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Catch Me, If I Should Fall For You

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The bright midday sun glinted off the stunning blue water of the bay. It was beautiful, the waves glittering like diamonds under the cerulean sky and cotton candy clouds. Mother Nature was by far the most talented artist, capable of creating such a beautiful, evolving landscape. Every time he looked upon it, the view was a little different. That was the most beautiful thing about life, he thought, that nothing was ever quite the same.

A seagull soared above the waves as James Pierce stood back on the sand, watching the natural beauty of Cape Cod. He loved observing the ever-changing scenery. Sometimes, only small things would be different, like a rock being nudged by the waves or the grass being blown in a different direction. Other times, some very noticeable detail would be changed. There would be a boat just offshore, or a bird would land on the beach, feasting on a freshly caught fish. He loved watching nature play out. It always gave him hope that things could change.

He glanced down at his left hand, mournfully observing the gold band imprisoning his fourth finger. Sighing deeply, he turned back to the house. It was time for him to make dinner before Alexander got home from work. He didn’t want to go into that damn beautiful house, but he knew it was for the better. The beauty of the bay would still be there in the future, when he had more time to himself. As for now, the time was no longer his own.

He turned and started trudging back to the house, through the sand and grass. He kicked some sand off his shoes when he reached the wooden pathway leading up to the back door of the beach house. The dull color of the grasses blowing in the wind on either side of the walkway caught his eye briefly, brushing against his legs with each step. A small mouse scampered out of the bushes ahead of him, darting across the path and into the tall grass on the other side. James wondered for a moment if the mouse was running from something.

He reached the glass sliding door and entered quietly, although he knew nobody else was home. Alexander was supposedly at a company meeting until later that evening. James knew the house had to be perfect, with dinner hot and on the table when he got home. He glanced up at the clock above the stove as he toed his shoes off. The color drained from his face as he realized what time it was. He had spent too long admiring the shoreline, and there was barely enough time to make dinner before his husband would be walking through the door.

Cursing himself lightly under his breath, he padded into the kitchen, bare feet making barely any noise on the polished tile floor. He knew Alexander had asked him to make steak and potatoes for dinner. There wasn’t enough time. James felt a slight panic bubble up in his chest. There just wasn’t enough time.

He didn’t follow his normal routine for preparing dinner of turning on some music to play lightly as he chopped the vegetables, and seared the steak, but began hurriedly grabbing ingredients from the cabinet and fridge, throwing them all onto the counter. He started with the steaks, dusting them quickly and simply with salt and pepper before throwing them hastily in a still-preheating oven. He then turned his attention to the potatoes, dicing them the way Alexander liked, just the size he always deemed perfect before grabbing a sauté pan out of the cabinet. He placed the potatoes in the oiled pan and took a breath, trying to calm his racing heart.

While the food was cooking, he took a minute to make sure the house was in order, focusing mostly on the rooms he knew Alexander would use tonight. The cans and boxes were all stacked and organized nicely in the kitchen cabinets and pantry. He straightened the towels in the bathroom, careful not to dislodge any of the bottles sitting on the sink as he did so. Running to the bedroom, he quickly made the bed, pulling the covers up and setting the pillows against the headboard, as if nobody had ever slept in it, just like his husband liked. Having made sure there were no creases or wrinkles visible on the bed, he straightened Alexander’s alarm clock and headed back into the kitchen.

He stirred the potatoes lightly and opened the oven, using tongs to flip the steaks. Just as he was pulling his left arm from the oven, he heard the front door open. Panic flooded through him as he heard his husband’s voice drifting from the hall. He jerked his arm up abruptly, catching it on the hot metal. Biting his lip in pain, he pulled his arm from the hot oven, not even really glancing at the damage done. That was the least of his worries right now.

“James, that smells amazing,” Alexander said, his voice tired and low. “You just wouldn’t believe how hungry I am tonight, after that kind of a day at work.”

James froze, unable to move as he quickly closed the oven and cradled his stinging arm. The shorter form of his husband came into view at the end of the hall as the smell of singed hair and skin wafted to James’ nose. He couldn’t move. He knew Alexander would be mad.

Alexander Pierce stood shrouded in darkness at the end of the windowless hallway of the beach house. His stature was prim, standing straight and proud. He exuded importance and carried with him an aura of domineering authority. The only feature that gave away his fatigue was a single dirty blonde curl that had fallen onto his forehead, highlighting the shadows that had taken root in the lines underneath his eyes. James watched as he kicked off his shoes, picking them up and lining them neatly up on the shoe rack by the door. He looked up, catching his husband’s eyes and noting the panic written across his face, even from this distance.

“Are you alright?” he said, approaching James with a steady gait. “What happened?”

James couldn’t find words, and when he tried to speak, his voice only came out as a little huff of breath. Alexander lifted his hand and James flinched back, knowing what was coming. His husband looked at him sternly, holding out his hand for James to place his arm into. James did so silently, looking down at the long strip of burnt skin covering the delicate and pale complexion of his forearm. He noted the blisters already forming beneath the skin, along with the discoloration along the edges of the burn. It was bad, he knew. But he had been through much worse.

“I’m assuming dinner is not ready yet, then,” he said, gently drawing his fingers over the silky-smooth burn mark. Pain blossomed out from wherever his finger touched the abused skin, but James knew better than to flinch away.

“No sir. Dinner will be ready in a few minutes,” he whispered, his voice shaking. There was a moment of silence before he added onto the statement, trying desperately to ease the tension in the room. “I’m sorry.”

He looked down at the spotless tile floor, noting every line of grout, every color variation in every tile while he awaited his husband’s response. He noticed a grain of sand, likely from his earlier trip to the beach. He hoped there wasn’t too much more around the house. He hadn’t had time to clean the floors like he normally would. He was negligent today, and he was sure to pay for it in due time. The silence was deafening as he waited for the low drone of Alexander’s voice.

“That’s alright, accidents happen,” he said quietly, dropping James’ arm to his side. “That’s what forgiveness is for, right?” James felt Alexander press a quick kiss to his collarbone, the chaste touch of his lips sending a shiver through his body. He sighed in relief, the tension in his shoulders releasing by a fraction. “I’m going to go freshen up while you finish up here, okay? The burn isn’t bad, you’re fine to get dinner on the table.”

He strode out of the kitchen, taking the tension with him. James knew this wasn’t over, but it was nice to have been forgiven. Alexander must have had a very long day for him to take this so lightly. James knew he needed to make it up to him, so he pulled a nice bottle of wine out of the cabinet, along with two glasses. He set the table carefully, as to not spill anything on the white tablecloth covering the expensive carved mahogany. He was serving the potatoes alongside the steaks when his husband entered the room again.

James heard him take a satisfied breath and knew he had made the right choice with the wine. “I figured since you had a long day, you might enjoy some wine with dinner.” He turned back to face the other man after placing the still warm pan into the sink to wash later. Alexander was examining the table, slowly sitting down and taking the glass in his hand. He brought it to his face, gently swirling the liquid and breathing deeply. Once he approved of the selection, he looked toward where James stood in the kitchen.

“Well, why don’t you come sit down? What would dinner be without my beautiful eye candy for dessert?” He smiled seductively, gesturing to the seat across from him. James didn’t smile, but obeyed, sitting quietly across from him.

“How was your day at work?” James asked after a few bites of steak. It was slightly rarer than he liked, but Alexander seemed to enjoy it, so he didn’t mention his thought.

His husband swallowed the bite of food in his mouth and proceeded to take a long swig from his wine glass before answering with a deep sigh. “It was frustrating. Nobody at this location knows how to do a damn thing. You would think that when it was announced that I was coming to visit this branch, they would at least try to make the place somewhat presentable…”

Alexander rambled on, but James had stopped listening. He was slowly taking bite after mechanical bite of the food in front of him, pondering life. He hated coming down here to Cape Cod. Although the scenery was beautiful, it always prompted Alexander to be in a bad mood. The branch of Hydra Inc. that operated out of Boston had always been a disaster, and, given Alexander’s complaints, they never seemed to give a rat’s ass that the director of the entire company was paying them a visit. James knew what he was saying without even having to listen to a word he said. He took a sip of wine, noting the earthy and fruity undertones mingling on his tongue. It wasn’t his favorite, but it would help him relax a little.

“… you of all people know that I mean business. And when things are not up to my standards, I tend to get… Well, you know how I get, don’t you babe?” James met his husband’s eyes, nodding curtly while he put his glass back on the table. “Things have to be just the way I like them. I think I deserve that much. And it seems that nobody, not even you, my beautiful, can manage that consistently. What a shame. I don’t think my demands are that hard to meet, do you?”

Looking down at the table, James sighed. He knew the conversation about dinner being late would come back up at some point. “Your requests are quite reasonable. Most times, I am able to meet them. Today was an anomaly, and it will not happen again.”

The other man hummed lightly under his breath. “An anomaly? Are you sure about that?” James cringed, knowing he had misspoken. “Because I specifically remember another time my dinner was late to the table. Three days late, if I remember correctly.”

James huffed out a strangled breath. He hated conversations about this. “Alexander, that was three years ago. My sister… She died in a car accident. Did you just expect me not to attend her funeral? She was the only family I had left,” he said, sadness seeping into his tone.

“The only family you had? What about me? I think that beautiful ring around your finger symbolizes that you had some family left, yes? And you left me alone, without even telling me where you were off to. You could have at least told me, or I could have come with you.”

There was a pause as James pushed the anger boiling in his gut back down. “I was torn apart. I wasn’t thinking straight. My little sister had just died, don’t you think you could be a little more sympathetic about it?”

Pierce shook his head. “All I’m saying is that I have standards. And if anyone can meet them,” he said quietly, taking James’ left hand and kissing the wedding band adorning it, “it’s you.”

James smiled as he took his hand back, turning his attention to the potatoes on his plate. He glanced down at his arm holding the fork. The burn branded into the skin was still gradually getting darker and darker. Some of the skin was beginning to go numb, much to James’ delight. Maybe it wasn’t that bad after all. He knew Alexander wouldn’t want to put off his plans for tonight in order for James to seek medical attention.

Alexander noticed James’ downward cast gaze. He pursed his lips, eyebrows furrowing as he looked at the burnt skin. “You should be more careful next time. Maybe if you actually had dinner ready when you were supposed to, this wouldn’t have happened. What do you think?”

James nodded lightly, his mouth full of buttery, creamy potatoes. Alexander didn’t like when he spoke with his mouth full. He swallowed quickly, taking a sip of his wine. He didn’t want to respond to that. “I was looking out at the ocean. It was really beautiful today.”

His husband smiled across the table at him. “You can look all you want, sweet pea, but just make sure it doesn’t get in the way of your duties. You’re my husband, that’s your job, not gazing out at the landscape.”

James nodded again, not sure what to say to that.

“Hey, I have something that will make you feel better.” James looked him directly in the eye, a puzzled expression on his face. “One of my good friends from work is planning a boating trip. He invited me to go out with him tomorrow night. I figure I could take you with, what do you think?”

At the mere mention of a sailing trip, James’ stomach did a flip. His insides knotted up in fear of being on the ocean. He had always loved the ocean, ever since he was a kid, but he enjoyed looking at it from a distance. He had never been a fan of water, much less a fan of traveling by boat. Especially for recreation. But Alexander needed to know that he appreciated the invitation. “I think it could be fun.” His tone was shaky, letting his fear shine through.

“Honey, I know you don’t like water too much, but if you don’t ever go out on it, you will never get over that fear of yours. It will be fun, I promise,” he said, lifting his glass of wine in a mock toast. James felt mortified. What man was afraid of the goddamn water? It was ridiculous, and he knew it. Alexander had reinforced his knowledge of that on many occasions. But the thought still made him anxious about tomorrow.

