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#Blessed

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High school wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t too bad. You didn’t really have any close friends, but that wasn’t surprising. Small towns could be incredibly insular, and either you fit in, or you didn’t. You had fit in once, long ago, but a car accident the year you turned eight had changed all that. You’d missed much of the school year, healing from bad bone breaks and some internal injuries, and when you were ready to go back, you had just missed too much to rejoin your class. As they moved on to the fourth grade, you were kept a year back, and you became an immediate outsider: not part of your new class, not part of your old class, something odd and in between in a small Catholic school where everyone knew everyone else and you grew up together, moving from grade to grade as a group. By high school it hadn’t changed and though you had managed to make a few friends from your old age group, they weren’t terribly close and you were still on the fringes.

You didn’t mind so much, really. The only big hiccup was that each class year had a single lunch period, so though you had a few friendly enough acquaintances in your year, you had no one you really felt like spending the time with to socialize. Midway through your sophomore year, you started eating your lunch in the school library, and that was when things began to change with Father Steve.

 

He had arrived in town at the start of your freshman year, joining the small parish that had long been headed by Father Donahue, all on his own. It immediately caused a bit of a stir, a handsome young man taking up a clergy post in a small town where life tended to revolve around the happenings of the church. He quickly gained a reputation for being kind and friendly, where Father Donahue had always been a bit on the surly and judgemental side, and was well liked by everyone in the parish -- especially the teenage girls, who tended to blush and titter as he passed by and gave them a smile.

You were not immune to it, though you liked to think you didn’t broadcast it like the others. You had been as surprised as anyone to meet the new young priest; it had always just been Father Donahue, and the elderly Father Edwin who had retired and moved away when you were still in grade school. The thought had never occured to you that there would even be priests quite so young -- and certainly not so handsome.

It was his smile that really got you, in the end. Sure, his eyes were gorgeous -- soft and kind and incredibly blue -- and the well-muscled body he hid beneath his black cotton shirts and collars was quite the surprise, making even the most pure of PTA moms go wide-eyed and flushed when he turned up in shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt to play in the Faculty vs Students basketball game, but that smile is what drew you in. It was a little crooked, one corner turning up just a bit higher than the other, lower lip often chapped and pink, and always reaching those beautiful eyes with a touch of mirth, a touch of fondness. You’d forgotten to breathe for just a second, the first time it was trained on you.

But you were a realist. You were a teenager, still in high school, and he was a priest. It didn’t matter that he was attractive and so young, just a scant few years older than you; Father Steve was about as attainable as the photoshopped faces that lined magazine pages. You could admire all you wanted in the back of your mind, but you easily compartmentalized and pushed those thoughts away.

After all, it’d be very awkward if you harbored a long crush on him, what with the rumor being he would be fully taking over the small parish from Father Donahue in coming years.

 

Hunched over a library table with the remains of your lunch scattered around and a book open in front of you, you barely registered the creak of the chair across from you being pulled out and might not have noticed him at all if the broadness of his shoulders hadn’t blocked some of the light streaming in through the back windows. You always took the table in the back, not wanting to be disturbed, and for the most part you passed your lunch hours unseen -- at least until that particular day.

You glanced up in surprise to see the young Father smiling at you. “Now I could be wrong,” he told you, voice pitched low in deference to the rules of the library, “But last I checked, this wasn’t the cafeteria.”

You immediately flushed. “Sorry,” you muttered, moving to pack up your things.

“Hey, no, it’s okay,” Father Steve said, teasing smile softening into a more concerned expression, one hand reached across the table to gently take your wrist and stop your hurried packing. “You don’t have to go,” he went on. “I was just surprised to see you back here. Need some extra study time this week?”

Father Steve didn’t teach at the school, though he was omnipresent on campus; he was involved in many of the outreach programs and extracurricular activities as well as some counseling, and had a small office on the third floor. It wasn’t unusual to encounter him in the halls, though for some reason it startled you a little for him to find you in your library hideaway.

“No, no, I just…” you started, flush deepening. Not even your parents knew that you didn’t socialize much with your peers; you didn’t want them to worry, and it didn’t bother you enough to call attention to it. Still, it was embarrassing to admit to someone like Father Steve. You were certain he must have had dozens of friends when he was in school.

You sighed. “I don’t… I don’t really have anyone to each lunch with so I just come up here. It’s okay though, I like it this way, it’s… it’s quiet.”

Father Steve considered your words for a moment and then nodded. “I used to spend my lunch behind the bleachers in the gym at my high school,” he told you. “Kinda smelled like old sneakers in there, but it was worth it not to deal with the cafeteria.”

Your eyes went wide with surprise; Father Steve, hiding out? It couldn’t be.

His gaze drifted over the remnants of your lunch, half a sandwich and some cool ranch Doritos in plastic bags, sitting atop the brown paper bag you had carried it in.

“Though I do think we have some rules here about food and drinks in the library,” he intoned in the most officious voice you’d ever heard him use. You opened your mouth to defend yourself but had no chance, eyes widening again as Father Steve leaned forward with his hands clasped on the table, a conspiratorial smile on his face. “But I might be willing to overlook that if you wanted to share those chips with me.”

You laughed in surprise, clapping a hand over your mouth to stifle the sudden sound, feeling a little warm all over when Father Steve chuckled in response. You nudged the half-empty chip bag towards him and helped himself, giving a pleased sigh as he crunched on the proffered snack.

“Oh man,” he said, leaning back in his chair and shaking his head. “I haven’t had these in years.”

You smiled, a real, genuine smile for a change. “Can’t put Doritos on the rectory shopping list, Father Steve?” you teased. If there was a flirtatious lilt to your voice, he didn’t seem to notice.

He leaned forward again and dropped his voice to a whisper, as though he were telling you some grand secret. “Father Donahue doesn’t like them. Ate a stale one once and broke his dentures. Now they’re banned from the kitchen.”

You couldn’t help but giggle, Father Steve joining you in your laughter, loud enough to earn a gently admonishing look from the librarian. It passed quickly, the overall affection for Father Steve in the parish and attached schools enough to sway her to move on, leaving you both to your laughter.

The next morning, when you were packing your lunch for the day, you threw an extra bag of Doritos in your usual brown paper bag on a hunch. When Father Steve showed up in the library at the start of your lunch period with his own brown paper bag in tow, you smiled and pulled out the extra chips, tossing them onto the table in front of the seat just across from you.

Father Steve grinned, and that was where it really began.

Chapter Text

The thought never occurred to you to find it strange. It didn’t occur to anyone, really; not the librarian that saw you talking and quietly laughing each day, not your parents when you’d casually mention chatting with Father Steve about this or that topic that was lately holding your interest. You certainly didn’t think it out of the ordinary when you’d walk into the afternoon study hall that Father Steve proctored twice a week and see the way he lit up in a smile to see you.

Father Steve was just being friendly, after all. He was a kind man, and a good role model. If nothing else, your parents were pleased that you had taken an interest in the Church, in a manner of speaking, and happy to see that your mood seemed to be in a better place as of late.

You found yourself often thinking how nice it would be if Father Steve was a boy your age, rather than the rising star in the parish. How lovely it could be if he sat beside you in study hall, instead of smiling at you from the teacher’s desk. How wonderful it would be if he held your hand across the library table, rather than reaching across just to pat your hand gently and then quickly pull his away. You were certain you weren’t the first person at your Church to have a crush on the young priest, but something told you that you were feeling it a lot more than anyone else.

 

One ordinary Thursday found you late for study hall, having stopped at your locker to grab a textbook for the following period and dawdled a little too long, pausing at a water fountain and nipping into the bathroom to check your hair. When you finally made it to the assigned classroom, the rest of the students were engaged in their studies or chatting, barely taking notice of you as you walked inside.

Father Steve and said your name quietly as you entered, arching a blonde eyebrow. “Took your time in getting here today?” he asked quietly.

You smiled. “Sorry, Father,” you responded, gripping the straps of your backpack and bouncing just a little on your heels. “I guess I lost track of time?”

“Let’s just not make it a habit,” he told you, and nodded for you to take a seat. You had just turned to head towards an open desk when you heard him draw in a sharp breath and call you back again.

You frowned, the expression on the friendly priest’s face unreadable.

“Yes, Father Steve?” you asked.

He bit his lip for a short moment. “Are you sure you understand the uniform code?” he asked softly; you didn’t miss the way his eyes, normally so bright and lively but now somehow darker, drifted from your untucked white uniform blouse to your pleated plaid skirt and then down your bare legs to your slouched socks and sneakers.

You frowned and glanced down, unsure of what he was seeing until you lit on the untucked blouse. “Oh. Yeah, sorry. I guess I forgot to tuck it in this morning.”

“And your skirt?” Father Steve pressed, swallowing hard. “You’re not rolling the waist, are you? You know we have rules about that.”

Your frown deepened; uniform skirts were meant to be worn no more than two inches above the knee, everyone knew that. Few took risks with it -- most faculty was glad to pull out a ruler and check if you argued.

“I’m not,” you protested. You glanced down again; your skirt didn’t seem any shorter than usual, at least not to you.

“Please just… take your seat,” the priest said quietly, and you uncertainly made your way to an open desk, wondering what that was all about.

The next day at lunch in the library, it was like it never happened at all.

It continued like that for some time. Father Steve seemed to run hot and cold; while he was mostly the fun and kind man you saw that first afternoon in the library, he’d go quiet and contemplative sometimes, questioning you on silly inconsequential things, like the state of your uniform, how you spent your time outside of school, or the way you’d show up late to study hall on occasion.

 

One afternoon found him particularly harsh; you were late to your Algebra class, not knowing that the teacher everyone hated and dreaded, Mr. Pierce, had called out sick and that Father Steve had stepped in to proctor. You showed up at the door a full ten minutes late, snickering over a stupid joke told by Scott Lang, one of the few students in your own grade year that you were friendly with. You’d run into each other in the hallway when you were each looking for excuses to blow off Algebra entirely, settling on arriving late enough to annoy Pierce but not enough to really get into trouble for it.

“Apparently your tardiness is no longer limited to study hall,” Father Steve’s voice cut out coldly when you tried to slip in the door. You froze in place, startled at his tone of voice, leaving Scott, who was still laughing, to crash right into you.

You blushed. “Father Steve! What are you…?”

He sighed heavily and stood. “Mr. Pierce is not in today,” he said evenly, his eyes trained not on you but on Scott, who stood looking sheepish and cowed behind you. “Which you both would have known if you had bothered to arrive on time.”

A few of your classmates were watching now; it was clear they had been left busy work to do while Father Steve proctored, making sure everyone checked in for attendance count and no one got themselves into any trouble, but now their attention had turned from their worksheets to the front of the class. No one had ever heard Father Steve sound even a little bit angry before, not like this.

“Sorry, Father,” Scott said quickly, offering a shrug. “We were just…”

“Wasting time,” Father Steve filled in, frowning. “Time that should be spent doing the work that Mr. Pierce left for you to complete today, but you don’t have to worry about that now. You’ll both have plenty of time to finish your work in detention this afternoon.”

Scott nodded quickly and all but ran to his usual desk, but you were frozen in place. You’d never had detention before, not even so much as a demerit; and you’d certainly never been disciplined by Father Steve, of all people. You felt a little bit betrayed; you’d thought, for a time, that you really were friends, at the least.

He noticed your incredulous stare and shook his head, blue eyes cast down to the worn linoleum floor. “Please take your seat,” he said quietly, voice kinder than it had been only moments before, and you nodded numbly, sitting down at the back of the class. You felt almost as though you would cry, and couldn’t meet Father Steve’s gaze for the rest of the period.

 

Detention wasn’t so bad. At least Scott was there, and Dr. Erskine, a fun and friendly science teacher, was proctoring. He was extremely lenient, letting the students gathered do just about whatever they wanted, so long as they weren’t too loud and didn’t cause any real trouble.

It was getting dark out by the time detention was over and you were feeling awful about the way things happened that afternoon. At the last moment, you decided to run and see if Father Steve was in his office before you walked home. It would give you a chance to explain yourself -- or, at the least, to apologize. You didn’t like leaving things the way they were, or leaving him so angry at you. It made you feel uncomfortable and cold inside, like there was a sharp ball of ice in the pit of your stomach.

The third floor was deserted so late in the afternoon, with classes long done for the day and few people at all remaining on campus. The hallways seemed almost frightening, awash in shadow between the few flickering fluorescent lights still lighting the way. Father Steve’s door was open, warm yellow light spilling out into the hallway, and you approached slowly, nervous now that you were confronted with the reality of actually having to speak with him about it.

But you wanted to fix things. You needed to fix things.

You heard Father Steve speaking as you came near and you paused, thinking for a moment that he was in a counseling session or speaking with someone from the faculty. But, you reasoned, for something like that, he’d have closed his door -- you were sure of that much. And you noted as you got closer that it was only his voice you were hearing.

With a confused frown, you peeked just a little into the open doorway, standing in the shadow so you wouldn’t be seen.

Father Steve was leaned over his desk, his elbows braced on the weathered wooden desktop. There was a strand of beads in hands, clasped in front of him; dark green beads with silver accent pieces catching in the light, a crucifix dangling down. It was his rosary, you realized.

His forehead was pressed against his hands, his eyes squeezed shut.

“Please,” you heard him say, voice low and deep and barely above a whisper. “Please, help me. Help me. If this is a test, I am failing. I am failing. I need your help, your guidance, please… please, I can’t do this… I’ll lose everything, I’ll ruin her… I’ll ruin everything… I’m not strong enough.”

He was praying, you realized, blushing deep in the dark of the shadowy hallway. You were intruding on a private moment. You crept away, without interrupting him, wondering to yourself at what you had just seen.

Chapter Text

Father Steve didn’t come to the library for lunch the next day, or the day after. You thought perhaps he was still upset over the detention incident; he wasn’t even at your study hall that Thursday, Ms. Hill from the administrative office filling in for him without any reasons given. Even as it upset you and made you a bit nervous, you forced yourself to let it go. He may be a priest, you reminded yourself, but he was still human. You’d upset him, reminded him of the fact that you were a student and he wasn’t; he needed a little time.

And that was fine. That was okay. It wasn’t as though either of you had made any promises, after all. For all you knew, he just happened to be at the library often enough that he decided to take pity on you, eating all alone.

You didn’t like that thought very much. It made you feel a little pathetic, if you were being honest with yourself, and a little sad. You tried to push it away. After all, you were certain that come lunchtime on Monday afternoon, he would be back and everything would be good again.

Only, on Monday, he didn’t come back. You knew he was on campus -- you’d passed him in the hallways and he refused to even look at you. Tuesday came and he didn’t come to lunch, again, and Ms. Hill sat in for him during study hall, again.

Wednesday morning he walked right past you in an empty hallway, when you were running an errand for your homeroom teacher, and he didn’t so much as glance your way.

It was just too much after that. You had to talk to him, to straighten things out. Apologize. Tell him that you missed him -- missed his company.

Between your last two classes of the day, you made a point to go to the third floor and check Father Steve’s counseling sheet for the day. It hung on a clipboard outside of his closed office door and you knew he checked it regularly and always before leaving for the day, in case any of the students might need him. It surprised you to see that each of the squares were empty, but at least it worked out in your favor. You signed your name in the very last slot of the day, scribbling it so it was all but unreadable. All Father Steve would know was that a student was requesting a late counseling session; he’d have no idea it was you.

You spent the rest of your day nearly buzzing out of your skin with anticipation. You were nervous, afraid that an apology wouldn’t be enough and you’d lose your only real friend at school -- hell, even in town. You’d told him that once, on a quiet day in the library when you were feeling low and he was doing all he could to lift your spirits.

“I don’t really have any friends,” you’d said quietly, when he suggested spending some time out and about with your friends to bring a little cheerfulness back to yourself.

