I’ve mostly just been home, doctor.”

 

            He sighed, pulling out a sheet and setting the rest of the file folder aside. He reached into his white coat and pulled out a pair of thin-rimmed glasses. “Your hormones were extremely abnormal in levels, Miss Melody. Have you been taking any medication?”

 

            She frowned even deeper in thought, then perked up. “Yes, actually, I’ve been taking regular melatonin to try and sleep better.”

 

            “Melatonin isn’t supposed to have adverse effects like these on your hormones,” he shook his head. “Are you sure that’s what it was?”

 

            “Yeah, the really small, round white pills with a circle engraved on them, right?”

 

            The colour drained from the doctor’s face. “That isn’t melatonin, kiddo. Those pills are supposed to be white on one side, green on the other side, and oval.”

 

            Now the colour drained from Melody’s face. All at once, everything clicked in. A scream of anguish ripped through her, but she kept her lips sealed together.

 

            “Tell me, how many of these pills did you take?” he asked.

 

            “A lot.”

 

            “Who gave these to you?”

 

            Melody closed her eyes, feeling the tears coming up. He drugged me and I let him. I drugged myself for him. Where the fuck is he now?

 

            Was she supposed to tell them? About everything, not just the pills? No. Nobody can know. You’ll lose him for good.

 

            The doctor cleared his throat and she opened her eyes, sitting straighter. “Nobody gave them to me. I just found them in a bottle that said melatonin, so I started taking them.”

 

            “Not very smart to just pick up what you see and ingest it, now is it?” the doctor said in a wary tone. “I do believe they were sex pills. We pumped your stomach, so if you ingested any in the last twelve hours, they should be out of your system now.”

 

            “But why did I have low blood pressure?”

 

            “These pills can be dangerous. They have adverse side effects, more commonly on your eyesight or your digestion. You seemed to take a toll on your respiratory system. Lucky you got in when you did, or you could have just died like that.”

 

            Melody gawked at him in shock as he casually recollected his file folder and put away his glasses. She had questions, but deep down, she knew she already had the answers to them. The ringing in her ears wouldn’t stop long enough for her to be able to formulate a sentence.

 

            “Where is the man that was here with you?” the elderly doctor asked before stepping out the door.

 

            “I don’t know, he left in a hurry.”

 

            “That doesn’t sound like him. He was by your bedside all night and morning. He loves you very much,” he said informatively. “You are allowed to leave within the next six hours, if you feel up to it.”

 

            And then he was gone. He loves you very much. Melody scoffed, spilling tears of misery across her face and onto the white sheet that covered her. She picked at the emergency room wristband they’d put on her as she continued to silently cry. Here it was now, all the shame and guilt from the past few days. Every ounce of humility that she had been immune to in her sexed-up boost of shamelessness. She brought her legs up and hid her face in her knees when the sobs became uncontrollable. In her fit of misery, she tired herself out and fell asleep.

 

 

 

Steve returned hours later with cut and bruised knuckles; his clothes changed. He set a paper bag of food and a coffee cup down on the stand beside the hospital bed and hesitated before reaching out to touch her.

 

            “Mel?”

 

            She shot up in surprise, sniffling loudly, wiping her blotchy face and eyes with her hands. He stood there for a long time, waiting, but she didn’t look at him or say anything.

 

            “I brought you food.”

 

            “Did you put something in that, too?” she scoffed dryly.

 

            Steven swallowed painfully. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

 

            “But you did.”

 

            “I’m sorry.”

 

            “I don’t care.”

 

            With a heavy sigh, he sat down on the edge of the bed. Mel immediately moved to turn away from him. “Melody, listen to me, please.”

 

            “What could you possibly have to say that would justify this?” she muttered. Her voice was empty and monotone, devoid of any emotion. It bothered Steve to see her like this.

 

            “I’m not justifying it. I hate what I did. I hate myself for what I did. I can’t believe I–I could have lost–” No, he couldn’t even say it. “I didn’t know how else to get to you.”

 

            “So you drugged me?”

 

            “I didn’t think you would go so overboard with–”

 

            “No!” she shouted suddenly. “You don’t get to pin this on me! I didn’t know what I was doing. You did. You knew the whole time. You knew everything.”

 

            “I only did it for us,” he reasoned.

 

            “What is wrong with you?” she hissed. “You want to use me that bad, that you’ll drug me for it?”

 

            “Why do you still think that?” he snapped. “I tried to prove it to you, I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t–”

 

            There was the sound of a cart being wheeled down the hallway outside and they both looked towards the door, waiting. When nothing happened, he resumed.

 

            “I’m not having this conversation here.”

 

            “Why? Are you scared they’re gonna find out what you’re doing? You deserve to be found out and punished,” she spat.

 

            “You can say whatever you want, Melody, because in the past week you’ve shown me everything on the inside.” He leaned in to speak directly to her. “You’re just as much a part of this as I am.”

 

 

*****

 

 

She didn’t speak to him for a few days, choosing to remain blocked off from everything else and just stay in her room. She had her books, she had her phone, and she made trips down to the kitchen to eat whenever he left the house to run errands or hit the gym; she really could avoid him as long as she wanted to.

 

            A week went by without a word said between them. Steve spent most of his time at home in the basement, overworking himself in the at-home gym setup, while Mel camped out in her room on the third floor. After the third day, it was weird to her that he hadn’t attempted to talk to her or interact at all. She felt the heavy isolation more and more, but didn’t dare change it–after all, she was the one who had put up the wall. She had to embrace it.

 

            By the end of the seventh day, Mel was doing laundry after having made sure that Steve wasn’t going to be back out of the basement for a while. She was sitting on the drying machine while watching YouTube videos on her phone when she heard a loud yelp and glass shattering. Momentarily, she stilled, listening carefully. A string of curses followed the incident, and suddenly consumed with concern, Melody rushed down the dark hardwood stairs to the basement, nearly slipping in the process.

 

            It turned out the commotion had been the sound of the mirrored wall shattering after having an eighty-pound dumbbell thrown at it by Steve, who was sitting on the wooden floor with his legs spread out, hunched over and holding something that Mel couldn’t see. She stood at the open door in a moment’s hesitation before quietly walking over to him. Steve heard her nearing and stood up quickly, keeping his back to her. She could see the sweat stains across his tight black full-sleeve, hair drenched and pushed back carelessly.

 

            With his back still to her, Steve began walking across the large, half-lit room. She called his name, but he didn’t stop, or even turn around. “Steve!” she shouted again, frustrated, but he couldn’t seem to hear her. “Steve, stop walking for fuck’s sake!”

 

            He stopped, just before the door. “I thought we weren’t speaking.”

 

            “We’re not. I just came to see if you’re okay.” She crossed her arms defiantly.

 

            “It doesn’t matter.”

 

            She scowled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

            He didn’t answer. Then, he asked, “Did you ever read those diaries?”

 

            “My mom’s diaries? Yeah, I read them. And you’re a liar,” she punctuated, remembering how angry she had been after realizing he’d made everything up. In her sexual high, and then the week of silence between them, Melody had had little luck or success in finding much out or confronting him. How could he lie to her like that, knowing how sensitive she was about the subject of her mother?

 

            Steve turned around then to look at her in disappointment. She could see then that he’d been cradling his own hands, which were a bloody mess of gore. That put in perspective the punching back that was strewn on the floor in a far corner, the seams screaming for freedom. His eyes were red, a painful contrast to the deep blue in the centre, and he looked horrendous, but was still the most beautiful human Melody had ever seen in her years of life.

 

            “Those aren’t your mom’s. Those are mine,” he informed, his tone clipped. Then, he left Melody standing alone in the room, ridden with a new wave of controversy.

Chapter Text

           Melody was left awestruck by the revelation. Still, a small part of her screamed out within her mind: how did you not realize? Of course, they were his. She should have realized it immediately. Her own memories of her childhood–intensely vivid scenes that came to her every now and then in the most haphazard settings but left her confused and meddled–could verify that none of what was in those pages came from her mother. There was a running reel of a particular scene that played through her eyes again and again some days; a four-year-old little girl, waiting at the bus stop in the sun, just waiting for the longest time, by herself. And then Steve showed up, to take her home. The memory had first resurfaced when she was thirteen, but she always told herself it was one of those artificial pictures from a dream that her brain refused to let go of.

 

            But if the journals belonged to Steve’s past, that meant every word now had a different definition than what she had told herself. Because she had told herself, again and again, that it was all her mother, because she wanted to forget all the memories of being left alone or shut out; she wanted so badly to believe that her mom had loved her to such an extent.

 

            Mel sat in her room now, flipping through the pages absently, looking at the etched-in words and sketches without taking in a single trace as she drowned in her thoughts. What did they mean to her, now that she knew who had created them? Were they still proof of love and development? Or did they just add to the seething pot of disappointment and anger that she felt for Steve now?

 

            She scoffed, remembering his words. I did it for us. “Did it for us,” she muttered, shaking her head. Us. Us. Did it for us. Us.

 

            It was clear to Melody that she had only ever seen their ‘us’ in one way all her life; a narrow, cookie-cutter definition. But she would be a hypocrite and a coward to pretend now as if that perspective had never altered for her, even once. Whether under an extrinsic influence or not, Melody had offered herself up on a silver platter on multiple occasions without so much as a moment’s hesitation. Hadn’t she enjoyed the attention, the devotion, the thrill? Hadn’t she participated equally; invited it? His actions had offered her a guiding finger, but she had grabbed on to the whole hand.

 

            The hurt wasn’t truly at what they had done together, not anymore. It was more so at how he’d chosen to push her to that point. Immediately, she wondered if she would have eventually reached that milestone all on her own; of such upfront shamelessness for what she was now starting to feel towards him.

 

            If she indulged in it too long, the thought still made her shudder at times. Steve. Nurturing, generous, kind, gentle Steve. Steve who held her hand and walked her to school and then back. Steve who took her to the park, taught her to ride a bike, made her breakfast and lunch every day. Steve who came to every school trip as a parent volunteer to make sure Melody had a safe, fun time amongst all the bigger, fiercer kids in her class. Steve who helped her with math homework and science projects, took her for a treat in equity for every A on her report card. Steve who took her house-to-house on Halloween and let her decorate the tree on Christmas with him. Steve who cleaned her cuts and scrapes every time she fell or got hurt, and then bought her ice cream to feel better. This was that Steve, albeit a much older, aged version of him.

 

            She could remember the young Steve even now, even though he lived deep in her childhood memories; she couldn’t recall everything else much efficiently, but he had just been such a regular part of her life that it would be the equivalent of not remembering what she saw when she looked in the mirror as a kid. That Steve used to be goofy and participated in all the immature, childish advents of her youth. He was slimmer, brighter, always smiling or laughing. She remembered his informal jeans and plaid button-downs, the t-shirts with the slogans or pictures, the sneakers he used to wear everywhere. She wondered when that Steve grew older and how she missed out on all the changes.

 

            There was a rap on the door that knocked the breath from her; she had been so absorbed by her thoughts, she hadn’t even realized amidst the daze that she’d been smiling. Quickly, Melody shoved the diaries into her nightstand and adjusted her position. “Yes?” she called.

