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Repercussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      “Yeah Steve?” she waited.

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

Chapter Text

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            But now, she was turning seventeen.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            Steve quirked a brow. “Which would be?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “My little Mel.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

           

            Who the fuck was that?

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

*****

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

             What? What was he supposed to say?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

             “I was with Alex. At his house.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

             “He hurt me,” she whispered.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Can you stay?” she asked.

 

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

 

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

 

            “Mel–”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Chapter Text

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

 

            There was no way he could go back now.

 

*****

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Steve, what–”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Okay.” She turned quickly and rushed away.

Chapter Text

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

 

            Everything was not normal.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Mel!”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            That was an understatement.

 

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

           

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

 

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

 

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

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

*****

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            Away from Steve?

 

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

 

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

 

            “Are you going to run from me?”

 

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

 

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

 

            Home. Was it still really that?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Don’t try anything.”

 

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

 

            What is he going to do to me?

 

            Will he hurt me?

 

            Will he kill me if I try to stop him?

 

            How could we have trusted him this entire time?

 

            Why did I never see this?

 

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

 

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

 

            “I have a lot more to show you.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “It is,” he breathed out.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Steve, I don’t want this.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            But of course she was. She was his.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            But oh, God, it felt so good.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “You’re disgusting,” she whispered.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

*****

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “You assaulted me.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            She scoffed. “Safe.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            She blinked in absolute confusion. “Punish me?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            He cocked a brow at her. “Yes?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “What?” She was caught off guard.

 

            “Get on the bed, Melody.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “I wanna come,” she mewled.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            She gave him a questioning look. “So?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

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

 

            She needed to clean herself.

 

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

 

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

 

            Did he not realize how intensely he had ruined everything?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Then stop touching me!” she exclaimed suddenly.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “You still have me,” he said.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Steve, let me sleep,” she hiccupped.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            Signed,

            Steven Grant Rogers

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            Everything. He’ll leave everything to me.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “I’m confused,” she confessed.

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Mel, I–”

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

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

 

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

           

            Except he wasn’t.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Get away from me,” she huffed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

*****

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            Steve:

 

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

 

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

 

            Farah:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

*****

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            Her mother had wanted to kill herself.

 

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

 

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

           

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

 

            How did she end up surviving?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            Why had Steve wanted her to read this?

 

            Would her outcome be the same?

 

*****

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

*****

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

           

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

 

            “Hey, Mel,” he greeted.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Mhmm,” she managed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Okay,” she mumbled.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

*****

 

 

Melody was overtaken by a new problem now.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Chapter Text

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “My brain graduated business and engineering, Cap.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

*****

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            Mariam:

 

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

 

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “You dutty little bitch…”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            They all nodded one by one. “Even I’ve seen it…” Blaire felt elated.

 

            “Okay well, I haven’t. I guess I’ll just watch it another time,” she mumbled.

 

            “Actually, no. We’ve all seen it, but it is a classic. Let’s watch it,” Mariam said. “Kudos to Gemma for saving our movie night.”

 

            “Okay so White Chicks? Say less.” Farah pushed the buttons on the remote rather aggressively as Gemma quietly beamed at Mariam from across the room. Melody decided she would talk to her about her little crush–but later, when her body wasn’t churning with tingles.

Chapter Text

            The girls finished the movie with a lengthy discussion about their pet-peeves, which then branched into a panel about what they first noticed in a person. Gemma was glad to learn that although Mariam promptly drooled over looks, what kept her interested in a person was their personality once she got to know them. Farah talked about the importance of humour and sarcasm, neither of these confessions coming as a surprise to the group, who all agreed that Farah was one of the two wittiest girls in the group, neck-in-neck with Mariam.

 

            “You guys should date,” Blaire tossed out absent-mindedly, picking sprinkles off her doughnut and nibbling them individually.

 

            Melody immediately looked between Gemma and Mariam; the former looked visibly offended at the suggestion, and the latter scoffed a second too late.

 

            “Not into gyals, honey-bun,” she shrugged casually.

 

            “I wouldn’t date her even if she were.” Farah downed the rest of her root beer. “Our families would never get along. Also, she’s like a sister to me, so…”

 

            “Yeah, that’s weird,” Lia agreed. “What do you guys want to do now?”

 

            “Ay, Mel-bell.” Mariam directed her attention to her. “Your step-daddy’s not home, yeah?”

 

            Melody’s body wound tightly at the mention of her ‘step-father’–because that was exactly who he was, who she was supposed to see him as. He was not someone who should have touched her, felt her, kissed her–been intimate with her, no less. She shouldn’t have allowed it, ever.

 

            “No, he’s out of the country,” she informed.

 

            “You guys wanna go snoop around in his room?” There was a gleam in Mariam’s eyes, a grin plastered to her heart-shaped face. “Who knows what we’ll find?”

 

            “A crazy lady waiting under his bed to fuck him, maybe,” Gemma snorted.

 

            Farah whipped around to look at her. “I thought your eyesight automatically dismissed men?”

           

            Gemma scrunched her face in confusion. “I’m gay, Farah. I’m not fucking blind.”

 

            “Uh, can we not–” Melody cringed.

 

            “I would climb him like a tree,” Mariam hissed with a roll of her eyes. “So fucking beautiful.”

 

            “He is, man. God really put His Almighty best foot forward when He created that,” Farah agreed.

 

            “You wanna eat jollof rice off of his dick huh?” The Caribbean sniped at her friend obnoxiously.

 

            “I wanna eat his dick,” Farah corrected.

 

            “I never know how to talk around him, he’s so breathtaking,” Blaire gushed. “I will never look at any other man the same way.”

 

            “Have you guys noticed how big he is?” Lia asked in awe. “My parents saw him at a PTA meeting two months ago. My dad thought he was a professional football player, and my mom still talks about him sometimes. It pisses my dad off.”

 

            “I don’t need to be hearing all this, guys. Please,” Mel pleaded, knowing she was blushing red.

 

            “You get to live with him, baby doll. Let us at least voice our emotions,” Mariam sighed.

 

 

 

After lots of confessions about Steve from her friends that made Melody light up in embarrassment, the girls decided they were in fact going to raid his privacy and see just what exactly an average, extremely hot, single forty-year-old’s master bedroom looked like.

 

            Melody was the last one to enter a room she had already been inside of numerous times, but which she had to pass off as unfamiliar to her. The girls dispersed right away; Lia and Blaire were in the washroom, Gemma was going through drawers, Mariam was in the walk-in closet, and Farah had chosen to just flop down on the bed and turn on the Plasma. Melody swallowed guilt down as she watched her friend lean back on the pillow that she had in fact used to her own whims earlier that day.

 

            Gemma scrunched her nose suddenly. “Anybody noticed? The room smells weirdly like sex?”

 

            They all flared their nostrils, inhaling for proof. “Yeah, it smells like wet pussy in here,” Farah said slowly, sniffing around her. “Actually…holy shit, the bed, it’s the bed.”

 

            She jumped off of it and backed away in disgust, shuddering. The other girls chewed out the new information relentlessly.

 

            “Mr. Rogers has sex with women, that’s so weird to think about, and somehow also very intriguing at the same time,” Lia said.

 

            Melody was petrified by the conversation. How was she supposed to explain to them that she was ‘women’? She couldn’t, that was the thing. She couldn’t say, and they couldn’t know, ever. Nobody could.

 

            “Dude, Jesus Christ.” Gemma had been fishing in the bedside drawer and pulled out a messily opened box, shaking it for everyone to see. “Condoms! The largest size.”

 

            “I know his dick is big,” Mariam exclaimed, massaging her temples. “I just know he has a big dick. He’s packing.”

 

            “Do you guys not know how weird this is? I don’t want to know all this.” Melody tried to sound regularly displeased to hide how truly disturbed she really was.

 

            “Aw, Melody,” Blaire cooed, and they all turned to where she was hunched over a small desk by the window, Steve’s desktop computer turned on in front of her. “You’re his background.”

 

            “Yeah, there’s an album with pictures of her in his night stand, too,” Gemma added.

 

            “He has a framed picture of the two of them from when she was a kid, up in his closet.” Mariam pointed back at it. “There’s also a random pair of underwear in there that looks quite…childish.”

 

            They all looked at Melody, whose eyes widened in terror as she rushed to the closet. Sure enough, on the ground, there was a piece of cotton fabric that was her own. She snatched it up and walked back out to face the rest of them, her face red.

 

            “That must be embarrassing,” Gemma laughed.

 

            “I don’t know how they got there.” Melody was burning up again. Of course, she knew how they had ended up there. Now she did. She wouldn’t have known the cause, say, two weeks ago. But it didn’t miss her now.

 

            “They probably got mixed up during a load of laundry, relax,” Farah offered. “I’m sure he’s not pressed about it.”

 

            “Yeah, Mel-bell. It’s clear he loves you very much. He probably ignored it completely,” Maryam shrugged.

 

            It was to her relief that her friends automatically assumed the safest scenario in their minds. Little did they know of who Steve really was behind closed doors, and ultimately, they were all safer that way.

 

            “I would die to have someone who cares about me that much,” Lia sighed. “I still remember when he scared those boys at school shitless, back in sixth grade. Just because they were making fun of you. Whenever I complained to my parents, they just told me to stay away from the boys.”

 

            “He’s always been so involved in everything that you did,” Blaire agreed. “Remember when he organized the school bake sale, back in first grade? He baked all the treats all by himself. Everyone fell in love with him.”

 

            “Yeah, he’s…cool,” Mel shrugged tensely.

 

            “I’m just going to be honest, if this were my situation, I would be all up on that,” Mariam cut in.

 

            “Ugh, you ruined it,” Farah groaned. “But I do agree. Even if he were my step-dad or whatever. I have never wanted to suck a dick so badly.”

 

            “Okay, okay, enough.” Melody opened the door and waved them all out. “This is done. Let’s get back downstairs.”

 

            As they all teetered and giggled their way back to the main floor, Melody grumbled from the back about never having friends over again.

 

 

*****

 

 

It was well past midnight when they all cleaned up and said their farewells. The only reason they had been allowed to stay out until 2 am was because their parents knew they were all getting rides from either Farah or Gemma, and because all the parents trusted the infamous Steve Rogers of Larchmont and had assumed that he would be supervising. How ironic, thought Mel as she waved off her friends. If they really knew him, I would never get to see any of my friends again.

 

            Melody had taken another couplet of the sleeping pills Steve had directed her to, before her friends had left, just so she could crash into sleep as soon as she were alone. To her utter frustration, she found herself once again in the more-than-comfortable king-sized bed feeling everything but comfort.

 

            The fantasies her friends had shared openly kept drawing her back in, no matter how far she pushed all thoughts about her step-father. Now, she was once again craving what he had done to her body those two or three times, envying the fact that she couldn’t do that for herself.

 

            It came as a surprise to her to realize that some part of her–the part that was still attached and cared and cherished their sacred bond–also missed Steve. She hadn’t spoken to him properly in a few days, hadn’t seen him at all, nonetheless. It was always weird spending time away from him when he had been such a consistent, extraordinary part of her tiny, ordinary life.

 

            She suddenly needed to hear his voice.

 

            And so, before her mind could flip back again, she picked up her cellphone and dialled his number, eyes closed in anticipation with every ring.

 

            “Hello?” His deep voice came through, urgent and surprised. “Mel?”

 

            “Steve…” A sheer excitement played through her naked body. She squirmed against the cool cotton beneath her, rubbing her thighs together as she sighed.

 

            “Hey,” he spoke softly. “I didn’t think you would call me again.”

 

            “I miss you,” she blurted out, heat rising in her cheeks, becoming too much. “When are you coming back?”

 

            “I miss you too, sweetheart,” he replied. “I’m coming back soon. Three days.”

 

            “I can’t wait until then, Steve,” she gasped, kneading her own breast in her hand. Every rational part of her mind was too exhausted to function for the moment. No, right now, it was just the overpowering need in her limbs that was monitoring her.

 

            “Why baby? What’s wrong?”

 

            “I need you.” She shut her eyes in shame as her fingers toyed with one of her nipples. “I want you.”

 

            There was an unwelcome emotion that made face as she admitted this to him–a surge of longing and bliss in saying the words out loud.

           

            “Melody?” he asked, surprised. “What are you talking about, baby?”

 

            “I want you to…touch me,” she admitted weakly. “I need you.”

 

            She heard him curse under his breath; heard the hurried undoing of a belt and zipper. Phone sex. The thought only fuelled her actions more.

 

            Melody reached between her legs and brushed her fingers against her heat, arching her back with a lewd gasp. “Steve, I’m so wet,” she whispered. “I can’t stop thinking about you.”

 

            “Fuck,” he growled. “Fuck. You’re all I think about.”

 

            “I don’t know how to pleasure myself, Steve.” This wasn’t an attempt at dirty talk; simply a confession on her part. Her fingers worked clumsily against the skin just to the side of her flesh, the lips too swollen and sore to touch directly.

 

            “You can’t do for yourself what daddy can do for you,” he told her darkly. “Fuck, I wanna taste you so bad.”

 

            Melody moaned at the image and pushed her legs together around her hand. She was too lost to bear any kind of filter right now. Her thoughts were translating into words quicker than she could fathom.

 

            “Steve,” she pleaded. “Come back, please. I can’t be without you.”

 

            “I’m coming back soon, baby,” he assured. “Touch yourself for daddy. I wanna hear you.”

 

            “I don’t know how,” she whined.

 

            There was nothing but laboured breathing for a bit. Then, he whispered, “Do what you were doing before.”

 

            Melody sat up straight, her blood momentarily running cold. “What?”

 

            “Do what you did last night, sweetheart,” he encouraged. “The pillow.”

 

            “How do you know about that?” she gasped. Then it hit her. “Oh my God. Do you have a camera in your room?”

 

            “In case of emergencies, Mel,” he justified. “But I didn’t know I would get to see that. You have no idea what it did to me, watching you desperately riding a cushion… Calling my name.”

 

            Humility flooded Melody for a split second before she was alert again, glancing around the room. “Can you see me right now?”

 

            “I can see you all the time,” he stated. “I can go back and see everything you did whenever I wasn’t watching.”

 

            “Oh God, Steve.” Panic struck her as she realized he would know that she had broken a rule that had never before been crossed. “Please, don’t be mad at me.”

 

            “Why would I be mad at you, angel?” he cooed. “My little Mel.”

 

            “Steve, I broke a rule, I’m sorry.” Tears pricked at her eyes.

 

            “It’s okay, sweetie. I trust your friends.”

 

            “Oh, God,” she cried. He knew. He saw everything. “You’re not mad at me?”

 

            “No, baby,” he replied. “You’re such a good girl. I miss you so much. I feel so bad for leaving you all alone.”

 

            “You won’t hurt me?” she asked in a small voice.

 

            “I never mean to hurt you, Melody. I care about you so much.”

 

            She breathed a sigh of relief; now that there was nothing distracting her anymore, all she could do was focus on her arousal once again. “Where’s the camera, Steve?”

 

            “You can’t disable it, Mel–”

 

            “That’s not why I’m asking,” she whispered.

 

            Steve bit down on his lip. “It’s above the bay window, inside the mural.”

 

            Melody turned her head to the right, looking up at the glass-framed painting of a dark forest. She turned her whole body towards it while grabbing the pillow.

 

            “Hold on, I have to put a cover on it.”

 

            “Leave it,” he ordered. “Forget about the pillowcase. Just ride the fucking thing and say my name. I want to hear you come for me in my bed.”

 

            “Okay,” she responded meekly.

 

            He watched with lust-filled eyes as she rolled her hips slowly, hesitantly; she was shy. He loved how innocent his little girl was. Even through the camera film, he could see the blush on her skin, and he moaned as his hand began moving up and down his thick shaft again.

 

            “Don’t be so shy, Mel.” He clenched his jaw, bucking his own hips forward into his hand. “I know your body. I’ve watched it change. I’ve made it break.”

 

            His taunting speech made a loud gasp of his name fall from her lips. She closed her eyes to avoid the insecure commotion in her head and focused on his words.

 

            “Lean back on your hands. Show daddy that pretty little body,” he ordered, and she followed every command, opening herself up to him as she continued to chase her climax.

 

            “Say my name.”

 

            “Steve,” she whimpered.

 

            “Louder. Say it louder,” he growled.

 

            “Steve!” she exclaimed.

 

            “Who am I? You know what I want to hear,” he said darkly. The sight of her breasts bouncing slightly as she ground down against the cushion was driving him insane.

 

            “Daddy,” she whispered.

 

            “Louder, baby, louder,” he directed.

 

            “Daddy,” she called out. “I’m so close.”

 

            “Me too sweetheart. Keep going, yeah. Such a good girl for daddy, puttin’ on a show, so fuckin’ dirty,” he groaned, an accent creeping into his words that she hadn’t heard before. Steve sped up the pace of his hand, hunched over as he peered at her through the screen, his eyes alight with the image of her.

 

            “I’m coming,” she moaned. “Daddy, I’m coming…”

 

            “Fuck,” he hissed, holding on to the edge tightly just until her body convulsed in orgasm, twitching in pleasure, and then he let go too, splattering across his jeans in a hot rush of fluid. “Fuck, Mel.”

 

            “Come home, please,” she mewled, shuddering with the last bouts of pleasure. She buried herself under the duvet and sighed at the ache of her limbs. “Come back.”

 

            “Soon, baby. Real soon,” he assured. “Go to sleep, angel.”

 

            And she did, for the first time in two days, fall into a decent sleep as he hummed into her ear.

Chapter Text

            The next couple of days were the exact same for Melody. She kept taken the sleeping pills–the bottle said Melatonin, so, yes, they were supposed to help her sleep. She just couldn’t figure out why they weren’t working.

 

            She had woken up with her cell phone flung near her feet on the bed and picked it up to a new text.

 

           

            Steve:

 

                        You said my name in your sleep.

 

            It had made her groan loudly in frustration, before she picked up her clothes and left the master bedroom for good. No matter what, she wouldn’t return. She didn’t want him watching her again.

 

            Then she realized that the entire house was most likely set up with cameras. Suddenly she was all too aware of everything she did, and going to the washroom became a conscious difficulty. Surely, he wouldn’t install them in a place so private? But, really, Mel couldn’t know anymore: this Steve was as unexpected as rain in the desert.

           

            She spent a lot of time following the night of the phone call feeling doubtful about her feelings and actions, but the truth was that she still couldn’t bring herself to ponder the circumstances clearly while her system remained racked with spiked hormones. If she could even get rid of this arousal for five seconds–no, it was consuming her as inevitably as air.

 

            Melody found herself constantly taking cold showers to relieve the heat and sweat, trying to relax the irritating tingle of her flesh and the erect points of her nipples. But her body was on something else completely. Was this how everyone’s body reacted to breaking the sex barrier? Did this happen to everyone, once they’d experienced it that first time?

 

            She got down to doing some research, trying to figure out what was going on with her. While Google gave her many different results, the most common one seemed to be WebMD and a bunch of other health sites concluding she had some type of brain cancer.

 

 

*****

 

 

Steve was positively beaming the next morning. It was an elating revelation, to know that she had missed him, craved him, even dreamt about him in her sleep. It showed him what she was hiding deep inside, and it ultimately gave him hope for their future together.

 

            However, the downside was that now he felt even worse for being unfaithful to her.

 

            He had been avoiding Monica’s calls for the past couple of days, letting his voicemail become crowded. Constantly, he wondered how someone could be so acute as to not pick up on the fact that they were being blatantly shut out. Melody had never been the type to beg for attention from anyone; she had always been content in her own company, and besides, Steve had raised her better than to beg others for their time.

 

            “Hey y’all, I think Cap got laid,” Sam chimed as the beloved blond entered the conference room through the glass doors.

 

            “Did you grow taller overnight?” Tony was awestruck and clearly offended.

 

            “No, he was sulking so much that his spine fused inwards. It’s back to normal now,” Natasha informed, plucking a big red grape off of its vine and popping it back with a cocky smile.

 

            “Very funny. Thank you, really, all of you,” Steve drawled as he neared the empty seat beside Thor.

 

            “No, you can’t sit here,” the larger man quickly shooed. “It’s–I–someone’s sitting here already.”

 

            Steve raised an eyebrow precariously, and looked to Natasha, who made rings in front of her eyes with her fingers to signify glasses. Turns out, Thor was saving the seat beside him for Bruce, who still hadn’t arrived.

 

            “You know there are six other empty seats here, right?” Steve bent down and muttered to Thor discreetly.

 

            “Yes, but there is a plan in motion here, friend,” Thor smiled lightly. “You will see soon. Sit your tidy bum down over there, now.”

 

            Steve scoffed, but walked around the conference panel to take a seat beside Sam, who clapped him on the back.

 

            “How you feelin’ Cap?” he asked. “’s good to see that star-spangled smile again, dude.”

 

            “Noted, Samuel, thank you,” Steve nodded. “And how are you? How are things with Maria?”

 

            “Smooth, baby,” his friend whistled back. “Real smooth. We’re like bread and butter. I’m the butter.”

 

            Natasha shook her head in disapproval, but was unable to hold back the slight laughter. “Bring Maria to the next coalition. I miss having some women around me.”

 

            “I also miss having some women around me,” Scott exclaimed, letting the glass door slam shut behind him as he reached Thor for a rewarding high-five at his remark. “Ayo!”

 

            “Scott, where’s the coffee?” Tony gave him a stern look and suddenly, all the light was gone from his colleague’s eyes.

 

            “The coff–what? Was I supposed to bring coffee? Oh my God guys, I’m–I can go back and get some? I mean, I could–”

 

            “I’m fucking with you, Lang,” Tony snarked. “Sit down. Clint’s bringing the coffee. And Thor’s date. Ayo!” This time, Tony reached across the table to complete a loud high-five with Sam as Thor scowled deeply at them.

 

            “I will juice both of you out with my bare hands,” he threatened.

 

            “Tell me something–do you try to make everything sound unmistakably sexual, or do you just have a knack for it?” Tony inquired.

 

            “Leave him alone, Tones,” Scott pouted, reaching over to pet Thor on the head. “He’s just extremely, disturbingly, sexually deprived, that’s all.”

 

            “By the stars, I will strangle the life out of you, Scott,” Thor warned.

 

            “Kinky,” he winked. “Save it for Bruce.”

 

            “Where is Bruce?” Steve asked, curiosity getting the best of him. It seemed everyone in the room knew about the aforementioned ‘plan’ except him, and that was a bother.

 

            “Clint’s holding him back so he can help ‘carry coffee cups’,” Tony explained with air quotes. “By the time they get here, there will only be two empty seats, one beside Natasha, and one beside Thor. Clint will immediately take the one beside Natasha, so Bruce has to sit beside Thor.”

 

            Rhodey came in with T’Challa just as Sam and Scott were further inquiring about the idea. “You really are that ugly, huh? The man won’t even sit beside you unless he’s forced to?” the latter teased.

 

            “Have you seen him at the gym?” Rhodey directed the question right to Scott. “It’s absolutely repulsive…he can bench press three of me.”

 

            T’Challa whistled coolly with a raise of his eyebrows as the two men seated themselves alongside Sam, each dapping each other up. “Then he will have absolutely no problem carrying Banner bridal-style at their wedding, I assume.”

 

            Thor was scarlet-dunked up to his hairline at this point and pretended to be busy tying his gelled blond locks back in a ponytail, grumbling under his breath. “You’re all uninvited from every single one of my future events.”

 

            Natasha took it upon herself to explain to the others. “Bruce isn’t repulsed by Thor. I’m actually pretty sure he’s attracted to him, if my social skills tell me anything. But you know Bruce, he’s a floosy. He can’t even walk in a straight line if someone is watching him. He’ll never have the guts to approach someone, and he’ll gladly change his entire genetic makeup before he lets someone approach him.”

 

            “You better kiss that motherfucker.” Tony pointed a finger strictly at Thor. “Kiss him real good.”

 

            “Hmm, they’re gonna do a lot more than just kiss,” Sam was practically singing.

 

            “I’m immediately withdrawing myself from the company,” Thor announced, standing up from his chair, his burly body towering over the rest. At six-foot-six, he was easily at least three hundred pounds of equal amounts muscle and fat. With the below-shoulder blond hair and thick beard, he was easily one of the most masculine and attractive people in the room.

 

            Natasha grabbed his forearm with both hands and yanked him back down. “Get your ass back in that chair and let us make fun of you for a little longer.”

 

            “Thor, you should give yourself more credit. I’ve seen the way men and women alike look at you,” Steve offered with a smile. Thor beamed at him with sparkling blue eyes.

 

            “You are the only chivalry that exists in this room, Steven.”

 

            At long last, Clint and Bruce could be seen making way towards the glass push-door; where Banner’s hands were busy balancing three trays of coffee, Clint’s were empty as he rushed ahead with purpose. In his urgency to get to the empty seat beside his redhead friend first, Clint missed the concept of a door and walked face-first into the glass.

 

            Bruce shook his head and left him behind, pushing past the hinged barrier to take the seat by Nat, who quickly pushed the wheelie far away with the full force of her leg.

 

            “What was that for?” he asked.

 

            “That chair is broken,” she spoke quickly. “You should take the other one.”

 

            Bruce sighed heavily as he rested the trays on to the table and surveyed the empty chair next to Thor. Finally, he walked around and sat himself down, immediately crossing his legs one-over-the-other.

 

            “Oh, he is painfully gay,” Rhodey muttered to Sam.

 

            Clint finally came into the conference room, rubbing his forehead as he brought the reject chair back in place and took a seat beside his friend. “Oh, that one’s broken, actually,” Bruce pointed out.

 

            “A match made in heaven, then,” Clint responded, and reached up to take out his ear piece as soon as Tony’s back was turned.

 

            “Clint keep that fucking aid in your ear or so help me God–” Tony called behind him.

 

            Scott reached toward the trays of coffee and pulled off a double-double for himself. “Hey, have you guys ever realized–”

 

            “Do not say whatever you are about to say, I beg you,” Natasha sighed in exasperation.

 

            “Every single time he starts off a sentence like this, it turns out to be some segment of unnecessarily gross information,” Sam muttered to T’Challa, who had been very absorbed by the scene of action that had unfolded before them. In particular, his attention had stayed on Clint, who was now readjusting his ear piece half-heartedly.

 

            “Relax, you guys, not everything I say is something sleazy. Sometimes I make astute observations, too. Now, can I talk?” Scott waited until all eyes were on him, expectantly. “I was just about to say, have you ever realized that if you take the letter ‘n’ out of Clint, it becomes Clit?”

 

            Clint burst out laughing and snorted coffee onto his shirt. “That’s the only important thing you’ve ever said. Thank you, Tony, for making me wear my aid.”

 

            The rest of the group was clearly discomforted by the statement, grumbling their complaints. “I thought it was quite funny,” Thor offered quietly to Bruce.

 

            “Oh, it was hilarious,” Bruce muttered with a raise of his brow. “But if we laugh, it’ll only encourage him.”

 

            “Is that so bad?” Thor inquired curiously, enjoying the small dimple that formed in the crook of Bruce’s smile.

 

            “You tell me, he’s your best friend.”

 

            “Mm, not by choice,” Thor shrugged playfully. “He’s here to remind me that I can never be that.”

 

            “Well, who do you want to be, then?” Bruce looked Thor in the eye for maybe the first time, quickly breaking away again.

 

            “That’s a lengthy conversation…to be had over lunch, perhaps?” Thor’s heart skipped a beat as he waited for Bruce to respond.

 

            “I will, uh, clear my non-existent social schedule,” Bruce nodded, licking his lips nervously.

 

            “I will clear my fully-booked social schedule, just for our meeting,” the larger man smirked, and Bruce blushed furiously as the rest of the congregation continued their scolding of Scott.

 

 

Banner was the first to leave after the meeting had ended, hurrying off to a college commencement where he was supposed to be a guest speaker for the graduates. As soon as he was out of earshot, the conversation resumed.

 

            “Clint! Walk much?” Tony jibed.

 

            “Who puts a glass door on a glass wall in a room with all glass walls?” Clint exclaimed.

 

            “That was hilarious what you did, by the way,” Sam bellowed at Natasha, unable to contain his laughter anymore. “You kicked that chair like a crazy.”

 

            “Looked like something a five-year-old would do out of pettiness,” Scott grinned. “I like immature Nat; we would get along well.”

 

            “Immature Nat just decided you’re going to be her next kick-victim,” she replied shortly.

 

            “I’ll take it, anything for my new best friend,” he shrugged.

 

            “Thor, what’s the 4-1-1?” Steven asked, recognizing the dazed expression on his friend’s face as something good.

 

            “I asked him to lunch,” Thor began. The entire table stilled quietly, waiting for the conclusion. “He said he will clear his non-existent social schedule.”

 

            They erupted in a cheer; T’Challa fist-bumped both Sam and Rhodey as Nat and Clint knocked elbows rather aggressively. Scott stood up and started doing hip-thrusts, wiggling his eyebrows obnoxiously at Thor and making slurping noises.

 

            “Another two bite the dust,” Tony nodded in approval at Steve, who chuckled in response. “You better make all of us your groomsmen.”

 

            “Between both of them being the groom, we’ll all get a turn,” Steve observed.

 

            “What will you do, Natasha?” T’Challa asked her teasingly. “No room for a bridesmaid at this wedding.”

 

            “And I couldn’t be happier,” she admitted. “I just want to show up, get drunk, and shout obscene things during the ceremony.”

 

            “Guys, please, you’re all getting carried away,” Thor cut in sheepishly. “It’s just lunch. It’s nothing.”

 

            “That’s what you think, Point Break.” Tony polished off the rest of his coffee and reached for a second cup. “I never told you guys this, but back when you first joined the company, Bruce used to talk to me about you.”

 

            The colour in Thor’s face darkened considerably as his face tensed in anticipation. “He–talk–me? That–what–”

 

            “Smooth, Eye-Sore,” Sam nodded. “Real smooth. You stammer like a virgin caught watching porn.”

 

            “Bruce is the same, though,” Rhodey cut in. “It’s clearly a calculated match.”

 

            Clint popped a piece of gum into his mouth. “They’ll be stammering through their vows, too. ‘B-B-Bruce, I c-c-care ab-bout you.’” He then promptly began choking on the piece of gum while making fun of his friend. Natasha slapped him on the back once, hard, and he came back around, coughing slightly.

 

            “That’s what you deserve,” Thor beamed in glee.

 

            Scott walked up to Tony and got down on one knee, deciding to continue the banter. “Oh, my love, would thee get me laid for the rest of my life?”

 

            “Thee can get laid any time of day,” Tony responded, holding Scott’s hands. “Carry me away, King-Kong.”

 

            “None of you are coming to the wedding,” the large, embarrassed man stated.

 

            T’Challa raised a brow. “You admit you are going to marry him, then?”

 

            “You better treat him right, or else I will be very angry, but I cannot hurt you physically, so I will probably talk a lot of shit about you,” Tony warned.

Chapter Text

            Their project had finished a day-and-a-half earlier than expected, not to the disappointment of the team, who were glad to be laid back for the next however many days until the follow-up ordeals. Tony and Steve were standing by the company jet, watching Clint and Scott lazily pack up the trunk of the SUV for their long drive ahead. T’Challa and Sam were already inside, shuffling through a CD album. The men were now clad in casualwear instead of the usual, daunting suits they wore for work; in t-shirts and polos, they looked years younger and carefree.

           

            “You sure you don’t want me to stay back?” Steve asked his friend amidst their private conversation.

 

            “No, no, get back to your kid. I know what it’s like being away from family,” Tony assured. “The bulk of this deal has been finalized. If the Canadian government can agree to our plans, then we’ll be spending a lot more time on their land. But not here, not in Vancouver. We’ll be starting in the most populated province and branching out.”

 

            “You guys flying out later, then?”

 

            Tony nodded. “Bruce, Natasha, Rhodey, and Thor, they’re invited to my jet tomorrow night. Seeing as we’re all headed to New York,” he shrugged. “Maybe we’ll see some progress between Thor and Bruce. Who knows?”

 

            Steve peered closely at the white Range in the distance, where Scott had climbed into the passenger seat and Clint had boarded into the back beside T’Challa. “Hey, you think Clint’s single?”

 

            “Well that was unexpected,” Tony cocked a brow. “You interested?”

 

            He chuckled. “Not my arena, no. Have you noticed T’Challa’s body language, though?”

 

            “Son of a bitch,” Tony muttered under his breath, realizing his partner was right. T’Challa seemed to perk up with Clint at his side, his posture more rigid, his shoulders set back, as if he were a bird preening for a mate. Clint, the oblivious hooligan that he was, didn’t notice any of this.

 

            “I can’t believe these grown men have to have their friends set them up,” Steve huffed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

 

            “What about you, Rogers? You made any advances in your romantic life?” Tony questioned. “I heard you had someone in your hotel suite the other night?”

 

            Steve flushed, tensing up immediately. “No, I–who told you that?”

 

            “You know Natasha sees everything.”

 

            He shook his head. “It was just a one-time thing. I’m…I’m good with where I am right now.”

 

            “You sure? Could set you up, that’s for sure. Plenty of women I know, all ready to be manhandled by you,” Tony informed.

 

            “You of all people would agree, that’s not appealing once you’re in your forties.”

 

            “So what, then? Settle down? You have anybody to settle down with?” Tony was insistent on getting some information; Steve could tell.

 

            “Nobody yet. And I’m not exactly a lone wolf who can bring anyone into my life, whenever. I got a girl to look after.”

 

            “She’s growing up, Cap. She won’t care sooner or later. She’ll move on with her life, and then who’ll you live your life for?” Tony smiled knowingly; he’d hit the nail on the head with that one. After all, he had known Steven a long while. He knew all too well the struggles that his friend had faced across his life, how he only lived for others.

 

            “Her. It’ll always be her, Tony,” he replied firmly. Then, trying to change the subject a bit, he offered, “Hey, if we get this deal, and we have to fly up to Canada, bring everyone to my place for a few days. We can all travel together from there.”

 

            “What, you’re hosting a bed and breakfast now?” Tony smirked. “Okay, I’ll let them all know. Now I really hope the Canadians pull through. I wanna see your domain.”

 

 

*****

 

 

The sleeping pills continued to make their way into Melody’s system as she tried to shut her body down with sleep. There was nothing else in the house that she could think of, really, that would put her right to sleep. She was so worn out–exhausted, even, but her nerves were too hyperventilated to relax. She needed to scratch the itch that was oozing out of her core.

 

            In the last fifteen hours she’d ingested eight sleeping pills and hurdled through five pairs of underwear. No number of cold showers, relaxing music, reading, or scented candles was putting her to down.

 

            It was near four in the morning and Mel was in the living room, sprawled across the couch in the dark, barely focused on what was playing on the flat-screen. She just needed background noise to drown her thoughts out as she buried her hand inside of her shorts and delicately massaged her swollen flesh. Sighs and whimpers fell from her lips constantly as she grew closer to the end, feeling victorious–she was finally going to do this for herself.

 

            But before she could topple over the edge, the front door opened and Melody jerked upright, pulling her hand out of her shorts in bitterness, and tucked it under her leg.

 

            Steve was as surprised to find her awake in the dark room as she was to see him home.

 

            “Steve?”

 

            “Melody?”

 

            They’d spoken at the same time. He smiled as he turned on the light and walked over, taking in the nudity of her legs immediately. She watched his expression change slightly as he noticed her stiffened nipples through the provocatively thin t-shirt, until he forced it back again to a gentler one. He could feel a familiar heat in his pants–she may as well have been naked.

 

            “Hey, baby,” he greeted, kneeling on the floor in front of her. When his fingers touched her bare legs, she flinched away as if he’d burned her.

 

            I need it, but I can’t let this happen again.

 

            “What’s wrong?” he asked, confused. “I thought you missed me.”

 

            She was still in agony about that phone call. He was never supposed to have known that she had wanted him, that she dreamt about him in her sleep. She hung her head, wringing her hands nervously. “It’s good to have you back.”

 

            “This isn’t how you usually welcome me,” he pointed out.

 

            Melody hesitated a long moment; she didn’t want to upset him, and it wasn’t like her body was letting her think consciously anyhow. She reached forward and slid her arms around his thick shoulders, very aware of the smell of his cologne and the heat radiating off of him. Steve wrapped her in his arms securely, relishing the sensation of her breasts pressed against him, picking up the subconscious rub of her toe against his thigh.

 

            He couldn’t help it; he pushed himself closer between her legs, and the sudden friction of his jeans against the inside of her burning thighs made Mel arch her back in a mewl.

 

            “What’s wrong, Mels?” he asked, running one large hand soothingly up and down her back. This only wound her up more tightly and she clutched the fabric of his button-down in her fists helplessly, trying to contain the wuthering thirst of her need.

 

            “I–oh!” She shuddered and jumped when his jeans brushed deliciously against her crotch, breaking the dam in the river. “I can’t do this.”

 

            She pulled back and grabbed his face before slamming her lips against his. Steve was pleasantly caught off-guard; he’d expected the eventual break in determination, but not this quickly. He knew then just how badly she needed it, and he wasn’t going to let her off the hook so easily.

 

            “Baby, what are you doing?” he asked innocently. She was breathing hard, her face flushed and lips swollen.

 

            “What? We’ve done this before,” she replied with wide eyes. Was he going to suddenly turn good now, when she was absolutely dwindling?

 

            “I thought you didn’t want this.”

 

            Melody looked at him carefully, thinking as hard as she could until her mind was broken. The only thing that mattered right now was what her body was feeling. She ran her hands across his chest and arms, taking in every inch of his beauty with her hungry eyes.

 

            “I want you. Please,” she pleaded. “Steve…I need you.”

 

            He took her wrist and held her hand up to his face, sniffing at the skin. “Were you touching yourself, Melody?”

 

            She reddened slightly, cowering under his intense gaze. “I can’t stop it.”

 

            “Touching yourself while daddy’s away…” He sucked one of her fingers into his mouth and closed his eyes briefly with a moan. “You’re getting naughty, aren’t you?”

 

            “I’m sorry,” she whined. “You weren’t here.”

 

            “I’m here now,” he assured her. “Do you want me?”

 

            “Yes.”

 

            “Who were you thinking about?”

 

            “You.”

 

            “What was I doing?” he asked, eyes darkening.

 

            “Eating me out,” she responded, having recently learned the term for it on the internet.

 

            “Hey,” he warned, taking her face in his hand. “Who taught you that?”

 

            She blinked innocently. “I looked it up.”

 

            “I see.” He ran his fingers along the insides of her thighs, whispering against her mouth. “You want daddy to eat you out? You want daddy’s face between your legs?”

 

            “Mhmm,” she nodded, before he caught her lips in a fervent, wet kiss. Within seconds, her clothes were off and she was sprawled naked on the couch before him, his own shirt unbuttoned to reveal the supreme build underneath. Just looking at his contracting muscles made her all the more delicate; he was a masterpiece, and he was all hers.

 

            Steven played with her body yet, bullying it to the extent of corruption; he teased her nipples, reached up to run a thumb against her swollen mouth, growling ferally when she parted her lips and licked a wet stripe against it. Her legs were parted beyond need, every crevice of her core on display, all for him. He assaulted her thick thighs with his mouth, biting and chewing on the flesh hungrily, bringing little red spots to the skin from the pressure of his teeth.

 

            Melody was writhing before him, arching her back with urgency, her hard nipples standing sinfully at attention. “Please,” she breathed. “I can’t do this anymore.”

 

            Steve watched her folds move as she clenched and unclenched, and the sight made him curse. “I could do this all day. Watch you lose control while I pull your strings.”

           

            “Steve, please.”

 

            “Beg for it,” he ordered. He really needed her to pick up the pace at this point: his own cock was hard to the extent of anguish.

 

            “Please, I need you,” she whimpered. “Please let me come.”

 

            He grunted in satisfaction before spreading her folds open and flicking his tongue against her clit, once. Melody practically shrieked, hiding both hands into his hair and tugging his head against her flesh.

 

            “More, please,” she begged.

 

            Steve kissed the swollen tissue as if he were making out with it, lapping up everything that was spilling out of her. He needed only to suck her clit for mere seconds before she cried out in joy, her body shattering against his mouth beautifully.

 

            What surprised Steve even further was when she pulled his face up to hers and kissed him wildly, pushing herself against him until he was forced to lie back on the floor and she was on top of him.

 

            She clumsily undid his pants and he pushed them down hastily so she could pull him free of the confines between them. He was swollen and red with need, and Melody gazed fondly at the evidence of her effect on him before leaning down and pressing her lips to the tip.

 

            “Fuck, Melody,” he hissed, throwing his hand out against the coffee table with so much force that the heavy oak tipped over onto its side.

 

            Her eyes went wide with fear and she moved away. “Please don’t hit me,” she mumbled.

 

            He sat up and pulled her close, crashed their lips together for an obscene display of dominance. “I don’t wanna hurt you, baby. Jesus, you just get me so fuckin’ good, you know?”

 

            “Can I?” she asked, resting her hand on his engorged cock gently.

 

            “Fuck, yes,” he nodded enthusiastically, leaning back on his elbows to give her room.

 

            Melody kept her hand still around his length as she leaned forward to kiss down his chest and abs. Feeling her lips everywhere on his skin made his cock ooze with more excitement, and the fear that he would finish off without any other effort overtook him.

 

            “Baby, ‘m not gonna last much longer,” he panted. She recognized the accent that crept in whenever he was teetering on the edge, knowing she had to get on with it soon.

 

            He watched her open her mouth and wrap her warm, wet lips around his tip, her eyes hesitantly travelling up to meet his. Euphoria coursed through him as she took a little more of him in, then sucked off with a plop. Steven reached out and caressed her face gently with his hand, despite the rush in his blood that was dying to make an aggressive appearance. He wanted to grip her head and bury himself in her throat, but he knew that was unnecessary. He had to cherish what she was offering him, what with her inexperience and all.

 

            “You’re so big,” she whispered in awe, and licked a sinful, wet stripe up the entire length before sucking on the tip again.

 

            Her praise went straight to his head as he slammed his head back against the ground in defeat. “I’m coming,” he snarled. “Melody, I’m–”

 

            Steve had expected her to let off, but she didn’t, instead sucking harder as hot, vile spurts of salty liquid filled her mouth, causing her to gag briefly. He watched her in awe as she refused to relent, milking him eagerly with her innocent little mouth.

 

            “Jesus, fuck,” he spat, relishing in the chills for as long as he could. “So good, holy shit. Let daddy come in your mouth the first time, huh?”

 

            She sat up with her mouth still full of salty fluid, not too sure about what she was supposed to do with it. He straightened himself and pulled her onto his lap. “You still have it in your mouth, Mel?”

 

            Melody nodded meekly.

 

            “You like the taste of my come in your mouth?” he whispered, wiping a drop of it from the corner of her lips. She nodded again, aware of how good his muscular thigh felt against her core. “Swallow it,” he ordered, and she did it quickly without any contemplation.

 

            Her mouth now empty, Melody wiped it with the back of her hand before averting her gaze shyly. “Was that…okay?”

 

            “It was more than okay, Mel.” Steve kissed down her neck to her chest in appreciation, across her shoulders, before he met her lips greedily. “So fuckin’ hot. My little girl has quite the mouth on her.”

 

            She blushed furiously, biting down on her lip. She knew this wouldn’t be her last bout of arousal for the night; she could already feel her flesh getting ticklish again. “Can I…sleep with you?”

 

            Yes, she knew all the regret and shame would hit her like a wall of bricks, in time. Yes, she was still angry at him for the lies; still had a dozen questions to ask. But once again, he’d caught her in a delicate situation. She was too fragile with need to even think straight, let alone fight or argue.

 

            Steve secured her legs around his hips before effortlessly standing up to readjust his jeans, cradling her against him as he began walking towards the kitchen. “Of course you can, baby girl. But I’m not sleeping yet. Did you eat anything today?”

 

 

*****

 

 

As soon as the cool air of Steve’s bedroom hit her, Mel didn’t know how to act anymore.

 

            She hung onto him, belligerent, plump lip pulled between her teeth, wide eyes begging him not so innocently. Not that he didn’t enjoy tossing her body onto his bed, her big brown eyes watching intently as he peeled himself free of clothes. And then he was on her, like a beast devouring prey, licking and biting places that made her sink into the sheets with humility.

 

            “Don’t you ever try to hide from me,” he warned. “Look at me when I speak to you. Watch me as I make you mine again and again.”

 

            She shuddered shyly and bit down on her thumb as he took her left nipple–which he’d learned by now was more sensitive than the right–between his teeth. Immediately he slapped her hand away, pinning her wrists down with one massive hand.

 

            “None of that. I wanna hear you. Don’t try to be quiet.” He grabbed her cheeks and squeezed them until she was pouting. “Who’s your daddy? Huh?”

 

            “You,” she answered with difficulty.

 

            “What did you say?”

           

            “You!” she cried.

 

            Steve moved his hand from her face down to her flesh. “Mm, so wet already. You can’t get enough, can you? So horny for me.”

 

            “Steve!” she gasped at the feeling of his finger dipping the slightest bit into her opening. She noticed it didn’t hurt the way it had when Alex had tried to do it; she desperately tried to shake the thought off and focus on the moment. She couldn’t afford to miss any of the attention being delivered to her body right then.

 

            “You’re so tight, baby. Jesus, wanna feel you on my cock so bad.”

 

            Melody moaned scandalously at the idea, only then allowing herself to wonder what exactly that would feel like. Some part of her that was too carried away in the whole process told her she craved the feeling, but mostly, she knew there was no coming back from it. Having his mouth and hands claw her body to shreds was one thing; having his seed inside of her would seal the treaty eternally, and that was too dark a truth to face.

 

            But you want it, don’t you? You want to be his.

 

            The thought sent a shiver down her spine, right to her core, which became noticeably wetter, and Mel sighed with shame when Steve smirked at the excess secretion. “You want daddy to fuck you, don’t you?”

 

            “No,” she shook her head desperately.

 

            “You want me inside of you, yeah? Fucking your tight little pussy? You want my come in you, baby girl?” He tormented her intentionally, knowing the suggestions disturbed her, but unable to ignore how wet they also made her.

 

            Steve pushed his thick, long finger deeper between her slick, tight walls until it made an obscene squelching noise. “Oh, God,” Melody exclaimed, part humility, but mostly pleasure.

 

            “I wouldn’t call myself that,” he said darkly, curling the digit inside of her, stroking the fleshy wall. The fervent moans and calls of his name that she released only fuelled his ego as he leaned down to whisper into her ear. “God won’t save you from me, Melody. Nobody will. God was the one who gave you to me, to do whatever I want.”

 

            “No,” she gushed quietly, but her hips rolled urgently. The way his palm brushed against her swollen clit every time he pumped inwards was driving her crazy. She could feel the flutter of something new building inside of her, something unfamiliar to the kind of orgasms she’d experienced previously. Steve could feel the clenching of her walls as she became a mess in front of him.

 

            “No?” he frowned, looking at her malevolently. “Are you denying me?”

 

            He stilled his movements and she cried out in complaint. She was so close; he couldn’t stop now. Her limbs were aching with desire, and she had to have it. She had to come.

 

            “I’m sorry,” she pleaded. “Take me. Please.”

 

            “I will,” he sneered, replacing his mouth at her ear, sucking on the soft lobe lazily as his hand moved faster, and her heels dug into the bed. “I’m going to take you when I want, where I want, how I want. You’re mine to do whatever I please, and you will enjoy everything I give you, because deep down, you’re just as hungry for me as I am for you. I know you are.”

 

            She was on the edge but ashamed at how quickly he had figured her out. She was too easy of a target; no wonder he chose to take advantage of her. But whatever reason fuelled his current actions was beyond Melody, who was just dying to fall forward from the climax. There was guilt in her heart at how successfully his perverted thoughts beckoned the fire, encouraging her own barely locked-away demons to come out and play.

 

            “Nobody can stop this,” he reminded her. “I know you, every part of you. You were mine before you even took your first breath.”

 

            “Steve,” she squealed, arching her back. There it was, the trickle of pleasure waiting to tear through all of her.

 

            “Now, let it go. Don’t hold back,” he granted, circling her clit with his thumb as his finger drilled her mercilessly. Mel let out a string of lewd whimpers and moans, constantly repeating his name as she remained falling to the ground for a generous amount of time.

 

            “Yeah, that’s it,” he cooed, stroking her insides gently now, his entire hand wet from the drool of her flesh. “Fuck, I love watching you come for me. So fuckin’ pretty.”

 

            She lay quivering eloquently from the bliss until her mind cleared, letting him plant his mouth everywhere, kissing her down from the high. It was only a matter of seconds until her attention focused in on him.

 

            “Steve?” Her voice was quiet. He came back up, kissing along the way wherever he could, before he reached her face.

 

            “Yeah baby?”

 

            “What about you?” she asked, and they both looked down at his throbbing erection pointedly.

 

            “What about me?” He was curious to see what she would do. Steve would like for her to want to pleasure him, of her own accord. Otherwise, he knew he would get off easily with his own hand, so long as he kept busy with her.

 

            Melody sat up, then, and bit her lip. He could see her contemplating, watching as he slowly pumped himself with patience. An excitement erupted in his belly as he watched her flush pink at whatever conclusion had developed in her head.

 

            “Can I be on top?” she asked in a small voice.

 

            Steve felt his heart lurch at her words, but not with pain or worry. There was sheer pleasance coursing through him as he piled the pillows behind his back and pulled her atop. Melody let out a squeak as she was carried effortlessly forward to straddle him.

 

            “What’s going on in that pretty little head?” He pushed her hair back affectionately, his features devoid now of all signs of menace.

 

            Melody shifted to angle herself, braced her weight on her knees. Steve could see her protruding lips mere inches from his swollen cock and sucked his teeth impatiently, scratching the curvature of her hips with his nails. She held onto his shoulders but kept her gaze averted, slowly lowering until his skin touched her flesh. Mel gasped and Steve moaned, both equally intoxicated. She lowered herself again, letting her folds part and rest against his pulsating cock.

 

            The sensation of her wet heat sitting gently against where he needed her most sent Steven toppling forward. In a rush, he rolled her hips with determination, privy to the way the juices of her arousal spread across his length. The friction of his thick, rigid cock delving between the crevices of her flesh and rubbing deliciously against her clit, it all had Mel parting her lips in awe. She began moving of her own accord, but Steve never relented, controlling her movements to speed them up gradually until they were both calling out for one another provocatively.

 

            “Look at me,” he instructed, but she only raised her sight to about where her fingers were digging into his clavicles. Steve captured her mouth in a slow, sensual kiss before trying again. “Melody, look at me baby.”

