Steve checked Google maps again and looked up at the huge, ramshackle house lying about half a mile from the front gate. This couldn’t be right. He looked up and down the road, thinking (hoping) that maybe he had somehow totally missed number 68 and now stood in front of his neighbours’ house. He walked back a bit, but there was no mistaking the shining number 67 on the cheery cottage on one side of the creepy mansion, nor the number 69 on the brick house on its other side, both houses well away from the house Steve had supposedly inherited.
He pulled his pack from his back to search for the letter from the notary’s office. Maybe he’d made a mistake and was on the wrong road, or in the wrong village. Wrong state. The movement made a crow fly up and cackle loudly and Steve suppressed a shiver. Stupid superstition. Crows didn’t mean bad luck at all.
The letter confirmed he was in the right location, and suddenly the large metal key that had come with it made more sense. He shouldered his pack and pushed the key in the lock of the rusted gate. It fit perfectly and the gate opened smoothly, which was perhaps scarier than if the thing would’ve creaked and groaned at the first push. With a final look up and down the deserted road he stepped forward and walked up the driveway.
The front yard was overgrown with weeds, the driveway more moss and grass than gravel, and Steve wondered how his great aunt had managed to stay here till her death at the more than respectable age of 99. Maybe that was why the gate had been oiled, to let the delivery service in.
The house itself stood in the shadow of huge trees, casting it in deep shadow, and despite it being high summer it was chilly on the steps to the front door. Thick cobwebs hung between the support beams, and Steve walked back into the garden to come back with a branch to remove them. He hated spiders.
The wooden boards of the porch creaked ominously as he walked towards the front door, and it might be the first time he was glad for his small weight. His heart was beating wildly in his chest when he put the key, the same one that fit the gate, into the lock. This was ridiculous. It was just a house. Houses weren’t scary. Houses were merely wood and stones and memories, and those last had been lost when his great aunt perished. Houses were a roof over your head and a place to put your stuff and a base of operations, nothing more.
He squared his jaw and walked inside.
Where the outside was badly in need of upkeep, Steve immediately noticed the inside of the house was kept lovingly into good order. Somehow he had imagined he would be walking into the sort of haunted house you found on carnivals, with masses of cobwebs and dust and a skeleton falling from the ceiling. Instead he walked into a cosy but tidy home. The carpet was a little worn in patches, and the wallpaper more than outdated, but other than that it seemed very habitable, which was more than Steve had hoped. The hallway walls were filled with faded pictures of people long gone, and on a little shelf across the stairs to the second floor were various knick knacks that seemed to inhabit every old person's home.
Curious, Steve put down his bag at the door and walked further into the house. First he walked through the door that stood ajar at his right. It was a small room with a door at the other end. In it were two only comfortable chairs facing a fireplace and a huge dark wooden bookcase. Steve could easily imagine himself sitting here on a cold winter's evening, and he felt better about the house with the second.
The door at the far end gave way to another room, larger than the sitting room, but here the furniture was all covered in heavy drapes with dust shrouding everything.
Steve stepped closer to pull up the tip of the nearest cloth but startled badly when a noise rang through the house like something falling upstairs. He pulled back his fingers as if he burned them, his heart thudding loud in his ears. He listened closely if any others sounds followed, but all was quiet, save for the gentle rustling of the wind in the trees outside.
Wind. It must’ve been a draft. The caretaker probably left a window open upstairs to air the place out, and because Steve had opened the front door it shut closed. Steve conveniently ignored the fact that he had been inside the house for a few minutes already. There was nothing to be scared of in old houses.
He turned and backed out of the room determinedly, going through the sitting room and to the door across the hall. It lead into the open plan kitchen and dining area, with another sitting space, this one with a very old fashioned tv. Steve wondered if it even had cable, and he added ‘checking cable’ onto his mental to do list.
At the far end of the sitting area was another door that led into what seemed to have been the master bedroom, judging by the decor and how clean it was. The window gave a lovely view of the garden and Steve noticed the bit closest to the house was well maintained. Another door opened onto a small, outdated, ensuite toilet.
Steve sat down at the dining table to take stock. The place needed a lot of refurbishing to get it up to standard and to suit Steve’s tastes, but it was a lot better than he initially thought it’d be. He would go one room at the time, probably start with this living room and work his way out. No, start with the bedroom down here. The first thing he would do was throw the old bed out, since he was reasonably sure it was where his aunt had passed away.
He didn’t own much, but in two days a truck would arrive to bring his meagre belongings from New York, and he was glad he had decided to take his bed with him.