They finished their meal, making polite conversation here and there. When they were done, Alexander told James he would meet him in the bedroom and sent him off to finish the dishes. When he stood up from his chair, James grabbed the soiled plates off the table and ambled efficiently over to the sink. Alexander turned toward the bedroom and walked with purpose, likely to freshen up a bit before the evening activities he had planned. When he passed the sliding door leading out to the beach, he paused.

James watched in horror as he slid his sock back and forth on the floor, little specks of sand scratching between the fabric and tile. He had forgotten to clean the floor.

“James?”

He turned to face his husband, seeing nothing but emptiness in his eyes. “Yes?”

Alexander shook his head, a disbelieving smile crossing his slightly chapped lips. “Come over here, please. I want you to feel this.”

James, still holding the plates in his hands, met his husband by the door. He could feel the uncomfortable irregularity of the sand under his feet. There must have still been sand on his shoes when he came inside from his walk. He could feel panic rise in his chest once again. He knew he had let Pierce down. Again. Twice in one day.

“Tell me what you feel, James.”

He took a steadying breath before replying. “There is sand on the floor sir.”

“Right. There is sand,” he chortled, “inside the house.”

It all happened in a second, the stinging of his face as Alexander’s knuckles struck him across the cheek. He dropped the plates, stumbling back from the force of the blow. They shattered at his feet, sending shards of porcelain skittering across the tile. He held up his left arm to block the next swing, but Pierce had expected this. It was instinctual after all, happened every time. He grabbed his husband’s shielding arm, leaving it stinging from the burn mark, and threw him to the floor, uncaring about the sharp plate fragments littering the floor beside and underneath him.

“I could forgive the late dinner, but this is twice in one day. I am astounded you could be so stupid!” He shouted, ramming his foot into James’ stomach. He curled tightly in on himself, shielding his body from the next few blows he knew would come. “I thought you were smarter than this. I married you because I thought you were fucking smart. But you’re just a dumb bitch who can’t even follow one goddamn request, huh? That’s all you are. Fucking. Stupid. Bitch.” He punctuated each word with a heavy stomp to James’ ribcage.

Tears were staining James’ cheeks now, making him feel weak. His body ached, and he could feel little spots underneath him where blood was pooling. It hurt to breathe, every sob sending a shooting pain through his side. He cried openly, although he knew it wouldn’t do any good. Alexander was absolutely merciless when he was like this. He stood over the shuddering and shaking form of his bleeding husband for a moment before turning toward the bedroom.

“I hate doing this, but it has to be done. I hope you understand.” He stood for a moment in the doorway before continuing. “Clean up your mess and then meet me in the bedroom. I will make it up to you, darling.” He blew a staccato kiss toward the heap of skin, blood, and tears curled up on the tile before closing the door behind him.

James sniffed a few times, willing the tears to stop flowing as he slowly uncurled himself from the tight fetal position he was in. His sides ached, and there were shards of plate sticking jaggedly out of his left side and arm. Some of them had found their way to the burn mark. Just great. This would take a while to clean up. He wiped his face before turning to clean up the blood, porcelain, and sand flecks all over the kitchen floor.

Chapter Text

The bandages on James’ arm were scratching against the sheets pulled tight over the mattress. He gazed out the giant window beside the bed, the bright light of mid-afternoon glinting off the waves crashing methodically against the shore. A small flock of seagulls sat peacefully, hopping backward every time the water came close to their feet. He smiled to himself, thinking of how nice it would be to be standing down by the waves. However, he knew this was Alexander’s day off, and he had other duties to fulfil.

Music filled his ears from a speaker on the wardrobe across the room. Wagner’s Trauermarsch sounded heavy and ominous through the bedroom. Mornings… afternoons… evenings such as this were always accompanied by this piece. Alexander loved it, and James knew better than to voice his opinion on the situation. It had been this way ever since their honeymoon ended, James thought. He always liked thinking back on those two weeks. Everything was great back then.

The two had been set up on a blind date by one of James’ friends, who happened to also work for Pierce. They had hit it off famously from the start. Alexander was the picture of a perfect gentleman, despite his age, and James had fallen head-over-heels in love with him. They dated for a few beautiful, glorious months before Alexander popped the question one night over dinner. James could, of course, say nothing but an exuberant yes.

Looking back, James always had to remind himself that hindsight is twenty-twenty. He had no way of knowing back then, even though Alexander’s true nature did tend to seep through his charisma. He thought all too often about what life could have been like, and what life should have been like, had he noticed. But there was nothing he could do now. He was in this relationship, and he certainly knew better than to bring up leaving.

But there had been a time where he wouldn’t have dreamed of leaving. The first two weeks after their beautiful, opulent wedding were fantastic. Alexander had spared no expense when it came to the event itself, even flying James’ sister out to the beachfront ceremony, free of charge. Back then, his life had been a blur of domestic bliss, morning kisses, and passionate love. He had thought it would last. And he really had no reason to believe it would take a turn like it did.

Their honeymoon had been just as amazing as the wedding, and everything before that. It was just the two of them. Alexander had bought this beautiful beach house just for the occasion. It had been two weeks full of kisses, and breakfast in bed, and sex on the couch. James had been living a fairy tale, and he couldn’t believe his life had come to what it had.

He was having the same thought now, disbelief at what his life had come to.

The night before, Alexander had helped James clean his burn and the other lacerations caused by the broken plates, and bandaged them tightly, leaving kisses up his arm. He had cradled James in his embrace as he fell asleep. The throbbing pain in his entire left side had kept James awake all night, debating if Alexander had broken one of his ribs. He didn’t want Alexander to touch him, or be anywhere near him, for that matter. But he knew he had no choice, if he didn’t want the situation to escalate further.

He awoke to his husband kissing down his back, flipping him onto his stomach, and now here he was, body rocking in time with the music filling the room. He watched the gentle waves outside, trying his hardest to think back to the honeymoon, back to the time where Alexander’s weight on top of him, inside him, was a comfort. Now he only felt violated and claustrophobic. But he knew better than to fight back when Alexander was in a mood like this. He was doing his best to avoid another episode like last night.

So he laid on his stomach, feigning passivity as his husband used him for pleasure. He didn’t mind too much now. He managed to respond just enough to make Alexander believe that he was enjoying himself, even though he knew the man didn’t really care. He always did his best to ignore the ache caused by the lack of preparation and slick.

But the bed did have a nice view, so he preferred doing it here. He could watch the birds, and the boats on the water, and pretend for a moment that he was standing there, on the beach, completely free. He always hoped he could get there one day. He often daydreamed during sex, thinking of the day he could leave, could live his own life.

He always saw in his mind’s eye, having his own house, his own life, and maybe even a job. He could go wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. He would leave his shoes on the floor by the door, one sideways, and not have to worry about them not being properly put away. He wouldn’t sweep the floor all day, and he would leave dishes in the sink whenever he wanted. Dinner wouldn’t be on a schedule, and he could make whatever he liked, even if that meant a frozen pizza heated in the microwave. No more bruises. No more violence. It would be a dream.

He hoped that that dream could soon become his reality, but that wasn’t guaranteed. He closed his eyes and prayed that his daydreams would come to fruition. But right now, his reality was the slow rocking motion of his body, the gentle ache of his insides, and the sharp pain in his left flank. Alexander was whispering in his ear, how sweet and good he was being, how much he hated hurting James, how he wished he would never have to do it again. James wished it was the truth, but he knew it wasn’t. That was the old Alexander, back before they were married. Back before he got the idea in his head that the ring around James’ finger meant ownership.

He felt a tear slip down his cheek as a particularly harsh thrust ground his bruised ribcage into the mattress. A noise slipped from his lips out of pain, but Alexander saw only what he wanted to see. He saw his husband writhing under him in ecstasy, having little noises of pleasure pulled from him. He couldn’t be further from the truth.

“You like that, don’t you? I know you do, sweet pea. My beautiful baby boy.” He always praised James when he got near orgasm. A powerful swell in the music seemed to trigger him. James braced as he felt warmth spread through his stomach. He wanted to vomit.

Without a word, Alexander pulled out and sat back on his knees, patting James’ ass lightly. He could feel as he pulled his cheeks apart, watching the trickle of come slide down his taint. He felt dirty, used, and all he wanted to do was cry. Thankfully, Alexander let go, losing interest in observing his handiwork, and climbed off the bed. Within the minute, he was in the bathroom and James could hear the running water of the shower. He sighed and sat up on the side of the bed, uncaring of the mess it would cause. He looked out over the water, down the coast, and noticed a small sailboat far off in the bay. He wanted to run, to swim out to that ship and go with them.

If things hadn’t changed like they had, James wouldn’t even be thinking the things he was. Alexander used to be nice to him, used to love him unconditionally. He treated James like the only man in the world, and would always tell him how amazing he was, and how much he was loved. It had helped, especially because of his childhood trauma. That’s why he had married the man in the first place. But, he supposed, all good things must come to an end.

This brought him back to his senses. The sheets he was sitting on needed to be changed and put in the wash before Alexander completed his shower. He stood, using a tissue from the bedside table to wipe between his legs, and got to work stripping the bed. It didn’t take him long before the linens had been loaded into the washer, and the bed was re-made with clean sheets. Admiring his work and making sure there were no wrinkles in the bedsheets, he turned and headed toward the bathroom down the hall.

As he did so, he caught a glimpse of himself in the full-length mirror on the wall next to the door. He furrowed his brows, looking closer at his fully naked form. He took a moment to admire his hair, still tousled and knotted from Alexander’s hands being tangled in it not moments before. It was dark and long, almost reaching down to his shoulders. Alexander liked to pull on it when they had sex. He met his own eyes in the mirror, stormy and grey with hints of sleep-deprivation showing underneath. He looked exhausted. There was a bruise forming on his left cheekbone. It was sure to blossom all over his face soon enough, given how hard Alexander had hit him the night before. He sighed, turning slightly to examine his side. The bright purple and yellow of abused tissue shone bright in the early morning sunlight. He winced at the pain when he ran his fingers over the area. He might have a broken rib, but he wasn’t going to tell Alexander about it. It would only make him mad. It would heal on its own.

Looking down toward the bandage wrapping the burn from the night before, he decided to take a look. He unwrapped it gingerly, careful not to damage it further. His arm looked worse than his body, with the combined burn mark and lacerations from the fight. Beating, his mind corrected. He touched gingerly around the burn mark, feeling the heat of the skin against his fingertips. The skin was shimmering with heat, glowing an angry red. It would heal, he knew, but it still worried him.

A hand running up his side startled him out of his reflection. “Hey baby,” Alexander whispered against his neck. The hot breath sent shivers down his spine, no matter how unwelcome it was. He had gotten used to his body reacting in ways such as this. It didn’t bother him as much anymore. “You want to make some breakfast? I’m feeling pretty hungry after you made me feel so good.” He pressed a kiss to James’ neck before backing up and turning off the music. He stepped out of the room, gesturing at James to follow. He planned on it but took a minute to look at himself in the mirror again. He shook his head and pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a tee-shirt before exiting the room behind his husband. His own shower would have to wait until after breakfast, he supposed.

As he entered the kitchen, he breathed in the warm scent of freshly brewed coffee. Alexander handed him a steaming mug and sat down at the table, picking up the paper from yesterday. James turned to the stove and opened the fridge. Alexander hadn’t told him what to make, so he decided to prepare something simple. “How do eggs and bacon sound?”

Alexander looked up from his paper, smiling widely. “That sounds just fantastic. Thanks sugarplum.” He went back to reading the paper when James took a sip of his coffee. It was good. A little too strong for his taste, but he had learned to live with it, just as he had learned to live with a lot of things.