Father Steve’s brows knit for a moment and you’d been afraid to look, thinking you’d see only pity in his eyes. But there was no pity there, only sadness and understanding. He’d reached out across the table and squeezed your hand.

“We’re friends, aren’t we?” he’d asked.

You’d snorted, moving to wipe a stray tear from your eyes, noting only absently that he hadn’t let go of your hand.

“Yeah, sure,” you said. “You have to be my friend. It’s in your job description. And you just feel bad for me anyway.”

“I didn’t have many friends when I was in school,” Father Steve countered. “Just one. He didn’t pity me for it -- just like I don’t pity you. I like you, doll. I like having lunch with you. You’re smart and you’re funny and I look forward to it everyday. We’re friends. So you have me, if you need me.”

He didn’t notice what he’d said -- what he’d called you. You didn’t call attention to it, even as it made you feel warm inside. It was like that everyday; just being around him, spending the short time you had together, made you feel good. And you missed it -- you missed him.

 

It was early evening when you made your way to his office. You’d passed much of the afternoon helping with a student council project, decorating the gym for the next day’s pep rally, making your way up to the third floor only after most of the building had cleared. It was dark again and you felt even more nervous than you had the first time, but you promised yourself that you’d see it through today, that you’d speak to him.

You knocked on the open door, smiling gently when Father Steve looked up.

“Hi Father Steve,” you said quietly.

He seemed startled to see you, saying your name in surprise. “Oh… I have… uh… someone’s coming for counseling this evening, I’m sorry. We’ll have to talk another time.”

You stared at your shoes, toeing at a broken piece of linoleum tile on his office floor. “That was me,” you admitted. Looking up, you bit your lip. “I was hoping we could talk?”

Father Steve gave a heavy sigh and stood. “I’m not sure if that’s a good idea,” he told you, open honesty on his face, and you felt your heart break in your chest.

You couldn’t help yourself; you couldn’t stop it. Your face crumpled and you choked on a sob, a wave of hot tears washing down your cheeks even as you put your hand over your mouth and tried to stifle them.

“I’m sorry!” you said through your tears. “I didn’t wanna… I didn’t mean to make you so mad at me, I didn’t…” Your words faded into more sobs, your shoulders shaking with the intensity of your tears.

“No no no, don’t cry, please don’t cry!” Father Steve said quickly, and you felt yourself suddenly wrapped up in his strong arms, your face pressed against his chest. “Please don’t cry, sweetheart, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

You heard rather than saw the door click shut; Father Steve had pushed it shut with one hand before putting his arms back around you.

“I thought you were my friend,” you told him, still shivering in his arms. He was a solid wall of muscle against you, warm and strong and smelling of the same clean aftershave that you’d grown so fond of in recent months.

Father Steve hushed you, rubbing his hand up and down your back. “I am your friend, sweetheart, I promise.”

You pulled back a little to look up into his eyes, tears still streaking down your cheeks. “Please don’t be mad at me anymore,” you said quietly, voice thick with emotion. “Please, I can’t stand it, I can’t.”

The tears in his eyes surprised you. “I’m not mad at you, I’m not. I promise.”

You sniffled and pulled out of his embrace. “You won’t talk to me, won’t even look at me,” you accused quietly. “You don’t come to see me in the library anymore.”

Father Steve gave another sigh, sitting down at his desk and gesturing towards the small couch that he kept in the cramped office for visitors and students who came to counseling. You shook your head, preferring to be closer, standing right alongside his desk.

He took a deep breath and said your name, and you had the feeling that whatever he was about to say had been rehearsed a few times in advance.

“When I took my holy orders, there were things that I knew I was giving up,” he told you quietly. There was that openness about his face again, some strange raw honesty in his voice as he spoke. You had the feeling this was not a conversation that he’d have had with just anyone. “In the years since then, I’ve been fine with all of that. I haven’t struggled with it. Until now.”

You looked at him curiously, not quite understanding. He had paused, perhaps hoping he wouldn’t have to continue, but seeing your expression, he sighed.

“There are things that I’m… that I can’t have,” he tried again. “I’ve never felt that I was losing anything in vowing to give them up, and I’ve never been tempted. But lately, I… you have to understand, I’m still human.” He reached up and touched the white collar at his throat, eyes cast down, thick eyelashes fanning over his cheeks. “I still feel things. And I’ve been struggling.”

You didn’t understand what he was trying to tell you, not right away. You frowned down at where he had folded his hands on the desk and reached out, laying your own hand on top of his.

“What can I do to help?” you asked. “It’s not… it’s not because of me, is it?”

Father Steve’s shoulders seemed to shudder and he pulled his hands away from yours, leaning back in his chair and shaking his head.

“You can’t…” he started, and then heaved another sigh. “There’s nothing you can do. And I promise you, it’s nothing you’ve done. This is my own… struggle.” He looked up at you then, a strange sadness in his bright blue eyes even as he offered a small smile. “I shouldn’t even be saying all of this to you, but I trust you. I know that you won’t say anything.”

“You’re right, I won’t,” you agreed. You were frustrated; it went beyond the loneliness you had been feeling and the worry that you’d done something wrong. Now you knew that he was hurting, and you wanted to help him, if only he’d tell you how.

“There has to be something I can do,” you went on, offering him a smile. “I miss you and if this… this thing, that you’re dealing with, is what’s keeping you away, I want to help. That’s what friends do, right?”

Chapter Text

You had taken a few step forward as you spoke and perched yourself on the edge of his desk, leaning forward just a little to keep your balance. You hadn’t realized how near you were to him until he tried to inch away, your knee brushing his arm and making him draw in a startled breath. In the dim light of his desk lamp, you watched as his eyes drifted from the collar of your blouse and down to your waist, to settle where your plaid skirt had pulled up, exposing more of your thighs than was strictly modest.

You watched as Father Steve licked his lips and swallowed hard, seemingly unable to pull away his gaze and then finally, finally, you understood.

The cheerful banter over lunch everyday. The way he’d get hung up on the state of your uniform. The soft touches you’d exchange, hands over hands on the library table, the occasional hug. The errant nicknames. Doll. Sweetheart.

His prayers… a test. Temptation.

And Scott, oh god, Scott. Father Steve wasn’t angry that you were late, that you’d wasted your class time. He hadn’t really been angry at all -- he had been jealous!

 

You felt… strange. Like you could feel the soft shiver of every breath he was taking, the sound of it almost thundering in your ears. Your heart was beating hard and fast, a blush rising in your cheeks, and you were very aware of how quiet the rest of the floor was. There were no noises in the halls, no lockers opening and closing and no footsteps against the tile. It was late and getting dark, and you were all alone.

“Father Steve?” you asked carefully, watching the shameful color rise high in his cheeks when his gaze is torn away from your legs. “I think I need your help with something.”

He could sense a change in your voice, in your demeanor, as you spoke, and suddenly Father Steve looked so very young to your eyes. You bit your lip, his eyes following the movement, and offered your shyest smile.

“Yeah, sure… I mean, of course, anything you need,” he told you earnestly.

“Father Steve, I think my skirt might be too short. Would you check it for me?” you asked quietly, hoping he understood your words for what they were: an invitation.

“Looks… looks okay from here,” Father Steve said. His voice was pitched deep and low, eyes gone dark and breathing heavy and deep enough that you could see his chest rise and fall.

Bracing your hands on the edge of the desk, you cocked your head to the side and smiled.

“I’d really appreciate it if you could check for me, Father,” you told him, dropping your own voice to barely above a whisper. “Please?”

You were playing with fire, you knew that. It went beyond simply frowned upon or unsavory; what you were feeling, what you knew that Father Steve was feeling too, was forbidden. It was one thing to flirt with an older boy, another thing entirely o flirt and offer yourself up to a grown man, a teacher… a priest.

Father Steve nodded slowly. He reached out with one shaking hand, ostensibly to take the plain wooden ruler from where it sat in the plastic organizer on his desk but he paused, leaving it behind to reach instead and place one wide warm palm against your thigh. You sighed at the touch, spreading your legs just the slightest bit without even realizing it and watching with half-lidded eyes as the young priest slid out of his desk chair and fell to his knees before you.

He said your name, low and reverent, peering up at you with a questioning gaze, hand hot and heavy against your skin.

“Please,” you whispered again, and that was all it took.

Father Steve leaned in with a groan, eyes fluttering shut as he nosed at the soft skin at the crook of your knee, first brushing his mouth across your thigh and then parting his lips to drag them upwards, pushing your skirt up as he went.

“So gorgeous,” he whispered softly, punctuating his words with a sucking kiss. You whimpered, your hands gripping the edge of his desk, and the sound made him shudder. “So perfect,” he whispered.

You were certainly no angel; you’d fooled around before, with a couple of boys from school, a couple girls. It never went too far, mostly kissing and some light touching. But this? This was all new. Something new that you’d heard of, seen in this or that grainy internet video, maybe even imagined, but never felt. Never dreamed you’d feel, not now, not with Father Steve.

Your skirt was rucked up around your waist and Father Steve was mouthing against the damp cotton of your panties, little yearning groans coming his throat.

“Want you,” he muttered, and whispered your name. “Can I have you, sweetheart? Can I taste you?”

You gasped out another Please! and then he was pushing aside the soft wet fabric of your panties and licking a thick enthusiastic stripe right inside of you. You gasped and jolted, his strong hands reaching to hold your hips in place. Father Steve was still groaning, the sounds coming interspersed between the slick little wet noises his mouth made against you. Your breath was coming hard and fast, your body trembling hard. No one had ever touched you like this before, made you feel so much.

You tried to say his name, to tell him what you were feeling, how good it was, but you couldn’t get the words out.

“Fath… ah… ah… oh god, please, please…” you babbled and you could swear you felt his lips pull into a smile against you. He moaned, soft and deep, before pulling away, hands drifting from where they held your hips to push your thighs further apart.

As wrecked as he was, you could only imagine how you must look. Father Steve’s face was heated and red, lips swollen and shiny-slick. You felt a tingling low in your gut to know that it was from you -- that it was your own wetness gracing that perfect mouth -- shivering when he flicked a pink tongue out to lick the taste of you off of his lips.

Father Steve inched his hands up your thighs, beneath your skirt to the lacy scalloped waistband of your panties. He began tugging them down and you lifted yourself off the desk just an inch or two on instinct so he could slide them down your legs and toss them away, abandoned on the floor of his office. When he pushed your thighs apart again, he moaned at the sight of you.

“So fuckin’ perfect,” he muttered, and you weren’t sure if the words were meant for you or for himself. “Taste so fuckin’ good, I can’t stand it,” he went on, and buried his face once again into your dripping cunt.

You could feel it building, your thighs trembling beneath the onslaught of his perfect mouth. It seemed like Father Steve was everywhere, surrounding you and inside of you, sucking at your clit and then pressing his thick tongue deep inside of you. You were making noises again, soft little gasping sounds, and you knew you were close. When it hit you, it stole your breath away; it was nothing like the pale little shivery thing you could bring on yourself with a slow press and rub of your own fingers. This was explosive, pleasure shooting up and down your spine, your whole body shaking with tremors and tingles that seemed to spread even to your fingertips and the hard points of your nipples.

You tried to catch your breath in the comedown but you couldn’t do it, couldn’t settle yourself down, because he wasn’t stopping. He. Wasn’t. Stopping.

Father Steve didn’t even slow down. He seemed almost like a man possessed, licking and sucking even harder, applying gentle pressure with his lips and teeth. You threw your head back and gasped when he pressed a thick finger inside of you, your hips rolling against his hand without even a thought on your part, pure animal instinct to chase the pleasure he was intent on giving you. When your climax hit again, your back arched and you cried out, not loud or shrill but gasping and sweet, primal noises of want and pleasure. The sudden wet flood between your thighs startled you but Father Steve seemed so pleased, groaning low and lapping away until you couldn’t stop shaking and you pulled at his hair. Then, and only then, did he stop.

You thought he’d been a mess before but now...god. You knew you’d never see anything quite so gorgeous or quite so erotic for the rest of your life, his usually neat blonde hair a twisted mess from your fingers, eyes so dark and pupils so blown as to be almost black, lips more red and swollen and the slickness of your release all over his mouth and chin.

He blinked and took some deep breaths before falling back onto his heels, as though he wasn’t quite sure what had just happened. You felt weak and shaky, and let yourself slide from the desk to slip into his lap, hands gripping his black shirt to keep you from falling.

“Oh god,” he whispered, breathing fast enough that you thought he might hyperventilate. “Oh god. What have I done. What have I done to you.”

Shaky and overwrought as you were, you couldn’t have that. You wouldn’t allow him to punish himself like this, to panic. You leaned quickly forward and pressed your lips to his, licking into his mouth when he drew in a startled breath and tasting your own sweet musk on his tongue. It didn’t take long for him to return your affection, kissing you long and deep and holding your body flush against his as he made soft little sounds of desire.

He still wanted you; you could feel him, his arousal pressing hot and hard against your core. It seemed your body knew just what to do, your hips starting to roll against him, a rhythmic motion that had him groaning and gasping into your kiss, your name always the first intelligible sound he would make when you’d break apart for air.

Soon the friction of your movement against him didn’t seem enough, and you crept a slim hand between your bodies, enjoying the way he shuddered hard and moaned low when you first slipped your fingers beneath his waistband. The gentle pressure of your fingertips brushing across his hardened length was all that he needed, and Father Steve kissed you fiercely, canting his hips forward as he came hot and wet in your hand.

When it was over, neither of you moved, still cuddled close there on the floor, staring at each other with wide, shocked eyes, and wondering what to do next.

Chapter Text

The lateness of the hour and the darkening sky finally moved the both of you to action, quickly pulling apart to straighten your clothes and clean up what of the mess that you could. You’d inadvertently knocked the organizer off of Father Steve’s desked and his blotter and some folders had been shoved aside; you moved to begin straightening it and when you bent to retrieve a few fallen pens from the floor, you heard a strangled groan come from behind you.

That was when you remembered that you weren’t wearing anything beneath your skirt, and quickly straightened with a blush.

Father Steve was watching you with a nervous blush of his own, the small wisp of cotton fabric in his hands. He cleared his throat, and averted his gaze.

“I don’t think these will do you any good, I’m afraid,” he said, voice low and a little raw. He still looked a mess, black cotton shirt hanging untucked and his belt undone, white plastic collar half pulled away from his throat. “The elastic is all torn.”

“I’ll just… I don’t know, hold my skirt down on the walk home,” you muttered quickly. Your parents knew you had planned to stay late that day -- you’d told them about the pep rally decorations, and they’d been so pleased that you’d gotten involved with something happening at school for a change -- but staying much longer would really be pushing it.

“I can drive you home,” Father Steve offered. He still spoke quietly, as though the still atmosphere of his office was something precious and not to be disturbed. “I’ll get the keys to the rectory car and…”

“No, it’s okay,” you said quickly, shaking your head as you slipped your backpack, absently left on the floor by the door, over one shoulders. “I’m only a few blocks away and it’d just raise more questions if you went to the trouble.”

You paused a moment, waiting for him to say something, anything, but he only stood watching you, face a mixture of more emotions than you could fathom. Taking a deep breath, you turned to open the door and go, pausing when you felt a hand on your arm and heard him whisper your name.

You fell into his embrace so easily. It hardly seemed that you had shared your first intimate touch only an hour or so ago, the way he folded you up in his arms and held you close. This kiss was different from the others, tentative and sweet, almost shy. You melted against him, forgetting for even the briefest moment that all of this was so very wrong.

Father Steve sighed and broke the kiss, still holding you close and pressing his forehead against yours, his eyes squeezed shut as he willed the rest of the world away, wanting only to hold you a little longer and forget everything that existed outside of his closed office door.