Another crow squawked outside, making Steve almost jump out of his seat. Damnit, he chided himself. It was probably the silence that got to him the most. New York was never, ever silent, but here there was nothing, and it was no wonder he startled whenever something suddenly spoke up.
He got out of his seat and squared his jaw. He was putting off going upstairs for no good reason because there was nothing to fear and the sound he had heard earlier had a perfectly logical conclusion.
On his way to the stairs he did pick up his backpack; he somehow felt saver with the weight on his back.
Each of the steps seemed to creak louder than the last, wracking up Steve’s nerves until he felt himself getting short of breath. At the top of the steps he listened carefully, but there was nothing of course. He took out his inhaler and sucked in deep, the tension in his shoulders relieving a bit with the familiar rush of sudden oxygen.
He could do this.
He explored the upper story, but there was nothing of importance. There were three more bedrooms, all larger than the one downstairs, but they were empty save for some boxes and clutter. The bathroom was spacious but so outdated and dirty Steve wondered when it had last seen any use, and he moved ‘redoing the bathroom’ up on his to do list.
There was nothing even remotely scary on the entire floor. Feeling silly, he went back down again and set to work cleaning.
Steve knew it was just his fancy, but seeing his mug and favourite tea blend on the counter made a world of difference. Sam had laughed at him when his friend saw him pack these items into his carry on luggage, but had pulled Steve into a fierce hug after. Thinking about Sam made Steve feel sad and worried, so he took a large sip of his scalding tea to wash the bad emotions away and set to work to rinse the sponges and rags he’d used to clean the kitchen.
The familiar smell of detergent helped to make Steve feel more at ease as well, and he sat down at the table. He was sure to have a hard time moving his fingers tomorrow after all the scrubbing, but it was worth it for the feeling of making this place his own. The kitchen was surprisingly clean, but Steve still liked the idea of going over all areas, kinda like a cat rubbing their cheeks against the furniture.
He chuckled and snapped a few pictures of the living room to email to Sam. He wouldn’t have that much time to write Steve back, but he would sure appreciate reading about something not war related. Steve hated the fact that his friend was in the army more with each tour he did - at some point his luck just had to run out, Steve was sure of it.
Look at this snazzy little place: Haunted house on the outside, kinda nice on the inside. Like living inside a Halloween decoration. I’ll take you some pics from the outside tomorrow when it’s light out.
Hope the Sergeant isn’t riding you too hard yet.
Steve tried to sent the email from his phone, but noticed to his dismay he didn’t have a data signal. It was enough to make his earlier relaxed state switch back to feeling nervous. In New York you always, always had a data signal. (And if you didn't you could walk into the nearest coffee shop for quick access to WiFi.) He did have signal, so if there was an emergency he could still reach out, but still. No internet meant no entertainment either. He had tried the tv earlier, but couldn’t get it to work at all.
Morosely, he ate the sandwiches he packed for dinner and went to sleep on the couch early.
Steve woke up at the crack of dawn to bird song. It was a veritable cacophony outside his window and he jumped off the couch to pull the curtains away. The sky was blue without a cloud in sight and the soft early light made the dew sparkle and shine on everything in the garden. Birds flittered between the shrubs and Steve thought he saw a squirrel race up a tree. It was almost like a fairytale morning, and a far cry from the gloomy and overcast day yesterday.
His watch told him it was 5.30, hours before he would wake up back home. He shouldn’t call it that anymore. Home was here now. There was nothing left in New York for him.
He enjoyed the serene sight for a little while longer before setting out to make breakfast and clean some more.
The two days before the moving van arrived flew past in a flurry of cleaning, walking back and forth to the general store in town for supplies and spending a mind boggling time on hold while trying to get his cable fixed. His neighbours both popped in to say hi, which was nice but also took a hefty chunk out of his cleaning time.
"She left the house to you?" his British neighbour Peggy asked him. "What about James?"
Steve had looked confused enough for her to explain.
Steve had shrugged and written it off as a mistake, the incident quickly forgotten as he ploughed through stacks and stacks of old magazines.
He lived on a diet of grilled cheese, canned soup and blackberries - after he found a huge bush rambling along the side of the house - barely taking the time to eat as he scrubbed every surface and lugged everything he wanted gone into the front yard. When the movers finally came the house was as clean as it could be and there was more than enough space for the few pieces of furniture that Steve brought with him.
Steve breathed a sigh of relief when the movers finally closed the door on the last of his garbage and the truck moved away down the winding lane. He watched it until it was out of sight and turned to look at the house. No going back now. He thought he saw the curtain moving in his upstairs bedroom when he walked up the path, but rejected it immediately. He was tired and the light was playing tricks on him, that was all.