 

            The door opened halfway, and Steve stood waiting with an assorted tray, not looking at her even once. “Gotcha food,” he mumbled.

 

            Melody remembered something then, something that had occurred to her in a spur-of-the-moment accident earlier, but that she had forgotten right afterwards again. It was there in her mind again now, making her feel queasy. “The food that you left for me,” she opened, and watched his ear twitch in perk. “You intentionally put something in it, didn’t you? You wanted me to get sick so you could get me to take those pills?”

 

            Steve still didn’t look at her, just chewed on his lip. The shame that graced his features told Mel what she needed to know.

 

            “Take it back. I’m not eating anything you give me,” she said coldly. For a moment, he shut his eyes in exasperation, seeming to contemplate. Then, he turned and left, closing the door behind him.

 

            It would be a lie to say that Mel wasn’t slightly disappointed. After all, she had expected for there to still be some fight in him. The way he had ended the conversation in the hospital room had indicated to her that he wouldn’t let up, and that he would keep prowling until things went his way. But his defeated demeanor lately was doing nobody any service. He had apologized to her numerous times by now but didn’t seem to have anything other than that to say. Consequently, this was a hindrance for Melody, who had several speeches lined up on the tip of her tongue, back-to-back. She wanted to fight this out, to get answers-but to ultimately reconcile.

 

            Because yes, she did want to reconcile. Even after what he had done, there wasn’t a single part of her that didn’t want things between them to be good again. They had shared too much of a life together to part ways, and Melody wasn’t one for tense air or severed ties anyhow. She knew, sooner or later, she would need him, or he would need her, and they would seek each other out. Because, really, who else could she turn to and count on completely to come through? Steve was only kin to her by word yet he had always been the single most effective and determined person in her life. He was reliable and omnipresent, no matter when or how she sought him out.

 

            Melody took the more recently-dated journal back out of the drawer and lay down on her front, flipping through the sketches again. She watched herself age across the pages, grow longer hair, go from wearing toddler dresses to boy-shorts and baseball caps as a first-grader. Only on her eighth round of gazing at the drawings did she pick up on the fact that the girl in the book seemed to smile more and more as she aged.

 

 

 

Sometime later, Mel awoke to the sound of the front door slamming shut. She lifted her face off the inked papers of the leather bound and listened carefully to the silence of the house, confused. Deciding to check out what was going on, she got out from her room and immediately felt the rumbling ache of hunger in her stomach.

           

            There were empty beer bottles in the living room, and an ash tray that Mel had never seen present in the house before. The air was thick with the stench of tobacco and she cracked all the windows open one by one to let out the pollution. The driveway was empty upon her check; that meant Steve had left to go somewhere. But he was evidently drunk and not in the appropriate functioning state to be driving anywhere.

 

            A flood of worry hit Melody as she searched out her cell and tried calling him, but it rang and then went to voicemail. He’s probably driving, anyways, she thought, and abandoned the attempt to get in contact with him over phone call for the time being.

 

            In the meanwhile, she put together a sandwich as distraction, and tried to eat it in front of the television. It proved difficult to swallow with the empty glass bottles sitting here and there, mocking and teasing her paranoia. She lost her appetite halfway through the sandwich and returned to calling Steve again. Not once out of the seven times did he pick up or text her to let her know of his whereabouts.

 

            Melody remembered the testimonies she had read in the black leather book. She wasn’t negligent to the words of contempt and helplessness that claimed their place on the pages of his past. She reminisced, in particular, the suicide note, and a stinging panic overtook her. Steve. It was Steve who had written the note; Steve, who had tried once before to end his life. Steve, who had been up to his head in misery and segregation from joy; who evidently had tried to heal and come forth from that in the last twenty years.

 

            And who was the reason for it? Not his family, nor his friends. It was her, wasn’t it? All the change, all the years that had added on to his survival, all the attempts to just live, they were all nature in a garden that bloomed just because of her. Whatever cliff his feelings for her had reached now, they had clearly started out as something intrinsic, as something wholehearted. As far as Melody could remember, her and Steve’s relationship had always been a constant one-sided delivery, consisting of copious amounts of selfless love. He had never asked her for anything in return, and she seemingly hadn’t given him anything, anyhow. But now, in hindsight of all the facts Melody had so far, it was clear that for Steve, simply having her in his life was all he ever cared for. He didn’t need her to do anything for him, as long as he had her.

 

            The panic intensified as Melody came to a dozen assumptions, each one more hectic and bizarre than the next. He’s drunk. What if he’s going to try and hurt himself again? What if something happens to him? What if I lose him?

 

 

*****

 

 

Steve had left the house that night with a bag full of booze and cigarette packs. He’d drunk-driven through the busy streets at midnight all the way to Manhattan, where Vanessa–an old college connection and yet another hook-up buddy he’d formed–lived, in a dingy one-bedroom apartment.

 

            Vanessa was older than Steve but lived and acted as if she were still in her twenties. She was a welcoming outlet for his anger and self-loathing as they drank together in copious amounts, smoked, and talked about how disastrous the world was. Vanessa was a divorced African-American single mother, rejected by her parents a long time ago for not completing a degree and going straight into the police force; left by her ex-husband due to her strong wit and ambition. Where she domineered men and women alike during the day as a police detective, she enjoyed being manhandled behind closed doors.

 

             Steve couldn’t understand why she would enjoy being slapped across the face or strangled mercilessly, but their relationship–if there even was one–had no room for personal stories or opening up. They got wasted, fucked until one or both were bleeding, and parted ways. For Steve, Vanessa was an example of someone so deprived of affection that she had begun to enjoy hate and pain; he had always hoped to keep his little girl from turning out to be like that. For Vanessa, Steve was just another man who unsuccessfully hid his pervasive, feral urges until given opportunity to display them.

 

             “Dude, what the fuck happened to you?” she asked as he stormed past her and went straight to the freezer. Corona and Guinness Black bottles were stacked inside in a line; whiskey decanters loaded into the lower fridge portion. He put out the cigarette he was smoking in the sink before lighting another one. Vanessa took in his swollen, putrid knuckles and unkempt hair and beard and immediately knew this rut was a deep one. “Don’t tell me you’re relapsing, Rogers. Jesus Christ.”

 

             “Who gives a flying fuck,” he spat. “I sure don’t.”

 

             “You okay, dude?” She closed the door finally and made her way back to the couch in front of the TV. “You look…really bad.”

 

             “What’s the deal, Vanessa?” He took a long drag on the cigarette before ashing it in the kitchen sink. “We don’t talk about our lives, remember?”

 

             “The deal is that I’m a fucking cop, you nut job,” she reminded him. “You ain’t gonna walk into my house lookin’ like you had the absolute shit knocked out of you without any questions.”

 

             “I didn’t get into any fights, if that’s what you’re asking. I stopped that shit a while ago.” He put out the second butt and stomped over to the couch, dropping down against the cushions violently.

 

             “Are you drunk?” she asked, peering at him carefully. “Didn’t you drive here?”

 

             He gave her a steely glare. “I don’t have the patience in me right now to deal with your shit. This whole week’s been fucked. Let’s watch the fuckin’ game and drink like the usual, or I can pack my shit up and leave your fuckin’ precinct.”

 

             Of course, his entire demeanor or approach didn’t come off as new or abnormal to Vanessa at all, who–for the past fifteen years–had only known Steve as a punch-throwing, beer-drinking, chain-smoking, profanity-slewing–yet one hot–son of a bitch. She didn’t have any different side to him to compare this persona to.

 

             “Okay, Rogers, damn. Put a bitch in her place, why don’t you?”

 

             “Yeah, I will, just let these jackasses win a fuckin’ game for once, maybe,” he spat.

 

             They watched the football game for about two hours, waiting for the result; the whole time Steve’s eyes were on the screen, he had only been thinking about Melody. He was upset with her, yes, but that didn’t compare to the amount of anger and hate he felt towards himself. She had ended up in the hospital because of what he did. What if something really had happened to her? He already couldn’t forgive himself. He had forgotten to live in the past week–skipping meals and basic hygiene, staying awake for abnormal amounts of time, drowning out the noise in his head with alcohol and energy drinks to keep him going through the day. If this continued, he would be in no shape for the follow-up on the deal with the Canadian owners, which was in less than two weeks.

 

             They’d finished around twenty bottles between them in those two hours, and by the time the last touchdown was scored, they were hissing and growling frivolously between the derogatory sounds of skin slapping against skin.

 

             Fuck it, he kept thinking, choking Vanessa aggressively as he drilled into her from behind. She doesn’t care if I fuck someone else. Never has, never will.

 

             An angry roar of anguish erupted from his chest as he thought back to Mel; the fact that she had comfortably spent a week without even looking at him made his heart hurt. He knotted his fingers into Vanessa’s curls and mercilessly shoved her face down into the ripped leather of the couch, pounding his hips against hers with no care or empathy. He wondered why she enjoyed this–this experience of being treated worse than an animal, of being used for one’s own pleasure. He wondered why he enjoyed the sex that they had, with all of its hitting, smacking, its asphyxiation and humiliation. He knew he could never let himself get used to it. This wasn’t who he was.

 

             But it didn’t matter who he was, or how he was, did it? Because no matter how much love and care he showed, she would never accept him.

 

             With shame, Steve realized the setting just wasn't violent enough for him. He pulled out and threw Vanessa to the hard, cold ground and positioned her on her knees again. He fucked her callously, clawed into her darker complexion everywhere until it was raised and tender, let her scratch his back and chest until the embedded crescents in his pale skin began drawing droplets of blood.

 

             They kept going until Steve passed out on the couch in disheartening fatigue, a loss of energy so dire that he couldn’t even make sense of anything around him anymore. Vanessa began cleaning up, using the peace and quiet to pick up the empty bottles and clear away the broken glass and spilled food and drink. She showered, too, letting the cold water out-focus the events of the night. When she came out, she heard a buzzing from the living room and found Steven’s phone ringing endlessly. It didn’t seem like the caller–someone named Mel, most likely another fuck-buddy, Vanessa decided–would give up anytime soon, so she answered in his place.

 

             “Hello?” she asked. Her deep, feminine voice threw Melody off guard.

 

             “Hello? Who is this?” Mel asked.

 

             “Who is this?” Vanessa threw back.

 

             “Um–it’s Melody… Is Steve there?” Whoever this girl was, she sounded very fragile and lost. Vanessa rolled her eyes.

 

             “Yes, Steve is here, sweetie, but he’s asleep. He’s had enough fucking for tonight, so whatever he told you, drop it. He won’t be coming over, okay? G’bye.” She hung up and turned the cell phone off, setting it aside. Before calling it a night, Vanessa shoved a cushion under Steve’s head and threw a blanket over him that barely covered his massive body.

Chapter Text

            Steve spent three days inside Vanessa’s apartment. She would go to work or run errands, but Steve remained glued to the battered couch. His eyes were constantly red-rimmed and stuck to the TV screen, but she could tell his brain wasn’t integrating any of it. He continued to drink his way through the day and throw up generously towards the end of the night, but no matter what Vanessa said, he kept slapping hundreds into her hand and telling her to buy him more alcohol. She was beginning to grow concerned over where he got this kind of money from. For all she’d ever known, Steven was a low-life who just got by doing random work here and there; he had no family or future. Perhaps that’s what comforted her most about him–she saw a lot of her past self in his habits.