When the pair finished breakfast, James cleaned the dishes and organized the cabinets like Alexander liked while the man finished his coffee. The rest of the day was lazy, James showered and cleaned the house at his own pace, stopping to gaze out the windows every now and then. The scene outside was still the same, just the bay, but it was always different, and that made him smile. Days like this with Alexander were always quiet, he would do his work, and James would do what needed to be done around the house. Sometimes, Alexander would distract him with kisses and sex, but he would always go right back to cleaning. It was what he was best at, in Alexander’s opinion.

As he gently dusted the end table in the living room, he glanced out at the ocean again. There was a small sailboat out on the water, closer to shore this time. He smiled to himself, working through his plan for the millionth time. It had to work. Whatever higher power was smiling down on him with this spontaneous sailing trip was a benevolent one. This had to work. He told himself it was going to, even though his shaking hands told him otherwise.

Before they left for their evening on the water, James took a moment to use the restroom, carefully making all the lights were turned off in the house, just like his husband always demanded. He locked the door to the bathroom once he was inside, leaning against the door and taking a few deep breaths. He glanced down at the cabinet under the sink, debating about making sure everything was in order, but decided against it. It was too late to change anything now. He turned the handle on the door, walking out to meet his husband, leaving the bathroom light on and shining through the small frosted window facing the water.

Chapter Text

“Give me your hand, darling. It’s okay,” Alexander cooed as he held out his hand. James stood on the dock, wrapped in a sweater, hugging his arms to his body. The boat was rocking gently back and forth, unsteady. He glanced down at the gap between the solid wooden dock and the unsteady sailboat before him. Eyeing the outstretched hand, he gently took it, stepping cautiously onto the boat. He stumbled forward, Alexander embracing him and laughing as the boat tipped slightly from his weight.

“See? Not so bad, is it baby?” James stepped back, looking down at the spotless floorboards of the boat. He shook his head no. “This is my friend from work, Brock Rumlow,” he said, gesturing to a tall, handsome man rigging the sails.

Brock turned, facing the pair with a smile. James couldn’t deny that he was attractive, although he wasn’t his type. Plus, he was a married man. “Nice to meet you James! Alex talks about you all the time. It’s great to finally put a face with a name.”

James smiled up at the man, still trying to catch his balance on the gently swaying vessel. “It’s nice to meet you too, Brock.” He felt Alexander’s arm snake possessively around his waist. He looked up at his husband, giving him a small smile too.

“Go ahead and find a seat, we should be ready to go soon.”

Alexander led James to the back of the boat, near the wheel. “This should make you feel a bit better,” he said, slipping a bright orange life vest over James’ head and fastening it around his torso. He sat him gently next to the helm, patting his leg as he turned to face Brock once more. James noticed a slight pause in his movements, looking at the house for a moment before facing his friend.

“Need any help before we get going?” His voice was slower, deeper. Something was wrong.

Brock pulled hard on a length of rope, grunting under his breath as he tightened the knot. “No, actually, I think we are ready.” He looked to the sky, furrowing his brow when he noticed something behind them. James followed his gaze, seeing a dark cluster of clouds. A heavy sense of dread settled hard in his stomach. “As long as that storm stays over Boston, I think it will be a lovely evening for sailing.”

“That’s great news Brock. Thanks for inviting us, by the way. Very kind of you to invite your boss out sailing.”

“Oh, it’s really no problem…”

While the two chatted, James looked down into the water. He didn’t like being this close to it, not knowing what was lurking beneath the surface. But Alexander had told him they wouldn’t be leaving the bay. The bay wasn’t as scary, thankfully, as the open ocean. He watched as the boat began to pull away from the dock, the water getting progressively darker and darker as the ocean floor dropped away. It only aggravated the already nauseating lump of fear irritating his insides.

Alexander sat next to him, suddenly grabbing his left arm harshly, causing him to jump away from the pain. He glanced down at where he was being held, distressed to see blood beginning to seep through his sweater in places. Panic flooded his gut as he looked up at his husband, silently questioning what he did wrong. Although he was already quite aware of what he had done.

“Did you leave the bathroom light on when we left the house?” He asked, no emotion in his voice. It still resounded dark and ominous through the quickly fading light of dusk.

James glanced back at the house, acting as if he didn’t distinctly remember leaving the light on. “I suppose I did. I’m sorry.” He looked down at the floorboards once again, not wanting to meet Alexander’s eyes.

“We can sort this out when we get home. I don’t want to deal with you right now. Stay here, and stay quiet, unless Brock or I talk to you, understand?” He let go of his arm as James nodded slightly, cradling the limb next to his torso. After a moment of trying to staunch the tears threatening to stream down his cheeks, James turned away from the two other men and looked over the edge of the boat, watching as his tears sent ripples out across the surface.

The night went on slowly as James sat in silence. The sunset over the water was too beautiful to describe, and as it sank under the horizon, hope filled James’ heart as blackness swallowed the sky. After a while of sailing in darkness, a cold drop of rain hit the sleeve of his sweater. He squinted up at the sky, taking note of the dark clouds crowding over the water. Brock and Alexander were still chatting, paying little attention to him or the weather. He couldn’t say anything though. It wasn’t worth it.

The rain began to fall harder and harder, until it got Alexander’s attention. “Is that a problem, Brock?”

“Yeah, sorry Alexander, we should head back. It’s not too bad yet, but I wouldn’t want the waves to kick up and cause trouble.”

The wind began to pick up, sending rain swirling around the deck of the boat. Both men began to scramble for the sails, struggling to hold them steady. The boat rocked viciously side to side as the storm picked up at an alarming speed. James grasped the side of the boat, knuckles white with tension. He looked down at the waves, hair wet and hanging into his eyes. The water was sloshing over the side of the boat, threatening to tip the entire vessel. He whipped his head around, immediately finding his husband through the rain.

Alexander was struggling with a rope, turned away from him. It was now or never.