It was too late to cycle to the store to stock up on groceries - Steve might've missed his bike as much as Netflix - but his pbj sandwiches tasted really good eaten from his own plate and with his lumbar pillow in his back.
He hummed to himself as he washed up. He couldn't wait to sleep in an actual bed again. All the room upstairs needed was a fresh coat of paint and that could wait till later. Tomorrow he'd make a start on the garden, clear away some of the shrubs near the windows for a better view. The old bedroom downstairs would make an excellent studio with its large windows and view of the garden, and his fingers itched to paint again.
He turned around to put his plate away and startled bad enough to jump, yell and let his plate drop onto the ground.
At his table sat a man. A very large man. Strangely dressed and deadly pale, and very, very much there where there shouldn't be anyone.
The man startled almost as badly as Steve at his reaction and stood up fast enough to make his chair fall backwards, making them both startle again.
"WHO THE HELL ARE YOU AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN MY HOUSE?" Steve screamed at the trespasser when he stepped closer with his hands outstretched like Steve was a skittish animal to tame.
The man had the decency to back away a step. "I'm James Buchanan Barnes," he said, straightening his tie-shawl-thing as he spoke.
James looked like he came straight from an 18th century carnival, which made the situation all the more surreal. How did he get into the house? Without Steve hearing a thing?
They stared at each other for a moment -Steve fumbling for his phone and James looking expectantly.
"And you might be..?" James asked, looking like he was the one who lived here instead of the other way around.
"Steve Rogers," Steve heard himself answer instead of calling the cops like he should do. His internalized Sam was heavily rolling his eyes in between yelling at him for being a dumbass, but Steve couldn't help but be charmed at the pleased smile James gave him.
"Pleased to make your acquaintance," the man said with a small bow and motioned at the table and chairs.
"You look quite a bit like Agatha," James said as he picked his chair up and sat down, looking at Steve expectantly again.
"Agatha?" Steve found himself sitting before he gave himself the conscious command to do so.
"Your late aunt," James said and seemed to turn even paler, his large grey eyes sad like an autumn sea. Before Steve could wonder when the Heck he had become a poet James spoke again.
"I didn't mean to scare you like that. I'm not used to interact with people anymore."
The smile James gave Steve was warm and friendly and Steve was glad James had stopped by when he did.
"That's okay," Steve smiled back. "How did you know my aunt? Wait a minute. Peggy said something about a James! That's you, isn't it? We didn't know she had kids." Steve was glad he could contribute something to the conversation, but James looked pained.
"She didn't. It's… complicated," the man said after a pause, shooting a wistful glance at the former bedroom before turning back to Steve.
"Steven. Did you read the terms and conditions for the deed in Agatha's will? Thoroughly?"
Steve wanted to nod and have James give him that pleased smile again, but the truth was, he had tried to read through all the official lingo but couldn't make heads nor tails of some of it. He couldn't afford a lawyer and the notary told him not to worry and Steve had believed that was enough.
"I'm your roommate," James stated. "You inherited me with the house, if you will." James inclined his head and Steve found he willed very much.
"Wow," he smiled, but his inner Sam tried to kick him into gear. Vaguely, he realised he should be alarmed and not charmed, but it was difficult with James looking so handsome and smiling so pleased.
"Wait," Steve frowned. "Where do you sleep?"
Steve wasn't sure of anything at the moment, but he did know he hadn't encountered a functional bedroom after he arrived.
"Don't worry about it," James smiled pleasantly, and Steve stopped worrying. "In fact, I think you should go and get some sleep yourself."
Steve nodded. He was feeling drowsy. He got up and walked to the door where he turned around to wave at James.
"Bye," he smiled.
When he woke the next morning the whole encounter was nothing but a vivid dream, if not for the shards of his plate in the bin.
After cutting away enough weeds Steve found a shed in the back of the garden with more than enough tools to really get some results. He cut, sawed, tore and mowed the whole morning, making a huge heap of rubbish he hoped to convert into compost some day. Around noon his whole body hurt in the nice way when you’ve pushed yourself hard, and he sat down in the lawn chair he also found in the shed.
The place was starting to grow on him, he thought as he sat and overlooked his premises. He kinda liked the old timey higgledy piggledy-ness of the house, which seemed a lot wider on the outside than on the inside. Must be the walls being built thicker way back when for isolation.
A lot thicker, he frowned, but in front of him a brightly coloured bird landed on the grass and caught his attention, and he quickly snapped a few pics so he could paint it later.