 

            She met his gaze with great difficulty, knowing she was doing what she was doing in that moment. Memories of his affectionate blue eyes from a different time flooded her mind and she pushed them away quickly. This would be a lot of shame in the aftermath, but she couldn’t find it in her weak will to stop.

 

            Steve brushed his nose against her briefly as they both locked gazes, lips parted and fanning out harsh breaths. “You drive me so crazy,” he panted, using one hand to caress her cheek gently.

 

            Helpless to her physique being still ablaze with gratified thirst and need, Melody began clenching up not too far into the activity. The wetness that oozed out of her with yet another orgasm hauled Steven over the edge as well, and he held her still against the head of his length as his satisfaction splattered amongst her folds and his groin. Mel shivered at the feeling of the hot liquid against her core and the rest of her prickly skin, still grinding timidly, letting the tip dive in and part her flesh as it milked itself out into every crease she had.

 

            “Steve,” she gasped, chocolate eyes suddenly wide. “We–we didn’t–condom–”

 

            “Hey, hey, shhh.” The big, daunting man kissed her forehead with a chuckle, sitting up now to be closer together. “Relax, it’s okay. We didn’t have sex. As long as it’s not inside of you, I’m pretty sure nothing will happen.”

 

            Melody frowned, unconvinced. “But–it’s…everywhere.”

 

            Steve’s face darkened as he combed her hair back continuously with his fingers. “I know.”

 

            After using a few tissues to wipe the fluid off of external areas, he lay her down against his chest, stroking down her back as he hummed in her ear quietly. Melody hated how tuned her body was to relax immediately when he did certain things like these; soon enough she had dozed off, with a dozen questions still in her mind and a heavy derision in her chest.

Chapter Text

            The night that followed was not uneventful. Before the break of dawn, Mel had stirred from slumber with the same ardent flux inside of her. As if on cue, oddly, Steve had been waiting and awake each of the three times. He tended to her gratuitously–sometimes merciful and soft; other times like a whirlwind of starvation that could only be curbed by bringing upon her orgasm after orgasm. Melody’s skin was raw from the scraping and teasing of his teeth, and the stench of blasphemy was thick in the air when light began streaking in through the curtains. It was morning by the time they finished a fifth session and decided a shower was compulsory, as was a change in sheets.

 

            Melody gaped at the tear in the white cotton cloth where Steve had fisted it to exhaustion. It was a rueful reminder that she had not only received but also delivered; had been equal in the crime that haunted her sanity.

 

            But when she looked at Steve then, in the light of the morning, as he stood in front of her in nothing but bare skin glistening with sweat, she didn’t feel the hatred she expected to. She wanted to hate him, yes, and she’d more than anticipated it–in fact, she would have welcomed bitter loathing for him, if it had come. Given, she was numb with remorse. But as he held her hand gently, eyes peering down at her in that way she knew meant absolute adoration–she couldn’t help it. She smiled up at him, and even though it was tiny and brief to the point of almost having not happened, Steve caught it, and it made his heart jump.

 

            He cleaned her off, shampooed her hair, scrubbed her skin carefully. His eyes never stopped admiring her, the way the water ran off her curves, the seals of his ownership now stamped across various places in dark, crimson bites. Melody felt a new level of shyness; he had never showered or bathed her before, had never seen her body in the days of her youth. And now, under the bright illumination from the shower’s ceiling, she was sure he could see everything.

 

            She helped him, too, by scrubbing across his broadly statured back wherever his arms couldn’t reach. Every dimple of his muscles as he moved still caused her to blush and gaze in awe, and Steve enjoyed how she seemed to cower under his height and build, her face aghast with wonder.

 

            “Hey, eyes up here, sweetheart,” he joked after she had stared at his pecs for quite some time.

 

            “I never noticed before,” she said in a small voice, almost drowned out by the spray of water.

 

            “S’okay. You’re noticing now, aren’t you?” Steve smirked, washing out his underarms and intentionally flexing his chest and biceps. He enjoyed every second as Melody continued to stare shamelessly, then reached out and lay her palm flat against one of his pecs. He stilled, cautious not to disrupt her movements.

 

            Mel pressed against the tissue and blinked in amazement; it was incredibly firm under her touch. She slid a thumb gently over one of his nipples and looked up to watch his eyes cloud over, long, wet eyelashes adding a nice touch to the pink in his cheeks. She stepped right up and pressed her lips to the skin of his chest without lowering herself or craning her neck up. It was the perfect height balance for the moment as she flicked her tongue across the pink peak her thumb had previously teased.

 

            “Fuck,” he sighed, his hand latching on to her ass and groping the flesh. She was surprised by the territorial gesture, nervously taking her lip between her teeth. Steve shook his head in awe. “You know what that does to me, don’t you?”

 

            Melody shook her head innocently, still biting down on her lip, her dark, wet eyelashes splayed out beautifully as she looked up at him. A powerful surge of longing and sheer admiration bloomed in Steven’s heart as he looked down at her; it powered his heart to keep beating day and night, this surge of emotion. It had done so for the past fifteen years, but he would never get used to it. It was new every single time.

 

            The brief moment of wholesomeness lasted not long before he had her against the wall in seconds and kissed her so fiercely that she would have fallen over backwards if not for the hard tile behind her. He had put out untarnished, gentle affection for so long. These days, the hunger that he had caged in finally had a chance to breathe outside of captivity–and it was enjoying freedom more than he could have expected. It was devouring as much as it could for fear of being locked up soon again.

 

            He hoisted one of her thighs up abruptly and latched it around the vee of his hip. Melody gasped when his wet cock pressed against her folds–which had already been swollen and needy again for some time. The burn of her desire was so hot and strong that she didn’t even mind the animalistic way he was dragging a flat tongue in long streaks up her neck and jaw, licking the water droplets off her skin. God knew it only added to the slick between her legs, a hot fire kindling itself at her core. This arousal she had felt for the past few days since her stomach sickness was different to the bearable bouts of thirst she’d felt before. This was powerful, searing desire. It didn’t let her think about anything else until it was relieved, and it blocked out every sane thought that could stop it.

 

            Steve continued the wet assault on her neck and chest as his hands reached behind her to spread her ass apart. She whimpered as he clawed at her flesh harder and harder, until the sting echoed in place even after he’d stopped. But she loved it–or she wouldn’t have been dancing against him the way that she was, clearly greedy for more.

 

            Melody clutched his hair and directed his face down to look at her. “Steve, please.”

 

            “Please what?” He looked constantly between her hooded eyes and parted lips, feeling victorious at how quickly he could have her pinned out on the map.

 

            “Please–do something.” She used her free hand to reach down and parted her lips against his throbbing cock. “I need something, please. Anything.”

 

            Steve could understand what she was going through. After all, it was all his doing in the first place, wasn’t it?

 

            She watched with confusion as he reached behind and unhooked the showerhead from its place. “Does it feel really hot?” he asked, motioning towards the storm between her legs.

 

            She nodded eagerly, overcome with excitement as she guessed what he was going to do. Steve turned the water to cold and brought it slowly up her leg. She was squirming beneath the cold stream until, at a point of desperation, she reached to take it from him.

 

            “Hands up,” he snapped wickedly, pulling the handheld out of her reach. “Against the wall. Keep them there.”

 

            She gave him a pleading look but followed; the way her breasts lifted cheekily with the rise of her arms held Steve’s attention as he tweaked her nipples, knowing the effect it had on her. “Naughty, naughty girl, Mel,” he muttered between soft kisses against her mouth.

 

            “Please,” was all she could get out as he brought the cold stream to her chest and ran the spray in circles around the peaks of her breasts.

 

            “Let me have some fun,” he tutted, his free hand gently opening her folds. The cold water surfed down her body and ran right between her parted, fiery flesh, causing her to hiss in pleasure. 

 

            It wasn’t until she was certainly trembling that Steve brought the jet of fluid down and directed it slowly back and forth against her flesh. Mel held onto his shoulder for support as he kept her thigh lifted with his free hand to give the spray of water more access. Her squeals and sharp intakes of breath filled the washroom within seconds, and soon her orgasm had arrived in battling waves that made her legs weak. Steve let her down slowly, allowing her to sink to her shins until she was seated flat on her knees before him.

 

            Steve put the handheld back in place and switched back to the warmer, main shower, all the while pumping himself steadily. Melody squeezed body wash into her palm and rubbed her hands together before taking over for him, sliding her slippery fingers over his swollen cock.

 

            “Not as shy as before, are you?” he asked, gathering her wet hair in his fingers as he leaned back against the tile now. “You love playing with daddy’s cock now.”

 

            She took the praise as it went straight to her already blooming heat, gripping him with both hands as she twisted and pulled on his length as quickly and as hard as she could.

 

            “Fuck, Jesus–fuck, Melody, slow down baby,” he hissed, hips jerking forward with a surprisingly firm pump.

             

            Melody cocked her head to the side as an idea came to her. She switched from the dutiful pumps to ghostly strokes along his shaft with a single finger. She relished the distress in his features as he watched her tease him, his cock twitching with aching need, hanging straight forward in all its girth and weight.

 

            “You tryin’ to tease me, baby?” he asked, running his thumb across her lip. Again, she opened her mouth and sucked it inside, swirling her tongue around it, her eyes glued to his despite her shame and embarrassment. The width of his pupils against the oceanic blue of his irises lit her up from head to toe. “Why don’t you do what you’re doin’ to my thumb to my cock?” he asked.

 

            “Daddy said slow down,” was all she replied with, teasingly innocent.

 

            “Oh, you’re so naughty,” he hissed, squeezing her jaw again. He held his shaft with his free hand and traced her pouted lips with the swollen pink tip. She sighed against him and her warm breath hit his fiery skin in glory. “Where’s the sweet little Melody who used to do everything I asked her to?”

 

            By now, the water running off his body had washed away the remaining suds. Melody poked her tongue out and brushed it against his leaking slit, making Steve throw his head back in surprise before he returned to watch her carefully. He let go of her face and instead pressed both hands tightly against the walls either side of him, his beautiful body spread open in a position of crucifixion. Melody sighed at the sight, and while her right hand led his cock into her mouth, her left hand reached between her legs to play with her tingling flesh. The scene before him had Steve nearly undone in seconds.

 

            “Come in my mouth,” she whispered with hooded eyes, parting her lips and sticking her tongue out as her hands ran up and down the insides of his sculpted thighs. Steve took hold of his cock and tapped the head against her tongue until the white liquid spurted and gathered against the pink flesh. She swallowed it down with a moan, watching with fascination what she evidently did to him. He never stopped growling her name until the end, when he was panting harshly and she was watching with her hand stuck between her thighs.

 

            “Steve,” she gasped enticingly, accidentally indulging a sweet spot. Steve couldn’t let up; he reached down and pulled her easily up to hook her legs around him.

 

            “You’re gonna fuckin’ kill me, you know that?” he muttered as she rubbed her heat against him, and then he was hard all over again. “You’re gonna drive daddy crazy.”

Chapter Text

           The setting sun cast orange glows across the kitchen and their naked skin as Steve pumped his index and middle finger in and out of her body intricately, his mouth suckling at the engorged clit that begged for attention. She was sprawled out on the kitchen island, the marble cold under her back as he devoured her hungrily while sitting on one of the stools.

 

            He had come back from a session at the gym, sweat-glistened in his too tight t-shirt, and the image had gone straight to Melody’s core, who had already been hot and bothered in her isolation for a few hours now. She’d been sitting at the kitchen table reading a book, but upon seeing him stomping around the house in over two-hundred pounds of packed muscle, skin drenched and gleaming, Mel had reached under her shirt and shamelessly started tweaking her own nipples. Of course, Steve had dropped his gym bag and every other thought right then and there. Within seconds she was spread out naked and moaning, knuckles white from the grip she had on the counter as he’d teased her flesh with an ice cube in his mouth.

 

            “Steve, oh God,” she yelped now as he rubbed his fingers in circles against the upper wall of her flesh. Sparks travelled in a flurry from her head, to her fingers, to the tips of her toes, and a weird sensation of needing to urinate overcame her.

 

            Steven only wrapped his lips more tightly against her pulsating clitoris, sucking to no end, waiting for the commotion to trickle out of her and reward him for his efforts. Melody was not used to Steve being quiet during their capades; his eerie silence now as he focused on her release was making her nervous, albeit bringing her closer and closer.

 

            In a split second, her body was suddenly jittering violently as her walls convulsed in a way they hadn’t before. She was consumed with shame as she felt the fluid spring out of her, but it only added to the pleasure. Steve groaned filthily, finally making noise as the clear water that sputtered out came in contact with his throbbing cock, and he pumped his hand over it to spread the moisture everywhere.

 

            It took a few minutes for Melody to stop shaking, especially since he wouldn’t stop licking and suckling at her clit even as she jerked violently with orgasm. When at last the black dots cleared and she could see and breathe again, she sat up on the counter, blushed with humiliation.

 

            “Oh God,” she whispered. “That’s so embarrassing…”

 

            “What is?” He tilted her chin up and kissed her softly.

 

            “I…didn’t mean to–pee.” She barely whispered the last word.

 

            Steve almost laughed out loud in fascination. “Mel, oh, baby,” he sighed with a smile. “That’s not what it was.”

 

            “Then what–?”

 

            “It’s just a kind of ejaculate, I guess. I was trying to make it happen, anyways, so it wasn’t you. Don’t worry,” he assured. When she looked unconvinced, he held his hand up to her face. “Here, smell it. It doesn’t smell like anything. It’s not that.”

 

            “I didn’t know about it,” she said meekly.

 

            “I know,” he said huskily, now kissing her hungrily. “I’m the one who shows you the ropes. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”

 

            They kissed fervently for a while, urgent and starved to the point that he stood up off the stool to stand between her legs as she pressed her chest against him to get closer. Suddenly, she pulled back with a concern in her eyes he hadn’t seen before.

 

            “Steve?”

 

            “Mm,” he hummed, gazing at her intently.

 

            “Will you ever–will we–you know?” she stuttered, stealing her gaze away again.

 

            He touched her cheek gently, guiding her face back. “Will we what, Mel?”

 

            “Have…sex?” she asked in a small voice.

 

            He sucked his teeth, eyes darkening. “Do you want to have sex?” he muttered, groping the insides of her plush thighs as he spread them apart around him. Melody’s breath hitched as he held his length and ran the spitting, swollen head against her protruding folds.

 

            “You want daddy’s cock in your tight little pussy?” he spoke hotly against her ear before biting into her neck. The continuous soft strokes of his stiff cock against her slick heat was driving her to the brink of insanity again.

 

            “Yes,” she breathed out without thinking. Steve growled into her shoulder before lifting his head to look at her again.

 

            “You really want me, Mel?” he asked quietly.

 

            She peered up at him with poise, her brown eyes shy yet steady. “I want you, Steve.”

 

            “What do you want me to do, Melody?” He pressed the tiniest bit against her opening and she arched her back at the feeling; the idea of their bare, most intimate flesh coming together was gratifying for both of them. Steven was almost vibrating at the thought of being inside of her, at the feeling of the tip of his cock sitting just against her warm, tight walls, ready to be welcomed.

 

            “I want you in me,” she moaned breathily as he slapped her flesh with his thick, heavy length a few times.

 

            “Doing what?” he muttered, pushing his massive hand flat against her chest to lie her down on the marble again.

 

            Melody held his hand and cupped it around her breast, a look of longing gracing her beautiful, young features. “Fucking me.”

 

            “You want me to fuck you?” They were both speaking in nothing but whispers, teasing each other simultaneously.

 

            “Yes, please,” she mewled, when he ground his cock down between her folds and flicked his thumb over her nipple.

 

            “You’re such a good girl for daddy, aren’t you?” He leaned over and kissed her ravenously. “You want daddy to fuck you? Come inside you? You wanna be daddy’s little girl?”

 

            She nodded eagerly, even reached down to further spread her lips open for him. The sight absolutely drove him over the edge, and then he was coming onto her swollen flesh as every muscle in his body flexed.

 

            “I can’t do that to you yet, Mel,” he explained to her after catching his breath. “You couldn’t take it. I don’t want to hurt you.”

 

            “Okay,” she nodded, holding his face with both hands and kissing him sweetly.

 

 

*****

 

 

By now, Melody had almost finished the bottle of Melatonin. Steve had encouraged her to stick to them, saying that it would all be even worse if she stopped taking them now. He’d even bought her a refill for when she finished them off completely. In her thick cloud of confusion, lack of faith, and extreme, constant arousal, Melody had had a rare moment of trust in Steve–surely, he knew what was better for her. Thus, she continued with the pills, hoping whatever this hormonal picnic her body was having would end soon, and she would be able to function again without spreading her legs open whimsically every hour.

 

            After a particularly wakeful Friday night full of desperate passion and pleasure, Steve and Melody had dozed off together in his bed, limbs tangled tightly together. He knew she would need him again in no time and he would be prepared for it; the euphoria that came from being with her made sleep and rest an unnecessary extracurricular for Steve. As long as she was next to him, there was not a lot else he needed.

 

            But the next time he opened his eyes, Melody wasn’t in bed next to him. He was on his feet immediately, pulling on the nearest pair of pants he could find–running shorts–and running into the washroom, where he could hear her breathing harshly and coughing.

 

            “Melody,” he exclaimed urgently, rushing to gather her off the floor in his arms. Her face was red and her eyes kept lolling back in her head. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

 

            She shook her head weakly, lips trembling. “I–I can’t breathe properly.”

 

            Only moments before, Melody had awoken to her heart beating erratically–so fast and loud that she swore she could feel it in every part of her body, right down to the tips of her fingers and toes. And now, directly after, she couldn’t feel anything at all. It was like everything was numb, and there was a huge weight on her chest.

 

            “Can you see everything? Can you hear me?” he asked, dropping her on the bed gently to dress her shaking body as quickly as possible. Her skin was cold to the touch, and it frightened Steve to even look at the way her eyes kept fluttering closed, lifeless and empty. When she didn’t answer his questions, he picked her up in his arms again and rushed out the car to drive her to the hospital with nothing else on his mind besides Melody.

Chapter Text

            Mel woke up to a steady beeping sound. There was an ache in her throat and in her arms, but she couldn’t make anything out quite clearly. She couldn’t even see quite clearly–why was everything pitch black? Why couldn’t she see anything? And her mouth was so dry… Why did her body feel like a cinder block?

 

            Her eyes flew open with a sharp breath and she stared up at the plasterboard ceiling in confusion. What’s going on? she thought, looking around as best as she could without moving. Pastel blue walls, linoleum floors, a wooden door shutting off the room from whatever was outside. She was on some kind of bed that inclined, so that her back was slightly lifted. It was easier to see this way.

 

            There was a two-seater blue leather couch to the left and a large body was curled up on it inadequately. Blond disheveled locks, pale skin… Steve.

 

            “Steve?” she called out, but there was barely any sound the first time. Painfully, she swallowed, trying to lubricate her throat. “Steve.”

 

            He jumped, sitting up immediately, blinking his eyes open after he’d already began stumbling his way over to the bed in which she lay. “Melody, oh God. Thank God.”

 

            Steve kissed across her face eagerly, breathing out words of relief as the life returned to him. He helped her sip water from a cup, eyes never leaving her, as if she would disappear in dust if he stopped looking at her. She was confused but waited until he was sat down and wiping stray tears from his eyes before speaking. “What happened to me?”

 

            “Your blood pressure got extremely low,” he began shakily. “Your heart almost gave–”

 

            He couldn’t even finish the sentence.

 

            “How?” she asked, now taking in the vitals and drips that were inserted into her arms. “What’s this stuff?”

 

            “Just some glucose and electrolytes. They had to pump your stomach…you threw up so much.”

 

            That explained the acidic burn in her throat. But she was still lost. “Why…?”

 

            He looked down and away, a distant hollowness in his eyes. Then he sat up abruptly. “I’m–I have to go do something.”

 

            Melody watched with confusion as he walked out in a hurry, never looking back. She sat alone in the room for about an hour, just thinking. When the door opened again, she eagerly anticipated Steve’s return, but to her dismay, it was a doctor.

 

            “So then, how are we feeling?” the elderly, thin man asked with a smile.

 

            “I’m…not sure?” Melody sat up and swallowed her hesitation. “Doctor? Can you please tell me what happened to me?”

 

            He raised his brow in realization, then flipped through his canary-yellow file folder as he spoke. “Young lady, were you at any public setting recently, where someone might have the motivation to roofie you?”

 

            She frowned. “Roofie?”

 

            “They’re…ulterior motive pills, of a sort. People can slip them into your drink or food. They can…let’s say, make you dizzy, or pass out, etcetera.”

 

            “I’ve mostly just been home, doctor.”

 

            He sighed, pulling out a sheet and setting the rest of the file folder aside. He reached into his white coat and pulled out a pair of thin-rimmed glasses. “Your hormones were extremely abnormal in levels, Miss Melody. Have you been taking any medication?”

 

            She frowned even deeper in thought, then perked up. “Yes, actually, I’ve been taking regular melatonin to try and sleep better.”

 

            “Melatonin isn’t supposed to have adverse effects like these on your hormones,” he shook his head. “Are you sure that’s what it was?”

 

            “Yeah, the really small, round white pills with a circle engraved on them, right?”

 

            The colour drained from the doctor’s face. “That isn’t melatonin, kiddo. Those pills are supposed to be white on one side, green on the other side, and oval.”

 

            Now the colour drained from Melody’s face. All at once, everything clicked in. A scream of anguish ripped through her, but she kept her lips sealed together.

 

            “Tell me, how many of these pills did you take?” he asked.

 

            “A lot.”

 

            “Who gave these to you?”

 

            Melody closed her eyes, feeling the tears coming up. He drugged me and I let him. I drugged myself for him. Where the fuck is he now?

 

            Was she supposed to tell them? About everything, not just the pills? No. Nobody can know. You’ll lose him for good.

 

            The doctor cleared his throat and she opened her eyes, sitting straighter. “Nobody gave them to me. I just found them in a bottle that said melatonin, so I started taking them.”

 

            “Not very smart to just pick up what you see and ingest it, now is it?” the doctor said in a wary tone. “I do believe they were sex pills. We pumped your stomach, so if you ingested any in the last twelve hours, they should be out of your system now.”

 

            “But why did I have low blood pressure?”

 

            “These pills can be dangerous. They have adverse side effects, more commonly on your eyesight or your digestion. You seemed to take a toll on your respiratory system. Lucky you got in when you did, or you could have just died like that.”

 

            Melody gawked at him in shock as he casually recollected his file folder and put away his glasses. She had questions, but deep down, she knew she already had the answers to them. The ringing in her ears wouldn’t stop long enough for her to be able to formulate a sentence.

 

            “Where is the man that was here with you?” the elderly doctor asked before stepping out the door.

 

            “I don’t know, he left in a hurry.”

 

            “That doesn’t sound like him. He was by your bedside all night and morning. He loves you very much,” he said informatively. “You are allowed to leave within the next six hours, if you feel up to it.”

 

            And then he was gone. He loves you very much. Melody scoffed, spilling tears of misery across her face and onto the white sheet that covered her. She picked at the emergency room wristband they’d put on her as she continued to silently cry. Here it was now, all the shame and guilt from the past few days. Every ounce of humility that she had been immune to in her sexed-up boost of shamelessness. She brought her legs up and hid her face in her knees when the sobs became uncontrollable. In her fit of misery, she tired herself out and fell asleep.

 

 

 

Steve returned hours later with cut and bruised knuckles; his clothes changed. He set a paper bag of food and a coffee cup down on the stand beside the hospital bed and hesitated before reaching out to touch her.

 

            “Mel?”

 

            She shot up in surprise, sniffling loudly, wiping her blotchy face and eyes with her hands. He stood there for a long time, waiting, but she didn’t look at him or say anything.

 

            “I brought you food.”

 

            “Did you put something in that, too?” she scoffed dryly.

 

            Steven swallowed painfully. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

 

            “But you did.”

 

            “I’m sorry.”

 

            “I don’t care.”

 

            With a heavy sigh, he sat down on the edge of the bed. Mel immediately moved to turn away from him. “Melody, listen to me, please.”

 

            “What could you possibly have to say that would justify this?” she muttered. Her voice was empty and monotone, devoid of any emotion. It bothered Steve to see her like this.

 

            “I’m not justifying it. I hate what I did. I hate myself for what I did. I can’t believe I–I could have lost–” No, he couldn’t even say it. “I didn’t know how else to get to you.”

 

            “So you drugged me?”

 

            “I didn’t think you would go so overboard with–”

 

            “No!” she shouted suddenly. “You don’t get to pin this on me! I didn’t know what I was doing. You did. You knew the whole time. You knew everything.”

 

            “I only did it for us,” he reasoned.

 

            “What is wrong with you?” she hissed. “You want to use me that bad, that you’ll drug me for it?”

 

            “Why do you still think that?” he snapped. “I tried to prove it to you, I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t–”

 

            There was the sound of a cart being wheeled down the hallway outside and they both looked towards the door, waiting. When nothing happened, he resumed.

 

            “I’m not having this conversation here.”

 

            “Why? Are you scared they’re gonna find out what you’re doing? You deserve to be found out and punished,” she spat.

 

            “You can say whatever you want, Melody, because in the past week you’ve shown me everything on the inside.” He leaned in to speak directly to her. “You’re just as much a part of this as I am.”

 

 

*****

 

 

She didn’t speak to him for a few days, choosing to remain blocked off from everything else and just stay in her room. She had her books, she had her phone, and she made trips down to the kitchen to eat whenever he left the house to run errands or hit the gym; she really could avoid him as long as she wanted to.

 

            A week went by without a word said between them. Steve spent most of his time at home in the basement, overworking himself in the at-home gym setup, while Mel camped out in her room on the third floor. After the third day, it was weird to her that he hadn’t attempted to talk to her or interact at all. She felt the heavy isolation more and more, but didn’t dare change it–after all, she was the one who had put up the wall. She had to embrace it.

 

            By the end of the seventh day, Mel was doing laundry after having made sure that Steve wasn’t going to be back out of the basement for a while. She was sitting on the drying machine while watching YouTube videos on her phone when she heard a loud yelp and glass shattering. Momentarily, she stilled, listening carefully. A string of curses followed the incident, and suddenly consumed with concern, Melody rushed down the dark hardwood stairs to the basement, nearly slipping in the process.

 

            It turned out the commotion had been the sound of the mirrored wall shattering after having an eighty-pound dumbbell thrown at it by Steve, who was sitting on the wooden floor with his legs spread out, hunched over and holding something that Mel couldn’t see. She stood at the open door in a moment’s hesitation before quietly walking over to him. Steve heard her nearing and stood up quickly, keeping his back to her. She could see the sweat stains across his tight black full-sleeve, hair drenched and pushed back carelessly.

 

            With his back still to her, Steve began walking across the large, half-lit room. She called his name, but he didn’t stop, or even turn around. “Steve!” she shouted again, frustrated, but he couldn’t seem to hear her. “Steve, stop walking for fuck’s sake!”

 

            He stopped, just before the door. “I thought we weren’t speaking.”

 

            “We’re not. I just came to see if you’re okay.” She crossed her arms defiantly.

 

            “It doesn’t matter.”

 

            She scowled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

            He didn’t answer. Then, he asked, “Did you ever read those diaries?”

 

            “My mom’s diaries? Yeah, I read them. And you’re a liar,” she punctuated, remembering how angry she had been after realizing he’d made everything up. In her sexual high, and then the week of silence between them, Melody had had little luck or success in finding much out or confronting him. How could he lie to her like that, knowing how sensitive she was about the subject of her mother?

 

            Steve turned around then to look at her in disappointment. She could see then that he’d been cradling his own hands, which were a bloody mess of gore. That put in perspective the punching back that was strewn on the floor in a far corner, the seams screaming for freedom. His eyes were red, a painful contrast to the deep blue in the centre, and he looked horrendous, but was still the most beautiful human Melody had ever seen in her years of life.

 

            “Those aren’t your mom’s. Those are mine,” he informed, his tone clipped. Then, he left Melody standing alone in the room, ridden with a new wave of controversy.

Chapter Text

           Melody was left awestruck by the revelation. Still, a small part of her screamed out within her mind: how did you not realize? Of course, they were his. She should have realized it immediately. Her own memories of her childhood–intensely vivid scenes that came to her every now and then in the most haphazard settings but left her confused and meddled–could verify that none of what was in those pages came from her mother. There was a running reel of a particular scene that played through her eyes again and again some days; a four-year-old little girl, waiting at the bus stop in the sun, just waiting for the longest time, by herself. And then Steve showed up, to take her home. The memory had first resurfaced when she was thirteen, but she always told herself it was one of those artificial pictures from a dream that her brain refused to let go of.

 

            But if the journals belonged to Steve’s past, that meant every word now had a different definition than what she had told herself. Because she had told herself, again and again, that it was all her mother, because she wanted to forget all the memories of being left alone or shut out; she wanted so badly to believe that her mom had loved her to such an extent.

 

            Mel sat in her room now, flipping through the pages absently, looking at the etched-in words and sketches without taking in a single trace as she drowned in her thoughts. What did they mean to her, now that she knew who had created them? Were they still proof of love and development? Or did they just add to the seething pot of disappointment and anger that she felt for Steve now?

 

            She scoffed, remembering his words. I did it for us. “Did it for us,” she muttered, shaking her head. Us. Us. Did it for us. Us.

 

            It was clear to Melody that she had only ever seen their ‘us’ in one way all her life; a narrow, cookie-cutter definition. But she would be a hypocrite and a coward to pretend now as if that perspective had never altered for her, even once. Whether under an extrinsic influence or not, Melody had offered herself up on a silver platter on multiple occasions without so much as a moment’s hesitation. Hadn’t she enjoyed the attention, the devotion, the thrill? Hadn’t she participated equally; invited it? His actions had offered her a guiding finger, but she had grabbed on to the whole hand.

 

            The hurt wasn’t truly at what they had done together, not anymore. It was more so at how he’d chosen to push her to that point. Immediately, she wondered if she would have eventually reached that milestone all on her own; of such upfront shamelessness for what she was now starting to feel towards him.

 

            If she indulged in it too long, the thought still made her shudder at times. Steve. Nurturing, generous, kind, gentle Steve. Steve who held her hand and walked her to school and then back. Steve who took her to the park, taught her to ride a bike, made her breakfast and lunch every day. Steve who came to every school trip as a parent volunteer to make sure Melody had a safe, fun time amongst all the bigger, fiercer kids in her class. Steve who helped her with math homework and science projects, took her for a treat in equity for every A on her report card. Steve who took her house-to-house on Halloween and let her decorate the tree on Christmas with him. Steve who cleaned her cuts and scrapes every time she fell or got hurt, and then bought her ice cream to feel better. This was that Steve, albeit a much older, aged version of him.

 

            She could remember the young Steve even now, even though he lived deep in her childhood memories; she couldn’t recall everything else much efficiently, but he had just been such a regular part of her life that it would be the equivalent of not remembering what she saw when she looked in the mirror as a kid. That Steve used to be goofy and participated in all the immature, childish advents of her youth. He was slimmer, brighter, always smiling or laughing. She remembered his informal jeans and plaid button-downs, the t-shirts with the slogans or pictures, the sneakers he used to wear everywhere. She wondered when that Steve grew older and how she missed out on all the changes.

 

            There was a rap on the door that knocked the breath from her; she had been so absorbed by her thoughts, she hadn’t even realized amidst the daze that she’d been smiling. Quickly, Melody shoved the diaries into her nightstand and adjusted her position. “Yes?” she called.

 

            The door opened halfway, and Steve stood waiting with an assorted tray, not looking at her even once. “Gotcha food,” he mumbled.

 

            Melody remembered something then, something that had occurred to her in a spur-of-the-moment accident earlier, but that she had forgotten right afterwards again. It was there in her mind again now, making her feel queasy. “The food that you left for me,” she opened, and watched his ear twitch in perk. “You intentionally put something in it, didn’t you? You wanted me to get sick so you could get me to take those pills?”

 

            Steve still didn’t look at her, just chewed on his lip. The shame that graced his features told Mel what she needed to know.

 

            “Take it back. I’m not eating anything you give me,” she said coldly. For a moment, he shut his eyes in exasperation, seeming to contemplate. Then, he turned and left, closing the door behind him.

 

            It would be a lie to say that Mel wasn’t slightly disappointed. After all, she had expected for there to still be some fight in him. The way he had ended the conversation in the hospital room had indicated to her that he wouldn’t let up, and that he would keep prowling until things went his way. But his defeated demeanor lately was doing nobody any service. He had apologized to her numerous times by now but didn’t seem to have anything other than that to say. Consequently, this was a hindrance for Melody, who had several speeches lined up on the tip of her tongue, back-to-back. She wanted to fight this out, to get answers-but to ultimately reconcile.

 

            Because yes, she did want to reconcile. Even after what he had done, there wasn’t a single part of her that didn’t want things between them to be good again. They had shared too much of a life together to part ways, and Melody wasn’t one for tense air or severed ties anyhow. She knew, sooner or later, she would need him, or he would need her, and they would seek each other out. Because, really, who else could she turn to and count on completely to come through? Steve was only kin to her by word yet he had always been the single most effective and determined person in her life. He was reliable and omnipresent, no matter when or how she sought him out.

 

            Melody took the more recently-dated journal back out of the drawer and lay down on her front, flipping through the sketches again. She watched herself age across the pages, grow longer hair, go from wearing toddler dresses to boy-shorts and baseball caps as a first-grader. Only on her eighth round of gazing at the drawings did she pick up on the fact that the girl in the book seemed to smile more and more as she aged.

 

 

 

Sometime later, Mel awoke to the sound of the front door slamming shut. She lifted her face off the inked papers of the leather bound and listened carefully to the silence of the house, confused. Deciding to check out what was going on, she got out from her room and immediately felt the rumbling ache of hunger in her stomach.

           

            There were empty beer bottles in the living room, and an ash tray that Mel had never seen present in the house before. The air was thick with the stench of tobacco and she cracked all the windows open one by one to let out the pollution. The driveway was empty upon her check; that meant Steve had left to go somewhere. But he was evidently drunk and not in the appropriate functioning state to be driving anywhere.

 

            A flood of worry hit Melody as she searched out her cell and tried calling him, but it rang and then went to voicemail. He’s probably driving, anyways, she thought, and abandoned the attempt to get in contact with him over phone call for the time being.

 

            In the meanwhile, she put together a sandwich as distraction, and tried to eat it in front of the television. It proved difficult to swallow with the empty glass bottles sitting here and there, mocking and teasing her paranoia. She lost her appetite halfway through the sandwich and returned to calling Steve again. Not once out of the seven times did he pick up or text her to let her know of his whereabouts.

 

            Melody remembered the testimonies she had read in the black leather book. She wasn’t negligent to the words of contempt and helplessness that claimed their place on the pages of his past. She reminisced, in particular, the suicide note, and a stinging panic overtook her. Steve. It was Steve who had written the note; Steve, who had tried once before to end his life. Steve, who had been up to his head in misery and segregation from joy; who evidently had tried to heal and come forth from that in the last twenty years.

 

            And who was the reason for it? Not his family, nor his friends. It was her, wasn’t it? All the change, all the years that had added on to his survival, all the attempts to just live, they were all nature in a garden that bloomed just because of her. Whatever cliff his feelings for her had reached now, they had clearly started out as something intrinsic, as something wholehearted. As far as Melody could remember, her and Steve’s relationship had always been a constant one-sided delivery, consisting of copious amounts of selfless love. He had never asked her for anything in return, and she seemingly hadn’t given him anything, anyhow. But now, in hindsight of all the facts Melody had so far, it was clear that for Steve, simply having her in his life was all he ever cared for. He didn’t need her to do anything for him, as long as he had her.

 

            The panic intensified as Melody came to a dozen assumptions, each one more hectic and bizarre than the next. He’s drunk. What if he’s going to try and hurt himself again? What if something happens to him? What if I lose him?

 

 

*****

 

 

Steve had left the house that night with a bag full of booze and cigarette packs. He’d drunk-driven through the busy streets at midnight all the way to Manhattan, where Vanessa–an old college connection and yet another hook-up buddy he’d formed–lived, in a dingy one-bedroom apartment.

 

            Vanessa was older than Steve but lived and acted as if she were still in her twenties. She was a welcoming outlet for his anger and self-loathing as they drank together in copious amounts, smoked, and talked about how disastrous the world was. Vanessa was a divorced African-American single mother, rejected by her parents a long time ago for not completing a degree and going straight into the police force; left by her ex-husband due to her strong wit and ambition. Where she domineered men and women alike during the day as a police detective, she enjoyed being manhandled behind closed doors.

 

             Steve couldn’t understand why she would enjoy being slapped across the face or strangled mercilessly, but their relationship–if there even was one–had no room for personal stories or opening up. They got wasted, fucked until one or both were bleeding, and parted ways. For Steve, Vanessa was an example of someone so deprived of affection that she had begun to enjoy hate and pain; he had always hoped to keep his little girl from turning out to be like that. For Vanessa, Steve was just another man who unsuccessfully hid his pervasive, feral urges until given opportunity to display them.

 

             “Dude, what the fuck happened to you?” she asked as he stormed past her and went straight to the freezer. Corona and Guinness Black bottles were stacked inside in a line; whiskey decanters loaded into the lower fridge portion. He put out the cigarette he was smoking in the sink before lighting another one. Vanessa took in his swollen, putrid knuckles and unkempt hair and beard and immediately knew this rut was a deep one. “Don’t tell me you’re relapsing, Rogers. Jesus Christ.”

 

             “Who gives a flying fuck,” he spat. “I sure don’t.”

 

             “You okay, dude?” She closed the door finally and made her way back to the couch in front of the TV. “You look…really bad.”

 

             “What’s the deal, Vanessa?” He took a long drag on the cigarette before ashing it in the kitchen sink. “We don’t talk about our lives, remember?”

 

             “The deal is that I’m a fucking cop, you nut job,” she reminded him. “You ain’t gonna walk into my house lookin’ like you had the absolute shit knocked out of you without any questions.”

 

             “I didn’t get into any fights, if that’s what you’re asking. I stopped that shit a while ago.” He put out the second butt and stomped over to the couch, dropping down against the cushions violently.

 

             “Are you drunk?” she asked, peering at him carefully. “Didn’t you drive here?”

 

             He gave her a steely glare. “I don’t have the patience in me right now to deal with your shit. This whole week’s been fucked. Let’s watch the fuckin’ game and drink like the usual, or I can pack my shit up and leave your fuckin’ precinct.”

 

             Of course, his entire demeanor or approach didn’t come off as new or abnormal to Vanessa at all, who–for the past fifteen years–had only known Steve as a punch-throwing, beer-drinking, chain-smoking, profanity-slewing–yet one hot–son of a bitch. She didn’t have any different side to him to compare this persona to.

 

             “Okay, Rogers, damn. Put a bitch in her place, why don’t you?”

 

             “Yeah, I will, just let these jackasses win a fuckin’ game for once, maybe,” he spat.

 

             They watched the football game for about two hours, waiting for the result; the whole time Steve’s eyes were on the screen, he had only been thinking about Melody. He was upset with her, yes, but that didn’t compare to the amount of anger and hate he felt towards himself. She had ended up in the hospital because of what he did. What if something really had happened to her? He already couldn’t forgive himself. He had forgotten to live in the past week–skipping meals and basic hygiene, staying awake for abnormal amounts of time, drowning out the noise in his head with alcohol and energy drinks to keep him going through the day. If this continued, he would be in no shape for the follow-up on the deal with the Canadian owners, which was in less than two weeks.

 

             They’d finished around twenty bottles between them in those two hours, and by the time the last touchdown was scored, they were hissing and growling frivolously between the derogatory sounds of skin slapping against skin.

 

             Fuck it, he kept thinking, choking Vanessa aggressively as he drilled into her from behind. She doesn’t care if I fuck someone else. Never has, never will.

 

             An angry roar of anguish erupted from his chest as he thought back to Mel; the fact that she had comfortably spent a week without even looking at him made his heart hurt. He knotted his fingers into Vanessa’s curls and mercilessly shoved her face down into the ripped leather of the couch, pounding his hips against hers with no care or empathy. He wondered why she enjoyed this–this experience of being treated worse than an animal, of being used for one’s own pleasure. He wondered why he enjoyed the sex that they had, with all of its hitting, smacking, its asphyxiation and humiliation. He knew he could never let himself get used to it. This wasn’t who he was.

 

             But it didn’t matter who he was, or how he was, did it? Because no matter how much love and care he showed, she would never accept him.

 

             With shame, Steve realized the setting just wasn't violent enough for him. He pulled out and threw Vanessa to the hard, cold ground and positioned her on her knees again. He fucked her callously, clawed into her darker complexion everywhere until it was raised and tender, let her scratch his back and chest until the embedded crescents in his pale skin began drawing droplets of blood.

 

             They kept going until Steve passed out on the couch in disheartening fatigue, a loss of energy so dire that he couldn’t even make sense of anything around him anymore. Vanessa began cleaning up, using the peace and quiet to pick up the empty bottles and clear away the broken glass and spilled food and drink. She showered, too, letting the cold water out-focus the events of the night. When she came out, she heard a buzzing from the living room and found Steven’s phone ringing endlessly. It didn’t seem like the caller–someone named Mel, most likely another fuck-buddy, Vanessa decided–would give up anytime soon, so she answered in his place.

 

             “Hello?” she asked. Her deep, feminine voice threw Melody off guard.

 

             “Hello? Who is this?” Mel asked.

 

             “Who is this?” Vanessa threw back.

 

             “Um–it’s Melody… Is Steve there?” Whoever this girl was, she sounded very fragile and lost. Vanessa rolled her eyes.

 

             “Yes, Steve is here, sweetie, but he’s asleep. He’s had enough fucking for tonight, so whatever he told you, drop it. He won’t be coming over, okay? G’bye.” She hung up and turned the cell phone off, setting it aside. Before calling it a night, Vanessa shoved a cushion under Steve’s head and threw a blanket over him that barely covered his massive body.

Chapter Text

            Steve spent three days inside Vanessa’s apartment. She would go to work or run errands, but Steve remained glued to the battered couch. His eyes were constantly red-rimmed and stuck to the TV screen, but she could tell his brain wasn’t integrating any of it. He continued to drink his way through the day and throw up generously towards the end of the night, but no matter what Vanessa said, he kept slapping hundreds into her hand and telling her to buy him more alcohol. She was beginning to grow concerned over where he got this kind of money from. For all she’d ever known, Steven was a low-life who just got by doing random work here and there; he had no family or future. Perhaps that’s what comforted her most about him–she saw a lot of her past self in his habits.

 

            They had sex numerous times, each time somehow more violent than the last, each time without a care for the other’s satisfaction. They never said one another’s names or looked into each other’s eyes. And why would they? He and she both knew if they did, they would only see the same hatred and disgust staring back.

 

            Vanessa forgot to mention the phone call to Steve, and he didn’t realize anything himself because his phone had been forgotten since that night. Switched off, it lay unnoticed on a console table somewhere by the entrance of the apartment. In a fight to fuck his way into oblivion, Steve refused to let himself think about Melody. But that ordeal in itself brought its impacts–if Mel wasn’t the centre of his attention, there was not a solitary being in the rest of the universe that Steve could bring himself to care for, including his own existence.

 

            By the fourth day, after an incessant round of aggressive pleasure-seeking, Steve felt capable enough to drive himself back to Larchmont. He didn’t bother saying anything to Vanessa; she was covering a shift at the precinct. He just gathered his stuff and left. This was how it always went with them, after all–at least once or twice a year, Steve showed up to apartment 4D with no warning, and disappeared just as ambiguously.

 

            He stumbled through the front door around six in the morning, and almost tripped over a body. Melody was curled up against the wall on the cold tiles, her face hidden by her arms. It took a moment of disorientation for Steve to realize that the way her body shook was because she was crying. Pain engulfed his chest, but he forced himself to remain astute; side-stepping her figure, he walked further into the dark house, leaving her seemingly forgotten behind.

 

            Melody felt a fresh wave of agony, as if a wound had torn open in her heart. She choked on a sob, her torment becoming louder every second throughout the otherwise quiet whitestone. The rejection and worthlessness she felt because of him in that moment was unmatched by any other pain–even the loss of her mother–and it was in that moment and because of that searing feeling inside of her that Mel realized she couldn’t live without Steve.

 

            On the other side of the house in the kitchen, when he couldn’t hear her anymore, Steve became curious and retraced his steps. Panic struck him when he found the door ajar and the entrance of the house empty. He lunged outside and whipped his head around, but the street was silent and empty in the first peak of morning. Steve slammed the door behind him and ran as coherently as he could, covering the blocks to the bus stop, but it was deserted. Would she have gone towards denser civilization?

 

            No, she would have gone the opposite way. The bridge.

 

            The Archie bridge was an abandoned old attempt at merging two roadways over a rickety stream. In the midst of construction, the project had been called off due to the de-population of the area. Now, the place was just an aged, rough cobblestone structure over an even denser river with wildlife surrounding it. Steve just knew she had to have headed over there. With a nauseous feeling making its presence known in his stomach, he found it difficult to run back up the hill towards the houses, and then all the way past the neighbourhood blocks that lay one after another, towards the forest.

 

 

 

Melody was still at the edge of the tree thicket but moved onwards without any hesitation. There was so much pain inside of her that she didn’t even understand how her legs found it in them to keep going, but they did; with her head hung low, she pulled the material of Steve’s sweater tighter and clutched herself, the tears never-ending. All she knew was that she had to get away and be alone–if he didn’t want her, then there was little else that Melody cared about.

 

            When she reached the cobblestone bridge, she stood by the edge and stared down at the crashing river below in fascination. Fat, salty tears rolled down her cheeks and fell towards the earth, merging with the dark blue current like raindrops. The colour only reminded her of his irises, and she squeezed her eyes shut with a sob, clutching her hands into fists against her chest.

 

            In a split second, she was yanked backwards and slammed into a hard surface. Melody whirled around as Steve began shouting at her in a panic.

 

            “What the hell are you thinking? Are you even thinking? What were you about to do just now?”

 

            She blinked up at him through the tears in silent disbelief. His skin was flushed the colour of the sky as the sun sauntered shyly upon the horizon, and his chest was heaving as he spoke between coughs.

 

            Steve only now noticed the old sweater she was wearing; one he had worn out to great lengths a few years prior. “What are you doing? Why did you run away?”

 

            For a long time, Melody just looked at him, continuing to leak tears like a faucet. And then, all of a sudden, she pushed him with all the strength she could muster. He stumbled back and she advanced, continuously slapping his chest, throwing her fists weakly against whichever part of his body she could manage.

 

            “You left me,” she sobbed. “You left me, all alone. You just left. I hate you! I called you so many times. You didn’t even answer me. You didn’t even care! You just left and went to someone else. Why did you leave? Why did you leave me? You never leave me.”

 

            Her attacks got weaker and weaker, and eventually, Steve just gathered her tightly in his arms, putting all the force he could summon into it. He kissed her head again and again, muttering a chain of I’m sorry, I’m so sorry repeatedly.

 

            “I never wanted to hurt you,” he managed through his own anguish. “I never wanted that to happen. I felt so hopeless.”

 

            “You don’t know what hopeless feels like,” she mumbled into his chest. “You weren’t waiting day and night, crying the whole time, worried sick. Why didn’t you answer my texts? Why didn’t you pick up the phone?” She hit her hand feebly against his chest again.

 

            “My phone wasn’t on, Melody. I’m so sorry. I didn’t even know. You have no idea how hard it is for me to be away from you.” He hid his face in the crook of her neck, but she pulled back to look up at him with a new sadness in her deep, brown eyes.

 

            “It’s so easy for you,” she shook her head. “You were with someone else the whole time.”

 

            His mouth dropped open in shock. “You–how?”

 

            “The first night, after you left, I called…” Her face crumbled again as fresh tears poured over her cheeks. “A woman picked up…said you guys…you–God. You just…with someone else?”

 

            She began to sink to her knees in defeat before Steven helped her back up in support. He was consumed with repentance before her; it was as if he could feel everything she were feeling, in addition to his own trouble.


            “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I couldn’t think, Melody, I was so dead inside,” he breathed out. “I hate myself for everything. I’m so ashamed.”

 

            “You came home and–and–and you didn’t even look at me… You just–you walked away…you just rejected me. And it hurt so much…” She let out a loud wail, muffled by his chest. It dawned on her then that this feeling of being unwanted, of not having your affection for someone be reciprocated–this was what Steve had felt this entire time. He had dealt with it more subtly before, and then he had combatted it face-to-face in the recent weeks. She wondered how he had dealt with the sensation.

 

            “I didn’t want to hurt you again,” he said shakily. “I would never reject you, Mel. You’re my entire life.”

 

            There was a faint howl that sounded from somewhere in the distance, and they both perked up, frozen in place. “Come on, let’s go home. It’s not safe here,” he said quickly, and took her by the hand.

 

            They hurried out of the forest curvature together, breathing heavily, constantly looking back in the approaching sunlight as they made their way home, fingers entwined tightly.

Chapter Text

            It was clear in the following days to Steve that Mel wasn’t completely at terms with everything yet. Although they spoke to each other, ate together, and were civil, Steve could tell that she was still shaken up by everything. She was still wary when he offered her anything to eat, eyeing it suspiciously until he would heave out a sigh and explain that he hadn’t added anything in this time around. Furthermore, from their reconciliation at the Archie bridge, it had seemed to Steve as if they were on good terms again, and that they could go back to the regular–whatever that new regular was. This impression had clearly been an error, because Mel had not let Steve touch her at all, no matter how innocuous.  

 

            “What did you do?” she asked from behind him one day, after they’d returned home from a trip to the grocery store. He stepped around to look at her and caught her eyeing his hands carefully.

 

            “I was…just boxing.”

 

            “Just boxing?” she repeated. “You’ve never had injuries like those ones.”

 

            She wasn’t wrong–for the most part. She had never seen him have injuries like these–his fighting days were in the past now; a different universe, it seemed. The cuts and blisters that sat on a bed of bruised knuckles had not been sported by Steve in years.

 

            “Why now?” she blinked, relentless. They looked at each other silently for a moment; Melody watched his lip twitch slightly, as if preparing for speech.

 

            “I thought–” He stopped, clenching his fists and taking a deep breath. “I thought if I…punished myself… I just thought that maybe if I hurt myself enough, I could make up for what I did. But it’s stupid. There’s no coming back from that.”

 

            Melody could see how difficult it was for him to get the words out. She knew he was suffering more internally for what he’d done than even she was at times, but she couldn’t just gloss over it all and move on in a matter of days. Yes, she felt bad for seeing him suffer like this, but he had to know how much he had let her down. In reality, a part of her just really wanted to see the hurt that she was feeling impact him as well. Another part of her knew that he was already experiencing that torture without the added effort.

