It’s a mansion. Steve isn’t quite sure what he’d expected, especially after the rough treatment that brought him here, but it wasn’t this. After being shoved in a car trunk, driven around and jostled through the streets of the city, and then unceremoniously dragged back out of the trunk into a dark parking garage, the place he finds himself is a stark contrast.
Okay, so ‘mansion’ is an exaggerated term. It’s a penthouse, if he wants to be accurate, but to Steve it might as well be a mansion. It’d be a nice place, if it weren’t about to make him jump out of his skin.
James wasn’t with the group that brought him up in the elevator, and Steve isn’t sure if that’s better or worse for his nerves. He wants to get a feeling for his new life. To learn to understand what it’s going to be like for him here.
The more irrational part of his mind - the part that doesn’t want to think long term - is more interested in figuring out if he’ll fit under the bed, because that seems like a good place to hide. Even though it would be a stupid idea, because he belongs to James now. James has made that perfectly clear.
He tries to settle his mind by walking around the penthouse. It’s spacious and clean. Brightly lit and full of pleasing open spaces. There’s a library, of sorts. The kitchen is stocked with cookware Steve has never seen and cannot devise a use for. And there are no personal effects that can tell Steve any kind of story.
Steve already hates it. He knows that, objectively, he’d love to live someplace like this, but he can’t see it happening now. Not in these circumstances.
He hears a noise that might be an opening door, startles violently, and then freezes to better listen. Sure enough, there are footsteps and soft noises coming from the front room. Steve thinks again about climbing his way under the bed - because of course he’s in the bedroom when James comes back - and decides it’s beneath him. He chose this, even if the other choice was unthinkable.
He steps out into the hallway and takes the few careful steps toward the excessively large open room that is divided into kitchen, living room, and front room only by half-walls and furniture. And there’s James, leaning back against the door he’s just closed and rubbing his eyes with one hand.
Steve takes another step and this time the hardwood floor creaks slightly underneath his foot,. James responds to it with lightning speed. Steve has a gun pointed at him from across the room before his next heartbeat.
Steve does the only thing he can think of, and puts his hands in the air.
James blinks, looking at Steve, and then laughs.
“Sorry,” he says. “I’d honestly forgotten you would be here.”
“Were you not the one who ordered it?” Steve asks.
“Doesn't mean I expected you to be here. There's never anyone here. I'm very strict with what's allowed amongst my things.”
“I won't touch any of it,” Steve promises quickly.
“Don't be ridiculous. You are one of my things. Touch whatever you like.”
Steve doesn't say anything to that, because he suspects that whatever he says will be indignant and corse, and he knows it's important to keep James pleased. In general, because James controls Steve's sister's fate. In specific, because Steve will share his bed tonight.
James had made the arrangement perfectly clear when Steve had taken the deal, but that doesn't mean Steve is excited about the prospect. James has all the power. He doesn't have to be nice.
“Don't like being called a thing?” James asks, amusement in his voice as he finally pushes away from the door to walk across the living room.
“You can call me whatever you like,” Steve forces himself to say.
Discontent flashes behind James’ eyes, and Steve bites the inside of his cheek. He'd meant it to be a compliant statement, but something about it must have been off.
“Come here,” James orders, and Steve goes. Stands in front of James quietly. He considers kneeling, but his pride has its limits. Plus he's pretty sure James would laugh at him and, more importantly, misunderstand the offered respect as an offered mouth. So Steve settles for casting his eyes down to the floor.
James fingers are suddenly in his hair. From what he can feel, James is twisting it and sliding it through his fingers. Steve grits his teeth and allows it.
“What if I called you my whore?” James asks. “No name of your own. No words of your own. Just my whore.”
Steve swallows his thoughts and says, “Then I'll answer to it.”
Silence follows, and James removes his fingers from Steve hair.
“Stop that,” James orders sharply. “I bought you . The boy that broke my man's arm and almost made it out the fire escape. Not... this .”
“I don't understand.”
James grips him by the throat with no warning and tilts his head back, forcing eye contact.
“Are you mocking me?”
“No!” Steve hurries to protest, garbled through the grip on his throat.
“Trying to make yourself uninteresting, so I'll throw you back?”
Steve doesn't know what to say, frightened and angry at how quickly his attempts at obedience have backfired.
“Fine,” James snarls. “If you want to be a whore, you can see what it's like.” He surges forward and takes Steve’s shirt in his fist, dragging Steve almost off his feet on the way to the kitchen table.
“No, wait!” Steve exclaims, terror dripping through him as adrenaline. “Please, that’s...stop!”
He’s shoved over onto his stomach on the kitchen table, and the vulnerable position blanks his mind into anger, because when it comes to fight or flight, Steve has always been the one to pick fight. Even when it’s a dumb fucking idea.
He strikes backward, bending his leg to get the heel of his shoe as directly into James’ groin as he can manage. The kick doesn’t connect with the force and angle he would have wished for in a perfect world, but it’s enough that James chokes in pain and steps away from Steve. Steve flips over get his feet back on the floor and makes to dart around James, thinking maybe he can get to the door, mind illogical in his terror.
James catches him by the arm on his way past, and yanks backwards at the same time that Steve tries to push forward to gain momentum. It wrenches his shoulder hard. Hard enough that he cries out, but not hard enough that he stops struggling.
“Stop,” James orders, but Steve is too far gone with panic now, and he practically snarls at James, trying to punch his kidney. Growing up how and where he did had taught him never to pull his punches in a battle he couldn’t afford to lose.
James is fast, though. He steps sideways and avoids the blow. Uses the motion to twist Steve’s arm behind his back, and then to slam him down on the table again.
“I said, stop,” James orders, and Steve only has to struggle for a moment to realize he’s well and truly pinned down. He pants, helpless, against the flat of the table. Waiting.
“Jesus,” James scoffs above him. “Don’t you have a middle ground?” His flash-anger seems to have dissolved as suddenly as it arrived, and Steve feels a fear in his gut that maybe James will always be like this. That he will change personalities with every breath and that Steve will never know what’s about to come next.
The sudden change his life has taken hits him like an undertow, and all the emotions he’s known his brain should have been supplying for the last day are suddenly present. To his shame, he takes a deep shuddering pre-sob breath, and there’s no way James misses it, pressed up against his whole body like he is. Steve holds his breath, unwilling to give away anything else.
“Jesus,” James repeats, and suddenly the weight of him is gone. Steve is quick to flip around and stand up again, this time retreating in a quick circle that puts the table between himself and James, rather than running for the door.
James doesn’t say anything, just stares at him from across the wide table. The table that is too big for one person living alone in a penthouse apartment.
Steve chooses to grind the heels of his hands into his eyes, rather than to let the tears actually spill over. Their wet remnants still dampen the palms of his hands, but he manages to interrupt the flow before it really gets started.
“What?” he shouts at James, because anger is better than fear.
“I warned you what your role would be here,” James says. “And you agreed.”
“I do not agree to that violence ,” Steve screams back. “I understand that you’re going to fuck me, but that doesn’t mean it...like that ...it’s…” he trails off, glaring and trying to figure out how to communicate his point.
James just stares.
“I agreed to sex,” Steve finally says. “If you’re going to turn it into rape, by being like that, then I will fight you for every inch.”
“You have no negotiating power here,” James says calmly. “Besides, you agreed to the arrangement only in order to protect your family from my wrath. It’s already rape. Why do you care how it comes?”
“You will be gentle,” Steve says through his teeth. “Or I will fight you for every inch.”
“You’re not listening to me,” James says. “You have no negotiating power.”
“You will be gentle. Or I will fight you for every inch.”
“What makes you think I don’t want that?”
“You negotiated for me. You bought me. You wouldn’t have gone to the trouble if you’d wanted to take me. You could just take anyone. You want me willingly. Or, as willingly as you know how to get me.”
James doesn’t say anything at all. He doesn’t show a flicker of his thoughts. Steve can’t even pick out a micro-expression. He just looks at Steve, like he’s seeing through him and into another series of moments in time. Like he isn’t standing there, the sudden epicenter of Steve’s world.
“Come here,” he suddenly orders Steve, holding his arm out in beckoning.
“Will you be gentle?”
James snaps his fingers sharply, and Steve figures he’s pushed as far as he can safely push. Whether or not this becomes a fight is up to James now. So he obeys. Steps carefully around the large oak table and into James’ reach.
James slaps him. It’s a sudden and open-palmed strike to his cheek that more humiliating than painful. It barely knocks his head to the side. Before Steve can decide how he’s going to respond to it, James touches him gently right where’d he slapped him. Same hand, same cheek; but this time he’s caressing the area that is likely reddening against Steve’s pale complexion.
“I will be gentle,” James says. “If you will behave.”
Steve literally bites his tongue to keep from pointing out that Steve had been behaving and that’s what pissed James off in the first place.
Then James pulls his hand back and simply walks away. Steve wonders for a moment if he’s supposed to be following or not, but in the end he decides the less time he spends in James’ presence the better, so he escapes into one of the nearby rooms. He leaves the lights off and sits down on the floor, placing his back to the door. It won’t stop James from opening it if he wants too, but it’ll give Steve enough warning to try and stop his body from shaking.
He can’t stay there forever. He knows that. So once the sun goes down and he’s calmed enough that he won’t embarrass himself, he gets back to his feet. It’s the most important part of all his fights, after all. When he gets back to his feet.
When he walks out into the hallway, he’s surprised how much the change in light has altered the room. The space seems softer, now. The edges of the walls and the furniture blend into the walls and furniture behind them. They all bleed into each other in soft greys and blues, still not quite dark enough to lose the sense of space completely.
It feels like the beginning of a soft dream and, caught up in it, Steve isn’t even startled to suddenly see James standing out on the balcony. This time Steve pauses, taking the time to evaluate James, rather than making his presence known right away.
James doesn’t seem to be doing anything. He’s just staring out, down at the city. He doesn’t even sway or move, even though the wind whips at his clothes and hair. Despite this stillness, he seems as though he’s going to fall over at any moment. As though he’s no longer capable of carrying his own body.
Steve identifies the pity just as it surfaces, and he rejects it as quickly as he can. He’s not going to feel sorry for his captor. He steps purposeful out into the dining room, the room that adjoins the balcony exit, and sees the moment James registers his presence. There’s a tightening of the shoulders and a straightening of his spine. Then he turns around and beckons to Steve.
Steve obeys. Stepping out onto the balcony is a burst of chill, and the wind is stronger than he’d expected from watching it bludgeon James. He tucks his hands under his arms and hides a shudder.
“Yes?” he asks.
“Stand out here with me.”
He stands for a moment, expecting another order or an attempt at conversation, but James gives him nothing. It’s painfully awkward, especially as the seconds stretch on and on. Steve huffs in annoyance and attempts to repress another shudder, this time less successfully.
James holds his arm out, and Steve is only a little hesitant before he tucks himself in against James. He’s warm. Warmer than the air whipping along the balcony anyway, and now Steve lets himself shiver, even going so far as to tuck his hands under James’ outer jacket.
He wonders if it’s bad form to play himself up as pathetic in order to get James to be more indulgent. On one hand, it feels like it could be giving in. On the other hand, isn’t it just using another weapon in his arsenal? A different way of fighting?
It probably doesn’t matter either way. Steve gets the feeling that James will treat him however he treats him, and that’s the end of it. Normal people don’t coerce and buy people to take home with them, so normal paradigms will probably be useless.
Not for the first time, Steve wonders how long he’ll be here. Not on the balcony, but in James’ life.
He’s distracted from the morose thought by James’ hands moving up onto his back, holding him in a light embrace, and Steve figures it’s about time he gets to work. He has a job here, after all. He pulls his face away from where he’s been trying to keep it warm against James’ chest and tilts his face up. James is looking down at him with truely piercing eyes that have absolutely no identifiable expression. Like a blank slate, waiting to have the next emotion projected onto it.
Steve kisses him. It’s soft, dry and with closed lips. He checks James’ expression after it, trying to figure out if he’s doing this right or wrong, but all he gets is that same expressionless expression. So he repeats the kiss, this time trying to let it linger, turning one kiss into several coaxing kisses.
He’s about to give up, because fine, if James doesn’t want to participate it’s not like Steve wanted to be here in the first place. But then James moves one of his hands from Steve’s back to cup Steve’s face instead, and suddenly the kiss is deeper and a lot less chaste. It's possessive, which Steve supposes is fair, but that doesn't stop it from being overwhelming. Suddenly Steve is full of James. His mouth and lips, tongue and hands. Even his mind. All of him is occupied by James.
It's over as quickly as it starts. James pulls away suddenly, leaving Steve in the cold night.
“Have you eaten?” he asks Steve, and Steve blinks owlishly at the non-sequitur.
“No,” he answers truthfully. He wouldn't have dared to go through the fridge before James got back, and he's been hiding in a dark room since then.
James leaves without another word, and Steve guesses that's an order to follow. Like a dog. Or worse, like a puppy that doesn't know how to behave or take care of himself. He rolls his eyes, even as he pushes through the glass door and back into the warmth of the dining room.
James is standing in the kitchen, and Steve waits patiently off to the side, waiting to be told what to do. He’s honestly not hungry - stomach all tied up in knots and nausea - but he’ll eat if James tells him to. It would be a stupid hill to die on.
James, however, doesn’t seem to actually be doing anything. He opens and closes the fridge, and then repeats the action with a few cabinets. Finally he turns back to Steve.
“Have whatever you want,” he orders sharply, and he gestures behind him at the whole of the kitchen at the same time. Then he storms away and down the hall to his bedroom.
Steve resists the urge to stick out his tongue at the man as he disappears, because apparently, Steve’s first guess was correct. James is entirely unpredictable, and that’s the only thing Steve has figured out about him for sure.
Well. That and the fact that he can take a kiss from zero to sixty is less time that it takes Steve to notice it’s happening.
Because he isn’t hungry after all, he goes and sits on the dining room table, because it’s tall enough that it lets him see out the glass door and over the balcony outside. He watches the skyline for a while, trying to keep an internal clock about how long he’s been sitting there. He wants James to think he’s eating, but he doesn’t want to take long enough that James thinks he’s stalling.
Eventually, when Steve realizes he probably actually is stalling, he gets back to his feet and shuffles down to the closed bedroom door. He argues with himself for a moment, and then knocks.
“Come in,” James says, and Steve opens the door.
James is lounging on the bed, and he’s reading by the lights of a bedside lamp. Steve doesn’t get a chance to see the cover, because James closes it quickly and places it upside down on the nightstand, but it’s still an inherent shock. Steve wouldn’t have thought James was the type to read in bed.
“Now,” James orders, and Steve realizes he’s just standing in the doorway. He takes a half-step forward, and then glances up at James’ eyes to see if he’s angry, but it’s just the same blankness. So he goes, climbing up on the bed and kneeling on the foot of it.
“Here,” James says, pointing up next to himself.
Steve obeys that one, too. The movement feel surreal and ridiculous. Just a handful of hours ago, this entire concept would have seemed ridiculous, and now…
James tugs insistently at Steve’s clothes, and Steve doesn’t have to have that one explained to him. He steels himself and strips. It’s methodical, rather than a striptease.
At least he knows what he’s doing. If Steve were straight, or at least a virgin, he thinks this would be a lot worse. As it stands, it’s a bad taste in his mouth and a shallow dread concerning how long James intends to keep him.
When Steve settles at the head of the bed, James begins to manhandle him, pushing him into position on his knees. Steve cradles his head in his arms and focuses on relaxing, even when he hears the condom wrapper. Even when he hears the bottle cap. Even when he feels the first touch of cold wet fingers pushing inside of him.