The house was too big for one Steve. He only used the living room slash kitchen dining room and one bedroom upstairs, and he had converted the former master bedroom into a studio (mainly by stripping it to the bare floor boards and moving his easel and paints there).
The other bedroom upstairs he planned to make into a guest room - as if he'd ever have someone over - but that still left the attic and the weird two rooms on the other side of the hallway. Steve had felt reluctant to change those when he first moved in, not in a small part because he didn't know what to do with them.
Their presence irked though, so after a week he decided to at least make a start with clearing out the bookcase in the back room. Armed with empty boxes, a wet cloth and Spotify - thank you gods of Wifi - Steve set to work.
It took much longer than he thought to work through the books because there were a lot of interesting ones he sat down to leave through. The stack to keep was larger than the give away one, and Steve knew Sam would laugh at him when he finally came over. If he finally came over.
The next book looked like a heavy one, so Steve braced himself, but he wasn't ready for it to not move at all. With a frown, he tugged again and suddenly the wall began to move.
Steve stepped back with wide eyes, killing the music on his phone as part of the wall turned away, revealing a dark space beyond.
Oh god oh god oh god oh god
Steve was filled with a mixture of dread and excitement when the crisp scent of old stone hit his nose. He probably should go outside and get some help, the Sam part of his brain told him, but this was his house and his aunt had lived here to a venerable age. Surely there was no harm in stepping into the crypt-like room.
The little light his phone screen gave wasn't enough to penetrate the dark, but as soon as Steve's eyes were accustomed to the gloom he saw he was standing in a bedroom.
A huge oaken four poster bed with dark curtains occupied almost the whole of the space.
Dread began to win from excitement as he slowly moved forward to peer beyond the curtains. Almost in slow motion Steve reached out to pull the curtain to the side, his heart jack hammering loud enough to alert anyone who was nearby.
On the bed was a man. A very large, very pale man, sleeping peacefully under a cheerful quilted blanket. The pinks, blues and yellows were such a strange contrast to the deep burgundy of the curtains and the dark brown of the oak that Steve emitted a nervous giggle.
He pressed his free hand against his mouth to keep any more sounds from escaping, but it was too late. The man on the bed stirred and opened his eyes.
Steve was already out of the room when the deep voice rumbled "Steven."
Steve pushed frantically at the bookcase, but it didn't move an inch, and when he heard the rustling of the sheets Steve turned and fled out of the house.
It had to be a vampire. James Buchanan Barnes. It hadn't been a dream at all, that meeting in his kitchen. Steve had lived together with a vampire for almost two weeks.
Steve paced up and down the backyard, making sure to keep in the sunlight and away from the shadows.
What did he know about vampires? Sunlight killed them. Stakes. Possibly had to be wood, he wasn't sure about that. Weak against silver? Or was that werewolves? He needed more intel.
A shape moving behind the living room window caught his eye, and transfixed Steve watched James walk from the kitchen door into his studio. James stayed a little away from the window, so Steve was right about the vampire part he thought hysterically, and looked at Steve.
James looked sad more than anything, a part of Steve noted, in old man's pajamas and his long hair in disarray. With his shoulders slumped he didn't strike such an imposing figure as he had on the night they met.
Steve remembered how grief stricken James had looked at the mention of Steve's aunt, and Peggy mentioning a James as the more obvious one to inherit her house. Had his aunt lived together with a vampire on her own volition?
James moved again, and Steve saw him put something that looked like a large book onto the desk before walking back to his bedroom, presumably. Steve now understood why the house looked off the way it did.
Gathering all his courage, Steve darted back into the studio, grabbed the book which turned out to be a photo album, and ran out again. He took the album and his phone and biked to the nearest library.
James Buchanan Barnes had lived from 1722 to 1748, and presumably died while saving kids from a fire in the local orphanage. Son of the local Lord, he had thus been known both for sleeping around and helping the townsfolk where he could. This made him a little of a celebrity in the town which was why Steve could easily find a painting of him.
The resemblance to the James in Steve's house was striking.
Steve tried to find some news about his house as well, but couldn't find more than the delivery date and his aunt's deed of purchase.
Before he would look up ways to kill a vampire Steve decided to look at the album. He didn't think he could kill anyone in cold blood anyway, not even a deadly one like James.
He settled down in a quiet nook and opened the album.
The first pages were filled with pictures that were familiar, pictures he still had the twin of. His grandparents, his mom as a tiny tot, some people whose names were lost to time, and a woman whom he recognised as his great aunt.
On page three was the first picture of the house. Gradually photos of the family were replaced by photos of the house and the neighbouring countryside. One entire page was dedicated to a crude drawing of James, with the caption James looking handsome on my birthday.