He sucked in a breath as he tumbled over the side of the boat, cringing when he hit the cool water below.

~~~~~

Alexander Pierce struggled against the wind, pulling a rope tight and securing it against the side of the boat. He had been sailing a few times, and had a general idea of how to help. His father had owned a large, beautiful sailing boat when he was a child, and he had been taught how to sail. It was proving to be a beneficial lesson.

Brock gave him brief instructions on what to do next, as he strained to force the boat back toward shore. He secured the sail, turning toward the side of the boat. The waves were splashing over the walls onto the deck, wetting Alexander’s feet. His mind turned to James, who was likely terrified.

“It’s going to be okay sugarplum, we are going back to shore,” he shouted against the wind, turning to give a small smile to his husband. His eyes widened when he saw where James had been seated. The seat was empty, and James was nowhere to be seen.

“James?” Panic began to boil in his chest as he scrambled against the wind toward the stern. He leaned over the side of the boat, looking desperately into the black, turbulent sea. “James!”

Brock stumbled up behind him, the wind blowing him off his already compromised balance. “What happened? Did he fall? Can you see him?”

A terrifying thought crossed Alexander’s mind, causing his stomach to churn further. “He can’t swim,” he nearly whispered. Brock could only barely hear him, but his eyes widened in realization of what those words meant.

“Shit, hold on, let me turn around, we will find him.” The man rushed to the helm, aggressively wrenching the boat against the raging tides. He kept screaming the man’s name over the side of the boat. James couldn’t be gone; he just couldn’t be. Maybe he could stay afloat, maybe there was a chance…

“Alex! Over there!” Alex followed the line of Brock’s hand, seeing a bit of orange amongst the black waves. Without any hesitation, he dove into the water head first, going after the love of his life. He would never find another man like James, he was sure of it. What was he going to do if he lost him? A sense of blind desperation overtook him as he fought toward the orange life vest.

“James! It’s okay, I’ve got you,” he shouted as he got closer. There was no response. The panic in his chest blinded him further as he reached the life vest.

It was empty.

It must have come off him at some point. He looked around quickly, trying to spot any sign of his husband. Any glimpse of a hand, or of the bun his hair had been up in. God, where was he? He figured he would take a chance, diving down into the deep water below him. He looked around, eyes burning with the salinity. Nothing.

He came to the surface, gasping for breath. He spit water from his mouth and heard Brock shouting at him from the boat. “Get back on here! I’ve already lost one passenger, I’m sure as hell not going to lose another one! Especially when he's my goddamn boss!"

Looking around one last time, Alexander shouted into the storm. “James!” No response. He grabbed the life vest, pulling it behind him as he swam back to the relative safety of the sailboat. He grabbed Brock’s hand as he was pulled back up onto the vessel. Brock went back to man the helm as he gazed out over the water. He had to be alive, he just had to be.

Within an hour, Alexander was on board a coast guard vessel, searching the bay for James. They stayed out all night, sending divers in search of… he didn’t want to think about it. He was sure that his baby was out there somewhere. He was that kind of man, the kind of man who would find some way to stay alive.

He stood out on the bow, glaring out at the water as the still-pouring rain pounded his face. It was difficult to make out what was rain, and what wetness was caused by his own tears. The man he loved had just been lost to the ocean, and the last thing he said to him was to be quiet. How could he have been so cruel? Sure James had been careless and left the light on, but if he had known… if he had only known…

James' funeral was held on a rainy Sunday morning two weeks from when he drowned at sea.

Chapter Text

James gasped for breath as he crawled up onto the sand under the cover of night. Spitting water from his mouth, he clawed against the sand and out of reach of the waves, much like those birds he had seen on the beach yesterday. He spent a moment, flopping onto his back against the earth and catching his breath. He did it. He swam to shore. All the way to shore. Take that, ocean.

He sat up and looked out at the water. He could just barely see the outline of the sailboat on the bay. It was turning toward the shore. He needed to move quickly before Alexander reached the dock near their house. He looked down the beach, desperately searching for… one lit window.

Rolling back onto his stomach and coughing against the sand for a moment, he managed to lift himself up on exhausted legs. He was tired, but this was his only chance. This was his only chance to change his life, just the way the natural beauty of Cape Cod changed every single day. And he hoped to never see it again.

He dashed toward the house, seeing the singular lit window shining through the pouring rain. He hugged his bleeding and stinging arm closer to his chest as he struggled through the wet sand. The sea water had gotten into the deep wounds, and was now mingling with the blood soaking his sweater. It hurt, but that wasn’t important. He could get through this.

Not too long after, he reached the small wooden bridge leading up to the rear entry to the house. He quietly slid the glass door open, slipping into the darkened kitchen. He was dripping sea water all over the floor as he headed toward the bathroom. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he could feel a panic attack coming on. If Alexander found out what he was doing, he would be absolutely furious. He told himself over and over again that he wouldn’t be found out. He had thought it through so many times, there was no way this could go wrong.

Careful to avoid the few carpeted rooms in the house, James made his way to the bathroom. He immediately opened the cabinet under the sink, carefully moving all the bottles of shampoo and extra supplies out of the way. Buried at the back of the cabinet was a grey messenger bag. He pulled it out, careful to replace all bottles to their original position. James unzipped the bag and once again regarded the familiar items inside.

Along with a few protein bars and water bottles, there was a change of clothes, a towel, a temporary fake ID card, a small plastic bag, a roll of cash, and the necklace his sister had given him. He nodded, checking to be sure that everything was still there. It seemed fine, that’s all he really needed.

He grabbed the plastic bag, setting the messenger bag on the floor, and reached into one of the drawers closest to him. Conveniently placed within reach was a pair of scissors. He took them and began to cut chunks off his long hair, securing them in the plastic bag. He would style it later, but now he needed to change his appearance quickly, just in case Alexander saw him from the back as he was making his escape. He regarded himself in the mirror. It was by no means a good haircut, but it would do for now. Shorter on the sides, a little longer on top. All the evidence and mess were safely secured in the Ziplock bag and returned to the other bag resting on the tile.

He looked on the floor, making sure there were no stray pieces of hair anywhere. He did a good job keeping it all in the bag. He brushed over the tile with his hand, watching the glint of the gold band around his finger. Once he was sure the floor was clean enough, he brushed his hand off into the toilet next to the vanity. Taking one last look at the wedding ring, he twisted it off his finger, tossing it into the toilet and flushing it away.

Swinging the bag over his shoulder, James took one last look in the mirror. He expected to look as terrified as he felt, but he saw nothing but steely confidence and excitement staring back at him. He was going to do it. He was really going to escape.

He grabbed a towel from the back of the linen closet in the bathroom and walked backwards out of the house, drying the little spots of water his damp shoes left behind. Before leaving the house for the last time, he took one last look around, making sure everything was left the way it was before they had gone sailing. Seeing nothing out of place, he threw the towel over his arm and slid the door closed behind him, running down the sand once again and under the cover of the trees.

Within hours, James was in dry clothes on a bus heading west. He looked down at his left hand, noting the sizable dent at the base of his ring finger. Four years of wearing that thing every day, that symbol, had left its mark. He had thought the ring was a symbol of devotion, of a two-way agreement of respect. Over the years, it had become more of a servitude, slowly evolving to enslavement. And now, looking out the window of the bus, he was free.

It didn’t make him feel good that Alexander thought he was dead. He was sure the man was hurting already, fearing the worst. But it was better this way, he told himself. If he hadn’t escaped, just for the sake of Alexander’s feelings, there would be nothing but more constant abuse. He didn’t want every breath he drew to sting with pain due to a broken rib. Alexander had never spared his feelings in a situation like that, so why the hell should he spare the man any sympathy now? The thought was empowering, but he couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for the man he had loved all this time.

The darkness through the window should have made him feel like he was suffocating, but looking out at the vast expanse of sky made his stomach flutter with excitement. What would he do next? He could do anything once he got to Colorado. It was his life, and he could do anything now. Dinner didn’t have to be at any specific time, the cabinets didn’t have to be organized, the floor didn’t have to be spotless. He had no obligations. It was his choice.

He decided that as soon as he got off the bus, he was going to find an apartment. And he was going to leave it as messy as he wanted.

He leaned down to open the flap on his bag and pull out the wallet tucked into one of the smaller pouches. He just wanted to make sure everything was set up, for the millionth time. He was sure he would need an ID to rent an apartment, and he wanted to make sure the one he had looked as authentic as possible before he got a new, official one. That was second on his list. He needed to visit the court house, and get his name changed, and his ID to match…

“Excuse me?”

James turned to face the voice, curious about who was talking to him. Across the empty seat and isle was an older woman, maybe in her sixties, sitting with a bag on her lap. He gave her a brief smile and went to turn back to the window. He stopped when she talked to him again.

“Were you vacationing on the coast?” she asked with a crooked smile. James turned to face her fully, almost mentally prepared for a conversation.

“No,” he said, taking a short breath. “I lived there for a while, actually.”

She nodded, slowly looking from his hastily-packed bag to his hair. She settled on his eyes, seemingly staring into his soul. She looked skeptical.

“What are you running from?”

Her question threw James for a loop. “What?”

“I know that look. You’re running from something. Your hair looks like shit, you cut it yourself, and your eyes are terrified. You’re running.”

James nodded to himself. Maybe he wasn’t doing as well as he thought. “Maybe I am running. Don’t worry about it though, I’m not dangerous. I’m not running from the law or anything.” He looked down as he spoke, feeling shy under her knowing gaze.

She stayed silent for a moment, weighing his words. “Let’s start with your name. What’s your name sweetie?”

He smiled up at her at the kindness in her words. He almost said what came to mind first, but thought again and glanced down at the ID card in his hands. Smiling, he met her eyes. “Bucky.” The name felt right as it rolled off his tongue. “My name is Bucky.”

She grinned at him, reaching down into the bag on her lap. She pulled out a dark purple plum and held it out to him. “You look like you could use it, Bucky.”

He smiled, taking the fruit and nodding appreciatively. “Thank you very much. You’re so kind.”

There was a moment of silence as James… no, Bucky took a bite of the plum. The juice dripped down his chin and the sweetness filled his mouth. It was the most beautiful piece of fruit he had ever consumed.

“You’ve been through a lot. I can tell.” Bucky looked up at her, catching some dripping juice with his hand. “Do you want to talk about it?”

He swallowed the bite of fruit in his mouth while thinking it over. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to talk about it yet. What would he even say? This woman seemed sweet. And he really did want to tell someone. Chances are, he would never see her again anyway. He couldn’t see the harm in it, so he started at the beginning.

“Well, I was married to a man, who I thought would be the love of my life. He always treated me well. Hell, our honeymoon, we spent at his beach house in Cape Cod. It was beautiful. Some of the best memories I have, actually.”

She nodded, listening intently.

“But eventually, he got… irrational. He would get angry over the littlest things. It got worse and worse, until I called the cops on him one night. That only made him more angry. They told me…” he sniffed back a few tears that threatened to escape at the recollection of that night. “They told me that, because of who he was, and what power he has, they couldn’t do anything for me. That was two years ago.”

“So you ran?”

He nodded, taking another bite of the plum. “It was the only thing I could do,” he said, his mouth full. He swallowed before continuing. “But please don’t tell anybody. I can’t let him find me. He can’t know I’m alive.”

She nodded, handing him a paper towel for the plum juice dripping down his chin. He took it gratefully and wiped his face, the paper catching slightly on his five-o-clock shadow. “Don’t worry honey. I’m just glad you have a plan.”

He met the kind lady’s gaze one last time. “Thank you. It’s nice to talk to someone about it.”

She grinned, clearly missing a few teeth. It was completely genuine. Bucky realized this was the first genuine smile he had been given in over three years. It brought tears to his eyes.

“I think I’m going to get some sleep now. It’s been really nice talking to you,” he said, wrapping up the pit of the fruit in the paper towel and shoving it in the front of his bag to throw away later, alongside the small bag of hair.

“Anytime sweetie. I really hope things work out for you.”

With one last appreciative smile in her direction, Bucky turned toward the window, resting his head on it and closing his eyes. He was asleep before the next mile-marker flew past his line-of-sight.

Chapter Text

As Bucky trudged down the stairs at the bus station, the fresh mountain air filled his lungs. He looked reverently around at the stunning scenery. If he thought Cape Cod was beautiful, this was a new level entirely. The Rocky Mountains stood tall and proud to the west, covered in a light dusting of snow. He could see the line where the trees could no longer grow due to elevation, followed by the deep purple of the granite mountainside. This was his new home, the place where he would start his new life. Colorado Springs.

After taking a moment to view the mountains through the gaps in the tall buildings, Bucky looked around to find a payphone. This was a priority, before he did absolutely anything else. He found one just to the side of the station, and walked briskly to it. Jangling the few coins in his pocket, he placed them all into the coin slot, dialed the number, and waited for her to pick up. He knew the change would only get him a few seconds of call time, but he only needed to hear her voice… Just one word.

Two rings, and her voice filled his ear. “Hello?”

Tears sprang to his eyes as he heard the voice of his little sister for the first time since he had helped her move to college. Rebecca Proctor was on the other end of the line, completely alive, and studying away at the college downtown. His voice caught in his throat as he tried to respond. Over the years since he attended her “funeral” to help her move into college, he had started to believe the lies he told his husband as well. It was surreal to hear her melodic voice once again after three years.

“Becca?”

“Who is this?” She sounded defensive. It made Bucky smile more.

“Becca, I’m here. I’m going to visit soon,” he promised. “I love you so much Becca.”

The line cut out. He knew that the few coins he had wouldn’t pay for a long chat, but it was exactly what he needed to remind him that he had done the right thing. It just wasn’t natural to have to hide your sister from your husband for her own safety. He needed to see her, he knew, but he had to wait. It was important for him to get settled in first, before meeting with her. He hoped she recognized his voice.