At the very least, it’s gentle. Not very gentle, but it’s not violent or unexpectedly painful. It’s just...detached. Perfunctory. Steve stares at the curtains and tries to keep himself in the same position. Neither of them say anything through the whole of it, and James is even mostly silent when he finally comes, shuddering once and then barely even breathing heavily as he rolls off of Steve.
When James pulls out of him, Steve lets his muscles go. His knees slides out and back and he pulls his arms in closer to his body, resisting the urge to roll them around to make the joints stop hurting from their immobility.
He wonders, momentarily, if he’s supposed to leave and go sleep on the couch in the big front room, but then James rolls over, presumably dealing with the condom, and then he turns off the bedside lamp without giving any orders at all. So Steve stays and watches his eyes adjust to the dark.
He doesn’t fall asleep for a long time.
James is gone in the morning. Steve wakes with a start, sore and with an ill-defined feeling of dread. He panics for only a moment, readjusting to his surroundings, and then he looks around for James. When Steve doesn’t see him, he thinks about getting up and looking for him in the apartment, but he doesn't want to find anything. Instead, he rolls over and goes back to sleep.
He finally gets up when lying in bed becomes uncomfortable. The first thing he does is put his clothes back on. He wants a shower, but he’s not about to wander around the place naked. He’s also not sure what he’s supposed to be wearing, since the only clean clothes in the place are James’.
Steve ignores the lump in his throat that forms when he remembers how completely his life has been transplanted. Even his clothes are miles away now. Everything he owns, and everyone he knew.
He forcefully jerks open a dresser drawer, because James had said Steve is a thing so he’s allowed to touch James’ other things, no problem. So Steve is just going to wear that fucker’s clothes, and if James has a problem with it, Steve is sure it will be verbalized soon enough.
Steve can still feel the lube, tacky and dry in his ass.
He fishes out a pair of sweatpants and what looks like a white exercise shirt. He doesn’t bother with underwear before marching out into the hall and then down to the bathroom.
The shower helps more than he expected it would. The water stays hot and the pressure is amazing, and once he’s scrubbed himself down with the fancy soaps he feels more like himself. Awake and clean, and ready to think about last night.
He turns the event over in his mind a couple of times. Honestly, it hadn’t been that bad. It hadn’t been enjoyable, but it hadn’t been bad. Just so....pointless. He wonders what James is getting out of it, because honestly Steve thinks that jacking off would have accomplished the same task and would have been a hell of a lot less complicated for the man.
He tilts his face up to let the water run over it, and decides that he can manage this. It’s been almost twenty-four hours, and nothing really horrible has happened, and it’s nice knowing that Ellie is safe. His step-sister’s well-being has been a constant source of growing panic in Steve’s mind for over a year now so, once he gets used to things here, Steve thinks that maybe he really has gotten the better end of this deal.
He turns off the water, even though it’s been almost an hour and it still hasn’t lost any of its warmth. Now that he has permission from James, it’s time to explore the place more thoroughly than his perfunctory examination yesterday.
He towels off, noticing that both towels on the rack are dry - so if James took a shower it must have been way longer ago than morning - and then he gets dressed in the stolen clothes. They’re too big for him, but the sweatpants cinch tightly enough, and the shirt is clearly meant to stretch when it’s put on, so it’s not like Steve is swimming too badly. He ties a knot in the waist, and that helps even more.
He eyes the thermostat as he walks past it, pauses, then doubles back to it. He’s cold, because he’s always cold, and James certainly doesn’t seem to be hurting for money.
He goes for it, before he can have time to overthink it, setting it higher than he ever would have dared in his step-father’s tiny bullshit apartment when he had to do things like penny-pinch.
Next, he wanders into the kitchen, and his body finally realizes that he hasn’t eaten in almost a day. He opens the fridge, blinks, and then opens the freezer, too. Then he laughs, because he thinks he finally understands why James had been so weird in the kitchen last night. There’s is absolutely goddamn nothing in here. He checks the cupboards to be certain, and feels mixed annoyance and amusement. After all, if you get a new pet you’re either supposed to already have food at home for it, or you pick some up on the way.
“Fuck you, too,” Steve mutters, settling for making pasta that has been in there for god knows how long. He adds olive oil and spices and it doesn’t taste that great, but he gets to eat until he’s full, and that’s nice. By the time he’s finished, the suite has warmed up significantly, too, and that’s even nicer. He wanders down into the library next, inspecting the books more thoroughly than yesterday’s anxiety had allowed.
He’s surprised to see that a lot of them are paperbacks, and even more surprised to find almost all of those are science fiction. Ridiculous and exaggerated science fiction with strange covers of weird sea creatures, clockwork artful monstrosities, or multi-colored aliens.
“Jesus,” Steve laughs. Because really? There’s a preference that doesn’t fit James’ general attitude or reputation. He picks one at random and thumbs through it before rolling his eyes and putting it back.
There aren’t any other surprises during his more thorough exploration, and eventually Steve ends up in front of the television. He decides to avoid the streaming on demand, since there’s a huge difference between upping the electricity bill and actively charging James’ account so Steve can watch a crappy comedy. He does utilize the cable, though.
The rest of his day passes without incident. He keeps expecting James to come back, but nothing happens. He can’t bring himself to go back to the bed by himself either, so instead he just curls up on the couch and stupefies himself with the changing lights of the television as the sun sets behind him.
When he wakes, it’s to the sound of the door falling closed. It’s only a quiet click, and he’s only heard it a few times, but the soft kick of adrenaline tell him he’s already conditioned to it. He blinks at James, who’s standing the in the dark, visible by the lights of the city and the moon pouring in from the window-walls.
“Hey,” Steve greets, because the silence is becoming ominous.
James clicks the front hall light on, and it’s enough that Steve squints but not enough that he has to hide his eyes. He blinks thickly as few times, and then watches James watch him. It’s more than a perfunctory glance. James is evaluating him. His gaze is traveling slowly down and then back up Steve’s body, and Steve is suddenly less confident in his decision to steal clothes.
James doesn’t say anything, though. He just clicks the light back off and walks confidently through the dark apartment to disappear down the hallway. Steve scrambles to his feet, unenthusiastic about what will come next, but tired enough to just want it over with.
He catches up to James just as he’s stepping into the bedroom and slows his pace so he can follow obediently. He’s startled, therefore, by a hard shove to his chest that knocks him back a step. Enough so that it takes him a moment to realize that James has shoved him, right in the sternum. Hard enough to bruise. Certainly hard enough that Steve raises his hand up to touch the spot softly.
“No,” James says, and Steve thinks he means rubbing the pulsing pain, until he realizes James is blocking the doorway with his body.
Steve should say something. He should ask why, or ask if there’s something else he needs to do, or even for clarification on the order, but Steve meets James’ eyes and can’t do anything but stand on the opposite side of the hallway and stare.
It’s eerie that Steve can still make out the bright quality of James’ eyes in the dark. Human eyes don’t reflect light; they absorb it. So it has to be Steve’s imagination making him feel like his soul is being pierced.
James closes the door with finality, and Steve wouldn’t have had the courage to knock even if he wanted to.
He goes back to the couch and curls back up.
Even though he’d been eager to go back to sleep from the moment James had woken him, he takes him a long stretch of staring into the dark to finally achieve it.
Steve thinks this is bullshit. He’s lonely, and he’s not afraid to admit it. It’s been days since he was brought here and in all that time he’s only had a couple half-conversations and they’ve all been with James, so Steve doesn’t think they should even count.
There isn’t even any more sex, and that the stupidest part. Because Steve is finding himself daydreaming about it wistfully. He is actually hoping James will fuck him, because he is just that starved for the slightest human interaction.
When James comes back, in the middle of the night as usual, Steve is perched cross-legged on the big dining room table that James has to walk past on his way to the bedroom that Steve hasn’t been allowed in since that first night.
James slows, obviously confused by Steve’s chosen position and probably thrown by the murderous glare being leveled his way, but he still doesn’t stop. Still doesn’t really acknowledge Steve.
“Are you fucking serious?” Steve snaps, when James just keeps going. “What the fuck do you want from me? I’m dying in here.”
“You’re not,” James says, coming to a stop, but not turning around.
“I really am.”
“You’ve barely been here a week,” James snaps, actually turning around now and leveling Steve with that angry empty look that had frightened Steve so much the first time he saw it.
“So what’s your plan then?” Steve snaps, coming at it from a different angle. “You’re just going to keep me up here like a trophy? A trophy that needs to be fed and watered. For what? Just so you can say you own a human being who you won’t even fuck?”
“You want me to fuck you?” James hisses, stepping forward menacingly, making Steve scoot back on the table. James could still get at him, but he’d have to reach.
“Of course that’s what you pulled out of what I said,” Steve scoffs, even though his heart is in his throat and has pulled his legs up to protect his chest without even noticing.
“Wasn’t that your goddamn point?” James snaps back.
“No! My point was that I’m up here alone, and I’m not a cat! I need some fucking stimulation or I’m going to throw myself off the balcony.”
“You will not throw yourself off the balcony,” James says through his teeth, and Steve throws his hands in the air, because does this man really not know how normal people converse? He’s missing the point, and Steve is too white-cold with adrenaline to keep explaining it. His hands are shaking, and he’s so tired, even though all he does is sleep.
“Forget it,” he mumbles. “Just forget it.”
James looks like he’s going to push this issue. There’s a thought behind his eyes, and Steve is both terrified and eager to hear it vocalized. But James does what he always does and walks away.
“Fuck,” Steve says wistfully, and lies down on the table.
Steve tries to go out on the balcony the next morning, hoping for some air and sunlight, and finds it’s been locked, even though it never was before.
He laughs so hard he slides down to sit on the floor and at some point his laughs start to sound like sobs.
Someone knocks on the door.
Steve sits straight up from where he’s lying on the floor and contemplating the lighting effects on the ceiling’s color. No one has ever knocked on the door. He waits, breath shallow and tight in his throat. Then the knock comes again, more insistent, and Steve reflexively scrambles to his feet. He feels like he’s about to be in a fight, and he’s not sure why.
He walks quietly to the door and stands on tiptoe in order to look through it. There’s a couple of men holding boxes, clearly speaking quietly to each other.
“Delivery!” one of them eventually calls loudly through the door, and Steve fights the urge to hold his breath, even though there’s no way they’ll hear that tiny sound through the thick door.
It takes them a long time, but they eventually go away.
Steve isn’t sure what to make of it, but it does occur to him that he finally has a potential conversation starter for James.
He’s ready with it when James finally comes home - Steve’s sleep cycle has already shifted to accommodate James’ strange night hours - and he’s already opening his mouth to breach the subject when James stops moving abruptly and glares at Steve. It sticks the words in Steve’s mouth.
“Why are you wearing that?” James asks angrily, gesturing at all of Steve.
Steve looks down at James’ stolen clothes, which he’d already gotten used to wearing, and considers asking why the theft is only now a problem. Instead, he quietly pulls the shirt off and gently drapes it over the back of the couch. It isn’t until he’s starting to pull off the pants that James interrupts him.
“No!” he snaps. “That’s not what I--no! Jesus!” He sighs heavily and rubs his face in frustration before he finally takes a deep breath and asks, “Why aren’t you wearing the new clothes?”
“What new clothes?”
Now anger darkens James’ face and Steve can see the tick in his jaw when he clenches it.
“Fuckers,” he spits. “I told them today. I was very clear!”
Steve finally puts two and two together.
“The delivery men!” he exclaims. “Oh! No, they were here. I--I didn’t--I didn’t open the door.”
“Why the fuck not?”
“It’s…” Steve trails off because he’s not sure how to explain that particular mindset. That the better question would have been why would he open the door.
“I didn’t know who they were,” he tries.
James looks at him with confusion, and then his expression fades away into disbelief.
“You think someone could get up here who wasn’t wanted?” he asks. “Anyone who tried would be killed five times over before they ever reached this floor. You think, what? That I just run around without security?”
Steve chews on the inside of his cheek, trying to figure out a better verbiage of an explanation.
“No, it’s not that,” he says.
“It’s not my door,” Steve answers.
The blank look he gets in response pushes him in continue.
“It’s not...I don’t belong here like that. You said...I’m owned. I don’t...why would I answer the door? It’s not my door.”
James blinks again for a moment, and then he turns away on his heel and walks into the kitchen. Steve follows, because that’s what he does these days. James doesn't do anything, though. Just stands forlornly in the middle of the kitchen.
“They were going to bring food, too,” James says softly.
“Oh,” Steve says, because honestly he’d given up on James ever stocking this kitchen. It was on his list of reasons he was going to die up here. Lack of human contact. Boredom. Starvation.
In that order.
“They can just come back tomorrow,” he says, because James looks like he’s going to have a breakdown over this fucking shit, and Steve cannot keep up with this man’s emotional fluctuations. He thinks he likes “breakdown James” even less than “angry James”. And that’s saying something.
“They will,” James says, and then he turns and walks down the hallway into the bedroom.
Steve wants to scream through his teeth, because what the actual hell is he supposed to be doing here? Did James want a houseboy or not?
Maybe he should throw a temper tantrum. Break something. Scream.
He imagines that will work out even worse than he’s imagining.
Steve lets the men in the next day. They’re quiet and efficient and they don’t even look at Steve. Don’t attempt to respond to his stilted conversation. Don’t acknowledge his existence beyond a quick nod when they first come in.
Well, James had said he’s pretty particular with who touches his things. Steve guesses that he should have expected this.
At least he has food now.
He practically assaults James that night. He washes and prepares himself thoroughly, strips all the way down to his skin, and arranges himself artfully on top of the bed.
It takes him twelve minutes of debate and near-hyperventilation to actually get himself into the room in the first place, but it’s not like James can tell that just by looking at him. And he does look at him. He comes to a complete halt and does nothing but look for a solid fifteen seconds, and fifteen seconds is a long time to wonder what someone like James is going to do next.
Logically speaking, Steve knows that there’s no real difference to his safety when he’s wearing clothes and when he’s not, but that doesn’t change how much more vulnerable he feels when he’s like this. Naked and inviting.
At least, he’s attempting to be inviting.
“I thought I told you to wear the clothes I had delivered,” James says, finally stepping into the room. He does close the door behind him though, so Steve isn’t about to give up yet.
“I’m improvising,” he answers. “I figured you might have had a stressful day. Might like to unwind.”
“Did you now?”
Steve flips over onto his stomach and looks back over his shoulder at James.
“I did,” he says. It probably comes out more tentative than confident, but it’s not like he’s not being clear. That’s the important part here. He thinks.
“I’m here to help,” he adds.
“No,” James corrects. “You’re here to do as you’re told.”
He steps over to the closet and begins to undress, striping with that same confidence that Steve vaguely remembers from that first night. The way someone undresses when they’re alone. When there’s not even a mirror nearby to give them pause. He strips casually all the way down to his underwear, and Steve bets he could strip all the way down to his skin and still be intimidating as hell.
“And I told you to wear the clothes,” James adds.
Steve weighs that one for a moment, still looking down over his shoulder at James, and eventually says, “You didn’t, technically. You just wanted to know why I wasn't. There wasn’t an order. More of an implication.”
James moves quickly. He grabs Steve by the ankle and jerks sharply, dragging Steve the full length of the bed. Steve feels a sharp pain in his hip at the first tension, and then the dry burn of the bedspread’s friction along his whole front. And then there’s a heart pounding moment of empty space before he falls with a heavy grunt onto the floor.
He flips over, ready to be on the defensive but somehow also relieved that all of the tension is finally about to snap.
James takes him by the throat, not enough to cut off his breathing, but enough that panic thrives in Steve’s chest. He obeys the wordless command that pulls him up into a sitting position and puts his face right next to James’.