 

            They had sex numerous times, each time somehow more violent than the last, each time without a care for the other’s satisfaction. They never said one another’s names or looked into each other’s eyes. And why would they? He and she both knew if they did, they would only see the same hatred and disgust staring back.

 

            Vanessa forgot to mention the phone call to Steve, and he didn’t realize anything himself because his phone had been forgotten since that night. Switched off, it lay unnoticed on a console table somewhere by the entrance of the apartment. In a fight to fuck his way into oblivion, Steve refused to let himself think about Melody. But that ordeal in itself brought its impacts–if Mel wasn’t the centre of his attention, there was not a solitary being in the rest of the universe that Steve could bring himself to care for, including his own existence.

 

            By the fourth day, after an incessant round of aggressive pleasure-seeking, Steve felt capable enough to drive himself back to Larchmont. He didn’t bother saying anything to Vanessa; she was covering a shift at the precinct. He just gathered his stuff and left. This was how it always went with them, after all–at least once or twice a year, Steve showed up to apartment 4D with no warning, and disappeared just as ambiguously.

 

            He stumbled through the front door around six in the morning, and almost tripped over a body. Melody was curled up against the wall on the cold tiles, her face hidden by her arms. It took a moment of disorientation for Steve to realize that the way her body shook was because she was crying. Pain engulfed his chest, but he forced himself to remain astute; side-stepping her figure, he walked further into the dark house, leaving her seemingly forgotten behind.

 

            Melody felt a fresh wave of agony, as if a wound had torn open in her heart. She choked on a sob, her torment becoming louder every second throughout the otherwise quiet whitestone. The rejection and worthlessness she felt because of him in that moment was unmatched by any other pain–even the loss of her mother–and it was in that moment and because of that searing feeling inside of her that Mel realized she couldn’t live without Steve.

 

            On the other side of the house in the kitchen, when he couldn’t hear her anymore, Steve became curious and retraced his steps. Panic struck him when he found the door ajar and the entrance of the house empty. He lunged outside and whipped his head around, but the street was silent and empty in the first peak of morning. Steve slammed the door behind him and ran as coherently as he could, covering the blocks to the bus stop, but it was deserted. Would she have gone towards denser civilization?

 

            No, she would have gone the opposite way. The bridge.

 

            The Archie bridge was an abandoned old attempt at merging two roadways over a rickety stream. In the midst of construction, the project had been called off due to the de-population of the area. Now, the place was just an aged, rough cobblestone structure over an even denser river with wildlife surrounding it. Steve just knew she had to have headed over there. With a nauseous feeling making its presence known in his stomach, he found it difficult to run back up the hill towards the houses, and then all the way past the neighbourhood blocks that lay one after another, towards the forest.

 

 

 

Melody was still at the edge of the tree thicket but moved onwards without any hesitation. There was so much pain inside of her that she didn’t even understand how her legs found it in them to keep going, but they did; with her head hung low, she pulled the material of Steve’s sweater tighter and clutched herself, the tears never-ending. All she knew was that she had to get away and be alone–if he didn’t want her, then there was little else that Melody cared about.

 

            When she reached the cobblestone bridge, she stood by the edge and stared down at the crashing river below in fascination. Fat, salty tears rolled down her cheeks and fell towards the earth, merging with the dark blue current like raindrops. The colour only reminded her of his irises, and she squeezed her eyes shut with a sob, clutching her hands into fists against her chest.

 

            In a split second, she was yanked backwards and slammed into a hard surface. Melody whirled around as Steve began shouting at her in a panic.

 

            “What the hell are you thinking? Are you even thinking? What were you about to do just now?”

 

            She blinked up at him through the tears in silent disbelief. His skin was flushed the colour of the sky as the sun sauntered shyly upon the horizon, and his chest was heaving as he spoke between coughs.

 

            Steve only now noticed the old sweater she was wearing; one he had worn out to great lengths a few years prior. “What are you doing? Why did you run away?”

 

            For a long time, Melody just looked at him, continuing to leak tears like a faucet. And then, all of a sudden, she pushed him with all the strength she could muster. He stumbled back and she advanced, continuously slapping his chest, throwing her fists weakly against whichever part of his body she could manage.

 

            “You left me,” she sobbed. “You left me, all alone. You just left. I hate you! I called you so many times. You didn’t even answer me. You didn’t even care! You just left and went to someone else. Why did you leave? Why did you leave me? You never leave me.”

 

            Her attacks got weaker and weaker, and eventually, Steve just gathered her tightly in his arms, putting all the force he could summon into it. He kissed her head again and again, muttering a chain of I’m sorry, I’m so sorry repeatedly.

 

            “I never wanted to hurt you,” he managed through his own anguish. “I never wanted that to happen. I felt so hopeless.”

 

            “You don’t know what hopeless feels like,” she mumbled into his chest. “You weren’t waiting day and night, crying the whole time, worried sick. Why didn’t you answer my texts? Why didn’t you pick up the phone?” She hit her hand feebly against his chest again.

 

            “My phone wasn’t on, Melody. I’m so sorry. I didn’t even know. You have no idea how hard it is for me to be away from you.” He hid his face in the crook of her neck, but she pulled back to look up at him with a new sadness in her deep, brown eyes.

 

            “It’s so easy for you,” she shook her head. “You were with someone else the whole time.”

 

            His mouth dropped open in shock. “You–how?”

 

            “The first night, after you left, I called…” Her face crumbled again as fresh tears poured over her cheeks. “A woman picked up…said you guys…you–God. You just…with someone else?”

 

            She began to sink to her knees in defeat before Steven helped her back up in support. He was consumed with repentance before her; it was as if he could feel everything she were feeling, in addition to his own trouble.


            “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I couldn’t think, Melody, I was so dead inside,” he breathed out. “I hate myself for everything. I’m so ashamed.”

 

            “You came home and–and–and you didn’t even look at me… You just–you walked away…you just rejected me. And it hurt so much…” She let out a loud wail, muffled by his chest. It dawned on her then that this feeling of being unwanted, of not having your affection for someone be reciprocated–this was what Steve had felt this entire time. He had dealt with it more subtly before, and then he had combatted it face-to-face in the recent weeks. She wondered how he had dealt with the sensation.

 

            “I didn’t want to hurt you again,” he said shakily. “I would never reject you, Mel. You’re my entire life.”

 

            There was a faint howl that sounded from somewhere in the distance, and they both perked up, frozen in place. “Come on, let’s go home. It’s not safe here,” he said quickly, and took her by the hand.

 

            They hurried out of the forest curvature together, breathing heavily, constantly looking back in the approaching sunlight as they made their way home, fingers entwined tightly.

Chapter Text

            It was clear in the following days to Steve that Mel wasn’t completely at terms with everything yet. Although they spoke to each other, ate together, and were civil, Steve could tell that she was still shaken up by everything. She was still wary when he offered her anything to eat, eyeing it suspiciously until he would heave out a sigh and explain that he hadn’t added anything in this time around. Furthermore, from their reconciliation at the Archie bridge, it had seemed to Steve as if they were on good terms again, and that they could go back to the regular–whatever that new regular was. This impression had clearly been an error, because Mel had not let Steve touch her at all, no matter how innocuous.  

 

            “What did you do?” she asked from behind him one day, after they’d returned home from a trip to the grocery store. He stepped around to look at her and caught her eyeing his hands carefully.

 

            “I was…just boxing.”

 

            “Just boxing?” she repeated. “You’ve never had injuries like those ones.”

 

            She wasn’t wrong–for the most part. She had never seen him have injuries like these–his fighting days were in the past now; a different universe, it seemed. The cuts and blisters that sat on a bed of bruised knuckles had not been sported by Steve in years.

 

            “Why now?” she blinked, relentless. They looked at each other silently for a moment; Melody watched his lip twitch slightly, as if preparing for speech.

 

            “I thought–” He stopped, clenching his fists and taking a deep breath. “I thought if I…punished myself… I just thought that maybe if I hurt myself enough, I could make up for what I did. But it’s stupid. There’s no coming back from that.”

 

            Melody could see how difficult it was for him to get the words out. She knew he was suffering more internally for what he’d done than even she was at times, but she couldn’t just gloss over it all and move on in a matter of days. Yes, she felt bad for seeing him suffer like this, but he had to know how much he had let her down. In reality, a part of her just really wanted to see the hurt that she was feeling impact him as well. Another part of her knew that he was already experiencing that torture without the added effort.

 

            She began taking the produce out of the reusable bags and piling it into the fridge. “You shouldn’t do that. It doesn’t make me feel any better if you hurt yourself because of me.”

 

            Steve looked at her then, while she had her back to him, and felt a sting at his tear ducts. “I should be doing way more than this. You have no idea how much I hate myself these days.”

 

            Melody turned to him, closing the fridge behind her, and saw the glassiness of his eyes. He didn’t meet her gaze as he began folding up the bags and compiling them all inside of one. Mel stepped closer to him and stopped his movements, placing her hand gently atop his. The blisters and wounds felt very real and sent pangs of sadness that nailed themselves into her chest.

 

            “Hate yourself as much as before?” she asked quietly.

 

            He knew what she was referring to. With a trembling lip, he answered, “More than before.”

 

            There were tears in her own eyes now as she took a deep breath. “Please don’t try to hurt yourself like before.”

 

            “I’m so sorry–”

 

            “I know. I know, Steve.” She couldn’t watch it anymore, his flushed and crumbling face, red lips shaking with hidden sobs. Melody lifted her arms slightly; as if on cue, Steve huddled inside of her waiting embrace, breaking down in wails she had not heard from him before that day.

 

            She held him for a long time, watching the trees sway drunkenly amidst the lazy breeze through the sliding glass door to the backyard, letting him squeeze the breath out of her until his sobs died down. The wet tears in the nook of her neck and the sound of his cries dissipated the angry, harsh lines in her head until they were nothing but smudges of sadness and confusion. She began tipping backwards from the weight of his body eventually, and Steve finally pulled away, head hung low as he wiped the remainder of his tears.

 

            “Bad things happened,” she began, unaware of where she was headed with her words, but hoping they would make the situation better in any way at all. “But bad things have happened before…worse things. What you did, it was wrong to do that…”

 

            Steve closed his eyes, wincing at the reminder, his face one of disgust.

 

            “But that was the first time that you intentionally did something to hurt me,” she offered, knowing it was no excuse and hoping it wouldn’t be taken as one. “And I hope it was the last time, too.”

 

            “The last time,” he nodded quickly, taking a shaky breath. “I wish I could go back and undo it.”

 

            She thought for a moment, then shook her head. “I guess, in a way, what you did forced me to focus on some thoughts that I always avoided. Every single time I gave myself up in the last week…each time was like a sledgehammer, against a brick in the walls of false pretense that I created in my head.”

 

            Even Melody was impressed with her choice of words–for maybe the first time, she sounded like an eloquent adult. Especially in the current situation, after having offered him condolence and comfort, she felt like the bigger, wiser person–for once–and not the naive child she’d always been labelled as every other time.

