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He’s laughing; it’s beautiful. The way his mouth opens and shows his pearly white teeth, how his head is slightly tilted backwards. It’s a moment that most people wouldn’t realize the beauty of. But he isn’t most people.

 

Strange.

 

How no one else can hear the sound of the camera furiously snapping pictures. He captures multiple movements both small and large. Every single second that passes- the important ones, at least- is captured on film.

 

A photograph can last a lifetime, preserve a moment in less than a second. It’s a magical thing to experience; holding special moments in your hands. He needs to feel that way or else things are wrong. The sound of a moment freezing in time is his lullaby.

 

One- no- two more photos and he’s done. It’s enough to last him for the rest of the day. But that’s an exaggeration. He knows that in a few hours he’ll need more. It’s an obsession that is mislabelled as a hobby but he’s so far from caring that he can’t even see that clear division anymore.

 

*

The subject and the student, the muse and the artist, an age old struggle of right and wrong. It’s not rare that a muse turns into an object of pure affection- especially if that muse is a person. The lust that comes from watching for so long and the pure need associated with them.

 

Crave.

 

He craves those pictures- the shots of a life he’ll never live- more than anything else in the world. He wants them so badly that he’ll do anything to get them. Even if it means a bit more waiting; it doesn’t matter. He’s waited before and he’ll wait as long as it takes.

 

He is an addict that needs his fix constantly or risk flatlining. There is no such thing as an overdose when it comes to that drug. He’s allowed to get more and more as long as he isn’t caught. There’s a certain risk that is brought higher with every picture that is taken.

 

But the cravings aren’t going to stop and he must feed them.

 

*

 

Smiles.

 

Smiles on the wall, smiles in the books, smiles on the ground, smiles everywhere. Smiles under cover of night, smiles in the darkness and smiles in the day, private smiles, fake smiles and real smiles, mass produced and specialty.

 

He has the ability to create multiple smiles that he gives out to everyone who’s watching him. They’re all amazing and beautiful and absolutely special but there’s only one that’s real- the one that he treasures.

 

It’s one that starts off tiny and makes the man bite his bottom lip to try to contain it but ends up enveloping his face in a beautiful glow. It takes a series of individual tiny moments to raise the corners of his mouth upward, his slightly chapped lips cracking as his smile stretches across the smooth expanse of his face.

 

He has yet to capture that perfect moment on film and it hurts him to think about. In a catalogue of smiles he hasn’t found the one. It depresses him to know that he’s failed so horribly as an ‘artist’ but there’s nothing that he can do. If the moment hasn’t come he can’t force it to.

 

Despite that he pressures himself to get the perfect shot, to capture that moment so that he can hold its beauty in his hands. In that smile there is true happiness, in that smile there is feeling, in that smile there is everything.

 

*

 

The pictures in the room are set in chronological order- from the very first to the most current. They all have dates written along the bottom and they help him count the days since he first started: 604 days ago. The reasons that he started are clear but he doesn’t want to talk about the past. Not unless he’s looking at carefully documented photographs.

 

There is order in the chaotic mess of photos pasted onto his walls- into his life.

 

Sometimes he takes the new photographs and lies them out in a line on the floor before putting them in their proper places, walking beside them. It feels like he’s part of those moments when he does it.

 

He’s the one that’s in control- he’s the one that stole those moments from everyone else- he should be able to live in them too, right? It’s only fair. But he’s not allowed to have the happiness that’s in those moments. He’s never been happy and never will be.

 

When he’s surrounded by those pictures of his life he feels content. He feels a bit better, like the burden has been lifted off of his chest for a few miniscule moments.

 

Those lips, those eyes, those hands, that body- they make him feel alive but they also make him feel closer to death than ever.

 

*

 

“Alright guys,” Professor Jones says as she walks into the room with a fake smile on her face. She’s never been good at concealing her disdain for teaching. “I assume that all of you completed yesterday’s project.” All of them nod- it was very simple; take a nice picture of the city skyline. “Today I won’t be checking them because there is something special for you to do. A special assignment.”

 

He settles back against his chair and tries to match the excitement of the other students. All he really feels is panic; he hates breaks in the routine that he’s developed.

 

“A student from the dance and vocal wing of the school has asked if he could come here to get a few pictures taken for his portfolio. Please come in James.”

 

James.

 

The man walks into the room, fluffy dark brown hair bouncing with every step. There’s a hesitant smile on his face as though he’s unsure of what he’s about to do. His wide eyes scan the room for a familiar face and dim when he finds none. His chest tightens and he tries to blink away the sudden painful feelings.

 

It’s him .

 

“James has asked that all of you take some pictures of him and then he’ll choose the best one for his portfolio. If you’re chosen you’ll be allowed to add his portraits to your portfolio, as well as given extra credit. James, would you like to say a few words?” A blush coats the man’s cheeks and his heart hammers against his chest angrily.

 

“Thank you for taking time to do this for me,” James says and smiles. “I trust you to make me look good.”

 

Professor Jones cracks a smile. “Alright, just take a seat anywhere you like and we’ll work around you.”

 

Jealousy isn’t a comfortable feeling. He watches as the other students begin to take pictures feverishly. It isn’t fair at all- all of them getting to take pictures of James. He’s is his muse, the one he noticed before everyone else. It should be some sort of crime to do things like this.

 

He lifts up his camera just as James’s attention is taken away- someone in the hallway has distracted him.

 

He poses without realizing that he’s posing- pure perfection in an unknown moment. There’s no need for airbrushing or photoshop, all of the pictures come out beautifully. Secret camera clicks, no flash. There’s no need for words when his body and expressions tell an intricate tale by themselves. The perfect subject, a person that demands to be immortalized in photographs. He is art but no one else understands.

 

It only takes a few photographs to get the one that he’s satisfied with and afterward he stops. The other students only resume taking pictures when his attention is returned to them and he begins to pose once more. But they are wrong.

 

James doesn’t need to pose- he’s perfect without trying.

 

“Time’s up,” she says after half an hour. “Upload your photos to your computers and we’ll take a look.”

 

He does as he’s asked and sits down, praying that he’s not chosen. It frightens him that the very subject is going to be looking at his work.

 

What if he disappoints him?

 

He ignores the feeling of warmth that moves over him when James gets close, leaning over his shoulder to scan through his pictures. They’re way too close and he feels out of control. If he moved just an inch closer they would truly be touching. It’s a tantalizing idea but frightening nonetheless.

 

“Wow,” James’s voice is deeper than it sounded before and it makes his hands tremble ever so slightly. “Your pictures are so different from everyone else’s. They’re so… intense.”

 

Is that a good or bad thing, he longs to ask but doesn’t.

 

“I really love them,” James finishes.

 

“I’m glad,” he manages to say.

 

“I’d really like to use these ones,” he says and Professor Jones grins.

 

“So you’ve found our gem. He’s one of the most talented students ever to grace this class,” her tone is light and joking but has some sincerity to it, just enough to embarrass him.

 

“Then I have to have these,” James says and looks at him. “I really like what you’ve taken so far- but would you mind maybe taking a few more when you’re free? My schedule is clear after 4.”