“You are here,” James says carefully, “to do as you’re told.”
“I am here to do as I’m told,” Steve repeats.
That seems to mollify James somewhat, and he lets go of Steve’s throat. He stands back up, towering over Steve, who is still trying to get his breath back. Even though the loss of it was imagined, rather than real.
His attention is sharply reassigned when James drops his underwear to the ground and Steve is suddenly staring up at James’ cock. The implication is obvious. And it’s what Steve was angling for, mostly, so he decides it doesn’t make sense to hesitate. He kneels up and, after glancing quickly at James to make sure, takes it into his mouth.
It’s clean, at least. Steve has definitely had worse. He’s also had easier. James, it turns out, has an incredible sense of self-control. That or Steve isn’t as good as he thought at this. Or maybe James just isn’t into blowjobs. All Steve knows is his jaw is starting to ache and all he’s managed is to get James hard enough that he’s leaking pre-come.
James gets frustrated eventually, and honestly it takes longer than Steve had been expecting. But then James grips Steve’s hair and pulls him down enough that Steve chokes, especially since he hadn’t quite been expecting it.
The rest is brutal. James fucks his mouth ruthlessly and if Steve had thought his jaw hurt before it’s nothing compared to now that he’s straining so desperately to keep his teeth away from James during this rough treatment. He focuses on timing his breathing as tears start to leak out of his eyes, and he feels nothing but relief when James finally stiffens and spills down Steve’s throat. Not even distaste as he swallows convulsively and finally pulls his spit-slicked lips off of James.
He pants on the floor, still swallowing against the flavor and the phantom sensation of semen.
None of which is as startling as the feeling of James’ fingers in his hair. Not like when he’d been fucking Steve’s face, but gentle. A caress, like he’s feeling the strands. Petting Steve. Maybe praising him.
Steve tilts his face up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and meets James’ eyes.
There’s an actual expression. And one that isn’t anger, which is about as startling as the soft touch in his hair has been. Steve has gotten so used to those empty expressions, mixed with despair or with flashes of anger, that he doesn’t know what to do with this warmth. And it’s undeniably warmth in James’ eyes.
Then he steps away, out of Steve’s line of sight, presumably to clean himself up. Or maybe just to get away from Steve’s gaze.
“Do you want a glass of water?” he asks casually, not even out of breath, and it occurs to Steve that James hadn’t made a sound throughout the whole of it all. Again.
“Yes,” he answers. “Please.”
James disappears out the door, still completely naked, and Steve takes the opportunity to get himself back together. He’s sitting on the bed by the time James comes back, holding a literal glass of water. It’s even got ice in it.
“Thanks,” Steve says, only rasping a little bit. He takes a sip, clears his throat, and then drains the rest of the glass in a few gulps before standing, intending to take it back to the kitchen. Instead, James takes it from it and places it on the nightstand before climbing into bed without another word.
Steve figures that’s as good of an invitation as he’s going to get, and he rushes around to the other side of the bed. James waits until Steve has settled in before he turns off the bedside light.
They lie in silence for a while, and Steve turns over his priorities in his head.
“I have asthma,” he suddenly announces to the dark.
James doesn’t respond for a moment, and then he flips over. Steve’s eyes haven’t adjusted yet, but he can feel James staring at him nonetheless.
“Just so you know,” Steve says lamely. “I mean, I’ve never had an attack from...um, from a blowjob before. But that was...I don’t have a lot of experience with rough…....and...the choking thing.”
“I mean, do you whatever you want,” Steve says in a rush. “I just...thought you should know.”
He’s getting nervous enough in the silence that he’s probably about to say something stupid, or at least nonsensical, but then James finally takes a loud deep breath,
“Jesus Christ,” he announces, and then roughly flips back over so he’s looking away from Steve.
Nothing else is said on the subject, and Steve falls asleep more quickly than he’d anticipated.
An inhaler shows up on the kitchen counter. Steve doesn’t want to know how James got ahold of his medical records - given that the dosage is exactly right - and he doesn’t ask.
It’s even the same goddamn brand. Honestly, it’s only the complete lack of a pharmacy sticker that lets him know that it isn’t his literal inhaler, fetched from home. On one hand, Steve thinks it’s a little impressive. On the other hand, it would have been a lot more practical to let Steve go get his own fucking inhaler before he’d been dragged away from his life.
James takes a day at home.
It is fucking surreal when Steve walks out into the living room and comes to an abrupt halt because there’s James, standing where Steve has gotten very used to nobody standing.
“Do you want lunch?” James asks, and Steve nods, because sure. This might as well happen.
James is a good cook, too. That’s the worst part, because now Steve is thinking about how empty that kitchen had been, when James clearly has the resources to make his own meals. He stabs at his steak angrily, as though it’s the meat’s fault that Steve is feeling more and more sorry for this guy. He knows, on one hand, that it’s just because James is the only person that Steve sees. It’s inevitable he starts to develop an attachment.
On the other hand, this guy is fucking pathetic, and it’s stupid. He’s one of the most powerful people in the city. Powerful outside the city, too.. And Steve had seen him in action. Calm and charismatic and controlling. But now he just seems to exist as a collection of emotions, rattling out through a sieve at random.
“What are you so pissed about?” James snaps, and Steve glares up at him, just because he feels like it.
It doesn’t get the reaction he expects. James meets his gaze, glare for glare, and then all of a sudden the anger melts away and James snorts in clear amusement. It doesn’t help Steve’s temper at all, but he still doesn’t do anything other than glare.
“You’re ridiculous,” James says softly, eating his own food and shaking his head.
“I’m ridiculous?” Steve exclaims in incredulity. “ You’re ridiculous!”
“Oh?” James asks, smiling around a mouthful of steak. “How so?”
“You don’t tell me what you want from me, but you give me the run of the place. You don’t talk to me, but you get me medication. You forget to feed me, and then you personally cook an expensive dinner and serve it to me for lunch. You have no patterns! You’re the worst!”
“You have some excellent points,” James says, pointing his fork at Steve. “But you don’t know that I didn’t have very good motivations for all those choices.”
“You...you...I had to make you fuck me!”
“Maybe I just don’t find you that fuckable.”
Steve gapes. Literally stares at James with his mouth open, because he’s pretty sure that was a joke, and he’s been keeping a careful catalogue of all the interactions James is capable of, and joke is a new one.
Steve keeps eye contact and stabs his steak again, communicating his vicarious intentions with his eyes. James just keeps eating, amusement still playing around his lips, even though it doesn’t seem to be able to make a full smile.
“What do you do all day, anyway?” Steve asks. “Are you neglecting your duty by being here? Are you supposed to be out there beating poor people to death, despite their cries for mercy?”
The amusement falls from James’ face like a dropped cloth, and Steve recognizes the mistake for what is is immediately. Which is still far too late to change anything.
“Hey, sorry,” he tries anyway. “That was supposed to be a joke. Didn’t think it through.”
“Liar,” James says, deceptively calm. It sends pure terror through Steve, because that’s the kind of calm James had been in Steve’s shitty apartment, when he’d changed Steve’s life forever. It’s like an entirely different creature, and Steve doesn’t relish its reappearance. Especially since he’s right. Steve hadn’t meant it as a joke.
“I’m sorry,” he says, more quietly and with his eyes down respectfully.
James puts down his silverware and wipes his mouth with the white cloth napkin before he pushes his chair back and stands gracefully. He walks across the room and into the kitchen, leaving Steve sitting where he is. Steve doesn’t have a good view from his seat, and he gives up on craning his neck in favor of keeping his eyes down and his hands in his lap.
“Come here,” James calls eventually, and Steve fucking goes. Practically runs in effort to be obedient.
James is standing in front of the stovetop, where he’s turned all four burners on high, and adrenaline roars like tidal static the moment Steve notices that fact. He doesn’t retreat, not when his mind is so set on being good right now, but he does come to a immediate jerking halt.
“Come. Here,” James repeats. His tone is the same commanding calm, but it’s still terrifyingly angry at the same time.
Steve goes, slowly and begging while he does, but he goes.
“Please, James. Please, I”m really sorry. It was a fucking stupid thing to say. It was disrespectful, and none of my business, and completely outside of my league to have an opinion on. To comment on.”
James takes Steve’s hands and pulls him closer, so he’s standing with his back to James and his front to the stove. The heat is on so high that Steve can feel it radiating on his face even standing up straight.
“Please don’t. James, please, I’m asking you to not. Please. Please!”
James takes Steve hands in his own, and now Steve fights, pulling to get his hands back into his own control. But his strength is no match for James’, even with the terror flooding his veins, and James lifts Steve’s arms up - not over the burners like Steve had been expecting - but up much higher to rest on the hood above the stovetop. It leaves Steve stretched out and almost on his tiptoes, and if his hands slip off the warming metal, he’s not sure he’ll be able to catch himself before he puts one hand or both directly onto the red hot surface. Even his stomach and chest are becoming uncomfortably warm with the threat beneath them.
“Stay,” James orders, and Steve clings onto the metal with his fingertips, desperate to keep his grip.
When James methodically pulls Steve’s shorts down to his ankles, Steve gasps, loud and sharp. James nudges at the inside of Steve’s ankle, and Steve obediently slides his feet a little further apart, even though it means he really does have to go up on tiptoe in order to reach without arching his stomach dangerously close to the front burners. There’s sweat gathering underneath his shirt and dripping along his neck and he’s having to sniff - loud and unattractive - to keep snot from dripping down his face along with the tears.
James doesn’t comment, slow, or even indicate that he can hear Steve’s distress. He just shoves a couple fingers into Steve dry, and Steve almost loses his grip on the stove hood. His breath catches in his throat and he jerks in an aborted attempt to flinch away from the pain and then jerks back when that threatens to singe his stomach.
The pain isn’t unbearable. James is being slow, but he’s insistent, twisting his fingers and pushing and pulling them in and out, and if Steve could relax even a little bit then it might be okay. But he can’t relax and he’s scared and he wants to get the fuck away from the stove.
“Please,” he tries again, starting to sob. “I’m scared. I’m really scared. Please forgive me.”
James pauses, which is a small miracle in and of itself, since Steve wasn’t sure he was being listened to enough to even make out his words. He snatches at the glimpse of an opportunity.
“Let me go, I’m begging you. I’m begging you, James. Please.”
Slowly, James pulls his fingers out and lets go of Steve, who rips himself away as soon as he’s able to. He scrambles to pull his clothes all the way back while still moving away from James and he trips, falling on his ass and still shoving himself further and further away, and the worst part is that he had promised James there would be a fight if he wasn’t gentle, and instead there’s this. Steve crying on the floor even after he went willingly when he was called. Willingly . Because he wanted James to not be mad at him anymore.
His back finally hits a wall and he hugs his knees in to himself and cries into them. He doesn’t look up or listen, even though he’s pretty sure James is talking.
Time drifts for a bit. But eventually there are no more tears, and Steve is forced to realize he’s pressing his damp face into sweatpants that aren’t even his own and it’s time to stand up. That’s what Steve has always done. Especially the times he’s beaten down hard. He stands back up.
James is on the other side of the room, like he’s echoed Steve’s desire for separation, and he looks utterly blank again. Like the first days. Like how Steve had finally been getting used to.
“Are you okay?” James asks, and Steve slowly adjusts his gaze to stare at James with absolute incredulity.
Is he okay? He’s pretty sure he just had a panic attack, and is James seriously asking that question as though he doesn’t already know the answer is ‘no’? That the answer isn’t capable of being anything other than ‘no’ right now?
Steve turns away without saying anything or moving his face. Stands and walks down the hallway and into the bedroom, which might be stupid, but it’s an automatic journey, and he’s not going to back out of it now. He curls up, fully clothed, on top of the bedcovers and on the far side of the bed where he can face away from the door and not acknowledge James.
“I know you didn’t burn yourself,” James says from the doorway, and Steve doesn’t answer him, because now that he’s all cried out - now that he’s decided to stand back up - he’s thinking that a fight is better late than never. Anger is such a powerful emotion for covering fear. For making stupid decisions.
“I would have caught you,” James says emotionlessly. “Your hands. If you’d fallen.”
Real rage flashes through Steve. He thought he’d experience the full gambit of his own range of anger throughout his lifetime, but this is a new one. Anger, mixed with fear, and Steve thinks he could actually kill James right now. Could kill another human being, if he were physically capable of going toe to toe with James.
He flips over violently and grabs the lamp on the bedside table, hurling it in James’ direction. But the stupid thing is still plugged into the wall, and James watches it fly and fall with an impassive expression, even when it shatters into the ground.
“That was the plan,” he continues, as though Steve hadn’t just tried to brain him with a ceramic lamp.
“The plan?” Steve screams. “What plan? To fuck me until I slipped and then to so graciously catch me? To pull me away from unbridled terror due to a position you had put me in and expecting me to be grateful for it?”
James doesn’t say anything.
“Fuck you!” His throat hurts from screaming and crying and he isn’t sure if he wants to hurl James or himself off the balcony more. Except it’s locked, because James locked it, because he’s the one with all the power.
“I wasn’t going to let you hurt yourself. I didn't want you hurt. That wasn’t the plan.”
“You. Failed,” Steve spits, venomous and trembling. “Because I am very hurt. So fuck you, you stupid fuck. Leave me alone. Go away.”
He turns back over to face away again, intending to ignore James.
“It’s my bedroom,” James says.
“And I’m your bedtoy, but when you don’t play nice with your things they get taken away until you learn better. Fuck off.”
There’s a long silence.
“You’re much better at this than I was,” James says softly.
It takes Steve a long moment to process the statement, and by the time he does - sitting up violently and turning around to look at where James had been standing - James is gone. He thinks about going out in the dark penthouse to search for him, but he doesn’t have the pride or the energy to spare, so he just turns back over and falls asleep by force of will.
Steve knows he needs to get over it. It’s unlikely James’ mercurial nature will put up with Steve’s anger for much longer. He watches the sunlight shift through the blinds, playing on the white artless walls and admits to himself that he needs to leave the room. James is hardly ever at home anyway, so it’s unlikely Steve will have to face the confrontation straight off. He’ll get some breakfast and some coffee and figure out his next best play.
He climbs off the bed, sore from sleeping in the same small position on instinct through the night. He rubs his knees and rolls his shoulders and thinks about taking a shower, because it had helped last time he’d felt like this.
He decides against in in favor of coffee, wandering out into the hallway and down to the kitchen. He doesn’t turn on any of the lights, stepping softly and letting the ambient lighting from the windows guide his way. It means the light from the fridge is sharp and mean when he gets the milk out, and he makes an annoyed noise, slamming the fridge shut with more force than necessary.
The coffee takes forever, but he forces himself to wait until it’s actually done brewing before he pours himself a cup, mixing it with enough milk that he can drink it immediately. Then he hops up on the counter and faces the rest of the open room to drink and think and finish waking up.
The room is different in the mostly dark. More shadowy, but not in a sinister way. In a soft way that makes Steve want to be very quiet. Like a sunrise, when the rest of the world hasn’t quite woken.
The shape of a figure lounging in one of the over-sized chairs makes him yelp and startle violently, spilling coffee over the edge of the mug and onto his hand. It’s not overly hot, but it makes him yelp again and swear, jumping off the counter. The figure is James, of course, but Steve elects to ignore dealing with his presence until he’s managed the coffee spillage.
James, unfortunately, seems to have other ideas. Steve hadn’t noticed him moving, but suddenly he’s there and he’s holding onto Steve’s upper forearm firmly, directing it under the cold water of the kitchen sink. Steve pulls automatically against James’ direction. The resistance doesn’t make James’ temper flare, it’s an utterly useless motion, and Steve gives it up quickly.