 

            She began taking the produce out of the reusable bags and piling it into the fridge. “You shouldn’t do that. It doesn’t make me feel any better if you hurt yourself because of me.”

 

            Steve looked at her then, while she had her back to him, and felt a sting at his tear ducts. “I should be doing way more than this. You have no idea how much I hate myself these days.”

 

            Melody turned to him, closing the fridge behind her, and saw the glassiness of his eyes. He didn’t meet her gaze as he began folding up the bags and compiling them all inside of one. Mel stepped closer to him and stopped his movements, placing her hand gently atop his. The blisters and wounds felt very real and sent pangs of sadness that nailed themselves into her chest.

 

            “Hate yourself as much as before?” she asked quietly.

 

            He knew what she was referring to. With a trembling lip, he answered, “More than before.”

 

            There were tears in her own eyes now as she took a deep breath. “Please don’t try to hurt yourself like before.”

 

            “I’m so sorry–”

 

            “I know. I know, Steve.” She couldn’t watch it anymore, his flushed and crumbling face, red lips shaking with hidden sobs. Melody lifted her arms slightly; as if on cue, Steve huddled inside of her waiting embrace, breaking down in wails she had not heard from him before that day.

 

            She held him for a long time, watching the trees sway drunkenly amidst the lazy breeze through the sliding glass door to the backyard, letting him squeeze the breath out of her until his sobs died down. The wet tears in the nook of her neck and the sound of his cries dissipated the angry, harsh lines in her head until they were nothing but smudges of sadness and confusion. She began tipping backwards from the weight of his body eventually, and Steve finally pulled away, head hung low as he wiped the remainder of his tears.

 

            “Bad things happened,” she began, unaware of where she was headed with her words, but hoping they would make the situation better in any way at all. “But bad things have happened before…worse things. What you did, it was wrong to do that…”

 

            Steve closed his eyes, wincing at the reminder, his face one of disgust.

 

            “But that was the first time that you intentionally did something to hurt me,” she offered, knowing it was no excuse and hoping it wouldn’t be taken as one. “And I hope it was the last time, too.”

 

            “The last time,” he nodded quickly, taking a shaky breath. “I wish I could go back and undo it.”

 

            She thought for a moment, then shook her head. “I guess, in a way, what you did forced me to focus on some thoughts that I always avoided. Every single time I gave myself up in the last week…each time was like a sledgehammer, against a brick in the walls of false pretense that I created in my head.”

 

            Even Melody was impressed with her choice of words–for maybe the first time, she sounded like an eloquent adult. Especially in the current situation, after having offered him condolence and comfort, she felt like the bigger, wiser person–for once–and not the naive child she’d always been labelled as every other time.

 

            “I could have lost you… And not even that–you have a whole life to live, so much to do. I could have taken that all away from you–I could have taken you away from me–I will never forgive myself.”

 

            It was important for Melody that he cared about her life, and not just her presence in his. She had been hoping it would have mattered to him more than his own prerequisites of having her around just so he could get by. She placed a gentle hand on his chest, soothing over the material of his blue polo.

 

            “I forgive you, Steve.”

 

            He shook his head. “I know you don’t.”

 

            “I’m telling you I have,” she insisted. “I just need some time. There’s a lot that I have to think about. There’s a lot I have to ask about, too.”

 

            “So talk to me,” he sighed. “I don’t care when or how much, but please, just talk to me. Don’t shut me out.”

 

            “I’m not shutting you out, Steve. I just need to be my own person. I’ve spent my whole life with you, and I’ve depended on your presence so much that I don’t know who I am without you.”

 

            “Mel, it’s the same for me–”

 

            “But that’s not a good thing, Steve. It’s not healthy for us to not be our own people. It’s not healthy for you to become a drunk mess just because I’m not speaking to you.”

 

            Steven’s face became ridden with hurt at her words, and she realized then how it must have sounded to him. She shook her head no at him, took his face in both of her hands, letting her fingers feel lightly through the thick beard across his jaw.

 

            “That’s not what I mean. Steve, I was so worried when I found out how much you’d been drinking. And you smelled like cigarettes, too, that morning you came home. I never even knew you did these things, apart from the occasional drink. I can’t have you relapsing into deprecation every time something goes downhill. We have a life ahead of us, and there will obviously be ups and downs. I need you here with me, alive and healthy, through the downs as well as the ups.”

 

            He hung on to every word with hope and nodded with understanding, cupping his own, larger hands over her own. “I’m sorry. I never wanted you to see that side of me. I’m ashamed of who I am when I’m not with you.”

 

            “You don’t have to be ashamed, Steve. We all have parts to us that we’re not proud of. But you shouldn’t hide any part–not from me, please, and especially not from yourself.”

 

            He raised his brow in concern. “You saw what I am when I’m at my lowest. Would you ever accept that part of me? Could you ever call that part your Steve?”

 

            “No matter how you are, you’re always going to be my Steve,” she assured, wiping tears from his tinged cheeks with her thumbs. “I grew up seeing the universe revolve around you. That will never change, no matter what happens to us.”

 

            She hoped her words were helping, but her gut dropped when his face broke again slightly.

 

            “But you’ll never love me in that way.”

 

            Melody tensed, pursing her lips. “Give me time, Steve. Wait for me.”

 

            Steve swallowed, nodding. He stepped back and leaned his bottom against the countertop, letting his body return to its regular grace and calm. He peered down at her and gave a small, tight smile, but anyone could tell that the warmth in his eyes wasn’t the tiniest bit forced.

 

            “I’ve given you seventeen years, Melody. I’ll give you another lifetime, if you ask for it.”

Chapter Text

            “What’s up with you, Mel-bell?” Maryam chided from across the table.

 

            The girls all turned their attention to Melody from around the booth they were seated in. It was a busy afternoon at Denny’s, with a bustle of servers rushing around to collect orders and serve them as quickly as they could. The girls had all met up outside the doors half an hour prior and had been seated at the nice corner booth, which they all agreed compensated for the extended waiting time.

 

            Melody had sat near the end, hoping to not be the centre of focus at all the following evening. There was too much bubbling inside, and the slightest opportunity to share her ordeal with anyone at all would have everything spilling out like hot tarmac; once it was set, there was no taking it back. She didn’t even want to think about the calamities that would ensue if anyone were to find out about her relations with Steve. Of course, she trusted her friends, but she didn’t entirely trust the community of parents around Larchmont.

 

            “I’m just wondering what senior year is going to be like,” she lied with a convincingly dreamy sigh.

 

            “Lame as the others, if not more,” Gemma retorted with a roll of her eyes. Melody noticed that the two were sitting beside each other, which had rarely ever happened before–or maybe, she was just beginning to hyper-focus on it now.

 

            “Can you guys believe we’re graduating this year?” This was a genuine remark from Melody, directed towards Blaire and Lia; the years really had flown by. The blinding horizon of being done with the school system and moving on to who knew what was at times daunting, to say the least.

 

            “It feels special now, but it won’t when you’re cramming for college or working shitty, long hours at a job that sucks ass,” Farah informed from beside her.

 

            Maryam, Gemma, and Farah had graduated high school a year before. All three were off for the summer from college, similar to the three younger girls, who were still in high school but were also on summer vacation. By far, the youngest in the group in accordance to birthdays was Melody, and she often found herself being babied by the group as they found it a convenient way to tease her.

 

            “It’s still special,” Blaire shrugged. “My parents want me to apply to UCLA, by the way. They think I can really do something with my ‘artistic streak’.”

 

            “You definitely can, and you should,” Lia nodded, and the whole group agreed.

 

            “But it’s so far away,” Blaire countered. “I wouldn’t get to see you guys besides the summer.”

 

            “Nonsense, that’s why the internet exists, you dummy,” Maryam jibed. “We’ll harass you every day over Skype, just like we do now in person.”

 

            Farah cut in promptly. “Not doing the best thing for yourself career-wise just because you don’t want to be far away from your friends is a really bad decision, Blaire. Don’t be stupid.”

 

            As the rest of them chimed in altogether, Farah turned towards Mel with a serious look on her face. “You. I know there’s something going on with you,” she said in a hushed tone. “Blaire and I were talking about it, too. You don’t seem very present anymore. What’s the matter?”

 

            Melody shook her head, feigning a shocked expression. “No…nothing–honestly.”

 

            “Okay well that’s a fuckin’ lie.” Her friend arched a sharp eyebrow at her. “Seriously Mel, if there’s something going on, you can talk to us. We worry about you a lot, you know? We all love you.”

 

            “And I love you guys,” Mel smiled. “But trust me, nothing is wrong. Everything is fine at home.”

 

            Farah tilted her head to the side, studying her friend carefully. “Nobody said anything about home, Melody.”

 

            She froze up, eyes slightly wide. “I–I just assumed–because there’s nothing else going on nowadays anyway–”

 

            “How can I help you girls today?” A waiter had finally showed up–and he wasn’t too harsh on the eyes, either. Farah’s eyebrows shot up to her intricately gelled hairline and Lia sat up straighter immediately. The boy–his nametag read Ted–was ambiguous in terms of age; he could have been eighteen or twenty-eight, there was nothing determining about his features in that sense. But he was tall and lean with chestnut hair and hazel eyes, and his smile could have been on a poster.

 

            Maryam coughed slightly at the other girls as Ted took in their gawking faces warily. Melody took the break from attention to excuse herself and slip away to the washroom. “Can you just order me the banana pancake breakfast please?” she told Farah in a rushed whisper, halfway out of her seat.

 

            Ted noticed Melody as she shuffled awkwardly towards the washroom in the distance, clearly discomforted by something. He liked the sway of her wavy hair as she tucked it behind her ear, and the dark red sundress she had on under the jean jacket. She seemed warm and kind.

 

            Of course, all the girls noticed this right away, and it became even more evident when they had to repeat their orders to him several times. When Melody returned, she was disappointed to see that the distraction of a server was gone, and she was left to her friends again.

 

            Blaire was chipper than need be when her friend joined them again. “Hey, he thinks you’re cute, Mels!”

 

            “What? Who?”

 

            “The waiter guy,” Lia offered. “Come on, we all noticed him.”

 

            “But he only noticed you,” Gemma whistled.

 

            “Guys, don’t be ridiculous.” Melody checked her phone to see if anyone had called or texted. To her utter dismay, there were no notifications on the screen. Steve usually would contact her throughout the day if she went out somewhere, or vice versa. Why hadn’t he tried to get in touch with her now?

 

            She cringed internally. What is he, twelve? There was no reason to expect him to behave like a teenager, just because she wanted to message with him back and forth like one. She put her cell back in her jacket pocket and tuned back in to the conversation.

 

            “I know he’s gonna try and ask for her number,” Maryam bet.

 

            “What are you even basing that on?” Melody asked.

 

            “Uh, he stared at you for fifteen years while we tried to tell him what we wanted to eat,” Farah informed. “He definitely wants to throw down.”

 

            Melody sighed, shrugging. “I don’t. He’s not my type, anyways.”

 

            “And what is your type, exactly?” Gemma shook her head in dismay.

 

            Blond and blue eyes was ringing in Mel’s head before she could shut out the thought. She shook off the words before she could blurt them out loud. “I don’t know…just not him.”

 

            Farah snorted. “He’s everyone’s type, Marsh Mellow. His name is Theodore, for fuck’s sake. Where have you even met a Theo in real life? I never have.”

 

            “I have a cousin named Theodore in Puerto Rico,” Lia offered.

 

            “Is he hot though?” Farah snapped.

 

            Lia cursed under her breath in Spanish. “I don’t want to think about my cousin like that, you slut.”

 

            “Yeah so keep it shut, Aalia.”

 

            “Oh, we’re on to full names now, are we?” Lia crossed her arms in defiance. “Okay, Farah Mokumbe-Adebayo.

 

            “Bitch, don’t butcher my name,” she threw back.

 

            “Hey, dumb-dumbs, can we focus? He’s coming back with our drinks,” Gemma pointed out.

 

            Ted carefully set down an arrangement of different beverages; a birthday cake milkshake for Blaire, a root beer for Gemma, a chai for Maryam, regular double-double for Farah, and orange juice for Mel. Lia had chosen to stick to water, it seemed; fizzy and sugary drinks supposedly made her feel sick.

 

            “The orange juice is fresh,” Ted smiled at Melody as he set the cup down. “And I added a straw, in case.”

 

            “Uh, you forgot a straw for my milkshake,” Blaire pointed out.

 

            “Oh!” Ted patted down his apron. “I am so sorry about that–I’ll be right back.”

 

            “The orange juice is fresh,” Maryam mocked at Mel as soon as the boy was gone. “Just like his ass.”

 

            “He got her a straw for her juice and didn’t get one for her fucking milkshake!” Lia gestured to the two different glasses.

 

            “Yeah, he’s clearly finding ways to keep coming back to the booth, you idiots,” Gemma concluded, having taken a sip of her drink. “This isn’t even root beer, it’s Coke Zero.”

 

            “Are you sure?” Melody frowned.

 

            “Yes, I’m sure. Coke Zero tastes like what I think Trump smells like,” her friend threw back. “Either he’s doing it all on purpose or you really do have him whipped.”

 

            “Maybe he’s just having a bad day,” Melody shrugged. Upon feeling a vibration in her pocket, she immediately whipped her phone out in anticipation. To an extent of disappointment and some surprise, the text was from Maryam.

 

            I have to talk to you.

 

            Melody made eye contact with her friend from across the booth and she nodded at her once.

 

            Ted made quite a few errors during the remainder of their time at Denny’s, including bringing the wrong orders, the wrong types of eggs in the orders, and even incorrect bills. He kept throwing small smiles of embarrassment at Mel on the side, which she kept avoiding with a furious blush. Her mind was stuck only on one person at the moment, and she knew it would stay that way for as long as possible.

 

            Their server made sure Melody was the last one to pay; the girls understood his tactic, and all stood up to leave through the doors to give them a moment alone, ignoring Mel’s pleading looks. “Her name is Melody, by the way,” Farah offered.

 

            “She’s single!” Gemma called from the door.

 

            By now, Mel was burning up with humility, doing everything to avoid looking at Ted, who thought the way she was blushing was rather adorable. “I’m not really that clumsy, by the way,” he chuckled in his deep voice. “I just wanted to keep coming back.”

 

            “Oh…” She was flustered to the point that she couldn’t find words. “Nice.”

 

            “Could I get your number, maybe? I’d like to take you out, if that’s okay with you,” he shrugged nervously.

 

            “Um–uh–um, okay–uh…” Melody hadn’t ever rejected anyone before; she hadn’t had to. Now that she did, she didn’t know how.

 

            Of course, the boy just took her hesitation as nervous shyness. “My name is Theodore, by the way, but I go by Ted. Here, if you want you can just write your number on here,” he smiled, passing her a pen and napkin.

 

            Melody hesitated some more before finally speaking up. “I’m actually–I can’t, I’m so sorry. You’re really nice–and my friends all think you’re cute, but I’m so sorry–I’m kind of seeing someone.”

 

            Ted pursed his lips awkwardly, and she watched a dimple of sadness form in his cheek. “Uh…that’s okay, don’t worry about it. Worth a shot, right? Maybe I’ll see you around.”

 

            She smiled without looking at him, then rushed out of the exit. “You guys are the worst!” she exclaimed at her group of friends, who were all snickering right outside the door.

 

            “Did he get your number?” Lia asked, hand on her hip. “Tell me he got your number, Melody Grace.”

 

            “No, I didn’t give it to him,” she huffed. “That was so embarrassing. I’m never coming out with you guys again.”

 

            “I can’t believe you passed up on that,” Blaire said.

 

            “Cheer up, Mel-bell.” Farah smacked her on the backside teasingly. “He’s gonna break you sooner or later.”

 

           

*****

 

 

Maryam and Melody had purposely fallen to the back of the group to attain some privacy from the rest of the girls as they walked along the harbour. Mel noticed Gemma glancing back every few minutes to throw a smile at Maryam, who smirked back.

 

            “You know she likes you, right?” Melody muttered. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed it yet, but she really does.”

 

            “Yeah, she better,” Maryam retorted. “You know, seeing as we’re dating now.”

 

            “What?” Mel stopped in her tracks, jaw slack on the floor. “You guys are what?”

 

            Her friend giggled quietly and offered an innocent shrug. “That day, after we all left your house, she and I were alone in the end when she was driving me home. We sat in her car and talked for a long time, and she told me about her feelings. I guess I’ve felt ways about her for a while now, but I didn’t want to indulge in those feelings–you know, what with my ethnic background and all. It’s gonna be a hoot when I come out to my Christian, church-going parents–if I ever do.”

 

            Melody wrapped her arms around her tightly, finding it hard to stop grinning foolishly. “I’m so, so happy for you two. And thank you, for trusting me and for sharing with me.”

 

            “Yeah, well, Gem told me she confided in you for a while, and you were good to her about it. We thought you might have liked to know what was going on.”

 

            “I appreciate the thought,” she smiled. “God, I’m going to absolutely butcher Gemma about this now.”

 

            “Ay, leave my girlfriend alone, Mel-bell,” Maryam warned playfully.

 

            “Are you guys going to tell the rest of the girls?” Melody asked.

 

            “Of course, we have to at some point,” she shrugged. “We’re just waiting to see if these dumbasses figure it out on their own or not. You know we were holding hands at the Denny’s, right?”

 

 

*****

 

 

Steve was seated in the study, peering at the laptop screen through his glasses with tired eyes. He heard the front door and perked up; all his focus shifted immediately. Melody walked warily around the quiet house, wondering where he could be. When she passed the room with the wooden door left wide open, she was startled by the call of her name and backtracked to peek inside.

 

            “Hey,” she greeted sheepishly, lingering in the large frame of the entrance.

 

            “Come inside,” he encouraged. “I have something to ask.”

 

            Her interest peaked as she sat down in one of the armrest chairs by the heavy desk, across from him. “What is it?”

 

            He closed the MacBook gently and pushed it aside but left on his glasses. It was a good look on him, the sophisticated rectangular frame graced his features nicely. “Did you have fun with your friends?” he asked.

 

            “Yeah, it was nice,” she admitted, intentionally leaving out the ordeal with the boy at Denny’s.

 

            He smiled slightly; she noticed he was having difficulty meeting her eyes nowadays. That wasn’t comforting to her, but she could understand the sentiment behind it, and was glad that he hadn’t just glossed over everything yet. “Is that all?” she questioned him.

 

            “No, I…I was wondering. I’m flying out again in a few days for work. I was wondering if you would like to come with me. It might be a nice change.”

 

            He wanted to get her out of the cooped-up environment and take her to see different places and people. In his head, he hoped he could do something to make her feel less distraught, and to maybe make it up to her. He had thought that perhaps a trip outside of the country would lighten her up.

 

            “Where are you going?” she asked. There were a lot of things regarding his work life that Melody apparently had no idea of. She still didn’t have an A to B about what exactly he did or whom he worked with. The prospect of travelling was appealing to her, yes, mainly because she would get to be with him, and because she didn’t want to be left by herself again. If things worked out, she could even learn something about his professional life on the journey.

 

            “We’d be going to Canada,” he responded. “Well, first we’d go to Washington for some other work I have, then back to New York to meet with the rest of my team. Then we would all go North from there.”

 

            “The team?” she asked.

 

            “Yeah, they’re all my friends. Some I’ve known for over ten years; others, more recently. We all worked together to build the business up,” he explained. “They all know about you; they ask about you a lot. You might like being around them.”

           

            “Oh. What do you guys do again?”

 

            “’ve you heard of Stark Industries?” There was a mischievous gleam in his eyes when Melody widened her own in surprise.

 

            “Yeah, of course. Who hasn’t?”

 

            He shrugged casually. “Tony Stark is my buddy. I have a pretty big hand in Stark Industries.”

 

            Well that threw her completely off-guard. “You work for Stark Industries?”

 

            “No,” he shook his head. “I’m one of the board members at Stark Industries.”

 

            “A board member?” She blinked in fascination. “So, like…you…”

 

            “I’m one of the directors, I run the business deals, and I happen to own some shares because of my investments back in the day.” He could tell he had blown her away with this information.

 

            Melody leaned back in the chair, looking lost and confused. She had always thought he was the average nine-to-five worker, except he did most of his stuff from home. She would have never guessed in a million years that Steve was a hefty part of one of the most designated and renowned multi-technology and services conglomerates in all of North America, and most likely the world, in the foreseeable future. Suddenly the testimonies in his will began taking new meaning in her head.

 

            “So…you like…know Anthony Stark, Dr. Bruce Banner, all of them?” she questioned.

 

            “They’re my friends,” he repeated.

 

            Her brow shot up once again in disbelief, as if he were telling her for the first time. “Does that mean…so you’re like, rich and famous then?”

 

            “I wouldn’t say famous. It depends on the institution. I’m not celebrity-famous, but the news is pretty into us.” He bobbed his shoulders casually.

 

            “But you have a lot of money?” she reinstated.

 

            “We have a lot of money,” he corrected.

 

            She shot up in her seat hopefully. “So I don’t have to apply for scholarships for college?”

 

            “No, you don’t,” he chuckled, some of the warmth now returned to his beautiful features. “We have enough money and land to build you your own little college, probably.”

 

            “Would you still let me work a part-time job, if I ever wanted to?”

 

            “Why would you need to do that?” he asked curiously.

 

            She shrugged. “I don’t know. Basically all my friends work part-time.”

 

            “Well, now that you’re almost eighteen, I can give you access to the bank account I started up when you were five. You can do whatever with the money in there. Give it to your friends, buy them cars, whatever.”

 

            She frowned. “You mean my trust fund? Isn’t that for school?”

 

            “The trust fund is a separate thing. This is a leisure spending account.”

 

            “Do you think a leisure spending account would have enough money for all my friends?” she asked in concern.

 

            Steve gazed at her delicate pout with sheer admiration. The innocence of her questions and worries warmed his heart. “I’ve been fuelling that thing for some twelve years, so yes, it should have more than enough in it.”

 

            She sat deep in thought again, still ridden with shock at all the new information. After watching her thoughts spiral by her facial expressions, Steve cleared his throat. “So, what’s the deal? You wanna come with me? Meet my cool, awesome friends?”

 

            Melody looked nervous. “Would they be okay with me being there?”

 

            “They’ve been wanting to meet you for a while, Mel,” he assured. “These aren’t just hoity-toity colleagues that I picked up at work. I’ve known them for years; we’ve been through a lot together. As far as I know, they’re like a family to me.”

 

            “Are you sure? I don’t want to bother you…”

 

            “You’re never a bother for me, Mel.” After a moment, he smiled and added, “Uncle Buck’s gonna be there, too. He’s joining our board for something soon.”

 

            “He’s coming?” she asked, clearly excited. “Do you think he remembers me?”

 

            “He said he’s got a truckload of books waiting for you, last time we spoke.” Steve brought back the laptop and booted it up again. “He also told me to tell you to ‘get your braiding fingers ready’. He grew his hair long again.”

 

            “Oh, I remember doing his hair when I was young. He used to hate it,” she giggled.

 

            “Yeah, but you loved it, so he didn’t mind.” Steve watched fondly as she smiled to herself, playing with the hem of her dress. “So, yes or no?”

 

            She nodded happily. “Yeah, I’ll come with you.”

Chapter Text

            Melody had never been in an airplane before–in fact, she had never really been in any vehicle previously that exceeded an altitude from which she could fall safely–if she did. Her fear of heights was evident enough that anyone who knew wasn’t at all heedless to it.

 

            She had told her friends that she would be gone for about a week, on a vacation for the summer. They had all been very excited for her, knowing she had never been outside of the country, meanwhile they all had–Lia, Farah and Maryam had flown back to their home countries for countless visitations, and Blaire and Gemma had gone on out-of-country school trips before. They had given her tips on what to pack and how to pack it, also demanding that she take pictures to show them later on. They all wanted to see what the “True North” really looked like, after all.

 

            Melody had been nervously anticipating seeing the large, intimidating mammoths of vehicles at the airport and then boarding onto one to be surrounded by strangers. So, naturally, she was slack at the sight of the private landing and the jet that waited at service in the distance.

 

            “You get a company plane?” she asked Steve, following him to the trunk as he began unloading their carry-on.

 

            “Oh, no,” he shook his head. “No, that’s my own.”

 

            She blinked at him a few times, convincing herself she was hearing things. “Your own? You have a private jet?”

 

            “Yeah, when the travelling got a little frequent, I decided I may as well,” he shrugged, handing the keys over to a man in uniform. It was very surreal as Melody looked between the average, ordinary car, to the shiny plane ahead. Standing between the two, she felt as if she were breaking a barrier from an old life into a new one; from a simple, mediocre lifestyle to an expensive, divine one that she had never expected or even wanted, for that matter. It blew over Melody’s head how Steve could have kept this factor so secluded and hidden, making her successfully believe she was just another kid in the state of New York until that was all she knew how to be. Something told her now that clearly, the phase-changing of her and Steve’s relationship had only been the first of many surprises in the life to come.

 

            The inside of the jet was soul-surfing luxury; all white leather seats and eggshell walls with polished wooden flooring and accents. There was a bar against one side and travel beds along the back that looked so inviting, Melody’s feet began aching just looking at them.

 

            Admittedly, she felt a little out of place amidst all the expensiveness in her simple Garage jeans and an old Patriots t-shirt. She wondered how ridiculous she must have looked to the couple of attendants that were on board with them; a teenage girl in battered Vans hauling a backpack onto a magnificent private jet behind one of the most prestigious-looking men she had ever seen. Even though Steve had matched her jeans and t-shirt protocol with his own washed blue pair and timely rugby jersey, he still somehow seemed a match for the environment. No matter what he wore, at the end of the day, his appearance simply exuded excellence.

 

            Some innate part of Melody felt the need to take a seat right next to the window. She watched the car get driven away after all the luggage was unloaded from it and repacked onto the jet by some more figures in uniforms. The sun was low in the skyline as it bid farewell to this side of the world yet again, and the orange light cast a lullaby glow around the clean space, to which Mel let her eyes flutter shut.

 

 

 

Steve was now seated beside a sleeping Melody, flipping through an ancient copy of The Da Vinci Code out of boredom as the familiar sounds and tones of the aircraft filled his ears. When Melody started, she found herself secured by a seatbelt; the lights were now dim, and she guessed it must be nighttime.

 

            She sat up straight and looked at him with tired eyes. “Am I allowed to get up? I have to use the washroom.”

 

            Steve nodded, unclicking the buckle for her. “Yeah, yeah, it’s just down that way to the right.”

 

            The washroom wasn’t as cramped and inadequate as she’d expected, either. With its accessories and facilities, it was actually quite spectacular for a vehicular dispensary. Melody washed her face with cold water and wiped it dry with paper towel before going back out.

 

            “How long has it been?” she asked, sitting back down. “Do I have to put the belt on again?”

 

            “No, only when we take off and land. I think it’s been a little over half-an-hour.” He checked the analog on his phone to confirm. “We have about an hour left.”

 

            The window was shut closed, Mel noticed then. “Can I see outside?”

 

            “Are you sure? You don’t like heights,” he reminded her.

 

            “I wanna see what it looks like,” she shrugged. Steve leaned over and slid the panel upwards, revealing pitch black sky. But below, thousands of feet down, Melody could see expositions of tiny white-and-gold lights that indicated civilization. They looked like constellations on the ground from inside of the plane. Subsequently, she also felt queasy again; in her sleeping and fascination, Mel had forgotten just how high up they were.

 

            Just at that moment, the entire jet shuddered unmistakably, and the sounds of glass against glass clinked all the way from the bar to Melody, whose eyes were stuck on the now-quaking scene outside the window. “Steve,” she warned. “I–we–what’s happening–”

 

            “It’s just slight turbulence, Mel, it happens,” he assured. “Here, I’ll go check–”

 

            “No!” She was in panic mode now, pushing the screen back down to hide the outside. She latched her left hand onto Steven’s thick forearm, carelessly digging her short nails in as she tried to labour her breathing. “No, no, please stay here, please don’t leave me alone.”

 

            “Mel, it’s alright, you’re gonna be okay,” he whispered, wrapping an arm around her panting body as she hid her face in his chest. He could still feel the sting from her nails in the arm that now clutched her shoulders. “Nothing’s happening, you don’t have to worry.”

 

            “We’re so high up…” Her voice was quiet and shaky. “What–what if something happens?”

 

            “Nothing will happen,” he repeated. “We’re okay. You’re okay.”

 

            As if on cue, the plane was back to a peaceful drift within minutes. Mel used the warmth and smell of Steven’s body as a distraction from her callous, paranoid thoughts. When the sensation of her heart dropping through her stomach dissipated, she opened her eyes to the world around her again.

 

            “See? Everything’s fine,” he muttered, pressing his lips to her crown and inhaling a fresh scent.

 

            Melody leaned into him more and subconsciously reached up to run her hand up his bicep. Having pushed the sleeve up without any real motive, her eyes now met with faint crescents and scratch marks on his skin. “What’s this?” she asked, but the answer was in her head before even finishing the last syllable.

 

            She sat up suddenly, expression hollowing as the seat was vacated and she rushed towards the back of the plane.

 

 

 

It didn’t take long for the partition to open again, revealing a sulking Steve as he stepped inside the space and closed it behind him, sealing them off from the rest of the vehicle and its employed passengers. Melody lay curled on the bed, knees bent closer to her front. The position wasn’t comfortable, but it was less hurtful than the situation. She wasn’t crying–she had tried to, but the heaviness drowning her chest like dead weight was different than the one that made her cry. This one made her want to devastate everything around her.

 

            “Hey.” Steven kicked off his shoes and took a seat beside her on the confines, crossing his legs.

 

            “Go away,” she told him. “Go talk to one of your other girlfriends.”

 

            “They’re not my girlfriends, Mel–”

 

            “You sleep with them, don’t you? You have sex with other women. You claim to love me and then you go and be with others when I’m not there.”

 

            “I’m not making excuses for myself–”

 

            “Good. There is no excuse you could ever make that would help this situation.”

 

            Steve braced his knees with his hands tightly. He watched for a while, quietly, but her face was an eerie still that only gazed ahead at the wall. “There’s a life I’ve lived outside of the one I have with you. I’m humiliated by my decisions in that other life, and I tried to keep you apart from it, because I knew this is how you would react if you ever found out. I knew you would back away, so I hid secrets and made up for my needs elsewhere.”

 

            “Do you expect me to be happy that others got to have you when I wasn’t around?” She finally sat up before him, eye-to-eye. “Tell me, Steve. How would you feel if I lifted my shirt right now and showed you that someone else got to touch my body behind your back?”

 

            A darkness consumed his features, signalling anger. The mere mention of it ignited a fire in Steve’s head. “Melody,” he cautioned, his blue eyes suddenly critical.

 

            “See? You’re seething at the thought of me being with anyone else. And you come back to me, with these marks on you that are left by other women. You had them before, too, when we showered together. You were sleeping around even on your business trip, weren’t you?” she demanded. “I thought, ‘okay, whatever. Nothing was definite between us and things ended badly before you left.’ But then, again? When you left for those three days? We had reached somewhere at that point.”

 

            “We hadn’t seen each other in a week while living under the same roof,” he reasoned.

 

            “Steve, it doesn’t matter! People fight–it doesn’t undo things. One week of not talking doesn’t negate years of development.” She put her head in her hands momentarily, pressing against her tired eyes before looking back up at him. “What if I agreed to something happening between us? Would you go drinking and sleeping around if I got mad at you over something that you did to hurt me? This is not how you deal with conflict, Steve. That night you barged out, I had been thinking all day about all of this. I was planning on talking to you, before you disappeared. None of what happened later would have happened if you weren’t so impatient!”

 

            “I’m impatient?” he repeated with wild eyes. “I’m anything but impatient. Every time I’ve left that house, it’s after having you tell me with full determination that you want nothing to do with me. You told me it hurt to feel rejected, but you slapped me in the face with it countless times. I did what I did with other women so I wouldn’t feel tempted to force my feelings on you, and suffocate you, because I only care about you.”

 

            They looked at each other in stunned silence for a long moment, realizing how loud their voices had grown. Steve took a laboured breath and released the deathly grip on his knees, which now ached from the pressure that had been exerted on them. “Even now, Melody. Even now, you’re admonishing me for disloyalty when you haven’t even made up your mind about me.”

 

            “The fact that I’m upset over your disloyalty should tell you something, Steve,” she hissed, leaning forward. “God, when did you become so dense?”

 

            “So, what? You don’t want to be with me, you told me we would never be the way I wanted it–but, oh, you hate that I wasn’t exclusive to a feeling that was never returned to me?” He was very passionate now; Mel could tell by how enthusiastically he moved his hands and shifted his face to match his words. “Face it, Melody. You don’t want me. Even after we get back home, you’ll continue doing your own thing and shutting me out until you need me again. And I’ll be there, like I always have.”

 

            She lunged forward and dug a pointing finger into his chest. “I told you to give me time, I didn’t say I didn’t want you. Ugh! You’re so stubborn sometimes! You know, the other day when I went out with my friends? This guy that was serving us asked me out, and they were all swooning over him, but I told him I was seeing someone. Because the whole time, I was just thinking about you. But you are so thick in the head, aren’t you? You wouldn’t know intelligence if you were to eat it up and shit it back out!”

 

            Mel cowered suddenly, grimacing as she clutched her stomach. Steve was immediately alert, abandoning all other thoughts as he tended to her. “What happened? What happened, are you okay? Did I hurt you?”

 

            “No,” she whimpered, shaking her head. Her eyes were shut tight. “I just…period cramps.”

 

            “Did you bring medication? Whatever, I brought some anyways. Just wait.” Steve left in a hurry and returned with a bottle in each hand, one of water and one full of pills. Melody was apprehensive as she studied the tablets he’d dropped into her palm, and his face soured at the realization. “They’re just pain killers, Mel. Honest.”

 

            She took both one at a time, all the while feeling guilty for the look on his face after her speculation. They had been throwing a tantrum moments ago; she’d been personally attacking him before the pain had re-emerged, and he had completely disregarded everything else in worry for her.

 

            Steve dimmed down the light and made to leave the room, but Melody stopped him. “Can you come here?” she requested.

 

            He stepped forward hesitantly, a six-foot-four grown man cowering shamefully under her gaze, unwilling to meet it. Melody reached out and took his larger hand in her own. “Can you stay with me?”

 

            It reminded him of the first night that had unleashed everything. Things had been so different those months ago, more innocent and simpler. He wondered to himself which one proved to be more difficult now: the past, wherein her naivety meant he battled in his emotions alone, or now, when the dawn of their plight shed light on more and more torment.

 

            “I don’t want to bother you,” he said.

 

            She tilted her head to the side, giving him a small smile. “You’re never a bother for me, Steve.”

 

            The warmth of his body felt blissful against the conditioned cold of the aircraft as they lay under the covers. She had her cheek on his chest and could hear the thrum of his heart in the cave of her ear, steady but strong. With a curious bite of her lip, Melody lifted her head and pressed an innocent kiss to his cheek, quickly repositioning again. Sure enough, the beat inside of his chest had quickened considerably.

 

 

*****

 

 

“So, what do you do in Washington?” she asked him, after they were seated in the lavish Camaro. It wasn’t Steven’s favourite car–all show and no go, he always said, preferring stronger engines and logistics over appearance–but it was the one that most of the amateur men at the agency preferred. The sky above them was pitch black but clear, accentuating the stars that dotted around a crescent moon.

 

            He began driving, immediately needling into the hundreds on the speedometer. The cars on this rural road were few and gave room for his antique, albeit reckless habits. “Shield Security Services. I co-own the company with Nicholas Fury, Phil Coulson; a few other guys. It’s a leading agency in the country, honestly. If I’d known it would hit upwards so quickly, I would have contributed more of an investment, but I’m already number three on the board behind Fury and Coulson themselves, so it doesn’t really get any better.”

 

            Melody hung on to every word and also hung on to her seat, although she didn’t have to with the way her spine plunged into the black leather from the force of gravity. “You’re involved in two really big corporations? How old were you when you started all this?”

 

            “I joined Tony when I was twenty, but I only pitched into Shield about ten years ago. It wasn’t really on my radar before that,” he said.

 

            “What made you want to do it, in the end?” she wondered aloud.

 

            He licked his lips, then shrugged. “I guess I just wanted to use every opportunity I could to secure a solid future for you.”

 

            A giddiness erupted in her stomach, but it wasn’t from the movement of the car. Melody rolled her window down, letting the wind whip her hair away from her face. A rush of blood made an exciting tour through her limbs as she looked at Steven in the glow of the dashboard amidst the otherwise dark night.

 

            “Steve.” She held back from grinning when he looked at her. “Go faster.”

 

            A glimmer in his eye and the way his lips curled upwards told Mel she had said the right thing. Her heart raced as the engine revved and the white Camaro went ripping its way down the road.

Chapter Text

            “Lo and behold, the captain. Good to see you showing your pale-ass face ‘round these parts, Rogers.”

 

            Nick Fury walked right up to Steve and gave him a strong, firm handshake. The blond returned the small smile on the tall, bald man’s face. “What’s up, Fury? You still serving the country like a loser?”

 

            “And what exactly is it that you do, sir?” Fury threw back with a mock-startled expression.

 

            “Just a few odd jobs here and there,” Steve shrugged playfully. “Nothing too serious.”

 

            “And who’s this?” Nick quirked a brow at the much shorter, nervous girl hiding behind Steve. She had been clutching her arm awkwardly and was now looking at Fury with wide brown eyes at having her presence acknowledged.

 

            Nicholas Joseph Fury was not a sour or bitter man, but he certainly came off as intimidating. He was not only tall and lean but also had incredible posture, like a sensei of some sort, and his dark clothes matched his dark complexion. What was most striking was the eyepatch that hid his left eye, leaving him appearing perfectly capable of menace and tactic.

 

            “This, uh…” Steve swallowed dryly. It hurt to even think about, but he had to feed into his story of fifteen years. “My kid.”

 

            Melody swallowed down her own bile at this statement, trying as hard as she could to maintain a straight face. Fury seemed to understand then, mouth dropping open in an ‘o’. “Ah, right, yes. This your daughter, Rogers?”

 

            Steve pursed his lips tightly, forcing a nod.

 

            “Young lady, how old are you?”

 

            “I’m–seventeen,” she sputtered.

 

            The man crossed his hands behind his back, standing even straighter somehow. “And you realize its unprofessional to follow your daddy to his workplace? Who let you come in here?”

 

            The phrasing made her blush, but his question had her glancing between the two men in fear. Steve was also pinking up at the title Fury had used to refer to him. Melody began stammering out an apology. “I’m so sorry, sir–uh, I–sorry–”

 

            “Lay off the kid, Fury.” A shorter, more pleasant man with a balding frontal and crinkly blue eyes approached them, his smile welcoming. He nodded at Steve, shaking his hand as if it were an honour. “Cap, good to have you back here. Is this your daughter, then?” he asked, tilting his head towards her.

 

            “Yes. Melody, this is Nicholas Fury, and this is Phil Coulson. I mentioned them earlier. Gentlemen, this is Melody.”

 

            Phil held his hand out for her, and Melody shook it hesitantly. “I apologize for my colleague’s behaviour. He has a bad habit of pretending to be mean,” he informed.

 

            “Coulson, you nincompoop. I almost had the teenager trembling in fear,” Nick tutted. “Sorry ‘bout that, kid. Your daddy took some getting used to it, too, in the beginning. You’ll learn to not take me too seriously.”

 

            Mel and Steve made alert eye-contact for a brief moment before breaking it and resuming their façade. “Phil, I’m glad you’re around to balance out this son of a bitch.”

 

            “Motherfucker, you kiss your momma with that mouth?” Fury immediately threw back. Melody snickered at that, quickly slapping a hand over it when the tall man glowered at her. “You’ve got some head on those shoulders, Miss Melody, laughing at me like that.”

 

            “It was just ironic, what you said,” she shrugged. “Also, I think you should be the only person allowed to use the term ‘motherfucker’.”

 

            All three men broke out in offended scowls and protests at her language. “Rogers, please, raise your kid better,” Fury taunted, moving to the bar-side of the conference room to pour himself a beverage.

 

            “But before you get to her, help me raise this guy,” Coulson muttered jokingly, and Fury threw a cold look at him over his shoulder.

 

            When there was nobody else within earshot, Steve turned to Melody. “Hey, dropping f-bombs around my friends the first time you meet them, much?” he asked in sheer amusement.

 

            “I learn from my daddy,” she whispered.

 

            He sneered down at her, an ominous smile playing at his lips. “Don’t let me catch you alone. ‘m gonna ruin you.”

 

            She shut up then, cheeks burning red. From across the room, Fury and Coulson said something to Steve along the lines of Don’t be that hard on her, Rogers.

 

 

*****

 

 

Melody had waited outside the conference room, in one of two red-velvet armchairs either side of a small table with magazines and books. She flipped through the pages lazily, eyeing the models and their perfect, airbrushed features. She wondered, even though it bothered her to, if these were the kinds of women Steve slept around with. If this was what he was attracted to–perfect bodies, perfect skin and hair and nails, all lustrous eyes and sharp angles. She put the magazine aside and looked down at her legs, hidden until just above the knee in the black fabric of her sundress. She then noticed a spot on the inside of her thigh that she’d missed while shaving–thankfully, it would be covered for the time being.

 

            Mel remembered being skinny as a child–she’d basically been led to believe she was a ‘rejected runt’ until she became a ‘chubby dumpling’; the bullies had convinced her of this. That’s how it was, how it always would be–when she was too small, it was disgusting, and when she wasn’t small anymore, she was disgusting all over again.

 

            Though it had never really been much trouble, because Steve had helped her with that; guiding her literally through the thick and thin. He protected her every single time and assured her that no matter what size she was, she was still his little Mel. After puberty, the weight had shifted again to concentrate more on certain areas of her body, and now she was just an in-between size, in her own opinion.

 

            But after finding out that he’d chosen to be with others besides her, Melody couldn’t help feeling attacks of insecurity all over again. Were her thighs too big? Would she have been more beautiful if she had a sharper jaw or hollow cheeks? She even crossed her arms over her stomach, suddenly wishing she’d followed through on that decision to do a hundred sit-ups every day. She could definitely be thinner, yes, but she hadn’t really felt the need to be, until now.

 

            She decided she would have to make some lifestyle changes if she was to stand beside Steve Rogers and look like she was even a little bit in his league. Maybe, she could ask him to train her from now on.

 

 

*****

 

 

“Mel?”

 

            She broke out of the lull suddenly, snapping awake in the armchair to find Steve looming over her. “I’m awake,” she slurred, wiping drool from the corner of her mouth.

 

            “You’re falling asleep just anywhere now?” he chuckled, helping her up. “Have you been taking your iron supplements?”

 

            “I don’t need those,” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes carefully through the mascara.

 

            “You’re telling me you stopped doing what the doctor told you to?”

 

            “Doctors are stupid.”

 

            “You gonna say that to Bruce Banner, too?” He cocked a brow.

 

            “No, he’s the only good doctor,” she muttered with a frown. “If he tells me to take iron supplements, I’ll take them.”

 

            “Duly noted,” he smirked.

 

            They walked into an empty elevator and Steve pressed for the ground floor. “Fifty-four floors,” she sighed, leaning back against the handlebar as the numbers decreased steadily on the screen overhead. Each of the walls inside the elevator was a mirror, and with Mel on one side and Steve standing across from her, the mirrors reflected into each other to create an infinity of both of them as they looked at one another.

 

            “What was the meeting about?” she asked. “It must be important if you had to come all the way to be there in person.”

 

            “I’m a shareholder, so even if it’s not important, I’m expected to be present,” he explained. “Just one of the guys doing a presentation on why he deserves to become department head. I told you about him before once, remember? When you were younger? He tried to convince some of the labour workers to go on strike just so he could move upwards. Brock Rumlow?”

 

            She scowled, searching her memory, then nodded. “Yeah, you told me about that. You were really angry that day, and I thought it was because of me.”

 

            “No, it was because of that jackass,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “Why would I be mad at you?”

 

            She blinked, wide-eyed, then gave a tight smile. “I, uh…I may or may not have been the one who ruined your computer back then. I was playing games on it and I…just accidentally spilled juice into the keyboard–but days went by, and you didn’t seem to know, so I never said anything.”

 

            “No, I knew,” he confirmed. “I just didn’t care about it that much.”

 

            She bit the inside of her cheek, bowing her head until enough hair made a curtain of privacy around her face. Steven held his hand out to her then, and she looked at it cautiously before accepting it and walking into his embrace.

 

            “Can I kiss you?” he asked in her ear.

 

            Melody was startled, but in a good way. The fact that he asked made butterflies swoop around in her belly, and she gave him a shy smile. “Only a kiss.”

 

            Steve was happy with just that as he cupped her face with both hands and moulded their lips together. He held her in place for a moment before releasing and wrapped his arms around her body to pull her secure against him.

 

            “’m gonna make it up to you, Mel,” he promised, pressing his mouth to the top of her head.

 

            “I know, Steve.”

 

 

 

Washington was a busy state no matter what region one went, it seemed. The streets were busy with people on their phones, headed to work, or rushing their children to school. There were large monuments and buildings that certainly dignified the place as a capitol; had Melody not spent her life in the state of New York, she would have titled this place as the most populated and crowded area of the country.

 

            The scene of the city skyline looked millennia different across night and day, somehow. Now, in the dimming daytime, Melody could somehow see ten times the buildings and landscape from the hotel suite they had been staying in. The wall of clear glass in the room gave her assurance that a sunset from this eye would surely be breathtaking.

 

            Steve had changed out of the professional slacks and button-down as soon as they’d returned, throwing on a more comfortable tracks-and-tee ensemble. He’d instructed Melody to get some rest and then get dressed to go out later while he expended a couple hours’ worth of energy in the hotel’s amenity gym. The vicinity wasn’t too occupied; hotel gyms were never bustling with people. It seemed most preferred to relax every aspect of themselves on vacation, but Steve kept himself on a strict routine as he piled the plates onto a bench press.

 

            There were two other people in the weights and cross-fit section: a silver-haired man who was busy with the military ropes and a middle-aged woman on the squat rack. An hour into his session, Steve watched the two people finish up and leave. He couldn’t help feeling elated; he’d always loved working out in an empty gym, free to use however much equipment for whichever exercise took up his time.

           

            But he was very surprised when the heavy gate slowly tugged open and Melody slipped inside, her wide eyes nervously glancing around the space. Steve put down the barbell and wiped the sweat around his mouth with the back of his hand, taking deep breaths as she neared slowly. Even further of a shock took him when he realized she was dressed in workout clothes: black leggings that wrapped every inch of her hips and glutes more tightly than he appreciated for a public setting, and a short-sleeved t-shirt that did nothing to cover the provocative tease of her ass in the gym tights.

 

            “Hey, whaddya doin’?” he panted, forehead creased in a furrowed brow.

 

            Melody gathered her hair up and began to tail it with a hair-tie. “I was hoping you could train me?” She waited for him to react as his eyes travelled over her body again. She no longer felt confident with having him–or anyone, really, but especially him–look at her in that way, and that had to change.

 

            “Why?” he asked. “You were never interested in working out.”

 

            She couldn’t help but feel a sting at his words; did he think she was pathetic for not being interested in fitness? Mel crossed her arms over herself in concern, picking at a spot by her elbow. “I just… I don’t know. I want to work out.”

 

            Steve shook his head in defiance. “Mel, you hate exercising–”

 

            “Okay, I know! I know I’m unfit. You don’t have to keep saying it like that,” she snapped.

 

            They stared at each other for a while; Steven was absolutely ridiculed and lost. “What? What are you talking about?”

 

            Melody frowned deeply at the hard, black flooring. There was a burn in her cheeks as she searched for words that wouldn’t make her out to be any more pitiful than she must have already seemed. “I want to look better,” she muttered.

 

            “What?” he asked.

 

            “I want to look better,” she repeated, a little louder. “I want to look good.”

 

            Steven hadn’t any idea where this was coming from, and his attention kept drifting to the tight fit of her attire. “What makes you think you look bad?”

 

            Mel stuck her tongue into her cheek, feeling a burden in her chest. “I don’t know. Ever since I thought about the fact that you…with other women, I just feel like I could be doing more to make myself better.”

 

            Now that the thought was expressed, she took a deep breath and blew it out through her mouth, trying to cool down from the humiliation.

 

            “That’s what this is about?” Steve slapped a hand to his forehead in exasperation and pinched the bridge of his nose.

 

            Melody nodded, her eyes still glued to the ground. “I just–they must be really good-looking, and I want to be like that, too. I wanna look good. I don’t want you to look at other women and wish I were like them.”

 

            He turned away, covering his face with both hands. Melody watched him take a couple of unsteady steps away from her, a familiar weight stabbing its way down her ribcage. “Please don’t get mad. I just…I want to be good enough.”

 

            “Fuck!” he shouted suddenly. Within seconds, he had a forty-five plate in his hand and was hurling it at the hefty punching bag in the corner of the room. Melody cowered in fear, quickly retreated her footsteps, and rushed out of the exit door without a second glance behind.

 

 

*****

 

 

Mel had keyed back inside of the rooms and locked herself into the washroom, heart splurging inside her throat in alarm. Without her phone, there wasn’t a way to tell how long had passed by before she heard sound and movement within the suite, signalling Steve’s return. Part of her was relieved that he was back–the other part was plagued with wonder about what he would do now.

 

            Footsteps travelled around everywhere before they approached the bathroom and stopped outside the door, upon which there was an even rap. “Melody?” Steve called.

           

            She was sitting inside of the empty tub, clutching her knees and rocking back and forth. The sound of his voice quickened her motion yet. He called her name several times, knock upon knock cutting through her thoughts, but her limbs were like lead. A motion-picture of the weighted plate tormenting the punching bag kept playing behind her eyes–it was too easy for him to do damage if he wanted to. But she couldn’t understand how she had made him so angry to begin with.

 

            Steve slid heavily against the door until he was on the floor in defeat. His enormous frame took up the entire diameter, blocking it off effortlessly. He secured his elbows around his knees and hid his face in his arm as despair billowed within. There were countless echoes of her words in his ears, each one landing like a blow to the gut. A sensation had settled within him at what she’d said; it was like a fire that crippled his flesh with guilt and pure animosity for his own being.

 

            Steven had not wanted to hurt himself this much for a very long time.

 

            He trembled, releasing a fresh wave of tears. At this point, it hurt to wipe them off his stinging cheeks. He clawed his hair back with tight fists, ignoring the throbbing ache in the knuckles.