He walked down the street, looking up at the buildings. It really was a lovely place, he had to admit. He now knew exactly why his sister wanted to attend college here. The skies were bluer and clearer than he had ever seen, and the air was clean and cool. It was almost as though the world was breathing anew, welcoming him to his new life as Bucky Barnes.

The first apartment building he passed, he entered, ready to pay whatever it took to get a place to live for the foreseeable future. He had plenty of money or the down payment, he knew that much. And it wasn’t an expensive looking place anyway. He stepped through the doors and walked up to the rental desk. The man behind the desk looked up at him, looking a bit weary at first, but then smiling.

“Hello. Can I help you?”

He chose his words carefully, as to not sound as crazy as he surely looked. “Hi, I’m new in town. I was just wondering if you had any apartments for rent?”

The man furrowed his brow and looked at him through squinted eyes. “Uh, yeah. Sorry, people don’t usually just walk up to me and ask me things like this. Let me get you someone who can help you with that.”

Turns out, the apartment complex had a number of apartments available, including a one bedroom, comforting in its limited space. The old inhabitant had recently been moved to a nursing home, so he was told. Bucky toured it, looking around at the semi-stained walls, and old flowered wallpaper. There was a couch, and a bed, and the place came furnished. It was all he really needed, so he paid it down, and asked to move in right away. The man seemed slightly surprised at his straightforwardness, but agreed to the deal, taking the cash without a second question. Bucky was glad for it too, because he had nowhere else to stay, unless he considered crashing on a park bench downtown.

The apartment was small, but after Alexander’s love of open spaces and large houses, the tight space felt comforting and safe. He was just one man, after all, he didn’t need anything too big. He placed his bag on the kitchen counter, taking in the place once again. The kitchen was nicely equipped, with a stove and a fridge, although all he really needed was a microwave as of right now. There was a small sofa in the living room facing the wall. Bucky guessed there used to be a television across from the sofa. He didn’t need one of those either, it would be fine. On the other side of the living room was a door that led to the bedroom. He would look in there later, but right now, he had bigger issues to worry about.

He pulled his shirt off over his head, being careful not to allow the bandage on his arm to get caught on the fabric. He glowered down at his battered forearm and winced in pain as he pulled the soiled bandage away. The thing was beginning to heal slowly, being covered gradually by new, pink skin. He was thankful for it as well. After his swim in the ocean so soon after getting hurt, he had worried about it getting infected. It was gradually getting better though, and it looked even better, less scabbed and blistered, than the last time he looked at it.

Empowered by this new sense of enlightenment, Bucky turned to the sink. He ran some cold water over the cuts and scrapes from the broken plate, still feeling the sting of some of them. He only stopped when he began to see the water running off his arm in clear, clean droplets. He retrieved the towel from his bag and used a clean corner to dry the area. He covered it with a new bandage collected in case of emergency and sighed.

He needed to walk to the courthouse and get his new identity sorted out. He took one last look around the apartment, smiling at how disorganized and imperfect it appeared. It was far from pristine, and it was perfect. He stepped out into the hall, closing the door and locking it behind him. As he turned to walk toward the elevator, he caught a brief glimpse of a man entering the apartment next to his. His short stature and blonde hair disappeared behind the door to his apartment before he could get a good look at him. He would have to meet him later. Maybe bring him freshly baked cookies or something, like a good neighbor would.

Surprisingly, it only took him a few hours for him to get the paperwork for his new identity worked out. When he left the courthouse, he looked down at his new, official ID. It had his new name and photo with his short hair on it. He smiled down at it, excited for all the new things this identity would bring.

On his walk back to the apartment, he stopped by a small, family owned barbershop. They didn’t do much, just cleaned up what he had already done back in Cape Cod. Once he walked back out on the street, he was a new man. Any trace of James Pierce was gone. In exception of the injuries that were still healing from the last altercation with Alexander. Pushing the thought from his mind, he returned to his new apartment, closing the door behind him. He gazed around once he had closed the door behind him, feeling only comfort from seeing the disheveled mess around him.

He walked over to the window and looked out. The town was a lovely one, he was happy to notice. There wasn’t exactly a mountain view, but he could see glimpses of the edges of the front range if he stood at the correct angle. It still made him smile. He wondered for a moment what mountains he was seeing. Maybe him and Becca would have to hike up them one day, to catch up after so long apart.

He turned, walking to the couch, and settling down with his head on the armrest, body lounging out over the cushions. It was clearly an old couch, but it was comfy. Much more comfortable than the bed he had shared with Alexander. At least now he knew he wouldn’t wake up to his husband raping him. The fabric underneath him smelled like a woman’s perfume. He wouldn’t complain about that, for sure. At least it wasn’t dirty. Just well-loved.

The world seemed to slow for a moment as he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He would need to go shopping, to get food, and fix the place eventually, but right now, he just wanted to sleep. It had been a long couple of days on the bus, sleeping whenever possible, but mostly enjoying the view. Watching each tree pass the window was like seeing a physical manifestation of distance between him and his old life. He had seen more of the United States in the past few days than he had seen in his life, and it had been beautiful, regardless of how tired he was.

The silence of the apartment was soothing, hearing nothing but his own breath. He rolled over on his back, staring up at the ceiling. This was his new life, and it was wonderful.

Over the silence interrupted every so often by his own breath drifted something else, something soft and low. The melodic noise was coming from the bedroom. Almost like siren song, Bucky was drawn to the sound. He swung his legs over the side of the couch and stood, wanting to find the source. Maybe there was an old radio from the tenant before him in the bedroom that had begun to play.

As he entered the bedroom, he searched around, following the musical aroma of the beautiful sound. It led him to standing up against the wall, next to the headboard of the bed, with his ear pressed against the shared wall. The melody snaked its way around his brain, calming him. It was coming from his neighbor next door. Bucky remembered the brief view of the man, short, blonde, and attractive. A smile graced his lips as he listened.

He was singing softly, the music winding its way through the beams in the walls. The words were muffled, but the tone was clear as a bell. He had a nice voice. The pitch wavered, and was sometimes flat-out wrong, but he found it charming.

He moved away from the wall, laying down on the bed and closing his eyes once again. He drifted to sleep listening to the sound of his neighbor’s voice.

Chapter Text

It was another lovely Sunday afternoon for Steve. He stood in his apartment, the window blinds pulled up, and gazed out at Pikes Peak, humming quietly to himself. In the bright afternoon light, he could see the bright red outline of Garden of the Gods. Appraising his canvas, he smiled. It looked good so far. Not his best work, but not too bad for a lazy Sunday.

He set down his brush, dipped in a beautiful shade of rusty brown, and replaced it with a wine glass. He took a short sip of the decadently sweet Moscato and smiled. What an afternoon. His painting was half finished, and he was really starting to enjoy the look of the new style he was trying out. One of his students had suggested he try something new, and he was really starting to enjoy the look of it.

The sun was beginning to dip low in the sky, shining directly into his window and illuminating his small apartment. One bedroom, one bathroom. Perfect, in his opinion, for a single college professor. He looked around the room, regarding the twenty-some other paintings he had lying around the place. It was a bit of a mess, he would admit, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t mind it. His paintings were almost like children to him, so he didn’t mind their presence.

He sighed and walked over to the kitchen, hoping to find something small to snack on before he packed up his painting supplies. He needed to organize the artwork littering his apartment for his exhibition later in the month, but he hardly felt like today was the day to do that. Maybe he would go out tonight instead. There are a few bars he hadn’t been to in a while, and he was sure his friend Sam would be up for it. Sam was always up for anything.

He grabbed an apple out of his fridge and returned to the living room, plopping himself down on the couch. As soon as his ass met the fluffy cushions, his plans for going out tonight faded to nothing. Staying home now sounded like a much better plan. He sighed and set the wine glass and apple on the end table, within his reach. He flicked on his radio while he finished his apple. He couldn’t help appreciating how nice of an afternoon it had been.

After a while of enjoying his apple and silence, he decided it was time to get off his ass and start organizing his works for the upcoming charity event. He needed to make sure they were at least sorted by subject, and somewhat in the same area before they needed to be transported to the event. It was important, and it was his first opportunity for some high-level exposure, so he was determined to make sure everything was perfect well in advance.

As he got off the couch, he flicked on the radio, enjoying the soft melody now floating through the air. He started humming along with it as he looked around the room, appraising where to begin with the disaster. He elected to start by putting the landscape paintings behind the couch, carefully leaning them up against it.

The song ended, the last chord ringing through the room as the radio announcer’s overly-enthusiastic voice sounded through the apartment, announcing the next song. Steve smiled at the announcement. He loved John Legend.

As the piano chords wrapped around the room, he picked up the largest of the paintings of the front range and placed it behind the couch, smiling as the words wrapped around his lonely heart, tugging slightly. This song always made him sad, reminding him of his lack of a relationship. But he still enjoyed it.

He muttered the words quietly while organizing the paintings, the words swelling and emotion filling him to the brim. He took a deep breath, completely abandoning his caution at disturbing his neighbors, and sang out loud.

“’Cause all of me, loves all of you…”

He let the emotion pour out of him, letting the words lift the loneliness he felt from his soul as he continued singing along to the chorus. As he organized the paintings by size, he sang at the top of his lungs. Although he wasn’t an adept musician, he still enjoyed letting lose sometimes. Especially when he was feeling down, the music helped him along.

The sounds of his slightly-off-pitch singing bounced off the walls, making him smile. Sometimes, he thought about singing to somebody. He liked to imagine that they, whoever they were, were sitting on his couch, listening to him pour his heart into the words. He liked to think that if he sang loud enough, maybe his soul mate would hear him, wherever they were.

The song ended as quickly as it had begun and Steve sighed, eyes closed. As much as he liked to think about having someone like that, someone to love unconditionally, it seemed so far out of reach. Steve had been on, what, one date in the past four years? And that had ended in a disaster. Maybe he just wasn’t built for romance. He supposed there was always hope, and he wasn’t giving up anytime soon, but he just wished… he didn’t even know what he wished.

That was a whole other problem. He needed a date to the gallery. He couldn’t show up to a Trevor Project charity gala without a date. Sure, it would have helped if he actually had a boyfriend, or a girlfriend for that matter, that way he could just ask them and be done with it. But, as per usual, he didn’t.

His friend Sam had agreed to go with him, posing as his date, as long as there wasn’t too much publicity. It had been hell to convince him of it though. Steve couldn’t blame him though. He supposed it might be quite the strain on the relationship for Sam to go to such an event with his single friend, and act as his date. Riley had nothing to worry about though, it wasn’t like Steve was overly attractive. There was no way he could steal, or would steal, for that matter, Sam from him.

He finished sorting the canvases and looked around the room once again. It looked much better than it had before. Still, it looked a bit like the place had been an art museum hit by a tornado, but it was nice to know that they were at least more organized than they had been. It made him feel a little less tense.

He sighed, sitting back on the couch and grabbing his room-temperature wine. He needed to relax, and that was exactly what he planned to do.

Chapter Text

Bucky stood at the end of the hall, looking down at the rows of doors on either side. There was EDM music booming through the building from inside one of the rooms, and the whole place smelled slightly of cotton candy Juul smoke. He shook his head at the vivid flashbacks he was getting from his college days and walked quietly down the hallway. Becca wasn’t expecting him. He hoped she would be in her room.

He reached the door on the left side of the hall he remembered helping her move into during her first week of school. She had called him in a panic, asking if he would help her rent a truck and move into the dorms at the university. It was so short notice that the only thing he had thought to tell Alexander he was doing was attending a funeral. He wouldn’t have been allowed to go otherwise. Bucky had never been good with words, and he was even worse under pressure. A lie that big was bound to have consequences, but he figured they were better than the beating he was destined to receive if he had told him the truth. So he had gone the past three years of his life without hearing a word from his little sister. It had almost been as if she had actually died.

But now here he was, standing in front of her door, arm raised and poised to knock. He was ready to see her; he had missed her more than anything. But he paused for a moment. What if she was angry with him? He had practically ghosted her for the past three years, deleting her phone number, and dodging her calls, all to keep himself, and her, safe. If she was angry, he would just have to deal with it. But right now, he needed to see her.

He knocked three times.

There was a moment of silence before the door to the small room opened. There was an attractive young lady peering at him from the inside. “Who are you?”

“Hi…” He stuttered a bit, expecting to see Becca. “I’m here to see Becca.” He tried to shift his gaze around her, to see if Becca was in the room. She met his movements, blocking his view of the room.

“Jamie?”

Bucky’s heart leapt at the mention of his childhood nickname. “Becca?!” The redhead was pushed out of the way, Becca’s dark hair and pretty face coming into view from behind the door. She stood for a moment, just staring, as if she had seen a ghost.

An incredulous smile overtook her features. “It’s so good to see you!” She bounded through the door, pulling Bucky into a tight hug and tucking her nose into his neck. “Where the hell have you been?”

“I’m so much better. Becca, I’m so much better. It’s so good to see you.” He could feel a tear slip down his cheek, wetting the shoulder of his sister’s shirt.

They stayed like that, holding each other, and relishing in the contact in silence.

“Come on in,” Becca said, pulling out of the hug and gesturing to the room beyond. It was seemingly a split directly down the middle, one side neat and organized, the other with clothes strewn about. He smiled, looking at the mess his sister had made. She had always been a little less than organized. “This is my roommate, Angie.”