“What… what now, Father Steve?” you asked, voice soft and vulnerable.

He opened his eyes when you spoke and you found yourself caught up in his gaze, held there with no escape. As if you’d ever want to try.

“I’m not sure, sweetheart,” he told you, confusion and indecision clear in his gaze. He sighed again and pressed his lips to your forehead. “But I think, maybe, when we’re… if we’re ever alone like this… you can just call me Steve.”

 

You didn’t sleep very well that night. You felt like your body was still humming with the energy of your exertions with Father -- with Steve -- and your mind was racing a mile a minute. You’d shared such intimate touches with a man who was supposed to be completely off limits, a man of the cloth who you’d seen praying with your own eyes, pleading to resist the need to put his hands on you.

You’d kissed him, tasted yourself on his lips. Felt the heat of his breath against your throat, the hard planes of his body pressed against yours.

He’d prayed for the strength to resist a trespass and you’d offered yourself up on a silver platter. Had you… led him astray?

Or had he been the one to lead you down the wrong path? You weren’t by any means stupid; you had heard all of the same stories and warnings over the years, that there would be adults ready to possess you, to manipulate you, to make you believe their lascivious intentions were something good, something that you wanted.

But… you didn’t see that in Steve. It seemed impossible to think of him as some cold, calculating predator.

You’d seen him with other students, girls far more flirtatious than you. The closeness that you felt between the two of you, even before this trespass you had taken, just wasn’t there.

When you did finally fall asleep, it was fitful and restless.

 

Steve didn’t fare any better. Returning to the rectory, he felt as though the eyes of every statuary and icon that he passed on his way were staring him down with a disapproving gaze. It was wrong, it was all so wrong -- what he felt for you, what he had done. He tried to tell himself that it was nothing, this fascination he’d had for you, that he was just mixing up all the doubts he’d been having about his calling with the spark of friendship he had found in you.

And then he’d gone and ruined everything.

Steve was a realist. He told himself that he couldn’t really be falling for a teenage girl and for a good long while, he believed it. He told himself that he’d perhaps jumped the gun on his holy orders -- that he should have taken a little more time to experience life before selling himself wholesale to a life of service in the Church -- and now he would just have to deal with the consequential frustrating.

He told himself that he shouldn’t, that he couldn’t put his hands on a young girl like you, a student, someone who trusted him. He thought he could do it, thought he was strong enough. He couldn’t help his fantasies, daydreams and quiet sinful little thoughts he kept to himself, dreams about laying you down on the simple twin bed in his little room and just letting himself explore. But he damn well could keep himself from doing anything stupid.

Or so he thought.

Until he he’d met your gaze that afternoon, saw in your eyes that you understood him, that you knew... and you issued your quiet invitation.

That had long been one of his favorite fantasies: spreading your thighs beneath your uniform skirt and tasting all you had to offer. And now that it had come true? God, he wanted it even more. He wanted it again, and again, and again…

Steve groaned, sitting at the simple wooden desk in his little room, head in his hands. He didn’t know what to do; all he knew was that being with you, even sitting quietly together, made him feel as though a weight was lifted from his shoulders. He knew, without a doubt, that it was the first instance of real happiness he’d had in several long, lonely years.

 

When it came time for lunch the next day, you were jittering in your seat in the library, tapping your foot restlessly on the ground and twisting your napkin on your hand. You’d gotten there a little bit early but you were still panicking, thinking that he wouldn’t show up -- that he had gotten what he wanted from you and whatever your little dalliance had been was over.

You were staring down at your untouched lunch when you heard the soft scuff of the chair across from you being pulled out.

“Is this seat taken?” Steve asked softly. You looked up to see him watching you with a timid, mild expression on his face. For the second time in recent days, you were struck by how very young he looked to your eyes, and you smiled.

“Nah,” you told him, unable to stop the warm smile from breaking on your face. “I was just saving it for a friend.”

Chapter Text

The computer was fairly new but still the fan inside whirred and clicked loudly in the small rectory office. Father Donahue would be busy with morning announcements at the high school, leaving Steve with a little privacy before he had to head over himself for the day.

Steve had an email address through the diocese, but still maintained a private address he’d had since his youth; it was technically on the Barnes’ family home account but he preferred it for its anonymity. There were still some aspects of his life he wanted to keep from the prying eyes of the Church. They couldn’t own him, not completely; this mess he had gotten himself into with you was testament to that, at least.

He frowned after he logged into the private email service, pulling up a blank email and quickly typing out what he needed to say:

Dear Bucky,

I’ve gotten myself into a whole lot of trouble here. I don’t know what to do.

There’s a girl. A student here. I don’t know what I was thinking, Buck, spending so much time with her. I guess I didn’t see it at first. Maybe I didn’t want to see it. I feel like I was alone for the longest time and then she was there. You should see her smile, Bucky, I can’t even explain it.

It’s like sunshine. I know how that sounds but I can’t help it, it’s the only way I can think to describe it. Light breaking into a dark place.

I thought I could do the right thing about it, once I figured out what I was feeling, but i screwed up, I screwed up so bad and I don’t know what to do to fix it.

Bucky I’m so afraid I’m going to get us both into trouble -- that I’ve already gotten us both into so much trouble -- and I won’t be able to stop myself from making it even worse.

Steve stared at what he had written, eyes lingering over the email address he was going to send it to: james.barnes@us.army.mil. He sighed and quickly deleted the draft; Bucky had far more important things to worry about than to have the mess that Steve had made playing on his mind.

 

He was good. Steve was so, so good. For weeks since it happened -- since that day in his office, when he’d taken all you had to offer and drank it all down like a fine wine. He didn’t ignore you, he didn’t upset you, didn’t make you feel bad or lash out over inconsequential things that made him jealous, and he didn’t lay a finger on you, and it was driving him absolutely mad.

Just watching you in the library was enough to make his heart beat a little faster. You sat there across from him, chatting amiably, a small smile on your face and your eyes sparkling with delight, and it was all he could do to keep from reaching out to take your hand in his own.

“You’re a little distracted today, Father,” you told him with a small smile. You kicked his foot playfully beneath the table, grinning wider when you saw the way he ducked his head to smile at the action.

“I guess I have a lot on my mind lately,” Steve responded quietly. When he saw the concern etched in your face at his words, he smiled a little and reached out to touch your hand on the tabletop, just a brief little caress before pulling it away. “Nothing to worry about, I promise.”

You sighed and leaned back a little in your wooden chair, frowning at him from across the table. You knew him well by now -- intimately, some might even say -- and you could read his features easily. He was holding something back from you.

The sunlight streaming in the tall library windows caught the silver chain you wore around your neck, the silver pendant, a cross shaped from vines and roses, hanging low beneath the open collar of your shirt. It caught Steve’s eye and you watched as he tracked the shimmer created when you moved, eyes drifting to follow the soft slope of your throat, settling there where the chain disappeared beneath the first button of your blouse.

You saw him lick his lips, and couldn’t help but smile.

“It’s okay, you know,” you told him quietly, voice dropped low enough that the librarian at the circulation desk across the room could never hear you. “If you want to talk me, you can. About anything, Steve. S’what I’m here for, right?”

He gave you a rueful smile. “I think it’s meant to be the other way around, sweetheart.”

You grinned. “Hey, I’m definitely up for another counseling session if you are, Father.” Flirting was fun and all, but you still blushed at Steve’s momentarily shocked expression.

Not like you hadn’t thought about it -- not like he hadn’t thought about it, you could tell that much, just by his reaction: eyes widened, mouth dropped open in surprise, a slow pink blush rising up his face.

Steve cleared his throat, sitting up a little straighter in his chair and trying to regain a little composure. You’d made the first move in his office but he’d assumed that it was in response to his own more than obvious intentions; hearing you now, blatantly teasing… it made him wonder. He certainly couldn’t blame you for what had happened, after all. He was the adult in the situation and he should have known better.

“I’m just worried that I’m… that I’ve led you astray,” Steve finally spoke up softly. “I’m supposed to be here to guide you, not to… not to…”

“Why are you a priest, Steve?” you asked suddenly. God, it hurt to see him struggling like this. You had to ask it -- you had to know.

He seemed taken aback. “What?” he finally asked.

“Why are you a priest?” you repeated quietly. You chewed your lip as you asked, eyes wide in anticipation of his answer. Somehow, you hoped that he’d tell you it was some sort of accident of fate. “Sister Sharon said it’s like… like a calling? Like, you feel it in your bones, or something. Is it like that with you?”

“I…” Steve began, and then faltered. He could lie to you, he reasoned. Tell you that he heard the voice of God whispering in his ear, calling him to a life of service. Tell you that he knew his sole purpose on this earth was to lead the flock, to be a guiding shepherd for the faithful. He could lie to you, if he really wanted to. But he didn’t want to lie, didn’t want to throw falsehoods your way, make you feel guilty or wrong for his own failings. He wouldn’t -- he couldn’t -- do that, not to you. Never to you.

Steve dropped his eyes to the tabletop and frowned. “No, I… not for me, no. It wasn’t like that.”

You reached out and placed your hands over his, echoing his movements from only moments before. You could swear you felt him tremble just a little when your skin touched his.

“So tell me what it was like.”

Chapter Text

Steve Rogers lost his mother when he was fourteen years old. Logically, he had known she was dying: she had taken her diagnosis so pragmatically, pulling out all of her important paperwork, insurance policies and power of attorney forms and all sorts of bits and pieces that she’d kept in a small lockbox beneath her bed. She had even started planning her own funeral, knowing that Steve would be too upset to think of that sort of thing. So he had known, really, that he wouldn’t have her much longer.

But for all of his life, it had just been the two of them. Steve’s father had died when he was still in swaddling clothes and he had lived his life never even considering that one day, it might just be him. When the time did finally come, he felt blindsided all the same, and he only had a few days to make the most important decisions of his life.

The Barnes family lived in the same apartment block for as long as Steve could remember, and their son Bucky had been Steve’s best friend just about since the two could walk -- since as soon as Steve started walking, he started getting himself into trouble, the slight frame he had in his youth inviting various and sundry bullies to target him and Bucky pulling him out of scrape after scrape. Their families had always been close, and as soon as it became apparent that Sarah Rogers was not long for this world, they had offered Steve a place to stay.

Steve loved them for it. He loved the Barnes’ apartment, always so full of life and noise, the cheerful sort of chaos that only came from small rooms full of boisterous children. But Steve could be as pragmatic as his mother, and he knew that Winnie and George Barnes did not need another mouth to feed, especially one that came with all of the health maladies that Steve had battled in his youth. The stipend from the state that would come with fostering a teenage boy wouldn’t even be half enough to handle his medications, let alone doctor’s visits and the inevitable hospitalizations, and his ever-changing and frankly ridiculous dietary needs.

George Barnes had been hurt on the job two years before Sarah Rogers became ill; he was still hurting, still on disability, and money had been tight for the Barnes’, what with four growing children and waning income. No, Steve wouldn’t add to that burden. He couldn’t.

There was another option though, one thing that might save him from going into foster care. He knew better than to think that could ever possibly end well for him; he could be shipped off anywhere in the city, away from Bucky and the life he had known in Brooklyn, a skinny, sickly kid with no friends. Steve doubted he’d make it the full four years to eighteen, when he’d no longer be a ward of the state. So that left the Church.

Sarah Rogers had been a devout Catholic. She attended Mass every Sunday and was involved in many of the parish functions: bake sales, craft fairs, fundraisers. If St. Sabina’s had a need to be filled, Sarah would do it happily. She had a strong friendship with the pastor, Father Ben, and he had made his offer to Steve when he came to the hospital to administer the last rights to his mother.

“There is a place for you at the rectory, if you need it,” Father Ben had offered quietly. There were tears in his eyes; he had been pastor at St. Sabina’s for as long as Steve remembered, and a dear friend to his mother even longer. He had even performed the funeral rites for Steve’s father, so many years ago.

Bucky had been dead-set against it, once Steve told him. “You crazy, punk?” he asked incredulously. “They’re just gonna try an’ recruit you. Don’t be stupid, come stay with me. You know my mom and dad want you to come.”

Steve had shaken his head. “It’ll be okay, Buck,” he had said. “Father Ben says I can stay at the public school with you and the Church will take me on as a ward, cover all my prescriptions and stuff. Nobody’s gonna try and ‘recruit’ me for anything.”

They hadn’t, really. It was mentioned, of course, but not pressed.

“You’re welcome to attend any university you choose, Steven, and live here at the rectory for as long as you need,” Father Ben told him cheerfully. “Of course, if you choose to go to seminary, the Church will gladly pay for your tuition.”

And Steve had tried to be reasonable about it. Seminary always began with basic college courses, prerequisites that could transfer into any university, and it would cut his student loan debt in half if he started out there.

It just became comfortable. Too comfortable. Too easy. And he wanted them to know that he was grateful -- Father Ben, the diocese, he wanted them to know that he wasn’t taking advantage of their kindness.

And he did like helping people. It wasn’t as though he had much life outside of the Church, anyway. There was Bucky, of course -- that would never change, they would always be friends, Steve was sure of that. But he didn’t have anything else. He didn’t really expect to.

His senior year in high school had gifted Steve with a growth spurt, his diminutive height suddenly sprouting up to over six feet; he’d needed all new clothes and the Church hadn’t even balked and sending him out to a department store to get what he needed. But he was still the weird, sick kid who lived at the rectory, and it wasn’t as though he had any hope to have a life outside of it all, a girl on his arm or a family of his own. It made sense, really, to stay at seminary.

To take orders.

“Are you fuckin’ crazy?” Bucky had said over dinner at the Barnes’ one Friday evening.

“Bucky, watch your mouth,” Winnie had scolded, even as she frowned deeply at Steve’s words.

“I’d be helpin’ people, Buck,” Steve tried to explain. “That’s all I ever wanted to do.”

“You’re running away,” Bucky said, gesticulating with his fork as he spoke. “You don’t wanna deal with the real world so you’re running away, and let me tell you, this ain’t somethin’ you can take back. It’s a goddamn life sentence, is what it is.”

Steve glared. “It’s not like I have anything else goin’ for me.”

“Oh, Steve,” Winnie said, the pity in her voice enough to make Steve’s skin crawl. “You’re still so young, dear. Give it time, you’ll find your way.”

“I don’t really have time to give,” Steve countered, frowning down at his half-eaten plate of spaghetti. “If I leave seminary, I give up all the healthcare the Church has given me. I looked into it, even student insurance wouldn’t cover everything I need. This way, I get what I need and I do some good, for as long as I have.”

Bucky threw his fork down in anger. “Don’t you talk like that, Stevie,” he said, pointing angrily with his index finger. “Don’t you fuckin’ talk like that. There’s no goddamn expiration date stamped on your ass, you got as much time as you need. Lookit you now, lookit how much better you’re doin’ than a year ago. You’re gonna get better and you’re gonna have a long life and it should be happy with a wife and kids or, shit, a husband and kids and dogs and a goddamn company car. I dont wanna hear this shit about how much time you have left!”

“Son, I’m not tryin’ to make your decisions for you, but Bucky’s right,” George cut in, far gentler in tone than his son. “Don’t decide what the rest of your life is gonna be based on how it started.”

“I appreciate that, Mr. Barnes, I do,” Steve told him. “But I think… I think I’ve made my decision on this. It’s not going to change.”

Bucky glared. “You do this, Steve,” he warned, “You throw away your life like this, make a choice you can’t take back? Then I’m gonna do the same.”

Steve snorted. “Not a church in this city’ll take you on, Buck,” he said, causing even Bucky’s mother to chuckle.

“What did I say I was gonna do after high school, Steve?” Bucky asked, voice low and quiet. “What did you talk me out of?”