The captions to pictures became longer and more detailed.
A bouquet of wildflowers James picked me on his evening stroll.
Stargazing over the lake. James insisted I wore his jacket.
Sprained my ankle when I fell from the appletree. James has been fussing over me non stop.
On and on.
For all intents and purposes his great aunt seemed to have been married to James. No wonder the man, vampire, person looked so sad. His love had died and as soon as Steve moved in he proceeded to chuck out all of her stuff. He felt more sorry than scared now.
With a new resolve Steve biked back to the house, apprehension growing as it came within sight. That his aunt and her neighbours hadn't been eaten was reassuring, but not a reason for Steve to throw caution completely in the wind.
He fashioned a crude stake from one of the branches he had sawed off earlier, and caustically stepped into the house.
James surprised him again. The vampire was standing in the kitchen, stirring something that smelled divine, especially to Steve who wasn't in the habit to cook for himself and grievously missed takeout.
Steve half heartedly brandished his stake, and James eyed it as he nervously wiped his hands on his flowered apron.
"I made you casserole," James blurted out with his hands held up in the air.
"Casserole?" Steve's mouth said, probably by order of his stomach which rumbled appreciably. "Wait. Don't you want to eat me ?"
The corner of James' mouth curled up at Steve's lack of either killing him or throwing him out, and Steve waved his stake some more to show he wasn't afraid to use it. A blatant lie but James was nice enough to stop smirking.
"Pff. I'm not a barbarian. I eat steak, rare. And greens and mash to go with it."
Steve blinked at the vampire and felt himself grow fond of him, instead of confused or angry. He clutched his head and glared at James. "Hey, stop that."
"Sorry." James did look sorry as the fond feeling retreated.
"Did you do… that, " Steve waved at his head to indicate he meant the feeling of being hypnotized, "to me on the night we met as well?"
James nodded and bit his lower lip. "Not on purpose, not entirely. I won't do it again." He waved at the pan. "Let's eat?"
Steve sighed. He honestly didn't have a better plan. He was sure that feeding your victim casserole wasn't in the Vampire for Dummies guidebook, and besides that, James could've sucked him dry without Steve ever waking up every night for the past two weeks. "No funny business though," he warned, putting the stake next to his plate.
"I wouldn't dream of it," James smiled.
Living with an almost 300 year old vampire turned out to be kinda nice. James was really, kinda nice.
When Steve landed a job at the local elementary school as the arts teacher, James cooked dinner on the days he worked. They sat together in the garden after sunset or played board games at the table. James didn't mind that Steve cheated, because he did so as well, and the only game they had a real fight about was when playing Scrabble. James rejected everything that wasn't in his fifty year old thesaurus, and actually became mad when Steve tried to show him the dictionary on his phone.
"I don't need to look at that fancy lightshow!" James exclaimed, waving an impervious hand at Steve's phone.
Steve grinned and pretended to accidentally knock over the board as he put his phone away. No more Scrabble.
"What's it like to be so old?"
They sat side by side on the chairs in the sitting room, a small fire burning in the hearth. James preferred being there instead of the larger living room and Steve didn't mind.
"Depends on what year you ask me. Fifty years ago? Top of the world. Last year? Horrible."
James shot Steve that half smile that made Steve's stomach feel like it was trying to do a somersault. "Now? Not too shabby."
Steve smiled back. He was glad James was feeling a little better, but it was getting harder to not be jealous of his aunt. James and her had been together for decades, so the vampire would be mourning her for quite some time yet. Steve respected this, of course he did, but lately he might’ve hoped to have a little… more than a pure platonic house owner - vampire squatter relationship. It made him imagine that the way James smiled at him was different from how he first did, that James’ eyes maybe lingered longer on him than was strictly necessary. It was all a fancy of course. Just Steve’s overwrought imagination.
“Do you regret being turned?” Steve asked to distract himself, and also because he was curious. James rarely talked about anything that had to do with being a vampire, but sometimes he would share little bits of his life.
James shrugged. "Sometimes." He sat forward to poke at the fire so Steve could only see his back. "It's hard to keep on seeing the ones you love wither away and perish." A viscous stab at the embers made the fire flare up and bathe the room in its orange glow.
“Then again, I probably would’ve died of syphilis sooner rather than later,” James said as he turned around with a lecherous grin, “so I can’t be too mad about it.”
Steve couldn’t deny the grin did things to him, things that he shouldn’t project onto a grieving widower, and he hurriedly looked down at his drawing again as James sat back, gazing at the fire.
They sat in silence, until a thought struck Steve. “Hey James?”
“Why are there no photographs of you?”