 

“I can make that work,” he replies with an ease that doesn’t match what he’s feeling in the slightest.

 

“Thanks oh and- what’s your name?” To be recognized by their subject is any artist’s dream but also their undoing. He is no different.

 

“Steve Rogers.”

 

*

 

He knows how ridiculous he must look; a shadow against the technicolour sky. He waits for James outside of the school gates, the man having told him to meet him there so that they could go for the photoshoot. He’s nervous and wants to go back on their deal- say he’s busy- but can’t bring himself to do so.

 

Steve’s hair whips around wildly and he tries to think of the proper words to say when James gets there. How is he supposed to speak to the object of his strange fascination? Suddenly the proper social conventions are erased from his mind.

 

“Steve!” James shouts excitedly as he rounds the corner. “Have you been waiting long?”

 

“Not really,” he replies.

 

“I’m sorry that I took so long- my dance instructor wanted to make sure my form was correct.”

 

“Don’t worry about it.”

 

As they walk, James talks about random things but mostly about his career path. He’s minoring in dance and majoring in linguistics; hearing him speak about everything he’s doing is something special. The pure pleasure and excitement in his voice is such a rarity to hear and makes Steve happy just by exposure.

 

He’s the brightest person in the world- the sun and the moon are both jealous of his light.

 

Steve- a non-luminescent person- even finds himself glowing brightly when he’s beside him. They interact so smoothly, almost as though it were meant to be.

 

*

 

“Have you ever taken pictures of yourself before?” James asks after their photoshoot is done and they’re relaxing in James’s apartment.

 

“No- why?”

 

“I’m not usually so upfront about this especially considering that we barely know each other but you’re gorgeous.” His heart leaps into his throat and nearly strangles him. “You should be on camera instead of behind it.”

 

“I don’t photograph well.” Not that he’d know; he’s never tried. In fact, there are only a few pictures of him him that aren’t baby pictures in existence and they were taken begrudgingly.

 

“Are you sure about that?” It’s almost like James can see straight through his words, directly into him.

 

“Positive.”

 

“Steve, you have the most amazing eyes. But people can’t see that because of this,” he says and motions toward his bangs that hang slightly too long. “Now that I’m closer to you I can see that you’re beautiful.”

 

“You don’t have to exaggerate. I’m average looking at most.”

 

“And you don’t have to fish for compliments, good sir!” Bucky exclaims. Steve finds himself smiling. “You shouldn’t hide behind your bangs.”

 

“I’m not hiding.”

 

Bucky’s eyebrow quirks and he says, “You’re incognito.”

 

Steve hums. “I like that.”

 

--

 

James is a social butterfly that loves talking to everyone and can make friends easily. He’s amazingly gifted when it comes to both dancing and anything he sets his mind to. Many people are jealous of his talents- Steve isn’t one of them. He’s happy merely looking at them and not experiencing them.

 

The pictures are perfect- each and every one of them. But he’s never looking at the camera. Not ever. At first it didn’t bother him but now that he’s gotten contact with James, it bothers him. He’s captured his eyes but now he wants the man’s attention on film.

 

If only he could have it so easily.

 

But that’s not an option for him. No one else knows about the photos and that’s the way it must remain. To have James’ attention would mean to have him know about his twisted hobby. If he ever finds out, everything will be ruined.

 

James is his friend now. Despite that, he can’t deny the pulsing desire that moves through him whenever the man laughs, smiles, or does anything really. It’s difficult because his drug is so very close to him but he cannot taste it.

 

But oh does he want to.

 

*

 

“Please Steve? You’re so talented, you’re the only one I want to do the job.” That’s how he got roped into this.

 

James invited him to his ballet The Rite of Spring . He asked him to take pictures and of course, he had to say yes. He sits in the back of the auditorium waiting for the show to begin; it’s nerve wracking but he’s willing to do anything to make James happy. It’s the way he lives and how he will continue to live.

 

The ballet begins and he turns the shutter sound as well as the flash off so not to disturb the show. He watches the dancers move about the stage in perfect character, as though they are the person that they’re playing. It amazes him for a few short seconds before he begins to read the program.

 

The Rite of Spring is about a girl who is chosen to be sacrificed to the Earth. It’s a brutal yet beautiful piece that he’s heard good things about. When he reads the roles, his heart stops.

 

Though it is supposed to be a woman, James is playing The Chosen One. The one who gets sacrificed to the Earth, the one that must dance to her death. It terrifies him.

 

The ballet moves quicker than he expected, a haze of beautiful movements and terrifyingly gorgeous music that keeps him on the edge of his seat. It comes time for the sacrifice and he gets his camera ready.

 

James looks beautiful standing center stage, loose clothing flowing around him. He’s wearing a dark wig that flows perfectly with him as he moves, his face done in light makeup that makes him look angelic. He begins his dance effortlessly, swaying in time with the music.

 

His body is lighter than air and he moves in the most haunting way; an expression of pain and fear yet serenity on his face. He’s perfect. More than perfect; ephemeral. He doesn’t understand how the man does it but he captures the hearts and souls of everyone in the room. Steve knows that the final scene is about to come when James’ movements become much more fluid and less controlled.

 

One final languid movement and James falls down, hitting the stage gracefully. His eyes are opened as though he’s looking at something far away, his lips are parted ever so slightly, and his limbs look broken.

 

The perfect shot is right in front of him.

 

*

 

His laughter is the perfect melody.

 

His smile is the brightest light.

 

His body is the perfect art form.

 

He is the only thing that matters.

 

James, James Barnes.

 

But where is the line between love and obsession?

 

*

 

Some days Steve likes to walk through the school when he has free time and look at what everyone else is doing. He likes to feel the movement around him and discover where other paths could lead him, paths that he will never go down. Today is one of those days.

 

He ends up in the art wing but it’s where the painters are. Calligraphy majors, painters, people that work in black and white, people that work in purely colour, all types of art is being created around him. He blends in so easily it’s almost like he doesn’t exist.

 

As he watches multiple brush strokes on canvases, he feels the sadness of ink leaking out of a bottle, dripping down a frame. How is he supposed to tell them that their art form is dying?

 

What will happen when there is no scenery left to paint? Soon enough everything will have been painted more than once and imagination will be gone. One thing that will never die: photography.

 

The moments captured on film are suspended in time forever. No one can erase them or change them in any way. They are stuck in their perfection for eternity, immortalized in their prime. Photographs are important. Paintings are useless; they can be ruined.

 

He walks away from the art of the dead.

 

*

 

There are more pictures than there is space. He’s can’t allow them to take over more than the back room where is equipment is or else they will be discovered. He can’t get rid of any of them because they mean too much to him. Each picture is special.

 

What is he supposed to do?

 

If even one is taken down a memory will be lost. A piece of him will die. He’s in love with the moments that he’s stolen.

 

*

 

The saddest thing about an artist and their muse is that they never truly own them. Sure, they can own the picture that they’ve drawn, painted, or photographed. But the original inspiration can never be theirs no matter how hard they try.