Bucky looked over to where she was gesturing to the red head who had opened the door for him. He nodded at her. “Nice to meet you Angie.”

“Sup,” she said simply before sitting at her desk and pulling on a set of headphones, officially tuning out of any further conversation between Bucky and his sister. She was clearly uninterested, which Bucky was almost glad for.

“Holy shit, Jamie. Where the hell have you been?” She pulled him into another tight hug, squeezing him as if proving to herself that he was still there, and he was still real. “You never answered my texts, never picked up my calls. I thought you might be dead.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I don’t even know what to say.” He wrapped his arms protectively around her torso, determined to never let her go again. “I had to.”

She pulled back a bit, gesturing to her bed. “Wanna sit and talk about it? I don’t have class for another two hours.”

Bucky nodded and hoisted himself up onto the half-raised bed. Becca planted her foot on the side of her desk and vaulted onto the mattress, swinging her legs up onto the bed and sitting cross-legged facing her brother. “Spill.”

Bucky looked at her and smiled. “Well… it’s a long story. You don’t need to hear all of it. I left Alexander.”

“What? You’re kidding me. Why?” Her eyes were wide. She hadn’t had any idea about the years of abuse and control. She had no idea how bad things had been. “Did something happen? Did you two get a divorce?”

He chuckled. “No. We didn’t get a divorce. He never would have signed. There’s more to the story than you know… and I really don’t want to get into it, because I don’t want to worry you. All you need to know is that you are in no danger. Alexander thinks we are both dead.” Becca’s eyes widened significantly in question and shock.

“Why the hell would he need to think we’re dead?” She stuttered a bit while forming her sentence. “Was there something about him that I didn’t know? There’s something you’re not telling me.”

Bucky shook his head. “He was a piece of shit. He beat me, and controlled me, and wouldn’t let me leave. I figured it was best if he thought you were dead. To keep you safe from him. I couldn’t trust him. Not after what I have been through.”

He pulled up the sleeve of his tee shirt, showing her the marks on his arm. She gasped, gently grabbing his wrist and pulling him closer to her. “He did this?” Anger flared in her eyes as she brushed a finger over the shining, healing burn.

“I burnt myself, but the other marks were him. It’s not important though. It’s all over now, I don’t have to worry. I escaped. He thinks I’m dead.”

Becca smiled absently. “Yeah. So that’s what the haircut was about then, huh? You change your name and everything?”

Bucky nodded. “I changed everything. He shouldn’t be able to find me, even if he does get the suspicion that I might still be alive. But I doubt that would happen. His New York penthouse is a long way from here.”

Becca nodded, dropping her hold on his wrist. “So, you decided to come here because of me?” Bucky nodded. “Do you need someplace to stay? I am sure Angie would be alright with having you stay over a few nights. Dorm policy is no visitors for more than two consecutive nights, but I am sure we could make arrangements.”

“It’s alright Becca, I have an apartment downtown. Don’t worry, okay? It’s not much, but I can make do. You’ll have to come over and see it sometime,” he said, the pride of owning his own place shining through the murky blackness of just having escaped an abusive situation.

The two sat on the bed and talked, catching up on all they had missed after Bucky’s disappearance from Becca’s life. Tears were shed as the two shared stories. Becca spoke of college, and how she was graduating with her bachelor’s soon. She talked about her friends, and how they went on hikes and camped in the woods near the campus. Her success and achievements made Bucky’s heart swell with pride. His little sister was doing so well.

Bucky reluctantly told the story of how Alexander went from a loving husband to an abusive owner, crying when he recounted a few times he was beaten to a bloody mess. She began to cry when he started talking about the times where Alexander would force him to have sex with him before hugging him once again, still cross-legged on the bed. She cried into his shoulder while he held her, reassuring her that he was there now, and it was okay.

Eventually, Becca pulled back, sniffing and wiping her eyes on her sleeve. “I have to go to class. I would stay, and we could keep talking, but I have a test.”

Bucky smiled at her, jumping off her bed. “That’s fine Becca. Go rock your test, okay? You’re going to do great.”

She joined him standing on the floor before pulling him in for another hug. “Thank you, Jamie. I’m so glad you’re safe now.”

“I’ll call you, and we can get coffee soon, yeah?” He stepped back, holding her shoulders and looking her dead in the eyes. He couldn’t believe this was his sister, standing right in front of him.

She nodded, smiling with a stubborn glint of sadness in her eyes. He wished her luck again as they left the dorm together. Bucky walked toward his apartment and Becca went to her class.

Bucky was walking on clouds on his way home. There was a newfound spring in his step as he recounted the conversation he had with his sister. Her face when she had first seen him, her voice when she had heard him at the door. It was all so amazing. It was going to be so much help to have Becca in his corner while he was recovering from his escape. It just felt good to have family, real family, again. The walk home took no time at all, the smile on his face never fading.

“Oh, sorry! I didn’t see you there.” He turned around, facing Bucky with a shy smile. As soon as he laid eyes on the other man, his mouth fell open and his eyes widened. It looked as though he had never seen a man of Bucky’s height and stature before. “Wow, hi,” he said eloquently.

Bucky smiled, feeling blood rush to his cheeks, flattered at the man’s reaction. He hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to his neighbor, but this wasn’t exactly how he had hoped to meet him. “Hi there.”

The smaller man looked at the floor and wiped his hand on his pantleg before holding it out for the other man to shake. “I’m Steve Rogers, sorry.”

“Steve…” Bucky repeated. “I like it. I’m Bucky Barnes.” The pair shook hands. “I’m your neighbor, I’ve been meaning to meet you since I moved in.”

“Right. Well, hey, did you want to go out for coffee…” he hesitated. “With me? Sometime soon? I would invite you in now, but I have somewhere to be.”

Bucky was taken aback. Steve had just met him, and he was asking him out? He felt his heartrate spike with anxiety. Why was he feeling so anxious about being asked out by such a good-looking man? He should feel flattered, but his chest felt like it was collapsing. This wasn’t going to work, he needed to leave.

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly before turning to his door. “I have to go. It was nice to meet you Steve.”

He rushed into his apartment, slamming the door behind him. He tried desperately to control his racing heart by slowing his breath. It felt like he was dying. He was having a panic attack. What a fucking time to have a panic attack. He slid down to the floor, putting his head in his hands as he waited for the attack to pass. His breath slowed to an acceptable pace and he passed out on the hardwood, still slumped against the closed door.

Chapter Text

“Professor?”

How could he have been so stupid? Of course a beautiful hunk of a man like Bucky wouldn’t be open to going out with him. Why had he assumed that he was even interested in the first place? He hardly knew the man, and it was only their first conversation, and he was already asking him out for coffee? How could he have been so stupid? And the man had looked like he was having a full-on panic attack. Steve had known it was a bad idea, coming on so strong right from the start. What a great impression he had made. Great job Steve.

“Professor!”

Steve whipped around at the shout of his title from one of his students. “What? What is it?”

“I was just going to make sure that this piece is due on Friday, not Wednesday. Someone told me it was due Wednesday…” One of his students, a rather successful teacher’s pet stood in front of him. She often stayed after class to chat with him.

“It’s not due until Friday. Hate to say it, but someone lied to you,” he said, turning to shuffle some papers on his desk before smiling briefly at her. “You’ve got plenty of time, I know you’ll get it done.”

“Thank you, Professor Rogers.” She leaned against his desk, clearly not in any hurry to leave.

He eyed her suspiciously. “What’s on your mind Kayleigh? Anything I can help with?”

She looked down at the floor and smiled. “No. I was actually going to ask you the same thing. Did you ever find a date to your charity gala?”

Steve pursed his lips. “No. No I haven’t found anybody. I’m sure I can work something out though, don’t you worry. I trust that you and your girlfriend will be there still? Since, I am planning on having your latest piece on display alongside my works.” Steve smiled brightly, knowing the upcoming reaction would be one he would cherish forever. He had not yet told her about his decision to feature one of her pieces in his exhibit.

“You decided to feature me?” Her face lit up like the dawn, happiness spreading through her stance as the realization hit her. “Thank you so much! I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” She turned toward the door, her bag clenched excitedly against her side. She paused, turning.

“Professor?” Steve nodded, silently asking her to continue. “Whoever you have on your mind, just follow your instincts. He would be lucky to have you.”

Steve furrowed his eyebrows. “How… I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he responded gracelessly.

“That deep in thought… It was bound to be a man. Take it from me, the more time you put it off, the more time you have to overthink things. Just talk to him, okay?”

Steve nodded. “Very wise for an undergrad student.”

Kayleigh winked at him. “Learned from the best. If you hadn’t encouraged me to ask out my girlfriend, I wouldn’t be going to your gala. I’m just returning the favor.”

“Well thank you. Get out of here Kayleigh, you’re going to be late for your next class.”

“Good luck professor.” Just like that, the room was silent. Steve looked around, regarding his mess of a classroom. He smiled at the student’s pieces lined up against the wall. He might not be the best art professor at the college, but he certainly had the highest approval ratings by his students.

He liked to think of himself as the cool professor. The professor you could go to if you had a problem. That was how he got close to his students. He enjoyed being someone they could trust completely. If one of his students came to him with a problem, he would invite them to coffee and talk to them until the issue was resolved. That was how it had been with Kayleigh. He had helped her accept and come to terms with her bisexuality, and he couldn’t help being a little proud of how much she had grown.

He sat down at his desk, sighing as he leaned back in his chair. His neighbor snuck back into his mind as he stared off into space. He loved office hours. There was so much time to let his mind wander, if he wanted to. He could get work done… or he could replay his verbal blunder over and over in his head. He felt like a complete fool. But Kayleigh had said to go with his gut. He decided he was going to knock on his door tonight, just to make sure he was alright. He looked at the clock. Twenty minutes, and he could leave.

“Steve?”

He turned around, hearing his friend’s voice drifting in from the hallway. “Hey Sam. How are things?”

“Things are good, things are good.” The man sauntered around in front of the desk and took a seat on one of the stools for the students. “How about you? There’s something on your mind, I can tell. You didn’t respond when I said hi to you this morning.”

Steve nodded slowly, thinking again about his interaction with his unusually attractive neighbor this morning. “I met a hot guy,” he deadpanned.

Sam’s eyebrows shot up. “Well, he must be pretty damn hot if he is still on your mind. You think you got any chance with him?”

An unbridled chuckle escaped Steve’s mouth involuntarily. “Not now. I asked him out, and he had a panic attack.”

Sam nodded. “Well… That’s not ideal.” He flashed a dangerous grin at Steve. “But it wasn’t a no.”

He pondered for a moment. Sam was right. It hadn’t been a no. Maybe there was still a chance with this Bucky guy. He decided that it was a good idea to see him again after work. He was going to go, and ask him to coffee again, and maybe, if he was lucky, he would get the answer that he was looking for.

“Hey, I’m not doing anything. How about I take over your office hours, and you can go. You seem like you’re not too useful today anyway.” Sam stood from the stool, walking over next to Steve and patting him on the shoulder. “Go get ‘em tiger."

Steve smiled up at his friend from his spot in the office chair. “You sure?”

“What are friends for?” He shoved Steve’s shoulder. “But you’re going to need to get out of the chair I’m planning on sitting in.”

Steve stood, collecting his bag from the floor and flicking his keys into the palm of his hand. “If you get any questions you can’t answer, either call me or tell the student to email me. You shouldn’t get anything too urgent though, people don’t usually come to my office hours.”

“Get outta here Steve,” Sam said as he plopped dramatically into the office chair, propping his feet on the desk.

“Thanks again Sam, I owe you one.” Steve strode from the room, practically running to his car. He couldn’t wait to see Bucky again. There was still a chance… he just hoped Bucky wasn’t too put off by his small stature and sickly appearance. But hope filled Steve’s heart as he walked toward the most exciting thing that he had come across since he was in his early twenties.

Chapter Text

“Hello? Is anybody there?”

Bucky groaned, not wanting to wake up yet. “Five more minutes…” he groaned quietly. He heard a quiet noise and the door behind him popped open, swinging and hitting him in the back. He groaned, rolling forward a bit. His head throbbed as he crawled out of the way of the door.

“Oh, shit, sorry! Are you okay?” A low, melodic voice drifted through the crack in the door. Bucky recognized it immediately, sitting up against the throbbing headache pounding through his skull.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Bucky grunted, pushing himself onto his knees and meeting Steve’s eyes through the door. “Shit. Hey Steve. How are you doing? What’s up?”

Steve looked down at him, clearly realizing that he had been passed out since their last meeting. “Are you okay? Have you been by the door since I left for work?”

Bucky hoisted himself onto his feet, opening the door further so he could talk to Steve properly. “Yeah. I have been. It’s not a big deal, it happens sometimes. I kind of hyperventilate, then I pass out, then I just sleep it off. Do you want to come in?”

Steve smiled at the offer. “Only if you’re alright with it.” Bucky nodded and stepped back into his apartment, opening the door further. “Thank you, Bucky.”

“Of course.” Bucky looked down and felt his stomach churn nervously as he walked over to the couch. He sat carefully on the arm, gesturing for Steve to do the same on his left. “I’m so sorry about earlier. I don’t know what happened. I guess I had a panic attack.”

Steve sat with a smile. “You have nothing to apologize for. I now realize it probably wasn’t the best idea to ask you out the first time I ever spoke to you.”

Bucky smiled, noting that today had not been the first interaction he’d had with Steve’s low timbred voice. He recalled the day that Steve’s singing had lulled him to the deepest sleep he had experienced since before marriage. He didn’t want to bring it up, for fear of sounding creepy. “It was fine. Thinking back on it, I think it was sweet.”

He noticed Steve looking down at his lap, suddenly finding his hands very interesting. “You never gave me an answer, so I came back to ask you again.”

Bucky chuckled lightly. “Well, you’re persistent, aren’t you?”

Steve looked up at him, the smile fading from his face. “If it’s a no, I get it. I won’t ask again if you don’t want me to.”

Bucky smiled shyly, trying to push the nervous thoughts of his recent abuse from his mind. “I would enjoy getting to know you better over coffee Steve.”

Steve grinned up at him, his happiness lighting up the dim apartment. “It’s a date then.”

Bucky felt like he was going to be sick. “Not a date. Just…” he hesitated. It sounded like a date… “… a meeting. Just two guys meeting for coffee.”

Steve’s smile calmed a little, seemingly disappointed. “That’s alright by me.”