James looked up with a confused look on his face, like Steve had disturbed him deep in thought. “Silver,” he frowned. “There’s a small amount of silver in the film that prevents a vampire’s image to be captured.”
“You’re more inquisitive than usual, Steven,” James rumbled in that low voice of his, not unkindly.
Steve pulled his phone from his pocket and pointed it at James. “Smile!” he said brightly and snapped a shot of the confused looking vampire. He opened the image and grinned. Perfect.
“Look, it's you." Steve turned the screen towards James. He was prepared for several reactions, but none of those included James staring in shock at the image, his mouth slightly agape. His hand hovered uncertainty halfway between his arm rest and the phone, like he wanted to touch but didn't dare.
Thank you," James said to Steve when he pulled his eyes away from the screen, and Steve was shocked to see a single tear roll over James' cheek.
"Why?" Steve was flabbergasted. It wasn't even a flattering pic, although even with a scrunched up nose and one eye half closed James was still handsome.
James cleared his throat. "This is the first time I see myself in over 250 years. I had almost forgotten…" He touched his face in wonder, and Steve felt awestruck.
"You don't look a day over thirty," he joked, before he did something stupid like cry as well, but the smile James send him had his stomach in knots anyway.
Steve stumbled out of bed and cursed loudly when he hit his toe against the door frame on his way out. Downstairs was ominously quiet now, after the loud crash that had woken Steve at way too early a.m. He at least had the presence of mind to put on his glasses so he could vaguely make out where he was as he sneaked down the stairs as quietly as he could. He wished he had something to hit or stab whoever was downstairs with, and settled for the heavy candelabra at the foot of the stairs James had put there after Steve had thrown out the old one.
Living with James had made Steve think he was safe from burglars and other unsavories, but he realized he had grown complacent. James regularly took a midnight stroll and Steve’s house was completely undefended when he was away.
Carefully he stepped over the creaking floorboard and peered through the glass window of the kitchen door. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw it was only James, who was pacing up and down while muttering darkly.
Steve put the candelabra and pushed open the door to a guilty looking James. The vampire even hastily put his hands behind his back like Steve caught him in the act of something.
"Steve, hello," he said lamely, and Steve was pretty sure that if vampires could blush James would be a bright red.
"Hello Buck," Steve answered as he nonchalantly leaned against the door frame, crossing his arms in front of his chest. He couldn't deny it felt nice to feel on top of the situation for a change, where James usually left him off kilter with the barest smile.
James scowled at the nickname, one Steve had given him after James had told him a tale about a farmer's girl, a buck, and three pints of lager, but Steve merely raised his eyebrows. His ma had perfected the ‘I can tell you’re up to no good and you might as well come clean now’ look, and James clearly was up to no good.
Apparently the look worked on undead creatures of the night as well, because James pushed his hands forward to show Steve’s phone. Or what used to be Steve’s phone before James had done… whatever it was that made the thing fold in half.
“I’m sorry, Steve. I’ll replace it for you,” James said, his whole posture slumped.
Steve stepped forward to snatch the remnants of his phone from James’ hands, trying against all odds to bend it back into its original shape, knowing full well there was no saving it.
“Why?” Was all he could think of asking as he looked up at the contrite looking vampire.
“I just. Err. Wanted to make another picture? But it wouldn’t turn on. And when Agatha had an apparatus that didn’t work she shook it, or hit it,” James explained, waving at the completely destroyed phone.
Steve turned his gaze at the kitchen table, and noticed the phone shape dent in the tabletop.
“You’re crazy strong.”
“Mwah,” James hedged and shrugged, but Steve noticed a tiny upturn of the corner of his mouth like he was secretly pleased.
“You’re crazy strong. Bet you could lift me, no problem,” Steve nodded, feeling excited now. His phone had been ready for an upgrade and if he could save the memory card there was no real harm done. The busted phone wasn’t as exciting as finally seeing what James could do. In other people this would strike fear into their hearts, but Steve couldn’t wait to see more.
“Of course I can lift you,” James answered, frowning indignant. “You’re small.”
“Hey!” Now it was Steve’s turn to frown, even though he didn’t have any counter argument. “Do it then,” was the next logical thing to say.
James did that little smile thing again, and very carefully, like he was afraid Steve would break like his phone had, he put his hands on Steve’s hips and just… lifted him straight into the air.
“Woah!” Steve had to grab onto James’ shoulders for fear of toppling and falling to the ground, though he had no doubt the vampire would never let that happen. And wow, James’ hands on him felt really, very nice.
“Easy,” James smiled outright now and gently put him down again before Steve could embarrass himself by sprouting wood in James' arms.