 

            What a mess he’d made with his choices. For as long as he’d been in Melody’s life, he’d worked so hard to protect her from hellish demons like insecurity and self-doubt; he had taken every tip and step to ensure she felt as valuable as she truly was. Steve revelled in the knowledge that Melody was confident in herself, wishing he could make her see how unmatched and unique she was in his eyes.

 

            But when she had melted into a puddle of embarrassment and vacillation regarding her image, it had blown Steve’s world out of proportion. The hurt in her eyes at not feeling good enough was worse than any other pain Steve had ever experienced, and as if that weren’t enough, it had all been because of him. It was all because of his rash decisions and insensitive actions.

 

           

 

When the breath had returned to her lungs and the ringing gone from her ears, Melody stood and stepped out of the bathtub. The quiet across the walls signalled peace and offered reassurance, but upon pulling the door open, she found Steven slumped over himself, shaking in a way she hadn’t witnessed before.

 

            “Steve?” Panic struck her when she noticed his ragged breathing, his hands stuck as clenched fists in his hair. She crouched down quickly and tried to help him sit up; Steve’s heartbeat was so intense that she could feel it even while her hand pressed into his back. “Steve, what’s happening? What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

 

            He didn’t answer, but covered his face with his forearms instead, unwilling to stop pulling at the blond locks on his head. His skin was flushed an aggressive shade of crimson, and he was sobbing silently. Melody was lost and frightened; she had never seen anything like this happen before. The symptoms could have been a prerequisite to an attack of any sort.

 

            “I’m gonna call nine-one-one,” she informed with tears in her own eyes.

 

            Steve shook his head then, rather vigorously, and let go of his hair to grab her hand. “Stay,” he gasped. “Stay! No–no! D-don’t–leave–”

 

            “Okay, okay, it’s okay,” she rushed, rubbing her free hand up and down his concrete back, only now realizing what was happening. “Just breathe, Steve. Take deep breaths. I’m right here. It’s okay, alright? You’re good, we’re good, I’m right here.”

 

            “Melody,” he managed with difficulty, his eyes shut closed tightly.

 

            “Yes, Steve, Melody. Mel. I’m right here,” she assured.

 

            “Mel–” He began choking up.

 

            “Yeah, it’s me, I’m here. I’m not leaving. Please, just breathe.” She helped him sit up enough to be able to get both of her arms secure around him, hiding his face in her chest. Steve clung to her like a child, crushing her so fiercely that she could feel his heart thundering against her stomach.

 

            They remained that way for so long that her limbs began numbing, but Mel never once tried to move or reposition, waiting until he wasn’t jittering against her like an animal at slaughter. She pressed her lips to the top of his head, running her hand over his crown soothingly. “My Steve,” she mumbled. “You’re gonna be okay. I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

            She wondered how she could ever put into words the sight of a boisterous mountain of a man, whom she’d known to be the epitome of cultivated and collected for all her life, become reduced to fragments of tears and hiccups before her very eyes. It was damning and soul-shattering, for one. There was no greater agony she had ever experienced than what she felt then, seeing him that destroyed. And to know that it was all because of her.

 

            By the time Steven was breathing normally again, there were tear stains across Melody’s shirt that made everything all the more real. He lifted his face to reveal the flushed skin and even redder eyes, still glazed with hurt and ready to crescendo again at any moment. Mel watched him inhale shakily, stormy irises searching the ground absently.

 

            “Melody, I hate myself,” he whispered, breathing out as if it caused a great deal of trouble to do even that. “You want to be…good enough for me? Truth is…I’m not good enough, for you. I will never…deserve you.”

 

            Melody’s face fell as she held his between her hands carefully. “That’s not true. You’re so good to me. You’re so good to everyone, Steve. You’re so amazing. You’re the best.”

 

            “No…” He shook his head lifelessly. “All I do is hurt you. I’m just harmful. You’d be so much better off, without me. Mel, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s all my fault–stupid, stupid fucking Steve! Piece of fucking shit–”

 

            Suddenly, he was slapping himself and simultaneously slamming his head backwards into the wall. Melody yanked him forward with wide eyes before he could cause severe damage. “Steve!” She grabbed each of his hands with her own. “Steve, stop it!”

           

            He gave up, dropping his chin low again. Melody was finding it near impossible to hold her tears back as she studied his once again damaged knuckles. “You did it again? You hurt yourself again?”

 

            Steve ignored her question. “I can’t even say I’m sorry, because it doesn’t mean anything. My apologies are pointless. How do you come back from hurting someone you love?”

 

            That was when he finally looked at her, and Mel felt like she could live again. She held his palm against her cheek, feeling the warmth radiate through her flesh, then pressed a kiss into it.

 

            “I know you don’t feel it, but I do,” he said. “That night on your birthday, when I hurt you for the first time, I told myself I never wanted to be the reason you cried ever again. And I fail at it, every day. I’m the worst.”

 

            “No,” she pushed. “I should have never said all that to you.”

 

            “How else would I have known how badly I fucked up?” he asked. “If you hadn’t come down there and said all that, I would have never found out what you were thinking. Melody, you’re nothing like those women because you’re the only one of you that there is. You’re the warmest, brightest, realest thing I’ve ever felt. I didn’t go to them because I felt something for them. I did that because I have no right to feel anything for you.

 

            “You don’t need to change anything about yourself, Mel. I hate myself for making you think you’re not good enough. You’re everything.”

 

            “I’m sorry,” she blubbered, hiding her face in his neck. “I’m so sorry. I never meant for this to happen.”

 

            “No, baby, I’m sorry.” He shook his head. “You deserve so much better than me. I’m not good for you.”

 

            Melody choked back a sob, clutching at his shirt. “No, please don’t say that.”

 

            “There isn’t a way I can get past this, Mel,” he explained. “Every time I look at you, I can only think of all the ways I’ve hurt you.”

 

            And then, the words were in her head, and they were tumbling out before she could hold her tongue. “Steve, I still want you. I only want you. Please don’t do this.” There was a relief in saying it out loud to the one person that they were meant for–it was as if she had spouted wings and could fly. It was as if several centuries of burden had lifted off her chest as she told him what she’d been puncturing down this entire time.

 

            He was momentarily stunned, and she pulled back to look at him. “Please stop hurting yourself because of me. Please, I care about you so much. You have no idea how much it hurts to see you like this. I wish I could go back and change everything. I wish I could do it differently, and not push you away. I’m so sorry.”

 

            “No, no, none of this is your fault.” Steve rid of the tears on her cheeks with a swipe of his thumbs and kissed her forehead. “Don’t blame yourself, Mel.”

 

            She shook her head. “Then you can’t blame yourself either.”

 

            “But it’s the truth–”

 

            “No!” She pressed her finger against his lips. “It’s not my truth. Nobody takes the blame. We get a fresh start, okay? Deal?”

 

            He searched her big, dark eyes, and for the first time, there was no doubt in his mind as to what he saw in them. Steve left a chaste kiss against her finger and pulled her flush into his frame for a long embrace. “Don’t ever doubt yourself again. You’re my sweet, strong, beautiful little Mel.”

 

            There were very few things in the world that Steven was sure about, but the foremost was that he loved Melody more than he had ever hated himself.

Chapter Text

            “No… Oh my God.” Melody abandoned the bag search and clutched her head helplessly. Her trouble finally caught Steven’s attention, who sauntered over from the kitchenette to where their bags were piled in front of a closet.

           

            “What’s the matter?” he asked, downing a glass of water. The hours after the incident had been a hazy surreal–they had moved to the kitchen space of the suite to attempt to cook something up, but upon finding no valuable material, had decided to order in. It was between eight and nine on a weeknight, but the loud Washington streets could be heard even from the floor they were on. One benefit of a bustling, never-sleeping city was that nothing would be closed for another while.

 

            “I think I left the small blue bag at home,” she whined. “It has my extra pads and underwear.” There was no shame in admitting anything about her physical anatomy to Steve, who had bought her toiletries and personal hygiene items since she was young.

 

            “I’ll go out and buy you some right now,” he declared. “Which brand?”

 

 

 

After he’d pulled on a sweatshirt and rushed out with keys and wallet in hand, Melody decided she would rearrange the luggage neatly while she waited. The food would surely arrive soon, and so would Steve, so she began scrolling through the flat screen in the lounge to find something to watch.

 

            There was a knock on the heavy entrance door that she’d been expecting–it wouldn’t be Steve, because he had a key card–and hurried over to answer. Not bothering to push herself up on toes to look through the peephole, Mel simply pulled the door open to reveal an oddly familiar man.

 

            He was rather tanned, with glaring black eyes and hair. Nothing about him seemed welcoming as Mel tried to place where she’d seen him before. He blinked down at her in confusion before seeming to put two-and-two together. “Is Steve Rogers here?” he demanded in a raucous voice.

 

            “Um, no…Steve’s not here right now,” she informed, hiding behind the door. “Who are you?”

 

            The man raised an amused eyebrow. “Who are you?” he asked. “Are you another one of his little playthings? I didn’t know he went that young.”

 

            Melody frowned in a deep shade of pink. “I’m…” Here it was again, the pitiful summary of their relationship to the public eye. “I’m his daughter.”

 

            This further intrigued the man, and he pushed the door easily, letting himself in. Melody backed away cautiously–where was her phone? Where was Steve?

 

            “Oh, so you’re Rogers’ girl. You look nothing like him.” He cocked his head to the side, dark, eagle oculars peeling over her body. “But you definitely are more appealing to the eye than he is.”

 

            A spring of electricity made its way up Melody’s spine. “Get out,” she told him. “You shouldn’t be here. Steve’s not here right now. Leave.”

 

            “And who’s gonna make me?” He lurched forward suddenly, and she flinched farther away. The man grinned in amusement. “Like you said, your daddy’s not here to stop me. I could do whatever I wanted.”

 

            “Whoever you are, get out, or I’m calling the police.” She hoped she sounded as threatening as she wished, but nothing seemed to be breaking his demeanor at all.

 

            “Sure, I’ll tell you who I am. My name is Brock, and your daddy’s out to ruin my life, it seems.”

 

            Something clicked in Mel’s head at the introduction–she’d seen him earlier that very day, albeit hours and hours ago. He’d sulked out of the conference meeting as Steve had ushered her away towards the elevator after waking her up. So, this was Brock Rumlow, the infamous bastard that kept costing the company workers and valuable time. Melody knew how livid Steve became at even the mention of this man’s name–and here he was, in their hotel suite, threatening Melody when Steve could walk in any minute now.

 

            Frankly, she was more worried for Brock’s sake now than she was anything else.

 

            “Get out,” she said again, this time more confident, and added, “before Steve comes back and really does ruin your life.”

 

            He smirked. “You’re like your old man, aren’t you? So feisty…but it suits your pretty little mouth, so I’ll take it. Tell me, why do you call him by his name?”

           

            It had never occurred to Melody how odd it probably came off to others that she called him ‘Steve’ and not ‘dad’–especially since she had a feeling that everyone else believed she was his biological daughter. She cringed at Brock’s words regarding her mouth and sneered at him.

 

            “None of your business,” she spat.

 

            That had Brock seething as he lunged out and grabbed her by the arm and used his other hand to grip her jaw tightly. “You little bitch,” he snarled. “I’ll put you in your place, just like I’m gonna do with your old man. He wants to beat me? I’m gonna destroy him by ruining his little trophy girl that he tells everyone about.”

 

            Fear swarmed inside of her as Melody realized the austerity of the situation: Steve still wasn’t back, and although Brock was no match for him, Melody herself was no match for Brock, who was still massive according to her algorithm. There was such a dense panic lodged in her throat that she couldn’t even manage to scream or shout for help.

 

            She yelped as the man twisted her around, pressing her back to his front. He kept her mouth tightly covered–redundant, really, because she was quickly losing the sanity to say anything–and used his free hand to feel up the side of her waist.

 

            “You’re so young,” he taunted quietly, voice gravelly. “Just a little girl… I bet you’ve never even been fucked before, have you?”

 

            Melody’s eyes widened at the question, and suddenly her own hands were attacking him, however she could manage. Brock furthered his assault to pinch her nose so she could not breathe whatsoever, and it was only a matter of seconds before Melody was clawing at his grip to free her face.

           

            There was a brief moment where multiple things were abruptly happening altogether–Melody thrashed disgracefully against the man like a dying fish in its last seconds of life, while Brock reached a hand under her shirt to begin his plan of action. And then, in that same second, Steve burst through the door with a plastic bag in hand, which was immediately dropped as he lunged forward.

 

            “Get the fuck off of her!” he roared, throwing the other man down on the ground. It took a split second before Melody watched Steve land on top of the enemy, pounding his face repeatedly with a flame in his blue eyes that she had never seen before, no matter how angry he’d ever been. She watched, horrified and frozen, as the white, poorly done bandages on Steven’s knuckles began staining with blood–whose blood, she didn’t want to think about.

 

            It wasn’t until there was yet another knock on the entrance and Brock’s nose and mouth were gushing blood that Mel surged forward and tried to pull the blond away.

 

            “Steve–Steve, stop! Someone’s here, stop it!”

 

            “I don’t fucking care,” he growled, wrapping his massive hands around the victim’s throat with determination. “I’m gonna kill this cunt right here!”

 

            “Steve!” she hissed, smacking him on the cheek. “Look at me! You need to stop.”

 

            He snapped his eyes up to hers and she watched his pupils dilate from freakishly tiny specks to more humanoid discs, expression changing considerably.

 

            The knocking had turned into loud banging, indicating that there were now more people outside the door than inside. Brock groaned lowly in pain, unmoving, as Steve abandoned his limp body to head to the gate. Melody never let herself fall too far behind.

 

            It turned out the food delivery had arrived, and following the commotion, a few security guards and concierges had also joined the event. They all looked questionably between the three of them, and the hotel manager became quickly panic-stricken at the blood on his property.

 

            “What the fuck do you get paid for?” Steve snarled at all of them. The delivery guy–a scrawny young boy–saw it fit to leave the package of food on the floor outside the suite and remove himself silently from the scene. The rest of the men were left to answer to the angry, heaping man that was glaring them down.

 

            “I–I see there’s been acts of violence in our vicinity,” the manager began weakly. He was a short, bald man with a thick mustache to hide his trembling lip.

 

            “Yes, there were multiple acts of aggression carried out here,” Steven informed him. “Your useless employees let this man get past hotel security and he infiltrated our privacy. He harassed her, so I had to do this in self-defence. I will be contacting the owner regarding all of you and your lack of protocol. I’m well-acquainted with the Maximoffs. You should all expect to lose your jobs.”

 

            The men all looked at each other in shock, then simultaneously turned to their manager for a response. But the small man had nothing to add; it simply had been a security breach. Brock–or anyone, for that matter–should not have even made it past the foyer of the building.

 

            When nothing else was said, the two security guards made way to the blundered body lying on the polished white tile and hoisted him to his feet. The concierges and manager appointed a new suite in replacement for them while room service was summoned to rid of the mess in the old one.

 

            Once inside the supplementary vicinity and away from all the other people, Steve noticed that Mel was eerily quiet, although she wasn’t making eye-contact. She had sat down on the sofa without a word and began sorting through the food parcel, her face devoid of any emotion.

 

            “Mel?” He made sure his voice was gentle as he crouched on the floor in front of her. She turned on the TV and turned the volume up to an obnoxious degree. “Hey, look at me.”

 

            Melody was belligerent as she stabbed a fork into the aluminum plate of pasta, glassy eyes stuck forward.

 

            “Mel, please–”

 

            “I don’t want to talk about it, Steve.” Her lip trembled then as a couple of tears trickled down, but she never bothered to wipe them away. She stuffed her mouth full of an initial first bite and then just sat there, unmoving, not even chewing.

 

            There was still bile in her throat from what had transpired–there were still hands on her body, as far as she could tell, and she was stuck in place as they moved across her skin, ready to do whatever they wanted. It was as if she were still stuck helplessly in some vile stranger’s hold, unable to stop what he was inevitably going to do to her. All she could hear was his unsettling voice; all she could see were his deadly eyes.

 

            If Steve had been even a moment later

 

            Melody thrust the tray of food aside and wrapped herself tightly in his waiting embrace, breathing harshly in an attempt to not break down. This night was proving to be a cursed one; there had already been too much torment–first the gym, then the panic attack, and then this. She silently wondered what else they would have to endure before the sun rose again to its pedestal in the sky.

 

            “He touched me,” she whispered, her eyes squeezed shut.

 

            “I know, baby, I know. I’m gonna kill him,” he promised, running his fingers through her hair gently.

 

            Mel continued to shake in his arms. “He–he told me–he said he was going to ruin me for you.”

 

            Scathing rage surged through Steven, but he was extremely careful to not even lay a finger upon her with excessive force, fearing the effect it might have at the moment. “No, no he won’t. He will never touch you again. Nobody will ever touch you again, I won’t let it happen–baby, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there.”

 

            “Steve,” she cried.

 

            “You’re safe, he’s gone now. Nobody can hurt you.” He kissed her hairline softly, cradling her in his lap. They spoke in quiet hushes to each other, immune to the blaring voices from the television.

 

            The night dragged on to its midway point as Steve sat on the floor against the heavy antique couch with Melody hidden in his embrace. She had her eyes sealed but no sleep came, despite the fatigue that drenched her. Eventually, she became mostly still against him, her breathing returned to normal.

 

            Steve reached for the shopping bag he’d returned with earlier, searching inside with one hand and pulling out multiple, different coloured packets. “The reason I took so long was because I was buying you chocolate, for your cramps.”

 

            Mel stared at the wrappers in hunger, then picked a Reese’s out of his palm and began unwrapping it. “Thank you,” she sniffled, offering him some.

 

            They ate the delicacies quietly together, absently watching the movie on-screen. The sugary tartar of the sweets was damning in the current atmosphere; a stark contrast to the mood. “Things keep going wrong,” he said suddenly, causing Melody to lift her gaze and alas look at him.

 

            “None of this was your fault,” she told him, knowing the thoughts that were unfolding past his tense brow.

 

            He shook his head. “Tch. If I’d just been there–”

 

            “Stop telling yourself that,” she ushered, knowing how hypocritical it was–her brain kept shouting the exact same thing: if he had been there, if he had been there.

 

            “I don’t even understand–what the fuck was he doing here?”

 

            “I guess he came to talk to you, but you weren’t here–”

 

            They both locked equally guilty eyes for a moment.

 

            “–I mean, he probably wanted to talk to you about something. I noticed he didn’t look too happy when your meeting ended.” Melody began undoing the scarlet-stained bandages on his hands, but he stopped her.

 

            “You don’t have to take care of me right now, Mel,” he told her.

 

            “I want to. I can’t keep watching you bleed out like this.” She inhaled deeply, pursing her lips. “I know you brought your first aid kit. Which bag is it in?”

 

            “The carry-on,” he informed, smiling sadly.

 

            “Go, wash your hands while I get it out,” she instructed, parting from him after hours. Steven missed the weight of her body against his immediately but did as he was told. They recoupled again in the bedroom, sat at the edge of the bed with the kit laying open by their feet.

 

            He watched intently as she disinfected every inch of burst skin gently, taking her time to ensure it was done properly. Her concentration never wavered until the new dressings were complete, wherein she finally looked up and noticed how formidably he was gazing at her.

 

            She blushed slightly, offering a shy smile, and Steve’s heart swelled to the size of an ocean.

 

            “I love you, Mel.” He picked up her hand and kissed the palm regardless of the residued alcoholic scent in the skin.

 

            Melody was surprised but warmed at the same time. “Steve, I…I know you want–”

 

            “I don’t want anything in return. I don’t need you to say it back to me. I just need you to know that I do, with all of my heart, no matter what happens.”

 

            There was a difference here; there wasn’t strain in his voice or pain in his eyes as they silently agreed she would not reciprocate the sentiment–but why? Why wouldn’t she just say it back? She knew her whole world revolved around him; she was privy to the eruptions of giddiness in her chest every time she looked at him. Melody could have her sight taken away and even then, she would only see him. What was stopping her from pronouncing the words that she thought every day?

           

            She knew she couldn’t say it–not yet, anyhow–but she would show him how he’d branded his name onto her heart. Not altogether–she couldn’t possibly display every ounce of this emotion in one go, for it was far too intense and complex. But she would do it, day by day, until he would see it in just the way she looked at him.

 

            Mel pushed the first aid kit aside with her foot and crawled onto Steven’s lap. She pushed her body flush against his and tangled her fingers in his dirty-blond locks, nudging the tip of her nose gently against his own. Steve took a deep breath just before their lips brushed, scattering jolts of frenzy through him. He was on the verge of spiralling, and the last thing he wanted was to think about pleasure when she was in such a fragile state.

 

            He craned his neck back to look at her warily. “Melody…we shouldn’t do this right now. Not after what happened.”

 

            “Steve,” she said breathily, shaking her head. “You don’t have to worry. I know you’re not him.”

 

            “It’s not just that. I don’t want you to feel like you owe me something.”

 

            “There are no dues or debts here. There is only me and you, and what we feel.”

 

            It was poetic to the extent that he was taken aback momentarily, before he leaned back in and grazed their mouths against one another again. Sparks began numbing Melody’s thoughts rather quickly; as Steven’s tongue flicked against her parted lips delicately, his hands squeezed the flesh of her ass with contrasting power until she rolled her body with a sigh.

 

            “Where did you even get these, huh? Been teasing me all night…” He hooked his fingers into the waistband of the notorious tights and yanked them up harshly until the seams were digging into her flesh. His clouded eyes soaked up the sight in the vanity mirror across from the bed, and the way his gaze devoured the sight of her body made Melody’s flesh tickle with heat.

 

            There was an unmistakable protrusion within his gym tracks now, and Melody carefully nudged her flesh against it, taking her lip naughtily between her teeth to remain sane. Steve growled at the sight and left hot, wet kisses all across her neck and jaw, following them with a heavy, heated kiss that left her breathless.

 

            The need pooling between Melody’s legs was different to the one that had been medically induced; this one was a choice that built up more and more as she chose to engage. She wasn’t helpless to it, and she wasn’t ashamed or confused. She knew what she wanted and was aware of everything in that moment, unworried about how she would reflect on it later.

 

            They kissed hungrily as Steven’s fingers worker her hair free of its elastic, preferring the long brown locks to be free so he could tangle his fingers into them. They both smelled of their own sweat, and neither of them minded the other’s scent–a mix between murky cotton and wet bricks.

 

            He stood up, tall and broad, with Melody still wrapped around his body, and made his way to the washroom. As the gargantuan round tub began auto-filling steadily with warm water, Steve set her down on the counterspace between the two sinks, slowly peeling her clothing off, careful not to come off as forceful.

 

            When she was just in undergarments, Mel halted his mission to push the hem of the grey t-shirt up his torso, revealing more and more of his beautifully flushed, otherwise milky-pale skin. Steve rid of the cotton and threw it to the ground, immediately flexing and unflexing under Melody’s soft hands, pushing himself between her open legs and pulling her closer.

 

            “You’re so beautiful,” he cooed between a kiss. “I can’t believe you thought there’s something wrong with you. I wish you could see yourself through my eyes.”

 

            Melody brushed her fingers over the scars that were still somewhat in his skin–someone else’s brands on what should only have been hers. “It just hurts that you chose to be with others.”

 

            “I’m sorry,” he whispered, face reddening. “Melody, I…it’s different. If it matters to you at all, if it helps even the tiniest bit–it was way different with the others. It never meant anything to me. I just couldn’t be alone. I had to do something with everything I was feeling.”

 

            “I should have been the one you came to,” she admitted. “But I’m with you now. Please don’t go to anyone else from now on.”

 

            “No, never,” he agreed immediately, shaking his head. “I told you, it never meant anything. It was always a whole different me.”

 

            “It wasn’t like us?” she asked, head tilted to the side with wide, questioning eyes.

 

            Steve cupped her cheek gently, kissing the tip of her nose. “No, baby. Not like us. Nothing like us.”

 

            Melody kissed him, steadily travelling down his stubbly neck, all the way through the tufts of hair on his chest. Steve murmured words of encouragement to her as she littered his skin with affection, eventually returning her gaze to look at him as her fingers played with the waistband of his bottoms.

 

            She traced the outline in the tracks with her fingers, watching his mouth fall open in awe. As her hand cupped the bulge tightly, they both gasped–he was hot and stiff to the touch, and she didn’t need any explanation as to why. She bit her lip at the dense moisture forming on the fabric around his arousal, at long last pulling the layers down to free his swollen cock.

 

            “Fuck,” he sighed heavily, as Melody wrapped her hand around the heated, pink skin.

 

            “You’re so big,” she whispered in awe.

 

            “All for you,” he assured, leaning forward and joining their lips.

 

            Melody worked in blind calculation as they continued to kiss fervently. She had a hunch that Steve was making up now for all those days they had neither touched, nor spoken. He was all-too-awake where he had previously been in a lull for most of the night, holding her head in place with both of his massive hands during the greedy caresses of their lips while her own steadily pumped his length with vigour.

 

            “Melody,” he moaned. “Jesus, I’m so close.”

 

            “I want you to come for me,” she instructed, watching carefully as his eyes darkened even further. Quickly, she slipped the straps of her bra down to let her breasts free, and Steve became ravenous, gazing at her exposed skin as if he were seeing it for the first time.

 

            However, his hands remained cupping her face, unlike what she’d expected. “You’re all mine,” he muttered, kissing her again.

 

            While Melody enjoyed this soft, tender chain of command, she truly did miss his alternate approach, which left her innocence reduced and assaulted. Her body craved his undignified touch and the filthy things he would spew into her ears as his hands worked her mechanisms to the point of burnout.

 

            Melody looked up at him with an innocently raised brow and bit her lip. She guided one of his hands down to her breast, but as soon as her guidance was gone, so was his hand. Exasperated and confused, she pulled back and looked at him, hurt gracing her features.

 

            “Is something wrong with my body?” she asked.

 

            Steve frowned, panting harshly. “No–of course not. I just told you–”

 

            “Why won’t you touch me?”

 

            He blinked, still catching his breath. “What–what do you mean?”

 

            “Are you repulsed by me now?” Her voice was small again, the way it had been when she’d confessed her thoughts in the weights room.

 

            “No! Mel–no, I’m not repulsed by you at all.”

 

            The rush of water had ceased, leaving a deafening silence in the luxurious bathroom. The cold countertop wasn’t so pleasant against her skin anymore, especially with the current air of embarrassment. Melody shifted away and slid down to her feet, eyes on the ground as she reached for her clothes, using them to hide her body.

 

            “You can use it first, I’ll just go–”

 

            “Melody.” Steve grabbed her upper arm easily in his hand and pulled her back to him. His brow furrowed at her trembling lip. “Look at me.”

 

            “Let me go, Steve. It’s been a long night.”

 

            “Melody look at me,” he repeated, more of an order this time.

 

            She responded quickly this time, peering up into his blue eyes with hurt in her own. “What’s wrong with me, Steve?”

 

            “Nothing’s wrong with you, Mel.” He pushed her hair back affectionately. “I told you, I love you. I just…I don’t want to hurt you anymore, baby. I don’t want to scare you or make you uncomfortable.”

 

            “I want you to be how you were with me before,” she confessed. “I’m not scared or uncomfortable. Things are different now.”

 

            Steven smiled slightly, attempting to ease the mood. “You want me to go all daddy on you again, huh?”

 

            But the way she blushed scarlet changed the atmosphere entirely. Steve’s cock twitched at the sight of her slightly flushed chest, reminding both of them how ridiculous he looked with the layers bunched around his hips. He pushed them off completely and led Melody over to the bathtub, standing just behind her, his protuberance poking at her cheeks.

 

            “Take you underwear off,” he said huskily, unclasping her bra so that it simply slipped off.

 

            She followed his orders stealthily, feeling the cool air of the bathroom taunt her flesh and pebble her nipples. Steve pulled her back flush to his front now and spread her ass again to sit his cock snugly between the cheeks. Melody whimpered at the friction, wishing it had been elsewhere as she took his hand from her hip and pushed it between her legs.

 

            “Oh!” She yelped when his fingers delved into her folds, which welcomed him with blatant slickness.

 

            Steve slowed down for a moment, noticing there was something different, but it took a second to place a finger on it. He brushed over the skin of her crotch, his face next to hers as he spoke. “What happened here?”

 

            Melody bit her lip shyly, turning slightly to look up at him. “I went to get a wax with my friend, a few days ago.”

 

            “Baby, you don’t have to do stuff like that for me. I don’t mind hair,” he told her.

 

            “But I like this better,” she said. “You don’t like it?”

 

            He spread her folds again and used his other hand to gently rub between them, causing Melody to release a gasp and go weak against him. “Of course, I do,” he muttered in her ear, pushing his middle finger gently against her snug entrance. “Daddy loves everything about your pretty little body. So tight and soft…I want to break your innocence.”

 

            She released a breathy moan, beginning to move against him in need. His words stoked the fire at her core, and now all she wanted was to watch it turn everything to ash. Steve let out a guttural groan as the generous curve of her ass rubbed against his cock beautifully; his blood rushed with euphoria as his finger pushed inside of her during their sensual dance.

 

            “Steve!” she hissed, reaching up to dig her nails into his neck while her other hand gripped his wrist. In all the excitement, she’d completely forgotten about her menstruation. “I’m still on my period.”

 

            “It’s okay, baby, I don’t care. ‘S just blood,” he mumbled, lips against her ear. “It’ll actually help with lubrication.”

 

            She widened her eyes and looked at him, but he could see that it wasn’t in fear. “Are we going to have sex?”

 

            “No, sweetheart, not yet,” he smiled sweetly, catching her mouth in a kiss.

 

            “When?” she asked.

 

            A low groan came from deep in his chest, his eyes zeroing in on her. “Don’t temp me, Mel. I’m holding myself back from just fucking you raw right now. But I don’t wanna hurt you.”

 

            “Steve,” she whimpered, grinding back into him. “I want you to fuck me.”

 

            “Jesus,” he growled, beginning to pump his finger in and out of her at a slow pace.

 

            “You’re so big, Steve. I want to feel you inside me.”

 

            “You want daddy’s cock in your pretty little pussy?” he whispered hotly in her ear, and she nodded enthusiastically.

 

            “Fuck me, daddy,” she mewled, pushing back harder as he sped up the movement of his hand. A sensational flitter coursed through her limbs, pressure building at her core; the familiar need to urinate.

 

            “Daddy, more,” she begged.

 

            He teased a second finger at her entrance for a few seconds before pushing it in. An uncomfortable, slight sting overtook her for a few minutes as Steve steadily regurgitated two fingers in and out of her. Slowly, after a hopeless bout of discomfort, Mel began writhing against him again.

           

            “You feel so good,” he told her. “So fuckin’ tight. I could come just thinking about fuckin' your tight little pussy.”

 

            “Steve,” she moaned, enjoying both the provocative words and the movement inside of her.

 

            Steve moved his free hand up to play with her breasts, rolling the stiff peaks between the rough pads of his fingers in turn. The slight burn caused by the action further excited Melody, who lifted one leg and rested her foot on the edge of the tub, expanding herself.

 

            “Keep going,” she whispered, closing her eyes and letting the inner confidence take over as she tried to think of equally ecstatic words to offer him. “You make me feel so good, daddy. I love it when you play with my pussy.”

 

            “Oh, fuck,” he groaned, biting and chewing down her neck aggressively. “I could touch you all day…never get tired. So good for daddy, aren’t you baby? So fuckin’ wet and dirty for me.”

           

            “Only for you,” she agreed. “You make me so horny.”

 

            Hearing the word in her sweet, breathy voice had Steven skittering on the verge. “Whaddo I make you?” He pushed a third finger inside of her with some force and she called out his name.

 

            “Oh, oh my God!” She could feel the trickle, so close to bursting. “You make me so horny, daddy,” she mewled.

 

            “Holy shit,” he gasped. “Fuck!”

 

            There were obscene squelching noises as the stream poured against Steve’s hand and trailed down Mel’s legs, onto the floor. There was another spurt of wetness in the wedge of her ass, and from the way Steve was clutching her against him, she guessed he had come, too.

 

            They took a moment, swaying back and forth as one, relishing in the peaks and aftershocks of ecstasy. He continued to gently brush her walls with his long, capable fingers, until she began shuddering and whimpering and crashed suddenly a second time, taking both of them by surprise.

 

            “Twice in one go?” he smirked, turning her face up to engage in a domineering kiss. “Daddy’s good little girl, aren’t you Mel?”

 

            “Mhmm,” she nodded, offering her tongue into the mix, which he welcomed gleefully. Her limbs were weak from the expended energy, but it was a delicate, blissful fatigue, like silk on her skin or cold water on a scorching day. She melted into him, knowing he could and would support all her weight.

 

            Steve retrieved his hand and gazed at the blood-drenched appendage fondly while Melody stared at it in horror.

 

            “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

 

            “What even for?” he asked, kissing her on the head. “It’s not gross, baby. It’s just blood. And believe me, I could have stopped…if I had wanted to, for even a second. But you know what you do to me.”

 

           

 

They finished off the bath with an unexpectedly innocuous shower, which the long night and its fatigue took blame for. The sun was creeping its way into sight when they were finally together in the big hotel bed, under the exquisitely weighted blanket, tangled together tightly.

 

            “I love you,” he whispered, kissing her temple. “Jesus, I want to say it again and again.”

 

            “Save some for the rest of our lives,” she joked, and Steve cradled her closer against himself.

 

            “See, that’s the thing about my love for you,” he spoke into the dim room. “It multiplies every time I share it.”

Chapter Text

            They spent a few more days in Washington together. Steve took Melody out to parks and movie theatres to try and replace bitterness with some better memories. They spent a few hours each evening under a large willow tree at Lincoln Park on a cheap spread, asking to pet the occasional passersby dog and reminiscing the years. Steve ended every night with a hearty bill at the choice restaurant of the day, making sure she ate to her fill.

 

            “Is that why you weren’t eating much for those few days after everything happened?” he asked suddenly, after watching her light up at waffles and ice cream.

 

            Melody looked at him with a wondrous pout. “What are you talking about?” She blinked a few times.

 

            “You might be a good liar, but you don’t fool me.” He dipped a finger in the whipped cream and sucked it past his lips. “You know what I’m talking about.”

 

            She leaned back in her seat, avoiding his eyes. “I was trying…”

 

            “For what?”

 

            “To lose weight,” she mumbled. “I don’t know…maybe I’d be prettier if I were smaller…”

 

            “I don’t want to have this conversation with you again,” he said with a grave face.

 

            “Oh. Sorry.”

 

            “No, that’s not–” Steve sighed, setting his cutlery-occupied hands down on the table. “I don’t want you to think that, Mel. You’re so pretty, no matter how you look, or what you wear. You’re so beautiful. I don’t want to make you feel otherwise.”

 

            “I’ve seen your friends and colleagues, Steve.” She bit the inside of her cheek.

 

            He frowned. “How? You’ve never met them.”

 

            “Yeah, but the internet exists. I’ve seen pictures of them.” She looked at him for a split second–sure enough, his face was twisted like twine–before bowing her head again. “Sarah, the blonde woman, she has you tagged in a couple of her pictures. From company parties, I guess. Naomi and Sasha–from business trips to East Asia? Vanessa, Leslie, Hannah–all from college. And Monica, yeah–were you going to tell me you own a law firm in British Columbia? How did that even happen? You don’t have any background in law.

 

            “Oh, and Natasha, one of your closer work partners–and these are only the handful of names I remember out of the tons that I came across.” She looked off into the distance, scowling bitterly. “You have more women in your friends list than men, and I have this really bad gut feeling that you’ve slept with all of them.”

 

            “No, not all of them,” he denied.

 

            She looked at him expectantly, brow intensely creased.

 

            “I’ve never slept with Natasha–”

 

            “Oh my God!” She clutched her head with her hands. “That’s one, out of hundreds. And so what? You would have, eventually.”

 

            “No, I wouldn’t. She’s like family. And most of those women I haven’t even spoken to in the last ten years. My social media is not an accurate account of my life, Mel. I was young and stupid.”

 

            “It’s an accurate account of your sex life,” she rebutted. “Although a tiny part of me is surprised in a good way that you don’t discriminate against any race or ethnicity, apparently.”

 

            “Melody, come on. Are you really going to compare flings and hookups to this?” He gestured between them.

 

            “I’m not belittling anything, Steve. I believe you when you say you love me. It’s just human nature to observe and compare. I worry that you compare me to the dozens of other people that you’ve been with.” She dropped her voice to a low mutter. “I know I turn you on, but it’s not special anymore when I find out that anybody turns you on.”

 

            “Jesus,” he huffed, glaring. “This is not a fucking joke. I’m not just some dick looking for an opening to pop into. I can’t believe that’s what you think.”

 

            “Steve, this is not about what I think of you. My concern is what you think of me.”

 

            “You know what I think of you. I’ve told you. I’ve showed you–not enough, apparently, but I have. How am I supposed to prove my feelings to you?”

 

            “You don’t have to prove your feelings,” she explained. “That’s not it. Steve, I don’t doubt your feelings. But this is how it’s going to be, at least for some time–especially since you cheated on me with someone else. If we had a normal relationship together, what you did would be considered cheating.”

 

            “Fucking hell, Melody, I know what I did,” he snapped, slightly grateful for the privately distanced corner booth in the dimly lit restaurant. “I’m punishing myself for it as much as I can.”

 

            “Okay, I don’t want you to punish yourself.”

 

            “Then what do you want me to do? How am I supposed to change how you think?” he demanded, exasperated. “What the fuck do I do to fix things? Tell me–no, tell me. What–jump off a building? Do you want me to slam my head into the wall? Cause I’m very close to doing that right now.”

 

            Melody stared at him with a trembling lip before she stood up from her seat. “I have to go to the bathroom… You can get this to go–just–I don’t care, whatever. I’m not hungry.”

 

            Steven watched with wide eyes as she hurried away from the table and disappeared around the corner. It took a moment, but when the frustration wasn’t clouding his judgement anymore, he was consumed with guilt. Realization hit him in falsetto–he’d been so ignorant with his words.

 

            Quit acting like a douche, you fucking coward, he told himself.

 

           

 

Mel walked out of the rest room and immediately slammed into a solid wall, which turned out to be Steve as he caught her in the midst of stumbling to the ground.

 

            “Sorry,” she mumbled, stepping away from him in defiance.

 

            He noticed her cheeks were pink and the waterline of her bottom eyelashes was smudged with mascara. “No, I’m sorry.” Steve offered one hand out to her, his other occupied with a white plastic bag. “Come on, let’s head back.”

 

            The silence of the ride back was disturbing; Melody’s whole body was facing away from him as he drove through the dark streets of nighttime.

 

            The dark, rigidly quiet suite wasn’t much help, either, when they parted ways inside. Melody made a beeline for the bedroom and hid herself into the covers, waiting alertly in the dark. Each breath hurt more and more as she waited for Steve to come and hold her, to apologize, to make things okay again, but he never did.

 

            At some point, Melody lurched awake from a nightmare where she’d been endlessly falling. Much deeper was the tragedy when she learned that the bed was still empty.

 

            Curiosity took its course and she emerged from the room to find Steve, wherever he was. Surely, he would be sleepless and holed up in some corner like a mess. She would bring him back to bed; they would comfort each other until they could rest. It would be just like that.

 

            But her skin crawled as she came upon vacancy, no matter where she checked. Everywhere was dark and empty. Fear enveloped Melody like a coat as she thought back to the last time she was alone in that hotel–her eyes immediately tore away from the windows and to the entrance door.

 

            She then remembered that nobody could come inside without a key card.

 

            Melody had had enough of the deafening solitude in the room; she stripped of the jeans and t-shirt and wrapped herself in a bathrobe to step out onto the balcony.

 

            The night air was soothing, she found, as breeze after gentle breeze washed away her nerves. She watched vehicles haul and halt in unison on the streets below; a group of kids her age, supposedly coming back from a movie together, laughing about a joke. She missed her friends.

 

            She missed her mom.

 

            A tear cascaded down her cheek and fell into the open air of the night. She wouldn’t see it land from this high up, but it was an odd thought to have: where would it go? Would it land somewhere on the earth below, or into another balcony? Would it just get absorbed by the velocity of the air?

 

            Melody watched the moon play hide-and-seek with clouds as the stars looked on; eventually, the streets became vacant, save for the few cars or on-route trucks. On the next balcony over, she could see a spider finishing its web, weaving the silk with grace and skill. Only the spider knew which strands were sticky and which were not.

 

            With that, it occurred to her that her own, private thoughts were not unlike a web, and she was the only one who could key out which thought meant what. Anyone else would walk into it and get stuck.

 

            She didn’t want Steve to be trapped.

 

            I need to get over this, she thought. I can’t suffocate him with my insecurities. Someone can only tolerate being doubted for so long. If he’s not sick of me yet, I’ll make him be so soon enough.

 

            Just as her head lolled to the side lazily, the front entrance sounded and she jerked awake, rushing back inside.

 

            Steve had been in a clear-cut towards the bedroom, but upon hearing the glass door slide open, he froze in place, watching her close it after she was inside. “I thought you were asleep,” he said.

 

            She took in his appearance–his hair was matted with sweat and his shirt buttons were done up wrong. Her lips parted several times, but words had escaped her for the moment.

 

            Finally, she forced it out. “You–did you sleep with someone again?”

 

            Steve frowned, followed her pointed finger at his dishevelled appearance, and immediately held up his hands. “No! No, no–I promise, I swear–I wasn’t–this isn’t–”

 

            Melody’s face twisted in agony and she crumbled slowly to the ground, choking down a howling sob. Steve quickly walked over and knelt down before her, fingers working frantically at the buttons on his grey shirt.

           

            “Mel relax–please, no, listen to me–” He tore the fabric away from his skin and pointed towards his chest. “Look, baby–stop crying, Melody, please.”

 

            Confused, she took a deep breath and blinked out a few more tears to clear her blurry vision.

 

            At first, Melody couldn’t make out the black scribbles on his milky-white skin. Then, with a skipping heartbeat, she pieced it–just below his left collar bone, above his left pec, in loopy, thick cursive that was shaped into an oblong circle, was her name.

 

            “What–”

 

            The words were gone again. She tried to swallow down the sudden plunge of energy in her body and reached out slowly to trace her fingers over the ink. It was real; the marked area was shaved smooth, standing out from the hairy skin around it.

 

            Melody shifted her gaze a fraction upwards to meet his eyes. “Steve.”

 

            His brow went from creased to lifted as his eyes glossed over. “Yours. Always.”

 

            “I’m so sorry,” she whispered, pulling him forward. Steve gladly crushed her in his hold, releasing stray tears with a deep sigh.

 

            “Can you really blame yourself? What I did was terrible… I know you need time. Take it.” He reached awkwardly into his pants pocket and pulled out his cell phone to show her the directory. “I deleted all the numbers. I blocked the ones I don’t work with anymore. I deleted all my profiles. I can’t change my past, but I don’t want to be a part of it anymore.”

 

            “You shouldn’t have had to do any of that,” she said. “I don’t want to be a burden for you, Steve. I don’t want you to feel trapped or stuck with me.”

 

            “Hey, now where’s this coming from?” he asked, cradling her cheek.

 

            “I should be grateful to even have you,” she sniffed. “If you weren’t so good to me…I wouldn’t even be here.”

 

            “Don’t think that, Mel. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here. You’re my reason to live.”

 

            “I’m sorry for doubting you. I’m sorry for making you so frustrated.”

 

            “No, Mel, I’m just bad at keeping myself in check when it’s something about you. It’s hard to stay calm when I know you’re hurting because of me. I should’ve never taken it out on you, there’s no excuse for that.”

 

            They made it to the bed, slowly but eventually. Steve stripped down to his briefs and crawled under the covers against Melody, who’d decided to keep on the bathrobe. She turned in his arms to face him, touching the inked skin again.

 

            “Did it hurt?” she whispered.

 

            He shook his head. “Barely.”

 

            “Be honest.”

 

            Steve kissed the top of her head. “You’re worth every second of pain.”

 

            “I don’t want you to hurt because of me.”

 

            “Apparently, this is how it is,” he sighed. “You and me…we’re only peaceful when we’re living in the past. I guess, because it was easier. Simpler. When we come back to the present, we only get hurt.”

 

            “We’re not bad for each other,” she insisted quickly.

 

            “You’re not bad for me at all,” he agreed. “But I…I seem to just be wrong. Every time.”

 

            “You’re not wrong. We’re just on different pages of the story right now. When we match up, nothing will go wrong.” She gripped his hard shoulder and pulled until he was on top of her, then guided him to rest his body between her legs, his head on her chest.

 

            “I don’t think love is an easy life to live, Mel. I haven’t seen anyone go through it carefree.”

 

            “Then we must be doing the right thing,” she teased, pressing her lips against his blond locks. “Go to sleep, soldier.”

 

            “Is that a command, colonel?” He reached between them to tickle her abdomen and she swatted his hands away.

 

            “Steve, no! No tickling, stop right now.”

 

            “Really?” He eyed her playfully. “Used to love it, when you were a kid. ‘Steve, tickle my knees!’ Remember?”

 

            She blushed, hiding her face with her hand. “Oh, God.”

 

            Steve pulled her hand away and pressed a kiss to her chin. “You don’t get to hide from me, Mels. Are you excited to meet the team?”

 

            “I’m excited to meet your family,” she corrected.

 

            “My home family meeting my work family,” he chuckled, laying his cheek against her chest again, letting the chorus of her heart sing him to sleep.

Chapter Text

            The sound of spattering stirred Steve from a distant dream about wooden walls and the scent of pine. After a few seconds of lazily looking around for the source, he realized it was rain; the digital clock read 11:47 am, but the scene outside of the sliver between the curtains was drab and dark as evening.

 

            Steven lifted his head and looked at the much more pleasant sight before him: a sound asleep Melody, face tilted to the side, her lips slightly parted and dark lashes fanned out upon the tops of her cheeks.

 

            He untangled her fingers from his hair and placed her hands gently either side of her head. Laying like that, with her hands clutched immediately into fists, Melody held so much resemblance to a child again that every unchaste thought fleeted from Steve’s mind as he shifted himself up to kiss her on the temple.

 

            “My little angel,” he whispered into her ear.

 

            Melody didn’t wake up for some time, but Steve was patient. He lay in her embrace quietly, deciding to go through his emails and messages.

 

            Steven’s phone had been on do not disturb for the past few days. Now, when he turned the mode off, several texts, calls, and electronic letters popped up collectively on his screen, and he immediately felt grateful for always keeping it on silent.

 

            Tony:

 

                        Looking forward to crashing at your place, Blondike. Bringing my wife and kids, please don’t mind because frankly I don’t care if you do.

 

                                                                                    5 days ago

 

            Steve smirked, rolling his eyes.

 

            Bucky:

 

                        Hey punk, I’ll be driving up on Thursday morning. Give Mel-bell love for me until I get there. Kinda psyched to see everyone again

 

                                                                                    6 days ago

 

 

            Sam:

 

                        Aye, how ya doin Cap? Is Bucky comin to see us nxt week? Tasha’s asking 4 some reason

 

 

            He frowned. Natasha and Bucky didn’t necessarily have the smoothest relationship. He quickly typed a text to Romanov to let her know she didn’t have to worry. She responded instantly, which came as a surprise to Steve, who usually had to wait a few business days to hear back from her.

 

            Natasha:

 

                        That’s not why I’m asking.

 

            Steve:

 

                        Then why ARE you asking?

 

            Natasha:

 

                        I keep tabs.

 

            Steve:

 

                        That’s it? That’s your explanation?

 

            Natasha:

 

                        Here’s my thumb, Rogers. Suck it.

 

            There was a large thumbs-up emoji following her text, and Steve sighed, leaving the conversation at that. There were proceeding messages from Tony and Bucky in the days following their initial outreaches.

 

           

            Tony:

 

                        Why the hell did you delete all your social media?

 

                                                                                    3 days ago

 

 

 

            Bucky:

 

                        Hey Stevie, everything alright buddy? I’m worried about you

 

                                                                                  2 days ago                                                                                

 

 

            Steve quickly typed a text out to his childhood friend.

 

 

            Steve:

 

                        Hi Buck, all’s good. Was just busy in Washington. Mel’s good, we’re good. She’s excited to see Uncle Buck again :)

 

 

            To Sam:

 

            Steve:

 

                        Hey Sammy boy, sorry about that. Didn’t mean to ignore you. Been busy preparing for you guys to visit. Yes, Bucky will be there. I expect you to be civil, please.

 

           

            To which Sam replied, not too long after:

 

            Sam:

 

                        Ya sure, I’ll b civil…

 

 

                        civil WAR >:)

 

 

            Steve:

 

                        SAM???

 

 

                        He recently got divorced. Seriously, please be nice.

 

 

            Sam:

 

                        Aiight cap, I’ll b nice to ur broken white boy

 

           

                        Tell him to bring his a-game to the basketball court, tho

 

 

            Steve:

 

                        Will do :)

 

 

            Finally, Steven typed out a message to Tony, just as Melody began shifting under him.

 

           

            Steve:

 

                        Sorry Tones. Needed a change in space. Social media’s for kids, anyways.

 

 

            “Who’re you talking to now, playboy?” Mel mumbled, blinking awake.

 

            Steve set his phone aside and turned all his attention towards her. “Work family, remember?” He smiled down at her sweetly, leaning in to blow a raspberry on her neck.

 

            Melody giggled, the musical sound filling the room. “Ah! Steve!”

 

            “They think you’re my biological daughter, you know?” He gazed at her seriously. “Only Bucky knows there’s no blood relation, but he still doesn’t know about all of this.”

 

            “It’s okay.” There was a twinkle in her eye as she stretched her arms out above her head, yawning. “Just you and me in our little world. Let them think you’re my dad…and not my daddy.”

 

            “Watch your mouth,” he warned.

 

            Melody pouted. “I thought you liked it when I called you that.”

 

            Steve kept her wrists up where they were, brushing his nose against hers. “Call me what?”

 

            “Daddy,” she breathed against his lips.

 

            He brought down one hand to pull the bathrobe aside from her chest and freed her left breast. Melody peered shyly at Steve as he flicked his tongue over her nipple, making her shudder with a sigh at the sensation. He latched his mouth around the peak and sucked vigorously until she was whimpering beneath him.

 

            “I told you to be careful around me,” he cautioned. “All that reckless behaviour’s gonna getcha in trouble.”

 

            Melody welcomed the filthy kiss that followed, letting him suck and bite down on her lower lip until it was heavy and sore. She gasped his name as he lifted his hips and rolled them into hers, immediately parting her legs around him.

 

            “I wanna feel you,” she pleaded. “Please.”

 

            “I don’t want to hurt you,” he said, for perhaps the hundredth time.

 

            “It can’t be that bad,” she reasoned.