~~~~~

Bucky sat at the table, fiddling with his new phone nervously. He looked at the screen, where he had his contacts pulled up. He smiled sadly as he recalled the sheer number of contacts he had programmed into his old phone Alexander had bought him. He had known so many of Alexander’s work friends and had a few friends of his own that he could contact. But now, all he saw was Steve and Becca. It was a welcome change, one that he wasn’t opposed to.

He flipped his phone over in his hands, feeling its weight in his palm. There had been no text from Steve, and Bucky hadn’t seen him in the shop yet. He glanced towards the door again, seeing nothing and frowning a bit. He checked his phone once more, just to make sure he hadn’t missed a message. The clock read five minutes ‘til. He still had five minutes, even if Steve was on time. Letting out a sigh, Bucky let his head fall into his familiar hands, taking a moment to calm himself. He shouldn’t be this nervous. It wasn’t even a date. Just two guys meeting for coffee, he reminded himself.

It had been forever since he had been on a proper date. Even before he had been set up with Alexander, he had never been good at dates. He always got nervous and awkward while talking to someone he really liked, or he found particularly attractive. And Steve, with that golden hair and those beautiful blue eyes and smile that could light up the dark side of the moon… He was doomed. But this wasn’t a proper date. He was just getting to know his neighbor. His strangely attractive, seemingly interested neighbor. His stomach flipped.

A small tap on his shoulder awoke him from his overthinking. He looked up to see who was standing next to him, and the dark side of the moon was lit with the bright white teeth and blush-laden cheeks of Steve Rogers. “Hey Bucky. You alright?”

He smiled down at the table, gesturing for Steve to take a seat across from him. “Yeah, sorry. I was just thinking.” Steve slid smoothly into the booth, leaning his elbows on the table and leaning toward Bucky conversationally.

“What were you thinking about? You looked pretty deep in thought.” His smile faded to a comfortable half-smile.

“Nothing. It’s not important.” His eyes fell to his phone as he placed it on the table, trying to push his thoughts of apprehension over the meeting out of his head. Everything was going to be fine. “Anyway, how have you been lately? Tell me more about yourself.”

Steve looked down at his hands, clasped on the table. “I’ve been better. I’m really excited to see you this afternoon. I’ve been excited all week.”

The waitress strode over to their table, taking their order with an efficient hand. Steve ordered some fancy hipster coffee for the pair of them. Bucky checked his wallet discretely after the waitress had left. He wasn’t sure if he had enough to pay for it, since he had originally planned on just getting a cup of the house drip coffee. Steve looked across the table, noticing the worried look on his face as he gazed at the lone five-dollar bill he had brought with him. Hardly enough.

“Hey, don’t worry about it. It’s on me. Since I caused you a panic attack the first time we met. It’s only right, don’t you think?”

Bucky scoffed at Steve’s willingness to take the blame. “It wasn’t you that caused that Steve.” He looked him in the eye, blushing a little as he spoke. “I’m just not good at talking to people. Not just you.”

He thought back to all the parties Pierce had drug him to, how he always struggled with his words. A panic attack was inevitable at almost every event the pair attended. Eventually, Alexander was fed up with his anxiety, having him stay in the house. At one point, he wasn’t allowed to leave the house for over a week. He shook the memory away, focusing on the man sitting across from him.

“There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Still, it wasn’t exactly the most eloquent or respectful way to introduce myself to you.” He smiled, all teeth and sunshine that lit up Bucky’s heart. "It's on me."

“It doesn’t matter now, its okay. Thanks for the drink. And for… I don’t know… meeting with me.” It had really helped a lot with his elf-esteem to know that somebody would even take a second look at him, long enough to think that they wanted to get to know him better.

“You’re welcome Buck,” Steve said quietly, leaning forward on his elbows. “So, tell me more about yourself.”

Bucky was silent for a moment, thinking about what he wanted to tell Steve. He couldn’t come up with much that didn’t sound terribly sketchy. The one thing he knew he wanted to avoid talking about was Alexander. There was no reason for him to know about his past marriage or abuse yet. He didn’t trust him that much yet. What else was there? It had been so long, and so consuming, that Bucky could hardly remember much about himself.

“Um… Well, what do you wanna know?”

Steve looked down at the table. “Where did you move from?”

Bucky nodded slowly, thinking for a moment about how he wanted to answer this question. “The East Coast.”

Steve bit his lower lip, his face slowly contorting into a half-smile. “I’m originally from Brooklyn. Grew up there, until I got this job, then I moved down here.”

“What do you do for a living again Steve?” Bucky was trying to avoid having Steve ask him too many questions. He wanted Steve to like him.

“I’m an art professor at the university. I also do quite a bit of my own art as well. Maybe you would like to see it sometime?”

Bucky grinned. “I would love to. I really enjoy art. Never been able to draw anything more than a stick figure, but you know. I still enjoy it.”

Steve nodded, smiling. “I’m obviously not the best, but some people can hopefully find some sort of value in it.”

“I’m sure I would.” Steve looked down at the table and Bucky could see a light pink begin to color his pale cheeks.

“Anyway, what do you do? Did you move here for work?” He met Bucky’s eyes again, seemingly genuinely curious.

Another question he couldn’t answer. He was basically a housewife before moving here, and was currently unemployed. “I’m between jobs right now. Still working on it.” He was a bit embarrassed to say it, because he knew that unemployment wasn’t exactly a trait that young, attractive college professors found desirable. But it wasn’t a lie, he was trying to get a job. Or, at least he was planning on starting that hunt soon.

To his surprise, Steve looked unphased. “I get it. Finding work can be tough. Best of luck.” There was a moment of silence. He knew exactly what Steve’s next question was going to be and prayed silently in his head that Steve would decide not to ask. No such luck. “What did you do before you moved here?”

Bucky pursed his lips, looking down as his hands clasped in each other on the table. He took a steadying breath, hoping he didn’t look too suspicious as he desperately thought of ways not to say ‘I was a glorified housewife and personal punching bag for one of the biggest CEO’s of our time.’

“I… I actually would prefer not to answer that question,” he said awkwardly, not sure how else to put it. He didn’t want Steve to know. He couldn’t tell him yet, that he was damaged goods.

Steve looked up at him with furrowed eyebrows, the perfect picture of confusion. “Um, okay. Well, how about family? Do you have any family?”

Bucky nodded and smiled, thinking of his sister. “I have a little sister, Becca. She’s great. Goes to your school, actually.”

“She sounds great, Bucky. Maybe I will have to meet her someday.” Bucky considered the thought and hoped it would happen. Not soon, but hopefully sometime in the future, if he would stop asking questions that made him seem like a questionable character. “Are you two close?”

“Kind of. We were inseparable for most of childhood, but we drifted apart a little since…” he paused. He couldn’t say. He couldn’t say that he had told his abusive ex-husband that she was dead. Steve would think he was a madman!

“Since what?”

Great, there he went again with the questions Bucky can’t answer. He just shook his head, hoping Steve would understand that he couldn’t talk about it.

Their coffee came, steaming hot and overly fancy. It looked decadently sweet and filled the area with the melding fragrances of vanilla and coffee. And maybe something else… Caramel? Maybe. Bucky took a short sip, careful not to burn his tongue. Yeah, caramel. He smiled at the taste as it washed through his mouth. Steve had a much better taste in coffee than Alexander had.

“This is amazing,” he said, taking another long sip from his mug. Steve smiled amusedly and took a short sip from his own before setting it down and looking Bucky dead in the eye.

“You’re quite the mystery, Bucky Barnes. You don’t want to answer my questions, you seem like you’ve never tasted a cappuccino before, and you are single. I’m trying hard to figure out what’s wrong with you.” There was a pause as Bucky stared at him, wide eyed, over the rim of his coffee mug. “It would be easier if you just told me things.”

Bucky set his drink down. “Steve,” he said, pausing. He couldn’t think about how to say this in a way that didn’t sound too blunt or rude. “I don’t owe you an explanation.” He felt horrible saying it, but it needed to be said. “I’m sure I will get there in time, but as for right now, let me take my time and get to know you. I like you Steve Rogers, just let me be a beautiful mystery for a while.”

Steve frowned, not breaking eye contact. Bucky was sure he was going to leave. He was going to just walk right out the front door, sell his apartment, and try to never see Bucky again as long as he lived.

Steve’s expression didn’t change, eyes narrowed and suspicious. “You know, I was thinking. There is this charity gala I was invited to. I don’t have a date…” he paused, flashing another smile at Bucky, “I was thinking… since you enjoy art, maybe you would like to accompany me?”

Chapter Text

“Damn dude! What the hell are you thinking? This guy doesn’t have a job, doesn’t have a past, won’t tell you jack shit about himself, and you think, what, that it’s a great idea to ask him out on another date? Steve, do you know how many red flags you’ve told me about so far? This guy could be a drug dealer, for all you know! He could be running from the government, you really have no idea.”

Steve shook his head. “You weren’t there Sam, he was amazing. He is so hot, and shy, and he has this cute little smile that he does sometimes.” Sam watched a smile creep across his lips as he recalled the memory.

Sam took an angry swing of his beer. “Look man, you’re a big boy, and I know you can make your own decisions, but if this guy ends up stabbing you in the ass, I am going to be by your grave, screaming ‘I told you so.’”

“You worry too much Sam. He’s just shy. Plus, I don’t mind a little mystery.”

Sam shakes his head, looking down at the bar. “Whatever Steve. Make your own bad decisions, see if I care.” He turned to the bartender. “Get us both a shot for the road. I’m too damn sober for this shit.”

Steve shook his head, seemingly feeling the effect of the two beers and… however many shots he had managed to down beforehand. “Thanks Sam. You’re a really great friend.”

“Whatever Steve. I’m walking you home though. You’re already drunk as fuck.” Steve just smiled.

“Sam, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me, ‘kay? I’m so good,” the words stumbled over each other as they left his mouth. The shots arrived, and Sam toasted to his newfound hopeful relationship. Steve downed the shot, grimacing at the burn it left in his throat. Sam knew he didn’t drink often, and he always found it entertaining that Steve was so easily effected by alcohol.

“C’mon, let’s get you home.”

Before Steve knew it, he was being held up by Sam’s supportive arm wrapped around his shoulders, tucked close to his side. They were halfway to Steve’s apartment before he broke free of Sam’s embrace, stumbled off the sidewalk, and vomited promptly into the bushes.

Sam shook his head. “Sorry man. I kind of forgot what a lightweight you were.” He placed a hand on Steve’s back as he wretched once again.

“I blame this on you,” Steve responded drunkenly, standing up and leaning back into Sam’s supportive grasp. “Remind me of this next time you ask me to go drinking with you.”

The entire walk back to his apartment building, Steve rambled on about how he was never drinking again, and how he was never going to let Sam get him into something like this again. Sam just smiled, knowing that it was all a lie. He knew as well as Steve that the next time he was invited out with either him or Natasha, he would drink a little too much, and end up in exactly the same position, being drug home in a drunken haze under one of his friends’ arms.