“So,” Steve cleared his throat and rubbed his clammy hands over his pajama pants. “I’d better head back up, work and all,” he said, while pointing behind himself, roughly in the direction of the stairs. “I’ll go and buy a new phone on my way home tomorrow.”
“Okay,” James nodded and turned away, and Steve was almost sure he imagined the resigned look on his face.
“What’s up with garlic?” Steve asked as they sat down for dinner - oven seared beef tenderloin with crushed herbs for Steve and raw meat for James.
James managed to look both amused and annoyed at the same time, glaring at Steve with his resting murder face but with a twinkle in his eye. “Why, were you planning a dinner party?” He asked innocently.
“No, seriously. What’s up with garlic. I’ve thought about it, but there’s no reason at all why you would have a worse reaction to garlic than say, tomatoes.” Steve held up a truss of cherry tomatoes that had baked in the oven alongside the meat.
“It’s gross,” James answered, spearing a piece of meat onto his fork. “You taste it for days afterward and the smell…” He shook his head and turned up his nose.
“Those,” he continued while pointing at the tomatoes, “are yummy.”
“Fine. Don’t tell me.” Steve scowled as he chewed.
James was looking outright amused now. “Come on, ask me another one.”
Steve was torn between curiosity and childish petulance, but like always curiosity won. “Silver.”
“It’s something to do with the chemical compound. I don’t know the specifics, but I know it hurts.” James shuddered at some long ago but not forgotten memory.
“Garlic has a chemical compound!” Steve exclaimed, not yet willing to give up on it.
“I’m sorry, kid, but you can’t kill me with garlic. You can gross me out with garlic, but that’s it.”
“Stake through the heart?”
“ Everyone dies from a stake through the heart.”
“There’s no such thing.”
“Of course there is,” Steve replied, but only for the sake of arguing, and he took another bite instead of pushing it further at James’ unimpressed eyebrow.
“You sure did your homework on how to kill your roommate,” James chuckled, his grin a tad bit sharp. “You can just ask me to leave, you know.”
Steve didn’t know how to decipher James’ expression. Sad? Resigned? Steve thought about what it would be like to live out here by himself and he didn’t think he would like it much. Having James around was a God send.
“I don’t want you to leave,” he said decisively. “This is your home.” That it was Steve’s home as well was a coincidence; he was lucky James hadn’t packed up yet, and left his skinny ass.
The way James’ eyes smoldered as he nodded at Steve was just a trick of the light.
The nights were getting steadily longer, which meant James would stay up later and join Steve at breakfast. It became a habit for James to bake fresh bread early in the morning, permeating the whole house with its delicious smell and teasing Steve down earlier than he would’ve gotten up by himself. The sight of early morning James never failed to do things to Steve.
After Steve had gifted James an old person’s smartphone, the vampire quickly discovered the internet, which, besides some hilarious and embarrassing discussions, also led to the discovery of the joys of online shopping. Which in turn paved the way for James to buy modern clothing, most noticeably skinny jeans in seven colors, ridiculously soft looking sweaters, and a black on black three piece suit.
Waking up to James in a purple skin tight jeans with a white henley on top, his face and arms covered in flour or dough, was both a blessing and a curse, and forced Steve to finally face the fact that he had a horrible, horrible crush.
To avoid making a fool of himself by throwing himself at James to lick the raw dough off his face, Steve tried to wait until after James had cleaned up and sat sipping his morning tea before going downstairs. He must’ve fallen asleep again this morning, because he woke up to his door being nudged open, quickly followed by James holding a tray.
“Morning, doll,” James smiled and Steve felt himself get short of breath for non asthmatic reasons. James was looking good. He always looked good, effortlessly, where Steve struggled daily to get his bangs into some sort of shape, or his clothes to not emphasize his general lack of body fat and muscle. Today, though, today it was like James had pulled out all the stops in a special effort to taunt Steve. His long hair was done up in an artfully messy bun, his dark blue jeans seemed to be painted on, and the sky blue of his button up was the exact color of his eyes.
Steve fumbled for his glasses on the nightstand, but he was too shaken by the events that he pushed them on the floor. In a fit of superhuman speed James was at his side, smiling down on him with the tray in one hand and Steve’s glasses in the other. “Here,” he smiled, and Steve couldn’t do anything but smile back.
Briefly Steve wondered if James was putting another glamour on him, but he didn’t think so. The fiery red of his cheeks and the appearance of his enthusiastic morning wood were all a culmination of months of pining.
“Thank you,” Steve croaked and awkwardly cleared his throat as he sat up in a way that made the blankets pool around his waist to hide his boner.