 

            Steve arched a brow questionably. “You have no idea.”

 

            She pulled his face to hers suddenly, pressing their foreheads together. “Hurt me, then. I don’t care. I want to be hurt by you.”

 

            Steven squeezed her jaw in his hand, pressing at her flushed cheeks until she was pouting. “Melody…Valerie…Grace…” He spoke dangerously quiet into her ear, sucking on the lobe tentatively. “Are you begging me to fuck you?”

 

            “Fuck me,” she gasped. “Please, fuck me. I wanna feel you so bad, Steve. Fuck me.”

           

            “Bad girl,” he murmured, proceeding to bite a bruise right under her jaw.

 

            “Please.” She began writhing up and down, struggling to feel something between her legs. Steve ground his stiff protrusion down against her groin powerfully, eliciting an enticing moan from her lips. “Steve, please…don’t you wanna make me feel good?”

 

            “I wanna make you feel so good, baby. You got no idea,” he said lowly.

 

            “Don’t you want to fuck me?” she asked, biting her lip. “Like my boyfriend did?”

 

            “What?” Steve snapped his head up and glared at her. “What the fuck did you just say?”

 

            “I said, don’t you want to fuck me like my boyfriend did?” She locked her ankles around his hips, rubbing herself desperately against him and mewling extravagantly. “He looks so much like you…”

 

            Steve let out the breath he was holding, rolling his eyes. “Very funny.”

 

            “I’m not kidding,” she smiled lightly. “In my dream. He looked like you, but he didn’t have a beard and he was younger.”

 

            “You’re saying you want me to shave?” he frowned.

 

            “No, just teasing.”

 

            “Naughty girl, aren’t you?” he sneered.

 

            “Punish me,” she invited, bunching the bathrobe up around her hips and baring her glistening flesh to him. “Make me a good girl again.”

 

            “Fuck, when did you become so wild?” He took two of his own long, thick digits in his mouth to coat them in saliva before gently pushing them into her folds.

 

            “Steve,” she moaned. “Please–don’t be gentle.”

 

            “God, you’re filthy, aren’t you?” He snagged the rough pads of his fingers against her upper wall on the way out. “You want daddy to put you in your place?”

 

            “Yes daddy,” she nodded eagerly, arching her hips for further stimulation. “Show me what happens to bad girls.”

 

            Steven pushed her legs up and back until her knees were at her shoulders. With her limbs spread-eagle, the heat between them met him invitingly. Steve gently kissed the smooth, soft skin around her swollen folds, teasing her.

 

            “Steve,” she pressed.

 

            He smacked one of the ample cheeks below her hips playfully and she gasped, frozen in place. Steve blinked in worry. “Shit, I’m–did that hurt? I won’t do it again–”

 

            “No,” she cut in. “No, it–I mean, it hurt a little, but…” A scarlet tinge splattered the skin from her face to her chest. “I don’t mind.”

 

            His scalding-blue gaze bore into her timid brown one as he lost sight of all lightheartedness in that moment. “You liked that?”

 

            Melody swallowed thickly, part-shame and part-need. She covered her pinked face with both hands shyly, hesitantly nodding.

 

            “Look at me and tell me,” he ordered, yanking her hands away by the wrists.

 

            With a tremulous inhale, she said, “I like it when you spank me.”

 

            Steven’s head dropped back with a low groan as he bit his lip with closed lids. When his eyes returned to her, they were somehow even darker with savagery. “Turn over. Face down, ass up.”

 

            Anticipation swarmed through her as Mel followed his instructions ardently. In the midst of movement, Steve snatched the bathrobe off her body and thrust it to the ground before she was prostrating before him, spine deeply arched, and body bared at a new angle.

 

            He grabbed her voluptuous flesh with both hands and spread the crease of her ass apart, bowing to kiss and bite along one of the cheeks. He revered the pale stretch marks printed across her hips and the tops of her thighs, like patterns of lightning that added to his hunger for her body. Melody pushed her ass out further to rub her searing flesh against the infallible tent in his briefs, whimpering at the sensation.

 

            “So needy, aren’t you baby?” he whispered, pushing her back into position no matter how much he wanted to continue feeling her against him. “Greedy little girl…where’d your manners go?”

 

            “Please,” she breathed; one side of her face dug into the sheets. “Punish me.”

 

            “Mel, if it’s too much, you tell me right away. Understand?”

 

            The sudden sternness of his tone had her peeking back at him in concern. Sure, Melody had never before experienced something like this, in a sexual manner or otherwise. Regardless, she wasn’t a baby–she could take some pain and roughness, especially from him. The idea of having him become an animal for her turned Melody on to a shameful extent–but how was she supposed to admit that to him?

 

            “I’ll be okay,” she assured him. “Don’t force yourself to hold back.”

 

            He furrowed his brow in deep thought. “What if I hurt you?”

 

            “Steve,” she pressed, looking right into his eyes from her angle. “I want you to hurt me right now. Please, don’t try to be gentle.”

 

            “Mel, you realize I’m–”

 

            “I know you’re strong,” she said, becoming slightly irritated now. “I know you weigh, like, two-hundred-and-fifty pounds or something. I don’t care. Just go.”

 

            Steve grabbed her hips tightly and pulled them up higher, arching her back further in its sharp slope until the latitude between her neck and ass was impossibly different. He knew she had no idea what she was asking for, but part of him was angry that she was even asking for it. This was his little Mel, innocent and gentle and sweet; not someone he wanted to willingly hurt, even if it were for a kink. He knew she would change her mind as soon as he landed the first blow. There’s no way she’ll enjoy that kind of pain, he kept hoping.

 

            And he was hoping, because somewhere inside, the vile, vulgar animal was slowly crawling its way out of the rabid ghetto Steve kept it caged in. A disease that he never wanted inflicted on Mel–by any man, but especially not by him.

 

            He crawled back on his knees a couple of inches to create more space between their bodies, for a better range of motion. Hesitantly, Steve brought his arm back and extended at the elbow, spreading his massive hand out for more effect. Melody braced herself and Steve watched the glistening pink flesh between her legs twitch as she clenched and unclenched with need. The sight drove him up the wall, and he brought his hand down across her flesh, as gently as he could without giving it away.

 

            Melody snapped forward with a loud gasp of shock, twisting her arms up over her head to grip at the sheets. A crimson splash of colour appeared on her skin where he’d struck it, staring back at him like an invitation as he swallowed down the egregious urge to bruise her flesh.

 

            After an initial moment of shock, she asked him, “Is that your hardest?”

 

            “Melody,” he warned. “You don’t want this.”

 

            “I want this.”

 

            “It’ll only get worse.”

 

            “I want this,” she repeated, turning her face back to look him in the eye once more.

 

            Steve struck her again, with a little more force. Melody bit down on her lip, continuing to look at him with pleading eyes. He raised a brow at her in disbelief. “Harder?”

 

            “Yes,” she nodded.

 

            He added more force, groaning lowly at how pink-stained the surface was from his blows. Melody reached one arm back and clawed at her own hip, surprised at the slight cold sweat breaking out on her skin.

 

            “Harder,” she pushed.

 

            The burn was magnificent. It coursed through her like a wave of bittersweet pleasure, quickening her breathing and tightening the coil in her groin more and more. Steve tore her hand away and slapped the other cheek for a change, adding vigor to the motion. He became consumed with mirth at the way she began writhing before him, mewling and gasping, his handprint tatted into her flesh.

 

            “Harder?” he whispered.

 

            “Yes,” she hissed, refreshing her slumped position to renew the arch of her back.

 

            Steven moaned at the sight of her core, soaked to the point that he could see it leaking out onto her skin. She was enjoying this–thoroughly enjoying this. She was so wet and ready that he could undoubtedly shove his entire length inside of her and it wouldn’t hurt as much–

 

            He quickly shook the thought off. That would not be how they would have sex for the first time.

 

            With a debuting velocity, Steve hit Melody with so much force that she moved forward on the bed, yelping. Tears sprung to her eyes and colour flushed her face as she took deep breaths, repositioning her body carefully. He was shocked by her reaction–he’d expected she’d want him to stop at once, but the way she wound her hips wantonly in the air told him otherwise.

 

            “Filthy, dirty little Mel,” he muttered, bending over her body momentarily to devour her mouth in a kiss. “You love being spanked, don’t you? Who would’ve thought?”

 

            “I like it when you hurt me,” she whispered against his lips. “I like it when you’re rough.”

 

            Steve looked at her with one last sliver of sanity and concern in his cloaked eyes. “This isn’t a good thing, Mel. I’m not proud of this part of me.”

 

            “I like it, Steve. I only want it from you.” She ground her hips back into his, causing him to grunt in satisfaction. “And if this is what you enjoy, I want to be the one you enjoy it with. Nobody else.”

 

            “Fuck–you don’t have to–”

 

            “I want to,” she insisted. “I want this–I want you, at your worst, at your roughest.”

 

            “Jesus,” he breathed. Having her so vulnerable before him, begging him with wide, doe eyes to break every resolve and to own her–it was too much to neglect. He didn’t have it in him to hold back anymore. “You’re sure you won’t hate me after?”

 

            “No,” she breathed. “I could never hate you.”

 

            Steve straightened his posture with a new euphoria blossoming everywhere inside of him. He hooked his arms under thighs and Melody yipped in surprise as her lower body was yanked upwards, leaving her to balance her weight on her arms. Steve hooked her legs around his immense shoulders and neck, using both hands to spread her ass apart again.

 

            “Steve!” she squealed out as his tongue dove in between her folds. Eventually, he was carrying most of her weight on his upper body, and Melody could use one hand to massage him through his briefs.

 

            Steve moaned at the delivery of attention, sending a cluster of deep vibrations rumbling through Melody’s core. He periodically supplied the badgered, red skin of her ass with callous strikes of his hand, vanquished as she arched deeply against him every time in glorious pain.

 

            He devoured her flesh hungrily, slobbering all the way from her opening to her beautifully swollen clit. His nails dug and carved crescents and streaks into the meat of her thighs, making her moan and thrash as he accompanied the sweet pain with even sweeter pleasure, sucking on her folds relentlessly.

 

            “Oh–oh m–Steve!” she called out provocatively, racked with bliss as the flame within her body finally blew out. “Fu–God–slow down!”

 

            But Steve kept going, even though his jaw hurt, even though his tongue was sore–he kept delivering intense pleasure to her flesh with the same vigilance, adamant on pushing her to the absolute limit. And push her he did, when Melody obliterated again with so much force that the breath was knocked from her lungs and her nails had clawed his thigh until the skin was raised and swollen red.

 

            “Oh…oh God,” she panted, able to feel her heart beating again. Steve bit a mark of ownership into the soft skin just at the apex of her right thigh–the most derogatory place he could think of. Other than that, her entire bottom was marked up, and her legs had dark-red crescents embedded everywhere. It was as if she’d been attacked by some maniacal carnivore.

 

            “Does it hurt?” he asked in worry, after finally letting her down. Melody turned to lay on her back and winced as her tender skin made contact with the sheets.

 

            “It’s a nice pain,” she sighed, slightly smiling.

 

            “Fuck, my goodness you make me crazy,” he muttered in awe, crawling forward to kiss her feverishly.

 

            “Get on your back,” she instructed, pushing at his chest.

 

            Steve followed the order, laying down as she crawled between his legs and began kissing across his expansive body. “Can I mark you?” she asked hopefully, fingers brushing over the ink under his collarbone.

 

            He put his large, warm hand over hers. “You already did, a long time ago.”

 

            Melody fell forward and kissed him ferociously, not allowing for any space between them. She could have continued to do so for an eternity, had the ardent erection poking at her thigh not been a reminder that he, too, needed to be taken care of.

 

            She began biting and sucking down his neck and chest, taking a moment to especially tease his pretty pink nipples with her teeth, causing him to growl and release shameless calls of her name into the darkened room. They could worship one another as freely as they wanted in the hotel suite–there was nobody around to witness the breaking of barriers or collection of sin as they melted into each other behind closed doors and curtains.

 

            Just as Melody had finished pulling his white briefs past his ankles, Steve’s cell phone rang. They both stared at it for a split second, before he waved it off with his hand. “Forget about it. Come here, daddy needs his little girl.”

 

            Melody let him kiss her hungrily for a moment before stealing her mouth away to attend elsewhere. The ringtone died off as she wrapped her hand around the base of his cock and he thrust forward at the contact, hissing. She kissed the tip gently, letting the saltine fluid coat her swollen lips, and Steve cursed crudely at the sight.

 

            The phone chimed again as Mel began licking up the rest of his length. By the time she’d wrapped her lips around the tip, the caller didn’t seem to be giving up. Annoyed, Steve lifted his head to check the ID on the screen. “It’s Bucky,” he sighed, signalling her to give him a moment as he answered. “Hey, Buck.”

 

            “I been calling for a while, punk,” Bucky started. “The fuck you up to?”

 

            “Nothing, man–I just, uh…” He watched as Melody sat up straight and pushed out her chest teasingly. He scowled at her. “’m at the movies.”

 

            “At the movies? What’re you, fifteen? You got a girl with you?” his friend inquired.

 

            “No, I uh…yeah, I got a girl, we’re going in now, actually,” he lied. “Is everything okay?”

 

            Melody took hold of him again, bowing down to press her tongue flat against the underside of his tip. Steve’s free hand flew out and slapped the headboard as he threw his neck back.

 

            “What was that noise?” Bucky asked suspiciously. “Are you good?”

 

            “Yeah,” Steve breathed out as evenly as manageable while Melody began sucking gently at his swollen tip. “I’m–I’m good, I just–I choked on my drink–”

 

            “Where’s Mel?” Bucky cut in.

 

            “Melody,” Steve repeated, almost moaning it out as she swirled her tongue around him. “She–she’s driving me fucking crazy these days–big trouble…doing things–without my permission…”

 

            She looked at him with a twinkle in her eyes, pumping up and down his engorged shaft while her other hand gently caressed the sac underneath.

 

            “Hey, you back off of her,” Bucky scolded. “She’s young, let her be. You remember when you were her age? Prancin’ round Brooklyn at ninety pounds, tellin’ people to ‘catch these hands!’ Meanwhile you were catchin’ pneumonia from standin’ in front of the fuckin’ fridge.”

 

            “Yeah, I know, Buck, I know,” he panted, and momentarily held the phone away from his face to let out an inaudible fuck as she moaned around him.

 

            “You sound bothered, Stevie. You gotta relax–”

 

            “It’s a very intense movie!” Steve hissed, frustrated. “Everyone is–oh, Jesus–glaring at me, by the way–”

 

            “Alright, alright, punk. Christ, chill the fuck out. Call me back after your fuckin’ movie, princess,” Bucky smirked.

 

            As soon as the line went dead, Steven chucked aside his phone and pounced at Melody, who shrieked as he flipped them over on the bed.

 

            “Fuck, you think you’re so funny, don’t you?” he taunted, pinning her down. “You think you can do whatever you want with your pretty little mouth and I’ll let you get away with it. I’m gonna make you regret that little stunt so much…”

Chapter Text

            It turned out that Brock had caused more than enough trouble for himself and for Shield Security Services; after a prompt, to-the-point meeting with Nick Fury, Phil Coulson, Maria Hill, and a couple of other board members right there in the hotel’s suite, they decidedly terminated Brock’s contract.

 

            “I don’t care who he’s related to or what you guys are keeping him around for,” Steve had barked at the group, who’d all sat around with grave expressions at the revelations of their employee’s actions. “I’m number three on the board and I want him gone. The end. If anyone here is going to stand up for that heap of shit, I want to liquidate my shares immediately.”

 

            That would have cost the company too much–not that anybody was necessarily ready to fight for Brock. Agent Everett Ross, another member of the board and an ex-affiliate with the National Security Agency and the Unites States Department of State, agreed to pitch a potential file against Rumlow with the federal prison regarding charges for sexual harassment and breaches of security and privacy. Everyone was on board with the decision to let him go–it was that or surviving another strike in the labour department because of his recklessness–even if it would get them in trouble with one of the West-end investors, Thaddeus & Pierce Co.

 

            The flight back to the state of New York was filled with anticipation. Melody didn’t have much time to focus on her phobia of heights in the jet as Steve filled her in on all the people she was about to meet.

 

            “So Tony Stark, right? Basically, the dad of the group, does all the top-to-bottom planning and organizing. Nothing really happens without his permission,” he explained as they passed over thick duvets of clouds in the daylight. Melody sipped her ice-cold apple juice slowly, pretending the amber-coloured drink was perhaps a serving of Hennessy or whiskey as she enviously watched Steve savour a Heineken.

 

            “I can’t even have a single sip?” she asked with a pout, hopeful that her pleading eyes would break him. “Nobody will see.”

 

            “No, Mel,” he repeated, sternly. “No alcohol for you until you’re legal.”

 

            “There’s a lot of other things you do with me that aren’t legal,” she muttered under her breath.

 

            Steven shot her an amused look. “What was that?”

 

            “Nothing,” she huffed. “Go on, tell me more about your team.”

 

            “As I was saying, Tony’s the decider. He started all of this; he took the lowly company his dad left behind as a dying legacy and he really turned it into something. When he and Banner came to the rest of us with their ideas, we were on board almost immediately. We just had a feeling, you know? That everything would take off.”

 

            “Tell me about Dr. Banner,” she perked up gleefully. “He’s such a brilliant scientist. We learned about him in biology once. Remember? You helped me with that project I did on him.”

 

            “I remember,” he smiled fondly. “All that information I gave you was insider stuff. Prime-rib material.”

 

            “I know! I got bonus marks for all the cool facts–after my teachers checked for validity, obviously, which took them long enough.” She rolled her eyes.

 

            “Dr. Banner…he’s really one of the most creative, multi-faceted minds I’ve ever known. You will love him, he’s nothing like what you expect him to be in real life. These days, he might even be dating another one of our members and friends. His name is Thor–”

 

            “The Thor? Like, renowned-lawyer Thor Odinson?” she asked.

 

            “Yeah, exactly,” he chuckled. “His brother’s studying under him these days, planning on joining us in a couple of weeks as soon as he’s graduated. Two of the sharpest thinkers, I’m telling you. But they bicker like they’re still in elementary.”

 

            “So, Mr. Thor–”

 

            “Oh, no,” Steve shook his head. “Don’t call him that. He hates it. He prefers just Thor.”

 

            “Oh. So, Thor and Dr. Banner–they’re dating?”

 

            Steven shrugged. “Last I was with the team, they were all collectively trying to set them up. Hopefully it went somewhere.”

 

            That put a smile on Melody’s face–to know that Steve’s group of friends was versatile and different, just like her own. “What about Pepper Potts and Carol Danvers? Weren’t they working on an ecological gig with the Chinese government? It was on the news a while back.”

 

            “Yeah, they were,” he assured. “They got it. Those two are very good at working together and telling people what they need to be doing better. But hey, you don’t need to be intimidated by any of these people. They’re all amazing, friendly, down-to-earth idiots that are constantly picking on each other like teenagers. You won’t even be able to tell the difference between their age and your own.

           

            “We’ve got people like Scott Lang, Clint Barton, Sam Wilson, and James Rhodes–we call him Rhodey–to even out the more serious people, anyhow. Scott’s a fucking joke; once he opens his mouth, you’ll know his brain got lost somewhere in luggage. And yet, he’s somehow our top negotiator, alongside Nat, so I really can’t say much besides the fact that they’re all full of surprises. By the way, Tony’s bringing his family, and Jarvis–he’s the CFO–is also coming in, so it’s basically the entire board of directors and executives on the highest level, all bunched into our house, ready to burn the place to the ground.”

 

            Melody grinned, overcome with giddiness. “I’m excited to see them, Steve. I’m especially excited to see Uncle Bucky. He’s probably already on his way up, right?”

 

            “Yeah, he’ll get there just as we do. The rest are coming later tonight.” He eyed her in thought for a moment. “You sure you’re gonna be okay with so many people around? You were never a crowd person.”

 

            Melody shrugged. “I think I’ll be okay. I’ll try my best to be likable.”

 

            “You’re very likable, Mel.” He leaned forward from the seat across hers and began doing up her belt to prepare for the landing. “They’re gonna love you. Just like I do.”

 

 

 

*****

 

 

Steve and Mel set aside their luggage–no bother unpacking, since they would be travelling again soon with everyone else–and set themselves up on the porch, soaking in the warmth of day as they waited for their first guest. For an hour or so, they remained on the porch-bench, Melody sitting with Steve’s head in her lap as they made plans for what they could all do as a group.

 

            Soon, a loud engine cut through the air, signalling the entrance of a hefty vehicle into the street. Steve and Melody quickly separated and stood up, sharing an apprehensive look before officially opening the curtains to their show.

 

            “Remember, no matter what, you’re mine,” he told her quietly, blue eyes glimmering like sapphires in the sun.

 

            She reached out and touched his wrist. “Always.”

 

            “I love you.”

 

            “So much.”

 

            Steve didn’t have time to look surprised or bask in the moment as a black Hummer truck eased to a crawl before their house and pulled into the driveway. Melody stayed put on the porch with bubbles in her gut while the blond man shuffled down the steps and strode over to the vehicle, a sheer smile on his face.

 

            Another middle-aged man, who was almost as large in build as Steven himself, jumped down from the truck. His oaky long locks were pulled back into a loop of sorts, opal-blue eyes shining at his friend through a thickly beard. A beam of sunlight on a reflective surface suddenly caught Mel in the eye and she looked away, blinking out the black spots, before returning her gaze.

 

            “What’s up, fucker?” James Barnes grinned, accepting Steve’s outstretched arms. The two men held each other in embrace for a peaceful moment, patting one another’s backs.

 

            “Missed you man,” Steve acknowledged, grinning at him as they made their way up to the house.

 

            Bucky turned his eyes to Mel and his expression changed considerably, becoming more gentle and nurturing as he smiled at her. “Mel-bell!”

 

            “Hi uncle Bucky,” she smiled shyly, wringing her hands together. She wasn’t sure how to behave–they had been very close when she was younger, as in-tune as true blood-relatives. But it had been ages since they’d last met. Who knew how he was now? She didn’t want to make him uncomfortable by being too frank.

 

            “You not gonna crush this old man in a hug today? Too grown up for me, huh?” Bucky taunted, holding out his right hand

 

            Melody chuckled, stepping down to wrap her arms around him. “No, I just didn’t know if you remembered me well.”

 

            “Huh, did you hear that Stevie? The kid thinks I forgot her.” Bucky looked down at her and pointed back at the Hummer. “I been savin’ up so many presents for you. You’re gonna lose it when you see ’em all.”

 

            “You didn’t have to do that,” she mumbled, touched. “But thank you.”

 

            “Anything for our little girl,” Bucky waved, and the glint of sunlight on metal caught her eye again before she noticed the cause for it.

 

            “Is…what–”

 

            She stared at the appendage peeking out of his left jacket sleeve for a long moment, lips parting and closing several times. Steve frowned, noticing what she was focused on. They both looked up at Bucky questionably, who seemed to finally understand the confusion.

 

            He held up the accessory inside his sleeve and pulled the fabric back to show them. “Oh, this. Yeah, this’s my arm now. Can you believe that?”

 

            “You have a metal arm?” Melody blurted out before she could stop herself. “I mean–I’m sorry–that’s insensitive, I’m–”           

 

            “No, kiddo, ’s okay! ’m not the sad mope I used to be ’bout my accident. This baby’s the real deal, anyhow. Designed it myself, in my prosthetics lab. Made of vibranium-alloy, fully functional–get this, I can even feel sensation in it.” Bucky wiggled his eyebrows keenly, grinning at their slack jaws.

 

            “You son of a bitch, you went and got yourself a metal fuckin’ arm?” Steve punched him in the shoulder and immediately pulled his hand back with a wince. “What the fuck? Does it go that far?”

 

            “All the way to my shoulder,” the man informed, tracing a line across his chest. “Just past my arm socket. It’s basically permanently attached to my body. It’s a full-time gig, y’all.”

 

            Steve and Melody were still in pure awe. Neither of them could find anything to say–neither of them had ever said much about his missing anatomy before. James had always been incredibly sensitive and bothered about losing his left arm to the accident and having to live with a prosthetic–he had never once anticipated that, while engineering artificial limbs for other people, he might one day need to use one himself. It was a painful irony for him to face, in the past.

 

            But he was relaxed about it now, grinning constantly at their expressions as he looked between them. “You know, I’d to wait so damned long to see your faces when I’d show you this concoction, but this is definitely worth it.”

 

            “Shut up you dick-wad,” Steve jibed, his eyes stuck on the shifting metal plates of the arm. “How much power is in that thing? How strong is it?”

 

            “Oh, I could strangle you to death, if I wanted,” Bucky shrugged casually. “Stronger than the rest of me by a good tenfold, but cause it’s a machine, you know? And it’s heavy as fuck, so I gotta maintain my muscle mass to be able to support it.”

 

            “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” Melody breathed, her eyes unblinking.

 

            “Take that, Rogers. I win.”

 

            “Yeah, okay, okay. You gonna come in before I decide you’re sleepin’ on the porch?”

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

“Stevie, where’d you keep the spice rack?”

 

            Bucky rummaged through the cupboard over the sink as Steven peeled and diced vegetables. Melody was sat at the heavy wooden table peeling garlic, reminiscing the more derogatory acts that had been committed in that very kitchen not too long ago. Soon, the entire heap of people that were expected any moment now would all be eating around the same surface that she’d come undone upon before.

 

            “It’s in that one, Buck.” Steve pointed the heavy German cleaver to the cabinet beside the exhaust hood, readily continuing to chop through the rest of the onions. With his friend’s back turned to them as he rummaged through the numerous, labelled glass jars, Steven looked over his shoulder at Mel, who didn’t notice his attention at first as her fingers clawed apart a clove.

 

            When she finally glanced up, she caught his deep, lustrous gaze and pursed her lips shyly. Steve’s eyes prowled her legs where they rested bare below the thigh and she quickly tucked them under the table with a blush.

 

            Melody watched in awe as Steve pointed the cleaver towards her and brought it back to run the blunt edge across his neck, mouthing tonight. She sneered at him teasingly and stuck out her tongue, which he returned with a grin before focusing on prepping the rest of the base ingredients.

 

            “You remember when I used to babysit you, Mels?” Bucky called behind him as he piled the counter with bottles of paprika, basil, thyme, celery salt, and curry powder. “You loved my cooking.”

 

            “I remember,” she told him. “I’m excited to eat some good food again, after almost six years.”

 

            “Excuse you!” Steve threw an incredulous look over his shoulder, causing James to let out a throaty chuckle.

 

            “Your old man tries, Mel. But I’m the real kitchen typhoon here. Taught this jerk everything he knows–well, actually, most of it was my ma. But I did some teaching, too,” Bucky shrugged.

 

            “Where’s your ma now?” Melody asked innocently.

 

            “In the graveyard, sweetheart.” Bucky pursed his lips. “Miss having my ass handed to me as a grown man.”

 

            “Mel’s actually gotten pretty good at the whole scolding thing,” Steve piped up. “She could hand your ass to you, ’f you wanted.”

 

            “Well with your childish behaviour, I reckon she’s got a lot on her hands,” James threw back, and Mel snickered at the look on Steve’s face.

 

            “What, you two suddenly tag-team now? Ganging up on me like a bunch a bullies,” he reprimanded.

 

 

 

Place settings for up to fifteen people were displayed on the dining table and the kitchen island was arranged with a roasted pork shoulder, vegetable stew, steamed rice, a jumbo chicken pot-pie, and macaroni salad by the time the apple crumble was sent into the blazing gas oven. The white-stone smelled strongly of delicacy and spices, which wasn’t an unpleasant smell for someone like Bucky, who spent his leisure time in a solitary apartment with on-the-go foods most of the time.

 

            As Melody was wiping down the counter, the grandfather clock-doorbell chimed through the walls, and Steve quickly washed his hands free of the dish soap to answer it. Melody straightened out her minty empire dress and combed back her thick hair. This was the highly anticipated moment where she would meet some of the most important people in Steve’s life. Furthermore, she had a feeling he had talked a great deal about her to all of them, and she wanted to live up to whatever expectations they would have.

 

            A string of voices and sounds chorused through the house as soon as the front door was pulled back in welcome. Bucky ruffled Melody’s hair as they listened to the cluster of noise and footsteps travel closer and closer. “You excited, Mels?” he asked.

 

            “A little scared, to be honest.” She smiled timidly.

 

            “You ever feel like you need to breathe, you tell us, ’kay? I know you don’t like crowds.”

 

            “Thank you,” she breathed, and he nodded empathetically.

 

            And a crowd it was; the first person to enter the dining area clad with two enormous duffel bags was an absurdly mountainous man. Melody knew him at once to be Thor and cowered back against the counter as he dropped the bags onto the hardwood and walked forwards. He shook back his long hair and pulled off the Ray Bans to reveal wondrous, sterling eyes above a scruffy beard.

 

            His gaze was fixed on the different platters of food, excitement building in its blue. “Rogers, you’ve outdone yourself, my friend,” he called back in a gravelly voice.

 

            Steve entered the space carrying two full-sized suitcases, his body taught against the tight green-and-blue flannel. Melody’s fearful eyes turned to him expectantly, waiting for introductions to be made.

 

            “Actually, I don’t think we deserved anything less than a royal feast.” A group of people–a family, Mel could tell–came into view, and she immediately recognized Pepper Potts and Tony Stark, who were guiding a little brunette girl and a boy with charming brown eyes that sat behind round glasses. The little girl looked apprehensive–Melody could see herself in her scared expression immediately as she turned her head constantly, watching the giant people around her go about their business, her fingers clutching Tony’s hand. Mel made eye-contact with Steve from across the room and wished she could be holding his.

 

            “Actually, it was mostly Bucky,” Steve offered, gesturing to his friend, who was standing by the stove and peering into the oven.

 

            “Barnes,” Tony acknowledged, making his way past Melody, who kept on gazing in awe as he walked right up to James and offered him open arms. “Good to see you again, genius.”

 

            Bucky cocked a grin and accepted Tony’s embrace. “Well if it isn’t Tiny Stark.”

 

            “Who is that? I don’t know him.” The shorter man glanced around suspiciously before they both broke out laughing. “Ay, whatcha been up to? I heard you’ve been doing big stuff down in the lab. What’s the surprise?”

 

            “Let everybody gather ’round,” Bucky replied smugly, and Mel noticed how keenly his hands were hidden inside the oven mitts.

 

            “Oh, you fucker. Y’know I hate waiting,” Tony huffed.

 

            “Tony,” Pepper warned from across the kitchen, her lips pursed disapprovingly.

 

            “Mommy, what’s that word?” The little girl tugged at her mother’s dress.

 

            “It’s not a nice word, Morgy. Only bad guys use that word.” A redhead with sharp eyes and cheeks came into view, smiling sweetly down at the child as they entwined their differently sized hands. Melody recognized the woman to be Natasha, from her earlier perusing of Steve’s social profiles.

 

            “Daddy has to give Morgan five bucks for ice cream now, right?” Pepper promoted, and the little girl lit up immediately.

 

            “You know I give her five bucks a hundred times a day, right?” Tony reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, walking over to press a bill down in the girl’s open palm.

 

            Natasha now held out her hand. “Me too.”

 

            “If you’re handing out money, I’d like in on it as well, mate,” the massive man announced, simultaneously combing his hair back into a bun.

 

            Tony looked at the two adults incredulously. “Both of you have six-digit salaries.”

 

            “Daddy, they can come with me to get ice cream!” the child piped up excitedly.

 

            “Yeah Tony. Morgan and I are going to get ice cream,” Natasha smirked, wiggling her outstretched fingers.

           

            “Me too,” the man joined. “Ice cream party!”

 

            Steve was absolutely entertained by the entire exchanged and used the distraction to make his way over to Melody, offering her a look of encouragement. He cleared his throat as another round of newcomers entered the space, until it was completely full. Three black men were bickering about golf tactics, two others–one wearing a device of some kind in his ear and the other holding the hand of another small girl–were sharing a bag of Cheetos as they talked about fishing season, and two other people that Melody immediately marked down as Maria Hill and none other than Dr. Banner himself followed closely behind. The last two people to enter the dining were a tall, slender blonde woman in a brown corduroy suit and a similarly tall, blond man with a pointed, sharp nose and glasses in a retro-frame who wore a similar ensemble in blue. They looked like characters out of an old Hollywood movie, but more pristine and polished.

 

            Upon seeing Tony’s wallet out and in-hand, everyone cut into a silence and watched expectedly. One by one, hands went up in the air, until there was a ring of waiting palms around the short man.

 

            “Are you guys kidding me?” Tony exclaimed.

 

            “My ice cream matters just as much as hers,” one of the two fishing enthusiasts remarked, jabbing a thumb at Natasha.

 

            “No it doesn’t, Scott,” she threw back.

 

            “As a Jewish man–”

 

            “Nope,” she cut off.

 

            “Hand over the five dollars, Tony, and nobody gets hurt,” one of the dark-skinned men warned.

 

            “Sam?” Tony’s eyes were wide with shock. “Maria, control your goon.”

 

            “We could use an ice cream date,” Maria shrugged, sidling up to Sam and resting her chin on his shoulder innocently.

 

            “Clint,” one of the other of the three–this one had an African-originating accent, Mel noticed–began evenly. “Would you like to go on an ice cream date with me?”

 

            The man with the hearing aid dusted his Cheeto fingers off and locked hands with the former. “I would like to go on several ice cream dates, babe.”

 

            “The gays are wilding.” The tall blonde woman cracked an unexpectedly brilliant smile. “I will save my five dollars and take Maria out for ice cream when she gets back from her pilot training.”

 

            “Hey, she’s mine,” Sam scowled, putting a protective arm around Hill.

 

            “Not your Maria, dumbass. My Maria, remember? From the race?”

 

            “Give us our ice cream money, Tony,” the last of the three men snapped, playing a little too serious.

 

            “Rhodey,” Bucky called from his end of the room, holding up a mitted hand.

 

            “What’s shakin’ Vanilla Bean?” Rhodey prodded his chin in question from his side.

 

            “How’re the legs, pal?”

 

            “Frames are still tight, still springy like they new or something. I dunno how you do it, but keep going, man.”

 

            “Tony, I do believe you’ve gotten yourself into quite the predicament,” the blond in the blue suit announced, sounding very British.

 

            “Yes, Jarvis, I see that.” With a shake of his head, Tony pulled out a wad of bills and counted them out, looking around the room to match numbers. He thrust the slips of paper into each hand one at a time, before taking out a hundred that had eyes bulging out of their sockets and offering it to Pepper, who gave him a sly sneer before plucking the bill up.

 

            “Here, Pete.” She quietly offered it to her son, who politely declined.

 

            “I already had my allowance for this week, mum,” he said earnestly.

 

            Steve cleared his throat again. “Okay, everyone. I think introductions are due. This here is Melody, although most of the time, we call her Mel. Melody, these are all my friends and work colleagues. I’ll let them introduce themselves. As you can probably tell, they’re all a bunch of clowns.”

 

            “Speak for yourself, you’re the captain. That makes you the leader of the clowns,” Sam teased.

 

            “He’s the leader, but I have to hand out ice cream money?” Tony jibed.

 

            “You’re the piggy bank, Tones,” Rhodey said breezily. “And Pep’s the driving force of it all.”

 

            “Thank you, James,” Pepper smiled. “But I’m not giving you my hundred.”

 

            “How dare you, ma’am? You think I’m after your ice cream money?”

 

            It took a second before every pair of eyes in the room was fixated on Melody, who blinked anxiously back at the numerous faces, speechless. The first person to step forward and offer their hand was Tony himself.

 

            “Nice to meet you, Melody,” he said, his face now completely soft. “I’ve heard you’re a straight-A student. We could use someone like you at Stark Industries.”

 

            “Uh-huh. Nah. No poaching.” Steve held an arm across Mel protectively. “I don’t want her getting into any of that. She’s gotta go to college.”

 

            “Well, maybe I can put in a good word for her?” Tony cocked an eyebrow.

 

            Melody blinked furiously. “You don’t have to do that–but that’s very kind.”

 

            “She speaks!” Tony chimed. “I can already tell you’re a good kid. This is my family. That’s Pepper, the better half and my wife of sixteen years. This is my son, Peter. He’s a third-year student at NYU and currently working a thesis for artificial synovial fluid, but in his spare time he stares at his phone and laughs periodically at whatever current internet discourse. And that’s my heart and soul, Morgan. She started school this year, and she’s making her dad very proud. She brings me hand-made drawings every day, don’t you Morgan?”

 

            Morgan smiled sweetly and pushed her hair back with her hands. “Did you like the one I made of you?”

 

            “I loved it! I wish I could look like that in real life!” Tony turned back to Mel. “She gave me three legs and a mohawk.”

 

            Melody giggled, waving at Morgan, who gave her a toothy grin. She then looked to Peter, who was looking at her with a dazed expression, and blushed shyly at him with a slight wave. Steve watched the interaction very intricately, his forehead creasing more and more each second.

 

            “Hey, nice to meet you,” Peter smiled, stuffing both hands into his pockets. “I like your name. Are you into The Little Mermaid?”

 

            “She didn’t name herself, Pete,” Steve butt in. “Her mother and I enjoyed the movies.”

 

            Melody looked to the blond in bewilderment. The edgy tone of his voice was imminent to her, as she’d become privy to the slightest change in gear when it came to Steve’s nature. She could tell he wasn’t the happiest in that moment.

 

            “Thank–thank you, Peter,” she stammered, looking back at him with a stretch of her lips. “It’s nice to meet you too.”

 

            The young boy awkwardly offered his hand and Melody hesitated a split second before taking it for a short shake.

 

            “Moving on,” Steve interrupted, guiding Melody towards the rest of the crowd. “Melody, this is Thor.”

 

            She pursed her lips nervously and Thor reached out his gigantic hand with a contradictorily soft expression. “Nice to meet you, Melody. We’ve heard a lot about you from Steve. I’m Thor, but you can call me Thor.”

 

            She gave a laugh at his joke, finally accepting the handshake. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

 

            “Probably nothing in comparison to my sweet over there,” he countered, his blue eyes shining as they landed on Bruce, who was busy discussing something with Rhodey and Maria. “He’s quite notorious.”

 

            “He’s one of my personal heroes,” she sighed. “Are you guys…?”

 

            “We are,” Thor replied, looking to Steve. “It’s confirmed. He likes me.”

 

            Steve grinned, gesturing to T’Challa and Clint with his head. “Looks like you’re all doing something right.”

 

            “Oh, T’Challa purposely disengaged an elevator while the two of them were inside, so they were forced to spend time together,” Thor shrugged.

 

            Steve guided her to Sam next, who was listening to the conversation between Bruce, Maria, and Rhodey with confusion. “This is Sam, one of my closest friends. He’s a bastard.”

 

            “Cap!” Sam scowled. “Your daughter old enough for that kind of language?”

 

            Melody clenched her jaw tightly, trying to maintain a sombre expression. “That’s only the tip of the iceberg, in all honesty.”

 

            “Hey Cap, you need some babysitting lessons or something?” Rhodey questioned, pinching his chin in thought.

 

            Maria smirked. “Isn’t that why we’re all here? To babysit him.”

 

            “Very funny.” Steve rolled his eyes. “I’m not the grown adult who begged Tony for ice cream money, by the way.”

 

            “Yeah, your loss, Cap,” Bruce chimed. “We’re all going to go for a treat now and you’ll have to sit in the corner like a grounded kid. You’ll make sure he behaves, right Melody?”

 

            Mel widened her eyes at being acknowledged by him. “I–yes, I will, Doctor. I’ll make sure he behaves.”

 

            “Call me Bruce, kiddo.” He smiled at her warmly through his thick glasses. Out of everyone else in the room, he was by far the shortest–not much taller than Melody herself. However, regardless of his small build, she found him quite intimidating due to his prestige.

 

            “Yes, okay,” she agreed timidly.

 

            “You’re quite famous, Melody,” Jarvis piped up, moving into the discourse. “Your father never stops talking about you. For nearly fifteen years, we’ve been given every little detail. We all have PhDs in your field by now.”

 

            “I’ll add that on to my seven others,” said Bruce, rather smug.

 

            “Mel, this is Jarvis. He’s the chief financial officer of Stark Industries and basically Tony’s right-hand guy.”

 

            “I’m actually both of his hands and feet; he’s very clumsy. You’d be surprised,” Jarvis sighed, shaking his head.

 

            “Melody, hi, I’m Carol Danvers.” The tall blonde woman smiled down at her, brown eyes warm and crinkled.

 

            “Of course, I know who you are.” Melody tucked a tuft of hair behind her ear anxiously. “You guys all have so much background. You bring so much to the table.”

 

            “Yeah, except Tony and Bruce can’t even see the table,” Sam snarked. “They usually have to stand on stools.”

 

            “Are you picking on my boyfriend again?” Thor stepped up behind Bruce and the short man immediately leaned back in comfort, sniggering at the expression on Sam’s face.

 

            “Oh, Gay PDA!” Scott exclaimed, dropping a handful of Cheeto crumbs into his mouth.

 

            “That’s Scott Lang,” Steve smirked.

 

            “He’s a li’l asshole,” Sam muttered with a side-eye.

 

            Scott looked down at the little girl standing beside him, playing with a Rubik’s Cube. His expression softened as he put a hand on her back and guided her forward. “This is my kid, Cassie. She’s only seven, but she’s one heck of a genius.”

 

            “So the intelligence genes missed him and went straight to his kid,” Clint concluded, still under T’Challa’s arm.

 

            “Hi Cassie,” Melody smiled.

 

            “Hello, you have a very nice house,” Cassie announced, momentarily distracted. “Can my dad and I build a fort in your living room?”

 

            “Of course you can,” Mel agreed. “But you guys should eat dinner first, we worked very hard on it.”

 

            “Okay,” Cassie nodded, returning to her puzzle.

 

            “That’s Clint and T’Challa,” Steve gestured. “Who recently got together, I’m hearing?”

 

            “Got together and boned together,” Clint whispered, winking at Mel. “I’ve done every single person in this room. All of them.”

 

            “No, he hasn’t,” Rhodey cringed.

 

            “T’Challa, tame your gigolo,” Sam demanded.

 

            “Daddy, what’s a gigolo?” Cassie piped up.

 

            “It’s a very poor, very dumb person, Cassie. Complete doodoo-head.”

 

            Cassie raised her brow at Clint in wonder and offered him her five dollars. “Do you need my ice cream money, Mr. Gigolo?”

 

            “No, Cass,” Scott butt in, backing her hand down again. “He’s not that poor.”

 

            “Melody Grace.” Natasha’s deeper voice rose above the others as her green eyes studied the young girl.

 

            Steve placed his hand on Mel’s back and encouraged her away from the rest of the crowd, towards the redhead. Melody was apprehensive as she stood before the older woman, somehow simultaneously intimidated by her demeanor, awed by her beauty, and jealous of what kind of past she might have had with Steve.

 

            “Uh…Natasha, right?” Mel asked, fear climbing up her throat.

 

            There was scrutiny and calculation in Natasha’s wicked green eyes for a long moment before she suddenly broke out in a grin. “I’m so sorry, I was just playing around. You’re too sweet for anyone to dislike you. Come here.” She held her arms open and Melody hesitantly accepted the embrace. The warmth and comfort of an older woman holding her with unexpected affection revived some part of Mel’s heart that longed for a motherly presence.

 

            “Be nice to my girl, Nat,” Steve threatened playfully.

 

            “She’s not just your girl.” Nat pulled back and beamed at Mel. “He’s like a brother to me. Any kid of his is like a child of mine.”

 

            With a click of the head, Mel was flooded with relief. She had no other choice but to believe the woman, and frankly, with the way Natasha was looking at her, it took a lot for Melody to not just begin crying into her shoulder.

 

            “Dad’s told me so much about you, but words definitely don’t do justice,” she offered tightly, feeling Steve’s fingers press into her back at the title she’d used.

 

            “Sweetie, I could say the same for you. Now I know why Rogers is so homesick all the time when he’s out for work. Who could be away from you and be happy about it?” Natasha gave Mel’s hand a gentle squeeze, her lips constantly pulled tight in an excited smile. “I can’t wait to spend time with you.”

 

            Melody grinned in giddiness before faltering suddenly. “Wait–what do you want me to call you? I feel odd…calling you by your name. For some reason.”

 

            “You can call me Natasha,” the woman nodded empathetically. “Or you can call me whatever else you like. Tasha, Nat…”

 

            “Would you be okay if I called you Aunty Nat?” Melody bit the inside of her cheek.

 

            Natasha’s expression fell deeply, and Mel became scared she had offended her, before the older woman smiled again. “Yeah, of course. You can call me Aunty Nat. Hear that, Rogers? I’m Aunty Nat.”

 

            “Congratulations to you,” Steve chuckled. “Hey, come on guys. Everyone, wash up so we can get to eating.”

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

The food disappeared as if it had never been there. The team ate like they hadn’t had a morsel in weeks, but Bucky was proud as he watched people polish their porcelain clean, thoroughly enjoying the delicious assortment. As everyone piled around the living room and ate dessert, Tony and Sam offered to help Bucky and Steve clean everything away.

 

            In the midst of letting Cassie and Morgan braid her hair while talking to Peter, Melody excused herself to catch a breath by herself and use the washroom. She went straight to the master bedroom, knowing nobody would disturb her past the heavy lock. As she was patting her arms dry with the towel, there was an urgent knock on the bathroom door.

 

            “Who is it?” she called, careful not to be too loud.

 

            There was no answer then, nor the second time she asked. With an ill sensation in her gut, she hesitantly unlocked the door, which was immediately thrust open as the massive body behind it lunged forward and pushed her against the wall.

 

            “Steve!” she hissed, smacking his shoulder. “You scared me!”

 

            “I’m sorry.” He cupped her face with both hands and leaned down to drop wet, unsanitary kisses against her lips. “I just…missed you…so…fucking…much,” he gushed between each one.

 

            Even though they had both been within the other’s plain sight all evening, the feeling of finally being able to be together was astounding. Melody melted into his body as he hitched her up and locked her thighs around his hips, embedding her into the wall behind.

 

            “I missed you too,” she breathed. “I had no idea it would be so difficult.”

 

            “Now you know how I feel having to be apart from you for even a minute.”

 

            “It’s so hard…” She lolled her head back as he licked and sucked down her neck, grinding her hips against his. “Steve…you’re so hard.”

 

            “I’ve been thinking about you all night,” he gasped into her mouth as she reached between their bodies and palmed the stiffness in his slacks.

 

            “This isn’t safe.” It was a weak sigh of an excuse as she let him grope her flesh, releasing soft whimpers and moans of encouragement. “What if we get caught?”

 

            “Fuck, I don’t care. I want the whole world to know,” he growled and pulled her thong aside. Melody squealed as two of his long, thick fingers dipped inside of her like talons, spreading the imminent slick everywhere generously.

 

            “Steve,” she mewled. “Oh God… Yes, please…”

 

            “Mm…good little Mel is so wet for daddy,” he whispered hotly against her ear, sucking on the lobe lazily. “It is for daddy, right Mel? It’s not because of anyone else?”

 

            The change in his tone threw off her rhythm and she stopped to look at him. “Is–what?”

 

            Steve abruptly plunged his fingers inside her to the knuckles and Melody yelped, wincing as her nails dug into his shoulders. “I saw the way you were talking to Peter…the way you were looking at him.”

 

            “No, I wasn’t–”

           

            “Don’t lie to me,” he snarled, adding a third finger and thrusting harshly.

 

            “Steve, it doesn’t feel good,” she gasped, scratching into his neck lethally.

 

            But Steve was in his own train of thought. His pupils were sparse amidst the electric blue, the way they had been when he’d let Brock have all the rage inside of him. “Peter?” he spat. “He’s a fucking boy. He could never do anything for you. He could never make you feel as good as I do.”

 

            “Please, stop,” she cried, her eyes brimming with tears as sting after sting rippled through her body. “It–ow! It hurts!”

 

            “I know you want him,” he muttered, his voice rough and strained as he glared at her. “You want him to touch you? Why were you talking to him so much? Why were you smiling at him?”

 

            “I wasn’t!” she sobbed, her entire body tensed and tight with agony as Steve drilled his fingers roughly inside of her.

 

            “What? My touch doesn’t feel good anymore? See another guy and you don’t know how to act suddenly…” He turned them around and dropped her on the counter top, gripping her jaw with his free hand roughly. “I could take you. I could take everything in you right now, make you mine. Mark you down, leave you ruined. Whether you’re ready for it or not. I could fuck you raw through the pain just to teach you to never look at someone else again.”

 

            Fat tears dribbled down her crimson cheeks and her eyes rounded at his words. She gripped his wrist with both hands and tried to claw his hand out from between her legs, but he was relentless. “Steve!” she managed with difficulty; her jaw was tight from the pressure of his grip. “You’re hurting me!”

 

            “Oh? What’s wrong?” he taunted, guttural and merciless, his face twisted maniacally. “I thought you wanted me to hurt you. I thought you liked pain. You begged me to fuck you, didn’t you? What changed?”

 

            Fear swarmed through her as Melody continuously tried to push him off. In that moment, a sudden spurt of blood gushed out of her and down his arm, and Steve finally snapped out of whatever fit he’d been having to look down at the sight in awe. Slowly, he pulled his hand away and took a step back.

 

            Melody shook with a silent sob, pressing her legs together as she clutched at the hem of her dress. The jaded fabric became spotted with tears while she cried quietly, whimpering at the perpetual burn inside her core.

 

            “Mel…”

 

            The contrasting softness of his small voice only made her cry more. She refused to look at him, keeping her eyes shut tightly, riddled with so much hurt that it left her panting and gasping heavily for air.

 

            “Leave,” she managed weakly, after a while of deafening quiet. “Go away.”

 

            “I don’t want to leave you–”

 

            “I don’t want you here,” she whispered, turning her face away. “Just go.”

           

            Crushed with guilt and self-loathing yet again, Steven walked over to the tub in defeat. He washed the blood off his arm with scalding-hot water, his own eyes burning with tears at what he’d done.

 

            When she was finally alone, Melody sunk to the floor and cradled herself weakly, trembling all over. She could still feel drops of blood leak out and get sponged by the dress while she cried to her full. The heavy ache in her chest made it seem as if her heart were bleeding out.