Steve blanched. Bucky had been dead-set on joining the military out of high school, rather than going to college. The idea had frightened Steve; they had both grown up watching troops sent to fight and die in the desert, and Steve didn’t want that for Bucky. He didn’t want it for anyone, not when it seemed like the troops never got the care and respect they deserved. It had taken many long arguments and quiet conversations before he’d convinced Bucky to drop it, to try school first, see if he was still ready to join up after he spent some time in the real world.

“You wouldn’t… you wouldn’t enlist just to spite me, Buck,” Steve said, frowning. Bucky just leaned back in his seat, arms crossed over his chest, and glared.

The day Steve took his holy orders, Winnie and George Barnes came to see him, sitting quietly in the half-filled church, hands clasped together and tears in their eyes, as if he were their own son. Steve hadn’t expected them to come, but he thought Bucky would show, at least to express his anger again.

When he asked after his old friend, Winnie closed her eyes and gripped her husband’s hand a little tighter.

“Buck’s gone to South Carolina,” George explained, voice hushed in the quiet atmosphere of the church. “Fort Jackson, for basic training.”

Chapter Text

Steve’s story had you enraptured. You hadn’t even heard the period bell, almost twenty minutes prior, ringing to signal the end of your lunch. You should have been in Biology by then but you sat rooted to your spot, listening as Steve explained the meandering path he had taken to becoming a priest. He didn’t seem to notice the bell either, a far away look in his eyes as he spoke, a little lost in his own past.

“Hard to picture you as sick,” you offered with half a smile.

Steve chuckled, the laughter breaking him out of his memories. “Oh, you shoulda seen me,” he told you, a touch of the accent that had surfaced while he spoke about his childhood still lingering. “Sixty, maybe seventy pounds wet for a few years there. Then I hit a growth spurt, got some height, and things started going my way. My heart murmur closed up on its own, got on a new asthma medication that let me get a little more exercise, put on some muscle…”

“‘Some’ muscle?” you teased, risking a short squeeze to his forearm while the librarian had her nose buried in an old murder mystery novel.

Steve had the decency to blush. “Not much to do around the rectory,” he explained quietly. “They put in a full gym in the basement after Father Donahue had his heart attack, and he never uses it. Figured it wouldn’t hurt to put it to good use, now that I can.”

You leaned your elbows on the table, resting your chin in your hands. “I bet you were cute, though,” you mused. “Even when you were a skinny little kid. Still have those eyes, that smile.”

Steve drew in a long low breath, the words of the email he hadn’t sent to Bucky coming back to him full force as he watched you, eyes sparkling with mirth, bathed in the light streaming in the library windows.

Sunshine. Light breaking into a dark place.

It made his heart ache, in the best possible way.

“Shit!” you said suddenly, eye catching the clock ticking away on the wall. “I’m missing class!” It seemed to break whatever spell Steve had been under and he moved to clean up the remains of your shared lunch while you stuffed your books back into your bag.

“Slow down, I’ll write you a pass,” he offered, wanting to linger a little longer.

The grin you flashed him damn near made him shiver. “Oh? I thought we didn’t want me making it a habit, being late to class and all?”

He opened his mouth to respond, searching for something smooth to match your flirtatious tone, but found himself at a loss, only able to cast his eyes down to the tabletop and smile a little, complexion gone ruddy and pink. He took a piece of loose leaf paper from one of your notebooks and scribbled a quick note for your teacher, noting that he’d kept you a little longer than expected on a special project, asking that you please be excused for your tardiness.

Folding it in half, he held it out for you. “Dr. Erskine shouldn’t give you any trouble,” he said.

You plucked the note from his hands and turned to leave, stopping after taking only a step and turning back. He had bundled up the last remnants of of your shared lunchtime mess, preparing to throw it away, but paused when he saw you turn.

“Father Steve,” you said quietly, mindful of the way the librarian had moved to reshelve some volumes of the encyclopedia not far from where you stood. “I’m sitting in on a student council meeting this afternoon. The class secretary is sick and Sister Sharon told me I could use it as a couple service hours if I filled in.”

Steve smiled, though he seemed a little puzzled. “Glad to see you’re working on your service hours for the year,” he commented mildly. Every student was required to complete a certain number of service hours each year to pass on to the next grade or graduate; volunteer work was usually required but a friendly teacher would sign off on an hour or two with easier projects now and again. Sister Sharon, a young Carmelite nun who lived in the convent on the outskirts of town, taught English at the school, and also proctored the student council. You bit your lip and adjusted the strap of your backpack on your shoulder, taking a step closer to the priest and cocking your head to the side.

“I know it’ll be kind of late in the afternoon once the meeting is finished,” you went on, “But I was hoping I could stop by your office afterwards, if you didn’t mind?”

It was a risk; what little you had spoken of the incident some weeks ago had been heavily dosed with Steve’s assertions that it could never happen again. You shared your lunches, gently touched and flirted back and forth a little, but not much else. It was frustrating, to be that close and carry the memory of what you had shared.

You wanted to feel his hands on you. You wanted to feel his lips against your skin, hear the deep moans you had wrung out of him once before.

Feel the shudder that swept through his body when he came.

Steve took a deep breath and swallowed; you watched the way his grip tightened on the back of the chair he stood behind, and the way his eyes darkened. You knew then that he understood -- that he knew what you were offering. There was a struggle there, you could see it pass over his features, cloud his eyes and twist his mouth into a frown, but only for a second.

He smiled, soft and open. “I… I’d like that. Of course. I’m always there, if you need me.”

Steve puttered around his office for hours before you were expected to arrive. He straightened his desk, fluffed the cushions on the small couch, emptied the wastebasket, and even dusted. He felt silly and anxious, but he couldn’t help himself. He had to move -- he had to do something, or he’d lose his nerve.

He’d been weak again. He should have told you not to come, in no uncertain terms. He should have reminded you both of your places -- that you were a student, and he was a priest; that you were so young and he was an adult. He’d made it clear before that he wouldn’t allow anything further to happen between the two of you.

And now here he was, fidgeting in his office like a middle-schooler preparing for his first date.

He had a whole speech prepared for when you arrived: he was too old for you, he had obligations to the Church, he should have known better, he hadn’t intended to leave you down a path of sin. Steve was certain he could do it this time, end it appropriately and perhaps find a way to mend all the damage he had done.

If you weren’t just so damn perfect.

That was the worst part, really. You were gorgeous -- Steve would openly admit that if asked, unable to keep his eyes from drifting along the curves of your body, unable to stop himself from wanting to feel the softness of your mouth against his, against his skin. From watching the way your eyes sparkled when you laughed. To stop his fingers from itching to run through your hair. He could want, but he could resist it, if it were only that.

But he liked the way you smiled at him, friendly and sweet, when he rambled on about inconsequential things. He liked your quick wit, your dry sense of humor so similar to his own. He liked the way that, in spite of your own feelings of exclusion from the other students, you were always kind and friendly to everyone you encountered. You didn’t feel like you fit in but you went out of your way to make others feel like they were part of the crowd.

Steve liked the way he felt when he was with you.

Open. Free.

He’d been good at giving up the things he’d wanted in life. Of course, he’d wanted to move in with Bucky’s family, but it wouldn’t be right. He’d wanted to go to art school rather than attend seminary, but he couldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. But you… when it came to you, he wanted so badly, and he didn’t know how to resist.

 

It was late when you finally arrived, slipping quietly inside of the office and closing the door behind you. Steve had been seated at his desk, looking up at the sound of the lock sliding into place, the speech he had prepared on the tip of his tongue.

One look at you, and it was gone.

Chapter Text

You didn’t think you were bad, not really. In looking back, you thought perhaps it was just that you were very lonely; the connection you had with Steve was real enough, you never doubted that, but your fervor for affection, is probably what drove you to seek out a physical relationship so rapidly. You had seen it on his face as you walked in the door, that resolute set to his jaw that told you he was going to try again -- give you the same speech that he’d tried before, that you were too young, that he wasn’t in a position to offer his affections so freely -- but you weren’t having any of it.

You dropped your backpack on the floor in front of the door, turning the lock without even looking. You peeled off your uniform sweater and Steve, still at his desk, watched with widened eyes as he realized the buttons on your blouse were already half-undone. He made a low, strangled noise at the sight of the pretty pink lace peeking out from beneath the white linen, and you couldn’t help but smirk.

Not terribly strict about many things, your parents did have some rules they were adamant you follow. At the top o the list was your mother’s unbreakable decision that she approve all of your clothing choices, from jeans and t-shirts down to socks and underwear. You’d even had to put up a long, drawn-out fight to be allowed to purchase a pair of pink Chucks. So the fact that you even owned a bra that wasn’t a plain white full-coverage training bra was almost miraculous.

One unsupervised trip to the large mall two towns over and a stop into a Victoria’s Secret had garnered you the only real pieces of lingerie you owned: a pale pink push-up bra with darker pink lace edging, decorated with polka dots in varied sizes and pastel shades of purple, blue, and yellow, and a pair of matching panties. Not exactly sexy, but a far cry from the plain white cotton granny panties you were used to.

Apparently, it was just enough to push Steve over the edge and toss all his thoughts of trying to let you down easy. You had barely drawn a breath, it seemed, before Steve was out of his desk chair and spreading out on the couch, pulling you quickly down into his lap.

“You…” Steve muttered, shaking his head. His grip was tight on your waist, fingers pushing just under the fabric of your untucked blouse. “What’re you tryin’ to do to me, sweetheart? Tryin’ to drive me crazy, aren’t ya?”

You grinned down at him, leaning in to just nearly brush your lips against his but stopping short of touching. You loved the way he talked sometimes, an accent you didn’t recognize slipping out when Steve was riled up. He mentioned that he was New York, seemingly a world far and away from where the both of you were now, and you wondered if that’s what it was.

“Oh Stevie,” you practically purred, grin growing even wider at the way his eyes got even darker at the nickname. “If this is driving you crazy, just you wait…”

You wouldn’t do it -- you wouldn’t make that trespass on your own. You wanted him to do it, wanted him to take what he wanted from you. It didn’t take long before his mouth was on ours. Steve was almost in a frenzy, mumbling words of praise and want against your lips, licking into your mouth with the feel of a man starved for affection. When he moved his ministrations to the soft skin beneath your ear, you couldn’t help the long, drawn-out moan that escaped your lips; the sound seemed only to spur him on and you jolted and pulled at his hair when you felt the blunt pressure of your teeth.

“Oh! Oh god, oh Steve, I… I can’t… marks, I can’t have marks,” you managed to stammer out, and he pulled back. You expected to see disappointment on his face and were unprepared for what you saw: hair twisted every which way from your hands, eyes almost black with arousal, soft pink flush riding high in his cheeks, and his lips, that gorgeous mouth of his, red and slick and swollen.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, eyes drifting down the column of your throat, searching for any evidence he had left behind.

You smiled, reaching out to tilt his chin up so that he could meet your gaze and popping a few more buttons on your blouse open with your free hand.

You arched an eyebrow, almost in a challenge. “Don’t be sorry. Just keep it where no one else will see,” you replied, and gasped at the growl that erupted from his lips. He dropped his head almost immediately, mouthing first at your chest and drifting lower to drag his teeth across the soft swell of your breast.

You gasped; you couldn’t help it. You didn’t think you would ever be used to this, the feel of his mouth on you, hot and wet and so, so good. You’d thought perhaps you weren’t doing enough, worried there was an uneven give and take even as you enjoyed the feeling of Steve nipping at your skin and nuzzling the lace edge of your bra lower and lower; you were breathing hard, short little gasps escaping you and making it impossible to ask -- was there something more he wanted? Was there something you should be doing? None of your meaningless fumbling with the occasional classmate had ever amounted to anything even close to this, and you were out of your depth.

But Steve was still groaning, dragging his teeth against your breast. Seated in his lap, there was no way you could mistake the feeling of his arousal pressing against you. And when he did deign to speak, the brief seconds he would pull his mouth away from you, he’d mumble only praise.

“Gorgeous,” he mumbled. “So fuckin’ perfect, sweetheart. So perfect for me.”

“Steve,” you said, drawing his attention before he pressed his face back against your breast. He looked up at you with wide, almost dazed eyes; it made you shiver, just that glance and the feel of his breath cooling the slickness he’d left on your skin.

You stole a kiss, biting gently on his lower lip and trembling at the sound of his answering moan. The deep timbre of his voice never failed to give you goosebumps even the most mundane settings; here, watching him fall apart, feeling the solid heat of his body beneath yours, and knowing you were the cause of it made it affect you all the more.

“I want to do something for you,” you all but whispered as you pulled away.

He was still in a fog of lust, looking at you with a curious gaze. “What’s that, babydoll?” he asked. He reached up one hand to run his thumb along your lower lip, seemingly unable to resist. You must look as wrecked as he did, you realized, mouth as fat and kiss-bruised, slick and shiny in the low light of his desk lamp.

You parted your lips and drew his thumb into your mouth, tonguing and suckling gently at the digit with low-lidded eyes trained on his face, watching as mouth dropped open in surprise. You had no real skill, no experience with this sort of thing, but skimming a few articles in Cosmo and searching the internet late at night in your father’s den had provided you with a few pointers. When you pulled off of Steve’s thumb with a slick pop, you flashed him a smile. Steve’s breath was coming fast and you watched his chest heaving even as he struggled to find the right words.

“You don’t… you don’t hafta…” he started, but you silenced him with another deep kiss before sliding out of his lap and onto your knees.

Maybe you were inexperienced, but you must have had finesse, if the way you made his eyes roll back in his head and the string of filthy curses that spilled from his lips were any indication.

Chapter Text

Steve stopped trying to fight it after that. He’d tried -- he’d really tried. He never considered himself to be a weak man in any sense of the word, even when he was small and thin and struggled to catch his breath after even a short bout of exertion. Even when his body failed him, he thought his will was strong, that at the least he had an iron will to make up for the failings of his body. He didn’t know if he could claim that anymore, not after you.

Because every time he tried to do what was right, tried to push you away for your own damn good, he would fail miserably. All you had to do was smile, soft and sweet, or catch is gaze with a certain look in your eyes, and he was sunk.

Steve was helpless when it came to you. He knew that now. Whatever the consequence, you owned a part of his soul -- and he knew there was nothing in the world that would stop him from getting his hands on you again, so long as you were willing. All that was left was to try and be discreet.

Apparently that wasn’t working out as well as he had hoped, either.

 

Early in the afternoon on a warm spring day, Steve bid you a pleasant goodbye at the library doors. The halls had been fairly empty and he had perhaps lingered a little too long, head ducked and smiling at you, hands pushed deep into his pockets. You had laughed at something he’d said, almost giggled, and his smile grew; he nudged you with his elbow as the two of you walked, a casual touch at a glance but perhaps a little less so to anyone who had witnessed the two of you crossing paths throughout the week.

It was spring, after all. A young man’s thoughts would turn to… well. You’d been spending most afternoons in private counseling sessions in Steve’s office and your days in school had carried more than a few lingering stares.

You were still laughing to yourself when you took your leave, turning down another corridor to head towards your afternoon history class. You didn’t see Dr. Erskine stepping from the teacher’s lounge, his coat over his arm and his hat in his hand; his classes were all in the morning, working only part time after he had retired from the local university, and was readying to leave for the day. Steve didn’t see him either.

“Are you enjoying your day?” Dr. Erskine spoke up, startling Steve as he moved to stroll past the door that the doctor had just closed.

“Oh! Oh, yes, thank you, Dr. Erskine,” Steve said quickly, casting a furtive glance around to see if there had been anyone else lingering, just as the halls began to teem with students and teachers, heading to and fro as classes changed over. “And yourself?”

“Very much,” Dr. Erskine agreed. “It has grown warm enough that I might tend to my garden this afternoon, perhaps.”

“That sounds nice,” Steve offered lamely. He made no move to leave, having the sense that the the older man had more that he wanted to say.