“It wasn’t that hot,” he says instead. “I put in a lot of milk.”
James doesn’t respond, reaching over to flip on the overhead lighting so he can better inspect Steve’s hand.
“In fact,” Steve says impatiently, “that’s very cold. Let me go.”
James let’s him go, although Steve isn’t under any illusion that it’s because of his order. More likely coincidence.
“It’s in your best interest to forgive me,” James says, and Steve snorts in disbelief. It’s true that he’d been thinking much the same thing just a few minutes ago in bed, but that doesn’t mean hearing it voiced is any kind of normal.
“Are you asking for forgiveness?”
James rolls his eyes and walks away, throwing, “Clean that up,” over his shoulder, and then he’s out the door.
“Shut the fuck up,” Steve grumbles. But he still does as he’s told and wipes the spilled coffee off the floor.
He doesn’t see James for almost three days after that.
Steve thinks maybe it’s meant to be some kind of punishment, and if it is then it’s working. He’ll take even James over this absolutely stifling boredom, especially when it’s all tinged with the ‘any minute now’ panic of possibilities. He even wonders what would happen if he tried to leave, but that’s a whole different game altogether. It’s one thing to push James’ buttons, but it’s another altogether to break the rules of their deal. James had promised safety for Ellie in exchange for Steve’s presence here. The moment he leaves without permission, he risks nullifying the deal.
When the door finally opens and closes again, Steve is curled up in an unused storage room, and he hits his head hard on a desk when he sits up so quickly that he loses track of his surroundings. He scrambles to his feet, and barely succeeds in forcing himself to walk rather than run.
When he gets out into the living room, he can see James is already in the kitchen, and Steve slows even more in order to evaluate the mood before he approaches. He’s learning that’s an important part of interacting with James. His learning curve may be close to a flat line, but he can learn.
James is leaning forward with both hands on the counter, like he’s trying to catch his breath even though Steve can’t see him breathing hard. He glances up at Steve’s approach, and shakes his head once.
“I wouldn’t,” he warns Steve. “Even I don’t know what I’ll do today.”
He’s exhausted. Steve can see that he’s barely holding himself up now, even as he shifts his weight down to his elbows so he can rub his eyes with one hand. He’s so bent over that Steve has an intrusive thought that he looks ready to be fucked, just because it’s a position Steve would take if he were being compliant.
He shakes the thought out with a physical shake and crosses the room into the kitchen part of it, because he hates doing what he’s told and just because he can learn doesn’t mean he can learn quickly. He climbs up on the counter space next to where James is leaning, and he knows James knows he’s there even though he’s got his eyes closed.
“Don’t you ever do what you’re told?” he asks.
“Do you want me to do what I’m told?” Steve asks.
“Yes!” James answer emphatically, finally dragging himself back up to a standing position.
Steve raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t directly contradict the statement. Because James wants Steve to do as he’s told only most of the time. The rest of it, he needs...something else. Steve isn’t exactly sure what that is, but he’s betting he figures it out soon.
“All right,” he says out loud. “Tell me something to do.”
Before James can actually give him an order, however, Steve reaches out and touches his face gently, meaning it to be a quick caress of his fingertips along the cheekbone. But the moment skin touches skin, James tilts his face into the full press of Steve’s hand, and his eyes even drop close for a half second that Steve almost misses.
He strengthens his hold, tightening his fingers against the back of James’ neck and using the leverage to pull James down for a kiss. James doesn’t participate, but he lets Steve do as he pleases, and Steve takes the opportunity to experiment a little. He presses several closed mouth kisses to James’ lips, and then to the corners of his mouth, and then to his cheeks back and forth on either side.
James shudders, but he still doesn’t say anything, so Steve goes back to his lips. This time he’s more insistent, coaxing James into opening his mouth. James does part his lips, allowing Steve to taste inside him, but he doesn’t move more than that.
Steve pulls him gently closer, tugging on his shirt which is gritty and stiff. James does, at least, step forward, and that lets Steve gets his legs wrapped around his waist, pulling him in even closer.
“Come on,” he whispers, kissing James again, and James finally lets go of whatever had been holding him back, giving in to the kiss and quickly taking it over. He pushes Steve’s hand away from his neck in favor of tucking his hands underneath Steve’s legs and hoisting him up into his arms.
“There you go,” Steve praises. “Like that.”
“Shut up,” James growls.
“No,” Steve laughs back, and bites James lip.
James jerks his head back with narrowed eyes, but Steve doesn't miss the dilation there. He waits, looking at James with open and unassuming eyes.
“Tell me something else to do,” Steve says. “Give me another order.”
“So you can ignore it again?”
“You like it when I ignore these orders.”
And maybe that’s the piece Steve is missing. Context. James wants obedience right up until the moment their lips touch. Right up until someone’s clothes are ripped off. Yes here, but no there.
James doesn’t directly confirm the statement, but he technically doesn’t deny it either, and Steve decides it’s as good a paradigm as any to build his decisions on. So he leans his head forward, looks James directly in the eye, and bites his lip again. Gently, this time. A declaration, rather than an action for the action’s sake.
James breathes in sharply through his open mouth, and Steve can taste the changing air around his own lips. James begins to carry him toward the bedroom, and Steve takes the opportunity to try and make him trip by ducking his head down and nipping playfully at his neck, interspersing the little bites of pain with gentle kisses.
“Do not leave a mark,” James orders, and Steve pulls off a little bit, because that order had sounded different and he’s not about to ruin whatever’s happening right now in favor of leaving a single bruise. Even if it would be nice to be the one who does damage for once.
When they reach the bedroom, James literally tosses Steve down onto the bed, and Steve bounces with the impact, flailing to keep all his limbs where he wants them.
“Strip,” James orders, and Steve goes to do it, even as he keeps his eyes on James doing the same.
Steve evaluates the view in a way he hasn’t before. There’s tight visible muscles all over James’ body, but they come with a balance and grace that Steve isn’t used to seeing paired with that kind of strength. Like a ballerina.
Steve snorts at the sudden thought of James in pointe shoes, and then he bites his lips when the laugh gets him a predatory look. It doesn’t stop him from smiling, though.
“Something funny?” James asks, crawling onto the bed and fuck , predatory had been exactly the right thought, because he’s like a jungle cat in the way he rolls his shoulders, crawling up the bed toward Steve, who has barely gotten off his shirt and little else.
James fixes that with a few sharps tugs, tossing the clothing away off the side of the bed, and then settles himself over Steve, bracketing Steve’s face with his arms and pinning Steve’s hips in place with his knees.
They’re back to the kissing, and now it’s leaving Steve breathless with how ruthlessly possessive James is being. Steve can’t even think about biting when he’s too busy breathing, and maybe that’s the point.
“Ung,” Steve moans when James thrusts his hips down against Steve, rubbing brief friction along his cock. James laughs in his ear, and it’s a mean sound that sends delicious chills up Steve’s back and down his arms. His heartbeat is pulsing through his whole body.
“Oh, do I actually get to enjoy myself this time?” Steve asks, only a little real bitterness in the statement, and he thinks he covers it up pretty well.
“We’ll see,” James answers noncommittally, and Steve rebels against it by bucking his own hips up against James. It doesn’t work well, though, because James apparently has cat-like reflexes to go along with his cat-like predatory crawl, and he pulls away before Steve can get what he’s after.
“Turn over,” he orders Steve, sitting back on his heels.
This order, Steve actually listens to. He even pushes his ass up preemptively, settling his weight on his chest and shoulders and spreading his knees as far apart as he can manage without having to strain to keep himself up in place.
He’s not sure he likes not being able to see James anymore - both because it was a good view and because it’s never good to let James out of line of sight. James makes his presence known quickly enough, however, taking Steve’s ass in twin handfuls that let him pull the cheeks apart with his thumbs.
Steve makes a noise of slight distress, because as much as he’s never been shy, it’s something else to be inspected so intimately. He makes a noise of less distress with James kisses him there, just on his hole, before pulling back and blowing cool air against it.
“Jesus Christ,” Steve exclaims, curling his body in arousal.
“No, I’m James. That other guy isn’t really going to be involved tonight.”
James takes his hands away and moves up the bed so he can reach the drawer with the lube in it, and Steve takes the opportunity to turn his head and glare at him for the stupid joke. James just raises one eyebrow and then moves back out of sight.
The next feeling is fingers slick with lube pushing inside of him, and it’s both better and worse than the same fingers had been a few days before with Steve barely hanging on over the stove. Better, because it’s pleasure now, without any pain. Cold, at first, and then warm. Building pressure that promises even better pressure soon to come.
And it’s worse. Because James had said “It’s in your best interest to forgive me,” and Steve had just gone ahead and done it, even though it doesn’t make it so nothing had happened in the first place.
“Ready?” James asks a few minutes later, lining himself up against Steve.
“Yeah,” Steve says, because what else is he going to say? Especially when he can’t seem to stop his body from pulsing with desire.
“Where were you, anyway?” Steve asks, once they’ve lain still for a while.
“For three days. You left me for three days. What were you doing?”
“Work trip,” James says, and then snorts a laugh at his own joke. But then he decides to answer honestly and says, “Something needed my attention out of the city. It wasn’t pleasant business, but it had to be done.”
“Oh,” Steve says, because he suddenly doesn’t want details. Hearing details will probably make him angry at James again. Or afraid. Instead, he shuffles himself over closer to James so he can wrap his arms around him and snuggle. Because he thinks he can get away with it.
He’s right. At the contact, James’ muscles ripple at first, tensing uncomfortably, but when Steve just lies there quietly, he eventually calms. Relaxes. And they both fade to sleep.
“I got you something,” James says, eyes bright with amusement, and Steve eyes the bag warily.
James pushes it across the table toward him a little more, and Steve flicks his eyes up to James’ face, and then back down to the bag. Still wary.
“What is it?” he asks, eyes narrowed.
“Open it and find out,” James orders. He sits down at the table, too, pushing the chair back far enough that he can put both feet up onto the expensive table, crossing them at the ankles and watching Steve with eyes that seem to be unblinking.
Steve takes it carefully in his hands, surprised at how light it is when the bag itself is so big. It’s black shiny plastic, with matte black tissue paper spilling up out of it, and Steve gets a sinking feeling when he realizes where he’s seen bags like this, although those had been bright and vibrant shades of pink.
“No,” Steve says in token protest, but then he bites the bullet and pulls away the tissue paper.
His guess was correct. Folded up with in the bottom of the bag are several sets of skimpy underwear, made of flimsy cloth and with designs that are certainly not for the sake of practicality.
Steve crumples the bag shut with a jerky movement and look up at James in horror.
“You can’t be serious,” he gapes.
“I’m very serious,” James corrects. “I spent a lot of money on those. Put one on. Your choice which.”
Steve keeps staring in shock, but he gets the feeling that this isn’t the kind of order he’s going to be able to maneuver his way out of. More to the point, he’s not entirely sure he wants to be able to maneuver out of it.
Carefully, as though something inside will bite him, he reaches in and fishes out one of the garments. It’s a dark blue satin and it doesn’t look like it’ll hold much, but it’s not as scary as he was thinking. It’s just lingerie made for a guy. He steels himself and starts sorting through the others.
He soon figures out he got lucky on the first one. There’s a pair of black lace shorts that isn’t too bad - all things considered - but then there’s sheer thongs and one contraption that seems to be nothing but a bag and a strap.
“How does this one even work?” Steve asks sharply, holding what seems to be a pile of strings.
James obligingly takes it from him, holding it up in the air so it hangs in illustration, showing Steve that it’s meant to cup his ass with the strings, and then his dick hangs out open and free between two panels of fabric.
Steve turns a bright red just thinking about it, and James laughs before pointing to a pair of fishnet shorts with a hole in the back that serves an obvious purpose.
“I like that one,” he says, and Steve makes a noise of distress.
He chooses the blue satin one in the end, because it seems the least ridiculous, but then he spends almost a whole minute after he’s chosen, just trying to work himself up to putting it on.
“You didn’t have any problem stripping naked last night,” James points out.
“It’s different,” Steve snaps. “ You stripped naked last night, too. Do you want to put it on?”
He dangles the blue scrap of fabric up at James, and James expression suddenly closes off, telling Steve that he’s run out of procrastination time. He starts stripping slowly, making sure that the obedience is actually mollifying James after the comment. He isn’t sure, but at least there’s no growing anger.
Once Steve slips it on, he’s startled by how completely different he feels. He’s dressed up for a date before, and he’s been seen in his underwear, and he’s been naked, but none of those are quite this feeling. Such a strange mixture of self-conscious embarrassment and - if he’s being honest with himself - sexiness.
It helps that now James is looking at him with obvious lust. So Steve carefully cants one hip to the side and asks, “Like what you see?”
It’s a shame about the blue satin, Steve thinks. It had been the most practical of the options, but it’s completely ruined by the time James finished with him.
James keeps getting him things. At first, Steve doesn’t recognize that it’s supposed to be about him, because most of the gifts seems to be about James. There’s more impractical clothing - ranging from panties to a leather harness that Steve hides in one of the back storage rooms the next time James leaves the building. But then there’s more and more expensive food. A variety of book in different genres. Even a laptop, though it doesn’t hook up to the internet.
“Art supplies,” he finally says to James. “If you’re trying to make me happy, then you should think in an ‘art supplies’ direction.”
James doesn’t say anything, but he stays in the next day and shifts around storage and furniture to turn one of the rooms in the mostly-unused penthouse into a studio with equipment and supplies more expensive than Steve had been able to afford to even lust over just a few months prior.
With such startling success from the art comment, Steve decides to ask for some fresh air. James had finally unlocked the balcony again, but Steve wants to get out . Out of the building to stretch his legs walking along the hot sidewalk as the season changes over into summer.
He spends several days being very good. Compliant and pliable and affectionate. Enough so that James is clearly suspicious, even though he doesn’t ask. Then, one night after James seems to have been particularly satisfied, Steve goes for it.
“I was wondering if I could ask you something.”
“Finally,” James snorts. “Okay, let’s have it. It’s got to be bad, with how good you’ve been being for it.”
Steve doesn’t think that being seen through will lessen the impact of the behavior. He’d still been good, after all. James doesn’t seem like one to care about motivations very much.
“I was hoping to go outside,” Steve says carefully. Then, in a rush, “It doesn’t have to be for very long. I just want to walk around a bit. Maybe go to, like, a coffee shop. Or a bookstore.”
“No,” James interrupts him, and Steve pauses, with his mouth still open and a host of convincing arguments still unpitched.
“Any conditions you want, James,” he tries again. “Honestly, I’m just going a little crazy in here. I don’t want--”
Steve chews the inside of his cheek and tries to convince himself that this isn’t worth crying over.
“What about just around the block? Can I literally just walk around the block and come right back inside?”
James sits up in the dark and Steve has barely a moment to wonder what’s about to happen before stinging disorienting pain smacks across the side of his face. It takes him another moment to realize James had slapped him.
He doesn’t respond to it. Doesn’t even reach up his hand to touch the hurt skin. The pain is already fading into an imagined prickling sensation, so he knows James definitely could have hit him harder than he did. The thought doesn’t stop tears from prickling at his eyes. In fact, it might make it worse. He keeps getting used to James’ gentleness, making the anger at missteps all the worse.
After Steve has been quiet for a long time, James turns back over and lies back down.
“Are you pouting?” James snaps, and Steve keeps staring stubbornly down at his hands, because of course he’s pouting.
“I want to go outside,” Steve says.
“Ask again,” James says, deadly and terrifying. “Ask again, and see what happens.”