 

            Eventually, after the blood was dry, she stood up unsteadily and turned the shower on to its coldest, not bothering to take off the dress. Icy shards stabbed into her limbs until they were numb, and when she was frozen to the touch, Melody lay down in the large bed in a tight ball. She shivered endlessly until she was too feeble to do even that, and her body was forced to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

            By the time yawns were being echoed like silent song and eyes were dreary with fatigue, it was the middle of the warm, summer night. There were four rooms in the basement to spare, and additionally, Steve had set up the futons in the study on the first floor to bed up to another four people. While Pepper and her family took the study, the rest of the men and women sidled apart to occupy the basement. Carol, Maria, and Natasha took Cassie with them and booked a room to themselves, as did Thor and Bruce–nobody needed to witness the affection that would inevitably ensue between the latter two as soon as they were within a closed space. That left Sam, Rhodey, T’Challa, Clint, Jarvis, Scott and Bucky, who stood in the weights room hashing out who would go where.

 

            “You two gonna be doin’ some funky durin’ the night?” Sam questioned Clint and T’Challa. “Cause I do not wanna be there for that.”

 

            “We did all our funky during the day,” Clint shrugged casually. “Tony and Pep have no idea what they’re walking into up there.” T’Challa covered his face with his hand–if he could blush, he would have been the colour of a poppy right about then.

 

            “Y’all nasty,” Rhodey tutted, clearly unimpressed. “I’m gonna tell Steve you jazzed it up in his library.”

 

            “To be clear, it was his idea,” T’Challa offered.

 

            “That doesn’t change anything,” Jarvis concluded, a faraway look of fear in his features. “Where else have you done this? Simply so that I can stay clear of those places.”

 

            T’Challa frowned. “Obviously, nowhere–”

 

            “Garage,” Clint cut in quickly. “Those shelves are just the right height.”

 

            “You two should be sleeping outside in the shed,” Bucky muttered, wincing in discomfort.

 

            “Already did.”

 

            “Jesus!” Scott exclaimed. “We’ve only been here, like, eight hours!”

 

            “We both have strong libido,” his blond friend shrugged again. “Don’t hate just cause you’re not getting any action, Scotty boy.”

 

            “That is absolutely not the issue here,” Sam objected. “Just–stop boning everywhere. Seriously. Keep it in one area man, I don’t wanna sit down nowhere and find out you two christened the place already.”

 

            Rhodey gestured to Bucky’s metal arm. “That thing punch through guts, James?”

 

            “Yes it does, James,” he nodded with a smirk.

 

            “Good. You two, take a room to yourselves and if you contaminate any other place in this house again–”

 

            “That thing’s going to be down your throat,” Jarvis warned.

 

            Scott held up his own clenched fist. “And this thing’s gonna be up your ass!”

 

            T’Challa blinked at him pathetically for a second. “I am sure you don’t want that.”

 

            “You really don’t,” Clint agreed.

 

            They separated, Clint and T’Challa happily slamming the door behind them as the rest of the five men piled into the last room together. In his lethargy from the busy day, Bucky decided to step outside for one last smoke before he’d hit the mattress and instantaneously fall asleep.

 

            As he stood on the porch with a cigarette between his fingers and his eyes constantly scanning the ceiling for any crawling insects or spiders, the front door opened again. To his unfortunate surprise, it was Natasha who stepped out, wearing a t-shirt and old pyjama bottoms.

 

            Bucky turned the other way, waiting until she did whatever she was out here for. He was further surprised and made uncomfortable when she came and stood right next to him.

 

            “That ugly, am I, Barnes?” she teased. “Won’t even look at me?”

 

            He took a drag and inhaled deeply. “If I remember correctly, you told me years ago to never look at you again.”

 

            “You take everything so literally.” She showed an open palm and he finally brought his eyes to her. “Can I bum one off of you?”

 

            He held out his pack and lighter and stashed it back in his pocket a moment later. “What’re you here for, Romanov?”

 

            “You.”

 

            Bucky locked eyes with her cautiously–it was amazing, how this woman who only came up to his shoulder and was seemingly harmless did not fear anything. Confrontation was apparently her absolute favourite past-time in the world; she was brutally honest and never beat around the bush. Naturally, her confidence in being upfront and honest forced the other person to have to catch all the awkwardness on their end.

           

            “I dunno what you mean.”

 

            “You obviously know what I mean.”

 

            “What the fuck, Romanov?” He chucked aside the butt of the finished cigarette and took a second to light another one. “This isn’t your world. You don’t get to make all the rules. You don’t get to walk away ’n then come back years later.”

 

            “The man I walked away from was different. I had some idea of that, and you more than confirmed it in the past few hours,” she replied breezily. “Bucky, I didn’t want to water a plant that was already dead.”

 

            “So, what, now that I forced myself back on my feet you wanna rekindle something again?” He swallowed thickly. “You didn’t want me at my worst, remember?”

 

            “You admit that that was your worst, then?” She arched a perfectly-plucked brow at him.

 

            “Hey, no, don’t do that shit with me. Y’know how I feel about the eyebrow,” he warned, wagging his finger.

 

            “Barnes, we were both different. We’d been together for so long. We needed to change and grow, without being shaded by one another.”

 

            “Bullshit. You thought I was deadbeat. You couldn’t wait on me.”

 

            “Bucky,” she snapped. “I have waited on you. That’s all I’ve done. I haven’t been with a single other person since we split up. No hookups, nothing.”

 

            He stared at her in shock. “What?”

 

            “Yeah, asshole. While you went and got married, I stayed put,” she nodded.

 

            “Why’d you do that for? What if I were still married?” he asked.

 

            “Then whatever. But you were the only one for me, I always knew that.” She chucked her cigarette aside and stuffed her hands into her pockets. “Come on, Barnes. You were inconsolable after the accident. No matter what I did, you were just…you were gone. You have no idea how painful it is to see someone you love unloving themselves more and more every day.”

 

            “So you just left me on my own?” he sighed.

 

            “Look where that got you.”

 

            He shook his head. “You think I’m not hurtin’ anymore? You don’t unbreak from something like that, Natasha.”

 

            She smiled a little, hearing him use her name again after so long. “Nobody here is unbroken, James. I recognize that what I did in the past…maybe it wasn’t the best decision. But I want to try again, start where we left off–or even start over, whichever is better. I’m not backing down from this anymore.”

 

            He frowned, looking at her from the corner of his eye. “You beggin’ me to get back with ya, Romanov?”

 

            “No, Barnes. I’m giving you a chance to be happy again.”

 

            “You’re that confident that you’re gonna make me happy, huh?” It was him that arched his brow in amusement now.

 

            “I’m nothing if not confident,” she threw back. “We made each other happy for a long time. You may have found that somewhere else, but I never did. Not that I ever tried to.”

 

            A few minutes of quiet passed before he said, “I didn’t find it somewhere else, either.”

 

            “Do you want to?” she asked. “With me.”

 

            “What, we just get back together? What if you walk out on me again?” he challenged.

 

            “We’re not who we were fifteen years ago.”

 

            “History repeats itself,” he shrugged.

 

            “That’s why you should try to make new history,” she concluded. “This is where I stand. Let me know when you decide to catch up.” 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

In the last cusp of the night, when everyone had finally fallen off to sleep in the spare corners of the house, Steven crept back upstairs with stiff limbs and eyes as heavy as lead. It had been more than difficult to keep himself together for the rest of the night, amidst the dozen people around him, all chattering and laughing through the hours. A fair part of the night’s discussion had been James’ metal arm, which had swept every single person off their feet; a completely functioning metal arm attached to someone’s body was so possible in the twenty-first century and yet so surreal, because none of them had personally encountered it before. If Tony Stark had not been utterly enthused to collaborate with Barnes and his prototypes, he certainly was now. Every single person had been considerably amazed by the shifting plates and the whizzing gears within the appendage–especially the kids.

 

            Of course, they had all prodded Steve about Melody’s whereabouts for the rest of the night. “She’s just real tired,” he’d excused again and again, hoping nobody could see the disdain in his eyes or hear the contempt in his voice for his own being. “She’s never been a crowd-type.”

 

            Steve entered his bedroom as quietly as possible, ensuring to gauge the lock behind him. In the dark, he steadily felt his way to the bed, and was confused when he felt the extremely cold, almost-damp cotton sheets. He turned the lamplight on to its lowest setting and frowned at the sight that the faint yellow glow bestowed: Melody lay in the middle of the bed, curled up in a ball, her dress moist and her skin a pale shade that didn’t ease his worry. When he felt her iced body and realized she was trembling in her sleep, he quickly grabbed multiple sweaters and one of the thicker bathrobes from his wardrobe.

 

            While he was trying to rid of her dress as gently as he could, Melody’s eyes popped open and she moved away from him in such a haste that he felt the weight of his sin hit him in a whole new light.

 

            “No–”

 

            “Shh, Mel, please. Everyone’s sleeping,” he whispered, holding his hands out in surrender.

 

            “What–what were you doing?” Her voice was small but urgent as she felt the undone zipper of the dress, eyes rounding with horror. “Were you–”

 

            “I was just trying to get you changed,” he confessed with a broken voice. “You were shaking. What if you get sick?”

 

            She pulled the shoulders of the dress back up in place, covering herself with her arms. “It doesn’t matter.”

 

            “Mel,” he pleaded. “I’m so sorry.”

 

            “For which part, Steve?” It was her voice that broke now, so painfully that it caused tears to spring into his eyes.

 

            “For all of it, baby I’m so sorry. Fuck, I’m so, so sorry. I’m a monster, you didn’t deserve any of that. You can hate me all you want, but please, change so you don’t get sick.”

 

            Melody stared downwards for so long that he was unsure if she had heard him at all. Then, she took a shaky breath and said, “I’ll change myself. I don’t want you to see.”

 

            She didn’t want him to see the clawed skin of her thighs, where she had dug her nails in helplessly because the agony had been simply unbearable. She didn’t want him to see the marks he’d left on her body from previous times, when the exchanges between them had been only about them and their pleasure–no, he couldn’t see those now. He had no right after what he’d done. He had compromised her security for his own insecurity and doubt. He had let jealousy’s ugliness torment her so he wouldn’t have to bear the weight of it alone.

 

            And it was–it was truly a hideous emotion. There was no room for jealousy in any fortified relationship; it was a crack in the fortress, a blister of the foot. Possessiveness–sure, that was warranted and agreed upon by her because she, too, wanted him all to herself. But what he had displayed was not something she ever wanted to experience again.

 

            When Steve had stashed himself away in the closet, Melody peeled off the dress that was slick and heavy with water. She broke into shivers again while trying to pull on the layers he had left on the bed–the thick sweatpants, the socks, the sweater, and the woolly robe.

 

            He came back out when he could no longer hear any movement. Melody stood by the bay window, staring out at nothing in particular–there was no sign of morning yet; no promise of a new day in the depth of that miserable night. Steve approached her cautiously, stopping just to her left as he eyed her faded expression.

 

            She took a shaky breath. “It smells like you.”

 

            “Is that a good thing?” He waited.

 

            Melody didn’t respond. Instead, after a long moment, she said, “It wasn’t fair.”

 

            “I know it was wrong–”

 

            “No,” she pressed. “It wasn’t fair.”

 

            “What do you mean?” he asked.

 

            “It wasn’t fair, Steve,” she repeated. “That thing that you felt when you saw me talk to someone else–I had to feel it too. I had to deal with it too. I had to feel it when you spent your time with other women and I had to experience it again for you when you took your jealousy out on me tonight. Do you get it? Do you get what I’m saying?”

 

            “I get it,” he replied patiently.

 

            “No, you don’t get it. I didn’t get to take it out on anyone, Steve. I didn’t get to share it. I had to deal with it, on my own. When you were literally fucking other people!”

 

            “Mel, keep it down, please–”

 

            “I only spoke to another guy,” she continued, albeit quieter. “And you went ballistic.”

 

            “Melody–”

 

            “That’s what I mean when I say it’s not fair.”

 

            Steven bit the inside of his cheek, his eyes dampening with tears that her own eyes mimicked. She still hadn’t looked at him even once.

 

            “Can I please hold you?” His voice cracked with despair.

 

            “No.”

 

            “So what does this mean, then?” he asked, fearing the response.

 

            Melody sucked her teeth bitterly. “I don’t know yet. Wait until I’m done bleeding for the answer.”

 

            That was direct salt on the wound. “We–we should get you to a doctor,” he choked out.

 

            “What will I say when they ask me questions?” Now she turned to look at him, her eyes puffy and red in contrast to her pale, greying face. “What am I going to answer with? When they ask me what happened, what should I say, Steve?

 

            “That the man I trusted with my safety forced himself on me? That he threatened me with rape? All because I talked to someone else?”

 

            Steve covered his face with both hands. Prickly heat washed over him in a wave of humiliation and torment as he shuddered between silent sobs. Even after everything, it hurt Melody to see him like this again. She watched him push back his hair in frustration, his eyes drowning behind tears that seeped into his beard. The skin of his face and neck was flushed red.

 

            “Melody,” he begged, a deep stab searing through his ribs. He didn’t hold back any of the pain this time, not caring how ridiculous or ugly he looked as he openly wept and choked on his words.

 

            “I’m sorry. I’m–so sorry,” he kept repeating, backing away from her. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.”

 

            “Keep saying it,” she told him, wiping away her own tears. She had thought that seeing him hurt would even it out, maybe even feel good. But it was only doing the opposite.

 

            “I’m so fucking sorry,” he bawled, sinking to the cold hardwood floor. He doubled over and scrubbed his fists against the polished oak helplessly, wailing like a child. The agony in his chest continued until it was as if the stab-wound had creased open his flesh, and he couldn’t breathe naturally anymore.

 

            In the next few minutes, Melody watched Steve wheeze for breath and begin coughing vehemently. His skin became a violent shade of red and then began purpling before she realized this was more than a fit of emotions. With horrified, wide eyes, Melody rushed to her room to change into her own clothes before running downstairs.

 

            “Is anyone awake?” she called, cold-panic freezing every other emotion inside of her. “Guys! Can anyone hear me?”

 

            The basement door opened just at the same time as Tony rushed out of the study, a Black Sabbath shirt half-on. “What’s wrong, kid?”

 

            “Steve,” was all she got out, pointing up the stairs. “He–something’s happening!”

 

            Sam and Bucky were up the lower staircase by the time Melody and Tony were rushing to the top floor. Natasha had appeared seconds after them and was following close behind as they chased the previous two to the master bedroom.

 

            “Shit,” Tony cursed, skidding to his knees beside Steve’s shaking body. He checked his pulse in three different locations. “Cap! Can you see?”

 

            Steve nodded weakly, his lips twitching as if they’d been electrocuted. “It–pain–my back–Jesus–”

 

            Bucky and Sam had joined Tony on the floor now and were checking his wrists and eyes. Bucky made the call first by saying, “I think he’s having a heart attack.”

 

            “What?” Melody yelled.

 

            “I have nine-one-one on the phone,” Natasha alerted, a phone stuck to the side of her face. She walked to Melody and took her under the other arm, rubbing her back. “Sweetie, it’s okay. He’s gonna be okay.”

 

            “At least it’s not a stroke,” Sam confirmed. “Chances of that are low, and he seems to be hearing and seeing fine. Hey Cap, we’re gonna get you to the hospital, okay? You’re gonna be okay, old man.”

 

            More people were now piling outside of the room, one or two at a time. Bruce ran past the others and crouched down next to the cluster, cracking open a briefcase to pull out a stethoscope and thermometer. Melody watched in terror as he inspected Steve, waiting for a verdict.

 

            Bruce shook his head, pulling the buds from his ears. “His heart rate is really low. We need to get him to the hospital. Nat, where are we with the emergency?”

 

            “No response yet,” she replied thickly, putting her cell away.

 

            “There’s eight vehicles in that driveway,” Jarvis spoke up. “We can surely do something.”

 

            “Yes, we can,” Maria declared. “Bucky, Tony and Bruce, stay with Steve. Sam, drive them. Take Barnes’ truck. Rhodey, Carol, Pepper, take separate cars and drive ahead of them, make sure the road is clear. Jarvis, Scott, Thor, follow up behind. Nat, take your motorcycle, get to the hospital first and warn emergency beforehand of the situation. The nearest hospital is a twenty-five-minute drive, we need to book it under fifteen, he doesn’t look too good.”

 

            Everyone separated immediately, rushing out with keys and wallets in hand. Melody watched Bucky and Sam lift Steve with some difficulty and begin making their way down the hall.

 

            “Please, let me come,” Melody begged Natasha, who seemed to have thought that she would stay behind.

 

            “Okay, sure,” she agreed. “Have you been on a motorcycle before?”

 

           

 

Several expensive, luxurious cars all pulled out of the street and ripped onto the main road in a formation, creating an obnoxious ruckus in the quiet daybreak. Melody held on tightly to Natasha’s waist and squeezed her eyes shut under the spare helmet as the Daytona revved raucously away from the town and towards the city. Through the parade of vehicles and the offended honks from the engines around them, the loudest thing yet was Melody’s own heartbeat as it rung in her ears and crawled up her throat.

Chapter Text

           It was noon by the time Steve was out of the surgery compartment and shifted into a private ward. A generous third of the waiting room was occupied by the team, all of them dwindling on the edge of their seats. T’Challa and Clint had brought the two girls and Peter to the hospital once it was a more appropriate time; Cassie was now sitting between Scott and Thor, avidly filling them in on Greek mythology, while Morgan was in Tony’s lap. Nearly everyone had waxed-paper cups of coffee or tea in their hands, their eyes heavy from the long night yet diligently awake.

 

            Melody was tucked under Bucky’s arm as he smoothed down her hair softly. “He’s a strong guy, Mel. These things just happen sometimes, could’ve been any one of us.”

 

            “But…I don’t get it,” she sniffled. “He’s always been so healthy.”

 

            “It’s not always ‘bout physical health, sweetheart. Stevie’s had a lot to deal with in his life. All that fitness you see…’s just a distraction for him so he doesn’t have to focus on how bad his mental health’s doin’.”

 

            Melody craned her head away from his shoulder and blinked up at him in wonder. “Mental health? He’s never said anything about that before. Is there something I don’t know?”

 

            James eyed her carefully for a moment before speaking again. “Actually, think there’s a lot ya don’t know.”

 

            At that moment, a male nurse approached the entire group, looking a little uneased by the amount of people waiting for one person. “He’s suitable for visitations now, but there are a lot of you, so please. Take it no more than three at-a-time.”

 

            Tony shot up from his seat and shifted Morgan over to Pepper. “Bucky–Mel,” he announced, looking at both of them expectantly.

 

            The three of them made their way hastily to the room. Steve was laying in the hospital bed looking quite uncomfortable as a couple of nurses finished setting up his blood pressure monitor and detached the cardiogram wires from the clips that were stickered onto his skin. The younger nurse gave him a sweet smile, which he half-heartedly reciprocated before she turned and followed her colleague out the door.

 

            “Boy, you had us shitfaced, Rogers.” Tony shook his head teasingly. “They had to put two stents in you.”

 

            Steven swallowed thickly and gestured for water. Melody noticed the white pastiness along the edge of his lips and moved forward to wipe it with a tissue. It unnerved her greatly that Steve had not looked at her even once, but she continued to sit on the edge of the bed beside him, drinking in every single one of his features.

 

            “Your heart rate just shot up by twenty in the past minute,” Bucky observed, his eyes reading the monitor’s screen in amazement.

 

            Melody bit her lip to keep from smiling, thankful that her back was to the others. Steve closed his eyes and sighed in disappointment at the machines for giving him away.

 

            After a few sips from a paper cup that Bucky had handed him, Steve reached up to wipe his mouth on the back of his hand. “You fuckers,” he croaked. “Didn’t even stop making fun of me while I was having a heart attack.”

 

            “To be fair, it was mostly Sam and Bucky,” Tony offered. “I only laughed.”

 

            “You’re officially an old man, Stevie. Although I gotta ask: you couldn’t’ve waited to have a heart attack ‘till after your birthday? Ya still got a few weeks ‘till you’re forty.”

 

            “Don’t let Clint or Scott in here, I’ll have another one,” Steve warned, pulling a chuckle from the two men.

 

            Bucky had also noticed how Steve seemed to be ignoring Mel. He searched his mind for an opportunity, then turned to Tony. “Hey, Tones, can you take Melody to buy some food ’n drink? Steve, they give you any dietary restrictions?”

 

            “None that they told me about,” he said with a faint shake of his head.

 

            Melody watched Steve for a moment, but he kept his head to the side with closed eyes. Begrudgingly, she got off the bed with a heavy heart lodged in her throat and followed Tony out of the room.

 

 

 

“Hey, ass-wipe,” Bucky mocked, making his way over to the bed. He perched down on the leather stool just beside it, pulling his sleeves up hastily. “The fuck’s your problem?”

 

            Steve opened his eyes and stared at his friend, dumbfounded. “What?”

 

            “Why’re you givin’ Mel the cold shoulder for? She’s been cryin’ in worry this whole time, didn’t even take a sip a damn water.”

 

            “She’s been crying because of me, Buck.” The blond shook his head in dismay. “She and I got into an argument, last night. I think I really hurt her.”

 

            “So what the fuck you beatin’ ‘round the bush for?” Bucky put his hand on his hip and glared at his friend. “Apologize to her, man. She’s a mess. Don’t ignore her like she doesn’t exist.”

 

            “She was really upset with me Buck. I did apologize, but I can tell it’s real bad this time. I’m just gonna give her space. She’s growing up. She’s gotta do her own thing, I guess.” As he said the words out loud, Steven’s heart tore itself to shrapnel within his chest. Tears stung at his eyes, but he blinked quickly at the lights and averted his gaze to hide them.

 

            “Bullshit,” Bucky spat, hardly fooled by the show. “You two’re sewn together; rooted in each other. ’ve never seen you love anyone like you love that kid. There’s no way the both a you can be apart.”

 

            “I guess change has to happen at some point,” Steve said dryly. “She can’t spend the rest of her life around me, Bucky. I’m not good for her.”

 

            “You’re the reason she’s here, you idiot. Valerie never wanted her–you gave that kid a chance at life.”

 

            He shook his head in denial. “She’s the reason I’m here, Buck.”

 

            The brunet shifted uneasily, his face softening. The reminder was subtle, but it was enough to throw him back to that unforsaken moment. That day that he’d brought a young Steven home from the hospital, and Steve had only promised Bucky one thing:

 

            “I’m going to try again. And next time, I won’t fail.”

 

            Following that day, Bucky had spent almost a year with a consistent tab open on his dearest friend. It had been misery to the point that if Bucky hadn’t heard back from Steve within the hour, he would be rushing his old pickup truck through the boroughs until his friend was before his very eyes, alive and breathing–and within slapping distance. Don’t you make me worry like that again, you prick, James had snarled passionately while gripping Steven’s collar.

 

            But that had inevitably been the last time he’d had to deliver a warning. He had wondered what exactly had caused it, but there was an evident mood shift in Steve–over the span of a couple of years he began sleeping regularly and eating well; he cut chain-smoking and binging on booze, started a career instead of living off the inheritance, and even started donating to the occasional charity. When Steve had mentioned Valerie, an old-time friend, Bucky had thought, oh, so it’s love.

 

            Love it was, but apparently not for her. Instead, it was for her daughter, a child with whom Steve had no correlation.

 

            But it must be true, then, the word on the street that loyalty is thicker than blood, because Steve and Melody didn’t share an ounce of it, and yet she was his lifeline.

 

            And just like that, soon enough James, too, found himself caring for a seven-year-old ubiquitous being who made him want to have his own children someday. She called him uncle Bucky that first time and wiped his heart off the market.

 

            “Still,” he insisted, coming back to the present. “You made her life way better than it would’ve ever been, if she’d been left alone with Val. I know Val went through her own trauma, but c’mon–she left the kid alone at the bus stop, for fuck’s sake. Don’t think I don’t remember that.”

 

            “We fought a lot that night,” Steve nodded. “I was so angry. PTSD or not, how could someone be so inhumane?”

 

            “Why were you even with her?” Bucky inquired.

 

            Steven stared at him in awe. “For Melody, obviously. Val started thinking she could get somewhere with me. Started believing, I guess, that if she could remove Melody from the picture, she could have me in the way she wanted. That we could be a real thing. Even though I made it clear from the start that I was with her so I could make sure Mel had someone looking after her.”

 

            “So, you got into this whole thing, just for the kid?” Bucky raised a brow. “And Val…wasn’t she terminal the whole time?”

 

            “Yeah, cancer. When I met with her again since the last time, Mel was a couple years old. Val was diagnosed, but the doctors thought she’d survive. I guess she wasn’t meant to…it just got worse.” Steve leaned back in the bed and took a deep breath. “She really tried, you know. Towards the end, I mean. She tried to change. Tried to make up for all of it.”

 

            “What good was it then?” Bucky scoffed. “I mean, seriously. Can you imagine if you hadn’t decided to move to Larchmont, out of fuckin’ nowhere? You probably would’ve never crossed paths with Val again, let alone been there for Mel. Poor kid would’ve had it so much worse.”

 

            “Yeah, but she doesn’t owe me anything just because I was a decent human being,” Steve pressed, landing the point finally. “Just because I was there for her, just because I made things better for her, doesn’t mean that if I hurt her now, she should put up with it.”

 

            “You guys love each other,” Bucky reminded him. “Without needin’ to, dare I say. Most love nowadays comes from a place of obligation, punk. You don’t have that–you have it different. There’s no putting up with people you love, Stevie. When the commitment runs this deep, it’s do or die.”

 

            “It is do or die for me, Buck. She’s the most important thing in my life no matter how she is or what she does. But she’s a kid. I can’t push these adult expectations onto her. She’s still got a world to see and I can’t tarnish that.”

 

            “What could you’ve possibly done that was so bad that you think your relationship’s over, anyways?” Bucky frowned in thought.

 

            “You know me, Buck. Always saying the wrong stuff, always doing the wrong thing. Can’t control my love so I can’t control my anger, either.”

 

            Bucky stared at the linoleum in thought, almost smiling. “Yeah well…someone told me not too long ago that nobody here’s unbroken. You had your fair share of bullshit, Stevie. You never knew your dad…your ma died when you were a little runt. And boy, don’t get me started on Peggy… You been all alone your whole life, man. You deserve the love you been givin’ out to others.”

 

            “Peggy…” Steve echoed, shaking his head. It was a distant, hazy word in his mind, from a universe he never belonged to. A heartbreak that was silly now, compared to whom he currently breathed for. A trivial year of his life that seemed like jovial trial-and-error at the moment.

           

            “You still love her?” James questioned.

 

            “Never did,” Steve replied, looking his mate in the eye. “She was just another chapter, you could say. Wish I could go back and tell college-Steve that there’s a future waiting for him somewhere. A future that trumps everything else.”

 

            As if on cue, there was a knock on the door and they both turned to face it as Melody stepped inside. In her hands was a tray of coffee cups and a paper bag. “I got us lunch,” she offered weakly, setting the cartridges on the table beside the bed. “I’m just gonna–”

 

            Bucky watched, confused, as she plucked one of the cups from the tray and fished out a saran-wrapped sandwich from the bag, beginning to turn away. “Where ya goin’?” he asked.

 

            “I’m just gonna go eat somewhere else.” She pursed her lips awkwardly, brown eyes shiny with emotion.

 

            “Why? Too cool for us grandpas, are ya?” Bucky reached for a cup of his own. “Sit down.”

 

            “Actually, Peter’s waiting for me in the cafeteria. He’s helping me with some stuff about college.”

 

            Steven’s eyes immediately panned to her in a glare, but Mel didn’t notice. Now she wasn’t looking at him. He looked her up and down angrily–why is her t-shirt so tight? And she has on the leggings again…

 

            Promptly, he snapped out of it. He had no right. She could wear what she wanted, even though he was sure plenty of people would be eyeing her up.

 

            “Okay, kiddo. Have fun,” Bucky dismissed, watching her leave before he turned to his friend again.

 

            “Now she’s ignoring me,” Steve complained.

 

            James cocked his brow in faux shock. “You started it.”

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

“So, where’re you looking to apply?” Peter asked, rubbing the lenses in his glasses with the hem of his shirt. His curly brown hair was a voluminous mess, and he wore olive cargo pants and sneakers. He really wasn’t hard to take to at first sight, but Mel had no such feelings for him.

           

            She shrugged, swallowing a bit of the egg-salad sandwich. “Definitely NYU. I don’t really have any other places in mind.”

 

            “Well, it’s good to apply to a few institutions, that way you have range in options. In case you change your mind about what you want to study or how far away you’re willing to move.”

 

            “Move?” she frowned. “I’m not moving anywhere. I wanna live at home.”

 

            “You don’t want to go out and see what it’s like? Being an adult, living on your own without parents…?” Peter wondered aloud.

 

            She shook her head. “I’m happiest at home, with family.”

 

            Peter smiled as he thought for a moment. “It’s just you and your dad, isn’t it?”

 

            “Um…yeah,” she nodded, fidgeting with the crust of her sandwich.

 

            “It’s nice that you guys are close. Most teenagers don’t get along very well with their parents. It’s refreshing to hear someone your age say they’d rather stick around at home.”

 

            “I guess a big part of that depends on how the person is made to feel at home…” She shrugged. “My dad…he’s always made me feel very loved and cared for. I’ve never had a single day where I found myself wondering whether I mattered to anyone.”

 

            “I guess not everyone is as good at parenting,” Peter offered. “Most people try their best.”

 

            Melody pursed her lips. “Does this come from a personal place?”

 

            “Oh, no! No–my parents are great, really. I couldn’t have asked for more. No, it’s just some of my friends–they haven’t had the best family life, so…you know. When I was your age, I used to get angry at their parents for not doing better. But as I get older, and with Morgan being so much younger than myself…” He picked at a spot on the back of his neck absently. “I understand that it can be difficult to convey your intentions sometimes, especially when they’re still young and have a lot of maturing to go through. You just become the bad guy if you try to watch out for them.”

 

            Melody felt as if she were being pin-pointed; the last sentiment resonated with her more than Peter even intended for it to. But she didn’t want to think of herself as immature–she wasn’t childish. She was smart and capable, and nobody would make her feel otherwise.

 

            “Are you and Morgan close?” she asked.

 

            “Very close. She’s like my kid, before I have kids,” he grinned. “I wanna give her the world, but I wanna keep her safe from it as well.”

 

            Mel smiled, spacing out momentarily. She could understand what he was saying–she knew someone else who felt the same way about her. It was bittersweet, the realization that there was someone nearby who loved her this much, but who wasn’t even looking at her for the time being. She wished she could have been with Steve then, holding onto him as he hummed in her ear.

 

            She came back to the cafeteria again, wiping her fingers clean on a napkin. “So, mathematically, what I’m getting is that your parents got married a while after you were born. How was the wedding?”

 

            “Ah, okay. So, here’s the thing: they’re not my biological parents. I was in Queens in a foster home until the age of six. Tony and Pepper adopted me around that time,” Peter explained. He also clarified with “Morgan is their biological daughter, though.”

 

            “I would’ve never guessed that,” she confessed. “You guys really are a family. You all belong together. I can tell they really love you.”

 

            “And I love them,” Peter shrugged. “Life is funny. I never thought I would be a son to anyone, let alone a brother.”

 

            “I feel that,” she agreed. “Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if the right person hadn’t been there at the right time…”

 

            Peter frowned slightly. “How do you mean?”

 

            “Oh, like, just in general,” she lied. “So much of history was a chance-thing, it seems. One altered move or different decision, and the world might have been a different place today.”

 

            “I don’t know, I think…” He scratched his jaw in thought. “My way of thinking’s, like, ‘this is how it was supposed to be,’ you know? I see it as this point in time, right now, would have been exactly the same, no matter what preceded it, because this is how the universe was meant to be in this moment. I hope that makes sense.”

 

            Melody laughed slightly. “Different philosophies, I guess. I always remind myself that things could have been very different. A million different lifetimes, and anyone of them could’ve been my story, but it’s this one. And this one is my favourite one.”

 

            “I like that,” he noted, his lips stretching wide in admiration. “It’s quite poetic.”

 

            She waved it off. “I don’t mean for it to be.”

 

            “That’s the best part, actually.”

Chapter Text

            The team filtered out of the waiting lounge after they’d all tripped to Steve’s room in twos and threes to pay him visit. Tired but relieved, they made it back to 48 Oak Avenue and slumped down across the house on whatever suitable surface they could find–some even using each other as pillows and back-rests, as if there weren’t beds waiting for them somewhere within the white-stone.

 

            Natasha and Bucky had stayed back at the hospital with Melody to keep Steven company. At some point after sunset, Bucky excused himself to grab a coffee and a smoke. Natasha sat with Mel in the lounge, holding her hand as they absently watched the reality show on the television screen.

 

            “Steve’s sleeping, you should get a little rest too, Mel.” Natasha soothed over her hand affectionately.

 

            “I’m not tired,” she insisted, rubbing her sore eyes. Nat smiled at her keenly before returning to the show. After a moment, Melody let the question surface. “Is there something between you and Uncle Bucky?”

 

            The redhead was caught by surprise for the first time in a while. She blinked cluelessly for a few seconds, before asking, “Why?”

 

            “I see the way you look at him,” Mel shrugged. It was the same way she looked at Steve. “Your eyes follow him everywhere.”

 

            Natasha sighed. “We used to be together. For a long time.”

 

            “Why not anymore?”

 

            “Well…between his accident and my own personal issues at that time…I left him.” She swallowed thickly; her brow was deeply furrowed. “I was confident in my decision. I’m beginning to think maybe it was a mistake.”

 

            “Oh, so this was a long time ago,” Melody noted.

 

            “Very long,” Nat agreed. “About fifteen or sixteen years.”

 

            “Ah, I see now. The first time S–” She caught herself quickly, biting it down. “First time dad introduced Uncle Bucky must have been when I was five, or something. He lived really far away at the time. I remember, he used to be really sad. It must have been because of your relationship.”

 

            “Bucky wasn’t anything except sad after the accident,” Natasha recalled, then smiled suddenly. “I met Steve through Bucky. He used to be very private and secluded, but I remember when he started sharing stuff about you with us. I wish I could’ve been a part of your childhood, but Valerie didn’t exactly like me much. I’m sorry, I know she was your mother.”

 

            “Don’t worry, I won’t tattle-tale on you,” Melody teased. “Why didn’t she like you?”

 

            “Always thought I had a thing for Steve, even though I was with Bucky and Steve and I immediately took to each other like siblings,” she explained. “For a while, Steve even stopped talking to me. After Bucky and I… Well, I pretty much had nobody.”

 

            “You know, when I first found out about you, I also thought…” Mel trailed off, picking at a spot on her arm excessively.

 

            “Hey, don’t do that. You’ll scab yourself,” Natasha tutted, swatting her stubby nails away from the pinking skin. “You also thought Steve and I–?”

 

            She shook her head. “You just–you’re so beautiful. I couldn’t imagine he’d never been attracted to you.”

 

            “Well, that’s very sweet of you,” the redhead smiled amicably. “But no, he never has been, and neither have I. It’s always just been friendship–on an extraordinary level at times, yes. But nothing more than that. Mel, he’s just never had eyes for anyone since Valerie. He’s hooked up and slept around so much, but he’s never lingered on one person. I used to think he was incapable of love, until I heard him talk about you. If there’s anyone that Steve Rogers loves, it’s his Mel.”

 

            Melody’s cheeks pinked as she leaned her head on Nat’s shoulder, taking the time to indulge in the slight scent of saltwater. “I’m sorry you had to be alone, Aunty Nat. I’m sorry my mom took your friend away from you.”

 

            “It’s okay sweetie, it was none of your fault.” Natasha brought her arm around to run her hand over Mel’s hair, which was slightly rough from sweat and grime. “When I had nobody else, Clint was there for me. He’s one of my closest friends now, besides Tony, Steve, and Sam. I’ve learned that rejection is just redirection.”

 

            “Who could ever reject you?” Melody asked.

 

            “Your Uncle Bucky seems to be doing alright,” Nat sighed.

 

            “I don’t know. I think he cares about you. He just has a lot of hurt to make up for, I guess.” Melody sat up again to look her in the eye. “You should go talk to him. You should spend as much time as you can around him, show him how committed you are.”

 

            Natasha shook her head. “I can’t leave you here alone.”

 

            “I’m not a baby, Aunty Nat. I’ll just go check on dad, and if he’s still sleeping, I’ll come back here,” she decided. “Come on! Go get your man.”

           

            The redhead smirked at her lethally, holding back a chortle. “You’re as scandalous as your dad.”

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Natasha found Bucky at the edge of the vast parking lot; his metal hand was gloved even in the heat to keep it out of the general public’s eye. He was smoking a cigarette while dousing it down with coffee, squinting out at the city lights and passing cars absently. His hair was nearly out of its tie, several locks hanging loose around his face.

 

            The redhead sauntered right up to him and crossed her arms. “Still love your alone time, don’t you?”

 

            “I’m worried ‘bout Mel,” he said suddenly, cutting to the chase. “I’m worried ‘bout how things are goin’ between her ’n Steve.”

 

            “They’re blood, Barnes. They’ll always stick it through.”

 

            But they weren’t blood, and he knew that. Somehow, in Bucky’s mind, it was so easy for things to fall apart between the two. Because at the end of the day, they weren’t obligated to one another by biology–either could walk away from the other eventually, and he knew it wouldn’t be Steve who would turn his back; he loved Melody too much.

 

            “Blood isn’t what makes bonds last,” he told her, finishing the cigarette.

 

            “They would both die for one another. Ups and downs happen. It doesn’t–it shouldn’t–take away from how people feel about each other.”

           

            James glanced at her from the corner of his eye before returning his gaze to the street. “What happened between us wasn’t just ups and downs. You hurt me. You really did.”

 

            “And I’m sorry,” she said, after a moment. “I really am.”

 

            Bucky turned to her then, uncrossing his arms to take a long swig of coffee, his eyes constantly on hers. “First time you’ve apologized for your mistake,” he pointed out. “Never used to, before.”

 

            “I was scared of being wrong, or seeming weak,” she shrugged, gazing off into the distance. “I know now that there’s no guilt or shame when it comes to people you care about. You say and do what you have to, when the other person needs it.”

 

            “This’s…nice,” he nodded. “Not havin’ to tear down walls just to be able to talk to you.”

 

            “I guess it’s okay to let people see in, from time to time.”

 

            “I really needed you, you know that?” He swallowed down the bitter sting.

 

            “I don’t think so. I think you needed to find yourself, Bucky. And I’m so happy that you did. If I’d never left–if I’d continued to shade you from everything, you would have kept dwindling in your misery. Don’t get me wrong–I am sorry for what I did. I’m sorry for the pain–it hurt me too, Bucky. I had to walk away from the love of my life. But I’m not sorry for who you are today because of that.”

 

            For some time, Bucky didn’t respond, but kept watching her steadily. Then, with a small smile playing on his lips, he asked, “Love o’ your life? Me?”

 

            “Don’t let it get to your head,” she smirked.

 

            “Not gonna leave me alone, are ya?” he snarked.

 

            Her forehead creased deeply. “I lost my best friend too, when I walked away. Even if you turn me down, I don’t want to spend another fifteen as strangers.”

 

            “Someone turnin’ Natasha Romanov down…” He shook his head in amusement. “Seems impossible, nah?”

 

            “First time for everything.” She shrugged, trying to play it off casually, when her heart was plunging down into her gut with anticipation.

 

            “Nah, ’m not gonna break your record. Not that heartless, Romanova. Not like you,” he teased.

 

            “So, that’s it? You gave in to me that easy?” She stepped up and pushed his arms open, wrapping her own around his torso. After years of bitterness and cold, meaningless distance, feeling the familiar warmth again was as blissful as life could become. She felt as if she had laid herself down beneath beneficent sunlight as his arms came down around her.

 

            “Not so fast,” he muttered. “Still gonna make you pay for all that time apart.”

 

 

*****

 

 

Steve had just finished using the built-in toilet in his hospital room and was shuffling back to the bed when the door cracked open and Mel stepped inside. She could see his pale skin and the cardiogram wires attached to his body through the open back of the hospital gown, which was too small for his expanse to be covering as much as it should have been covering. His blond locks looked longer as they fell to the side and against his sullen face. He simply tucked himself back within the sheets, knowing who had come in but still refusing to acknowledge her presence.

 

            “Steve,” she said finally, after standing quietly by the door for what felt like ages.

 

            He grunted in response, his face turned to the other side of the room and his eyes stuck to a window that showed nothing due to being shuttered by opaque blinds.

 

            Melody walked forward and sat herself up on the edge of the bed again, adjusting her bra strap absently. “Are you still mad at me?”

 

            Steven let his eyes flutter shut and inhaled the whiff of sweat and cotton that was now in the room. “You think I’m mad at you?”

 

            “You won’t even look at me,” she blubbered, pressing her tongue against the roof of her mouth. This was not a moment to be weak or cry.

 

            “Because I’m ashamed.”

 

            “It’s killing me inside, Steve. Please look at me.”

 

            “This has to stop,” he pressed. “It’s already gone too far. You…you’re a kid. None of this ever should have happened. I don’t want to ruin your life.”

 

            To bitter defeat, tears welled in her eyes instantly. “You’re not ruining my life, Steve. Things happen–”

 

            “They shouldn’t,” he cut in. “None of this is justifiable. What I’ve done to you…it’s all over. Things have to change.”

 

            “That’s it? You’re tossing me aside?” Her voice cracked miserably as salty drops pooled down her jaw, leaving the skin sticky. “You’re tired of me?”

 

            “No, it’s none of those things. You know that’s not it.” He sucked his teeth in frustration. “You deserve a normal life, with your friends and a guy your age who treats you well. You deserve a whole story, not a broken one.”

 

            “I don’t care about any of that!” she exclaimed.

 

            “Keep it down,” he reminded her. “I was supposed to protect you. I promised your mother I would take care of you. I need to keep my word.”

 

            “Fuck your word,” she spat, wiping the tears anxiously. “You can’t just back away now–Steve, look at me when I talk to you!

 

            “This is hard enough for me as it is.” His voice was a quiet, brittle contrast to hers. “Don’t make this harder–”

 

            “What happened to do or die?” she demanded.

 

            He blinked down at his lap in thought, frowning. “You were listening?”

 

            “I was outside the door,” she confessed. “Tony was the one who went to the food court. Everything you said, where is all of it now? You told me you love me–how dare you turn away now?”

 

            “Better late than never–”

 

            “Fuck you!” she hissed, clutching her head. It felt heavy as it pulsated with pain. “You’re a coward! One thing goes wrong and you lose it! You don’t know how much I suffer because of your highs and lows. One minute you want me and the next minute you push me away–I’m so tired, Steve! I’m so fucking tired of this.”

 

            “This is why I’m doing what I’m doing,” he responded, his voice strained.

 

            “Do you think you’re saving me?” she scowled. “You think you’re doing some kind of service to someone? You’re a fool if you think I’m better without you. Sure–you messed up, big deal. I was upset with you Steve, because I didn’t appreciate what you did–but you’re still all I fucking want.”

 

            “You were with Peter earlier today, weren’t you?” he asked bitterly.

 

            “What the fuck is with you and Peter? He’s someone I met two days ago!” she snapped. “Why is it a constant competition? I can talk to Peter without feeling anything for him, just like you can be friends with women without wanting to fuck them.”

 

            “I’m not debating with you,” he said sternly. “This is it. We’re going back to how it was before.”

 

            Melody slumped over with a wail, clutching herself tightly to relieve some anguish. Steve winced and squeezed his eyes shut to refrain from becoming weak in his resolve; every particle in his being screamed as if it were under slaughter. He sought to reach out and collect her in his arms, but that would ruin his already-feeble determination. No, he wouldn’t keep Melody trapped in his world anymore.

 

            She had to be free.

 

            “It has to happen,” he told her. “You and I just aren’t good for each other.”

 

            “Steve,” she bawled, her face red and seeped with wetness. “Please…don’t.”

 

            “Go home. Don’t lose sleep over me.”

 

            “Steve.” She was pleading now, grasping at straws. “I won’t…I can’t.”

 

            Steven clenched his fists under the sheets, digging the nails into the skin of his palms. “This is my decision.”

 

            There was a hammering both within her skull and her ribcage as she broke down, torn to the soul. The ringing in her ears never stopped as she waited and waited for him to have some mercy on her, but the moment was infinite; it seemed it would never end, and the pain inside of her would get louder and louder until everything went black. If hearts really were made of glass, hers would have been dust from how many pieces it was breaking into.

 

            When nothing else happened and no other words were said, Melody got up on wobbly legs and trudged aimlessly towards the exit. Before she left, she turned to look at him again, shaking with fresh tears and shuddery breaths.

 

            “You’re heartless,” she breathed out shakily. “If I live through this, I will never forgive you.”

 

            It was Steven’s turn to break down once she’d left the room. He covered his face with his hands, pushing tight fists against his mouth to keep as quiet as possible. But the hurricane within was the epitome of wreckage as it racked his body with hot surges of agony.

 

            He wanted her–she was all he wanted. But he couldn’t overlook the detrimental effects he was having on her anymore. She wasn’t his plaything, or his property–she was her own person; he had raised her to be. He wanted to see her happy and liberated, more than anything. And she was anything but those, when she was with him.

 

            Perhaps; perhaps there would be a day where they would sit together on some old porch, holding each other until the sun fell to the moon, free of every burden that kept them apart. He would be right for her and she would be right for him, and they would be happy. But perhaps, one day they would be oceans apart, and she would hold the hand of another person, and sing her love to someone else. And still, he would want for her to be happy.

 

            Because he loved Melody, and he would make sure she lived her best life, even if it hurt him.

Chapter Text

            The days that followed were a reinforced flashback of the sorrowed breakage that had taken place in the ward. Melody didn’t try to spend any more time at the hospital and instead returned home to hide in her room, hoping the confines of her bed would swallow her pain and–eventually–eat up her as well.

 

            Steve watched the door to the hospital ward constantly, heart lurching forward every time it cracked open, but only always disappointed when it was never his girl that entered past it. It seemed she had given up on him just like that–at least, that was what he wanted to convince himself of. Deep down, he knew when she hid from him that she was hurting, and he hated that he was the cause for it yet again.

 

            But this is what’s best for her. It was a silent mantra in his head every time he closed his eyes and sighed, seeing nothing but her face in the dark.

 

            The team was busy keeping the house maintained and prepping for the trip to Canada, so nobody besides Bucky and Natasha really noticed that Melody hadn’t gone back to the hospital to see Steve.

 

            “She virtually hasn’t left her room in almost a week,” Natasha told Steve while Bucky stood by the window, his arms crossed in concern. “Doesn’t bother to eat when we order in. Doesn’t stick around to talk to anyone for more than a few minutes. What’s going on?”

 

            “I don’t know,” he lied.

 

            “She’s your daughter. You’re supposed to know,” she informed.

 

            Bucky spoke up to offer some reliance. “She gets anxious ’round crowds, Nat. ’s really bad sometimes. I think she just needs space.”

 

            The woman turned her face towards the window, green eyes slanted specifically at him. “She won’t even talk to you or me. And she sure as hell hasn’t come back to see Steve. Something’s up.”

 

            “You’re over-analyzing again,” Steven bit back. “You don’t need to be so critical. She’s my daughter, not a client.”

 

            “I’m worried about her, you prick.”

 

            “We care ’bout her too, Natasha. We know her–I’m tellin’ you, she’s just anxious,” Bucky reasoned.

 

            “I keep trying to make myself available to her, but she won’t even let me be around for too long.” She was talking more to herself than to them this time.

 

            “She’s definitely taken to you, don’t worry. Just give her some time,” Bucky assured.

 

            Still discontent, Natasha left in frustration. Bucky rounded on Steve then, determined to make something of the situation. “I dunno what’s goin’ on ’tween the two of you, but this ain’t good. Nat’s right, she doesn’t talk or eat. I know she’s sensitive, but I never seen her like this.”

 

            Steve shook his head in thought. “She’s not sensitive, Buck. She’s grown up a lot. She’s stronger than we think. I’m telling you, she’s just upset with me.”

 

            “What’d you say to her?” Bucky demanded at last.

 

            “That’s between me and her.”

 

            James didn’t appreciate the tone of secrecy, but he recognized that it was important for Melody to have her privacy. He had no right to intrude, and neither did anyone else, if she didn’t want it that way.

 

            “Well,” he began, spreading the metal fingers over his thick beard a few times. “I’m gonna talk to her. Gonna try to sort this mess you made.”

 

            “I doubt you can help,” Steve sighed.

 

            “Ain’t gonna stop me from tryin’.”

 

            “So, you and Nat?” The blond quirked a questioning brow at his friend. “What’s the deal?”

 

            “Nothin’,” Bucky shrugged. “She wants to try again.”

 

            This was news to Steve, who had been caught between open-fire for quite some time now between his two close friends after their horrendous split-up. The news, of course, came as glad tidings; the prospect of having them together again was a pleasant one. Besides, they seemed to exclusively understand each other.

 

            “And?” he prodded, waiting on more information.

 

            “’S between me ’n her, punk,” James smirked.

 

            Steven rolled his sore eyes. “Piss off, jerk.”

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

There was a knock on the door as Melody was blowing her nose–somehow, getting caught up in the midst of emotional vitriol had taken a toll on her overall health and caused a nuisance cold. That, or it was the changes in weather and pollen levels that had her overdue for a round of illness since the last few months.

 

            “Yes?” she called weakly, followed by a wet cough.

 

            “Can I come in, kid?” It was Bucky–he had stayed back while everyone else finally took that ice cream trip that had been in the talks since they’d all arrived.

 

            She covered herself in the duvet, attempting to hide the shaking hands and feet from lack of bodily heat, before sending her permission. Bucky stepped inside slowly, inspecting the room with a quick scan–there were open books left abandoned on the floor by the armchair at the window, and clothes haphazardly strewn around as if they’d survived a hurricane.

 

            “Hey, you okay?” he asked, noticing her watery eyes and reddened face.

 

            Mel cleared her throat and swallowed. “Just…a bit sick.”

 

            “You must be tired of bein’ in here all week,” he assumed. “Was wonderin’ if you wanted to come run errands with me.”

 

            While Melody didn’t want to face the world under any circumstance for the moment, he was right: she was tired of being secluded and cut off in the dead of her bedroom. No part of the house offered consolation to her in any way, especially since there was a vivid memory attached to every room and crevice that acted like salt on her fresh wounds.

 

            “I don’t mind,” she shrugged absently. “Can I have some time go get dressed?”

 

            “Yeah, yeah, ’course you can,” he nodded. “I’ll be out in the truck, ’kay?”

 

            The process was slow–mostly because Melody couldn’t bring herself to move any quicker, for it made her lightheaded and stole her balance. She hadn’t been able to maintain regular hygiene for almost three days, and it made her feel grimy and gross. She tried to wash her body and brush her teeth as thoroughly as was manageable without taking too much time, then tied her hair up and put on clean tracks and a sweater.