 

He has the pictures, the memories, the faces, the expressions and everything associated with them- but he doesn’t have James. He can never have him.

 

Owning a person is impossible, he knows that. How is he supposed to hold onto him? He knows that one day their paths will stop crossing and he won’t be able to steal those moments anymore. What happens then?

 

He shakes just thinking about it.

 

*

 

He steps back until his back is pressed against the wall and looks at the wall of his creation. A multi-coloured world is around him on three of the four walls of the room. All of the pictures work together to create a single picture. A picture that is meaningful to him no matter what.

 

A map of the world.

 

Places that he will never step foot in made from a person that he will never have- it’s perfect in its cruelty. He wants to cry whenever he looks at it because of the terror it makes him feel. What happens when that world crumbles just like everything else?

 

He doesn’t know James and he doesn’t know the world, but he needs both of them. He’ll be lonely without the idea that he can one day embark on an adventure with the possible love of his life.

 

*

 

“Are you the tortured artist type?” James asks as they walk out of school together. James likes hanging around with him for reasons unknown and he isn’t going to protest to the change.

 

“I don’t think so.”

 

“Are you sure?”

“I’m pretty sure.”

 

“An artist hungry for truth?” James tries again.

 

“No.”

 

“An unappreciated artist?”

 

“I’m not really an artist if you think about it. I just take pictures.” He takes pictures of things he can’t feel, things he can’t truly be around. He takes pictures to experience a reality he can’t know.

 

“The pictures are your art, Steve! You don’t give yourself enough credit.”

 

“I only give credit when credit is due. I don’t see my pictures as anything more than what they are.”

 

James grabs his hand and stops him from walking, making him face him.

 

“I think they’re special. I think you’re special, Steve.” His heart falls from his chest and out of his body, he has no clue where it went. Those lips that he’s been craving for the longest time meet his and he feels frozen- just like the pictures that he covets. He is alive. They are living art.

 

*

 

Mirrors lie, photographs don’t.

 

Steve looks into the mirror and sees lines forming on his face. That’s what he hates about reality; things change and can never truly go back. Reproductions are a must but they’re not the real thing. The original has long since faded.

 

He sighs to himself and turns away from the mirror. He hates change in any form, especially when it comes to him in the passage of time. Nothing good can last and it never does. There has never been a good change in his life, so he's run from it as often as he could. But now he has to embrace it because of James.

 

And yet, he's happy.

 

*

 

They’re together more often than not, James likes spending time with him and Steve will never deny him what he wants. It’s amazing to be around him so often. An artist becoming one with their muse is a dream that he had never realized he desired. But now that he has it, he does not want to let it go.

 

He won’t.

 

Despite this, their interactions pain him. He can’t prepare himself for the hand holding or the kissing or any of the physical contact no matter how hard he tries. He’s used to the looking but he feels awful about touching James. He wants to but he’s terrified.

 

Terrified that he will destroy the perfection that is James Barnes. The last thing that he wants to do is defile the person that he admires so very much.

 

*

 

Hands.

 

Hands all over.

 

Fingers.

 

Fingers dancing in various places on his body; thighs, hips, neck.

 

Lips.

 

Lips moving against his own in languid motions that tug on his heart and make heat rise through his body.

 

All of these things combine and make for the best moment of his life. James is forward and not afraid to reach for what he wants. He doesn’t care about consequences and doesn’t second guess himself. That’s why he can pull Steve into a corner and kiss him passionately before class. He has all of the confidence in the world and does whatever he wants to do without question.

 

He would love to be like that.

 

“I have to go,” James murmurs against his lips, kissing him once more. “Dance class. My instructor wants me to work on my fouettes.”

 

“Alright.”

 

“Okay,” James says but continues kissing him and he finds himself drowning. “I’m going to go,” James sighs and finally pulls away.

 

“Good luck,” Steve offers.

 

“Let’s do something fun after class!”

 

He watches James leave and resists the urge to take his camera out of his bag and snap a few pictures. There is no need for them- James is with him- but he can’t help himself. He needs the pictures or risk forgetting the important moments in life.

 

The human memory can only last for so long.

 

*

 

It all started when he was ten. The very first camera he ever owned was a polaroid that his mother gave him. At first he had taken pictures of animals or plants because he lived in a house far away from anything else. It was what he was used to- the animals.

 

But then he and his mother moved to the city and things changed.

 

Shots of animals and plants turned into innocent photographs of new places and strangers. Candid shots of the world around him, the world that he was desperate to know but never could. His mother was overly cautious about him and was worried that he would get hurt if he ventured too far away from her.

 

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” She used to say. “But it is worth only one memory. A picture contains the seconds and the minutes- the fibers of the moments that you cherish. They will stay there forever in perfection and no one can touch them. One day you will look back at all of these pictures and remember everything that you love because it all fades. Even if the world around you fades away you will always have these carefully documented pictures.”

 

That is how his life began.

 

*

 

His hobby in regards to James started out as an assignment. His professor told the class to take pictures of whatever they wanted as a first assignment so that she could get a feel for their art form and style. He was lost as to what he was going to take pictures of so he stood on the roof of the school and looked around for a subject.

 

Instead of a subject, he found a purpose.

 

James had been laughing on that day as he came out of the dance studio. His head was thrown back and his eyes shut, arm wrapped around another student’s shoulders. The way his hair caught the last glimmers of sunlight and how heavenly soft his skin looked had captured Steve’s attention instantly. He had taken too many pictures of him before he walked away.

 

Naturally he didn’t hand in the photographs of James; he kept those for himself.

 

After that day it seemed like James was seeking him out. Everywhere that he went, James was. He couldn’t help but steal a few moments for himself. A few moments had turned into hundreds of different scenes with subtitles and then a full fledged film. A cinematic masterpiece.

 

Like sitting in a movie theater alone, he enjoyed each scene by himself. Although James was a stranger at that point, just seeing his face made him feel alive. James quickly went from a fascination to a reason for being and he soon needed him to live. Life support from a stranger in the abyss of students.

 

This is how his fascination took flight.

 

*

 

“Do you do anything besides taking pictures?” James asks as he sips his cola. He invited Steve to have lunch during the school day and he couldn’t say no.

 

“No- why?”

 

“I’m just a bit curious about you. You’re so mysterious.”

 

“Is that good?” he asks.

 

James chuckles and sends sparks flying through his bloodstream, straight to his heart at 60 volts per second- enough to give him a heart attack.

 

“Everyone loves mystery and intrigue. It makes them want to know more about the person they’re with. And I’d love to know more about you.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because you’re so.. interesting. You have an amazing talent yet you don’t acknowledge it. You think you’re bland when you’re really cool. You don’t even know how sexy you are. I’ve never seen you before but I feel like I’ve seen you hundreds of times.”

 

“You’re far more interesting than I am.”

 

“Hardly. I like you better.”

 

“You shouldn’t.”

 

“And here we go with the mystery. Why shouldn’t I like you, Steve? Is there a specific reason.”

 

Steve sighs. “I just don’t think that you should.”

 

“That’s just too bad.”