"Have you ever met my wife, Steven?" Dr. Erskine asked suddenly as the halls began to clear again; it wasn't the sort of question that Steve had been expecting so he frowned a brief moment before nodding.

"Yes, I have," he agreed, unsure of where the conversation was headed. "At the last Spring Carnival, if I remember correctly."

Dr. Erskine grinned. "Ah, yes!" he agreed. "We loved the Ferris wheel."

Steve couldn't help but smile in return; he remembered quite clearly the delight that had shown on the teacher's face when he and his wife spotted that particular carnival ride. They had looked so young in that moment, in spite of their greying hair and lined faces. It had warmed Steve's heart to see it.

"I remember," he agreed amiably. They had fallen into step together, moving aimlessly down the corridor; Dr. Erskine's classes were finished for the day, and Steve had nowhere to be until his counseling hours began.

"Did you know, Steven, that there is quite an age difference between myself and my Emilia?" Dr. Erskine asked, tone light and casual.

Steve nearly stumbled a moment before righting his gait. "I... uh... no, I didn't know that, Doctor."

Dr. Erskine hummed and nodded, smiling a little. "Yes. We met at university, my Emilia and I. She was a student, there to study economics and business... and I was the fourteen year old son of one of her professors."

Steve stopped short, eyes widened. "Oh?" he croaked out after a long moment. Dr. Erskine had slowed his pace and turned to face him; he was still smiling, clearly fond of the memories he was calling up.

"Do you believe in the fates, Steven? Perhaps not, being a man of the cloth," he said, patting the young priest's arm in a friendly manner. "But I do; my mother did, and she raised me the same. She believed that there are people and places in this world that we are meant to find. Sometimes they come to us a little... earlier than we expected?"

Swallowing hard, Steve nodded. "Uh, yeah. Yeah, that sounds... nice," he offered lamely.

Dr. Erskine patted his arm again. "Now my Emilia, she knew. Our paths were meant to cross, just perhaps not so early. But she is a smart woman -- she knew it was best to wait, to give me time to catch up."

Steve nodded again, slowly. "So... how long did you wait?"

"That, my friend, will always be my secret," Dr. Erskine responded with a merry laugh. "Just as you, I am sure, have your own to keep. You are are a good man, Steven. I know this to be true. And I know you won't do anything that would cause any harm -- particularly to those you love, yes? Just remember: timing is everything."

With that, Dr. Erskine smile and turned on his heel, placing his hat on his head as he made for the exit, leaving Steve to stare after him in surprise.

 

He tried to tell you about it that afternoon, though his concentration often waned. Steve had taken your remarks on leaving no visible marks behind to heart and you took care to offer the same consideration to him -- so you often found busied yourself by slipping down the white plastic collar he wore to suck at the tender flesh of his throat. There was something about that -- about knowing that just behind this symbol that made him untouchable was the evidence of your touch -- that gave you goosebumps.

He was laid out on his back on the small couch in his office, his height leaving his feet to hang over the arm, with you cuddled up on top of him. It was warm in the office with the door closed, owing to the warm spring weather, but you weren’t bothered. Being so close to Steve always made you hot anyway, especially now, as you made your little marks against his throat.

“Can’t imagine… god… what he’s seen,” Steve mumbled. His eyes were closed, head tipped back to give you better access, a thin sheen of sweat already on his skin. He groaned again and you smiled, enjoying the feel of the vibrations against your lips.

“All the times I have to force myself to keep my hands to myself…” you said with a sigh, pulling off to shake your head. “And here we are getting found out for nothing?”

“I don’t think he knows what we… how much we’ve…” Steve muttered, blushing just a little, even as you could feel his hardened length pressing insistently beneath you.

“He doesn’t know how you touch me?” you asked, voice soft and dropped an octave; you couldn’t help but smile when you felt Steve shudder beneath you with a long, drawn out groan of your name.

“Sweetheart,” he said, “You can’t just say things like that.”

“Why not?” you replied, voice a little petulant. You sunk your teeth into his skin and he gave a short yelp and buck of his hips. “Don’t you want him to know, Steve? Don’t you want everyone to know? All the things I do for you? All the things I let you do to me?”

Steve groaned your name again and pulled you down to kiss him, wet and open and dirty. It was easy to forget where you were, forget that classes had let out for the day a few scant moments before; there were still people in the school building, students and teachers alike, and all that separated you from their prying eyes was one thin locked door.

You felt his hands creep up your skirt, slipping up your thighs with well practiced ease to hook his thumbs in the waistband of your panties -- back to plain white cotton, sadly -- and give a gentle downward tug.

“Off,” he demanded, breaking your kiss only long enough to speak the single word and captured your lips once again, moaning softly into your mouth when he felt you shift, your body wriggling against his as you shimmied out of your panties. You tossed them to the floor with little care as to where they landed, a soft whimper escaping you when you felt his large hands skate across your bare skin.

He pulled back again, sucking at your lower lip before releasing it with a slick wet pop.

“C’mon up, darlin’,” Steve told you, delivering a sharp slap to your backside beneath your skirt. “C’mon, you know how I like it.”

The anticipation was already building as you did as he asked, moving up his prone body to pitch your knees on either side of his head, chest already heaving just from the grin he gave you. He strong arms came up to grip at your hips and you held tight to the back of the couch with one hand, the other pulling back your skirt so you could watch him, preparing yourself for the onslaught that you knew would leave you a whimpering, boneless mess.

“So fuckin’ perfect,” Steve murmured, licking his lips. “And all mine.”

Chapter Text

The coming of summer brought with it a certain amount of disappointment. That was unusual for you, of course; most years, you longed for the end of term and the freedom it could bring you. Without a solid group of friends, you spent much of your summer days on your own, but you never minded. You could swim at the public pool, ride your bike through the trails on the outskirts of town, or just park yourself somewhere shady and quiet with a good book. Books had been your solace after the accident, helping you pass your time and try and forget some of the pain. They served as much the same purpose as you grew older.

But no book or time spent poolside would fill the gap of losing your day to day hours stolen away with Steve.

School spirit was just not your forte, nor was spending time with the Church crowd -- as ironic as that had become in recent months. You went to Mass on Sundays because your mother made you, and that was the extent of it. No altar serving and no youth group for you, you didn’t help with Bible study or volunteer in Sunday School. The only use you had for the Church was the time you spent with Father Steve, and once school let out, there was a serious dip in those particular extracurricular activities.

It had been seventeen days since you’d had a hand on the young priest, and you were at a point far beyond frustration.

A particularly sticky Sunday in June found you fighting to stay away, tucked into a crowded pew between your parents while Father Donahue droned on and on. Mass should have ended ten minutes ago but the priest was droning on and on about a retreat he would be taking, leaving Father Steve in charge of the parish just for a few days. Five, to be exact; god forbid Father Donahue let Steve say Mass once in a while. Steve had confessed once that he felt the elder priest was rather possessive of the parish, not liking the fact that there was a young interloper in the rectory and not relishing the idea of turning over even the smallest responsibilities.

The heat had come early that summer and the Church had only a few pedestal fans set up in the corners, the building far too old and too costly to install any sort of air conditioning. You were close to falling asleep, awash in the humidity and the mingled scents of old lady perfume and sweat, when the rambling priest mentioned something that caught your attention.

“While I’m away, Father Rogers has volunteered to do a bit of de-cluttering around the rectory and grounds,” Father Donahue said. You tried not to roll your eyes; he always insisted on saying ‘Father Rogers’, turning up his nose whenever Steve insisted anyone was free to use his given name. “It will be hard work and he could use some volunteers. Of course, it will count for service hours for any of our high school students who would like to lend a hand.”

There was a soft murmur in the congregation, mostly parents nudging at their surly, overheated teens, and a brilliant idea struck you. Your parents would raise an eyebrow if you volunteered for manual labor, but they certainly couldn’t suspect anything wrong if they volunteered you.

Just as Father Donahue finished his call for volunteers, you snorted derisively and rolled your eyes. You found yourself immediately met with a sharp glare from your mother.

Bingo.

Tuesday morning, while your father toiled away in the accounting department at Hydracorp and your mother used gardening as an excuse to fall asleep in a sunhat in your backyard, you dutifully reported to the rectory with a few other less than cheerful students, ready to work.

 

Steve’s eyes lit up when he saw you and he said your name quietly, not wanting to draw too much attention but clearly pleased to see you.

“I didn’t know you would be working with us today,” he said casually.

You rolled your eyes. “My mom thought it would be ‘good for me’ to spend some time ‘helping others’,” you replied, doing your best impression of overt teenage sarcasm and air-quoting on all the appropriate lines. A few of the other students gathered there laughed at the display, and Steve had no problem joining them.

“I’m sorry you had to be pushed into it, but I think it won’t be so bad,” Steve told you, glancing over the rest of the group. “I’m pretty sure most everyone here could think of better ways they’d like to spend their summer vacation. I was hoping to spend some time in the library myself, but Father Donahue thought it would be ‘good for me’ to clean out forty years of junk.”

He air-quoted and everyone laughed; you had to bite your lip from smiling too wide.

“All right,” Steve said, clapping his hands, turning first towards the two boys who had shown up to help. “Let’s get to work. Brock, Gil, why don’t you start in the old gardener’s shed? Anything broken or rusted goes into the trash bins. Any old chemicals, just leave them where you found them and I’ll sort them out later. Ladies, you’re inside with me.”

You followed Angie Martinelli and Dot Underwood inside, with Father Steve leading the way. You knew the others girls, but barely; both would be seniors in the coming school year and while Angie was nice enough, Dot had garnered a reputation as a bit of a backstabber. You were certain neither had volunteered so much as been cajoled into it by their parents.

Steve stopped first at the open door to what looked to be a study of sorts. You had never been inside the rectory itself and hadn’t known what to expect; it was all dark wood and narrow rooms, a cloistered feeling saturating the place. The study was dusty, piles of books and papers stacked around with large gaps in the bookshelves and a thin layer of dust on everything. The air was heavily scented with what you thought might be cigars smoke.

“Dot, I’d like you to start here in Father Donahue’s study,” Steve announced, dutifully ignoring the sour expression on the girl’s face as he spoke. “He’s not very neat, I’m afraid, so you’ll have your work cut out for you. The books can go back in the shelves, try and get them back into proper order. I think most of the paperwork can be tossed out.”

Dot made a face, nose scrunched up in disgust. “I don’t know how good I’d be at all this…” she said, gesturing towards the mess with one finely manicured hand. It was clear enough she didn’t want to be there; you thought it was a little much to try and point it out again now.

Steve fixed her with a smile. “I’m sure you’ll do fine,” he said, tone encouraging if a little bit pandering. “Start with the books and then come to the kitchen for trash bags and a duster.” When he turned and continued, you and Angie followed him down the hall, both wearing amused smirks at the disgusted expression Dot had been wearing as you left her behind.

“Okay Angie, how do you feel about laundry?” Steve went on, leading the both of you to a utility room on the far side of the corridor.

Angie peeked in and raised an eyebrow. “Not as good as I did about five minutes ago,” she replied, and Steve couldn’t help but laugh.

“It’s not all bad, I promise,” he told her, gesturing to varied piles and baskets of cloths scattered around the room. An antiquated washer and dryer sat stoicly along one wall beside a utility sink complete with washboard, and there were two lines of clothesline strung back and forth across the room. “It’s not anyone’s clothes, if that’s what you’re worried about. We’re looking at altar linens, draperies, tablecloths… some of this stuff hasn’t been used in a decade and some of it’s probably never been properly cleaned and needs handwashing.Think you’re up for the task?”

Angie spied a transistor radio sitting atop a cabinet in the corner. “As long as that radio’s got batteries, I’m good,” she decided.

“No batteries, but it’ll plug in. Play it as loud as you need,” Steve said, nodding, and took your elbow to guide you out of the room. “Now if you’ll follow me to the pantry…” he began as you walked alongside, words soon drowned out by the tinny sound of the radio, tuned to a nearby city’s pop-rock station.

Steve walked swiftly and soon the narrow corridor opened into a large airy kitchen. He kept his guiding hand on your arm and steered you into a side door that concealed a surprisingly large and dusty kitchen pantry, pulling the thin door closed behind him almost immediately. You were bathed in darkness for only a moment when you heard the soft clink of a chain being pulled and a single bulb hanging from the ceiling glowed down upon you both.

Before you could say so much as a word, Steve pulled you into his embrace, strong arms wrapping tight around you to hold you pressed close to his solid chest. You both heard and felt his long low exhale, your own arms wrapped around his middle almost automatically.

“There’s my girl,” he said quietly. “God, I’ve missed you.”

Chapter Text

If you could have melted on the spot, you are certain you would have. Seventeen days was a long time to worry, to doubt. The idea had cropped up more than once that your appeal to Steve had only been what he could get from you -- the fear that you were only a warm body to touch, to hold, to taste. You’d never discussed it, really. You hadn’t made any assumptions about what all this was meaning to him.

But here he was, holding you close, breathing in the scent of your hair and pressing his lips to the top of your head like you were something special, something sacred.

You wondered, maybe, if this is what it was like to be in love.

Steve pulled away just enough to look down at your face, thumbs brushing your cheeks and your chin tipped up towards him, smiling warmly down at you. He breathed out a pleased sigh.

“Was beginning to think I’d have to make up some reason just to talk to you,” he confessed, a soft flush of color rising high in his cheeks.

You smiled. “Could’ve just stopped and said ‘hello’, one day after Mass,” you offered, and he shook his head.

“Wouldn’t have been the same,” Steve countered, shaking his head. “All those people around. Your pa… your family. Couldn’t talk to you like this, so open. Our conversations. So… us.”

You heaved a sigh of your own and hugged him close, resting your head against his chest. For a moment there, you had thought his call for privacy would have been one of a more prurient nature, about the need to hide away as he took his fill of all that you could give. But Steve spoke about just being with you, talking.

Oh, but it made your heart flutter.

Steve pressed a gentle kiss to the top of your head and tightened his arms around you for just a moment before pulling away.

“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I have to put you to work,” he teased, and you laughed, pushing open the pantry door. The sounds of pop music and the mechanical clunk of the antiquated washer filtered in from down the hall, with no sign that anyone had noticed the brief escape the two of you had made behind a closed door.

“Well, that’s what I’m here for,” you told him breezily. “What have you got for me, Father Steve?”

He cleared his throat, putting on the kind but stern expression he always tended to wear when he was addressing the younger members of the congregation, and gestured towards the dusty pantry shelves.

“As you can see, we don’t really get in here much,” Steve explained. “Father Donahue said they used to have a full time housekeeper and cook on staff, but that was long before I got here. The grocery shopping is done by his secretary but we’re left to our own devices to cook anything and… well, it’s mostly frozen dinners and microwave stuff, if I’m being honest.”

You frowned. “That can’t be good for you,” you told him, arms crossed over your chest.

Steve couldn’t seem to help himself, breaking into one of the dazzling smiles you’d grown so fond of in recent months.

“That’s what I keep tellin’ him,” he agreed. “Especially after his heart attack. But if the man won’t give up his cigars, there’s no way I’m going to get a green salad into him. So, it’s all pot pies and protein shakes around here.”

You picked up a dusty box from the shelf and inspected it before holding it up. “So there’s no need for corn starch from 1976, is what you’re telling me?” you said with a laugh.

Steve laughed. “Exactly,” he agreed. “I’ll pull out a trash can and you can dump whatever looks too old or too useless. I’ll be out here in the kitchen most of the time, if you have any questions. Time to clean out the fridge, maybe scrub down the stovetop. Actually start cooking out here for a change.”

“Right here?” you teased, your town dropped quiet enough that the others wouldn’t hear, coy and flirtatious. “Father Steve, are you keepin’ an eye on me?”