 

            “Sorry I took so long,” she said, climbing up into the elevated vehicle with some difficulty. Bucky had been sitting in the driver’s seat solving a sudoku with the radio on. Hell of a Season by Black Keys blared out at an extreme volume and Melody winced at the return of the ache in her ears. Noticing this and remembering that she was sick, he turned the volume down to a mere hum.

 

            “S’okay Mels, don’t worry about it. Sorry ’bout the radio, by the way. I prefer to blast my music.”

 

            “It’s a good song,” she offered. “I think you and S–”

 

            Once again, she bit her tongue, resuming the sentence after a split second.

 

            “–dad have similar taste in music.”

 

            Bucky frowned, switching gears before pulling onto the street. “Ya don’t have to call him ‘dad’ ’round me, Mel. I know you call ‘em Steve. Must get annoying, havin’ to keep that up ’round the others.”

 

            “Just takes getting used to, I guess.” She remembered the seatbelt and fastened it across her body lazily. “What do you have to do?”

 

            “Gonna go get some groceries, gotta get my truck washed, and I wanna take you somewhere,” he listed off.

 

            She blinked at him questioningly. “Where?”

 

            “You’ll see. When was the last time you ate?”

 

            “I eat enough,” she shrugged.

 

            “Bullshit, we’re gettin’ breakfast first. You still like Dunkin’ Donuts, right?”

 

 

 

They pulled into the drive-thru and picked up coffee and a six-pack of donuts, two of which Melody ate while James polished off the rest. They sat in the parked Hummer sipping the coffee as he played different tracks from his adolescent years for her on the sound system, telling her about concerts and venues he went to with friends up until their thirties.

 

            The next destination was Costco, where they both trudged through every aisle thoroughly, quickly filling up two full-sized carts. “Do we really need a twenty-four-pack of toilet paper and…did you pick up eight cartons of milk?” she asked, eyes bulging at the bulk quantities of almost everything.

 

            “You got no idea how fast they’re gonna power through all this shit,” Bucky assured. “Grab another family-size of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, actually. We still got a week to spend at your place.”

 

            “Are you sure we’ll use all of this?” Melody began transferring produce from the cart to the conveyor belt at checkout. “I don’t think Steve and I will finish everything if there’s any leftovers.”

 

            It was difficult to even say his name–the feeling that she got from it wasn’t different from what one would feel while referring to someone who had died. For Melody, though, it was more painful in a way, because Steve wasn’t dead–he was choosing not to be with her.

 

            “There won’t be, trust me. I guarantee I’ll be back here in another four days to get more.”

 

            After a receipt that reached upwards of six-hundred dollars, Bucky loaded the numerous reusable bags into the truck as Melody passed them to him, one-by-one. The large department store zoomed out in the rear-view mirror as the truck barrelled down the road towards a gas station.

 

            “Remember when you were little?” Bucky asked her as the windshield and windows became lathered with colourful soap. “Used to love watchin’ the inside of a car wash.”

 

            Melody smiled slightly, watching the large spongy wheels spin and squeak against the vehicle. “It’s just so weird.”

 

            “It is, isn’t it? Feel like the machines could touch you any second, but they won’t.”

 

            “Where are we going now?” she asked, already knowing his answer while the glass was dried off by air blasts.

 

            “Be patient, you’ll see.”

 

 

 

The city thinned out and became rural town again, concrete walls of graffiti and billboards transitioning to open fields and thickets of trees, but Melody had dozed off in the passenger seat. James kept the radio off to maintain the peaceful quiet in the car, not wanting to ruin her sleep. He had a feeling she wasn’t getting much rest, even though she wasn’t doing much else. He hoped that by the end of the day, whatever unresolved resentment she felt towards Steve would be gone for good–or, at least, that she would understand him and his thoughts better.

 

            The truck veered off the tarmac and onto a separate dirt road just between the borough and a church that sat a few-hundred meters away from it, allowing the cemetery in between to be a common ground for both the religious and agnostic dead. James cut the engine at the large metal gates and patted Mel awake gently.

 

            She sat up slowly in the seat and blinked warily at the surroundings; a place she had not seen for a long time. A place that had never sat well with her, that left her pulsing with overwhelming emotion and simultaneously empty every time she visited.

 

            “I thought we could visit your ma’s grave,” Bucky said softly.

 

            Melody knew exactly which one it was–the one closest to the wall of trees, with a short, simple charcoal stone that sat at the head of the loneliest feeling in the world. She gazed at it past the vined metal fencing and could hear the words she’d been left with as a child, could smell the chemicals of the hospital room while she’d cried in Steven’s lap.

 

            “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

 

            She had never understood the meaning–had never wanted to, really. Wasn’t supposed to be like what? Wasn’t supposed to be as painful? As unfair? Was it not supposed to be as difficult?

 

            “Why?” she asked.

 

            “You miss her.”

 

            Melody turned her face to him now. “How would you know?”

 

            “You must. You’re growin’ up surrounded by men. I saw how you reacted to Nat–I could see you saw somethin’ in her,” he shrugged. “C’mon, let’s go see her.”

 

            James held her hand and guided her patiently across the graveyard. Every step forward stung deeper and weighed her down so that she was crying again by the time they came to a halt in front of it. While he took off his jean jacket in the scorching sunlight to prepare a seat for her on the grass, Melody trembled with chills and clutched herself tightly.

 

            “Here, sit down,” he encouraged, and she carefully folded her weak legs onto the dark fabric.

 

            Bucky wrapped his metal arm around her body, and she leaned into the burning warmth of its surface. There were many things about her current life that seemed spectacularly unrealistic–she was surrounded by people who cared about her and yet she was alone, her uncle had returned after years with a fantasy-comic prosthetic, she had developed–and seemingly lost–a derogatory relationship with her step-father, and she had recently discovered that she was flushed with money if she ever needed it. And yet, the most surreal, looming aspect was this cemetery that she had not seen in almost four years, and the imminent reminder of death that every rock and plaque delivered.

 

            “I…I know she wasn’t the best mom,” she breathed out, blinking tears out of her eyes. “But she was my mom. I wish I could have had that. I wish I could have been someone’s daughter a little longer, until I actually knew what it meant.”

 

            “You are someone’s daughter, Mel,” he assured, running warm metal digits through her hair. “You’re Steve’s, and mine, and in a way, all of ours.”

 

            “But I didn’t get to have a mom the way everyone else did,” she choked out.

 

            “Mels, if she’d been ‘round–if none of this had happened to her ’n illness hadn’t changed her–you would’ve been worse off. Trust me.”

 

            “That doesn’t change what I feel. I keep thinking of the life I could’ve had with her. You all got to have a life with your real parents–and I don’t mean to be insensitive towards Steve, I know he’s always been there–”

 

            “No, no, I know,” he cut in. “You don’t have to tell me. I know it’s not the same. I know it’s always gonna be different. No matter how much the people around you try to do, they can never fill that gap.”

 

            She lifted her head off his shoulder and wiped the heels of her hands against her cheeks. “How do you know that?”

 

            “’Cause I already seen it with Steve,” he shrugged.

 

            “What do you mean?”

 

            James shook his head, picking at a dandelion in the long blades of grass. “There’s a lot he never said, huh?”

 

            “I don’t know that much about his life before us,” she admitted.

 

            “Stevie didn’t have parents either, Mel.” He pursed his lips at the shock on her face and nodded solemnly before continuing. “Sarah–his ma–she died when he was six, ’n his father… Well, he never saw his father at all. He was born with so many issues, ’s a miracle he even made it outta the hospital. Fragile lungs, jaundice, underweight, weak heart…Christ, he was a clusterfuck of a baby.”

 

            “He was born with a weak heart?” she asked.

 

            “Very. Had asthma fo’ the longest time. Had fucked up eyesight too, ’n crooked teeth ’til after high school–couldn’t access the inheritance money ‘til he was eighteen, so he had to wait fo’ the braces. He ain’t ever shown you pictures of his childhood, I bet.” James dug inside his pocket and pulled out his phone, scrolling through it for a few minutes before he turned the device towards her. “’s him when he was your age, goin’ into senior year.”

 

            Melody sniffled loudly, wiping her eyes of blurring tears to look carefully at what she was being shown. It was a picture of James, perhaps no more than eighteen, and another person–a boy–laughing candidly in front of a brick wall. Their shirts were smeared with brown pain and dirt, and the slight boy’s blond hair was gold-spun in the sunlight. He only came to James’ shoulder–from the largely protruding Adam’s apple in his skinny neck and the pale, sickly skin, he appeared to be severely ill-suited for any activity at all. In contrast to James’ graceful, cheeky smile and masculine frame, the other boy’s teeth were choppy and uneven, and his body was swallowed completely underneath oversized clothes.

 

            “I found that picture a couple years ago ’n scanned it into my phone,” Bucky explained. “That’s from the summer we redid our fence. Couldn’t even pick up a single plight of wood.”

 

            “That’s Steve?” she asked, her eyes as wide as they could go in the vicious sun without enhancing the headache.

 

            “Who’d you think it was?” he asked, scrolling through the device again before finding another memory. This one was of just Steve with braces and a corny white-and-blue party hat on his head, the string strapped under his stubbly chin. He had acne on his cheeks and his glasses were round wooden frames instead of the rectangular ones he currently favoured. His shoulders were bony under a white tank and his right arm was in a cast, but he was grinning awkwardly towards the floor with a furious blush.

 

            “’s his eighteenth birthday,” James explained. “Got beat up by a couple of guys ’n had his arm broken. My ma didn’t let him outta sight for three months.”

 

            “He looks so different…” she trailed off. This Steve was universes apart from the man who had broken her heart a week ago. This Steve seemed like someone she could have befriended, someone who would sit with her at lunch or go on bike-rides with her after school.

 

            “He graduated a year after I did, so when–”

 

            “You’re older than him?” she interrupted.

 

            “Yeah, by a year. When I was off at college, he was finishing up high school and gettin’ into all sorts a trouble. He never even made it to a hundred pounds in weight until his first year at art school. Now look at ‘em, son of a bitch.”

 

            Another picture showed Steven in swimming trunks and goggles, hair buzzed down and skin red from sunburn. His build was slightly wider in this scene, and he’d hit an evident growth spurt–his forehead now leveled with James’, who stood flexing behind him in his own pair of shorts.

 

            “He started puttin’ on some muscle in freshman year of college–his body started allowin’ exercise, I guess. Otherwise he never made it up a flight a stairs with that asthma. To think that punk grew taller than me at some point! ’s been twenty years ’n I’m still not used to lookin’ up at ‘em.”

 

            Mel almost smiled, her eyes stuck on the unfamiliar person in the pictures. This was what youth looked like on the person she loved most in the whole world–he was beautiful, even through all the different phases and turmoil. There was no doubt in her mind that she would have been in love with Steve even if she had met him in his past. Perhaps, in another life, they could have been friends, and she could have watched him grow as they aged steadily together. The reminder that by the time she’d come into existence, Steve had already spent twenty-something years in the world was nothing short of unsettling.

 

            “You’re not sayin’ anything,” Bucky pointed out.

 

            Mel moved back to sit straight again, and the energy it took to keep her spine upright was exhausting in itself. “I don’t know what to say, Uncle Bucky. I never knew any of this. He never talks about it.”

 

            “’Cause, he’s embarrassed. He’s humiliated by his past, Mels.” James returned the phone to his pocket and began twirling two dandelions in his large hands. “And not just this one, where he was scrawny ’n everyone bullied him for bein’ a loser. He’s most ashamed of the past after he changed, after he wasn’t a big outcast anymore. The time he spent playin’ ’round with girls, drinkin’ and gettin’ shitfaced.”

 

            “How did the change even happen?” she wondered aloud. “How did he become so damaged?”

 

            “He was always damaged. He never got love from a mother or father, so he looked for it in other people. Me ’n my family tried–my sisters treated him like a brother, my ma cared for him like a son. But I told you, nothin’ fills the hole that you get when the people you really want leave ya.

 

            “Then there was this girl in college–her name’s Margaret, but everyone called her Peggy. Stevie went head-over-heels for her the day he saw her. I met her, too–she was pretty, but more than that, she was determined. She was everythin’ he wanted to be. She had it together, y’know? Couple years older than him, too, actually. She graduated the year he started. They got friendly ’n his intention was always to be with her, but she only ever saw him as a close friend. Then she graduated ’n left the country to go back home to her fiancé, who she never bothered to mention to anyone, by the way. She even did stuff with Stevie at some point, but he was always under the impression that she was single. It broke him to bits when he found out that she had someone the entire time ’n that he would never have her.”

 

            Melody was saddened by the knowledge, but part of her couldn’t help feeling bitter about the fact that Steve had loved someone else. It was odd to think that he had experienced love and lost the battle, all while she still wasn’t even a thought in someone’s head yet. The more she learned of his past, the more evident and crippling the difference in their ages and worlds became. However, it only strengthened the emotions that she felt for him and only him.

 

            “What did she look like?” Melody questioned.

 

            “Think I might have a picture of them somewhere…” James stuck out his tongue in concentration as he racked his cellphone again for material. “Ah, here we go. Not the clearest, but it’s all I can find.”

 

            She was magnificent; that was all Mel could think as she stared down the beautiful woman in the photograph next to Steve, her elegant body wrapped in his arms as he smiled down at her sweetly. Her brown curls, the dark eyes, red lipstick and white blouse–it all had a very retro feel to it. She looked like a woman out of her time, and yet she seemed timeless. Her skin was an even tan and her smile was worth a lifetime. The way Steve was looking at her in the picture set Melody on fire, and now she was shaking with scalding fury.

 

            How dare he look at someone else like that?

 

            He was supposed to be hers–and with that, a sudden thought struck Melody as she continued to glare at the picture: there was resemblance in her features that pertained to the woman in the frame. Was Steve only ever attracted to Melody because she reminded him of someone else? Yet, she’d heard him tell James that he knew now he had never really loved Peggy…

 

            “You alright?”

 

            Bucky’s question cut through the whirlwind of treachery and she blinked, licking her dry lips. “Yeah, I’m okay. I need a tissue.”

 

            He offered one and waited for her to finish blowing her nose, stringing together more dandelions in the meantime. Melody held the wadded napkin in her fist tightly as the breeze picked up and rippled through the lengthy grass like a whisper. James took a break from his twisting of flowers to tie back his loose hair before it became too unruly from in wind.

 

            “It’s like I don’t know him at all,” she said aloud finally, to nobody in particular. She wondered momentarily whether the dead could hear the living’s thoughts or feel their pain. If it were possible, she imagined they would all be screaming from second-hand agony.

           

            “You know the best parts of him, Mel. He used to be miserable. Used to hate everythin’. Stopped communicatin’, stopped eatin’, stopped laughin’ at some point. He was a jerk. Slept around, got in fights, nearly killed a guy once–don’t get me started on that, it’ll just get me angry.” Bucky patted her head affectionately. “He changed a lot for you. ‘n he’s still changin’, Mels. Trust me, he is. He’s tryin’ for you. He loves you, so much. More than I’ve seen him love before. Didn’t even think he had it left in him, after everythin’ that happened. But he became the selfless sweetheart again, after years, just because a you.

 

            “He started off with so much love to give, I can’t begin to explain it to ya. My pa needed blood once a month for three years, but none of us had type O. Steve tripped down to the hospital with him every time ’n donated what they could get from his meager body. Used to get the biggest smile on his face when he’d watch my old man come home. Used to buy my ma flowers on Mother’s Day ’n her birthday from the money he’d save up, even though he already didn’t have a ton. Always lived for others, he did. Guess he just wanted to love. But I never saw anyone livin’ for him.”

 

            “Why are you telling me all of this now?” she asked after a moment of silence. A lone engine passed by somewhere on the main road, interrupting the serenity and setting off the chirp of a few birds in the trees.

 

            James finished the ring of dandelions and reached out to place it on the crown of Melody’s head. Her hair was brassy and warm in the sun, a contrast to her dull, greying skin. She felt around with her hand and smiled, adjusting somewhat so as to prevent it from falling.

 

            “’Cause it’s easy to forget that someone loves you when they hurt you,” he replied. “’n I know he hurts you sometimes. Hell, he hurt me too, day ’n night at some point. He hurt all of us, but it wasn’t conscious. He always punishes himself for it, too, so you don’t need to.”

 

            She shook her head. “I don’t want to punish him, Uncle Bucky. I know we’re all full in some places and empty in others. But I don’t want him to hide the emptiness from people who care about him.”

 

            “He hides it ‘cause he doesn’t wanna lose you to it. He’s lost countless times, Mel. I think he just wants to win for once, ’n you’re the person he fights for.”

 

            “Hiding the bad parts only gives them more power,” she explained. “They come back stronger. It’s easier to hurt others when you have less control over yourself.”

 

            “Like I said, he’s workin’. He’s changin’. For you, he is. He’s tryin’, Mel. He’d rip himself apart tooth and limb if you asked for it.”

 

            They sat quietly as she stared out at the stone on her mother’s grave.

 

 

Valerie Helen Grace

 

Beloved mother.

 

 

            “Isn’t it weird?” she asked abruptly. “We live these lives, these stories, with depth and character. We see a thousand skies and people, do a million things. And at the end, all that’s left is a few words on the tombstone. We’re reduced to a name and a couple of positions we held in someone else’s life.”

 

            James peered at the black stone and the white words etched into it, the clean edges beginning to finally chip away. He shrugged in contemplation. “I guess you put the things you valued most ‘bout your life on your tombstone. That’s what Val wanted on hers. She told Steve before she died.”

 

            “She only wanted the title that was related to me on her grave?” Mel asked as her heart hammered against her ribcage.

 

            “’s all she cared about,” he confirmed.

           

            A rare fullness bloomed in her chest at the thought that by the end of her life, what her mother had valued most above anything and anyone else was exactly that: being her mom. She only wanted her name and her occupation in Melody’s life on her tombstone. That was the only legacy she wanted the world to recognize her for.

 

            It didn’t matter anymore how her mother had been towards her before the end, or how selfishly she may have acted. Because by the end of the journey, she had loved Melody, and that was comfort enough.

 

            “Do you know what Steve wants on his tombstone, if he ever–?” She swallowed, unwilling to finish the thought. “He’s probably told you.”

 

            James hung his head low for a moment before facing the world before him again. “Steve doesn’t want a tombstone. He wants his grave to be left unmarked… Just–he doesn’t think he deserves any kind of recognition after he’s gone.”

 

            Melancholy swelled in Mel’s tear ducts before it spilled down her cheeks. She didn’t miss the way his voice wavered towards the end, or the glassiness of his eyes when she looked at him.

 

            Sidling herself back under his arm and wrapping her own weakly around his back, she tucked her head back against his shoulder. The faint whirring of the mechanisms beneath the metal plates was soothing in the most unfamiliar of ways. “Tell me what it was like when he tried to kill himself.”

 

            The whisper was almost lost amidst the breeze and the birds, but Bucky inevitably froze against her. “How’d you know about that?”

 

            “He told me,” she responded. “It’s the one thing he actually told me.”

 

            He inhaled deeply, the scent of earth and weed infiltrating his senses, before exhaling again. “He was twenty-one. Two years after she left, after he decided he would never have anything real. He did a lot of stupid shit to distract himself from the pain; kept tellin’ him, ‘lemme take you to the fuckin’ therapist’. He has things in his head he’s ignored for too long, thinkin’ it’d just go away if he didn’t pay attention to it. Was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, anxiety–the golden fuckin’ trio. My sister was already on the meds for depression, we told ‘em he could get ‘em too–nah, fucker didn’t want to. Thought he was too good for it–but the only reason we could afford the meds for my sister was ‘cause he kept sharing his grandparents’ inheritance. But his own trouble, he kept it all to himself. Always to himself. Never let himself cry in front of anyone ‘cause he wanted to be tough shit.

 

            “Well, builds up, doesn’t it?” Bucky scoffed, clucking his tongue in disapproval. “Reckless piece of shit. Little runt became a big man all on his own. Didn’t wanna talk to anyone about anything. Drank and smoked his way into hell–got suspended from college for the bad grades, too. Went ’n holed himself up in some one-room in New Jersey–wasn’t good for ‘em at all. Stopped talkin’ to us as much–‘cause he knew. He fuckin’ knew what he was gonna do. He just wanted to end it, no strings attached to anyone. Your Aunty Nat–she ’n I were together then. Got a call one night from a hospital, said they found my number in his wallet–said he took a bunch of sleeping pills and overdosed on alcohol…”

 

            Again, James’ voice faltered, and he clenched his jaw, blinking rapidly against the breeze prickling his damp eyes. Melody wrapped her other arm around his big body, stubbornly fighting her own renewal of tears.

 

            “When he got out the hospital ’n we took him home, he looked me in the eye–that motherfucker–’n he said ‘I’m gonna do it again, ’n I’m not gonna fail.’. Jesus, I wanted to crack his fuckin’ jaw–”

 

            James bit the inside of his cheek, small nostrils flaring wildly in sync with his pupils. “Had to keep an eye on ‘em. Found out he used to harm himself. Little burns, cuts, here ’n there. Was into coke at some fuckin’ point, but it all had to change after the attempt. We had to babysit him like a child, me ’n Nat, my ma… Pa passed away while he was off at college–never even said goodbye to my old man, still hates himself for it.

 

            “Anyhow. At some point, it got better. But it was after a shit ton of scares ’n threats. Would wake up sometimes in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, wonderin’ if he was still alive. He moved out here to Larchmont after the attempt–middle of fuckin’ nowhere, I’ll say. He had nobody here.

 

            “But it did start to get better, some months after his twenty-fifth. We all wondered what the fuck it was. Then it turned he’d got back together with Val, so we thought maybe it was ‘cause of her. But it wasn’t her, I don’t think. It was always you. Whatever he feels for you, without being related to you by a single ounce of blood…it’s real. It literally brought ‘em back from the dead. All he wanted was to be there for you, watch you grow, raise you like his own. Never let anyone stop you from doin’ what you wanted, spoiled you like nothin’ else–’n here’s the catch: Stevie never even fuckin’ liked kids. He never talked about wantin’ any at least until he was forty or somethin’. ’n then it was you, it was like his whole world was flipped ‘round. It was a spell or whatever. I never seen someone change so quick.”

 

            Melody listened to each word carefully, ingraining it in her mind, trying to picture every detail as it was delivered to her.

 

            “Things turned ‘round real fast. Finished his degree, used the rest of the inheritance to invest with Stark–I had the lab goin’ by then, so he didn’t have to hold back anymore in case we’d need the money. He got rich real fast, but he didn’t want the money to himself at that point. I know Val ’n Steve didn’t have the traditional relationship, but he never slept around with anyone else while he was with her, as if they were actually together. He stopped drinkin’, stopped smokin’–said he had to change his habits if he was gonna raise a kid. Told everyone in the world you were his by blood so nobody’d ever see you as any less than Rogers’ own–didn’t want nobody to pity you or question your relationship. Nobody in the group knows all of this–only Nat ’n Tony know about the attempt and some of the reckless shit, but he’s kept this part of his life real neat ’n folded. I’m the only one who knows everything.”

 

            A flurry of birds flew out of the trees at the movement of a scurrying squirrel, and Mel watched them disperse into different nearby thickets. The truth was that even James did not know everything. In fact, she was realizing it only now that Steve had made it so that nobody in his entire life knew every single detail–they all knew different parts of him, but not all of him. And now, Melody had moved ahead of James in terms of who knew the most about Steve, a knowledge that she both basked in and felt that she didn’t deserve it.

 

            “You’re not reacting,” he observed. “Is this too much?”

 

            “No,” she replied. “I’m just listening. I wanna hear everything.”

 

            “Am I gettin’ through to you at all, though?” He pulled back a bit to look down at her, navy eyes worried with doubt. “The point is that I want you to understand him.”

 

            “Did he tell you to talk to me?” she asked. “Did he say something about me?”

 

            “No, kid. But ’m not oblivious. I know there’s somethin’ wrong between you two. I’m just tryin’ to put things into perspective for ya.”

 

            “I’m not mad at Steve, Uncle Bucky,” she told him. “I mean, I was. But after the heart attack, I was just worried. He’s the one that won’t talk to me.”

 

            “You’re both a bunch a kids.” James shook his head in exasperation. “Jesus, can you imagine if we weren’t here when the heart attack happened?”

 

            Melody hung her head in thought. It probably wouldn’t have happened if none of you were here.

 

            “It’s good that the right person was there at the right time,” she reflected falsely.

 

            “He’s comin’ back from the hospital tonight, Mels.”

 

            “I wish he were back sooner.”

 

            “He said he needed the recovery time–’n he sure as hell can afford it, so why the fuck not, I guess.”

 

            She furrowed her brow deeply–Steve had really spent an entire unnecessary excuse of a week at the hospital just to stay away from her? The awareness of this truth came as a hindrance to the voice already aching through her head.

 

            He doesn’t want you anymore.

 

            “You guys should all go out tomorrow,” she suggested, gears working over-time in her brain. “You’ve all been stuck at home because of everything. This is technically vacation time before you have to work again, so you should enjoy it. And I could use the time to talk to Steve.”

 

            “Bein’ ‘round for you guys ain’t a thing to us, sweetheart. But I’ll ask the others.” James stood up from the ground and dusted off his pants before offering her a hand. “You wanna help me in the kitchen tonight? Gonna make somethin’ nice, he must be sick of all the hospital food.”

Chapter Text

           Mel had unwillingly helped Bucky prep for dinner, doing the bare minimum that she could during illness. He didn’t ask her to touch any of the food due to the prevention of bacteria, but she did help set the table and occasionally stir the pot or check the oven. She also didn’t mind being near the warmth of the gas stove with her body constantly cold and clammy, albeit it was embarrassing to be around anyone at all with such a runny nose and steadily-increasing nasally voice.

 

            Everyone was gathered in the living room watching an NBA playoffs game, waiting to welcome Steve. Sam and Tony had gone to pick him up and they’d set up the place with a homemade banner and a few balloons to make it a bit festive. Cassie and Morgan were bumping around a green one between them, running up and down the hall from the kitchen to the stairs, squealing excitedly every time it nearly hit the ground. Peter was lingering awkwardly on the staircase leading upstairs, sat at the bottom reading a book while throwing the occasional precautionary glance towards the two little girls and Melody. She did not acknowledge this attention whatsoever, as her mind was stuck in a block of one name and one name only, making it difficult to pay heed to anything else at the moment.

 

            “Mel, could ya stir the soup, sweetheart?” James reminded her as he washed down a few dishes in the sink. She snapped back to attention and followed the request, quickly slipping back into her thoughts.

 

            The bell chimed and everyone became alert as Peter went to answer the door. Steve was not pleased at all with the first sight upon his return home being Peter, whom he currently despised, even if it were irrational for him to feel competitive toward someone half his age.

 

            “Welcome back,” Peter offered with a sweet smile. Steve pursed his lips as the three men made it inside of the house and ventured further. Everyone stood up and welcomed him back while Clint and Scott shouted ‘surprise’, getting looks of disapproval from the others.

 

            Sam and Bucky arranged the platters of food across the table as everyone washed up and took seats around it. Melody chewed the inside of her bitter mouth in various places nervously, constantly waiting for Steve to acknowledge her in any way at all, but he was busy catching up with the others. After an hour or so of longing to no avail, Melody slipped away from the chatters of conversation in defeat and hid away in her room again. She brushed through her dirty hair half-heartedly and tied it back to relieve her face of the messy locks. It only made her head hurt more, but that pain was the bearable one for the moment.

 

            She sat in her bed staring at the same page of an old book for some time before there was a knock on the door and Bucky peeked his head inside. To her surprise, Natasha followed in after him.

 

            “Hi sweetheart, we just wanted to bring you some leftovers. You didn’t eat much down there.” Natasha offered a tight smile, but her eyes gave away how she truly felt.

 

            “I’m not hungry,” Mel responded. “I don’t feel like eating, Aunty Nat.”

 

            “You look weak, Mels,” Bucky pointed out. “Should eat somethin’.”

 

            “I really can’t.”

 

            “Well it won’t happen unless–”

 

            “I don’t want to eat!” she snapped, her face suddenly hot with ferocity. Natasha and Bucky looked taken aback and froze in place at the sudden outburst. “I’m not hungry! Does it matter? Does it really matter that much if I put some food in my mouth? It’s not that easy!”

 

            Her lip quivered with looming sobs, but she took a deep breath and held herself together. Natasha was the first to steal her gaze and walk out of the room–although she looked less hurt and more enraged as her feet stomped away. Great, Melody thought. Now my only maternal figure is pissed at me.

           

            “Are you gonna get mad at me too?” she mumbled to Bucky before her face twisted and the tears spilled.

 

            James carefully rounded the bed to the far-side and sat down across from her, setting the small tray of pasta and soup on the nightstand. “He’s actin’ like a dick,” he sighed, swiping the tears off her cheeks with his thumbs, one flesh and one metal. “Don’ worry, we’re really gonna give it to ‘em now.”

 

            “I di–I didn’t mean–to hurt Aunty Nat,” she confessed shakily. “I just–I don’t know–what I should do…”

 

            “Here’s what you gotta do.” He folded his legs on the bed and reached for the bowl of pasta, digging the fork in for a generous bite. “You gotta eat–not a lot, you don’ have to finish this. But I need you to take at least a couple bites. Then, you gotta brush your teeth ’n get some sleep. Can ya do that for Uncle Buck?”

 

            She wiped under her nose with the back of her hand and snivelled, finally nodding. “Okay–fine.”

 

            Bucky kept her distracted with rapid, one-sided conversation as he fed her a little more than half the bowl. At some point she refused to take any more, shaking her head before getting up dutifully to try and brush her teeth. He waited for her to return to bed before offering her a glass of warm water, general pain killers, and cough medicine.

 

            “You gonna be all good real soon,” he whispered, tucking her in and placing a kiss on the crown of her head. “’s all gonna be good real soon, Mels.”

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Natasha stormed straight downstairs to the living room, where Steve was sandwiched between Thor and Sam, watching the rest of the game with the guys. She hissed at him from the doorway and motioned for him to follow her.

 

            Once they were out in the breezy dark of the night, the redhead slid the glass door back into place and grabbed his arm. She dragged him to the fenced edge of the generous backyard and turned on him with a clenched jaw.

 

            “You asshole!” she snapped. “What is wrong with you?”

 

            “What now, Nat?”

 

            “Don’t act aloof, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Do you not care about her at all? She’s so sick, Steve, and you didn’t even ask her if she was alright.”

 

            “You don’t know how much I care about her,” he threw back. “Don’t teach me how to parent when you still haven’t managed to have your own.”

 

            Natasha blinked furiously at his words, her expression changing from anger, to hurt, to even stronger anger again. “You. You are a coward and an idiot. You don’t deserve her.”

 

            “Yeah, I know I don’t.”

 

            “Whatever complex you’ve got going on in your head, don’t make her the butt-end of your drama, Rogers. She’s a kid and she needs you. Her entire life is at a halt right now because of you. All she wants is for you to at least acknowledge her! Nothing she could’ve possibly done warrants this kind of reaction.”

 

            “I know what’s good for her,” he threw back. “I’ve known her for seventeen years. You’ve known her for less than seventeen days.”

 

            “And yet, I can see she’s suffering because of you. Shutting people out is not how you solve issues, damn it! You’re a grown man, I don’t need to teach you this.” She glared at him in the faint light of the outdoor bulb, a nerve in her temple constantly ticking.

 

            “Can you all stop acting like you know anything about anything at all? As if you could love her more than I do!”

 

            “If you love her then stop killing her!” she spewed. “That’s what you’re doing. You are literally killing her.”

 

            “You can’t teach me to face the waters after walking away from your problems all your life,” he said bitterly. Natasha stared at him for a moment, stunned.

 

            “Fuck you,” she said hoarsely before turning and leaving him on his own.

 

            The others gave Steve questioning looks after his return, but nobody pushed for an answer–the pair probably just went out for a smoke, they assumed, and continued watching the game. The scores changed and the crowd in the television chanted, but Steve processed none of it as he kept thinking back to Mel.

 

           

 

*****

 

 

 

It was a night of minimum sleep for Steve, who found the bustling of footsteps and voices in his house around six in the morning to be very frustrating. He had spent the week in a private, silent room with less-than-satisfactory contact, and the sharp contrast between an isolated hospital ward and a busily packed house was setting off every alarm in his system.

 

            The team had planned a trip to the zoo and were busy getting dressed and packing backpacks for the day. Melody was fast asleep from the drowsiness of medication, but Steve was wide awake and listened to every noise carefully, figuring out where they were headed, what they would do, and when they might return. His medication should have also put him to sleep, except it was still fairly new to his system and inhibited the resumption of routine.

 

 

 

Melody awoke sometime past noon to a silent house. She didn’t even bother to look towards the sealed door of Steven’s bedroom before she began making her way steadily down the stairs, wondering where everyone was. On the fridge she found a note from Bucky that informed her of their whereabouts and that there was a plate of eggs and pancakes waiting in the fridge. Melody checked her phone as she waited for the coffee machine to beep, uneased by the lack of notifications before she remembered that her friends probably thought she was still out-of-country.

 

            She reached for one of the double-walled mugs in the cupboard and flinched as it fell out of her grasp and to the floor, splitting into pieces from the impact immediately. She stared at the damage, stunned for a moment before she crouched down and tried to clean the mess.

 

            The sound of breaking glass caught his attention and Steve soon made his way down to the source, wondering what could have happened. The scene he came upon shook him to the core: Mel was sat on the cold tiles, her hand wrapped tightly around a larger sliver of glass as blood dripped from her fist and down into the mess on the floor. She opened her palm slowly and gazed fondly at the pooling blood in her palm for a moment before clenching it shut around the lethal shard again, her eyes unblinking.

 

            Steven snapped out of his shock and rushed forward in panic. “What the hell are you doing?” he demanded, crouching down beside her. He reached out to her hand, but she pulled it away, turning the other cheek.

 

            “Don’t touch me,” she whispered.

 

            “Mel, you’re hurting yourself,” he said urgently.

 

            She tightened her hold on the glass and more blood dripped out as Steve watched in manic horror. “It hurts less…”

 

            “Melody!” he snapped, reaching for her hand again and trying to claw her fingers open. “Let go–stop this! Let go of it right now.”

 

            “Let me feel something,” she pleaded. “Please.”

 

            The burn was vicious but wonderful–lo and behold, she was alive, and here was the proof. The cuts were in her hand, but she felt them on her heart while she watched the viscous red fluid trickle off her skin.

 

            “You’re being ridiculous.” He tried to force open her palm again, wondering how she was suddenly so strong. “Why are you doing this? Mel, what’s the point?”

 

            She looked him in the eye as her lip trembled–she really did look sick. Her skin was dry and greying and her lower lids had never been so sullen and dark. Sitting there carelessly on the floor, staring him down as her hand gushed blood, she looked frighteningly maniacal.

 

            “I wanna show you how much I love you,” she said quietly.

 

            Tears spilled down his cheeks and pain elaborated around his heart as Steve witnessed her unwavering determination. “Please, you don’t have to do this.”

 

            “You don’t want me,” she reminded him. “I’m not worth it.”

 

            “Yes, you are, Melody, please,” he tried, prying with both hands now. Part of him was scared that perhaps the glass had cut so deep into her flesh that her hand was stuck in place.

 

            “You broke my heart,” she choked out. “You have to watch it bleed out now. You thought you were saving me. I’m going to die right here in front of your eyes, and you don’t get to stop it.”

 

            “Melody,” he pressed, eyes red and wet with horror. “Stop this! I’m sorry! I love you–I promise I do, just stop. Melody, I can’t do this again, please, my heart can’t take this.”

 

            “And you thought mine could?” she asked, betrayed. “You don’t want to feel hurt…what about me? What about my heart, Steve?”

 

            “I’m sorry,” he repeated, shaking with a sob. “I’m so sorry, Mel. I just don’t want to hurt you anymore. I don’t deserve you.”

 

            “You don’t love me,” she told him in a faraway voice.

 

            He nodded vigorously. “Of course, I do. I love you so much.”

 

            “It’s too late.”

 

            Steve stared at her helplessly before taking her face in both hands and pressing his lips to hers. Melody melted into it momentarily, but quickly pulled back.

 

            “No,” she declared. “No. You’re doing this now but when you change your mind, you’re gonna shut me out again. I can’t do it again, Steve.”

 

            “No, no I promise I won’t,” he insisted, crawling closer to her, not caring that the blood on the floor stained his knees. “I promise–I’m so sorry, I just want you to be able to live your life–”

 

            “You are my life! You’re all I have–what am I supposed to do if you leave me? I don’t have anywhere else to go; I don’t want to be with anyone else.”

 

            “But I–”

 

            “I love you,” she cried, finally opening her hand and letting the sharp chunk fall away. “If you don’t want me then I don’t want to be here.”

 

            The scene was an exact echo of his past, when he had felt so helplessly rejected and alone that he had been more than willing to depart from life. He knew what she was feeling then–it was awful; absolutely horrendous, and he despised that it was he who had inflicted it on her. He had passed the mantle of heartbreak that others had caused him down to the only person he had never wanted to see heartbroken.

 

            “I do want you,” he whispered, taking her bleeding hand delicately in his own, wishing he could somehow heal it. The cuts were deep, and they were numerous–her pale skin was lost beneath a bloodbath of red, but she didn’t even seem to notice it. Steve pulled her into his lap and hugged her tightly, letting her cling to him and stain the entirety of his white tee as she clutched it in her fists. “I love you so much. You know I love you.”

 

            “Stop making my decisions for me,” she snivelled. “Don’t push me away when I need you and you need me.”

 

            “I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I was just trying to do what’s better for you.”

 

            “You are my good.” She pulled back to meet his gaze–even in her battered, unruly, sickened state, she was the most beautiful person in the world, and his heart still blossomed to the same size–if not bigger, now that she had finally confessed her affection to him. “You are my better. You’re my best.”

 

            He shook his head sadly. “I’m not, Mel. Look at us. Look at you. You’re so hurt because of me. I don’t want to ruin your life.”

 

            “It’s not you that does this to me,” she pointed out. “It’s your decisions–your assumptions, your stubbornness to do whatever you think is right. Let me be an equal part of this, Steve. Stop treating me like a child–we’re way past that. You have to see me as your equal if we do this. The dynamic has to change like our relationship did.”

 

            “You’re more than my equal, Mel.” He cupped her cheek and swiped a tear away with his thumb. “You’re better than I am. You’re more than me.”

 

            “No, Steve. We just have different strengths and weaknesses. You are so much more than the bad choices you make.” She reached up to wipe under her nose and smeared blood across the skin instead.

 

            “Your hand–Mel, we gotta do something about this. It doesn’t look good.” He stood up with her still wrapped around his body, carrying her weight even when he felt weak and exhausted.

 

            By now his shirt was an irreparable mess of red blotches, and the dampness was surely seeping through the fabric to stain his skin, but Steve didn’t pay heed to it. He set Melody down on his bathroom counter and retrieved the first aid pack while she kept her hand under cold water. The alcohol he rinsed her skin with stung insurmountably, but she kept her eyes on him as he worked to clean and bandage the devastation.

 

            “These are gonna take a while to heal,” he scowled. “Why would you do something like this?”

 

            “Would you have given me a chance otherwise?” she questioned.

 

            “I would have,” he nodded. “Eventually.”

 

            “I couldn’t wait for eventually. I need you now–I needed you a lot, this past week. I don’t think you get it–when something happens, you’re who I go to. You’re my rock. You surround me. You don’t understand what it’s like to only have one person your whole life and then not have them suddenly. You had Uncle Bucky, you had his family, you had my mom, you had Aunty Nat, and you had all the others. But I’ve only had you, since I was little, I only had you.”

 

            “It shouldn’t be like that,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to change it.”

 

            “I don’t want to change that, Steve. I have friends, you never came in the way of that. But I don’t mind that you take up so much space in my life. You’re the best thing to ever happen to me.”

 

            “You’re the best thing to happen to me,” he returned. “I don’t deserve you. Natasha was right.”

 

            “She said that?”

 

            Steve nodded. “Last night, she dragged me into the backyard and ripped me a new one. I…I said some pretty mean stuff to her, actually. I got defensive about you–she was angry at me for how I was treating you and I got scared.”

 

            “About what?”

 

            “About someone else getting between you and me,” he said thickly.

 

            “You’re so funny.” She shook her head sarcastically. “You put space between us and then get scared that someone else might step in?”

 

            “I know it’s stupid,” he confessed.

 

            “You have to make it up to her,” she instructed.

 

            “I know.”

 

            “You already hurt her before, when you stopped talking to her because of my mom.”

 

            Steven’s forehead creased considerably. “Who told you that?”

 

            “Doesn’t matter. Why did you do that?”

 

            Steve blinked absently at the reflection of the room in the mirror for a moment. “Valerie said if I continued to be friends with other women, she would take you and leave. I listened because I didn’t trust her with you at the time, and I didn’t want to lose the only thing that made me happy.”

 

            “Which was…?” She knew the answer, but she wanted to hear him say it.

 

            He looked at her for perhaps the first time ever with something in his eyes that resembled shyness. “You.”

 

            With a tiny smile, she asked, “I made you happy?”

 

            “You are my happy. You’re my home.”

 

            “Don’t be so sappy,” she teased.

 

            Steve shook his head playfully. “So where did you get all this insider information from?”

 

            “Aunty Nat, Uncle Bucky…” She shrugged. “Next on my list is Tony.”

 

            “What did Bucky tell you?”

 

            “Pretty much everything. He even showed me pictures of you–you know, from when you were a tiny pubescent.”

 

            “Jesus!” Steve covered his face with a hand and shook his head. “I’m gonna kill him.”

 

            “He has a metal arm,” she reminded him.

 

            “I don’t care, you should’ve never seen any of that.”

 

            “Why?” she asked, bringing his hands down to peer up into his blushing face. “It was still you, just…smaller. I still think you were a heartbreaker, if that makes a difference.”

 

            “Nah, only thing I was breaking were my own bones,” he muttered in dismay.

 

            She couldn’t hold back her snicker. “Yeah, I saw that… Here, take this off and get cleaned up.”

 

            Melody waited for him to rid of the soiled t-shirt and wet a wash cloth to wipe down the dry blood across his pale skin. Steven gazed at her carefully, a smile on his lips despite all the recent turmoil.

 

            “What?” she prodded.

 

            “Just nice to be close to you again,” he shrugged, leaning in. “Can I kiss you?”

 

            “Kiss me,” she complied.

 

            He caressed her neck gently, running his thumb over her jaw as they shared a brief, chaste meeting of the lips before he pulled back again. She looked at him longingly while he repetitively glanced between her eyes and mouth, his own parted in awe. Melody sandwiched his bearded jaw between her bandaged hand and her good one, bringing him closer to press their foreheads together as she wrapped her arms around his neck. Steve clutched her legs and picked her up again, holding her body flush against his as they exchanged short, shy pecks between them.

 

            “You do deserve me,” she whispered while he lay her down on the bed and climbed on top. “You deserve to be happy. You’re so good–you’ve done so much for people. You deserve something great.”

 

            “I love you,” he hushed back.

 

            “I love you.”

 

            This day was a turning point of sorts for both of them; they had shared love previously, but it had been different in intention and sentiment than what it was now. There was not only one kind of love in the world, but among all the different sorts, Steve and Melody had shared several between them already.

 

            Their exchanges were sweet and timid, like the kind shared between young teenagers who were experiencing physical affection for the first time. Neither of them was in any haste to proceed–primarily because they were both fatigued with illness.

 

            “I’m sick, by the way,” she reminded him. “What if you catch it as well?”

 

            “Worth it,” he shrugged off, proceeding to pepper her face with kisses. They both smelled of sweat and tears but neither minded the other’s state. Steve enjoyed the cool touch of her fingers as she passed them over his bare skin, tracing the dips and curves of his warm body.

 

            Slowly and patiently, the interactions became more and more intimate, until they were fervently devouring each other’s tongues and lips. It was hard to place where one body ended and the other began, but they couldn’t get close enough, even with their skin meshed together.

 

            She pulled her face aside momentarily with a sharp gasp to refill pleasantly scourged lungs. Steven took her left hand and placed it over his chest, where the slam of his heart against the surface matched the vibrancy of his eyes and cheeks.

 

            “I can do this all day,” he claimed.

 

            “Oh, yeah? Well, I have to blow my nose now, so please give me some room, Captain,” she chided, moving towards the night stand as he shifted aside.

 

            “You wanna call me that, you better be careful,” he hummed.

 

            She finished clearing her sinuses and tossed the tissues into the waste basket. “Are you really turned on by me when I’m sick and looking like this? I feel gross.”

 

            “Should I not be?” he frowned.

 

            Mel stared at him with a scowl. “No? I just blew snot out of my nose.”

 

            “I don’t care. You’ve seen pictures of me when I was five feet tall. Were you turned off?”

 

            “No,” she admitted. “You were pretty cute.”

 

            “Was I now?” He repositioned the pillows at the headboard before laying into them and lifted his arm towards Melody, who crawled in beside him. They searched through movies on the flat-screen for a while, having nothing else on the agenda. At some point, Steven’s phone vibrated, and he answered to Bucky.

 

            “You awake, punk?” James asked.

 

            “Been awake, punk.”

 

            “Where’s Mel?”

 

            Steve looked at her from the corner of his eye and tightened his arm around her body. “Mel’s here, we’re doing breakfast.”

 

            Bucky smiled, nodding at Natasha gleefully, who blew a breath of air out in relief. “So, you two’re good now, huh?”

 

            “Better than ever,” Steve jibed.

 

            “’kay, jerk, you better keep it that way. Give the phone to Mels.”

 

            Steve followed dutifully, holding the device up to her. “He wants to talk to you.”

 

            Melody cleared her throat before sticking the cell to her ear. “Hi Uncle Bucky.”

 

            “How ya feelin’?” he asked. “Did you eat what I left for ya in the fridge?”

 

            “Not yet, but I will. I feel much better, my throat doesn’t hurt anymore,” she admitted.

 

            “’N the headache?”

 

            “The headache’s better too. Thank you,” she said sweetly.

 

            “’Course, anything for you, kiddo. You wanna talk to Nat?”

 

            “Yeah sure, actually. Hey, Aunty Nat. Are you having fun with Uncle Bucky?”

 

            Natasha looked at James wide-eyed. “Uh, yeah–yeah, I’m having fun with Uncle Bucky–but the others are here too, actually. It’s not just us.” Bucky smirked at her in amusement, biting into a plum ravenously.

 

            “I’m sorry about last night, by the way,” Melody said. “I didn’t mean to lash out. I know you were worried for me. I appreciate you a lot.”

 

            The redhead smiled victoriously. “It’s okay, sweetie. Don’t worry about me, I can handle some tough love.”

 

            “Where are you guys?”

 

            “We’re at the zoo, we’re just waiting outside the washrooms right now. The kids and Scott really had to go–I don’t know why I still differentiate between Scott and children, to be honest. He’s a baby if there ever was one.”

 

            Melody grinned, gesturing wildly with her hand when Beauty & the Beast appeared on the screen. “I hope you guys are having fun with the animals.”

 

            “We’re having more fun watching Bruce and Thor feed each other cotton candy–Thor was giving him a piggy-back at some point. Pepper is currently trying to negotiate Tony out of purchasing the orca exhibit and setting them free–Morgy started crying when she saw them stuck in that little tank.”

 

            “Oh, that’s sweet. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to do–I don’t really agree with the concept of zoos,” Mel admitted.

           

            “Yeah, I guess it’s pretty inhumane when you think about it. By the way, did you know Uncle Bucky’s scared of raccoons? He wouldn’t go near the exhibit,” she snickered. In the background, James grumbled something about ‘I’ve a metal fuckin’ arm, I’ve learned to keep my distance.’

 

            “Well it’s good we don’t get a lot of them in the neighbourhood, then,” Melody giggled.

 

            “Also, Morgan and Cassie got you a surprise,” Natasha informed.

 

            “That’s really sweet, I can’t wait to see what it is.”

 

            Steve took the phone back from her. “Hey, Nat. I’m sorry about last night, kiddo. I was out of line.”

 

            “Wouldn’t be the first time,” she snarked. “I forgive you, only ‘cause you made up with Mel.”

 

            “Thank you, my grace,” he smiled. “We’re gonna eat now. When’re you guys getting home?”

 

            “Not for a while,” she sighed. “After the zoo we’re gonna go to the museum, so that’ll take some time. We’re looking at around midnight for heading back to your place.”

 

            “Okay, then, you guys have fun. Keep Scott and Clint out of trouble, please,” he added.

 

            “You know that’s easier said than done. Take care, see you in a bit.”

 

            “What were you two talking about?” Steve asked Mel.

 

            “Apparently Cassie and Morgan got me something from the zoo,” she shrugged. “They’re sweet girls. Maybe this is what it’s like to have siblings.”

 

            “I can go make some siblings for you, if you’d like,” he offered with a glint in his eye.

 

            “Oh, yeah. I bet you’d love to be in the throes of passion with another woman right about now.” She rolled her eyes. “Someone more your type.”

 

            Steven flipped her onto his lap and gripped her arm, bringing her close. “Look at me,” he instructed when she averted her gaze. “You’re my type.”

 

            She raised her brow in amusement. “And what about me is so ‘your type’?” She pushed his long blond hair back with her fingers–it was heavy with sweat and grime, and long enough to now be tied back in the smallest of tails.

 

            “Everything,” he answered.

 

            “I’m gonna wipe my snot on you,” she threatened.

 

            “I don’t actually think it would make me any dirtier. I need to shower.”

 

            “So do I,” she agreed.

 

            They exchanged a peculiar look before she shook her head. “It’s risky.”

 

            “We have all day together,” he whined. “Nobody’s coming back until midnight.”

 

            He could see she was deep in contemplation before she looked at him again and bit her lip. Steven grinned, pausing the movie in the middle of Belle’s song to collect towels and bathrobes.

Chapter Text

            They were sat in the tub together with suds up to their necks, him leant against the far side and her resting between his legs with her back to his chest. He carefully massaged her hair with shampoo, taking a generous amount of time to work her scalp.

 

            “You had a headache?” he asked.

 

            “Yeah, it was really bad,” she admitted. “This feels nice…”

 

            “Good.” He filled the steel jug with water and tilted her head back before washing the soap out. Melody turned around to reciprocate the delivery of care, shaping his bubbled blond tufts into a tall mohawk between the fingers of her good hand and giggling at how ridiculous it looked. Steve let her poke fun at him until the laughter became a mere smirk, whereby she flattened the spike down with water again.

 

            “Is the water okay for you?” he asked, pulling her closer on his lap in the warmth.

 

            “Yeah, it’s good,” she breathed, tracing the tattoo on his chest with her finger. “Nobody’s seen this yet?”