 

            “I could have lost you… And not even that–you have a whole life to live, so much to do. I could have taken that all away from you–I could have taken you away from me–I will never forgive myself.”

 

            It was important for Melody that he cared about her life, and not just her presence in his. She had been hoping it would have mattered to him more than his own prerequisites of having her around just so he could get by. She placed a gentle hand on his chest, soothing over the material of his blue polo.

 

            “I forgive you, Steve.”

 

            He shook his head. “I know you don’t.”

 

            “I’m telling you I have,” she insisted. “I just need some time. There’s a lot that I have to think about. There’s a lot I have to ask about, too.”

 

            “So talk to me,” he sighed. “I don’t care when or how much, but please, just talk to me. Don’t shut me out.”

 

            “I’m not shutting you out, Steve. I just need to be my own person. I’ve spent my whole life with you, and I’ve depended on your presence so much that I don’t know who I am without you.”

 

            “Mel, it’s the same for me–”

 

            “But that’s not a good thing, Steve. It’s not healthy for us to not be our own people. It’s not healthy for you to become a drunk mess just because I’m not speaking to you.”

 

            Steven’s face became ridden with hurt at her words, and she realized then how it must have sounded to him. She shook her head no at him, took his face in both of her hands, letting her fingers feel lightly through the thick beard across his jaw.

 

            “That’s not what I mean. Steve, I was so worried when I found out how much you’d been drinking. And you smelled like cigarettes, too, that morning you came home. I never even knew you did these things, apart from the occasional drink. I can’t have you relapsing into deprecation every time something goes downhill. We have a life ahead of us, and there will obviously be ups and downs. I need you here with me, alive and healthy, through the downs as well as the ups.”

 

            He hung on to every word with hope and nodded with understanding, cupping his own, larger hands over her own. “I’m sorry. I never wanted you to see that side of me. I’m ashamed of who I am when I’m not with you.”

 

            “You don’t have to be ashamed, Steve. We all have parts to us that we’re not proud of. But you shouldn’t hide any part–not from me, please, and especially not from yourself.”

 

            He raised his brow in concern. “You saw what I am when I’m at my lowest. Would you ever accept that part of me? Could you ever call that part your Steve?”

 

            “No matter how you are, you’re always going to be my Steve,” she assured, wiping tears from his tinged cheeks with her thumbs. “I grew up seeing the universe revolve around you. That will never change, no matter what happens to us.”

 

            She hoped her words were helping, but her gut dropped when his face broke again slightly.

 

            “But you’ll never love me in that way.”

 

            Melody tensed, pursing her lips. “Give me time, Steve. Wait for me.”

 

            Steve swallowed, nodding. He stepped back and leaned his bottom against the countertop, letting his body return to its regular grace and calm. He peered down at her and gave a small, tight smile, but anyone could tell that the warmth in his eyes wasn’t the tiniest bit forced.

 

            “I’ve given you seventeen years, Melody. I’ll give you another lifetime, if you ask for it.”

Chapter Text

            “What’s up with you, Mel-bell?” Maryam chided from across the table.

 

            The girls all turned their attention to Melody from around the booth they were seated in. It was a busy afternoon at Denny’s, with a bustle of servers rushing around to collect orders and serve them as quickly as they could. The girls had all met up outside the doors half an hour prior and had been seated at the nice corner booth, which they all agreed compensated for the extended waiting time.

 

            Melody had sat near the end, hoping to not be the centre of focus at all the following evening. There was too much bubbling inside, and the slightest opportunity to share her ordeal with anyone at all would have everything spilling out like hot tarmac; once it was set, there was no taking it back. She didn’t even want to think about the calamities that would ensue if anyone were to find out about her relations with Steve. Of course, she trusted her friends, but she didn’t entirely trust the community of parents around Larchmont.

 

            “I’m just wondering what senior year is going to be like,” she lied with a convincingly dreamy sigh.

 

            “Lame as the others, if not more,” Gemma retorted with a roll of her eyes. Melody noticed that the two were sitting beside each other, which had rarely ever happened before–or maybe, she was just beginning to hyper-focus on it now.

 

            “Can you guys believe we’re graduating this year?” This was a genuine remark from Melody, directed towards Blaire and Lia; the years really had flown by. The blinding horizon of being done with the school system and moving on to who knew what was at times daunting, to say the least.

 

            “It feels special now, but it won’t when you’re cramming for college or working shitty, long hours at a job that sucks ass,” Farah informed from beside her.

 

            Maryam, Gemma, and Farah had graduated high school a year before. All three were off for the summer from college, similar to the three younger girls, who were still in high school but were also on summer vacation. By far, the youngest in the group in accordance to birthdays was Melody, and she often found herself being babied by the group as they found it a convenient way to tease her.

 

            “It’s still special,” Blaire shrugged. “My parents want me to apply to UCLA, by the way. They think I can really do something with my ‘artistic streak’.”

 

            “You definitely can, and you should,” Lia nodded, and the whole group agreed.

 

            “But it’s so far away,” Blaire countered. “I wouldn’t get to see you guys besides the summer.”

 

            “Nonsense, that’s why the internet exists, you dummy,” Maryam jibed. “We’ll harass you every day over Skype, just like we do now in person.”

 

            Farah cut in promptly. “Not doing the best thing for yourself career-wise just because you don’t want to be far away from your friends is a really bad decision, Blaire. Don’t be stupid.”

 

            As the rest of them chimed in altogether, Farah turned towards Mel with a serious look on her face. “You. I know there’s something going on with you,” she said in a hushed tone. “Blaire and I were talking about it, too. You don’t seem very present anymore. What’s the matter?”

 

            Melody shook her head, feigning a shocked expression. “No…nothing–honestly.”

 

            “Okay well that’s a fuckin’ lie.” Her friend arched a sharp eyebrow at her. “Seriously Mel, if there’s something going on, you can talk to us. We worry about you a lot, you know? We all love you.”

 

            “And I love you guys,” Mel smiled. “But trust me, nothing is wrong. Everything is fine at home.”

 

            Farah tilted her head to the side, studying her friend carefully. “Nobody said anything about home, Melody.”

 

            She froze up, eyes slightly wide. “I–I just assumed–because there’s nothing else going on nowadays anyway–”

 

            “How can I help you girls today?” A waiter had finally showed up–and he wasn’t too harsh on the eyes, either. Farah’s eyebrows shot up to her intricately gelled hairline and Lia sat up straighter immediately. The boy–his nametag read Ted–was ambiguous in terms of age; he could have been eighteen or twenty-eight, there was nothing determining about his features in that sense. But he was tall and lean with chestnut hair and hazel eyes, and his smile could have been on a poster.

 

            Maryam coughed slightly at the other girls as Ted took in their gawking faces warily. Melody took the break from attention to excuse herself and slip away to the washroom. “Can you just order me the banana pancake breakfast please?” she told Farah in a rushed whisper, halfway out of her seat.

 

            Ted noticed Melody as she shuffled awkwardly towards the washroom in the distance, clearly discomforted by something. He liked the sway of her wavy hair as she tucked it behind her ear, and the dark red sundress she had on under the jean jacket. She seemed warm and kind.

 

            Of course, all the girls noticed this right away, and it became even more evident when they had to repeat their orders to him several times. When Melody returned, she was disappointed to see that the distraction of a server was gone, and she was left to her friends again.

 

            Blaire was chipper than need be when her friend joined them again. “Hey, he thinks you’re cute, Mels!”

 

            “What? Who?”

 

            “The waiter guy,” Lia offered. “Come on, we all noticed him.”

 

            “But he only noticed you,” Gemma whistled.

 

            “Guys, don’t be ridiculous.” Melody checked her phone to see if anyone had called or texted. To her utter dismay, there were no notifications on the screen. Steve usually would contact her throughout the day if she went out somewhere, or vice versa. Why hadn’t he tried to get in touch with her now?

 

            She cringed internally. What is he, twelve? There was no reason to expect him to behave like a teenager, just because she wanted to message with him back and forth like one. She put her cell back in her jacket pocket and tuned back in to the conversation.

 

            “I know he’s gonna try and ask for her number,” Maryam bet.

 

            “What are you even basing that on?” Melody asked.

 

            “Uh, he stared at you for fifteen years while we tried to tell him what we wanted to eat,” Farah informed. “He definitely wants to throw down.”

 

            Melody sighed, shrugging. “I don’t. He’s not my type, anyways.”

 

            “And what is your type, exactly?” Gemma shook her head in dismay.

 

            Blond and blue eyes was ringing in Mel’s head before she could shut out the thought. She shook off the words before she could blurt them out loud. “I don’t know…just not him.”

 

            Farah snorted. “He’s everyone’s type, Marsh Mellow. His name is Theodore, for fuck’s sake. Where have you even met a Theo in real life? I never have.”

 

            “I have a cousin named Theodore in Puerto Rico,” Lia offered.

 

            “Is he hot though?” Farah snapped.

 

            Lia cursed under her breath in Spanish. “I don’t want to think about my cousin like that, you slut.”

 

            “Yeah so keep it shut, Aalia.”

 

            “Oh, we’re on to full names now, are we?” Lia crossed her arms in defiance. “Okay, Farah Mokumbe-Adebayo.

 

            “Bitch, don’t butcher my name,” she threw back.

 

            “Hey, dumb-dumbs, can we focus? He’s coming back with our drinks,” Gemma pointed out.

 

            Ted carefully set down an arrangement of different beverages; a birthday cake milkshake for Blaire, a root beer for Gemma, a chai for Maryam, regular double-double for Farah, and orange juice for Mel. Lia had chosen to stick to water, it seemed; fizzy and sugary drinks supposedly made her feel sick.

 

            “The orange juice is fresh,” Ted smiled at Melody as he set the cup down. “And I added a straw, in case.”

 

            “Uh, you forgot a straw for my milkshake,” Blaire pointed out.

 

            “Oh!” Ted patted down his apron. “I am so sorry about that–I’ll be right back.”

 

            “The orange juice is fresh,” Maryam mocked at Mel as soon as the boy was gone. “Just like his ass.”

 

            “He got her a straw for her juice and didn’t get one for her fucking milkshake!” Lia gestured to the two different glasses.

 

            “Yeah, he’s clearly finding ways to keep coming back to the booth, you idiots,” Gemma concluded, having taken a sip of her drink. “This isn’t even root beer, it’s Coke Zero.”

 

            “Are you sure?” Melody frowned.

 

            “Yes, I’m sure. Coke Zero tastes like what I think Trump smells like,” her friend threw back. “Either he’s doing it all on purpose or you really do have him whipped.”

 

            “Maybe he’s just having a bad day,” Melody shrugged. Upon feeling a vibration in her pocket, she immediately whipped her phone out in anticipation. To an extent of disappointment and some surprise, the text was from Maryam.

 

            I have to talk to you.

 

            Melody made eye contact with her friend from across the booth and she nodded at her once.

 

            Ted made quite a few errors during the remainder of their time at Denny’s, including bringing the wrong orders, the wrong types of eggs in the orders, and even incorrect bills. He kept throwing small smiles of embarrassment at Mel on the side, which she kept avoiding with a furious blush. Her mind was stuck only on one person at the moment, and she knew it would stay that way for as long as possible.