 

James abandons his food and crawls over to him, straddling him. Steve balances himself on his hands and relies on his arms to keep him still. The dancer’s thighs are a masterpiece, both smooth and strong. For a ballerina he has such delicious curves, Steve notes.

 

“I like boys that tell me that I shouldn’t. There’s something about defying rules and cautionary words that turns me on.”

 

“Really?” James nods and bites his lip. He knows from extensive research what’s going on- James is trying to appear innocent when he’s nothing of the sort.

 

“I’m only human and humans, unfortunately, fall into temptation way too much.”

 

“You should have stronger willpower. Don’t dancers have discipline?” Something sparkles in James’s eyes and he can practically feel the fire igniting both of their bodies.

 

“I’m supposed to. Maybe you can teach me.”

 

They’re in an empty area of the school, a patch of grass behind the humanities building. He knows that no one is going to come and catch them but he’s still a bit apprehensive. James presses their lips together and he abandons balancing himself in favour of grabbing James’ hips. His head falls and hits against the grass hard.

 

He tastes copper but he also tastes bliss.

 

James rocks his hips against his and Steve groans, pressing the man’s body down against his and bucking his hips upward. He’s drunk on the friction and wants more than humanly possible. If he could stay in that moment forever he would. But he’s not sure that even a picture could hold that kind of thing perfectly still.

 

There is no capturing pleasure because pleasure is wild and free.

 

*

 

Safe.

 

There’s safety in the pictures that he has. He knows that the moments are forever trapped within the small frame of the photograph. It feels better like that. He holds forever and it can never get away. They’re perfect moments that he’s chosen to keep with him forever. It’s magical.

 

In the palm of his hand, in books, on his walls, there is the world. It’s all that he needs and he’ll never want anything else. As long as the pictures are there. They surround him like a cocoon of complete warmth, a safety blanket, a fond obsession.

 

There is one thing that he is not entirely sure of. Is he in love with the pictures, the moments, the person trapped within them, or is he just obsessed?

 

Strange.

 

Is there really a difference between obsession and love? They both involve one person, being fixated on them, wanting to spend every moment looking at them or being with them. They both involve caring for the person. Obsession and love are built on the same ideals but somehow one is labelled terrifying.

 

Does it make sense to label one form of love as more wrong or terrifying than anything else?

 

The issue is that he isn’t entirely sure what love is. He doesn’t exactly know what it means to be in love. The emotion confuses him and makes him feel strange. He is the type of person that does not like to make mistakes and love could make him do such a thing. Love is dangerous and deadly.

 

*

 

Every month there is an art show that is accompanied by an auction. The best art pieces get auctioned off to raise money for the school and are given recognition and extra credit- as well as some of the profit. Steve’s teacher asked him to submit a few photographs and he chose carefully.

 

The people swirl around the large prints that he submitted but unlike the other artists that are basking in their ten seconds of fame, he hangs behind the pack. He doesn’t want to draw unnecessary attention to himself. The only reason that he’s there is because he’s required to be.

 

He sighs and leans back against one of the walls in hopes of blending in with the shadows. He isn’t very good at social interactions and doesn’t want anyone to come and speak to him. He longs for James and wonders where he is on such a night. Is he having fun with someone else? It seems like the right answer.

 

Steve’ hands itch and he wants to find James and take a picture of him more than anything. It’s his safety- the shutter sound making him feel more at home, the face on the screen making him calm down. But he’s thrown into a world he doesn’t want to be in full of faces that he doesn’t know.

 

“Steve!” Peter shouts as he rushes over to him. “Your photo sold for five thousand dollars!” Surprise takes over his body. His pictures, to him, aren’t worth much and that is overpaying.

 

“Which one?”

 

“Come and see!” He follows Peter and they get to a large group of people. Steve scans the wall and discovers the photograph that has been sold. Panic makes his blood run cold.

 

One of the very first times he caught James on film was by accident. He had been taking black and white photos of the sky from the ground, camera pointed upward. James had been standing on the roof and he had managed to get him perfectly- missing his face. A dark yet seemingly glowing silhouette of a man staring at the sky.

 

How did that get in there? He doesn’t remember even printing it out.

 

*

 

There’s a noise coming from the back room where all of his pictures are. He knows that something is wrong and gets out of bed, breaking into a dead run. He’s terrified- what if someone got inside? He gets to the room and opens the door in a panicked haze. Something’s wrong, horribly wrong.

 

“Why did you do this?” A voice void of emotions asks. A person walks out of the shadows in the side of the room and scares him. It’s James. “Why did you do this to me?”

 

“I d-didn’t do anything.”

 

“You stole them from me. All of these.. they’re of me! All of these memories are mine but you covet them! Why did you steal them from me?!”

 

“James-”

 

“You pretend that you’re alive but you might as well be dead,” he hisses. “To live in someone else’s life is sick.. You’re an idiot for ever believing that you could become a part of my life. You want something that you will never get!”

 

“I’m sorry! I couldn’t help myself. James, please forgive me!” The pictures on the wall begin to bleed. He screams inaudibly.

 

“The difference between love and obsession is that one always ends in tragedy and disaster, the other has a multitude of endings. Which one belongs to your story?” Steve runs forward against the stream of water and tried to grab James but his hands falls through nothing. As the water fills the room and chokes him, the area where James stood is covered in burnt pictures.

 

*

 

“Your pictures scare me,” James says suddenly. After weeks of asking, Steve finally gave into James and allowed him to go to his house- after he hid everything, of course.

 

“Why?”

 

“You manage to capture parts of me that I didn’t know existed. In every moment that you’ve captured so far there’s this innocence in my eyes that has never been that before. You bring me back to that point; they’re like a cage, in a way.”

 

“Pardon?” his voice cracks slightly.

“You make me feel so helpless. It’s like in that photographed world I need you to exist. It terrifies me to no end. It’s wrong and horrifying but it’s beautiful.”

 

“Innocence is a terrifying thing.” James holds up a polaroid camera; the first model that he ever received. Seeing his muse with his most treasured item makes his heart thump wildly.

 

“I like polaroids the best. They give you the picture instantly and you can’t retouch them. It’s the most honest form of photography.”

 

“I know exactly how you feel.”

 

“I want you to use this camera for a special photoshoot. Will you do it?”

 

“Alright. What’s the concept?”

 

James’ eyes burn and he feels goosebumps rising on his arms.

 

“I want to see if you can still capture my innocent with my lips wrapped around your cock.”

 

*

 

James sinks down to his knees and removes Steve’s pants, underwear, letting them drop and pool around his ankles. He watches as the man licks his lips before lifting up his shaft, pressing it against his lips. Steve shivers and tries to remember James’ warning. “You have to remain coherent enough to take pictures. I want to see, Steve. Keep your head on straight.”

 

It’s already harder than he imagined it would be.

 

James’s plush lips part and he engulfs him inch by inch, his hot mouth a welcoming sensation. Steve moans as James’ tongue swirls around his length, exploring it with each passing second. He manages to control himself and begins to snap pictures, ripping them from the camera once they’re ready. James bobs his head up and down and reaches up to stroke what he can’t take in.