Steve doesn’t ask, but he doesn’t stop pouting.
James bursts in through the door so hard that it swings around and impacts into the wall, leaving a broken dent at the height of the doorknob. Steve had been sketching lazily on the couch, and the loud unexpected sound startles him so badly he can actually feel his heart flutter in his chest.
James is livid, that much is clear from the way he walks, much more so from the look in his eyes. But then Steve’s eyes are drawn away from his face and down to his sleeves. White shirt sleeves, and the cuffs are absolutely soaked in blood. Red brown drying blood that has stained the expensive fabric a solid three inches deep and speckled the rest of the way up.
Steve freezes, hoping that maybe James will disappear again and not even look his direction.
“Mother fucker ,” James hisses at no one, stalking into the hallway. Steve thinks maybe he’s going to get his wish. But then James screams, “Get in here!” and there’s no way to misinterpret who else in the empty place he’s speaking to.
Steve goes down the hallway quickly enough, but then he stops just inside the doorway to the bedroom. James has stripped off the bloody shirt, standing barefoot in his dark pants.
“Come here,” he orders, holding out his arm for Steve.
Steve doesn’t go. He doesn’t want to and he isn’t brave enough to say it with his words, so he says it with his stillness.
James drops his hand.
“Come here,” he repeats quietly. “Now. Or I’ll spill your blood, too. And if you’re very lucky, then I’ll spill more than you can afford to lose.”
Steve goes, walking with his head down, and James takes his face by the jaw and lifts Steve’s head up so James can slap him. It’s a one-two slap. An open palm followed by a backhand, and with the way he’s being held, Steve can’t even turn his head to the side with the impacts, and it hurts so much more than the slight reminder of the other night.
“What’s your job here?” James asks.
“To do as I’m told,” Steve answers, forcing the words to leave his mouth clearly even though James’ grip is pushing his cheeks into his teeth.
“Get on the bed.”
Steve climbs up obediently, on his hands and knees, and isn’t surprised at the quick movements that strip him naked except for his shirt.
James is not gentle.
Steve does not fight.
It’s when James is thrusting heavily inside of Steve that they both hear the front door open and close. James stills, but doesn’t pull out, instead reaching under his pillow at the top of the bed and pulling out a handgun.
“Fuck,” Steve gasps, because has that always been there and is James really about to shoot someone while still inside Steve?
The steps down the hallway are calm and purposeful, with no hint that whoever it is is trying to be stealthy in the slightest. Steve breathes heavily and waits, face down in the haphazard sheets as the person steps into view.
“Fuck you,” James says, lowering the gun.
“Not on your life,” the woman says. She’s thin but athletic, standing with confidence in the doorway. She has curly red hair tied up in a short ponytail, flawless eyeliner, and an expression that communicates exactly how unimpressed she is to find James balls deep in Steve.
“What do you want?” James asks, resuming his thrusting, although less enthusiastically.
Steve feels like he wants to die, turning his face to hide it from the woman.
“You need to pull it the fuck together,” she says.
“I don’t like being betrayed.”
She snorts and responds, “ No one likes being betrayed,” which makes James growl and shove into Steve with particular viciousness before she continues, “Although I’ll admit you always seem to take it particularly hard.”
Steve thinks he’s the one taking it particularly hard right now, and the thought is such an anathema in comparison to the ridiculous situation that he laughs once, without any humor.
James leans forward and grips Steve’s neck hard, growling, “Have a comment?”
Steve thinks he actually might have said something to get himself killed or worse, but the woman speaks first.
“Are you planning on fucking him to death?”
James lets go of Steve’s neck and pulls out with a grunt of annoyance. As he gets to his feet, Steve lets his body collapse into the bed so he’s sprawled out on his stomach, facing away from the interaction. He doesn’t think he wants to see anyway. If he has a choice at all, he’ll let the sheets swallow him so he’ll never be seen again.
“Put your pants on,” the woman says.
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
“Put your pants on, please .”
Steve hears rustling fabric and thinks seriously about trying to at least pull one of the sheets up on top of himself.
He doesn’t have time, though, because before he can move, the woman steps around into his point of view, leaning down to inspect Steve’s face.
“Hello,” she says pleasantly. “I’m Natasha. I take it you’re Steve?”
“Don’t talk to him,” James says sharply, and Natasha rolls her eyes but stands up and walks back out of Steve’s sight.
“Have you pulled yourself together?” she asks, and James makes a noise that could be either assent or dissent before slamming his way back out of the room again.
“Aaaaaaand here we go again,” Natasha sighs before following him out.
Steve waits. Waits until the silence holds, takes a deep breath, and pulls himself up to his hands and knees. He half expects to find he’s crying, but his face is dry and so are his eyes. He gets to his feet and looks around the room. And then he takes all the sheets off the bed and throws them on the floor. He means to take them out to the laundry, or at least the hall, but he throws them down with finality and doesn’t feel like picking them back up again. Then he takes a hot shower for an indeterminate amount of time because he zones out staring at the wall for a while.
He takes extra blankets into his art room and falls asleep in there, and if James comes back and wants him, then it’s going to be a fight.
“It’s going to be a fight,” he whispers to himself firmly. And he’s not sure if he’s meaning to encourage himself or to make sure he remembers when the time comes.
The time doesn’t come. James doesn’t come back for another two days and, when he does, he’s calm and collected again. Steve is standing in the kitchen when the door opens and he looks up with quick eyes to gauge the situation.
“Are you okay?” James asks, as soon as they’ve come to stillness, staring at each other.
Steve hates that fucking question. Like James gets to ask it, when he’s always the one doing the hurting. Like Steve hasn’t been sore and in intermittent pain since that night, alone and without anyone to help him. So he doesn’t answer. Just stares back at James.
“Come here,” James orders softly, holding his arm out in expectation.
Steve doesn’t go. He steps around to the opposite side of the long counter and sits down in one of the dining room table chairs. It allows him to keep looking at James, but it’s a clear refusal to engage.
James sighs heavily and rubs his face with both hands.
“Fine,” he says. “Be a child about it.” And then he disappears down the hallway again.
Steve sleeps in the art room again, even though there’s no couch like there would be in the living room.
James accidentally brushes against him in the kitchen, reaching over for a plate, and Steve shies away from the contact so quickly he drops the cup onto the counter where it falls and tips over, spilling ice water everywhere.
“Fucking enough!” James snaps, jerking Steve away from the counter by his shoulder. “Stop...stop….” He waves his arms around, unable to articulate the thought.
“Stop being afraid of you?” Steve guesses.
James drops his arms to his sides with a soft whump of weight and fabric.
“I’ll fucking work on it,” Steve says sharply, and walks away, leaving the mess for James to fix.
Natasha comes back.
It’s not what Steve expects, and he nearly jump out of his skin after hearing the door, because he expects to look up and see James, but instead there’s Natasha. She’s in workout gear, sweaty but composed, and she’s looking at Steve like he’s a particularly obnoxious puzzle.
“Are you going to forgive him?” she asks, without explanation, and Steve isn’t stupid enough to pretend he doesn’t understand.
“I'm sure I'll come around,” he says bitterly.
Natasha sighs and mutters, “Great, now there's two of you,” before walking into the kitchen and beginning to make herself some tea.
Steve tries to sit there in silence, but he's compelled to speak when she just keeps moving around the kitchen like she owns it.
“Does he know you're here?” he calls from the couch, because if this visit is a surprise to James, then Steve bets he'll pay the price, one way or another.
“You think I could get up here without him knowing?”
“That's not an answer to my question.”
“Clever boy. But yes. I'm here by request. I'm supposed to talk you into forgiving him. Subtly, and without you realizing I'm doing it.”
“He expects a lot from you.”
“He always does. It does bear noting, however, that manipulation is a solid skill set of mine. But…” she trails off into silence for long enough that Steve gets to his feet so he can see her more clearly.
“One minute with you,” she finishes. “And I already know that's a stupid way to come at this.”
Steve glares at her from next to the couch.
“Oh, terrifying ball of rage, you are,” Natasha smirks at him, finally finishing setting the tea to steep.
“Why did he send you to ask for forgiveness?” Steve snaps. “Why can’t he just do it himself, like a normal person.”
The light amusement fades out of Natasha’s eyes as she walks back over into the living room portion of the open space. She’s holding her brewing tea carefully in both hands, like she’s savoring its warmth.
“He doesn’t know how,” she says simply. “He’s never been a normal person. He’s... him. And before he was who he is now, he was you.”
Steve chews on the inside of his cheek for a moment before saying, “He hinted at that once. I wasn’t sure how seriously to take it.”
“Take it very seriously,” Natasha says somberly. “He was owned for a long time, and he was treated like a thing. It’s the only way he knows how to interact with someone. Variations on the abuse he suffered. That or chain of command. Authority or abuser. Take your pick.”
“You’re manipulating me after all,” Steve accuses sharply. “You’re trying to make me feel sorry for him.”
“You already feel sorry for him,” Natasha points out. “I’m telling you a secret few people left alive still know. That’s putting you in a position of power. Think of it less like manipulation and more like a mutually beneficial agreement.”
“What am I agreeing to?”
“And what is it that you get out of it? What’s your part of the ‘mutually beneficial’ bullshit?”
“Trust me. It’s in my benefit for James to get his head back in the game. Both because it’s a dangerous game, and because he’s a whiny baby whenever you’re mad at him.”
Steve thinks about that for a moment.
“ Whenever I’m mad at him?”
“Every goddamn time,” Natasha sighs, and sips her tea.
James is reading in his bed when Steve walks into the room and climbs on top of him without any explanation in invitation. He straddles James, planting his knees on either side of James’ hips and putting his face right in James’ face.
James doesn’t say anything, but his eyes widen slightly, and his hands hover a few inches away from Steve’s waist. Steve can feel the air moving between them softly.
“Yes?” James asks cautiously.
Steve puts his arms around James neck, leans in farther, and kisses him slowly. It’s a gentle kiss, especially since James is clearly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Steve is patient, though. He teases and works at James’ mouth until instinct and desire finally begin to take over. James gasps in soft arousal and sits up a little straighter so he can better invade Steve’s mouth.
Which is the moment that Steve pulls back, breaking the kiss and leaving James breathing heavily just a few inches away from Steve’s face.
“I want to go outside,” Steve says firmly.
James blinks in silence for a moment. Shock, and then anger, flit one after the other across his face. But in the end, what wins out is amusement, tinged with arousal.
“You’re a fucking idiot,” he finally tells Steve.
“Are you granting the request, or are you sleeping alone again?”
“Fine!” James exclaims. “Fine! You win, you nightmare boy. Fucking changeling, or some shit. I should never have picked you up. Already more trouble than you’re worth.”
Steve leans in and presses his lips against James’. Not a kiss, just skin against skin.
“I am worth every ounce of trouble,” he declares. And James doesn’t answer him directly, but he does make sure Steve comes before he does, and Steve thinks that’s about as much communication as James is capable of.
“No,” Steve snaps, even though he can already tell he’s going to lose this fight. James is sitting cross-legged, dangling to outfit from his fingers with an expression that Steve knows means no negotiations will be accepted here.
“Take it or leave it,” James says, and Steve glares.
It’s not the worst outfit James has ever bought for Steve, but that doesn’t mean much. It’s pretty much a set of black silk booty shorts with strings that Steve assumes will drape his body erotically and humiliatingly.
“This is ridiculous,” Steve huffs, and then points at the thing. “ That is ridiculous. I’m not wearing that in public.”
“You’ll wear it and be grateful, or I’ll put you in something worse. Something you’ll really hate.”
“I hate that .”
“Then use your imagination and think about how much worse I could make it. Now put it on or resolve yourself to living in this penthouse for the rest of your goddamn days.”
Steve sets his jaw.
“Fine,” he says, and James stretches out his arm to hand over the outfit.
“No,” Steve says stubbornly. “I take the second option. I’ll go ahead and waste away up here forever, fuck you very much.”
In retrospect, Steve probably could have vocalized his choice less aggressively. He almost says as much, by way of an apology, when the flash-anger rises behind James’ eyes and he does that statue-still thing that means he's dangerously angry before snapping his fingers for Steve to come over.
Steve goes, because he’s angry but he’s not suicidal.
“Gonna slap me again?” he seethes as he steps into reach. “Slap some sense into me, or slap me to punish me or whatever it is you're always thinking.”
James takes him by the throat and pulls him forward and down so Steve’s ear is right next to James’ mouth.
“You will put this on willingly,” he says. “Or I will strip you, whip bruises into you, and then put it on you by force. And then you will still have to wear it in public, and you’ll do it with the marks I’ve given you on full display.”
Steve feels his face turn an annoying shade of red, and even he can’t tell what the emotion is behind it.
“You’re a dick,” he says softly. And then, when James growls at him, he quickly adds, “Fine! Okay, fine. I’ll wear it.”
James lets go, and tosses the outfit at Steve, forcing Steve to catch it clumsily. Then he crosses his legs and looks at Steve with one eyebrow raised, as if to say he’ll believe it when he sees it. So Steve grits his teeth and puts it on.
The worst part is that Steve bets he looks good. James is a lot of things, but tacky isn’t one of them. In another situation, or on someone else, Steve thinks he’d be into this. It’s the “public” part that’s bringing him up short and angry.
He’d just resolved to play into James’ desires, too. To try and manipulate his way into even more favor. And then James goes and right off asks for something that turns Steve’s stomach to give. Asshole.
At least there’s no fear of arousal here. Bad as the outfit it, it would be worse if Steve had any kind of an erection. He’s a display item in this, in every sense of the phrase.
He finishes adjusting one of the straps on his shoulder that had gotten twisted, and then he stands in front of James with his arms out.
“Well?” he asks. “Do I look sufficiently owned?”
“You would if you’d wipe that insolence of your face.”
Steve expresses another variation of insolence with his middle finger, but it’s hard to stay mad like that in such a intimately revealing outfit.
“Come back over here,” James orders, and Steve obeys.
Steve thinks, at first, that James means for a blowjob, but he doesn’t open his legs. Instead, Steve is positioned on the floor at James’ side, kneeling like a pet. Exactly like a pet, actually. He glares again, fighting the urge to cover parts of himself with his hands.
James places his fingers under Steve’s chin and tilts Steve’s head up. The anger from a moment earlier is gone, but the severe intensity is still there.
“I need you to behave today,” he says carefully. “I need it. Do you understand?”
It’s...different from the way James normally issues orders. It’s almost - almost - a request. Or it would be, from anyone else.
“Because I said so,” James answers predictably, and Steve rolls his eyes.
“How about this then?” James says sharply. “You behave today, or I take it out on your sister.”
White cold dread surges through Steve’s body, because in all the ways James has threatened him before, that was never on the list. He suddenly wonders whether this is worth it, this going out in public. He can feel the blood draining from his face. Knows James can see it.
James pets his hair idly, looking down at Steve with a softening expression.
“I need you to understand how important this is,” he says, and he leans down to kiss the top of Steve’s head. “If you behave, you can have a reward, too. I promise it will be something you’ll like.”
Steve continues to sulk, but he eventually nods. If this is going to happen anyway, he might as well make the best of it.
“Out loud,” James orders.
“I’ll behave,” Steve says.
It gets him another kiss, this one on his lips even though James has to tilt Steve’s head back by his hair to get it.
Steve is surprised by how quickly he gets used to the outfit. It’s awkward at first, because the lobby has what Steve assumes are real people in it, and they give Steve some weird ass looks. But James doesn’t seem to care at all, and Steve has always been one to rise to the challenge, so he puts on a “What?” expression and saunters his way out onto the street.