Steve glanced down the hallway to ensure that the others couldn’t see. When it was clear there were no obtrusive eyes upon you both, Steve smiled softly at you and leaned forward, dropped a gentle, chaste kiss on your lips.

“Every chance I get, beautiful,” Steve told you with a wink.

 

Steve had to excuse himself shortly after that, to change into something more suited for housework. He’d had early weekday Mass to do that morning with Father Donahue away and was still wearing his dress blacks when you and the other students had arrived. You liked him in the black, even if it tended to diminish the real strength of his form; those who had seen him at student-faculty sporting events or out for a morning run only got a glimpse, you’d been lucky enough to get your hands all over him.

He was pure muscle, plain and simple; you’d never have believed him when he told you of his youth and the illnesses he had suffered, if you hadn’t seen the surgical scars yourself, from each time the doctors had gone in and tried to make repairs.

The idea that the other girls present that day might be getting an eyeful of all of that filled you with just the slightest pangs of jealousy.

 

For his part, Steve felt lighter on his feet than he had been in weeks. He was already making plans for the day: he’d let the others break for lunch in the early afternoon, and they’d all probably go to the little diner in town that was something of a hangout for the local teens. You could stay behind, if you wanted -- he did so hope you’d want to -- and he could make lunch for the both of you.

The table in the rectory kitchen was small, even better than the library tables in the school. With no one around, he wouldn’t have to censor himself; he could speak plainly, laugh and talk and let the world fall away. He could reach out and put his hand over yours, brush hair out of your eyes, kiss you soft and sweet and slow and not worry at all that someone might be there to spy the trespass.

Steve was smiling to himself as he pulled open the battered wooden dresser in his small bedroom, fishing out a plain grey t-shirt and a pair of black track pants. He was just tying the laces on his sneakers when he heard shouting coming from outside and frowned, his plans for the afternoon falling away from his mind as he followed the sound.

The shouting from outdoors drew your attention as well, with even Angie and Dot slipping away from their tasks to peer out the kitchen garden door with you. But it wasn’t the teenaged squabbling that had garnered Steve’s attention that caught yours; no, it was the clearly aggravated tone of the young priest that had surprised you and called you away from your chores.

Steve stood with his hands on his hips, frowning down at Brock and Gil, who had been pummeling each other in the grass.

“On your feet, the both of you,” Steve barked at them in a deep, authoritative tone. “Now.”

The boys, both known troublemakers from your school that were most likely put up to their volunteering by their parents, scrambled to their feet, grass-stained and shame-faced.

Beside you, Angie drew in a sharp breath. “Well hot damn,” she muttered.

Chapter Text

“I guess I can’t really say I’m surprised,” Steve intoned, voice all full of subdued fury and righteous anger. “Though I suppose I thought the two of you would at least have enough respect for me and for this parish not to start brawling on church grounds.”

He was glaring, blue eyes gone steely and cold. For his part, Gil at least looked cowed; he was large for a teenage boy, a bit taller than the other, but stood with his eyes cast to the lawn and his shoulder hunched in. Brock, however, showed no such remorse. Dark haired with quick, calculating eyes, he stood with with his chin raised defiantly, his arms crossed over his chest.

“Bad enough you were even fighting, but this?” Steve went on, gesturing to the mess the two boys had made. The trash can full of debris had been tipped over, all of the refuse spilling out; the wooden shed door was hanging half off of its hinges, and two cans of what looked to be the paint used to touch up the church sign some years before spilled out all over the garden grass. “You’ve made a complete mess and damaged church property. What is wrong with you two?”

“He started it,” Gil grumbled, cheeks ruddy and expression rather shamed. For a large boy, he seemed more like an overgrown toddler caught with his hands in the cookie jar than a teenager rousted for fighting.

“Go home,” Steve snapped, focusing his glare on the larger boy. “You’re not getting service hours for this. Go, now.”

Gil seemed to shrink in on himself even more but turned to leave, Brock turning to follow.

“Not so fast, Rumlow,” Steve nearly growled out, his expression far darker than when he had been speaking to Gil. “It doesn’t take a genius to know how started this. You may have half of your teachers fooled, but I can see you for what you are. And I don’t like bullies. You’ll stay, and you’ll clean up this mess.”

Brock glared. “Why should I?” he shot back.

Steve took two steps towards Brock, an unmistakably threatening edge to the way he moved. Gathered beside you at the door, Dot’s jaw dropped open and Angie let out a breathy “oh my god”; you couldn’t help but internally agree with their sentiments.

“You’re going to do what I told you and clean up this mess because if you don’t, I will make your last year at school a living hell,” Steve replied, voice cold and authoritative. “There’s a reason I’m the school counselor, Brock. The faculty and the church trust my opinion when it comes to student affairs. Unless you want to lose every privilege you have here, you’ll do what I say and you won’t piss and moan about it. Do you understand?”

For the briefest moment, you thought Brock would fight him on it. The way he dropped his arms from his chest and clenched his fists at his side, you almost thought he was ready to throw a punch. But then he dropped his gaze, swearing under his breath, and stomped towards the trash can to right it and start picking up the mess.

When Steve turned back towards the building, you saw the anger drain from his face, only to be replaced with an apologetic half-smile.

“Sorry about that, ladies,” he called, making his way to the door. “But I don’t think we’ll have any more problems.”

“I’ll say,” Angie agreed under her breath, and the giggle that escaped you caught you off guard; she grinned when she saw you slap a hand over your mouth. Dot just rolled her eyes.

 

The others lingered in the kitchen when Steve returned, watching him curiously. You couldn’t recall a single moment where you’d seen his anger flare quite so hotly; you imagined the others couldn’t either. He had a reputation at the church for his kindness and easy-going attitude, and the display you had witnessed was such a far cry from what you knew of the man that it made the entire world seem off-kilter for a few moments.

“I really do apologize,” Steve told the three of you sheepishly, the fire gone from his eyes and his posture more relaxed. “I… I typically have a better handle on my temper.”

“No worries, Father,” Angie said breezily, nodding towards the door. “About time someone told off that dickhead.”

“Angie,” Steve cautioned, clearly trying not to laugh. “Language. Please.”

Angie laughed. “Okay, okay. I mean you did just promise to make the guy’s life a living hell and all but sure, ‘dickhead’ crosses the line I guess!”

That did it; Steve put his head in his hands to try and muffle his chuckles but it barely muted the sound, and even if it had, the way his shoulders shook with laughter made it more than clear that he had broken. It sent Angie into a fit of flirty giggles and even Dot was laughing; you smiled in spite of the hot spike of jealousy you felt. Seeing Steve so open and light like this… that was your quarry, no one else’s.

They laughter continued a long moment before Steve gave a chuckling sigh, wiping a small tear of mirth from his eyes and shaking his head.

“Okay, okay, settle down now,” he said. “Let’s get back to work before I have to see Father Donahue in confession for slacking off, on top of losing my temper.” His remarks earned a few more giggles before the other two went on their way back to their tasks, leaving you and Steve alone in the kitchen to get back to your own.

You tried to focus on what you were doing -- cringing now and again to find dry goods and dehydrated spices that looked to be even older than Steve himself and tossing them into the trash -- but your mind kept wandering. The thought had never occurred to you that a priest would need to confess, or even be expected to. Perhaps it was because of his age, you reasoned; or perhaps still, it was just another aspect of his life in the clergy that you didn’t understand.

“You have to confess?” you asked quietly, searching a two-pound bag of rice for an expiration date. Angie’s music continued to filter down the hallway, along with the sounds of the ancient washer and dryer working their magic, and you heard the occasional faint curse echoing down from Dot in the study.

“What’s that, sweetheart?” Steve asked, seemingly forgetting that you weren’t really alone. You couldn’t help the small smile it drew to your lips to hear it. He was on his knees in front of the oven. In spite of its lack of use, it seemed there was still a fair bit of fossilized grease inside and he had been scrubbing hard at it for the better part of an hour.

“You have to confess?” you repeated, ambling over with the bag of rice in your hands, tossing it back and forth from palm to palm just to feel the hard little grains moving and shifting within the plastic.

Steve sat back on his heels and grimaced. “Yeah,” he agreed with a nod, the informal accent that so often came out when you were alone surfacing almost instantly. “Technically it’s only s’posed to be mandatory once a year, but Father Donahue prefers once a week.” He swiped the back of one hand over his forehead, clearing away the sweat. “Really I think he just likes lordin’ it over me, if I’m bein’ honest.”

You bit your lip, trying to think of how best to ask the question weighing on your mind. Steve watched you curiously, clearly knowing there was more to come, waiting for you to find the words. In the end, you just decided to go for it.

“Do you ever… do you confess about me?” you asked in a small voice.

You could see his brows knit together in concern and he stood, the scrubbing pad he had been using on the oven quickly thrown into his bucket of soapy water, his hands just as swiftly wiped clean on the seat on his pants and dried at the hem of his t-shirt. Without so much as sparing a glance at the hallway, Steve pulled you close, stopping just before your bodies would touch. He tipped your chin up to face him and dropped a soft, gentle kiss, first on your forehead and then on the tip of your nose.

“No. Never,” Steve told you, shaking his head. “You only confess about the things you think you’re doing wrong, and this? Us, together? For all the doubts I had… it’s never felt anything but right to me.”

Chapter Text

The next morning, there was no sign of Brock or Gil; only Angie and Dot had shown up with you, waiting to take up your chores once again. The rectory door was locked when you arrived, Angie and Dot just as puzzled as you were.

“He did say to come back today, right?” Dot asked with a frown. It was a hot and sticky day already, even so early in the morning, and though the air conditioning in the rectory was subpar at best, it was better than standing out in the heat. Dot huffed to punctuate her words, exhaling a low hard breath that caused her blonde bangs to flutter.

“Maybe he’s sleeping late?” Angie offered, balancing precariously on the metal rail at the short staircase to the rectory door. The garden door was only accessible by a path through the local woods, so you had met at the front again to wait for Steve to let you in.

“Nah,” you told her, trying to peer through the lace curtains on the door’s small window. “With Father Donahue gone, Steve’ll be doing all the early masses for the week.”

“Oh, it’s Steve now, is it?” Angie asked, eyebrows raised and eyes twinkling. “Are we on a first name basis now? You two were working awful close yesterday....”

You rolled your eyes even as you blushed, trying to pretend it was only the heat. “C’mon, you know what I meant,” you muttered.

“C’mon honey, you can tell me,” Angie teased with a smile. “I mean, I’m sure we’ve all thought about it.”

Dot snorted. “That so?” she asked, voice low and acerbic.

“Just cos I don’t regularly drive stick doesn’t mean I don’t make exceptions,” Angie told her cheerfully. “I do have eyes… and a healthy libido.”

Dot screwed up her face, clearly ready to say something rude, but the sound of footsteps trotting up the path to the rectory door caused you all to stop and turn. What you saw made your jaw drop: Steve, clad in dark blue running shorts and a grey tee, face red and drenched in sweat. He was panting a little as he made it to the stairs, flashing a sheepish smile.

“Sorry ladies,” he called, panting a little. “Thought I could get a run in before we got started, but I guess this heat had me moving a little slower than usual.” He ran a hand through his hair, pushing the sweaty locks out of his eyes, and pulled the rectory keys out of his pocket with his free hand. Gesturing towards the door, he smile. “Shall we?”

Angie caught your eye as you followed him inside, miming grabbing at the young priest’s ass with both hands and winking. You were unable to stop the laugh it drew from you; Steve glanced over his shoulder with a puzzled smile and you tried to stifle your giggles.

“Oh don’t mind this one, Father Steve,” Angie said loudly, and threw an arm around your neck, tugging you close in a half-embrace. “Just loopy with the heat, I bet.”

 

Steve was ever the hospitable host. He sat the three of you at the kitchen table with glasses of juice and a half-empty package of vanilla sandwich cookies while he went to take a quick shower, apparently worried that he might offend should he dive right in to the day’s chores without cleaning up a little first.

Angie, being Angie, downed her juice in one guy and pondered, “Do you think priests jerk off in the shower?”

Dot choked on her juice. “Oh my god, will you quit it?” she hissed.

Angie opened a cookie and licked a slow stripe up the center of the creme filling, gaze directed on Dot, before chomping it in half. The other girl visibly winced and you held back a snort.

“They’re human,” you posited, ignoring the other girls’ conversation. “I mean, I’m sure they… you know. Feel things.”

Angie nudged you. “I’m sure you’d like to feel a thing or two,” she crowed.

“Well Jesus, who wouldn’t?” you responded with a snort.

Dot made a small noise of disgust. “You two are sick,” she tutted.

“And you’re a horrendous bitch,” Angie replied, shrugging when she saw Dot’s offended expression. “What? I thought we were stating the obvious.”

“Are we ready to get started?” Steve called as he entered the kitchen, clearly having heard your chatter but dutifully choosing to ignore it.

“Ready as we’ll ever be,” you told him, trying not to sound too enthused.

 

Steve was freshly showered, dressed in a clean tee and the same sort of track pants he had changed into the day before; you strongly suspected his wardrobe consisted primarily of dress blacks for when he was working and athletic clothes for when he was not. His hair was still damp but neatly combed back, skin seemingly a little pink, most likely from the heat of his shower.

That was one of the few luxuries he allowed himself to indulge in, he had admitted to you once. He drank his coffee lukewarm but kept his showers near hot enough to scald.

“We have a few things we need to work on today,” Steve announced, hands clasped behind his back as though he were an officer addressing his troops. “There’s still a lot of laundry left to be taken care of. Angie, I know you were stuck there most of yesterday so if you’d rather--”

“On in, mon capitan!” Angie announced cheerfully. She sprang from the table and headed towards the utility room. “Me and the radio and a gallon of detergent, what could be better?”

Steve shook his head as he watched her go, smiling gently, and you felt another of the hot pangs of jealousy that had been plaguing you as of late. But you noticed that his eyes were on her in an absent sort of way, not lingering on her or tracing her form, and there was no heat in his gaze. It made the worry inside of you settle, and you turned towards him expectantly.

“There’s some filing that needs to be done in the records room in the basement,” he began, glancing between you and Dot, “And some polishing in the silver cabinet. Chalices, some plates for the Host, everything from the spare tabernacle. The silver polish has a pretty strong scent to it, but the records room had some water damage last spring and it got a little… moldy. You two can decide which you’d rather--”

“I’ll do the silver!” Dot announced quickly. You had been certain she’d volunteer for it, just from the way she grimaced as soon as Steve had said the world ‘moldy’.

You sighed. “Looks like I’m on the moldy files,” you said.

Steve flashed a smile. “It won’t be so bad,” he promised. “I’ll even give you a hand.”

 

He was so clever, you realized. He’d known Dot would jump at the chance to avoid spending her day in a dirty moldy basement; just as he knew he couldn’t assign tasks for the day and keep you close to him again without someone noticing. By giving the option, he allowed Dot to make the decision for him, keeping you beside him without having mandated it himself. You were impressed -- even if it meant you’d be spending your day fussing with mold-spotted paperwork.

The basement of the rectory was surprisingly neat. The walls were paneled in stained pine and the floor was made of ancient linoleum that, while cracked and faded in some spots, was very clean. One corner held state of the art exercise equipment: a treadmill, a weight bench, even a punching bag, most likely the set up the diocese had donated to the church after Father Donahue’s cardiologist directed him to take up a fitness routine. There was a small room with the door ajar and inside you could see a twin bed and a dresser; near the bottom of the stairs was another door, clean white tile laying beyond and the scent of hot soap still in the air telling you it was Steve’s bathroom. The small room, you realized, must be his bedroom.

The file room was on the other side of the basement and Steve led you inside with half a smile, a single manila folder there on the desk inside with a cheery yellow sticky note that read ‘Please File’.