 

It’s way too much and Steve can barely breathe. His hands are unsteady and he doesn’t know how the pictures are turning out- for once in his life he doesn’t care. James looks up at him with lidded yet focused eyes and he practically feel him smiling. His digs his tongue into the slit and makes Steve scream, throwing his head back wildly.

 

“Fuck- James- ah! ” His body is burning and he wants nothing more than to regain control. He believes that James isn’t the helpless one when he’s around- he’s suddenly weak. “Oh god..

 

James’ cheeks are flushed and his eyes are glistening but he continues. He sucks harder and faster, getting into a devastating rhythm. James brings him closer to the edge with every stroke of his tongue. “Oh fuck- shit James I’m going to-”

 

“I want you inside of me,” James says, pulling off for a minute. The sinful words destroy his mind and he continues to take pictures blindly. James swallows him down once more.

 

“Shit James!” He shoots into James’ mouth until he’s too sensitive to continue, his chest heaving. James smirks and releases him, looking up in the direction of the camera. Steve snaps a picture of him and it’s the best one yet.

 

His cheeks are flushed and his hair is messy, eyes lidded and lips wet, his pink tongue darting out to lap it up. It’s sinfully beautiful and perfect.

 

“I’m not done,” James says, voice hoarse and sexy. “Can I play photographer?”

 

*

 

Steve doesn’t like having pictures taken of himself. It bothers him to see himself. He’s like a vampire- without a reflection, without the need to see himself. He doesn’t long for vanity like most people do. He feels out of control when he is the subject but now he doesn’t have a choice. He gulps and closes his eyes, willing himself to calm down.

 

He’s terrified when he shouldn’t be.

 

“Calm down,” James croons. “Trust me.” The man’s hand strokes his cheek gently and he hears the snapping of pictures being taken. “It’ll be worth it.”

 

He nods and puts his trust in him. He doesn’t like being the subject- he hates it. Steve doesn’t want to be immortalized forever.

 

Once he’s gone, he just wants to fade away.

 

Suddenly he feels warmth around his cock and realizes that it’s James. He opens his eyes and James starts to ride him. James throws his head back and moans, steadying himself by placing his hands on Steve’s chest.

 

God- Steve ,” James moans from between cracked lips.

 

Steve grunts in reply and James continues this rhythm and drops down faster and faster. It hurts him to remain still but he begs his hips not to give into their needs. With one final plunge James screams and digs his nails into his chest, coming in white ribbons all over him. James pants and reaches up, positioning the camera so that it captures both of their sweaty forms.

 

“Perfect.” James whimpers and gets off of him, collapsing beside him. The picture that he took is on Steve’s chest but he has no strength to look at it. He already knows what the truth is.

 

Steve Rogers isn’t worth the film.

 

*

 

Steve wakes up off balance and cold. Pictures are strewn across the room, on the floor and on the bed. James isn’t beside him. He tries not to panic and gets out of bed, leaving the room without getting dressed. “James? James where are you?”

 

He looks all through his house and finds nothing- leaving the secret room for last. Steve gulps and prays that he isn’t there. He gets closer to the room and he sees the frightening reality.

 

The door is ajar.

 

*

 

Snow has begun to fall, the weather has gotten colder, the camera clicks have slowed down and his inspiration has plummeted into the depths of an abyss. He’s more lost than he’s ever been and has no idea where to go from this point.

 

James hasn’t contacted him in two weeks.

 

He’s so unbelievably afraid because he knew that it would happen. He knew that he wasn’t good enough for James in the first place and didn’t have a hope of keeping him around. Steve misses him more than he thought was possible for a human. He wants to curl into a ball and die, to just fade away and pretend that he never existed.

 

He hasn’t hung the pictures of James up or put them anywhere, they lie discarded in his room. What makes it worse is that James kept the pictures of him.

 

Now he’s trapped in a moment he’s not sure he wants to remember.

 

*

 

The pictures don’t tell a story anymore because they haven’t been kept up to date. The world he’s been trying to create for a very long time is suddenly incomplete and broken. Like Atlantis it’s been plunged into the sea and won’t resurface.

 

The world is ugly no matter how you look at it. No matter what filters or colour schemes, what type of art it’s captured in, it will always be ugly. He hates the world that is made up of corruption and disaster. He only wants perfection.

 

There is perfection in his muse but he’s lost that and he’s not sure that he can ever get it back. He’s lost the only one that can make his world even a little bit better.

 

He might as well be dead.

 

*

 

“Steve,” Professor Jones says as the rest of the class files out of the room. He knows that she’s about to criticize him, she has that tone in her voice that bothers him. “Is something bothering you lately?”

 

“No, why?”

 

“Lately your work has changed. You normally have a clear focus in your photographs but now it’s become hard to tell what it is that you’re trying to capture. It’s very unlike you.”

 

“I hadn’t noticed.”

 

“It’s unfortunate because your work is always so lovely to look at. But a few pictures don’t define your entire portfolio.”

 

“Alright.”

 

She's quiet for a minute.

 

“Steve, there is a photography apprenticeship in Paris next year. People from all over the country are chosen to be take part and I would like to give you a chance to do this. People will be coming by in a few days to review your work.”

 

“Thank you very much for considering me.”

 

“You deserve the recognition. Before they come I have a job for you. It’s to help both the school with their brochure and your portfolio.”

 

“What is it?”

 

“I am sure that you’re aware of the final ballet performance before the winter break. They are performing Giselle and are in need of a photographer- I suggested that you do it.”

 

James.

 

His heart beat is thunderous  in his chest and he can hear blood rushing through his ears. The teacher is giving him the opportunity to see James without looking suspicious. He wants nothing more than to see the man once more and now he has the perfect chance.

 

“I’d love to. Thank you for recommending me for the job.”

 

She smiles genuinely for once.“The performance is next week so please be prepared.”

 

“I will.” All he has to do is survive one more week without his muse. Though that feels like a death sentence he knows that it’s necessary. Absence is supposed to make the heart grow fonder.

 

*

 

Without James by his side he fades into the background, he is just like everyone else. It’s a fear that he never knew that he had but he does. He stands in the middle of the crowd of people and allows them to walk forward while he is the only person that remains still.

 

He is invisible.

 

No one notices him and no one cares enough to try. The world is constantly moving and busy and he is a person that is eternally frozen. He is stuck in a different time frame than the rest of the world. Originally it was what he wanted but now he isn’t so sure. He’s tasted reality and he doesn’t want to let it go.

 

James is the only thing that makes him worth it. Without the man he is absolutely nothing.

 

He shakes and turns in the opposite direction that the crowd is going in and runs. He needs to get out of there and he needs to regain his balance. Steve isn’t stable and he isn’t worth it. If he destroys the pictures, will it destroy him?

 

He longs to hear the snapping of the camera and feel forever in his hands. He needs it to feel alright. He needs James even if James doesn’t need him.