Then there’s a limo, and the driver looks completely unimpressed with anything an everything around him, and Steve gets to focus on being someplace that is not that penthouse , and by the time they stop at a fancy mansion-like estate, Steve has almost forgotten he’s wearing anything so ridiculous.
James hadn’t paid him any attention during the drive, occupied with his phone, but when they step out, he pulls Steve into his side for a moment. Steve thinks it’s affection at first, but then James hisses, “Behave,” and lets him go again.
When they step up to the door, it’s pulled open before they can even knock, and Steve is only mildly surprised to see Natasha standing just inside, next to another man that Steve thinks he recognizes from his apartment that first day of the rest of his life.
“They’re already here,” Natasha says quietly, not even acknowledging Steve with a glance.
The other man isn’t so subtle. He looks Steve up and down without any shame, and then he grins wolfishly.
“Well, at least you’re nice to look at,” he says to Steve.
“Shut the fuck up, Brock,” Natasha snaps, and takes James’ coat. James doesn’t respond to either of them, instead walking confidently into the atrium. Steve trails behind, feeling exposed again with the way Brock is still enjoying his eyeful. He presses himself a little closer to James as Brock and Natasha fall into step behind.
They push through a set of large oak doors into the largest sitting room Steve has ever seen, and the extravagance is enough to distract him from his ridiculous position for at least a moment. There’s a real lit fireplace, and huge painting on the walls, and large carpets spread out on the wood panel floors. It look like a movie set, and Steve thinks it’s ridiculous.
And then he’s forced to deal with the fact that the room is occupied. Six men are milling around the room, and their attention moves to the group the moment it enters.
One of the men speaks, and it takes Steve a moment to recognize that he doesn’t understand the words at all. James answers, another man speaks, and Steve realizes they’re speaking another language. Probably Russian, from the sound of it, but Steve wouldn’t really know.
There are exchanged pleasantries between the men, James, and Natasha. Brock sets himself up at the door as an obvious bodyguard and doesn’t say anything, although he winks when he catches Steve looking back at him. Steve doesn’t look back again after that.
Eventually, everyone settles down into seats, and James snaps his fingers once down near the floor. Steve doesn’t need to be told twice, and he obligingly sinks to his knees at James’ feet. The conversation that follows is clearly about him. Steve doesn’t have to speak the language to know that. There’s a leering tint in the tones of the voices that gives it away even before he hears his own name on James’ lips.
That feels like more of a violation than the casual display of ownership or of the delineation of Steve as property. That James would give away Steve’s name like that. It’s an unexpected pain in an already painfully humiliating situation.
James reaches down and pets his hair, although Steve thinks it’s more coincidence than a reaction to Steve’s discomfort. That, too, is humiliating at first, but it’s more pleasant than the outfit. The room is warm, and James keeps playing with his hair, even as the conversation turns to more serious notes. It’s oddly lulling, to listen to the rising and falling vocalization that don’t come with any understanding. He’s startled to find his eyes are heavy, and even more startled to find he’s leaning against James, head on his knee. His legs are uncomfortable at the held position, so he shifts a little, and then more when the first movement doesn’t earn a rebuke.
Fuck it , he thinks to himself, and leans his weight enough against James that he can fade in and out of sleep. James had wanted an obedient pet to show off. Steve might as well play the part in full. He drapes himself a little more over James’ lap, looking out at the group, and focuses on the whole breathing thing. James seems focused on petting Steve’s shoulders and back possessively while he speaks.
Eventually, Steve wakes with a jerk, and isn’t at first certain why. Nothing overtly seems to have changed. James isn’t touching him anymore, but he hasn’t pushed him away or tugged cruelly on his hair. Steve glances around the room and is startled to see that Natasha is looking at him with an expression Steve cannot read. It’s intense - she’s clearly trying to communicate something to him with her eyes, but Steve can’t begin to guess. She’ll need to give him more than that if she expects action from him. A lot more than that. James had said to behave, and Ellie can’t afford that particular order to be fucked up.
Steve’s attention is draw back to James when he snaps his fingers, but it isn’t at Steve, it’s at Brock. Or, Steve assumes as much, since Brock leaves the room. The conversation continues for a few more seconds, and Natasha’s expression has intensified. She says something to James that makes him speak angrily, and she falls silent after that.
Brock comes back, and he doesn’t come back alone. He comes back dragging a screaming and crying woman behind him. Steve’s heart drops into his stomach.
There’s animated discussion occurring around the room now, differing opinions or maybe just enthusiastic excitement. Steve can’t keep his eyes off the woman, even though the woman is too terrified and incoherent to identify him in individual.
“Shut her up,” James orders in English, and Brock obligingly punches the woman in the face.
Steve doesn’t realize he’s gotten to his feet until he’s already there.
“Down!” James orders with a angry warning growl, and Steve guesses that if he could take his eyes off the woman that James’ rage would quell this instinct rising in Steve.
Natasha starts to speak, but James interrupts her in Russian again.
Steve sinks back down to his knees, even though he doesn’t take his eyes off the woman.
There’s more talking, but it’s not very much.
Then, “Do it,” James orders, and Brock pulls out a gun and has it aimed at the woman’s head, and this time Steve feels himself get to his feet, screaming something that might be words and might not be words but he’s not quick enough. Wouldn’t have been quick enough even if James hadn’t jerked him back by the arm just a few steps away from the chair. The shot is a lot louder than Steve would have expected, even growing up hearing them down on the streets beneath his apartment from time to time. It’s just so loud. The sound the body makes when it hits the floor is loud, too.
James is in his face, snarling something that Steve can’t understand, even though he thinks it was English this time, and then all the people are speaking, loud and insistent. Steve can feel his arm hurting beneath James’ unforgiving grip.
He loses a few moments of time, staring at the body, bleeding out on the hardwood floor. What a stupid decision that was. By the time he comes back to the moment, everyone is yelling. Or, almost everyone is yelling. Natasha is a step back from the tangle of screaming people, and she’s got an expression on her face that chills Steve.
He thinks she’s the one that strikes first. It might have been James, but if it was then it was with a knife, and it was too quiet to draw Steve’s attention. Whoever started it, James is the one who ends it. Steve has never seen anyone move like that in his entire life. It doesn’t even look human, and it certainly doesn’t take more than a couple of moments to kill all of the men in suits who had been chatting pleasantly enough just a handful of minutes ago. But now it’s just James, Natasha, and Brock with drawn weapons and six dead people on the floor.
Then James is in Steve’s face, bloody and angry. He’s got Steve’s arms in both hands, gripping tightly enough to bruise but all Steve can do it stare numbly back at him.
“He doesn’t speak Russian!” Natasha snaps suddenly, and the world swims back into view like breaching the surface of a roiling sea. Suddenly the world is loud again, even though Steve couldn’t have told you when it had faded away into a dull ringing sound.
“I told you to behave!” James shouts, this time in English.
Steve doesn’t understand what James means, but he thinks maybe what just happened is all his fault, and if that’s true, then James is going to kill him. Or, no, he’ll kill Ellie, and he’ll leave Steve alive with that fact up in his penthouse alone forever.
James says something else, then, but Steve just sits down on the floor.
“Jesus,” James sighs, adjusting his grip and pulling Steve back up to his feet. “Can you at least not sit right in all the blood? Brock!”
Brock appears, weapon still drawn but held less strictly in one hand now.
“Sir?” he says.
“Take care of him,” James orders, handing Steve off.
Brock looks down at Steve with an intrigued expressions and says, “If I’m gonna shoot him in the head, can I at least fuck him first?”
“No!” James snaps, suddenly reasserting his grip on Steve’s arm. “Don’t--no! Protect him. I’m telling you to guard him. Touch him with any other purpose and I’ll have your tongue and your eyes mounted above your body like a signpost while you bleed out.”
“Loud and clear, sir,” Brock responds, grinning lightly, and James relinquishes his grip again.
“Good,” he says. “Because hell is about to rain down on us.”
“It needed to be done,” Natasha says from where she’s picking through the bodies like she’s looking for something.
“We don’t know that.”
She pauses long enough to stand up and look him in the eye while she says, “Yes, we did,” and then she calmly returns to looting the dead. For weapons, Steve realizes, watching her tuck away a handgun.
There’s a loud noise from outside the mansion. Loud and intense and bright, in a way that sets Steve’s teeth on edge.
“That was fast,” Natasha says pleasantly, as Brock takes Steve by the arm in the same bruised place and drags him out the door and down another hallway. Steve doesn’t resist, because he isn’t sure what’s going on. And then he’s thrown roughly into a coat closet.
The rest of it is weirdly uneventful. There’s some shooting, some of it by Brock and some of it deeper in the mansion. There’s another one of those noises that Steve now realizes are explosions. And there's Steve’s panting breaths in the small dark space while he gets his wits back together.
That was an awful lot of cold blooded murder. Steve had just wanted to go to maybe a coffee shop, or a nice art store. Maybe Barnes and Noble, for Christ’s sake. He begins to realize just how much blood is covering his skin. His horribly exposed skin, fuck he’s painted with the stuff and that’s worse than if he’d had clothes to be soaked by it. He starts trying to wipe it off on one of the coats in the closet, which is of course when Brock opens the door and cheerfully announces that it’s all over. He doesn’t even look that much worse for the wear.
“Aw, baby,” Brock croons when he realizes what Steve’s trying to do. “Don’t like it covered in blood?”
He takes a step into the confined space, pinning Steve against the wall with his presence alone.
“Take me back to James,” Steve says, warning lights in his head in a way that even James has never set off.
“I will, sweetheart. Don’t worry.” He reaches out and caresses the side of Steve’s face and Steve doesn’t move in some kind of fucked up fight or flight response because flight isn’t an option and if he fights then Brock will break his face no matter what James threatened, Steve knows it. He knows it because he’s known guys like Brock before.
Brock smears the blood on Steve’s shoulder with his thumb, watching his own movements with intense eyes, and then his hand keeps moving down to Steve’s chest and then his stomach where Brock plucks gently at the black silk ribbons of fabric there.
“You look good like this, pretty baby. You even get tired of the sullen soldier back there, you come to me, okay?”
He doesn’t expect a response, so Steve doesn’t give one. Just lets Brock half-caress half-grope him and hopes James comes looking for him soon.
“I’ll get you one way or another,” Brock sighs. “He’ll get tired of you eventually. He’s never been a long term commitment kind of a guy.”
Then he steps back, dragging Steve behind him and marches them back down past the previous room and all the way to the front entrance. James and Natasha and a few new men are standing around and discussing whatever the fuck one discusses after a firefight in a million dollar mansion.
“Are you okay?” James asks Steve.
Steve starts laughing.
“He’s okay,” Brock says over the sound, hustling Steve over. Steve goes willinging, suddenly clinging to James as his laughter turns into crying. He holds his breath and buries his face in James’ stomach and fuck does he wish he was wearing real clothes.
James picks him, cradling him carefully, and puts him in the passenger seat of the car parked on the front lawn. He doesn’t shut the door, though, so Steve hears it when Natasha says, “Did you even warn him?”
James shuts the door after that, and it must be one of those bullet-proof cars because the sound disappears like a clap of silence. Steve closes his eyes and doesn’t even try to listen. He doesn’t move until the driver’s door opens and James gets in.
There is a very long silence, before James finally speaks.
“They all deserved it,” he says. “I promise that, at least. Even the woman.”
“I hope this blood stains the leather on your fucking car and never comes out,” Steve answers.
James at least has the decency not to remind Steve he could easily just buy another one before he turns the key and drives them away.
Getting back to the penthouse is worse than getting home after a funeral. There’s tense silence and an pervasive sense of mourning, at least from Steve’s perspective. There’s certainly the directionless anger.
But the worst part, by far, is the way that Steve is scared now. James had threatened Ellie, and while Steve doesn’t think what happened was his fault, James could decide it is. Could hurt Ellie. Could hurt whatever part of Steve’s life there is to hurt. Steve can’t even be properly angry about today, because it could cost more than he’s willing to pay.
He sits down at the kitchen table and watches James move around his own home like he’s trying to trick Steve into forgetting anything strange had just happened. It’s like he’s starting to cook something, but he never actually seems to get around to it. There’s ingredients and food and dishes that keep moving around, but it never seems to get anywhere. It almost like he’s rearranging the kitchen, all the way down to the drawer linings, but without any purpose or end goal.
Eventually Steve stands up and goes to the sink where some of the dishes finally ended up and starts doing them quietly. He isn’t completely aware that James has stopped moving until he turns around to put a pan away and sees James just standing there and staring.
“Yes?” Steve asks.
“Do something!” James shouts, throwing his arms out to the sides.
Steve doesn’t respond that he is doing something; he’s doing the dishes. He doesn’t think it will be appreciated.
“I don’t understand,” he says instead.
“Get mad!” James exclaims. “You’re always mad. Always picking at me. Expecting better from me. And now...what? You’ve given up? You’ve just given up on me?”
Steve ignores the question and puts away the pan. James stand silently and lets him do it.
When he’s done, Steve straightens again and looks right at James.
“Are you going to hurt Ellie?” he asks.
James reacts like Steve had struck him. Hard and with something heavy.
“No,” he answers. “No, I….no. That’s not...on the table.”
“Okay,” Steve says, going back to the sink. He picks up one the heavy glass tumblers there from this morning, turns, and hurls it straight at James. James dodges it easily, and it crashes into a dozen pieces against the hardwood cabinet behind him.
“Better,” James says. “That’s better.”
“You dumb fuck,” Steve hisses.
“How dare you take me somewhere like that? How dare you risk me. Expose me. Flaunt me. Hurt me. Is that was this it? Is that what you want from me? A disposable and manipulable pawn that sits at your feet, not as a player, but as a powerless piece. Is that the best you expect from me?”
“No,” James says.
“Apologize for risking me.”
“I’m sorry I risked your life and your safety.”
“Apologize for making me see that as some kind of power move to keep me satisfied with staying up here in this prison forever.”
James hesitates over that one, but Steve has no intention of backing down. He might not strike a very intimidating figure - in black silk and blood, neither of which belong to him - but he knows his determination is evident deep within his eyes and in the set of his jaw.
“I’m sorry,” James concedes.
“Apologize for not expecting better from me.”
“Be more specific.”
“I’m sorry that I didn’t let you into that meeting as a player. To be able to take action rather than only able to react.”
Steve looks at James with his piercing eyes, unblinking, before nodding once.
“Okay then,” he says. “I forgive you.”
James seems taken aback for a moment, and then he asks, “That’s it?”
“Don’t do it again,” Steve snaps back before relenting and adding, “But yes. I’m sorry your day didn’t go the way you wanted it to. It didn’t seem like the goal was for everything to dissolve into execution and firefight.”
James sighs heavily, his weariness surfacing for a few moments before being folded away again.
“Natasha was right,” he admits. “It was inevitable. It was arrogant...stupid, really, for me to assume I could make it go any differently.”
Steve starts to take a step toward James, but James steps forward quickly and stops him.
“Glass,” he reminds Steve.
Steve holds out his arms in silent order, and James complies, picking Steve up so Steve can tuck his bare feet in near James’ waist.
“Shower,” Steve demands, and James crunches glass beneath his shoes as he takes Steve in the direction of the bathroom.
“Who were those men, anyway?” Steve asks.
“Members of an older regime,” James answers. “Or, the leftover bits of it anyway. They don’t have...didn’t have any real power anymore, but they had the personal connections. It would have been nice to be able to gain their respect. Natasha is right though. They were never going to give me any kind of trustable allegiance. They needed to be dealt with.”
“Why not,” Steve asks, as James sets him gently on the cold tile of the bathroom.
“Why not what?”