 

            Their server made sure Melody was the last one to pay; the girls understood his tactic, and all stood up to leave through the doors to give them a moment alone, ignoring Mel’s pleading looks. “Her name is Melody, by the way,” Farah offered.

 

            “She’s single!” Gemma called from the door.

 

            By now, Mel was burning up with humility, doing everything to avoid looking at Ted, who thought the way she was blushing was rather adorable. “I’m not really that clumsy, by the way,” he chuckled in his deep voice. “I just wanted to keep coming back.”

 

            “Oh…” She was flustered to the point that she couldn’t find words. “Nice.”

 

            “Could I get your number, maybe? I’d like to take you out, if that’s okay with you,” he shrugged nervously.

 

            “Um–uh–um, okay–uh…” Melody hadn’t ever rejected anyone before; she hadn’t had to. Now that she did, she didn’t know how.

 

            Of course, the boy just took her hesitation as nervous shyness. “My name is Theodore, by the way, but I go by Ted. Here, if you want you can just write your number on here,” he smiled, passing her a pen and napkin.

 

            Melody hesitated some more before finally speaking up. “I’m actually–I can’t, I’m so sorry. You’re really nice–and my friends all think you’re cute, but I’m so sorry–I’m kind of seeing someone.”

 

            Ted pursed his lips awkwardly, and she watched a dimple of sadness form in his cheek. “Uh…that’s okay, don’t worry about it. Worth a shot, right? Maybe I’ll see you around.”

 

            She smiled without looking at him, then rushed out of the exit. “You guys are the worst!” she exclaimed at her group of friends, who were all snickering right outside the door.

 

            “Did he get your number?” Lia asked, hand on her hip. “Tell me he got your number, Melody Grace.”

 

            “No, I didn’t give it to him,” she huffed. “That was so embarrassing. I’m never coming out with you guys again.”

 

            “I can’t believe you passed up on that,” Blaire said.

 

            “Cheer up, Mel-bell.” Farah smacked her on the backside teasingly. “He’s gonna break you sooner or later.”

 

           

*****

 

 

Maryam and Melody had purposely fallen to the back of the group to attain some privacy from the rest of the girls as they walked along the harbour. Mel noticed Gemma glancing back every few minutes to throw a smile at Maryam, who smirked back.

 

            “You know she likes you, right?” Melody muttered. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed it yet, but she really does.”

 

            “Yeah, she better,” Maryam retorted. “You know, seeing as we’re dating now.”

 

            “What?” Mel stopped in her tracks, jaw slack on the floor. “You guys are what?”

 

            Her friend giggled quietly and offered an innocent shrug. “That day, after we all left your house, she and I were alone in the end when she was driving me home. We sat in her car and talked for a long time, and she told me about her feelings. I guess I’ve felt ways about her for a while now, but I didn’t want to indulge in those feelings–you know, what with my ethnic background and all. It’s gonna be a hoot when I come out to my Christian, church-going parents–if I ever do.”

 

            Melody wrapped her arms around her tightly, finding it hard to stop grinning foolishly. “I’m so, so happy for you two. And thank you, for trusting me and for sharing with me.”

 

            “Yeah, well, Gem told me she confided in you for a while, and you were good to her about it. We thought you might have liked to know what was going on.”

 

            “I appreciate the thought,” she smiled. “God, I’m going to absolutely butcher Gemma about this now.”

 

            “Ay, leave my girlfriend alone, Mel-bell,” Maryam warned playfully.

 

            “Are you guys going to tell the rest of the girls?” Melody asked.

 

            “Of course, we have to at some point,” she shrugged. “We’re just waiting to see if these dumbasses figure it out on their own or not. You know we were holding hands at the Denny’s, right?”

 

 

*****

 

 

Steve was seated in the study, peering at the laptop screen through his glasses with tired eyes. He heard the front door and perked up; all his focus shifted immediately. Melody walked warily around the quiet house, wondering where he could be. When she passed the room with the wooden door left wide open, she was startled by the call of her name and backtracked to peek inside.

 

            “Hey,” she greeted sheepishly, lingering in the large frame of the entrance.

 

            “Come inside,” he encouraged. “I have something to ask.”

 

            Her interest peaked as she sat down in one of the armrest chairs by the heavy desk, across from him. “What is it?”

 

            He closed the MacBook gently and pushed it aside but left on his glasses. It was a good look on him, the sophisticated rectangular frame graced his features nicely. “Did you have fun with your friends?” he asked.

 

            “Yeah, it was nice,” she admitted, intentionally leaving out the ordeal with the boy at Denny’s.

 

            He smiled slightly; she noticed he was having difficulty meeting her eyes nowadays. That wasn’t comforting to her, but she could understand the sentiment behind it, and was glad that he hadn’t just glossed over everything yet. “Is that all?” she questioned him.

 

            “No, I…I was wondering. I’m flying out again in a few days for work. I was wondering if you would like to come with me. It might be a nice change.”

 

            He wanted to get her out of the cooped-up environment and take her to see different places and people. In his head, he hoped he could do something to make her feel less distraught, and to maybe make it up to her. He had thought that perhaps a trip outside of the country would lighten her up.

 

            “Where are you going?” she asked. There were a lot of things regarding his work life that Melody apparently had no idea of. She still didn’t have an A to B about what exactly he did or whom he worked with. The prospect of travelling was appealing to her, yes, mainly because she would get to be with him, and because she didn’t want to be left by herself again. If things worked out, she could even learn something about his professional life on the journey.

 

            “We’d be going to Canada,” he responded. “Well, first we’d go to Washington for some other work I have, then back to New York to meet with the rest of my team. Then we would all go North from there.”

 

            “The team?” she asked.

 

            “Yeah, they’re all my friends. Some I’ve known for over ten years; others, more recently. We all worked together to build the business up,” he explained. “They all know about you; they ask about you a lot. You might like being around them.”

           

            “Oh. What do you guys do again?”

 

            “’ve you heard of Stark Industries?” There was a mischievous gleam in his eyes when Melody widened her own in surprise.

 

            “Yeah, of course. Who hasn’t?”

 

            He shrugged casually. “Tony Stark is my buddy. I have a pretty big hand in Stark Industries.”

 

            Well that threw her completely off-guard. “You work for Stark Industries?”

 

            “No,” he shook his head. “I’m one of the board members at Stark Industries.”

 

            “A board member?” She blinked in fascination. “So, like…you…”

 

            “I’m one of the directors, I run the business deals, and I happen to own some shares because of my investments back in the day.” He could tell he had blown her away with this information.

 

            Melody leaned back in the chair, looking lost and confused. She had always thought he was the average nine-to-five worker, except he did most of his stuff from home. She would have never guessed in a million years that Steve was a hefty part of one of the most designated and renowned multi-technology and services conglomerates in all of North America, and most likely the world, in the foreseeable future. Suddenly the testimonies in his will began taking new meaning in her head.

 

            “So…you like…know Anthony Stark, Dr. Bruce Banner, all of them?” she questioned.

 

            “They’re my friends,” he repeated.

 

            Her brow shot up once again in disbelief, as if he were telling her for the first time. “Does that mean…so you’re like, rich and famous then?”

 

            “I wouldn’t say famous. It depends on the institution. I’m not celebrity-famous, but the news is pretty into us.” He bobbed his shoulders casually.

 

            “But you have a lot of money?” she reinstated.

 

            “We have a lot of money,” he corrected.

 

            She shot up in her seat hopefully. “So I don’t have to apply for scholarships for college?”

 

            “No, you don’t,” he chuckled, some of the warmth now returned to his beautiful features. “We have enough money and land to build you your own little college, probably.”

 

            “Would you still let me work a part-time job, if I ever wanted to?”

 

            “Why would you need to do that?” he asked curiously.

 

            She shrugged. “I don’t know. Basically all my friends work part-time.”

 

            “Well, now that you’re almost eighteen, I can give you access to the bank account I started up when you were five. You can do whatever with the money in there. Give it to your friends, buy them cars, whatever.”

 

            She frowned. “You mean my trust fund? Isn’t that for school?”

 

            “The trust fund is a separate thing. This is a leisure spending account.”

 

            “Do you think a leisure spending account would have enough money for all my friends?” she asked in concern.

 

            Steve gazed at her delicate pout with sheer admiration. The innocence of her questions and worries warmed his heart. “I’ve been fuelling that thing for some twelve years, so yes, it should have more than enough in it.”

 

            She sat deep in thought again, still ridden with shock at all the new information. After watching her thoughts spiral by her facial expressions, Steve cleared his throat. “So, what’s the deal? You wanna come with me? Meet my cool, awesome friends?”

 

            Melody looked nervous. “Would they be okay with me being there?”

 

            “They’ve been wanting to meet you for a while, Mel,” he assured. “These aren’t just hoity-toity colleagues that I picked up at work. I’ve known them for years; we’ve been through a lot together. As far as I know, they’re like a family to me.”

 

            “Are you sure? I don’t want to bother you…”

 

            “You’re never a bother for me, Mel.” After a moment, he smiled and added, “Uncle Buck’s gonna be there, too. He’s joining our board for something soon.”

 

            “He’s coming?” she asked, clearly excited. “Do you think he remembers me?”

 

            “He said he’s got a truckload of books waiting for you, last time we spoke.” Steve brought back the laptop and booted it up again. “He also told me to tell you to ‘get your braiding fingers ready’. He grew his hair long again.”

 

            “Oh, I remember doing his hair when I was young. He used to hate it,” she giggled.

 

            “Yeah, but you loved it, so he didn’t mind.” Steve watched fondly as she smiled to herself, playing with the hem of her dress. “So, yes or no?”

 

            She nodded happily. “Yeah, I’ll come with you.”

Chapter Text

            Melody had never been in an airplane before–in fact, she had never really been in any vehicle previously that exceeded an altitude from which she could fall safely–if she did. Her fear of heights was evident enough that anyone who knew wasn’t at all heedless to it.

 

            She had told her friends that she would be gone for about a week, on a vacation for the summer. They had all been very excited for her, knowing she had never been outside of the country, meanwhile they all had–Lia, Farah and Maryam had flown back to their home countries for countless visitations, and Blaire and Gemma had gone on out-of-country school trips before. They had given her tips on what to pack and how to pack it, also demanding that she take pictures to show them later on. They all wanted to see what the “True North” really looked like, after all.

 

            Melody had been nervously anticipating seeing the large, intimidating mammoths of vehicles at the airport and then boarding onto one to be surrounded by strangers. So, naturally, she was slack at the sight of the private landing and the jet that waited at service in the distance.

 

            “You get a company plane?” she asked Steve, following him to the trunk as he began unloading their carry-on.

 

            “Oh, no,” he shook his head. “No, that’s my own.”

 

            She blinked at him a few times, convincing herself she was hearing things. “Your own? You have a private jet?”

 

            “Yeah, when the travelling got a little frequent, I decided I may as well,” he shrugged, handing the keys over to a man in uniform. It was very surreal as Melody looked between the average, ordinary car, to the shiny plane ahead. Standing between the two, she felt as if she were breaking a barrier from an old life into a new one; from a simple, mediocre lifestyle to an expensive, divine one that she had never expected or even wanted, for that matter. It blew over Melody’s head how Steve could have kept this factor so secluded and hidden, making her successfully believe she was just another kid in the state of New York until that was all she knew how to be. Something told her now that clearly, the phase-changing of her and Steve’s relationship had only been the first of many surprises in the life to come.