 

*

 

Because it’s the last performance of the year the auditorium is completely full. Steve has a good seat near the front row and enough space to take pictures. Truthfully, he’s not worried about whether the pictures will turn out good or not; he’s worried about the fact that he is within the distance that is in James’ view.

 

James is going to see him and he doesn’t know how the man will react.

 

The show starts right on time and he immediately melts into it, snapping pictures quietly. Though his future rests on this moment, along with the pictures that he takes, and he should be paying attention, he can’t. His thoughts are scattered and he doesn’t know left from right. All he wants is to see James, to feel James, to be near him once again.

 

To feel alive.

 

His wish is granted within minutes and the man makes his appearance known. Again he is playing a role meant for a woman but he looks utterly stunning, more beautiful than any woman could be. He dances so gracefully- it’s like he’s floating on the air. His feet are on the ground but they’re not, he’s there but he isn’t.

 

Perfect.

 

James twirls along with the music, his outfit moving with him as though a great wind is taking him somewhere. He is the most elegant and majestic person that Steve has ever seen. Every time that he sees him he discovers something new about him and falls deeper into the abyss of longing. How is it that he’s been trapped there for longer than he’s been alive?

 

How is it that James is only human?

 

Humanity is an ugly thing full of imperfections and faults, capable of sin and destruction from birth. They aren’t built for purity or love; they aren’t built for anything that falls under the category of good. Evil and cruel, blood filled streets and horrifying scenes painted on the walls. That is humanity.

 

James is nothing like that. He is everything that Steve needs, that the world needs, to prove that it’s not such a bad place. His body speaks its own language; a language of love and lust and need and heartbreak. Nowhere in him is there anything horrid. James is everything.

 

The man looks up and catches his eye, making Steve’s heart stop. Steve sees what no one else does: a slight tremor in James’s body. His dancing falters for a fraction of a second but that small amount of time goes on forever for the two of them.

 

He hates me.

 

As the ballet goes on James doesn’t look at him again. The man’s gaze is always averted and he can’t manage to capture him in his pictures as well as before. There’s something wrong with the photographs- something that not even the top airbrushing or photoshop software can fix. The essence of them is lost and permanently discarded.

 

The music slows and everything around them begins to slow down. The ballet is ending and he hasn’t taken that many pictures. His future could go down the drain because of his lack of focus. But he doesn’t care about his future if it doesn’t have meaning. He’d rather die than live an empty life. Steve positions his camera and readies himself for the final act.

 

His hands shake as he watches the finality of the moment.

 

Steve watches James die for the third time with hopes that it will be the last.

 

*

 

Steve stays for a while after the performance is finished so that he can take a few pictures of the set, content with doing only his job. He knows that James doesn’t want to see him and he’s not going to pressure him into doing so. That would be wrong and it would hurt him- he doesn’t want that. Steve would rather die than hurt James more than he already has.

 

He stands in the center of the stage and takes a multitude of shots. The empty auditorium reminds him of the bleakness of an abandoned playground, it’s purpose forgotten and it’s lively nature disposed of. With a sigh he takes the last picture and puts his camera into his bag. It’s time to go.

 

He walks off of the stage and heads through the twisting corridors of the backstage area, passing empty dressing rooms and different sets. It feels like he’s walking from one world to the next and he doesn’t necessarily like it.

 

In one swift motion Steve is pushed up against one of the walls, curtains enveloping him in darkness. Someone’s lips are pressing against his feverishly and their teeth are biting down harshly on his lower lip. Pain explodes through him and he kisses back as he tastes the metallic essence of his own blood in his mouth. In that moment he knows exactly who it is.

 

James shakes as he snakes his hands under Steve’ shirt and wraps his arms around his waist. They kiss harshly and he knows that it’s painful for both of them but he doesn’t stop him. The man deserves to be allowed to take his pain out on him. It’s only right.

 

They drop down to the floor and James straddles him, rubbing their groins together as they kiss. Steve knows that James is desperate for the electric current that once ran through them but neither of them are finding any pleasure. A strangled cry escapes James’ lips as his pace intensifies and he grinds down harder. It hurts Steve and he closes his eyes.

 

That’s right. He thinks and feels anguish beginning to smother him. Hurt me, destroy me. I’m nothing without you. Even if it hurts I just want you beside me. The more you hurt me, the longer the pain lasts and the longer I get to feel you.

 

James’ movements stop and he begins to shake harder than before.

 

“I wanted to hate you and be cruel to you- not because of those pictures,” James says, voice shaking worse than his body, “but because of what you put on me. In those pictures I was perfect and pristine, without as single flaw. I got to see what I look like through your eyes and I.. I can’t be that guy.”

 

“James-”

 

“I’m not perfect at all and you made me out to be. I wanted to hate you so much because you did that to me- you made things so fucking difficult- but I couldn’t. I can’t do that and I can’t fucking walk away from you.”

 

“But-”

 

“I should’ve been scared because of the invasion of privacy and the utter horror of all of those pictures of me but I couldn’t fucking do that either. Instead I was amazed because you managed to capture sides of me that don’t exist. It’s not the real me up there or at least not the me that others are around.” James shakes his head in disbelief. “I don’t know how you manage to do it but you do and it’s crazy.”

 

“It’s all you,” Steve murmurs. “I don’t do anything.”

 

“All that I kept thinking was ‘wow, he must’ve been so disappointed’. When you were with me it must have been a huge let down because I’m not anything like the person you’ve been looking at for over a year. I couldn’t handle knowing that I broke your fantasy. I didn’t leave because I was angry or scared.. I left because I was so utterly disgusted with myself.”

 

James breaks down; he can hear the gears inside of him creaking and groaning until they come to a final gut wrenching stop.

 

Though it’s dark he knows that the man is crying. A tear hits his face and he hates himself. Steve wants to cut open his veins and pour out all of the idiocy that lives within him, the obsessive compulsion and desire to own.

 

“Don’t cry,” he urges gently. “Please don’t cry James.” Steve’s arms wrap around the man and pull him close. James surprises him and gives in, burying his face in his neck. “I’m sorry James. I didn’t mean to make you feel like this.”

 

“I don’t know what to do anymore.”

 

“Just relax- please. There’s nothing to be upset about anymore.”

 

“Steve.. I love you.” His heart stops and everything clears from his mind, all of the scattered thoughts and pain washed away with the meaningful confession. “I’ve never loved anyone before and I don’t know how. I mean I’ve dated people and cared about them but you’re different. You’re the only one that I want to be around.”

 

Steve wants to say so much but he’s full of emptiness and comes up with nothing.

 

“I’m scared as hell right now. Is this what love feels like? I.. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Do you love me, Steve?” He can’t think or speak or move. All of his internal organs are shutting down. He can feel James closing off and retreating from him. “I should’ve known. Why would you ever love someone like me? I’m just a person you took pictures of.”

 

His mouth won’t open.

 

“Can I make you love me?” He can hear the broken pieces of James’s heart sliding around in his voice and he longs to put them back together but he can’t. There’s nothing worse than wanting to help but knowing that you’re powerless no matter what. “Huh? Can I?”