“Why weren’t they ever going to give you their allegiance?”
James’ face twists into something ugly, even as his hands are gentle as they’re undressing Steve. Steve isn’t even having to participate, as James tends to him carefully. Blood is flaking off onto the floor, but Steve just lets it, arms out to allow James to undress him.
“They’ll never see me as anything else than how I used to be,” James says.
“And how is that? How did you used to be?” Steve asks, even though he knows the answer already.
“I used to be you for...for someone else. The person I took over the operation from.”
“And how did that happen? Taking over.”
James doesn’t answer for a moment, focusing on turning on the shower and adjusting the temperate. Steve waits him out, letting James consider the question and the answer he wants to give, because he knows there will be an answer eventually.
“I executed him with extreme prejudice,” James says eventually. “I’d already gotten Natasha on my side by then, and she’d been manipulating herself into a position of power and respect for some time. All things considered, it was a fairly bloodless coup. Well, outside of Alexander, anyway. I guess that’s what happens when you fuck your bodyguard like that.”
“You don’t have a bodyguard,” Steve points out, because he doesn’t know what else to say to James’ revelation. “Is that why?”
“Not really. It’s more that I don’t need a bodyguard.” He grins suddenly at Steve. “Maybe you’re my bodyguard.”
“Shut up. You just said it’s dangerous to fuck your bodyguard. If I’m your bodyguard, then I’m obligated to overthrow you in a mostly-bloodless coup.”
He steps into the warm shower, expecting the comment to make James laugh at least a little, but there’s nothing. Steve looks out from under the water and James’ expression is absolutely unreadable. Enough so that Steve’s stomach sinks in dread.
“Was that what you were hoping?” he asks, barely able to be heard over the water.
“Maybe not the coup part,” James says. “Natasha wouldn’t have thrown me over. Brock would only have gone with you if you were a good fuck and already had a solid chance of coming out the victor. But...who knows what else I was thinking? Natasha was firmly against my bringing you here. She thought you were too angry. Unstable. Unpredictable.”
“But you ignored her, because you wanted me to stab you in your sleep for raping me,” Steve says deadpan.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” James repeats, leaning against the wall at looking anywhere but at Steve.
“Join me,” Steve orders, and James finally makes eye contact, even though it’s just to look at Steve in confusion.
“In the shower,” Steve clarifies. “Wash me.”
James only hesitates for a moment before stripping himself down, and stepping into the shower in order to comply. He’s reverent as he slides his hands along Steve’s skin, washing him first with water, and then with soap, and then with water again. He doesn’t make any move to turn the moment sexual, respecting Steve in a way that Steve isn’t sure he’s ever experienced, even from men outside of James.
“I don’t think you have it in you to be the kind of man I would have stabbed in his sleep,” Steve finally says. “And I would have stabbed you if I’d had to.”
He feels James pause, but it’s only for a moment. And neither of them say anything else for the rest of the moment.
“We’re going out,” James announces when he steps into the living room, and Steve looks up from where he’s practice-sketching body poses.
“Where?” he asks carefully.
“Dinner,” James answer. “And wear something appropriate, would you? If you wear anything like you wore last time we went out, it’s just going to be embarrassing.”
He saunters down the hall and into the bathroom, smirk on his face, before Steve can get past the incensed gaping stage of his reaction to snap at the mostly-tasteless joke.
Dinner is...nice. At least, Steve is pretty sure it’s nice. It’s hard to tell with James sometimes. It’s certainly expensive. Fancy glassware and menus without the prices on them. Steve drinks rich red wine and thinks, for the first time, that he maybe gets what the hype is all about.
Steve kind of expects the dinner itself to be awkward and never-ending. And there are long silences that James sometimes tries to fill, and a few awkward looks from people trying to figure out if this is a sugar-daddy situation or not. But Steve is purposefully nonchalaunt about the whole thing, enjoying his meal and engaging with James whenever James can think of something to say. Eventually they just fall into a comfortable silence, and Steve thinks maybe that’s just fine.
He does take the time to note, however, that they’re given significantly more attention than the rest of the tables. They seem to even have their own dedicated server. Steve guesses it’s because James comes here often enough for them to know who he actually is, but he doesn’t ask. He thinks it’s best for now if he doesn’t know.
He does start noticing that time with James is a lot of silence. He’d thought that maybe James was just taciturn in his own space, or maybe just taciturn with Steve, but it turns out to be a pervasive thing. Minimal interaction with the wait staff, with the driver, with the people who greet him in the lobby. And always complete silence in the car, staring out the window. It’s very brooding, and Steve would say it’s ridiculous and stupid if he didn’t find it mysterious and alluring. Which is twice as stupid. Steve huffs in annoyance and goes back to staring out his own window, because he can be taciturn and brooding, too.
They’ve only just gotten back into the penthouse when Steve feels James’ fingers along the back of his neck. He stops moving at the clearly proprietary touch, letting James explore his skin slowly. The fingers change from a light brush along his neck to nails dragging their way up into his hair where they tug gently. Enough to be known, but not enough to hurt.
James takes a step forward, coming up behind him and wrapping his arms around Steve and pulling him back. It’s undeniably an embrace, and Steve is startled to realize how new it is. That this isn’t something they’ve done before.
James rubs his hands up and down Steve’s arms soothingly, and Steve takes the opportunity to bend down a little and kiss the gentle hands that are rough with calluses. James lets him, keeping one hand up near Steve’s face, running his fingers over Steve’s lips and face and jaw, and sliding his other hand down Steve’s chest and stomach, fingers splayed so as to cover as much of Steve as possible. To own as much of him as possible.
When Steve takes James’ fingers into his mouth, sucking them meaningfully, James slides his other hand all the way down to its goal underneath the waistbands of Steve’s suddenly too tight jeans. Steve obligingly pops the button and half-shimmies out of them so James can get a better grip than a crooked ring of fingers.
When James starts to stroke him, Steve leans his head back and turns it to the side, asking for a kiss even as he shoves James’ spit-slicked fingers out of his mouth with his tongue. He gets the kiss, too, with more enthusiasm than he’d been expecting from the soft touches so far. And James has excellent control, because even when the kiss is rough - made of heavy breathes and sharp teeth - his hands are still soft and teasing, working Steve up slowly. Languidly.
“Come on,” Steve says into James’ mouth.
“Come on what?” James laughs. “Use your words.”
Steve bites his lip extra hard for that, and James pulls back with a half-yelp and narrows his eyes at Steve’s unapologetic facial expression.
“Use your words,” he says again.
“You know what I want.”
“I really don’t. There’s all kinds of things you could be demanding right now. Be specific. What do you want?”
“I want your fingers inside me,” Steve half-snaps, half-begs, and he doesn’t know if that’s what James was expecting, but he can see James’ already dark eyes dilate farther. An opened lens.
All the better to see you with, my dear.
James doesn’t hesitate before he slides his wet fingers down to tease along Steve’s crack, rubbing his hole gently, but with those same calluses that had caught Steve’s attention before. Then he slides a finger in with a slow dragging burn that borders on uncomfortable, with only drying spit. And James adds a second finger soon afterward.
The last time Steve had been pressed back against James’ front he’d had his hands up on top of a stove hood, wondering if it would be worse to be fucked dry or to get burned.
“What’s wrong?” James asks, drawing his fingers out.
“I want lube,” Steve says, because that’s easier than to explain the sense memory James had just accidentally triggered.
“Then you’re gonna have to move us to the bedroom,” James answers.
“Why do I have to do the moving? You’re bigger. You move us.” He shoves his elbow back in James’ general direction, wriggling around in his grip.
James sighs heavily, wrapping one arm around the whole of Steve’s body and lifting him up. For a moment, Steve thinks James is going to carry him like this - like an errant child - but instead James just uses the opportunity to strip Steve’s jeans and underwear the rest of the way off.
“Now march,” he orders, putting Steve back down and shoving him a little with a palm to his back.
Steve goes, stripping out of his shirt on the way, because he feels stupid walking through the penthouse in just a shirt.
“You better be naked when you get in there,” he calls back at James over his shoulder.
James snorts in disbelief at the audacity, but when Steve climbs up on the bed and turns around he sees that James has purposefully stopped just outside the doorway to finish taking everything off so he’s naked as demanded, once he actually steps into the room.
“Enjoying the view?” he scoffs when he catches Steve staring appreciatively.
“Obviously,” Steve answers quickly. “Are you?”
He leans back against the head of the bed as he asks, spreading his bent legs and cocking his head to the side.
James reaches forward and takes Steve by one ankle and jerks him down the bed so he’s lying on his back. Steve doesn't even have time to catch his breath from the jolt of arousal before James has crawled up on top of him. He’s on his hands and knees above Steve, and Steve can’t think of anything witty or snarky to say at all, especially when James bends down and licks a wet stripe up the side of Steve’s neck.
“Ng,” Steve finally manages. “Lube!”
“I’m serious, James! If I’m not actively being fucked within the next few minutes, I’m leading that revolt you were talking about. I will throw you over in a bloodless coup! Natasha will be on my side once she hears the reason.”
James snorts in amusement, but he does oblige, shifting his position enough to get to the drawer and fish out the lube.
Steve starts to flip over onto his stomach, but James stops him with a hand on his arm. Steve raises his eyebrows in question, looking up at James, but James just shrugs and says, “We’re doing it this way tonight.”
“Want to look me in my eyes?” Steve says, and he means to make it teasing and maybe a little caustic, but he thinks the genuine nature of the question makes it through despite his best efforts.
“Appreciating the view,” James responds, which isn’t a yes, but it also isn’t a no.
James doesn’t say anything else after that, and neither does Steve. Not when James pushes Steve’s legs up toward his chest, enough for access but not enough that Steve panics at any tightness in his chest.
James’ fingers with lube are much better than they had been dry in the atrium. James is careful, too. More so than he’s ever been before, and Steve almost repeats his threat. But as he’s trying to steady his breathing enough to make the demand James readjusts his position and crawls back on top of Steve.
“Good view down there, too,” James says, and Steve laughs, the sound coming out a little strangled. The half-laugh fades into long deep breaths as James lines up against Steve and begins to push inside.
He looks Steve right in the eye. It’s overwhelming and intense and bordering on cruel with its intimacy, and Steve can’t do anything but look right back up into James’ gaze. They don’t say anything at all as James rocks slowly in and out, sinking in a little deeper each time. Slowly. Slowly. Finally making his way all the way inside and he and Steve breath together like a single entity, mouth to mouth and chest to chest and thigh to thigh.
For a single long moment, they are one person.
“Move,” Steve whispers, speaking using the same air that James had been breathing out just a moment ago.
Even after how different the entire night has been so far, Steve still almost expects James to suddenly turn rough now that he's inside. But instead he rocks again, just with longer thrusts. Slow deep movements that move his entire body up and down over Steve. Steve moans long and low, arching his back and clawing at James’ shoulders with fingernails too short to do any real damage but long enough that James gasps and shoves into Steve a little deeper. A little more roughly.
Steve wraps his legs up around James and tightens his grip, pulling James into him.
“Harder,” he demands, tilting his head to bite James’ neck.
James had said “no marks,” and Steve holds that thought in his head as he purposefully sucks a deep bruise into the thin skin just under the corner of James’ jaw.
James finally starts to devolve, thrusting more viciously, thrusting with his hips rather than rocking his entire body. Steve wimpers his pleasure each time James thrusts all the way inside, and even wraps his arms around James to pull him even closer, points of contact along the entire lengths of their bodies.
“That’s going to bruise,” Steve says out loud, just in case James had been too caught up in the moment to notice.
James turns his head and sucks a bruise of his own into Steve’s neck. He’s meaner about it than Steve had been, biting hard right at the end in a way that makes Steve cry out in sharp pain and rake his fingernails along James’ back.
“So will that,” James says right into the new bruise.
“Rude,” Steve pants, and then moans again as James thrusts particularly roughly. He does it again, and Steve moans again. Then again, more quickly and more quickly until Steve is just quick staccatos of noise punctuating James’ movements, like the world’s most obscene metronome.
When James comes he shoves himself all the way inside Steve and stops breathing for a long series of heartbeats, pulsing inside Steve while Steve pants loudly for the both of them. James rocks a little through the aftershocks, and then finally stills, laying on top of Steve with closed eyes.
Eventually, Steve nibbles gently at his ear - the only part he can really reach with his mouth - to remind James that Steve definitely still needs attention.
“No biting,” James says.
So Steve bites him harder.
James gets up on his hands and knees and looks down at Steve with an appraising look that pulses as pleasure through the whole of Steve’s body.
“So that’s how you want to play it?” James asks.
Steve grins shakily, trying to guess whether he’s gotten in over his head or not, and shrugs his shoulders.
James leans down and bites him on the shoulder. Hard, too. Harder than previously, and it’s almost too painful. Almost. But not. He squeaks, completely undignified and bats ineffectually at James’ shoulder, which only makes James growl like a goddamn dog and worry Steve’s skin some more.
He finally lets go and narrows his eyes down at Steve.
“Learned your lesson about being a brat?” he asks.
Steve deliberately curls up and bites James wrist. Not nearly as hard as James had just bit, because Steve’s courage does have its limits, but nonetheless hard.
The next bite James marks into Steve’s skin is down on his chest, just above the nipple. Certainly close enough to be more sensitive. It doesn’t stop Steve from snarking “That’s the best you can do?” when James asks if he’s learned his lesson now.
James flips Steve over onto his stomach and pulls him up onto his knees so he can bend over Steve and bite his back while simultaneously jerking Steve off with just too little sensation for Steve to actually be able to come on his own. But then James bites him yet again, and Steve comes with a sharp cry and a tensing of his whole body as he spills over James’ fist.
“Are you going to be good now?” James asks softly, once Steve has breathed his way through the orgasm.
“I will,” Steve promises. “I will.”
“Good,” James says firmly. And then, more softly, “So will I.”
“I need you to wear those in public,” James says, pointing to the bright teeth marks all over Steve’s body.
“Why?” Steve asks warily, although he keeps drying himself off with the towel.
James eyes snaps with reactionary anger, but the spark quickly fades away into a more contemplative assessing look.
“Because I need to flaunt my authority in front of Brock’s faction. Or, at the worst, I need to encourage open confrontation.”
“Encourage open confrontation,” Steve says slowly. Then, “Like you did at the mansion.”
“That wasn’t the intention at the time, but it certainly happened out well enough.”
“Brock is a problem, then?” Steve confirms.
“Brock is…” James hesitates, eyeing Steve warily before something opens in his face. A shutter gives way, revealing honest motivations and an even more honest weariness.
“Brock has the loyalty of a small but powerful subsection of my group. I need to either bring him to heel in a way that makes him useful to me, or I need to break him completely.”
“But break him in a way that doesn’t incite any kind of riot within his men. You need to have a reason. A reason that puts you in a position of power, preferably.”
James watches as Steve dresses himself after the shower and doesn’t say anything.
“You think I should break him, then? That I should choose breaking instead of making any attempt to win him over.”
“Not necessarily,” Steve answers, even though he does. “I just think it’s riskier. How much is he really worth, as one man? Enough to risk giving him a position near enough to you that he could betray you?”
“He already has that position.”
Steve thinks that one over.
“Well,” he says. “That wasn’t particularly bright of you.”
James snorts in amusement, instead of getting angry, and Steve ignores the reflex rush of fear that had swept through him.
“What’s done is done,” James responds. “I needed to give him a position of power if I wanted him to help me in my coup.”
“In your mostly bloodless coup. Yeah, okay. I’ll say it, then. He’s already shown himself willing to turn traitor, and he’s a complete dick. It took me all of thirty seconds with him to figure that out. I vote for the breaking thing.”