When they walked up to the front door of Steve’s building, Steve wiggled out from under Sam’s arm, patting him on the shoulder once he was standing in front of him.

“I got it now Sam. Thank you.” He smiled, still visibly drunk and slurring his words.

“You sure you don’t want me to walk you up? I don’t know if I trust you on stairs right now,” Sam said, eyeing the building warily.

“There’s an elevator. Don’ even worry about it.”

Sam begrudgingly let him go. He knew that arguing with Steve was just about as useful as arguing with a brick wall. Steve would call him if he had any issues, he was sure. Once Steve was inside the building, he turned, pulling out his cell phone to call his husband and ask for a ride.

~~~~~

Bucky awoke to a sound he had never heard before. It sounded like the rattling of some mechanism. His first thought was that somebody was trying to get into his apartment. He didn’t worry about it. The door was locked. He rolled back over, convincing himself that he had just dreamed the noise.

Then it happened again, followed by a muffled curse.

Bucky sat up straight in his bed. Somebody was actually trying to break into his apartment. He slid his legs off the bed and crept out of his room, careful to be quiet. If someone really was trying to break into his apartment, it was probably best for them not to know he was awake. That way, he would have the element of surprise on his side.

He looked down at his barely-clothed body, and debated putting clothes on. If he was about to defend his home from an unwanted guest, it would probably be best to be wearing more than his grey boxers. The door handle shook violently again, and he decided that now probably wasn’t the best time to debate what he should be wearing.

He watched as the door handle on his front door moved, obviously being manipulated from the other side. He stood and watched, listening for any other sounds that might alert him to any change in the situation. He looked at his cell phone, sitting on the kitchen counter. Should he call the police?

“Damn key, what the hell?”

Bucky’s eyes widened while hearing the voice. Steve Rogers was trying to get into his apartment. He shook his head, walking toward the door. What the actual fuck?

As soon as he unlocked and opened the door, the small frail body of his neighbor slammed into his, fresh from an attempt to ram the door open by pure force alone. He stumbled into Bucky’s arms, tripping elegantly on his own feet. Bucky caught him before he could faceplant into the hardwood.

Steve looked up at him, looking confused. “Bucky?” His breath wreaked of alcohol. Steve was drunk off his ass. “What are you doing in my apartment?”

Bucky smiled down at him. “This is my apartment, Steve.”

“No it’s n…” He looked around, pausing when he saw the lack of décor and personalization. His eyebrows furrowed and he looked at the number on the door. His eyes widened a bit as he looked up at Bucky’s amused half-smile. “Shit. I’m sorry Buck. I could have sworn this was…” he trailed off, taking another look around.

“Steve, you’re drunk.” He sighed, looking around at his apartment. “C’mon in. Let me get you some water.”

Steve nodded, leaning back to stand on his own weight. Bucky guided him to the couch, letting him sit down on it before noticing the clear lack of color on his face. He looked like he was going to be sick. He thought out his priorities and headed straight for the bathroom, grabbing the little trash can from next to the toilet. He handed it to Steve, earning him an apologetic smile. “Thanks.”

Bucky nodded before going to the kitchen to grab Steve a glass of water. He knew that hydration was the only way to avoid a wicked hangover, so he grabbed the biggest glass he had and filled it from the tap. He turned back over his shoulder, facing Steve again. The man was now laying sideways on the couch.

“Steve?” He said quietly, walking over to him, the glass of water in hand.

When he reached the couch, he was greeted with Steve’s half-open mouth, already sleeping soundly. He leaned forward, placing the back of his hand in front of Steve’s mouth to make sure he was still breathing. He felt regular puffs of warm air being released from Steve’s lungs. He smiled, shaking his head. Poor guy.

He kneeled by the couch, next to Steve’s head and just listened for a moment. He could hear a slight wheeze upon every exhale. He still looked comfortable. His face was soft, relaxed, in a way he had never seen him before. He looked even more handsome like this. Bucky shook the thought from his head. Steve didn’t need him thinking like that right now. He needed his help and comfort, and a safe place to stay. Bucky could provide that.

He stood, taking one last look at Steve lying on his couch. His legs were curled up, and his arm was trapped under his body. It didn’t look very comfortable. He was going to be even more uncomfortable when he woke up than he already would have been, given the alcohol. He sighed, making his decision.

He scooped Steve’s limp body up in his arms and carried him into the bedroom. He laid Steve on the opposite side of the bed, pulling the blanket over him before stepping back. Much better. He wondered if Steve would mind if he slept on the other side of the bed from him. He decided to wait it out, and propped himself up against the headboard, legs resting on top of the blanket. He regarded Steve’s sleeping form. His hair was messed up, blonde and soft, and just the cutest mess on top of his head.

As if entranced, Bucky carded his hand through Steve’s hair, settling it back down. It was still sticking up a bit, so he did it again, and again, until he was basically just petting Steve’s head. A light smile graced Steve’s lips as he leaned into the touch. Bucky smiled too, surprised at Steve’s reaction.

Bucky fell asleep like that, still in his boxers, his fingers combing through Steve’s hair as they laid together in Bucky’s bed.

Chapter Text

Steve woke up to a bout of nausea that could incapacitate someone twice his size. He sat up in bed, bolting toward his bathroom before he realized something odd. His bathroom wasn’t in the same place. In fact, his bedroom wasn’t…

He wasn’t in his house.

He looked around the room, spotting the bathroom door in the dim light of the early morning. Before getting up the courage to find out exactly where he was, he had more urgent business to attend to. He dashed into the bathroom, careful not to move his head more than necessary, before kneeling in front of the toilet. He spent what felt like ages vomiting before he felt something cold and wet on the back of his neck. It felt amazing in contrast to the sweat now beading on his body.

He looked up with a curious expression once he was sure he was done vomiting. He saw none other than Bucky Barnes standing behind him, holding a wet washcloth to the base of his skull. He groaned when he saw him, feeling the nausea rise up again, threatening to spill over. Of all people, it had to be his super-hot and cute neighbor who was seeing him like this.

But… how did he get into Bucky’s apartment? Was he in his bed? Jesus, what had happened?

He sighed before turning and lying down in a fetal position on the tile floor, relishing in the cool against his cheek mixing with the cold from the towel on his neck. He felt Bucky’s large hand rest on his flank as he sat down next to him.

“Rough night, huh?”

Steve just grunted, not wanting to shake his head, and still not fully trusting his voice yet.

“Think you could down some painkillers?”

“Yeah,” Steve growled, his throat sore and mouth tasting of garbage.

Bucky nodded, patting him on the side. “Go ahead and stay here for a minute. I will go get you some water and medicine.”

Steve was left alone in the bathroom, curled up on the floor while his… (what, his boyfriend? No, they weren’t there yet. Judging by how guarded Bucky was, they were not even close to that. Maybe just his neighbor then…) was getting him pain meds for his hangover.

What had he done last night? He was having a difficult time remembering. He remembered going to the bar with Sam, talking gossip about their students… And then there were the shots… Then… he might have talked about Bucky. But he certainly didn’t remember how he got into Bucky’s apartment, of all places. Did he come over here drunk? He must have, because he sure as hell didn’t come over here sober. Jesus, did they sleep together? He moved his legs, testing for any soreness of that area. Nothing. Did…. Did he top Bucky? What the actual fuck happened last night?

“I’m back Steve.” Bucky’s soft melodic voice floated through the door. He kneeled next to Steve, helping him sit up slowly, and propping him up on his arm. He handed him the water glass and pain killers, watching as Steve downed both, a thankful smile on his face. “That should kick in soon.”

Once Steve had consumed the entire glass of cool water, he sighed and looked up at the man standing next to him. “What happened last night?”

Bucky frowned, looking at the tile next to Steve’s hip. “It wasn’t exactly your best moment, I’m sure. Still want to know?”

Sure that Bucky was right, Steve groaned. He had a habit of doing a number of embarrassing things when he was drunk. He just hoped he hadn’t… had sex with Bucky or anything. “Yeah. It’s probably best that you tell me,” he said quietly. “We didn’t… have sex or anything, did we?”

A lighthearted, yet somehow exasperated laugh filled the bathroom. “No, no. Nothing like that.”

Steve sighed in relief, holding the towel closer to his neck. “Thank goodness.” Then he realized how that might have sounded… “Wait, I mean… I don’t mean that I wouldn’t want to, I just…”

Bucky patted Steve’s shoulder in a reassuring way. “It’s okay Steve. I appreciate your concern. I didn’t think you meant it like that, it’s okay.”

There was a moment of silence before Steve continued. “Well, while things are awkward, let’s get this show on the road. How did I get here, Buck?”

Bucky propped himself against the wall, settling Steve’s body next to his. He didn’t remove his arm from around the smaller man’s shoulders. “Well, you woke me up… I thought someone was trying to get into my apartment. Turns out, it was only you. I guess you thought my apartment was yours, and your key wasn’t workin. You kinda stumbled in and passed out on my couch after I explained that this was my apartment.”

Steve nodded slowly, as to not aggravate his splitting headache and trigger another bout of nausea. That explained all but one thing. “How did I end up in your bed?”

“You looked really uncomfortable on the couch. I didn’t want you to wake up with a hangover and a sore back,” Bucky responded truthfully, shrugging.

Steve nodded in understanding. “Thank you. I’m sorry about all this.”

“It’s no problem. Just try to be safe next time you go out drinking.” There was a worried glimmer in his eyes, like he was genuinely concerned about Steve. That little look gave him hope that there might still be a chance between the two of them.

“Next time… yeah, I’m thinking there won’t be a next time, don’t worry. I’m never doing that again.” He cringed at how much like his students he sounded. They always said that too, that they would never drink again after a night like he had just endured.

Bucky smiled knowingly. “Yeah, whatever you say.” He paused for a moment, a thoughtful look coming over his face. “This isn’t something you do often, is it?”

Steve’s heart fell. Bucky thought he was an alcoholic. Jesus Christ, he was doing an absolutely amazing job with this one. Great job Steve. “No! No, I don’t normally drink to get drunk. Maybe a glass of wine in the afternoon, or a beer with dinner, but I don’t find myself that drunk very often. You can blame my buddy Sam for last night. Son of a bitch somehow forgot that I have the stature of an overgrown toothpick and I can’t hold my liquor at all.” The worry slowly but surely melted from Bucky’s features, leaving nothing but an endearing smile in its place.

“An overgrown toothpick, huh?” He looked amused. “Is that how you see yourself?”

Steve could feel his cheeks heat under the scrutiny. He usually let his self-confidence issues hide under his stubborn, Napoleon complex-esque façade. I mean, it was true. He did see himself as a skinny, unattractive man, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to be that vulnerable around Bucky yet. Hell, he hardly knew the guy. But still… Maybe it would help the mystery man open up to him about his past if he was more open about himself.

“Yeah, I guess. I don’t know. It’s not a big deal or anything.”

Bucky looked at the ground next to Steve’s leg. “There is more to you than just your body, Steve. You have to know that.”

Steve smiled at Bucky, although he could tell the man wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Thanks, Buck.”

“You’re welcome, Steve.”

They sat in silence for a moment before Steve stood, fighting the still-lingering nausea and headache combo. “I should get going, I’m sure you have things to do today other than nurse my hangover on your bathroom floor.”

Bucky smiled up at him from where he was still seated on the floor. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

He walked Steve to the door with a steading hand wrapped lightly around his waist. He offered Bucky one last word of thanks before trudging down the hall to his own apartment. He grabbed a glass of water from the kitchen and crawled into bed, thinking about how he was going to berate Sam for taking him drinking like that.