 

The sadness in James’ voice makes him want to cry. Tears continue to hit his face and he reaches up to wipe them away, coming in contact with the man’s soft lips instead. James’s breath hitches and his lips part, sucking in Steve’ finger. The man swirls his tongue around his finger expertly and he can’t help but close his eyes. It feels so good but he knows it’s wrong.

 

“James,” he croaks. James releases his finger and sighs.

 

“How can I make you love me? Will you love me if I let you fuck me? Destroy me and break me in two- will you love me then? Will you?” The tone in his voice becomes more frantic with each word. “If I suck your cock will you decide that it’s enough? I’ll do it- you know I will. Will it be enough then? I’ll do anything you want me to. I just..” James’s voice dips low and he murmurs something barely audible but Steve manages to catch it. “ don’t want to let you go .”

 

Suddenly it feels like James is the one that needs him to live, the one that relies on him solely and no one else. He is Atlas holding up James’ world by himself.

 

“Of course it’s not enough. You don’t want me, you want someone perfect. I.. I shouldn’t have expected you to love me back.” James scurries off of him and runs away from him, rendering him unable to move.

 

The stage has become his grave.

 

*

 

Love.

 

Love is an emotion, a feeling, a passion, a death sentence. It makes people lose their minds and makes them forget what reality is. Love is horrifying and undeniably awful. It destroys lives and brings down armies, empires, it is evil.

 

He’s never believed in love and never wanted to. Because he has never felt it he doesn’t really think that it’s entirely real. It’s an excuse to bring the rest of the world down and cause armageddon. The person who first utters the word holds the power in their hands, power over the person they’re using it against.

 

But James’s confession was so pure and innocent that it’s automatically separate from love’s destructive ways. It’s a snowflake amongst the ashes. Steve believes him but he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to. What feels like one million years of simply looking at life from a high place is suddenly turned on it’s side and he’s forced to actually live.

 

The terror that loving and living brings him is something that not even he can fully explain.

 

*

 

“I’m scared as hell right now. Is this what love feels like?”

 

He closes his eyes in the room of pictures and tries to let them envelop him. He doesn’t want to exist anymore. He wants to fade away in that polaroid world and go back to what he knows. Steve doesn’t know love- it doesn’t fit into his reality.

 

James fits into his reality so perfectly that it makes him giddy.

 

Butterflies have never flown around inside of him, his heart and body are full of moth holes, he’s incomplete and he doesn’t work- he is a broken toy. An angel with wings made of flimsy paper. How is he supposed to fly to where everyone else is going like this?

 

He stays there while everyone is off living their lives and he steals what they leave behind. Steve has become the keeper of time and he refuses to let any of it go. His life is one that is made up of moments from other people.

 

Can he take a picture of love and tell James that he can love him through that?

 

*

 

Steve receives pictures. In every class and every single day without missing a single one. The pictures are crude but lovely and disturbing at the same time. They document his days strangely and are always lined up in a mismatched order. Instead of dates written underneath the picture there are sentences.

 

‘Sometimes he doesn’t realize that the sun is positioned perfectly in the sky- positioned so that it looks like it’s only shining on him.’

 

‘He doesn’t know how perfect he is.’

 

‘He notices that there are people around him living life and he distances himself from them.’

 

‘Is he afraid or cautious? Is he afraid to live his life properly?’

 

James’ thoughts are all around him and making him feel warm. It’s odd but he wants to keep looking at them- not at himself but at the work James put into photographing. He has the perfect sense of space and surroundings. It’s another thing that James is amazing at. What can’t he do?

 

But that isn’t the point of the exercise and he knows it. James is showing him something that he can’t see by himself.

 

Mirrors lie, photographs don’t.

 

He is different from what he believed.

 

*

 

“Photography isn’t about capturing the moment,” Professor James says as she begins her lecture.

 

There are only a few days left until winter break begins and all the teacher does is lecture now, no assignments to keep him busy. His mind is allowed to wander and it only knows one path; a path that is now barren and full of emptiness, terror, and hurt.

 

“Many people believe that that’s what it is- keeping the moment within that photograph. But those people would be wrong. Photography is about showing people things from your point of view. As the photographer you show the audience exactly what you see. What is the point of this?”

 

No one answers.

 

“Everyone in the world sees things differently. Let’s say that two people are both looking at the ocean. One person will see the ocean, a place to go swimming and all of that. But the other person will see a void, something that has no true end and that is a mirror of the sky. It’s all about point of view. As a photographer you’re showing everyone how you see things and leaving it up to them to interpret your visions.”

 

He understands where James was coming from. Suddenly everything makes perfect sense. Though the pictures that he takes seem like a tribute to perfection to him, they are a burden and a cage for James. Their views are different.

 

Remorse is even worse than love.

 

*

 

Pictures.

 

Pictures are copies of reality, mirrors that keep moments intact and forever untouched. Each moment that’s captured is carefully archived and taken away from the rest of the world, only to be viewed by deserving eyes. It is not the eye of the beholder anymore- it’s the eye of the criminal. A criminal that steals time under the guise of an innocent task.

 

Point of view.

 

Point of view, perspective , is a cruel term, a term that is made of smoke and mirrors and trickery. One person may see something beautifully and capture it, show it to someone else and they may find it horrifying. No one sees what you see- not everyone is the same, not everyone shares the same opinions.

 

Moments.

 

Moments are meant to be lived. They’re not meant to saved for a future date. The truth is that once a moment is captured on film it’s dead. Like putting a butterfly in a case, there is no future for it. You can’t see it flap its wings anymore and you can no longer enjoy it.

 

Photographers are selfish for killing amazing and happy moments.

 

Steve is selfish for killing James’ freedom.

 

*

 

The keeper of time sits alone as the snow falls, yet again he is a shadow against the pale glow. His hair has gotten darker and is a dull shade of brown. He is fading faster than he can control and he won’t even lift a finger to try and stop it. He doesn’t care about anything anymore.

 

He’s been chosen to go to Paris, the news has spread around the school like wildfire. But he has yet to accept their offer. What will he do in the city of love and lights when he has neither in his life? He doesn’t really feel like being anywhere else- he feels like being nowhere but that isn’t an option. He’s been forced into a life he doesn’t want to lead.

 

It’s dark and freezing and he doesn’t know why he’s outside but he felt compelled to be. He’s in a park that’s on his way to his house- that he’s passed hundreds of times but never ventured inside. He’s sitting on the swings with his feet dragging across the ground.

 

“Andy Warhol plays by himself.” A cautious voice says. Steve looks up and discovers James walking toward him with his hands in his pockets. “I wanted to congratulate you at school but I couldn’t find you so I decided to come to your house. Congratulations, Steve.” He can’t say a word- his lungs won’t allow air to move through his body. James sits down on the swing beside him and he can feel his warmth. “It must be really exciting to get chosen for such an amazing chance. Your talent is finally being recognized and-”

 

“I’m so sorry,” he practically whimpers. “I.. James..”

 

“Please don’t apologize- it makes me feel pathetic,” James says with a laugh. It’s forced and nervous sounding. “There’s nothing to apologize for anyway. I jumped into things too quickly and went a bit crazy. We went from barely admitting to having a relationship to me confessing my love to you. I think I confused love and lust.”