 

            “I keep it covered. I’m a modest man,” he vowed.

 

            “You literally need an excuse to take your shirt off,” she threw back. “You’re a show off.”

 

            “What, you don’t like seeing what I’ve got?”

 

            “I do, but you show off to everyone.”

 

            “Okay, nobody else gets to see any part of me anymore,” he decided. “I’ll even keep my face covered.”

 

            “Please, do.”

 

            “Really?” He raised brow challengingly. “Then you gotta cover up too. Can’t go ‘round flaunting.”

 

            “I can’t flaunt what I don’t have,” she said matter-of-factly.

 

            “Ay,” he warned, sitting up straighter and leaning his face close. “If I have to be nice to me then you have to be nice to you, too.”

 

            “Mm, fine.” She wrapped her arms around his neck, and he watched her push his chest against his. “Can I ask you something?”

 

            “What now, princess?”

 

            “We’re…naked, in a tub together. But you’re not–I mean, I don’t…feel anything?”

 

            “You’re asking why I’m not hard?” he asked, and she nodded shyly. “Do you want me to be hard?”

 

            She bit her lip and blushed, continuing to stare at the ink on his chest. “I was just wondering…is it because of me?”

 

            “No, Mel, of course not. I’ve been holding myself back ‘cause the last time I touched you…” The sentence faltered, his expression darkening.

 

            “I know you won’t do that again,” she assured.

 

            “But it’s still too soon. I don’t want to force you into anything right now.”

 

            “You’re not forcing me. Are you sure that’s why?” she pushed. “I know I don’t look the best–”

 

            Steven cut her off with a kiss, grappling with her lips intensely, his brow deeply furrowed. Melody hummed as their tongues met and the mood shifted drastically–his hands began moving ardently across her body, nails raking along the skin underneath the water’s surface.

 

            She parted her legs and straddled him appropriately, moaning at the feeling of his hardening cock against her flesh. Rumbles of approval left Steven’s throat as she began to rock her hips against him, creating lapping waves in the bathtub. He spread the cheeks of her ass apart, digging his nails into the flesh carelessly as his eyes bore into hers.

 

            “Look at me,” he whispered hoarsely, and she did. “Tell me you love me.”

 

            “I love you,” she gasped, as the ridges of his shaft rubbed deliciously against her core.

 

            “Tell me you’re mine,” he demanded as he wound his fingers into her hair, pushing her face closer to his.

 

            She held onto his wide shoulders for support as their bodies melted together within the warm suds. Her lips were constantly parted in awe while she slid herself back and forth across his length, knowing how wet she was becoming despite being surrounded by fluid.

 

            “I’m yours.”

 

            “Fuck, I missed you so fuckin’ much,” he confessed in a moment of softness, cradling her face with both hands and kissing her passionately. “Baby I missed you so, so much. I feel so bad about everything, I’m so sorry.”

 

            “It’s okay, Steve,” she cooed, kissing him sweetly. “I forgive you. I trust you to not do it again.”

 

            He shook his head. “Never again.”

 

            “Steve,” she whispered, reaching between their bodies to take hold of him.

 

            “Mel,” he hissed, bucking upwards slightly at the contact.

 

            She guided the tip to her entrance, barely meeting his gaze. “Can we–do you want to?”

           

            “Fuck, I do,” he admitted. “What if I hurt you again?”

 

            “This is different,” she emphasized. “I want this.”

 

            “Keep your eyes on me,” he instructed, extending an arm down her front to play with her flesh. He wanted to prepare her as much as possible–Steve wasn’t arrogant, but he knew he wouldn’t be an easy fit, especially not for her.

 

            Melody shuddered and whimpered when he eased a finger past her entrance, his thumb soothing over her swollen folds. Her arms spread as her hands moved from his body to grip the edges of the tub for support, but she dutifully held his gaze even when it made her burn up in humility. Steve brushed the tip of his nose against hers; poked out his tongue to lazily lick her parted upper lip before he took it in his mouth. His free hand travelled up her waist and cupped her breast, the rough pad of his thumb taunting her left nipple until it was standing at attention.

 

            “Steve,” she yelped when he circled her finger inside of her.

 

            “Did that hurt?” he asked, worried.

 

            “Hm–a bit,” she confessed.

 

            He shook his head. “You’re not ready, Mel.”

 

            “I am,” she insisted. “Keep going.”

 

            With hesitation, he prodded the small opening with a second finger, supporting her back with his free hand. “You’re so delicate,” he praised into her ear, suckling on the lobe until she was bucking against his hand. “You’re gonna feel so good when daddy fills your tight little pussy with his cock.”

 

            “Oh God,” she gasped, further elated that he was finally tormenting her with his elusive thoughts. They were both aware of how her body reacted to his words by now; sure enough, as he continued to voice his desires in hot whispers, he could feel her insides ooze more and more in welcome of his fingers.

 

            “I wanna fuck you so bad,” he told her. “I wanna feel your pretty pink pussy ‘round my cock, wanna feel you come while I’m inside of you.”

 

            “Fuck me,” she whispered.

 

            “Yeah, you want me to fuck you?” he asked.

 

            She nodded eagerly. “I want you to fuck me.”

 

            “Jesus,” he spat, quickening the pace of his fingers as her muscles allowed for it. “I’m gonna break you, I’m gonna fuck you so hard.”

 

            “Oh–oh God!” Melody threw her head back as Steve bit and sucked down her neck while the pressure in her core piled.

 

            “Yeah, yeah, keep calling me that,” he taunted, smacking her clit. Melody jerked forward, panting harshly.

 

            “Steve, oh God!”

 

            “Who am I?” he asked, pushing his fingers back inside, rubbing them in circles along her inner wall.

 

            “Daddy,” she gasped, her face to the ceiling all the while her hips ground down on his hand. A curtain of water lapped over the edge of the tub and splashed onto the floor, but neither of them slowed down. Steve added a third finger cautiously, resuming the quick circles around her clit with his thumb.

 

            “Look at me and say it, Mel.” His voice was gruff as he waited for her to come back to him. She opened her eyes and looked at him helplessly; the colour had returned to her cheeks and spread beautifully down her neck while she watched him work her mercilessly.

 

            “Daddy,” she whimpered. “Please–so close…”

 

            “Does my little Mel want to come?” he inquired.

 

            “Yes!”

 

            “Beg for it, Melody.”

 

            “Please daddy,” she breathed, almost feeling the right muscles clenching up. She was so close; she just needed a little more.  “Please let me come.”

 

            “Daddy loves watching you dance for him,” he praised her, licking the fingers of his free hand and bringing them down to replace his thumb on her clit. The digits that were inside of her eased in knuckle-deep, brushing magnificently against a weak spot as he tortured her outer flesh at the same time. “Fuck, daddy could play with your pretty little pussy all fuckin’ day.”

 

            “Oh! S-Steve, oh my God, oh God–” she squealed, freezing in place for a moment while her eyes fluttered shut–then, she was trembling from top-to-bottom with vigorous ecstasy, letting the bath hide her and her euphoria as she ground down on his hand shamelessly. Steven could feel her walls flutter and clench around his fingers–it lasted a heck of a lot longer than any orgasm he’d ever had, for sure. He couldn’t help but feel jealous that women seemed to experience far stronger and lengthier satisfaction than men, albeit he did reach cloud nine, knowing how good he was at tuning her body.

           

            “Fuck,” he breathed out when she fell against him and clung onto his shoulders, still shuddering from the high. He kept whispering in her ear as she struggled to catch her breath. “So good, so fuckin’ good for me. So beautiful, you make so crazy.”

 

            “Ah!” she hissed, biting down on her lip harshly as he pulled his fingers out.

 

            “What’s wrong?” he asked, and she shook her head lazily, pushing into his body for more warmth.

 

            “Just–sensitive…”

           

            He tilted her face up and kissed her cheek, moving to speak into her ear again. “I wanna give you more.”

 

            She blushed scarlet, pouting in doubt. “I don’t think I could do it again so soon.”

 

            “Can I try?” he asked, raking her hair back and away from her face. “I’ve done it before…”

 

            “Okay,” she nodded.

 

            He turned her around slowly and pulled her back against his chest again. Melody let him part her thighs and hook his knees inside of hers to keep them open. The lukewarm bath fluttered kindly against her still-buzzing core and she closed her eyes with a sigh, leaning her head back on his shoulder.

 

            “I can’t get over you,” he told her. She arched her back as his hands came around to cup her ample breasts, his fingers plucking the nipples into stiff points. Her own left hand went up to wind into his wet hair while she tried to simply keep the right one out of the water.

 

            He continued to fondle her chest, taking his time to knead and squeeze the flesh, alternating between gentle and ferocious grabs. His teeth scraped against her jaw and neck, occasionally delivering suction to the skin beneath her earlobe until she was a whimpering mess of putty in his hold. Shocks of rising bliss that ignited in the sensitive tissue of her peaks travelled down her frame, into her clenching core. His salacious plans for her body as he announced them hotly in her ear, paired with his obscene groping and pinching had Melody on fire and writhing against him.

 

            “I need you,” she gasped out, and shrieked suddenly when he finally reached down to stroke her swelling folds.

 

            “You alright?” he asked, halting all movement momentarily.

 

            She nodded after a moment of catching her breath. “Just–still a bit sensitive, I think.”

 

            “I’ll be gentle,” he promised.

 

            “No, don’t,” she refused. “I wanna know what happens.”

 

            “Sure?” he asked, ghosting his fingertips against her heat. Melody arched her back in a gasp, but he quickly wound an arm around her waist and pulled her securely flush against him, the same hand working at her pebbled nipples again.

 

            “Steve,” she sighed, flinching again while he traced the outer apex between her legs, where he’d once bruised the skin. There were not enough seals of ownership on her body, he decided, and proceeded to plant one on the skin between her neck and shoulder.

 

            “I wanna do unimaginable things to you,” he whispered, sliding a thick finger up and down between her swollen folds. “I spent so long… Used to think about you day and night, touching myself to dirty thoughts about you… Thinking about your sweet little voice when I was alone…”

 

            Melody’s eyes fluttered closed as she dropped her head back to rest on his shoulder, bandaged hand still tangled in his damp hair while the other was beneath the water’s surface, clawing at his forearm. His confessions ignited her humility and burned it more and more, until it became ash and was replaced with bold shamelessness. She turned her face to the side and looked dotingly up into his eyes, biting her lip.

 

            “I used to touch myself too,” she whispered. “But I would always have to stop…”

 

            “Why?” he asked, his blown pupils flying between her heavy lids and her darkened lips.

 

            “I’d always end up thinking about you,” she sighed, and pressed his hand between her legs with a lewd gasp.

 

            “Jesus,” he hissed, obliterating her mouth forcefully.

 

            “I wanted you to be the one touching me,” she admitted, now reaching behind herself to gently hold his length. Steven’s skin was hot to the touch and she could tell how sensitive he was with need. The tiniest squeeze of her hand had him lurching forward with an animalistic grunt.

 

            “Fuck–not in the water, Mel,” he rushed. “I swear, I’ll come right here in the tub.”

 

            She abandoned his erection and instead joined her hand with the other one in his hair. “I wanna be good for daddy,” she whispered, parting her legs further and squirming against him.

 

            “Christ, Mel,” he muttered into her skin, his nose pressed against her cheek as his fingers gently dipped back inside her entrance. “What am I gonna do with you, huh?”

 

            “Steve!” she exclaimed, arching her back as far as was possible within the steel hold around her waist. “Oh God–do that again, please.”

 

            “This?” He carefully hooked the digits inside of her entrance and was rewarded by a strong tug at his scalp. “Fuck yeah, pull my hair… Show daddy how good he makes you feel.”

 

            “Oh…oh God,” she whimpered as her legs began quivering again. “I–I’m gonna come…”

 

            “What are you being so quiet for?” he growled, pinching harshly at her nipple and sucking at her earlobe. “Didn’t I tell you not to hold back?”

 

            “Yes!” she gasped, withering closer to climax with each passing second. Steve fisted her breast in his hand tightly, his strokes becoming firmer inside of her. “Oh–my God…”

 

            “You love calling out to God when I play with your body, don’t you?” he taunted, momentarily moving his grip from her chest to her jaw, pressing on her cheeks with his fingers. Below the water’s surface, he could feel her walls fluttering and clenching. His own heart was racing with anticipation, waiting for her to shatter against him again and for her calls of his name to fill the room. “Do it, keep telling God how good I make you feel. Tell God what you let me do to you when nobody’s watching.”

 

            She shuddered from his vicious words, blushing furiously at the severity of the sin. Steve cupped his hand under her breast again, digging blunt nails into the soft flesh as if he were holding on for life. Mel reciprocated the harsh action across the nape of his neck and shoulders, desperate to hold on to anything as electric current upon current blazed from her toes to the tips of her fingers. The knot of bliss in her core wound tighter and tighter with each pump of his fingers until it snapped, and Melody was flushed with luxurious pleasure.

 

            “Steve!” she called out, not caring how loud she might have been in that moment. His name was a pornographic mantra on her lips while her body jerked and twitched in his tight clutch, restricting her movements and forcing her to feel every ounce of the euphoria that drowned her away. Melody’s hands flew to several different places desperately before they latched onto his muscular thighs and clawed their way through the manic.

 

            “Yeah, say my name,” he groaned. “Say my fuckin’ name, I want God to know who you really worship behind closed doors. So dirty, aren’t you? So good for daddy…so tight. Fuck, I wanna play with your pretty little body all the fuckin’ time.”

 

            Melody could hear all his vile words, but she couldn’t respond. Her lips were parted in awe and her eyes were blocked with dark spots as she continued to relish in the pleasure. The water in the tub splashed violently with their movements and was cold by now, but her skin was too hot to notice the shift.

 

 

 

 

Steve carried her trembling frame against him while they shifted from the bath and to the bed. While he sat down on the edge, Melody straddled his legs and clung to him helplessly, too far gone to move or say anything. Steven let her through it patiently, trying his best to ignore the pulsating throb between his own legs–and even more so, the warmth of her flesh as it rested so close to where he needed her.

 

            He wanted to take her; fuck her to the edge of the universe and back down to the summer breeze floating through the serenely quiet room. He wanted to conquer her body and liberate it with his love on every possible surface–he wanted to officiate what was between them now, and what would always be. He wanted to make her fully his and give all of himself to her.

 

            But she was spent for the day, it seemed–and that was good, because that was what Steve had wanted. He had wanted to drain her before they could get any further, because while he loved the idea of ripping into her, he had some kind of anxiety regarding taking that step. He didn’t want her to rush it and regret it later, certainly not. But a more pressing issue was that she wasn’t on any contraceptives yet, and Steve absolutely didn’t want to use any fabricated barricades in the meantime–he only ever wanted to fuck her raw. Steve hated the mere idea of anything getting between them when they finally felt each other in that way.

 

            It took some time, but she eventually lifted her head and peeked at him, her skin still deeply flushed with vigour and shame. “You need me,” she whispered, looking down at his swollen cock, as if she couldn’t feel it oozing against her thigh.

 

            “I do,” he managed, his voice raspy from the strain of forced composure.

 

            “Use me,” she told him, tracing a protruding vein down his length with her finger. Steven’s breath hitched in awe before he looked at her questioningly.

 

            “What do you mean?”

 

            “Use me,” she repeated. “However you want. Own me.”

 

            “Fuck, don’t say stuff like that,” he warned, a deep scowl in his features.

 

            “I mean it.”

 

            His face darkened while he studied her for a moment. Slowly, he licked his lips and swallowed thickly. “Don’t fuck with me right now.”

 

            “Steve,” she encouraged, climbing off his lap and sinking down to the floor on her knees. The cold hardwood was unpleasant against her joints, but she ignored it, focusing instead on taking his length in her hand. With a slow, gentle pump, she opened her mouth and ghosted the tip of her tongue against his slit.

 

            “Fuck this,” he snarled, tangling both hands in her damp hair.

 

            “Use me,” she whispered, and outlined her mouth with the swollen tip of his erect length to spread the saltine fluid around. He watched in a trance as her tongue retraced the pattern, cleaning the sheer coat off her skin.

 

            “Jesus fuckin’ Christ. Open your fuckin’ mouth,” he ordered, and pushed himself easily past her lips when she did. Without skipping a beat, he thrust in until he reached the back of her throat, but he still had inches to go. Melody immediately began delivering wet suction, swallowing whatever gathered in her mouth. Her hands compensated the length that couldn’t be covered orally, pumping and twisting until he was groaning and cursing violently.

 

            She pulled back with an unintentional pop and licked a stripe over his tip. “Daddy,” she cooed, and pushed her chest out to rub the wet tip against her hardened nipple. “Come in my mouth.”

 

            “Fuck, Melody,” he spat, and thrust inside of her mouth again, pushing her head forcefully up and down his length. “Yeah, suck my dick–fuck, you’re a filthy little slut, aren’t you?”

 

            The title rang through her ears and she felt wetness pool between her legs, causing her to hum around him and nod as best as she could manage.

           

            “Jesus–so greedy, so good, so fuckin’ good for daddy…pretty little lips suckin’ on my cock like that, I’m so close, baby ‘m so fuckin’ close…” His voice was a hoarse mutter as he watched her movements, her brown eyes wide and teary as they gazed up at him. He threw his head back when she hummed and choked around him but kept up the diligent effort.

 

            “Fuck! Oh–oh fuck, Mel!” he called out, holding her head in place as he fell backwards against the mattress in peaked euphoria. Hot spurts of bliss gathered in Melody’s throat, leaking out from the sides of her mouth while she tried to swallow what she could. Steven kept shouting slurs of her name and curses while the pleasure drained out, panting heavily, the vast sculpture of his body melting in gratification.

 

            Melody pulled her head back with one last, lingering suction, causing him to shudder and gasp. She loved watching all his strength and build become weak before her until it burst from her touch, and he became a vulnerable broken mess. She relished that she had the power to do this to him; with the ghost of a touch, with the tip of her tongue–with just a look of her eyes, she could unravel his laces and he was an open book in her hands.

 

            Slowly, she got up from achy knees and stood watching him recover. His skin was flushed, and his eyes were still screwed shut. When he opened them, there was a reverie in his gaze that sent a shiver up her spine and she blushed, looking away.

 

            “Come here,” he whispered, holding his hands out. She stepped forward and he hoisted her by the thighs back onto his lap, now sitting up. “Where did you learn all that, huh?”

 

            Melody let him tuck some partly-dry hair behind her ear, feeling heat grow in her cheeks. “I–I found some stuff…on your computer…”

 

            Steven was caught off-guard. “What–you–”

 

            “I promise I didn’t mean to,” she rushed. “I just found it, I’m sorry.”

 

            He was quiet for a moment. “Did you see…everything?”

 

            “Yes.” She crossed her arms over her naked chest.

 

            “Then you know how fucked up I am,” he said, wiping a trail of his seed from the side of her mouth with his thumb.

 

            Melody looked him in the eye. With a rare, daring determination, she swiped her tongue slowly against his digit, before taking it past her lips with a hum. Steven was enchanted as he continued to clean the stray fluid and offer it to her; she savoured his fingers dutifully, eyes never breaking away. The sight travelled straight to the most perverted parts of his head, and all the blood in his body began rushing south again.

 

            “You might be fucked up,” she admitted after finishing the little show. “But then, I must be just as fucked up…if I want you to do all that to me.”

 

            Steven rolled her hips roughly over his own and they both released sounds of appreciative lust. He left a wet, heavy kiss on her mouth before pushing her onto the mattress on her back. Melody yelped as she bounced from the force, but he was already biting and licking his way down her body. His eyes dripped with hunger as he gazed up at her, tongue peeking out from underneath the hair of his upper lip, ready to devour her flesh.

Chapter Text

            Melody sat at the kitchen table with her body slumped heavily against the backrest of the chair, too weak and sore to sit up straight. She watched the muscles in Steven’s back and shoulders move as he knelt on the floor, cleaning the mess of glass and dried blood which they’d previously left forgotten.

 

            They had spent a few blasphemous hours in the bedroom, stopping only when her body had all the bruises and bites she could bear at once and his own back and arms were clawed out to the point of almost bleeding.

 

            And yet, they had not had intercourse. Mel was supremely concerned and worried, even when her body still buzzed with the memory of all the pleasure he had poured into her that afternoon.

 

            “Steve?” she asked, when he went to wash his hands at the sink. The red streaks raised on his pale skin were accentuated by the sunlight that beamed in through the window. They had taken quick showers–separately–after the entire ordeal, and Steve had wiped down the wet floor of the washroom while Mel had gotten cleaned up.

 

            Now his wet locks were combed back, and a pair of black tracks sat loose and low on his hips. His massive body moved slowly toward her while he wiped his hands down with a towel. “Yes, baby.”

 

            “I want to ask you something,” she blurted, before the words could be swallowed down.

 

            “After the things you let me do today,” he said, a dangerous drawl in his voice, “you can ask me anything.”

 

            Melody blushed, looking away. “It’s about your past…”

 

            He sat down in the chair next to hers, tossing the towel aside. “What about my past?”

 

            “Tell me,” she said, meeting his solitary gaze with her own. “About Peggy.”

 

            She had expected him to become upset or lash out. At the least, she had expected a sour expression. But Steve only pursed his lips and cocked his head to the side in thought.

 

            “That’s not a name I ever expected you to say,” he admitted. “What do you wanna know?”

 

            “I heard you were in love with her–she was very important to you, and she had an effect on your life. I want to know the story in your own words.”

 

            Steven pushed the box of tissues forward on the table as her nose began to drip again. Melody rolled her eyes at the unending irritation of being ill, especially at a time like this. She waited for him to respond, cleaning through her sinuses as quietly as possibly.

 

            “You want some coffee?” he asked, getting back to his feet.

 

            “Steve, you can’t change the subject.”

 

            He shook his head, searching through the cupboards before he paused to look at her fondly. “I’m not trying to. I want you to know everything. But I’m also starving.”

 

            “In that case, I’d like coffee and French toast,” she declared.

 

 

 

 

“Boy, those guys eat a lot…” Steven returned the eggs, milk and bread to the fully-stocked fridge once they’d finished their meal. He rinsed the dishes and set them in the dishwasher before cleaning his hands. “Good think Bucky remembered to get groceries while I wasn’t home.”

 

            “He took me with him,” she informed. “We had almost three full carts. Are you gonna pay him back for it?”

 

            “Pay him back?” He looked at her from across the counter. “We have a rule; we’re not allowed to pay each other back. I started it, but now it prevents me from returning what I owe him. Do you and the girls pay each other back?”

 

            “No, we just take turns spending on each other. It feels weird, asking friends to return your money.”

 

            “Exactly,” he agreed.

 

            “I miss them,” she said then. “I haven’t talked to them in so long.”

 

            “You guys don’t text or call much these days,” he pointed out.

 

            “A few of them started classes in the second semester of summer school for college. The others are busy with jobs or family weddings. They all think I’m out of the country, anyhow.” She slowly got up from the chair and made her way over to the kitchen counter. Steven picked up on the shakiness of her legs and chucked the hand towel aside to hoist her up onto the marble surface. When his hands grabbed under her thighs and hips, she hissed in discomfort.

 

            “What happened?”

 

            “It’s sore…”

 

            He lifted the hem of the long black t-shirt and was greeted by the amorous sight of a cheeky red thong that exposed the appropriate places. Her backside was littered with handprints and bruises, nail crescents haphazardly embedded all along her thighs and hips. The scene made Steven suck in a breath of reverence while his hand reached out to squeeze her battered cheek.

 

            “You just can’t get enough, can you?” he whispered, closing in from behind. He rested either hand over hers on the marble top, pressing his front to her plush behind. After a couple of unmistakable ruts, Melody glanced over her shoulder with a smirk.

 

            “Can you?”

 

            “Mm, maybe not…” He ground the growing tent in his tracks between her cheeks and moaned into her neck. “Why would I want to, anyhow?”

 

            Melody gasped when her shirt was suddenly hitched up to reveal her bare breasts, quickly pulling it back down. “The window, Steve!”

 

            He glanced sideways at the outside scene in irritation and walked over to draw the blinds before returning to his position. The now-dimmed kitchen renewed the atmosphere of sensuality, leaving their heavy breaths and perspiring skin thinly veiled from the rest of the world.

 

            “I wish I could make you feel what you do to me,” he said gruffly, grinding his now fully-erect self against her in slow motion. “I hope this is proof enough.”

 

            “Steve,” she sighed. “You’re so hard…”

 

            “You have no fucking idea. Jesus, I just wanna be inside you…”

 

            Mel moaned. “I want you inside me,” she invited, rolling fervently against him, enjoying his reaction.

 

            “Oh, you–holy fuck…look at you.” He fisted her sides with both hands as she leant forward on the counter and threw her hips in circles against his, rewarded by his words and the rub of his cock between her cheeks.

 

            “Daddy,” she jibed, looking back at him with a bite of her lip.

 

            “You’re gonna fuckin’ kill me,” he warned, leaning forward until she was pressed between him and the cold marble. Melody could feel the dampness between her legs, heated with the need to feel something there.

 

            “Take it out,” she whispered to him. “I wanna feel your cock.”

 

            “Jesus–you’re so filthy,” he growled, hastily pushing his pants down until his heavy erection sprang forward between her legs. Mel whimpered at the short-lasting contact, wishing for any kind of attention while her body moved desperately against and beneath his.

 

            “Touch me,” she begged. “I need you.”

 

            “I know you do. I can smell you.” His voice was slick with amusement and victory. “Jesus, you just want daddy’s cock, don’t you?”

 

            Melody squealed in agreement when his hand creeped between her legs and brushed her over the cotton. She was dripping out from the sides of her underwear, drooling vehemently in need. He hooked his finger in and pulled it aside, freeing her swollen folds; she lost it when he began massaging them in circles, his length wedged against her ass as they swayed and bucked in unison.

           

            “Oh, Mel,” he cooed, pushing two of his fingers past her entrance and setting a slow pace. “What if someone comes home right now? What if someone catches us?”

 

            She moaned in response, blood rushing anxious goosebumps across her skin.

 

            “What if they see how greedy you are for daddy?” he continued, aware of how much she loved being verbally tormented. “Daddy’s good little girl, huh? Or are you daddy’s little slut? Which one are you? Tell me.”

 

            Melody trembled with pleasure as his fingers moved deeper and his palm rubbed against her clit. “I’m–oh God! I wanna be your slut.”

 

            “Daddy’s little slut,” he snarled, and his cock twitched in approval between them. “When did you become such a bad girl, Mel? Where did all your innocence go?”

 

            “My daddy took it,” she breathed out.

 

            “Your daddy took it?” he repeated. “What are you gonna say to God, Melody? When God asks you why you were such a bad girl?”

 

            “I’m–” She paused for a sharp inhale of breath when he suddenly slapped her ass. “I’ll say it was for you.”

 

            “God is watching us right now, Mel,” he reminded her in a throaty whisper. “He can see what a little slut you are. Daddy’s whore.”

 

            “Oh, God!” she snapped, clenching up suddenly. “I’m coming, I’m–”

 

            Steve cut her off, shoving the fingers of his left hand into her mouth while the others moved faster past her fluttering walls. Few and sparse spurts of liquid splashed out against his palm and he frowned but continued in vigor until she was falling to the floor on quivering legs.

 

            “You haven’t been drinking enough water,” she was told as he rested her weakened frame on top of the counter. “You barely squirted.”

 

            “I’m sorry,” she sighed shakily.

 

            “No, just–” Steven pursed his lips, then kissed her. “Take care of yourself, I mean.”

 

            Melody looked down at his swollen, flushed appendage, still standing at attention. “I’m sorry.”

 

            “No! Why?” he frowned.

 

            “You didn’t…”

 

            “It’s okay, Mel,” he assured. “Really.”

 

            She gazed down at his manhood for a moment in thought, then looked up at him again with dark eyes. “Touch yourself.”

 

            Steven’s eyes narrowed critically. “Do what now?”

 

            “Touch yourself. I wanna watch you touch yourself,” she reiterated. “Go, do it.”

 

            A blush crept up Steven’s chest as he licked his lips in hesitation, shuffling back until he met with the opposite counter. In a slow, calculated movement, his hand neared his groin before he wrapped it gently around his own girth.

 

            Melody preened before him, throwing her hair back over her shoulder and sticking her chest out. She tweaked her nipples softly, taking her lip past her teeth, her eyes locked with his despite her own embarrassment. Steve made a silent ‘o’ with his mouth while his thumb rubbed over the swollen, pink tip, blue eyes dark with seething passion.

 

            “Show me your pussy,” he ordered.

 

            Melody arched her back and parted her legs as wide as they would go, using her fingers to push her labia apart. The glistening crimson flesh made Steve’s cock twitch, and he began pumping his fist slowly while his gaze bore into her heat.

 

            Melody watched him writhe in torture as he edged himself continuously; pushing his pleasure to the limit and then backing away before he could give out. There was a bottle of olive oil further down the counter that Melody eyed dangerously before reaching out to take it. Her nerves were wracked with anticipation and fear as she uncapped the bottle–she had only ever heard of this in conversations between friends and peers.

 

            “What–” Steve frowned deeply before his face set into excited expectation, waiting for the inevitable. Just the thought of what was about to happen nearly had him unravelling, and he quickly let go of his girth to give himself more time.

 

            Not a single word came out of her mouth as Mel tipped the bottle toward her collar bone. Steven’s eyes watched the oil move as if in slow-motion, from the inside of the glass container until it reached the lip and dribbled onto her soft skin. He continued to watch, unblinking, as the dribble of oil dripped down her chest and onto her breast, inching slowly, slowly…

 

            Until it met the peak of her nipple.

 

            “Fuck,” he groaned, obscene and loud. “Fuck, Mel. Fuck me, I’m gonna come!”

 

            “Not yet,” she warned, shaking her head. “Don’t come yet.”

 

            He slammed his hand down on the counter ledge behind, temple ticking in fury and aggravation. Melody parted her legs again but poured another dabble of liquid on her other breast first, smirking at the continuous twitch of his cock, heavy yet standing at attention.

 

            “Daddy,” she cooed, parting her flesh with one hand once again as the other poured more oil from the bottle. It travelled down between her breasts in multiple streams, quickly reaching her navel.

 

            “Melody,” he whispered, wrapping his hand protectively around his length again. He could hear his heart in his ears, as if the blood in his head had collected and was about to burst.

 

            “I want you to come inside of me,” she confessed in a hush, as the topaz fluid seeped in between her folds and tickled her heat. “Daddy, please…come inside me.”

 

            “Jesus,” he moaned, nodding furiously. “I’m coming–”

 

            He stomped forward quickly and perched his throbbing tip just against her entrance while pumping the shaft, moaning crude threats and curses into her mouth. Melody fumbled around to find his cock and pushed it further between her folds, whimpering at the delicious sensation. Seconds later, hot fluid was spurting out and between the crevices of her flesh, and Steven’s grip was a massacre of nails and scratches across her skin.

 

            “Oh my God,” he sighed against her lips, eyes travelling up and down her body. “I could fuck you right now. Just a little push and you’d be gone.”

 

            She pulled him closer by the hip, pupils blown wide with determination. “Do it. Fuck me.”

 

            “No–”

 

            “Just fuck me, for fuck’s sake–”

           

            Melody aligned his tip with her entrance and was about to push down when he slapped her wrist away and stepped back.

 

            “The fuck are you doing?” he snarled.

 

            “Why won’t you?” she asked, her eyes glazing over. “What’s the issue? What’s wrong?’

 

            “What’s wrong? There’s nothing wrong,” he spat. “You’re–I just–you”

 

            “What?” she yelled. “Tell me!”

 

            Steven ran an exasperated hand down his face with a sigh. Mel covered her chest with her arms, waiting for a viable response while shrill currents ran up and down her spine. For some time, he continued to blink down at the floor, piecing together an explanation that would make sense to her.

 

            “Mel, you’re…” He shook his head before continuing. “You’re seventeen. You’re young. I’m almost forty. There’s a lot here that we don’t discuss, but not talking about it doesn’t change the fact that you’re a child.”

 

            “I’m not a child, Steve,” she reminded him. “People my age have sex all the time.”

 

            “Yeah, with other people their age. Not with adults who are more than twice their age.”

 

            “Age isn’t a factor when we do everything else. Why do you get so hung up on it when it comes to intercourse?”

 

            “Because it’s different. It just is.” He took in the scrutiny of her expression and sighed again. “Trust me, it’s different. It makes it real, all of this. It makes me…”

 

            “What? What does it make you?” she prodded.

 

            “It–legally, it–Jesus, this is not easy to say about myself. It makes me a pedophile, Mel. If I have sex with you, it makes me a pedophile.”

 

            “What about all the other stuff? That doesn’t make you–” She stopped herself from finishing the sentence upon noticing the look in his features. “That’s not what I meant. You’re not a pedophile, Steve. God, that just makes this sound perverted and nothing else. We love each other…”

 

            “You and I believe that. Who else is going to?”

 

            He looked helpless. Melody reached out and brought him closer to hold his bearded jaw in her hands. “Age of consent is seventeen, Steve.”

 

            “Not if the other person is twenty-three years older, Mel. There’s no excuse for that. I have lawyer friends; I know some law. It’s not on our side, baby.”

 

            “So, what? Who’s finding out, Steve? Nobody has to know,” she insisted.

 

            He kissed the inside of her wrist, where he had struck it previously. “You’re not on contraceptive yet. We need to arrange for that, first.”

 

            A question loomed atop her head, but Melody pushed it back and away. It was neither the time, nor the place to search out such answers, not when neither of them was sure about a future together. Instead, she craned her face up and kissed him sweetly.

 

            “Leave it to me.”

 

            Steven frowned. “What’s going on in that head of yours now?”

 

            “Don’t worry about it,” she chided, legs saddling around his hips. “Take me to bed?”

Chapter Text

            “Did you really love her?”

 

            It was a whisper in the dark of the room as the sun tucked itself in for the day. The sound of a lawn mower infiltrated the otherwise silent air like a steady hum of lullaby. Melody lay on her back against the pillows at the head of the bed with Steve’s heavy body between her legs, his head on her chest. She raked her fingers lightly up and down his bare back, studying the goosebumps that rose across his shoulders and neck as she did so.

 

            His blond locks hung forward as he lifted his head to look down at her for a steady moment before repositioning. The beat of her heart was a strong thrum in his ear as he spoke.

 

            “No. I never did.”

 

            “How do you know?” she asked.

 

            “Don’t get me wrong–she was important to me. But…it wasn’t love,” he shrugged, picking up her bandaged hand and placing it on his cheek.

 

            “But what changed?”

 

            “Me. I changed. I realized…love is nurturing–and selfless. Love is supposed to heal you–make you grow, even if it’s not reciprocated. If that isn’t how you feel, then it probably isn’t love. Love requires…humility. Patience. I didn’t care about these things then.” Steven lifted his head again and peered down at her before glancing away with a blush, suddenly shy. “I learned them from you.”

 

            Melody’s cheeks coloured in reciprocation. Then, she sighed. “I have…a thought.”

 

            “Which is?”

 

            “I saw a picture of you and her,” she began, feeling heat rise in her face. “I–um. She was very beautiful… Do you…ever compare–?”

 

            “Do I compare you?” he finished; his brow raised in amusement. “No. I don’t compare. There’s no point. I know my heart.”

 

            “What do you mean?”

 

            “Nobody makes it beat the way you do,” he explained, leaving her sparse for words.

 

            Steven kissed her forehead and repositioned their bodies so that they were walled against each other on their sides. He cradled her close to his chest and ran his fingers lightly in her hair. “We have some fleeting hours left in our little world,” he whispered.

 

            “Little is good. I can’t lose you in a little world.”

 

            “You won’t lose me in the biggest world,” he promised.

 

            She hesitated a moment too long. “I almost did already.”

 

            Steven sucked in a breath and pulled her even tighter. “I’m sorry, Mel. It kills me that I did that. I love you.”

 

            “I love you,” she returned. “Can you sing to me? That song… Mom used to listen to it a lot when she’d be alone.”

 

            He swallowed thickly, gazing out into the dark. Granted, he hadn’t heard it since her passing. But the words were still fresh in his memory, as if he had found Valerie sitting alone in the car and listening to it just that morning while her toddler roamed freely around a house that hadn’t yet been baby-proofed.

           

 

            “The world was on fire and no one could save me but you,

            It’s strange what desire will make foolish people do.

            I’d never dreamed that I’d meet somebody like you…

            And I’d never dreamed that I’d lose somebody like you.

            No, I don’t wanna fall in love,

            No, I don’t wanna fall in love…

            With you.”

           

 

            “You sing…so pretty…” It wasn’t more than a drowsy mumble, followed by a yawn as her eyes began fluttering in the lamplight.

 

 

            “What a wicked game you played,

            To make me feel this way.

            What a wicked thing to do,

            To let me dream of you…

 

            What a wicked thing to say,

            You never felt this way.

            What a wicked thing to do,

            To make me dream of you…”

 

 

            He paused, wetness rising in his eyes, grateful that she could not see him now. With a long inhale, he continued.

 

 

            “And I don’t wanna fall in love,

            No, I don’t wanna fall in love…

            With you.”

 

           

            For the first time in a week, Melody found the ability to rest and let fall shut the eyes that had otherwise been wide and sore with pain. Steve lay listening to her breath, awake even after she fell peacefully asleep. Images flipped through his mind like a reel, reminiscent of how his life was years ago, how it changed, and all the difficulties he had seen while it built up to what it was now. The now that he had with her, his Melody. His best girl–his only girl. Even though it was blameworthy, even though it was to be kept secret, and even though it would be inherently wrong to most eyes if ever found out–it was his.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

The heap of fatigued limbs and shrivelling, heavy eyes clambered back into the white-stone sometime past midnight. Thor was carrying both of the girls as they snored and drooled against his broad shoulders, Cassie in one arm and Morgan in the other. Bucky stayed back on the porch to squeeze in his ritual bedtime-smoke and entered the house a few minutes later to T’Challa and Clint slumped over on the living room couch against each other, and Sam and Rhodey on the floor before them, legs sprawled, and heads lolled back against awkwardly-bent kneecaps. Natasha had joined Pepper and Bruce at the dining table to also hide her face into her arms and doze off while Thor took up the one-seater by the fireplace, both girls still clinging to his massive body as the three of them snored at different volumes and paces. Tony stumbled his way through the slumbering group to pry Morgan off of Thor and pat him awake.

 

            “Hey big guy,” he muttered. “Help me get this pyjama party to their beds, will you?”

 

            “Tonight…my bed…” Thor lightly patted the armrest of his comfortable chair.

 

            “God damn you, you big giant,” Tony huffed, turning to Bucky. “Well, least I have you.”

 

            Jarvis mumbled something incoherent from his seat on the stairs, caved against the wooden railing. Peter was doubled over a step below, face squashed against his knees.

 

            “We can do it, Tones,” Bucky nodded, before he fought through a yawn.

 

            The sound of the basement door enhanced both of their attention and they watched Steve slowly trudge his way up the stairs, using the banister for support.

 

            “Oh, you guys back?” He attempted to sound nonchalant; in reality, he’d sprinted from the master bedroom to the basement after hearing multiple engines pull into the street in the otherwise quiet night.

 

            “Yeah. Why you huffin’ ‘n puffin’, punk?” Bucky frowned.

 

            Steve swallowed back the heaviness in his throat. “I was, uh–getting some cardio in.”

 

            “Are you high?” Tony hissed. “You come out of a week of bedrest in a hospital and hit the sprints as soon as you get discharged?”

 

            “It was light jogging, Tony.”

 

            “I’ll lightly jog my foot into your jaw, numb-nuts–”

 

            “Tony,” Pepper hissed suddenly, now facing him from the kitchen table. “You’re literally spewing profanities into our five-year-old daughter’s ear right now.”

 

            The man bit his tongue, quickly readjusting Morgan against his side to ensure she was still asleep. “Sorry, boss.”

 

            James shuffled over to the kitchen, massaging his eyes with his palms. “Nat…wake up, sleepy kitten.”

 

            Tony and Steve both perked up at the title James used towards their friend, but if they were amused or disturbed, neither of them showed any further signs. Natasha lifted her head and winced before stretching awake.

 

            “Okay, boys. Let’s…get this…needle into the haystack,” she mumbled awkwardly, tumbling her way past the sleeping people. The three men watched in bewilderment as she descended the staircase Steve had climbed earlier and disappeared into the basement.

 

            “Big help she was,” Tony snarked.

 

            Slowly, gradually–but finally–the three managed to get the crowd put away into their rooms and beds before heading to their own. Steve sat at the top of the stairs for quite some time, unable to see that the big hand on the clock had come full circle once already. He remained idle, listening carefully until every single footstep and voice dissipated into distant snores or otherwise silence, before he moved again.

 

            With weak legs and a heavy chest, he carefully trudged upstairs and into his room, where he was welcomed by a soft call of his name.

 

            “Are you awake?” he hissed into the dark, frozen in place. The silence was followed by soft snores. Steven sighed and resumed his beeline to the bay window, seating himself on the cushion and pulling his legs to his chest. His eyes stayed stuck to the moon as wet, salty sadness streamed down his face and neck.

 

            He could not place a tack down on the exact reason for his inner commotion that night. He longed to sleep, but he did not want to lay down in that bed. Next to her. He didn’t want that.

 

            Why didn’t he want that?

 

            It was alienating, the feeling inside of him. Memories of the past kept dancing in front of his eyes, splattering themselves against the window until they were washed away by a new one. Faint, glowing images of his mother–in life and in death. He wanted to be held by her in that moment, be engulfed by her odour of sweat and love. He remembered his childhood, with its torment and high points. Bucky–skinny, reckless, blue-eyed Bucky, the first time Steve ran into him on the playground. Watching Bucky push bigger kids down and beat them up. Being protected and accepted by that same Bucky.

 

            Peggy.

 

            Nothing more than a wrinkle in time, but he couldn’t devalue her strength and agility. She had lied to two men for a couple of years and kept them both dangling on a string, no problem. She always got what she wanted, from herself; from everyone. From Steve.

 

            Silent whimpers shook their way out of his chest while he reminisced the near-forty years of his life. Years that were rarely triumphant…

 

            And the realization came to him then: this was his one single victory that mattered most. Love. True love–at least, what he felt for Melody was true love. But what if it never came to him? What if he lost it before he even truly got to experience it? What if it was wrong, inherently and objectively? Was he a monster? Was he a ‘creep’? Was he just perverted?

 

            All the emotions and time his heart had given to this one girl… Would they just be reduced to a crime?

 

            And he would lose her.

 

            Surely, he would. Life just didn’t go in his favour. It would let him taste joy and fulfillment and then grip him by the throat until the air left his lungs.

 

            All he could do was breathe until he couldn’t.

 

 

 

Melody was drowning. There was water everywhere, she could feel it pressing down against every inch of her body. The sky–she could see the sky, blue and devoid of clouds. Her body was little now–she was a child again. Her toenails, bright pink–she’d painted them messily the night before, before mom could come out of the bathroom. Grandma had given it to her secretly on the weekend–

 

            But Grandma’s dead now.

 

            She twisted her back in the water, trying to swim–how did they do it? How did the adults do it on TV? How did they move their bodies so easily in water? It was so heavy, and her chest felt tight. So much pain…

 

            Her mom.

 

            MOM!

 

            Bubbles billowed past her lips instead of sound. She screamed harder.

 

            MOM!

 

            Why couldn’t she hear her? She was standing right there, outside of the water. Melody could see her. Her eyes were wide open–why wasn’t she blinking? Why wasn’t she moving? Why wasn’t she trying to save her?

 

            MOM!

 

 

            She felt something hard hit her body and her eyes snapped open. Everything was sideways, and she was on the floor.

           

            It was dim in the room–the first breath of morning was peaking in through the curtains. She sat up on the cold hardwood and wiped away tears that she had–up until then–been unaware of.

 

            Steve.

 

            That was the first coherent thought in her mind, and she quickly lifted onto her knees to peek over the bed.

 

            It was empty.

 

            “Steve?” she said aloud, hoping he would show up out of somewhere, her eyes frantically searching while adjusting to the darkness.

 

            And then she saw him: a body folded up tightly against the bay window, leaning onto the glass, his forehead digging into the wooden edge. She crawled on hands and knees towards him, wondering what was so wrong about the scene.

 

            She shook him lightly, reaching up to lift his face off the pane. Steven opened his eyes partially, blinking several times in confusion before the blue fixated on her. She could see that they were puffy and red, thanks to the sliver of light intruding from between the navy curtains.

 

            “What happened?” she breathed. “Steve…are you okay?”

 

            He just stared at her, for a long time. Soon enough, the tears welled up and spilled once again before he blubbered her name. Mel stood up and wrapped her arms around his shaking frame, still lost and confused as to what had caused the current situation.

 

            “What’s wrong?” She ran her fingers through his lengthened hair when he buried his face deeper into her stomach, latching on until he was clinging to her like a child.

 

            “I can’t…”

 

            She squeezed harder when he blubbered with a fresh sob. “You can’t what?”

 

            “I can’t lose you.”

 

            “You won’t lose me Steve… Did you stay up all night just because of that?” She held his face with both hands and pushed back gently to look at it. He was a blotchy mess with pleading eyes, and she wished she could absolve his pain.

 

            “…lost everything else…” he mumbled.

 

            “But you won’t lose me. Ever. Even in a different world, I would love you until my very last breath.” Tears appeared in her own eyes when she contemplated the prospect of ever being separated from him, even by death. “I would never willingly leave your side.”

 

            Steven took a deep, albeit shaky breath. “It’s not your will I doubt. It’s my luck. My fate. What the universe wants for me. What God takes from me.”

 

            “God is not so shallow or sadistic,” she reasoned. “If you’re going to believe in God, then you really have to believe God wants the best for you. If you’re going to believe that God is your enemy, then you shouldn’t believe in one.”

 

            “I was raised Christian, I was brought up on God. I do believe, I just–I’ve always gone through this same thing, Mel. I get a glimpse of something nice once in a while, and then I lose it before I can even have it. And I never want to–it’s never me who walks away or turns my face. I always sign on for a lifetime, I always give my all. Why am I never enough?”

 

            “Steven.” His eyes rounded in wonder when she addressed him formally, and Mel swiped away the tears from under his eyes. “Everyone loses. You lose someone, someone loses you. There are people we love who leave us, and there are people who have loved us, but we left them. Not everyone is a forever, or a soulmate.

 

            “But the ones that are, the ones that are meant to be, they will always stay. We will always be here for you. Me, Uncle Bucky…Aunty Nat, Tony. Even the other friends you have, the ones who know the worst parts of you and still stuck around. You have so much around you, so many people you’re loved by. The past is the past. I am your here and now. I will drain my body of blood and sweat to be able to stay with you.”

 

            His glassy, swollen eyes searched hers for a moment before he sighed in defeat. “You’re my miracle.”

 

            “Imagine then, if my life hadn’t been a mess. If my father–whoever he was–hadn’t left. If my mother hadn’t gotten pregnant at a young, unstable age and ended up relying on you. Where would we be today if our lives weren’t a little broken?”

 

            “You think we would’ve ever met?” he frowned.

 

            “I think so…maybe not. Who’s to say?” Melody kissed his forehead and shook her head. “This whole universe is one big ‘what if’. Better not to obsess over its variation.”

 

            His wandering soul wasn’t content with this answer, but he didn’t prod any further for the time being. What he did say was, “Mel? What am I to you?”

 

            She seemed stunned for a split second before giving him a crinkly, teasing smile. “Can I use more than one word?”

 

            “Use all the words you need.”

 

            “Then I would never stop talking,” she retorted.

 

            “I don’t want you to.” He stood up on shaky legs to fold her securely in his arms as his lips pressed a chaste kiss to her crown.

 

            “You’re the only home and family I have…” Her voice was muddled by his chest, and she turned her face to the side to speak more clearly. “All I’ve ever known. The world starts and begins with you. There are these…these memories–or incorrect visions I have–whatever they are. I don’t know if they’re true or not. I see them in my dreams; I don’t talk about them. Maybe I don’t want to know if they’re true or not, but…something bad is always happening in these dreams. And at the end, it’s always one person who comes and gets me out or saves me.”

 

            She craned her neck back a little and looked up and him. “It’s always you.”

 

            Steven frowned slightly, passing a hand through her hair, pushing it away from her drying skin. “What have you seen so far?”

 

            “I don’t know, a lot of stuff. Like, last night…I was drowning. In a pool, I think. I was little, and I was drowning, and mom–she was standing outside the pool, staring down, watching me. She didn’t even try to save me. I know it was just a dream–”

 

            “It wasn’t just a dream.” His voice was dry, and his throat felt raw saying it. It was difficult to meet her eyes.

           

            “What…”

 

            “It wasn’t a dream, Mel.”

 

            She blinked furiously at him. Why wasn’t he looking at her? “You’re saying that was real? I don’t remember that.”

 

            “You were barely four. You shouldn’t remember that,” he said.

 

            Melody didn’t know what to say for a long time. She felt her chest caving in with a painful squeeze, making it impossible to even swallow.

 

            “Why would she–”

 

            “Valerie had some mental differences. She had always suffered from depression, since junior high, really. On top of that, she had PTSD after she had you. It made her…immune to things. Like she couldn’t see that what was happening was wrong, or she couldn’t see that what she was doing was bad. It’s like her brain would go numb and stop working.

 

            “I took her and you to a cottage for the weekend, do you remember? Well, probably not. It was before I moved in with you guys, before I married her. There was a pool, and you wanted to play in it so much. You were so excited, but you didn’t know how to swim, and you were so small. I kept an eye on you the whole time, because I knew Val was having a particularly difficult week.

 

            “But I left for a few minutes to answer one phone call–I never should’ve taken the stupid call, it was an idiot-move on my part. I went inside for a few minutes, and you took the chance to hit the pool right away. I was watching through the glass door–you dipped your legs in and played around for a bit, and then you just slipped in. I thought Val would do something–and she did. She got up, and she rushed to the pool, but then she just stopped at the curb. Like she hit a wall or something. And I watched her while she watched you sink before I chucked my phone and ran out to get you.”

 

            Melody was stuck in place. Her eyes were fixated on a ball of lint on Steve’s shirt. There were tears spilling down her cheeks that she didn’t even feel.

 

            “Steve?” It seemed to take forever to get words out. Her voice was small and shaky. “Was mom traumatized just because of me?”

 

            Was he going to tell her? Was he supposed to tell her? Ever?

 

            “No, Mel. It had very little to do with you.”

           

            “Then why–”

 

            “Not right now, baby.” He wiped away the tears and crushed her against himself again. “Save it for another day. That’s more than enough for now.”