“What…?” you asked, gesturing towards the file folder and turning to face Steve.

He grinned. “I just said there was ‘some filing’,” Steve told you with a shrug. “I didn’t say how much, exactly.”

You arched an eyebrow. “And the mold?” Steve sighed, slipping his arms around your waist from behind, ducking to rest his head on your shoulder.

“Now all I said was that it got moldy,” he reminded, nuzzling beneath your ear as he spoke. “I just forgot to mention that I cleaned that all up right after it happened, is all.”

Chapter Text

While the other two girls worked at their chores on the main level of the rectory, you took your time exploring Steve’s space in the basement. Records office notwithstanding, it was more than clear that the basement was his domain. It didn’t surprise you in the least that Father Donahue would have relegated the younger priest to the lower level rather than give up any of his own space.

“It’s not so bad, really,” Steve had explained, gesturing around the space. “We don’t get along very well. Having my own place to escape to is nice. He never comes down here, not even to use the gym equipment like he’s supposed to. Gives me at least a small sense of privacy.”

Though the basement itself looked very dated, with its paneling and worn tile, the bathroom looked almost new, all clean white tile and polished stainless steel. There was no bathtub but instead a walk-in shower with a sliding door made of beveled glass, and the room smelled heavily of cheap bar soap, very clean and fresh.

“I re-did it all myself,” Steve told you, almost proudly. “It was barely functioning when I got here and the restroom upstairs only has a sink to wash in. Father Donahue’s bedroom is a master, so he has his on en suite. I didn’t have a lot to work with -- the monthly stipend I get isn’t very much -- but it’s not bad, right?”

You smiled, running your fingertips over the cool ceramic tile. “Steve, it’s amazing!” you told him, smiling. “I had no idea you could do things like this!”

Steve chuckled softly. “There’s a lot I bet you don’t know I can do. Yet.”

You turned to face him where he stood leaning against the doorframe and smiling at you, and shook your head.

“You’re terrible,” you told him, shaking your head. He leaned towards you and dropped a soft, gentle kiss on your lips.

“Pretty sure you like me that way, sweetheart,” he teased softly, close enough that you could feel his breath against your lips as he spoke. You bridged the distance to return a chaste peck on his lips before taking his hand and pulling him towards the smaller room you had seen.

“C’mon,” you told him. “I want to see your room.”

You loved Steve’s bedroom from the moment you stepped inside. It was small but neat, the twin bed -- which you realized must have been one of the extra-long sort to accommodate his height -- pushed against the wall with a small night table just beside it, an a desk squeezed in beside that. Across the floor was a battered dresser and a half-full hamper, a narrow door beside it which you assumed must lead to a small closet.

Atop the dresser were a few toiletries, deodorant and aftershave, a small tube of lip balm tossed haphazardly alongside some loose change. There seemed to be small stacks of books tucked anywhere there was space -- the dresser, the side table, the desk -- and all in the most varying topics you had ever seen, from medieval history to astronomy to Stephen King paperbacks. The room smelled like him, the cool aftershave scent that had grown so familiar to you and the salty tang of his sweat, and you found your gaze drawn back to his bed, plain and inelegant, dressed only in a white sheets and a plain brown blanket.

You glanced at him and bit your lip. “So how are you going to spend our day, now that my chores are all done?” you asked coyly. You’d already done the filing -- last month’s baptismal certificates, tucked away in a file box for safe keeping.

Steve crossed his arms over his chest and raised his eyebrows. “Young lady, are you trying to flirt with me?” he teased in a tone just a mite too light and playful to be serious.

“I am not flirting,” you told him resolutely, and sat down on his bed. You leaned back, bracing yourself with your hands against the mattress. “I think the term you were looking for is ‘propositioning’.”

Steve took a seat beside you with a chuckle, nudging you to slide over just a bit to make room for him. He smiled as you immediately cuddled up close to him, his gaze drifting down your legs, bare to him as you had worn a pair of denim shorts that morning.

“There are two people upstairs,” he reminded gently. You ignored his concern, nuzzling close against his throat, right where you knew he liked it best. He rewarded you with a soft sigh of your name, his large hand drifting into your hair.

“When will we get another chance like this?” you murmured. You could feel yourself coming undone already, your temperature spiking and your skin itching to feel him. Stolen moments in his office in late afternoons were one thing; being alone, completely at your leisure in his bedroom was another entirely.

Steve sighed your name. “Baby, no,” he said, shaking his head. You pulled back with a pout and he took your face in his hands. “You deserve better than this. I want to give you better than this.” He glanced around his simple room and sighed again.

Steve knew well that you were (technically) a virgin. Your time spent alone with him had led to just about everything but; you had no doubt in your mind that when you finally took that leap, it would be with him, but you thought perhaps he placed too much emphasis on it. It would mean enough to you that it was him -- nothing else mattered.

Steve himself was not a virgin. He had been completely up front about that and it hadn’t really surprised you, not after he had spread your thighs atop his desk and drove you wild with his tongue. It was more in practice that it seemed unusual -- you suppose you’d thought it was some sort of prerequisite for the priesthood or the nunnery.

He’d explained it with no small amount of embarrassment: that his friend knew he’d never been with anyone, that the other man was adamant that Steve wasn’t clergy material, and had set him up on a date with a woman Steve hadn’t known was a ‘sure thing’. Lorraine had been tall and blonde and beautiful, bright eyes and a flirty little smirk, and she had made her intentions quite clear before they’d even bought their movie tickets. At dinner afterwards, Steve had been overcome with nerves and drank far too much.

He awoke at her apartment, in her bed, naked and embarrassed. Even as she made it clear that he was more than welcome to spend the morning alongside her, and he should call her as soon as he was ready for another tumble, Steve had hurried out the door and promptly lost her number.

Walking back into the rectory under Father Ben’s watchful gaze had been beyond mortifying.

 

“But I want you,” you pouted. “I hadn’t even been able to see you alone in so long, and here I am in your bed… ready and willing.”

Steve smiled, tilting your chin to look up at him. “We’ll figure something out, one day,” he told you. “When the timing is right. We’ll know.” He kissed you softly then turned his head towards the door, clearly listening for any noise from above.

All that filtered down the stairs were the tinny sounds of the radio, the thump of the old washing machine, and the occasional bickering between Angie and Dot.

“But hey,” he said, turning back to you with a growing smile. “It doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun. I think you should take this,” he went on, running his fingers under the straps of your tank top, “Off.”

It didn’t take you but a moment to comply, and just as quickly afterwards your bra followed, draped lewdly over the desk chair. Steve kissed you deeply, his hand roaming even as he pressed you back into the mattress.

You pushed your fingers through his hair, still damp from his recent shower, as he kissed his way down from your lips to the hollow of your throat, and ten down to your breast. Steve’s kisses were hot and open-mouth, his tongue flicking out to lap at you and soft little groans erupting from his throat with the pleasure he found at tasting you.

You had teased him about it, once or twice, his seeming predilection for getting his mouth on you, wherever he could.

Steve had blushed and shrugged and said, “Hey, everyone has a thing.”

You had laughed, insisting that you had none, and Steve’s eyes had darkened when he not so gently reminded you that you seemed to very much enjoy him giving you orders -- take this off...open your mouth, sweetheart... there you go, darlin', good girl -- especially when he was wearing his dress blacks and collar, and even more so when there was a threat of somehow being discovered.

The mere thought of it made you shiver even now, as Steve caught your gaze while his tongue ever so gently circled your nipple, already pebbled and hard from his ministrations. A thunder of footsteps and then laughter from above made your breath hitch and you saw Steve smile before he closed his lips around your nipple, sucking hard enough to make your back arch. Your fingers still tangled in his hair, you bit your lip to keep from crying out, and spent a very pleasurable afternoon in Steve’s bed.

Chapter Text

When you were there, Steve was alright. He didn’t worry. He didn’t fret. The cold grip of loneliness he hadn’t even realized he’d felt since leaving New York seemed to drift away; Steve felt warm, even light.

He was happy.

But without you, well… that’s when the cold began to creep back in.

Steve would hate himself for what he’d done, for what he’d dragged you into. For what he’d done to you. Even as you felt like home in his arms, when those arms were empty all he could think of was his weakness. It was one thing for a man to fall from grace, but to pull you down with him was all the worse.

Just a little after nine that evening, Steve found himself staring at a blank email open on the rectory office computer. He didn’t have to worry about Father Donahue finding him out, since he was still away from the church, but his apprehension still lingered. Steve had no one he could really confide in, outside of you; all he’d ever had was Bucky.

And he still felt terrible throwing his troubles -- all of his own making -- at Bucky’s feet. God only knew what Bucky was dealing with, and that perhaps made it all the worse, that Steve didn’t know. He and Bucky hadn’t spoken much since they both had made their final decisions about their respective futures.

Steve sighed; he couldn’t stand it any longer. He had to talk to someone about it.

To: james.barnes@us.army.mil
From: SRogers704@aol.com

Subj: (Blank)

So there’s this girl.

He sat there for a good five minutes longer and then shook his head, laughing at himself for being so foolish. Obviously, he wouldn’t get a response right away. He’ be lucky to hear back within a few days, depending on what kind of mission or operation Bucky was on as of late. He hadn’t heard too much about his friend’s military career, only that he had made the rank of sergeant and was stationed somewhere in the Middle East. When Steve called Mrs. Barnes, dutifully about once a month, she spoke very carefully about Bucky, if at all.

Steve sometimes wondered if she blamed him for Bucky being away at all.

With another sigh, Steve moved to close his email, only to hear the familiar chime of a new email popping up in his inbox. Surprised, Steve immediately clicked to open it.

To: SRogers704@aol.com
From: james.barnes@us.army.mil

Subj: RE: (blank)

I FUCKING TOLD YOU.

Even more surprising than the expedient email response was the sudden ringing of the rectory office line while Steve was still wondering how to respond. It was late and he couldn’t imagine any parishioners calling but he still answered as though it were.

“Good Evening, Our Lady of…” he began.

“You fucking punk!” Bucky’s voice came over the line, clear and full of a mixture of exasperation and amusement. “I told you! Didn’t I tell you? You’d go through all of this bullshit, the whole nine yards, get yourself a dog collar and have’em set you up in some tiny little church somewhere and then fall head over heels for some pretty face…”

“Bucky,” Steve groaned, phone held to his ear with one hand while he propped up his forehead with the other. “I don’t need a god damn lecture right now…”

Bucky barked a laugh. “Ah, see, there it is, Father Steve takin’ the Lord’s name in vain, in his own god damn church! Tell me about the girl, Stevie… you two fucked yet?”

“Jesus Christ, Bucky!” Steve spat out. “How can you even… we didn’t… we haven’t…”

Bucky gave a low whistle and clucked his tongue. “Steve. Stevie. This is me you’re talkin’ to. Your ol’ pal Bucky. You think I can’t tell when you’re bullshittin’ me?”

Steve was blushing in the dim light of the rectory office; he sighed. “Look, it’s not… we haven’t… I mean, we haven’t technically...”

Bucky laughed again; there was a cheerful effervescence to his voice that Steve wouldn’t have expected, if he had stopped to think about it.

“Oh I see how it is,” he practically crooned. “Gettin’ off on a technicality. Literally. Should’ve guessed it, honestly -- think I don’t remember you and that little oral fixation ou had going? Tell me this though, punk… she go to your church?”

Steve didn’t answer; he was embarrassed and a little horrified to give voice to his own actions, even as it felt so cathartic to hear them spoken aloud by someone else. His silence was enough of an answer for Bucky.

“Holy shit, she does, doesn’t she?” Bucky asked, voice almost awed, as though he’d never have expected his old friend to have grown so debauched. “I mean I always figured you’d get up to somethin’ like this in the long run, pal, but I didn’t think you’d defile one of your own good little Catholic girls.”

Steve swallowed hard; Bucky didn’t know how close to the mark he really was. “Buck, it’s not like that. I… I think I really…” He trailed off, unable to say the words.

Bucky sighed over the line. “Okay, what’s the plan then?”

“Plan?” Steve echoed, frowning.

“Obviously you can’t keep bein’ Father Steve if you wanna be makin’ time with this girl,” Bucky reasoned. “I’m guessin’ you're flat broke too. Work for the Lord and you don’t get paid much, and all that. What do you need? You and your girl gonna come home to New York? I got a spare room you can have, help you get on your feet…”

Steve startled, sitting up a little straighter. “New York?” he asked. “Buck, are you home?”

“Yeah, back in Brooklyn about eight months now. Ma didn’t tell you?” Bucky replied.

Steve was stunned. “No. No, she didn’t. Just said I should reach out, send you an email or somethin’, but I didn’t want to be a bother if you were… y’know, busy. Why are you back? I thought you had another year on this tour?”

“Funny story,” Bucky said. “Y’know they got these spiders out in the sandbox, call’em fiddleback spiders? Thing is, they’re the same thing as a brown recluse. You heard of that one, right?”

“Yeah…” Steve said slowly, frowning.

“Yeah so, turns out, if one of those little fuckers bites you when you’re crouched in a burned out factory, waitin’ on a mark, and you can’t get it looked at right off? You can lose a whole fucking arm. And then what does the army need with a one-armed sniper, right?”

“Jesus Christ, Buck!”

“Yeah, you’re tellin’ me,” Bucky replied. “‘Necrotizing fasciitis’. Just call me Righty.”

Steve was aghast. “Bucky, man, I’m so sorry…”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m over it,” Bucky said, brushing off Steve’s pity. “It’s been awhile and shit worked out okay. I’m working in security for Stark Industries now and the chief mad scientist called in a few favors, got this genius kid to build me a fully functional prosthetic. Works like a dream and looks like something out of a Terminator flick.”

“Buck, I’m sorry,” Steve repeated, shaking his head to himself. “I should’ve known. I should’ve kept in touch, I didn’t like the way we left things and I should have been a better friend, I’m just so god damn sorry.”

“Forget it,” Bucky said, just like that. Like no years had passed at all, like they hadn’t barely spoken. That was just Bucky’s way; things might have gone sour for a few years but he’d never turn his back on Steve. “I’m over it. Tell me about this girl of yours, Stevie. She cute?”

They talked for hours. Steve told him all about you: your name, what you looked like, the way you laughed, the way you made him feel. He was careful to stress that it wasn’t just a physical thing, wanting to be sure that Bucky understood he wasn’t throwing away his carefully built life in the priesthood for nothing more than a romp in the sheets. Bucky was still more than ready to offer up his spare room, but Steve explained that you both needed some time to figure things out.

He didn’t mention that time was needed mostly for you to become of age for such decisions; some things, he thought, were still best left unsaid.

The sun was beginning to rise when they finally said their goodbyes and as Steve took the stairs down to his basement room, he felt lighter than he had in weeks. It would take time, of course, but at least he had a path set before him -- one both of you could travel together.

Chapter Text

Summer came and went more quickly than you’d have imagined, and in all truth you were glad for it. You spent more time than you’d expected with some kids your own age -- hanging out with Scott at the pool, running into Angie at the diner a few times -- but it was still your time with Steve that you jealously guarded, even as difficult as it was to come by.

The best days were the ones when you both managed to sneak away; you’d take your bike out to the trails in the woods outside of town with a book and a blanket strapped to the back -- not an unusual occurrence for you -- and Steve would find time away from his church duties to go for a run. Father Donahue always preferred that anyway, never liking to be bothered with the younger man during church business hours, still so concerned that Steve had been sent in as a usurper and that he’d be sent into early retirement.

There, in the relative solitude of the woods, you would meet.

It wasn’t always sexual. Sometimes you’d just curl up together on your blanket, in a little clearing here the sun shone down, leaving you feeling warm and sleepy. Steve would play with your hair, pressing gentle kisses to your forehead, sighing in deep contentment just to be close to you.