 

“You don’t mean that.”

 

“D-Do you want me to mean something else?” Steve gets off of the swing and kneels down in front of James.

 

“I don’t want you to ever take back your words like that. If you love me don’t just disguise your feelings. I want you to say it again.”

 

“Pardon?”

 

“Please say it one more time so that I know that it wasn’t just some kind of sick dream.” A snowflake lands in James’ eyelashes and Steve softly brushes it away. “Please.”

 

“I love you.”

 

Steve notices the small clouds of white that contrast against their dark surroundings. Their breath mingles together and reminds him that he is in fact alive- they both are. Not living through each other or anything of the sort.

 

“I love you too.”

 

*

 

They stand together in the room of pictures, one James among thousands of others beside a faceless person. James opens the window that was previously kept locked. The cold air moves around them and he sighs, the sound of polaroids fluttering wildly filling his ears. James walks back over to him as the wind picks up- the pictures begin to fall.

 

“I wish I could be him,” James murmurs. “The guy in those pictures- the one in that perfectly frozen world.”

 

Steve can’t help but shake his head as he takes him in his arms. “That’s like wishing to be trapped in a cage.”

 

“Wouldn’t it be easier?”

 

“It’s your nightmare, James. You shouldn’t want to be there- not for anyone.”

 

James looks up at him with lidded eyes but he can still see the curiousity festering within them.

 

“Do you love the version of me that you know or the version that’s trapped?” He loves both of them in different ways- the perfect vision that lives in the past and the true masterpiece that lives in reality. But he knows the difference between love and obsession now.

 

“Do you really have to ask me that?”

 

James is no longer a sad dancer trapped in a glass music box, he is free. He is a butterfly that can choose to fly wherever he wants to go. Steve promises not to ever try to stop him because there is a time when every artist must let their muse go freely.

 

It’s the law of art.

 

“I’m scared of myself,” James murmurs. “That that version of me will come back and entice you again- that you’ll want perfection. I can’t-”

 

He silences James with a kiss, one kiss turning into many. Steve finds himself exploring that delicate but strong body. The body that can’t be immortal, the body that must live. He can feel the man’s heart dancing within him and it moves to the same rhythm as his own. It’s beautiful and lovely and everything he wants.

 

Steve puts his muse to rest as the polaroids fall around them like long forgotten rain drops.

 

*

 

Sometimes he finds himself wondering if he’s dreaming. When James touches him, when James moans for him, when James is inside of his embrace, when James whispers sweet confessions to him- when the man makes it clear that he is only his, it never feels real.

 

There is no proof that he is awake. He might just be dreaming.

 

There’s a chance that somewhere in the world he’s lying in a hospital bed stuck in a comatose state. His mind is taking him on an adventure to distract him from the fact that he is slowly wasting away. It seems like a very good assumption- like that could actually be happening.

 

“Steve!” James calls  from the bedroom. “It’s freezing, come back to bed!”

 

Comatose or not, Paris is nice this time of year.

 

*

 

Their bodies fit together perfectly and everything about them complements each other. From the hushed confessions to the solitary moments they share. Sometimes they both find it easier to be alone and they distance themselves from each other for a little while- neither of them oppose the other’s needs.

 

But they always come back. No matter how far they go or how long they’re gone for, they always come back. And when they return they have a better understanding of each other.

 

This is their love; though simple, it’s easy and breathtaking and it belongs solely to them.

 

*

 

“It’s so nice here,” James says as they walk through the nearly empty streets together. Steve smiles at his enthusiasm and wraps his scarf tighter around his neck. “I’m really glad that you decided to come here.”

 

“I’m the one that’s glad- you dropped everything to come to Paris with me.”

 

“Well I did give up a lot and it was such a pain to come to this beautiful place with my boyfriend- god I really do resent everything about this place but hey, the things you do for love,” James teases lightly.

 

“The sacrifices you make for me are astounding.”

 

“All for you, my love.” He gets a strange feeling within him whenever James calls him a pet name. It’s a self conscious thing, something deep within him still thinking that he doesn’t deserve him. He half expects James to just decide that he doesn’t want to be with him and walk away.

 

He hopes that he won’t.

 

“Hey Mr. Photographer, let’s take a picture!”

 

“You want to?”

 

“Yeah- as long as you’re in it with me,” James takes out his phone and brings Steve closer, positioning it above them. It feels strange to not use a real camera but whatever James wants he’ll go along with it- that plus the fact that this is what real couples do.

 

The picture is adorable and so couple like that it makes him break out into a grin.

 

“We photograph so well together,” his boyfriend says with astonishment in his voice. “We should’ve been taking pictures like this since we got together.”

 

“There’s always time for that.”

 

“So pretty,” he croons. “Let’s add stickers to it!”

 

“Stickers.”

 

“Just because you’re a photographer doesn’t mean you’re above cute stickers. They make us look better.” He watches James put a bow sticker on his own head and a blushing sticker on his cheeks.

 

“You were right- it does look better.” James laughs beautifully and puts his phone in his pocket, linking their arms together.

 

“When am I wrong?”

 

*

 

His career takes off immediately, offers pouring in from all sides. Magazines, newspapers, and every other person in the world seems to want him. The apprenticeship goes by far too quickly and he decides to stay in Paris with James for a bit longer.

 

James has found work with the Paris Opera Ballet and is making a name for himself; his popularity is soaring and he’s taking off. Paris is the place for them.

 

The cage-like pictures are destroyed. There is no trace of the prior obsession in his life besides one single picture that he decided to keep. It’s from The Rite of Spring performance: a shot of James dancing and managing to look past the camera but right at it at the same time. It’s haunting and means the world to him for some reason. Despite the fact that he still owns it he doesn’t admire it very much anymore.

 

Apparently living in the moment is the new rage.

 

*

 

The room is comfortably warm- he likes it in here the most: the bedroom. It’s lazy days like this that he enjoys more than anything; mornings that he gets to spend with James laying right beside him or more often than not wrapped up in his arms. He smiles at nothing and slips out from underneath James

 

He walks into the nearly vacant room and feels the change in temperature automatically. He’s only been in here once and it was with James. Being here alone is a bit nerve-wracking.

 

It’s pale white and has no furniture, not hints of life. The two of them decided to leave one room untouched just in case. There is only one item that exists in the room; something that James decided to put there himself.

 

On the wall immediately visible from the door is two pictures. They overlap and look as though it could be one scene- similar but taken at different times. They are the reality that the two of them face every single day.

 

The photograph version of James- the one that constantly remains still unlike his real counterpart- lies in bed fast asleep with his hand outstretched toward the edge of the photo. Over top of it is a picture of himself. He looks peaceful, eyes closed and hands reaching out to grab at nothing. It looks as though they’re holding hands despite the distance. The nothing that he’s grabbing at is replaced by the real James.

 

Together- they are in that frozen world side by side- the artist and the muse, the obsession and the obsessed; they’re immortalized as one for as long as they choose.