“This isn’t a vote.”
“I’m voting anyway.”
Brief annoyance flashes across James’ face before he turns and storms out of the bathroom, but it’s not the kind of annoyance that sticks, so Steve doesn’t worry about it.
“Okay so what’s the plan then?” Steve continues, pursuing languidly. “I show up covered in bites marks and bruises, obsequious to your demands and desires, in order to…….what?”
“In order to display that I am no longer the one taking it up the ass,” James snaps. So maybe he’s more annoyed than Steve had originally thought.
“Didn’t realize it was so beneath you to be the one getting fucked.”
“Will you stop that?” James snaps, turning on his heel to get right in Steve’s face. “Brock thinks that! That's what’s important here. That’s what we’re talking about. Brock doesn’t have the respect for me that I need, so I need to establishing myself as the fuck- er in his eyes. Rather than--”
He cuts himself off, searches Steve’s face for a moment, and and tries again.
“Are you going to help me or not? You expressed a desire to be an active player, and I am giving you the opportunity here.”
Steve realizes with sickening certainty that a position of power is not the only thing James gave Brock while convincing him to throw over the previous regime.
“Yes, I’m going to help you,” he says softly.
“You’re just going to give me shit for it at every step along the way.”
Steve smiles and reaches up to caress James’ cheek.
“I’m pretty sure that that’s part of my job description now.”
Steve goes dressed to show off. James doesn’t put him in the outfit from the other night or anything else like it, but he does have Steve go shirtless. Dressed in nothing but a pair of jeans, he follows James out of the building. Unexpectedly, he gets more stares leaving the building shirtless than he did when he was dressed like he was for sale, but he ignores them just the same.
The limo takes them to another building within the city, rather than out to a sprawling mansion, but once they step inside, Steve gets the same creeping feeling from the other place. The extra-ness of the entire place saturates everywhere he looks.
Steve tries to ignore it and focus on looking owned. If what James really needs right now is a power play, then Steve is going to do his best to try and give it to him. He’s pretty sure that some of the men they’ve passed were at his apartment that first night, even though he doesn’t see the one whose elbow he broke. It’s a good contrast, he thinks. The screaming fighting enemy versus the quiet obedient pet he is now.
Eventually, James enters a room eerily similar to the one Steve now only thinks of as filled with dead bodies. A circle of chairs filled with powerful people. Although, Steve does notice that Natasha is seated in one of them, and that is unexpectedly comforting as James takes a seat at the artfully arranged head of the group.
Steve does some artful arranging himself. He tucks himself in around James legs and stares out definitely, trying his best to radiate exclusivity. Trying to make himself untouchable with his expression alone, to contrast his extreme touchability to at least one person. Only one person.
He can feels the bite marks throbbing in time with his heartbeat, whereas they hadn’t been that bad that morning or even when he was first getting dressed.
He’s careful to betray nothing, even when business starts being discussed. It’s not entirely in Russian, the way the previous room had been, but the languages flow in and out of each other in a way that tells Steve it’s time to get a Russian textbook. If he wants to learn to be useful, anyway.
He does catch some snippets of information. When he’s not busy meeting the eyes of anyone who glances his way, bruised and owned, he picks up that they’re discussed a list of grievances. Complaints submitted against James’ “company,” although he can’t tell who is submitting the complaints in question. The group turns them over amongst themselves and then James passes judgement. There is that, at least. James is making the decisions, and no one in the circle seems to have a problem with it, even when they seemed to have a different opinion.
Cigars go around, and the discussion drags on. Steve wouldn’t have though such a lifestyle would lend itself to boring meetings, but he has to keep shifting his position to relieve aching muscles. The conversation turns from filed complaints to upcoming plans, and that might be more interesting if Steve could follow all of it, but instead it’s just pieces and potential.
At one point, James slides his foot up between Steve’s thighs, and Steve feels his breath catch, half-hoping James will give him any kind of attention and half-afraid it will be a teasing humiliating kind of attention. But James seems content to dangle the potential without acting on it, and eventually Steve relaxes again.
Finally, the discussion seems to conclude, and James nudges at Steve with his foot, and Steve shifts himself up to kneeling between James’ spread legs.
“Go across the hall and fetch the wine there,” James orders, and Steve isn’t entirely sure about the layout of the building or how to serve wine, but he figures it’s better to figure it out in the privacy of the other room.
He lifts James’ hand and kisses the wrist in a show of deference, and then quickly withdraws out into the hall.
Honestly, he’s feeling a little proud of himself. James needed a good lap pet, and Steve thinks he’s doing an excellent job. For just a moment, he can see the potential of his life out in front of him. Getting better at all of this; not just the playing obedience part, but helping James in general. He can learn things. He can learn Russian and business tricks and the names of all the people James can’t be bothered to remember. He can be useful and good and maybe James will come to look at Steve with a f--
Steve’s thoughts cut themselves off when he pushes through the opposite door and practically runs directly into Brock.
“Enjoying the fancy party?” he laughs, rough and low in a way that makes Steve half-turn for the door again before the can think the action through.
He doesn’t get to complete it, anyway. Brock is faster, and more prepared for the moment, and he pushes the door shut with one hand and a terrifying finality.
“Don’t,” Steve says, even though there isn’t anything to object to, yet.
“Don’t what?” Brock asks, clearly mocking the lack of a reason, just before giving one. He takes a step forward, pining Steve against the wall with his presence in the same way that he’d done so recently in that small closet.
Steve wonders how long it will take for James to come and check on him. If James having to come and check on him will ruin all the work for respect that they’re started to do here. These are the thoughts he forces himself to focus on when Brock places one hand on Steve’s hip and slowly draws it all the way up Steve’s chest. Slowly, touching as much skin as possible. Lingering on the bruises. Waiting to see if Steve is going to do anything.
Steve can’t decide whether or not to cry out, and the hesitation wins another step in the direction Brock wants to take things.
“Whatcha got time for, pretty boy?” he breathes into Steve’s ear. “Get sent on an errand?”
Steve sees the chance for what might be the only opportunity he’s going to get for a private resolution to all this nonsense. To draw it out so long that Steve has to be fetched back.
Or forgotten about.
Steve wonders if Brock fucks him, does that mean Brock loses or gains respect for James?
He doesn’t say anything when Brock tucks his fingers into Steve’s waistband and tugs Steve forward an unwilling step. He doesn’t say anything, because another more sinister though is growing in his mind. Because maybe it doesn’t matter what Brock will think of James. Because, if Steve belongs to James - as Steve just spent the last hour demonstrating - then any violation of Steve is a violation of James. And that’s justifiable grounds for....
“No one knows I’m here,” he says breathily. “Please don’t hurt me.”
Steve isn’t entirely sure what he’ll think about his own machinations in the morning, but right now he clings to that plan with the desperation of the drowning. And for that plan to work, he’s going to need bruises.
He punches Brock in the side.
It’s a quick jab, learned on the streets by someone who knew help wouldn’t be coming, and it’s well-placed. Brock makes a noise of pain and jerks his hand away from pawing at Steve in order to clutch at his own side. Steve takes the opportunity to duck under his grasp, hoping to move farther into the room and to find a more defensible position.
He almost makes it. Brock’s hand shoots out and catches Steve’s upper arm in a grip that will certainly fill the requirement for bruising. Steve’s feels himself wrenched backwards, trying to keep his feet under him, and mostly succeeding but halfway failing as one foot slips to the right, widening his feet to an indefensible stance.
“You fucker ,” Brock hisses, jerking Steve back again, the pain in Steve’s shoulder really starting to make itself known.
Steve drops to his knees rather than go where Brock is pulling, at the change in the angle of resistance is enough to break Brock’s grip. Steve shuffles forward along the floor as quickly as he can, but it’s not quickly enough. Brock grabs him by one ankle and jerks, just as Steve gets his fingers firmly around the table leg in front of him. It’s a sturdy table. Heavy dark wood and, Steve realizes with slight hysteria, has the wine in question placed on top of it.
Unsuccessful in his first attempt, Brock pulls again, and Steve clings all the more desperately to the wooden leg. Again, with more rage, and this time the table shifts with a jerk and Steve hears a dull thud as the bottle of wine tips over. The ringing scratch of glass as it rolls. Silence as it falls.
It breaks on the floor with a sharp crash that sprays Steve with wine and the floor with shards of glass. He lets go now, and Brock jerk him again. Steve feels himself slide in the wine, crying out as one of the smaller bits gets caught underneath him and embeds itself in his back, a sharp pain worsened by the alchohol on his skin.
Then Brock is on top of him and Steve is batting ineffectually with wrists that are soon pinned to the wet floor and the panic rises in Steve in a way he hadn’t been anticipating as he struggles to remember that this was, technically, the plan.
The sudden absence of Brock is more jarring than his presence had been. Steve forces himself back to the situation at hand to find Natasha training a gun on Brock.
“Tasha,” Brock says sweetly. Conspiratorially.
“Not a chance, Brock,” she snaps back. “Steve, can you stand?”
Steve demonstrates his ability to stand.
“March,” Natasha orders Brock. “You can explain yourself to him.” And then, more gently, “Come with us, Steve.”
Steve follows Natasha obediently, not looking ahead to where Brock is being forced at gunpoint out into the hall, across it, and into the room with the meeting. He does, however, look up to James when they step fully into the room.
Horror. It’s absolute horror, and it drives James all the way to his feet. He catches himself before he actually steps forward, schooling his expression into control and asking Natasha, “What happened?”
Natasha explains, succinct but explicit, and it’s humiliating enough that Steve starts to question this plan. Especially as it seems to be playing out publicly. The moment Natasha is finished speaking, he opens his mouth to say---anything. He has no idea, but he feels the encroaching silence like an approaching tidal wave.
He isn’t quick enough.
Steve doesn’t register the gunshot for what it is at first, even now that he has experience with them at close range. It takes him even longer to realize exactly what had happened, even after he sees that James is holding the gun. Even after he sees that Brock is on the floor and he’s not screaming at all. Not making any noise at all. Not breathing.
Steve is breathing. Steve is hyperventilating.
“Any objections?” James asks the room tersely.
The general consensus is definitely that there are no objections.
“Get him cleaned up,” James orders again, and Natasha draws him from the room again. By the same hurt arm again. Pulling on the strained shoulder again. Steve goes, obedient and compliant again.
She doesn’t take him into the little side room again. She takes him further down the hallway and into a large fancy bathroom that Steve hates already.
“Motherfucker,” he breathes, as Natasha wets a towel and begins to wipe him down.
“I know,” Natasha says, even though even Steve isn’t entirely sure who he’d meant.
“If it helps,” she continues, “it worked. That was very well done. Masterfully done, actually. It forced his hand to remove Brock from the equation, which is something I’ve been advocating for a while, and it did it in a way that’s entirely defensible.”
“What about Brock’s men?” Steve asks, calming enough at the semi-normal conversation to be able to think it through.
“They don’t have a leg to stand on, and they themselves were never the problem. A splinter faction is only a splinter faction when there’s a leader.”
“He’s gonna be mad, though,” Steve says. “James. He wanted Brock on his side. To make him more powerful.”
“And if it could have been done, it would have been a good idea. But you and I both know Brock was never going to be on anyone’s side but his own.”
“But James is going to be mad,” Steve presses. “At me.”
Natasha pauses and gives him a strange look.
“What?” Steve asks.
“Nothing,” Natasha answers, and goes back to wiping off the last of the wine. She turns him around and stops again to gingerly pull the small chip of glass out of his back. It hurts again, coming out, and stings worse when she swipes the alcohol-soaked cloth over the bleeding.
“No,” Steve presses. “Not ‘nothing’. What were you thinking just now?”
“I’m thinking that it’s hard to be mad at someone who just got dragged in covered in maybe-blood and shaking like he’d been hurt in the worst way.”
Steve turns it over.
“You don’t know him, though,” he says eventually. “Even if he doesn’t want me hurt….even if he cares enough about me for that….he always get horrible when his plans don’t go the way he likes.”
“Was he hard on you after the mansion?”
Steve thinks about it, and is forced to answer, “No.”
“I don’t think he’s going to be mad at you,” Natasha says firmly, and it’s the end of the conversation.
James doesn’t say anything at all once they’re in the limo again. Steve hadn’t gone back to the room, preferring to hang around in the front atrium by the elevator, and it’s absolutely hours before anything happens. Steve never does see what happens with the body.
And then they’re back home and then they’re back in the penthouse, and all of this means that Steve has had several hours to try and work out what he wants to say and how to phrase his apology, but he’s yet against silenced before he can speak when James sinks all the way down to his knees on the floor and takes Steve’s hands in his own.
“Are you okay?” he asks, and he sounds like he’s choking.
“Yeah,” Steve says, startled into the word by the unexpected nature of James’ behavior. “I’m fine. He didn’t really hurt me. Natasha came in.”
“We heard the wine bottle break,” James says, rubbing the back of Steve’s hands with his thumbs. “My heart was in my throat. Almost couldn’t just sit there while Natasha went to check.”
“ Why ?” James repeats, incredulous and finally looking up at Steve.
“I thought you’d be mad,” Steve says instead. A roundabout answer to the question.
“Why would I be mad?”
“You’re always mad,” Steve answers, drawing away and walking further into the room. It’s awkward, standing there with James on his knees in front of Steve like that.
James, thankfully, doesn’t directly contradict the statement, but he does get up and follow Steve.
“I’m not mad right now,” he offers.
Steve keeps walking.
“Jesus Christ,” James breathes, annoyance creeping in again. “If you don’t want me to be mad then don’t do things that make me mad. For the love of god, Steve. Don’t break the rules. It’s not that hard. I don’t have that many of them.”
“No!” Steve snaps, turning on him. “No rules. Expectations, yes. Requests, absolutely. But I’m done with the rules. I’m done with any rules. I’m done with us pretending I have no choice but to stay up here.”
“You’re here because--”
“No! I came here because of all that. I was originally brought here because of all that. But can you actually look me in the eye and tell me you’d hurt her? That you’d hurt my family if I left.”
“I--” James starts.
“Would you hurt her?”
“No!” James snaps back. “All right? Is that what you’re looking for? Permission to go? Because that’s not permission to go. I might not hurt her, but that same courtesy doesn’t extend to you. If you leave me, I will have you shot in a back alley.”
“I can live with that,” Steve says, and the rebuttal deflates James from where he’s all puffed up and angry and scared.
“Those are my choices, then?” Steve presses. “Live here, or die out there.”
James doesn’t answer.
“Okay. Then for now, I choose to live here. To be here with you. But if I’m the only one being threatened here, then here’s my ultimatum. No more rules. You let me become a part of this. You teach me Russian. You introduce me to the people you actually trust. You give me a cell phone and internet again. You use me like you use Natasha, even if our skill sets might be wildly different.”
“Or what?” James asks, although his hesitation in the question shows he knows the answer.
“Or I choose dead in an alley. Take it or leave it.”
There is a long series of silent heartbeats.
“Deal,” James says, and Steve feels something release inside his chest. He feels the smile unfold from within him as he looks up at James. Like coming home.
“Now what?” James asks, seemingly at a loss after such a confession. “Do we...what? Shake on it?”
“How about sealed with a kiss?” Steve offers instead.
The response seems to startle James, but it only takes a moment for him to surge in and take the offered deal. It’s surprisingly quick and chaste, for all of its intensity.
“I think,” Steve says softly. “There’s a lot of potential here. In this partnership.”
“You think so? I think so, too. Let’s take on the whole world, baby. We’ll fuck them up.”
Steve opts to go in for another kiss rather than to respond, but privately, he agrees.