 

            The inside of the jet was soul-surfing luxury; all white leather seats and eggshell walls with polished wooden flooring and accents. There was a bar against one side and travel beds along the back that looked so inviting, Melody’s feet began aching just looking at them.

 

            Admittedly, she felt a little out of place amidst all the expensiveness in her simple Garage jeans and an old Patriots t-shirt. She wondered how ridiculous she must have looked to the couple of attendants that were on board with them; a teenage girl in battered Vans hauling a backpack onto a magnificent private jet behind one of the most prestigious-looking men she had ever seen. Even though Steve had matched her jeans and t-shirt protocol with his own washed blue pair and timely rugby jersey, he still somehow seemed a match for the environment. No matter what he wore, at the end of the day, his appearance simply exuded excellence.

 

            Some innate part of Melody felt the need to take a seat right next to the window. She watched the car get driven away after all the luggage was unloaded from it and repacked onto the jet by some more figures in uniforms. The sun was low in the skyline as it bid farewell to this side of the world yet again, and the orange light cast a lullaby glow around the clean space, to which Mel let her eyes flutter shut.

 

 

 

Steve was now seated beside a sleeping Melody, flipping through an ancient copy of The Da Vinci Code out of boredom as the familiar sounds and tones of the aircraft filled his ears. When Melody started, she found herself secured by a seatbelt; the lights were now dim, and she guessed it must be nighttime.

 

            She sat up straight and looked at him with tired eyes. “Am I allowed to get up? I have to use the washroom.”

 

            Steve nodded, unclicking the buckle for her. “Yeah, yeah, it’s just down that way to the right.”

 

            The washroom wasn’t as cramped and inadequate as she’d expected, either. With its accessories and facilities, it was actually quite spectacular for a vehicular dispensary. Melody washed her face with cold water and wiped it dry with paper towel before going back out.

 

            “How long has it been?” she asked, sitting back down. “Do I have to put the belt on again?”

 

            “No, only when we take off and land. I think it’s been a little over half-an-hour.” He checked the analog on his phone to confirm. “We have about an hour left.”

 

            The window was shut closed, Mel noticed then. “Can I see outside?”

 

            “Are you sure? You don’t like heights,” he reminded her.

 

            “I wanna see what it looks like,” she shrugged. Steve leaned over and slid the panel upwards, revealing pitch black sky. But below, thousands of feet down, Melody could see expositions of tiny white-and-gold lights that indicated civilization. They looked like constellations on the ground from inside of the plane. Subsequently, she also felt queasy again; in her sleeping and fascination, Mel had forgotten just how high up they were.

 

            Just at that moment, the entire jet shuddered unmistakably, and the sounds of glass against glass clinked all the way from the bar to Melody, whose eyes were stuck on the now-quaking scene outside the window. “Steve,” she warned. “I–we–what’s happening–”

 

            “It’s just slight turbulence, Mel, it happens,” he assured. “Here, I’ll go check–”

 

            “No!” She was in panic mode now, pushing the screen back down to hide the outside. She latched her left hand onto Steven’s thick forearm, carelessly digging her short nails in as she tried to labour her breathing. “No, no, please stay here, please don’t leave me alone.”

 

            “Mel, it’s alright, you’re gonna be okay,” he whispered, wrapping an arm around her panting body as she hid her face in his chest. He could still feel the sting from her nails in the arm that now clutched her shoulders. “Nothing’s happening, you don’t have to worry.”

 

            “We’re so high up…” Her voice was quiet and shaky. “What–what if something happens?”

 

            “Nothing will happen,” he repeated. “We’re okay. You’re okay.”

 

            As if on cue, the plane was back to a peaceful drift within minutes. Mel used the warmth and smell of Steven’s body as a distraction from her callous, paranoid thoughts. When the sensation of her heart dropping through her stomach dissipated, she opened her eyes to the world around her again.

 

            “See? Everything’s fine,” he muttered, pressing his lips to her crown and inhaling a fresh scent.

 

            Melody leaned into him more and subconsciously reached up to run her hand up his bicep. Having pushed the sleeve up without any real motive, her eyes now met with faint crescents and scratch marks on his skin. “What’s this?” she asked, but the answer was in her head before even finishing the last syllable.

 

            She sat up suddenly, expression hollowing as the seat was vacated and she rushed towards the back of the plane.

 

 

 

It didn’t take long for the partition to open again, revealing a sulking Steve as he stepped inside the space and closed it behind him, sealing them off from the rest of the vehicle and its employed passengers. Melody lay curled on the bed, knees bent closer to her front. The position wasn’t comfortable, but it was less hurtful than the situation. She wasn’t crying–she had tried to, but the heaviness drowning her chest like dead weight was different than the one that made her cry. This one made her want to devastate everything around her.

 

            “Hey.” Steven kicked off his shoes and took a seat beside her on the confines, crossing his legs.

 

            “Go away,” she told him. “Go talk to one of your other girlfriends.”

 

            “They’re not my girlfriends, Mel–”

 

            “You sleep with them, don’t you? You have sex with other women. You claim to love me and then you go and be with others when I’m not there.”

 

            “I’m not making excuses for myself–”

 

            “Good. There is no excuse you could ever make that would help this situation.”

 

            Steve braced his knees with his hands tightly. He watched for a while, quietly, but her face was an eerie still that only gazed ahead at the wall. “There’s a life I’ve lived outside of the one I have with you. I’m humiliated by my decisions in that other life, and I tried to keep you apart from it, because I knew this is how you would react if you ever found out. I knew you would back away, so I hid secrets and made up for my needs elsewhere.”

 

            “Do you expect me to be happy that others got to have you when I wasn’t around?” She finally sat up before him, eye-to-eye. “Tell me, Steve. How would you feel if I lifted my shirt right now and showed you that someone else got to touch my body behind your back?”

 

            A darkness consumed his features, signalling anger. The mere mention of it ignited a fire in Steve’s head. “Melody,” he cautioned, his blue eyes suddenly critical.

 

            “See? You’re seething at the thought of me being with anyone else. And you come back to me, with these marks on you that are left by other women. You had them before, too, when we showered together. You were sleeping around even on your business trip, weren’t you?” she demanded. “I thought, ‘okay, whatever. Nothing was definite between us and things ended badly before you left.’ But then, again? When you left for those three days? We had reached somewhere at that point.”

 

            “We hadn’t seen each other in a week while living under the same roof,” he reasoned.

 

            “Steve, it doesn’t matter! People fight–it doesn’t undo things. One week of not talking doesn’t negate years of development.” She put her head in her hands momentarily, pressing against her tired eyes before looking back up at him. “What if I agreed to something happening between us? Would you go drinking and sleeping around if I got mad at you over something that you did to hurt me? This is not how you deal with conflict, Steve. That night you barged out, I had been thinking all day about all of this. I was planning on talking to you, before you disappeared. None of what happened later would have happened if you weren’t so impatient!”

 

            “I’m impatient?” he repeated with wild eyes. “I’m anything but impatient. Every time I’ve left that house, it’s after having you tell me with full determination that you want nothing to do with me. You told me it hurt to feel rejected, but you slapped me in the face with it countless times. I did what I did with other women so I wouldn’t feel tempted to force my feelings on you, and suffocate you, because I only care about you.”

 

            They looked at each other in stunned silence for a long moment, realizing how loud their voices had grown. Steve took a laboured breath and released the deathly grip on his knees, which now ached from the pressure that had been exerted on them. “Even now, Melody. Even now, you’re admonishing me for disloyalty when you haven’t even made up your mind about me.”

 

            “The fact that I’m upset over your disloyalty should tell you something, Steve,” she hissed, leaning forward. “God, when did you become so dense?”

 

            “So, what? You don’t want to be with me, you told me we would never be the way I wanted it–but, oh, you hate that I wasn’t exclusive to a feeling that was never returned to me?” He was very passionate now; Mel could tell by how enthusiastically he moved his hands and shifted his face to match his words. “Face it, Melody. You don’t want me. Even after we get back home, you’ll continue doing your own thing and shutting me out until you need me again. And I’ll be there, like I always have.”

 

            She lunged forward and dug a pointing finger into his chest. “I told you to give me time, I didn’t say I didn’t want you. Ugh! You’re so stubborn sometimes! You know, the other day when I went out with my friends? This guy that was serving us asked me out, and they were all swooning over him, but I told him I was seeing someone. Because the whole time, I was just thinking about you. But you are so thick in the head, aren’t you? You wouldn’t know intelligence if you were to eat it up and shit it back out!”

 

            Mel cowered suddenly, grimacing as she clutched her stomach. Steve was immediately alert, abandoning all other thoughts as he tended to her. “What happened? What happened, are you okay? Did I hurt you?”

 

            “No,” she whimpered, shaking her head. Her eyes were shut tight. “I just…period cramps.”

 

            “Did you bring medication? Whatever, I brought some anyways. Just wait.” Steve left in a hurry and returned with a bottle in each hand, one of water and one full of pills. Melody was apprehensive as she studied the tablets he’d dropped into her palm, and his face soured at the realization. “They’re just pain killers, Mel. Honest.”

 

            She took both one at a time, all the while feeling guilty for the look on his face after her speculation. They had been throwing a tantrum moments ago; she’d been personally attacking him before the pain had re-emerged, and he had completely disregarded everything else in worry for her.

 

            Steve dimmed down the light and made to leave the room, but Melody stopped him. “Can you come here?” she requested.

 

            He stepped forward hesitantly, a six-foot-four grown man cowering shamefully under her gaze, unwilling to meet it. Melody reached out and took his larger hand in her own. “Can you stay with me?”

 

            It reminded him of the first night that had unleashed everything. Things had been so different those months ago, more innocent and simpler. He wondered to himself which one proved to be more difficult now: the past, wherein her naivety meant he battled in his emotions alone, or now, when the dawn of their plight shed light on more and more torment.

 

            “I don’t want to bother you,” he said.

 

            She tilted her head to the side, giving him a small smile. “You’re never a bother for me, Steve.”

 

            The warmth of his body felt blissful against the conditioned cold of the aircraft as they lay under the covers. She had her cheek on his chest and could hear the thrum of his heart in the cave of her ear, steady but strong. With a curious bite of her lip, Melody lifted her head and pressed an innocent kiss to his cheek, quickly repositioning again. Sure enough, the beat inside of his chest had quickened considerably.

 

 

*****

 

 

“So, what do you do in Washington?” she asked him, after they were seated in the lavish Camaro. It wasn’t Steven’s favourite car–all show and no go, he always said, preferring stronger engines and logistics over appearance–but it was the one that most of the amateur men at the agency preferred. The sky above them was pitch black but clear, accentuating the stars that dotted around a crescent moon.

 

            He began driving, immediately needling into the hundreds on the speedometer. The cars on this rural road were few and gave room for his antique, albeit reckless habits. “Shield Security Services. I co-own the company with Nicholas Fury, Phil Coulson; a few other guys. It’s a leading agency in the country, honestly. If I’d known it would hit upwards so quickly, I would have contributed more of an investment, but I’m already number three on the board behind Fury and Coulson themselves, so it doesn’t really get any better.”