“You didn’t come down, so I thought I’d bring you your breakfast before it got cold.”
There was something more James seemed to want to say, but he didn’t, and Steve didn’t ask.
“Thank you,” Steve said again, fondly now instead of just disoriented, and he hesitated only a second before adding; “will you join me?”
James' smile was better than all the fresh baked bread in the world.
“Wow.” Steve had to sit down on something, anything, but the ground was covered in over a foot of snow and although he had to change into clean pants anyway he hated the feeling of a cold, wet butt. (He had fallen down more than once this week alone, so he was intimately acquainted with the feeling.)
In front of him James had hacked through the trunk of a huge Christmas tree in two clean cuts, and was presently holding the tree in one hand. A feet off the ground. In one hand. James was beaming proudly at Steve, so he pulled his eyes away from the tree to smile at James. “Wow. That’s perfect.”
You’re perfect, Steve’s brain wanted to say, but he managed to keep that inside. James didn’t seem as sad anymore as he had almost half a year ago, but Steve still caught him looking wistfully into the distance now and again. Decades of marriage weren’t erased in the span of six months.
Steve had almost refused to decorate his house after an apologetic message from Sam that told him his friend wouldn’t be able to get leave during the holidays. When James found out he had first pulled Steve into a hug, before all but dragging him out into the garden to the most perfect pine tree Steve had ever seen outside of a Hallmark movie.
A shiver ran through Steve and it spurred James into action. “Steven! I keep forgetting you can’t stand the cold, come, let’s go inside.”
Steve hurried inside after James, and let the vampire herd him to a chair in the small sitting room, close to the fire. James even brought him warm cocoa and a blanket, and Steve soaked up all the attention. Did Agatha let James take care of her like this? He sipped his cocoa while James puttered around in the main room.
“Are you warm enough now?” James asked when he came back. He stepped up to Steve and put a cold hand against his cheek, concern clear in his grey eyes. Steve thought he could drown in James’ eyes, and what a death it would be. He realized James was waiting for an answer, so he nodded and smiled.
“Good! The tree is ready for decorating,” James smiled and held out a hand to help Steve out of the chair.
“I don't have enough decorations for the whole tree," Steve confessed softly. In New York he only had space for a tiny foldable tree, and as soon as he got Sam's message he didn't feel like buying anything else.
"That's okay, we can share."
It turned out that James had saved several boxes of decorations from Steve's cleaning rage in summer, and after hours of work they collapsed onto the couch together, looking heart eyed at their tree.
It might be because Steve was happy and sleepy and warm, or maybe it was because of some Christmas magic, but he imagined James looked heart eyed at him as well. When he rested his head on James' shoulder the vampire wrapped his arm around Steve's shoulders and pulled him close.
"This is nice," Steve sighed.
"Hmm," James agreed and Steve could feel the low rumble against his cheek. He tentatively reached out to fold his arm over James' chest, already practically lying on top of him. In a daze he watched James raise his hand to tangle their fingers together, his lazy hazy mood making way for something nervous and jittery.
He blinked up at James and a shiver ran down his spine at the intensity of James' gaze. He knew in that moment that if James asked he would bare his neck without hesitation. Not because of some glamour spell, but because it was James, and Steve needed James in his life.
"James, what are we doing?" He asked, his voice smaller than he liked it to be, but fear of rejection crept along his spine to steal his courage.
"Whatever you want, my Moonshine," James answered, and the perfect moment was ruined when Steve snorted out loud.
"Moonshine?" He asked with a grin, looking incredulous at James.
"Because you're intoxicating and pack a punch," the vampire answered smoothly, leaning in a little.
Oh . Ohhh . "But what about Agatha?" Steve's stupid mouth said instead of kissing James' lips which were so very close.
"What about Agatha?" James looked truly confused which confused Steve.
"Your late lover Agatha?"
James' eyes widened, and then the vampire erupted into laughter, clutching at Steve to keep him from falling off his lap. "You thought we were together?" he chuckled when his laughter died down.
"Well, duh," Steve scowled. He hated being made fun of.
James bent forward again and gently wiped one lock of hair away from Steve's eyes. "Your great aunt, sweet Steven, loved women. And in a time where this wasn't allowed, she chose to spend her life with an old queer vampire."
Ohhhh . The smouldering look James gave him could've melted rocks. It sure did funny things to all of Steve's insides, and this time he was glad his brain didn't interject any words before his lips met James'.
The kiss was soft and infinitely gentle, and Steve was addicted immediately.
"James," he breathed, feeling boneless and worked up at the same time. "Can we do that again?"