 

            Melody hung on to every word and also hung on to her seat, although she didn’t have to with the way her spine plunged into the black leather from the force of gravity. “You’re involved in two really big corporations? How old were you when you started all this?”

 

            “I joined Tony when I was twenty, but I only pitched into Shield about ten years ago. It wasn’t really on my radar before that,” he said.

 

            “What made you want to do it, in the end?” she wondered aloud.

 

            He licked his lips, then shrugged. “I guess I just wanted to use every opportunity I could to secure a solid future for you.”

 

            A giddiness erupted in her stomach, but it wasn’t from the movement of the car. Melody rolled her window down, letting the wind whip her hair away from her face. A rush of blood made an exciting tour through her limbs as she looked at Steven in the glow of the dashboard amidst the otherwise dark night.

 

            “Steve.” She held back from grinning when he looked at her. “Go faster.”

 

            A glimmer in his eye and the way his lips curled upwards told Mel she had said the right thing. Her heart raced as the engine revved and the white Camaro went ripping its way down the road.

Chapter Text

            “Lo and behold, the captain. Good to see you showing your pale-ass face ‘round these parts, Rogers.”

 

            Nick Fury walked right up to Steve and gave him a strong, firm handshake. The blond returned the small smile on the tall, bald man’s face. “What’s up, Fury? You still serving the country like a loser?”

 

            “And what exactly is it that you do, sir?” Fury threw back with a mock-startled expression.

 

            “Just a few odd jobs here and there,” Steve shrugged playfully. “Nothing too serious.”

 

            “And who’s this?” Nick quirked a brow at the much shorter, nervous girl hiding behind Steve. She had been clutching her arm awkwardly and was now looking at Fury with wide brown eyes at having her presence acknowledged.

 

            Nicholas Joseph Fury was not a sour or bitter man, but he certainly came off as intimidating. He was not only tall and lean but also had incredible posture, like a sensei of some sort, and his dark clothes matched his dark complexion. What was most striking was the eyepatch that hid his left eye, leaving him appearing perfectly capable of menace and tactic.

 

            “This, uh…” Steve swallowed dryly. It hurt to even think about, but he had to feed into his story of fifteen years. “My kid.”

 

            Melody swallowed down her own bile at this statement, trying as hard as she could to maintain a straight face. Fury seemed to understand then, mouth dropping open in an ‘o’. “Ah, right, yes. This your daughter, Rogers?”

 

            Steve pursed his lips tightly, forcing a nod.

 

            “Young lady, how old are you?”

 

            “I’m–seventeen,” she sputtered.

 

            The man crossed his hands behind his back, standing even straighter somehow. “And you realize its unprofessional to follow your daddy to his workplace? Who let you come in here?”

 

            The phrasing made her blush, but his question had her glancing between the two men in fear. Steve was also pinking up at the title Fury had used to refer to him. Melody began stammering out an apology. “I’m so sorry, sir–uh, I–sorry–”

 

            “Lay off the kid, Fury.” A shorter, more pleasant man with a balding frontal and crinkly blue eyes approached them, his smile welcoming. He nodded at Steve, shaking his hand as if it were an honour. “Cap, good to have you back here. Is this your daughter, then?” he asked, tilting his head towards her.

 

            “Yes. Melody, this is Nicholas Fury, and this is Phil Coulson. I mentioned them earlier. Gentlemen, this is Melody.”

 

            Phil held his hand out for her, and Melody shook it hesitantly. “I apologize for my colleague’s behaviour. He has a bad habit of pretending to be mean,” he informed.

 

            “Coulson, you nincompoop. I almost had the teenager trembling in fear,” Nick tutted. “Sorry ‘bout that, kid. Your daddy took some getting used to it, too, in the beginning. You’ll learn to not take me too seriously.”

 

            Mel and Steve made alert eye-contact for a brief moment before breaking it and resuming their façade. “Phil, I’m glad you’re around to balance out this son of a bitch.”

 

            “Motherfucker, you kiss your momma with that mouth?” Fury immediately threw back. Melody snickered at that, quickly slapping a hand over it when the tall man glowered at her. “You’ve got some head on those shoulders, Miss Melody, laughing at me like that.”

 

            “It was just ironic, what you said,” she shrugged. “Also, I think you should be the only person allowed to use the term ‘motherfucker’.”

 

            All three men broke out in offended scowls and protests at her language. “Rogers, please, raise your kid better,” Fury taunted, moving to the bar-side of the conference room to pour himself a beverage.

 

            “But before you get to her, help me raise this guy,” Coulson muttered jokingly, and Fury threw a cold look at him over his shoulder.

 

            When there was nobody else within earshot, Steve turned to Melody. “Hey, dropping f-bombs around my friends the first time you meet them, much?” he asked in sheer amusement.

 

            “I learn from my daddy,” she whispered.

 

            He sneered down at her, an ominous smile playing at his lips. “Don’t let me catch you alone. ‘m gonna ruin you.”

 

            She shut up then, cheeks burning red. From across the room, Fury and Coulson said something to Steve along the lines of Don’t be that hard on her, Rogers.

 

 

*****

 

 

Melody had waited outside the conference room, in one of two red-velvet armchairs either side of a small table with magazines and books. She flipped through the pages lazily, eyeing the models and their perfect, airbrushed features. She wondered, even though it bothered her to, if these were the kinds of women Steve slept around with. If this was what he was attracted to–perfect bodies, perfect skin and hair and nails, all lustrous eyes and sharp angles. She put the magazine aside and looked down at her legs, hidden until just above the knee in the black fabric of her sundress. She then noticed a spot on the inside of her thigh that she’d missed while shaving–thankfully, it would be covered for the time being.

 

            Mel remembered being skinny as a child–she’d basically been led to believe she was a ‘rejected runt’ until she became a ‘chubby dumpling’; the bullies had convinced her of this. That’s how it was, how it always would be–when she was too small, it was disgusting, and when she wasn’t small anymore, she was disgusting all over again.

 

            Though it had never really been much trouble, because Steve had helped her with that; guiding her literally through the thick and thin. He protected her every single time and assured her that no matter what size she was, she was still his little Mel. After puberty, the weight had shifted again to concentrate more on certain areas of her body, and now she was just an in-between size, in her own opinion.

 

            But after finding out that he’d chosen to be with others besides her, Melody couldn’t help feeling attacks of insecurity all over again. Were her thighs too big? Would she have been more beautiful if she had a sharper jaw or hollow cheeks? She even crossed her arms over her stomach, suddenly wishing she’d followed through on that decision to do a hundred sit-ups every day. She could definitely be thinner, yes, but she hadn’t really felt the need to be, until now.

 

            She decided she would have to make some lifestyle changes if she was to stand beside Steve Rogers and look like she was even a little bit in his league. Maybe, she could ask him to train her from now on.

 

 

*****

 

 

“Mel?”

 

            She broke out of the lull suddenly, snapping awake in the armchair to find Steve looming over her. “I’m awake,” she slurred, wiping drool from the corner of her mouth.

 

            “You’re falling asleep just anywhere now?” he chuckled, helping her up. “Have you been taking your iron supplements?”

 

            “I don’t need those,” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes carefully through the mascara.

 

            “You’re telling me you stopped doing what the doctor told you to?”

 

            “Doctors are stupid.”

 

            “You gonna say that to Bruce Banner, too?” He cocked a brow.

 

            “No, he’s the only good doctor,” she muttered with a frown. “If he tells me to take iron supplements, I’ll take them.”

 

            “Duly noted,” he smirked.

 

            They walked into an empty elevator and Steve pressed for the ground floor. “Fifty-four floors,” she sighed, leaning back against the handlebar as the numbers decreased steadily on the screen overhead. Each of the walls inside the elevator was a mirror, and with Mel on one side and Steve standing across from her, the mirrors reflected into each other to create an infinity of both of them as they looked at one another.

 

            “What was the meeting about?” she asked. “It must be important if you had to come all the way to be there in person.”

 

            “I’m a shareholder, so even if it’s not important, I’m expected to be present,” he explained. “Just one of the guys doing a presentation on why he deserves to become department head. I told you about him before once, remember? When you were younger? He tried to convince some of the labour workers to go on strike just so he could move upwards. Brock Rumlow?”

 

            She scowled, searching her memory, then nodded. “Yeah, you told me about that. You were really angry that day, and I thought it was because of me.”

 

            “No, it was because of that jackass,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “Why would I be mad at you?”

 

            She blinked, wide-eyed, then gave a tight smile. “I, uh…I may or may not have been the one who ruined your computer back then. I was playing games on it and I…just accidentally spilled juice into the keyboard–but days went by, and you didn’t seem to know, so I never said anything.”

 

            “No, I knew,” he confirmed. “I just didn’t care about it that much.”

 

            She bit the inside of her cheek, bowing her head until enough hair made a curtain of privacy around her face. Steven held his hand out to her then, and she looked at it cautiously before accepting it and walking into his embrace.

 

            “Can I kiss you?” he asked in her ear.

 

            Melody was startled, but in a good way. The fact that he asked made butterflies swoop around in her belly, and she gave him a shy smile. “Only a kiss.”

 

            Steve was happy with just that as he cupped her face with both hands and moulded their lips together. He held her in place for a moment before releasing and wrapped his arms around her body to pull her secure against him.

 

            “’m gonna make it up to you, Mel,” he promised, pressing his mouth to the top of her head.

 

            “I know, Steve.”

 

 

 

Washington was a busy state no matter what region one went, it seemed. The streets were busy with people on their phones, headed to work, or rushing their children to school. There were large monuments and buildings that certainly dignified the place as a capitol; had Melody not spent her life in the state of New York, she would have titled this place as the most populated and crowded area of the country.

 

            The scene of the city skyline looked millennia different across night and day, somehow. Now, in the dimming daytime, Melody could somehow see ten times the buildings and landscape from the hotel suite they had been staying in. The wall of clear glass in the room gave her assurance that a sunset from this eye would surely be breathtaking.

 

            Steve had changed out of the professional slacks and button-down as soon as they’d returned, throwing on a more comfortable tracks-and-tee ensemble. He’d instructed Melody to get some rest and then get dressed to go out later while he expended a couple hours’ worth of energy in the hotel’s amenity gym. The vicinity wasn’t too occupied; hotel gyms were never bustling with people. It seemed most preferred to relax every aspect of themselves on vacation, but Steve kept himself on a strict routine as he piled the plates onto a bench press.

 

            There were two other people in the weights and cross-fit section: a silver-haired man who was busy with the military ropes and a middle-aged woman on the squat rack. An hour into his session, Steve watched the two people finish up and leave. He couldn’t help feeling elated; he’d always loved working out in an empty gym, free to use however much equipment for whichever exercise took up his time.

           

            But he was very surprised when the heavy gate slowly tugged open and Melody slipped inside, her wide eyes nervously glancing around the space. Steve put down the barbell and wiped the sweat around his mouth with the back of his hand, taking deep breaths as she neared slowly. Even further of a shock took him when he realized she was dressed in workout clothes: black leggings that wrapped every inch of her hips and glutes more tightly than he appreciated for a public setting, and a short-sleeved t-shirt that did nothing to cover the provocative tease of her ass in the gym tights.

 

            “Hey, whaddya doin’?” he panted, forehead creased in a furrowed brow.

 

            Melody gathered her hair up and began to tail it with a hair-tie. “I was hoping you could train me?” She waited for him to react as his eyes travelled over her body again. She no longer felt confident with having him–or anyone, really, but especially him–look at her in that way, and that had to change.

 

            “Why?” he asked. “You were never interested in working out.”

 

            She couldn’t help but feel a sting at his words; did he think she was pathetic for not being interested in fitness? Mel crossed her arms over herself in concern, picking at a spot by her elbow. “I just… I don’t know. I want to work out.”

 

            Steve shook his head in defiance. “Mel, you hate exercising–”

 

            “Okay, I know! I know I’m unfit. You don’t have to keep saying it like that,” she snapped.

 

            They stared at each other for a while; Steven was absolutely ridiculed and lost. “What? What are you talking about?”

 

            Melody frowned deeply at the hard, black flooring. There was a burn in her cheeks as she searched for words that wouldn’t make her out to be any more pitiful than she must have already seemed. “I want to look better,” she muttered.

 

            “What?” he asked.

 

            “I want to look better,” she repeated, a little louder. “I want to look good.”

 

            Steven hadn’t any idea where this was coming from, and his attention kept drifting to the tight fit of her attire. “What makes you think you look bad?”

 

            Mel stuck her tongue into her cheek, feeling a burden in her chest. “I don’t know. Ever since I thought about the fact that you…with other women, I just feel like I could be doing more to make myself better.”

 

            Now that the thought was expressed, she took a deep breath and blew it out through her mouth, trying to cool down from the humiliation.

 

            “That’s what this is about?” Steve slapped a hand to his forehead in exasperation and pinched the bridge of his nose.

 

            Melody nodded, her eyes still glued to the ground. “I just–they must be really good-looking, and I want to be like that, too. I wanna look good. I don’t want you to look at other women and wish I were like them.”

 

            He turned away, covering his face with both hands. Melody watched him take a couple of unsteady steps away from her, a familiar weight stabbing its way down her ribcage. “Please don’t get mad. I just…I want to be good enough.”

 

            “Fuck!” he shouted suddenly. Within seconds, he had a forty-five plate in his hand and was hurling it at the hefty punching bag in the corner of the room. Melody cowered in fear, quickly retreated her footsteps, and rushed out of the exit door without a second glance behind.

 

 

*****

 

 

Mel had keyed back inside of the rooms and locked herself into the washroom, heart splurging inside her throat in alarm. Without her phone, there wasn’t a way to tell how long had passed by before she heard sound and movement within the suite, signalling Steve’s return. Part of her was relieved that he was back–the other part was plagued with wonder about what he would do now.

 

            Footsteps travelled around everywhere before they approached the bathroom and stopped outside the door, upon which there was an even rap. “Melody?” Steve called.

           

            She was sitting inside of the empty tub, clutching her knees and rocking back and forth. The sound of his voice quickened her motion yet. He called her name several times, knock upon knock cutting through her thoughts, but her limbs were like lead. A motion-picture of the weighted plate tormenting the punching bag kept playing behind her eyes–it was too easy for him to do damage if he wanted to. But she couldn’t understand how she had made him so angry to begin with.

 

            Steve slid heavily against the door until he was on the floor in defeat. His enormous frame took up the entire diameter, blocking it off effortlessly. He secured his elbows around his knees and hid his face in his arm as despair billowed within. There were countless echoes of her words in his ears, each one landing like a blow to the gut. A sensation had settled within him at what she’d said; it was like a fire that crippled his flesh with guilt and pure animosity for his own being.

 

            Steven had not wanted to hurt himself this much for a very long time.

 

            He trembled, releasing a fresh wave of tears. At this point, it hurt to wipe them off his stinging cheeks. He clawed his hair back with tight fists, ignoring the throbbing ache in the knuckles.

 

            What a mess he’d made with his choices. For as long as he’d been in Melody’s life, he’d worked so hard to protect her from hellish demons like insecurity and self-doubt; he had taken every tip and step to ensure she felt as valuable as she truly was. Steve revelled in the knowledge that Melody was confident in herself, wishing he could make her see how unmatched and unique she was in his eyes.

 

            But when she had melted into a puddle of embarrassment and vacillation regarding her image, it had blown Steve’s world out of proportion. The hurt in her eyes at not feeling good enough was worse than any other pain Steve had ever experienced, and as if that weren’t enough, it had all been because of him. It was all because of his rash decisions and insensitive actions.

 

           

 

When the breath had returned to her lungs and the ringing gone from her ears, Melody stood and stepped out of the bathtub. The quiet across the walls signalled peace and offered reassurance, but upon pulling the door open, she found Steven slumped over himself, shaking in a way she hadn’t witnessed before.

 

            “Steve?” Panic struck her when she noticed his ragged breathing, his hands stuck as clenched fists in his hair. She crouched down quickly and tried to help him sit up; Steve’s heartbeat was so intense that she could feel it even while her hand pressed into his back. “Steve, what’s happening? What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

 

            He didn’t answer, but covered his face with his forearms instead, unwilling to stop pulling at the blond locks on his head. His skin was flushed an aggressive shade of crimson, and he was sobbing silently. Melody was lost and frightened; she had never seen anything like this happen before. The symptoms could have been a prerequisite to an attack of any sort.

 

            “I’m gonna call nine-one-one,” she informed with tears in her own eyes.

 

            Steve shook his head then, rather vigorously, and let go of his hair to grab her hand. “Stay,” he gasped. “Stay! No–no! D-don’t–leave–”

 

            “Okay, okay, it’s okay,” she rushed, rubbing her free hand up and down his concrete back, only now realizing what was happening. “Just breathe, Steve. Take deep breaths. I’m right here. It’s okay, alright? You’re good, we’re good, I’m right here.”

 

            “Melody,” he managed with difficulty, his eyes shut closed tightly.

 

            “Yes, Steve, Melody. Mel. I’m right here,” she assured.

 

            “Mel–” He began choking up.

 

            “Yeah, it’s me, I’m here. I’m not leaving. Please, just breathe.” She helped him sit up enough to be able to get both of her arms secure around him, hiding his face in her chest. Steve clung to her like a child, crushing her so fiercely that she could feel his heart thundering against her stomach.

 

            They remained that way for so long that her limbs began numbing, but Mel never once tried to move or reposition, waiting until he wasn’t jittering against her like an animal at slaughter. She pressed her lips to the top of his head, running her hand over his crown soothingly. “My Steve,” she mumbled. “You’re gonna be okay. I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

            She wondered how she could ever put into words the sight of a boisterous mountain of a man, whom she’d known to be the epitome of cultivated and collected for all her life, become reduced to fragments of tears and hiccups before her very eyes. It was damning and soul-shattering, for one. There was no greater agony she had ever experienced than what she felt then, seeing him that destroyed. And to know that it was all because of her.

 

            By the time Steven was breathing normally again, there were tear stains across Melody’s shirt that made everything all the more real. He lifted his face to reveal the flushed skin and even redder eyes, still glazed with hurt and ready to crescendo again at any moment. Mel watched him inhale shakily, stormy irises searching the ground absently.

 

            “Melody, I hate myself,” he whispered, breathing out as if it caused a great deal of trouble to do even that. “You want to be…good enough for me? Truth is…I’m not good enough, for you. I will never…deserve you.”

 

            Melody’s face fell as she held his between her hands carefully. “That’s not true. You’re so good to me. You’re so good to everyone, Steve. You’re so amazing. You’re the best.”

 

            “No…” He shook his head lifelessly. “All I do is hurt you. I’m just harmful. You’d be so much better off, without me. Mel, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s all my fault–stupid, stupid fucking Steve! Piece of fucking shit–”

 

            Suddenly, he was slapping himself and simultaneously slamming his head backwards into the wall. Melody yanked him forward with wide eyes before he could cause severe damage. “Steve!” She grabbed each of his hands with her own. “Steve, stop it!”

           

            He gave up, dropping his chin low again. Melody was finding it near impossible to hold her tears back as she studied his once again damaged knuckles. “You did it again? You hurt yourself again?”

 

            Steve ignored her question. “I can’t even say I’m sorry, because it doesn’t mean anything. My apologies are pointless. How do you come back from hurting someone you love?”

 

            That was when he finally looked at her, and Mel felt like she could live again. She held his palm against her cheek, feeling the warmth radiate through her flesh, then pressed a kiss into it.

 

            “I know you don’t feel it, but I do,” he said. “That night on your birthday, when I hurt you for the first time, I told myself I never wanted to be the reason you cried ever again. And I fail at it, every day. I’m the worst.”

 

            “No,” she pushed. “I should have never said all that to you.”

 

            “How else would I have known how badly I fucked up?” he asked. “If you hadn’t come down there and said all that, I would have never found out what you were thinking. Melody, you’re nothing like those women because you’re the only one of you that there is. You’re the warmest, brightest, realest thing I’ve ever felt. I didn’t go to them because I felt something for them. I did that because I have no right to feel anything for you.

 

            “You don’t need to change anything about yourself, Mel. I hate myself for making you think you’re not good enough. You’re everything.”

 

            “I’m sorry,” she blubbered, hiding her face in his neck. “I’m so sorry. I never meant for this to happen.”

 

            “No, baby, I’m sorry.” He shook his head. “You deserve so much better than me. I’m not good for you.”

 

            Melody choked back a sob, clutching at his shirt. “No, please don’t say that.”

 

            “There isn’t a way I can get past this, Mel,” he explained. “Every time I look at you, I can only think of all the ways I’ve hurt you.”

 

            And then, the words were in her head, and they were tumbling out before she could hold her tongue. “Steve, I still want you. I only want you. Please don’t do this.” There was a relief in saying it out loud to the one person that they were meant for–it was as if she had spouted wings and could fly. It was as if several centuries of burden had lifted off her chest as she told him what she’d been puncturing down this entire time.

 

            He was momentarily stunned, and she pulled back to look at him. “Please stop hurting yourself because of me. Please, I care about you so much. You have no idea how much it hurts to see you like this. I wish I could go back and change everything. I wish I could do it differently, and not push you away. I’m so sorry.”

 

            “No, no, none of this is your fault.” Steve rid of the tears on her cheeks with a swipe of his thumbs and kissed her forehead. “Don’t blame yourself, Mel.”

 

            She shook her head. “Then you can’t blame yourself either.”

 

            “But it’s the truth–”

 

            “No!” She pressed her finger against his lips. “It’s not my truth. Nobody takes the blame. We get a fresh start, okay? Deal?”

 

            He searched her big, dark eyes, and for the first time, there was no doubt in his mind as to what he saw in them. Steve left a chaste kiss against her finger and pulled her flush into his frame for a long embrace. “Don’t ever doubt yourself again. You’re my sweet, strong, beautiful little Mel.”

 

            There were very few things in the world that Steven was sure about, but the foremost was that he loved Melody more than he had ever hated himself.