Other times, well.

You had him laid out on his back on the blanket, a red and black plaid fleece that used to sit on the back of the sofa in your father’s den but had become your go-to for your summer excursions into the woods. You always made a show of shaking out the grass and dirt on the back porch, so your parents never questioned it when you threw it into the washer most evenings when you returned home.

Steve was panting, beads of sweat glistening on his skin. He was like a wet dream, breath coming fast, eyes half-lidded, lips parted. You liked it when you could take him apart like this; sometimes it felt like he could play you like a fine-tuned instrument, striking every note and chord with perfect precision, leaving you a trembling wanton mess. When you could turn the tables on him, it was quite the sight to see.

“Why can’t I stop?” you whispered to him, even as you knew there was no one around to hear you speak. Your t-shirt was tossed haphazardly aside on the blanket, your bra pushed down to expose your breasts; he’d left marks there, hidden where no one would see them but you, darkened hickies beneath where the collar of your shirt would lay and the purpling impression of teeth along the underside of one of your breasts. You were straddling him, knees pressing down on other side of his slim hips, the rocks and rubble beneath the blanket causing little pain with your attention so focused elsewhere.

Steve groaned your name and you smiled against the skin of his throat. His t-shirt was rucked up and his running shorts pushed down, his thick cock so hot and hard in your hand. You were stroking him slowly, a tortuous pace, and whispering all the things you knew would drive him wild.

“Why can’t I stop touching you, Steve?” you whispered, and scraped your teeth along his throat just to hear him groan. “S’all I ever want anymore… can’t wait to get my hands on you, feel how hard you get for me…”

“Baby, please…” Steve gasped, bucking into your hand.

“Oh Steve,” you said softly. “God, Steve, you’re so big. You feel so huge in my hand. Do you think I’ll be able to take you? Why you finally give in, when you fuck me? Steve, oh god, I want to feel it… want it so bad…”

His hands had been at your waist, occasionally slipping down to grab at your ass, and when you spoke those words against his skin he gripped you tighter, pulling you against him for just a taste of the friction he needed and came undone with a low, rumbling groan of your name.

You giggled; you could help yourself. “That’s all it takes?” you teased, not even minding the sticky heat of his release against your stomach.

“Sweetheart, you’re gonna kill me one of these days,” he told you, smiling even as he still panted.

You sat back onto his thighs, carefully tucking his spent cock back into his shorts before dropping your gaze to the mess splattered across the softness of your belly. Eyes on yours, Steve watched with a heated, interested gaze as you ran the tip of one finger through his come on your stomach and then brought it to your lips. Steve moaned as you licked the digit clean, softened cock given an interested twitch in his shorts.

You smiled and before you could even tease him about it, Steve launched up from his back and swapped your positions, his arms carefully wrapped around you to keep you from hitting the ground and causing any pain.

“You keep teasin’ me, pretty girl, and one of these days, I’m not going to be able to stop myself,” Steve warned, eyes dark and full of promise. He ducked his head to punctuate his words with a long hard tug on your nipple.

You moaned, your hands going to tangle in his hair. “I’m… oh, Steve… I’m counting on it,” you told him. The noontime sun filtered down through the treetop canopy and deeper in the woods you could hear the chattering of birds and the forest fauna, but there in the little clearing, on your soft fleece blanket, it was just you and Steve, the rest of the world fallen away to give you peace in your time together.

 

School started off at full speed that September; apparently someone had been impressed enough with the posters and half-hearted decorations you had volunteered to make for different functions, simply seeking time and reason to stay late after classes, that you were suddenly in-demand. The choral club wanted your help with their printed programs for the fall recital and Angie and her drama club gang were adamant you should sign up for set design.

It was kind of nice, being so sought after. But better still was the time it gave you; your parents didn’t even blink if you didn’t roll in the door until well into the evening, and suddenly your time alone in Steve’s office wasn’t so frantic and rushed. You could take you your time, draw it out; sometimes you’d just cuddle together on the couch and talk, snuggled up close to his strong chest, his fingers running through your hair.

Sometimes he’d even sneak back to the rectory and make a quick meal, bringing it back to his office to share as you laughed and talked at his desk, about simple little things that could make you forget that what you had was forbidden.

Steve was enjoying it as much as you were. It didn’t feel so tawdry anymore; it was softer, simple. Even romantic.

When a chilly late October day saw you missing from your regular lunch date -- now at a table in the back of the library stacks, courtesy of Steve’s brainstorm over summer break to suggest space be set up for students who wished to study with a little more quiet, a little more privacy -- Steve was surprised but not overly concerned. A touch of the flu had been drifting its way through the student body and though you had seemed fine the day before, it wouldn’t have shocked him that you’d woken up with the bug.

But when you didn’t arrive the next day, or the day after, he was getting a little more concerned.

He caught Scott Lang between classes one day, trying to sound casual when asking, “So where’s your partner in crime?”

Scott snorted at the moniker; you’d joined him in detention three times since Steve had sent you there the prior year, mostly courtesy of Mr. Pierce, who seemed to despise it when he saw any two students laughing and not being generally depressed in his presence.

“Out sick,” Scott had said simply, and when Steve’s raised eyebrows made it clear he was looking for a little more information than that, he added, “I guess her parents took her to the emergency room or something? And she has to have surgery? I dunno, they didn’t really say too much when they asked if I’d get all her homework and stuff.”

Steve felt his mouth go dry and his heart drop to the pit of his stomach. Hospital? Surgery? He certainly hadn’t been expecting that.

“Do you know what hospital?” he asked, trying not to sound too panicked. Scott rattled off the name and Steve sent him on his way with a curt nod and a word of thanks. It was barely midday but Steve considered his workday finished; he rattled off excuses at Father Donahue when he ducked into the rectory to grab his visitation kit, a book from his bedroom, and the keys to the rectory car.

He made the forty minute drive to the hospital in less than half an hour.

Chapter Text

Your parents didn’t really talk about the accident much. After it happened, when you were still in and out of surgery, kept in traction and casts and hoping that your bones would knit themselves back together properly, it was all about your Recovery -- important like that, a proper noun, Their Daughter’s Recovery.

You didn’t understand why at first. You were hurt, so very badly, and you wanted to know why; even your young mind knew there had to be a reason. Was it your family’s old station wagon, finally giving out on the road? Was there debris, something that made a tire blow out and send you off into that ravine? Did an animal dart out in front of the car? How had it happened? Why?

Father Donahue wouldn’t say. It wasn’t your place, he had told you, to question God’s plan. Instead you should focus on the good of the situation: you had survived. You were hurt but you were alive, your parents walking free with little more than scrapes and bruises, and the odd concussion. You were still so young, you took it at face value; seven years didn’t give you enough experience to question the status quo.

As you got older, though. When it became clear that there would always be some residual pain, bones aching on cold and rainy days, scars that would fade but never disappear, a year lost to hospital beds and surgeries that changed everything about the life you knew… then you started to question it.

 

They had been drunk, the both of them. You didn’t know who had been behind the wheel but it didn’t really matter. They’d both made that decision -- to get into the car together, to buckle their little girl into the backseat, and make the long drive down a wooded road home with enough beer and wine in their bellies to shift the world a quarter turn to the left and make the asphalt before them seem dark and hazy.

That was the last year for the church’s benefit gala out at the golf course on the outskirts of town. It had been an annual event until then, the largest annual fundraiser for the parish, where all the good townsfolk gathered to eat and drink and bid on silent auction prizes no one really wanted.

Your parents had been drunk, but so had the other driver. You never knew Mr. Schmidt well, only that he lived across the street from the public pool in town and he hated children. His car was some gaudy European antique and he drove like he owned the road; the story you’d heard from Scott, who had gleaned it from listening to his own parents as a child in the aftermath, was that your parents didn’t like Schmidt very much either and did their damnedest not to allow him to pass on the narrow country road that led back into town. The lumber truck coming in the opposite direction hadn’t been able to stop in time when it became apparent that your family’s station wagon and Schmidt’s convertible whatever-it-was were speeding side by side on a two-lane road.

There had been shattering glass, from what you could remember. That was it, really, the sound of broken glass and then some great metallic groan and then nothing. Scott told you it had been bad; the truck driver had made it out but he lost his legs, and even as badly as you had been hurt, Schmidt had gotten the worst of it. There had been fire, centralized to his vehicle; burned his face clean away, Scott had told you, so all that was there was the blistered red pulp of muscle stretched over his skull. Worse still, it hadn’t killed him -- he’d just lain their screaming.

Scott would know. His mother was a nurse and one of the first people to happen upon the accident scene. She hadn’t told him directly, of course; it was just the hushed conversation he had gleaned over the years, because it was the worst accident in town since a car full of teenagers had flipped off the Shawmut Bridge back in the late 50’s, so people still talked about it quietly when there was little else to say.

Everyone felt so bad for your parents too, which made you angry when you learned the whole truth as a teenager. No one cared that they’d all been drunk, that the town had been engaging in its annual bacchanal and carried on drinking merrily as your parents stumbled off with their child in tow. The hypocrisy of it grated on you, though there was little you could do about it.

Because now that the Recovery was over, your parents didn’t talk about it at all. Like it never happened. Like you still didn’t have pale scars on your belly and the faintest limp when the weather was cold and damp. Like they hadn’t almost killed you before you were old enough to even make your First Communion. Lucky for you that Catholics baptize early, you’d thought ruefully.

They didn’t talk about the pain, either, which is why you’d thought it was normal for so long. The aching bones were one thing, something you expected would never go away, but the sharp hot pangs that came to your stomach so often, you hadn’t known weren’t normal. Just the leftovers, you had thought, from what you had gone through. You’d just resigned yourself to thinking it would always hurt a little, and when they got sharper as you grew older, you found ways to rationalize it.

Maybe you had pulled a muscle during gym class or when riding your bike. Maybe you had slept at an odd angle, twisted over on yourself in your sheets. Maybe it was just the early onset of monthly cramps that had always been rough. It was easy to ignore when you just accepted that it was always going to hurt, at least a little.

But that Monday, it had been bad, and that Tuesday, even worse. And when you startled awake with another deep stab of pain in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, you had known something had to be really wrong; you’d barely been able to drag yourself to your parents’ bedroom, sobbing on the floor with little breath to even speak until they finally heard you and woke.

It was scar tissue, the doctors finally explained. Thick bands of it interwoven all throughout your abdomen, compressing and squeezing your most vital organs for years at least. Uncommon but not unheard of, after having major trauma surgery as a child. It had to be quite painful, they said, surprised it had never come up before.

“She never complained,” your father said mildly.

“We don’t really talk about the accident,” your mother had added.

There would have to be surgery, to cut away as much as the unwieldy scar tissue as they could, and then an assessment of your organ function to make sure there was no lasting damage. If all went well, you’d be home in a matter of days and back to school in a matter of weeks. It seemed like a pretty big ‘if’ to you.

 

Steve had arrived in a rush, jogging towards your room once the nice young man at the information desk had told him where to find you, near ready to break into a full run. Your parents had explained everything with such quiet detachment that he could hardly believe it; he wanted to take them both by the shoulders and shake them hard, ask how they could be so blase about their own daughter’s life.

“Thank you for coming,” your mother had told him earnestly. “It’s wonderful that the Church cares so much about its young people.”

“Of course,” Steve had told her through gritted teeth. “Why don’t you go and get some coffee in the cafeteria, and I’ll sit with her awhile?”

They had been so quick to acquiesce; being there in the hospital only brought back memories of the first time around and their own failure that they did so much to ignore. Being away from your sickbed was a relief and a blessing. Steve was just glad for the privacy, even as you slept, the morphine drip in your hand keeping the pain away enough for you to rest.

Steve pulled a chair up alongside your bed and stared down at your relaxed features with a mixture of fear and relief; at least the problem was known, he reasoned. At least they knew what they had to do. Reaching to smooth your hair away from your face, he sighed.

He hated hospitals, always had. They represented only sickness and death to him. Perhaps if he had been present for the birth of a child, or been there to see a long-ill patient finally released with the knowledge that their sickness was over, it would be different. But for Steve, hospitals were only full of frustration and loss: his own long years in and out of a sickbed, and then his mother’s final days, watching her wither away to nothing as the cancer took her. Seeing you laying there struck a chord of fear deep in his heart.

He unzipped the small visitation kit he had carried in and draped the thin silk stole over his shoulders, uncapping the tiny glass bottle of oil to dress it on his thumb. Reaching over, he painted the sign of a cross first on your forehead and then at your throat, the dry familiar aroma of the holy oil spicing the air.

“Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in His love and mercy help you with the Grace of the Holy Spirit,” Steve said, voice shaking, barely above a whisper. “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up."

In a small pocket in the small leather case that he used for his visitation kit was a sterling silver medal that Steve had carried with him since a childhood visit to the Lourdes shrine in upstate New York, where his mother had taken him after a particularly bad illness. He took it out then and placed in your hand, closing your fingers around it before taking out his rosary, green beads glimmering in the low light of your hospital room, and wrapped them around both of your hands; he held yours in his, dropping a gentle kiss across your knuckles before bowing his head.

"Mary, full of Grace, spiritual mother to those in need, I fervently request your heavenly intercession for this sweet girl who is in such pain," he whispered, tears pricking his eyes. His mother had prayed to Mary so often when he was young, finding a kindred soul in the icon of the young mother; in need of comfort, Steve turned to those old prayers. “Console our anxious hearts and grant that her sufferings come to an end. Amen.”

He started praying the rosary then, running through each Hail Mary and Glory Be like clockwork, barely hearing the words as he spoke them. In his mind, in his heart, the words that Steve prayed were far different.

Please, he prayed. Please, don’t take her away from me.

Chapter Text

The surgery took two hours longer than had been estimated, and Steve was a nervous wreck by the time the doctor came out to speak with your parents. Good Father Steve had stayed on for moral support, of course, and your parents had no qualms with the doctor sharing whatever he had to say in the young priest’s presence.

Things had went well; there was more scar tissue than they’d estimated, and some of it had coiled around more delicate places than they had expected. ‘Abdominal adhesions’, the surgeon called them, had been near to strangling the life out of you, in more ways than one. You hadn’t noticed you’d been losing weight in recent months and though Steve had felt the difference beneath his fingertips, he hadn’t called attention to it; you didn’t seem as though you were doing it forcibly and you never complained about feeling ill. But it wasn’t just your digestive system that had been at risk; you hadn’t been wrong in thinking your monthly cramps were worse than usual.

“This could have gone very badly for her, had it been left any longer,” the surgeon intoned, frowning just a little bit. As a physician he knew the pain must have been terrible; he marveled daily at what some people were able to stand.

“Thank you, doctor,” your mother said, smiling. She had no need to worry -- it was over, like the accident, like the Recovery, done with and ready to be buried.

Steve bit his tongue.

“And thank you, Father,” she went on, patting Steve on the arm. “It was so kind of you to stay with us during this difficult time.”

“Of course,” Steve agreed, trying to sound as detached as he could. He was there as the family priest, he had to remind himself, and nothing more. “I’m more than happy to stay with her, if you need some time away.”

“She’s in recovery now,” the surgeon spoke up, gesturing to a set of double doors just a few steps away. “It’ll be an hour or two before she wakes but you’re welcome to sit with her.”

Your parents exchanged a look.

“Why don’t you two go home, freshen up?” Steve suggested. “I can stay, in case she wakes up.”

“We really should go and get cleaned up,” your mother agreed with a nod. “And so long as Father Steve is here, it’s not like she’s alone.”

Your father simply nodded, lifting their coats from the waiting room chairs and taking your mother’s arm as they headed in the opposite direction of the recovery area. The surgeon frowned to watch them go, then glanced at Steve.

“Such a strange family,” he commented, and Steve shrugged.

“Everyone deals with these things differently, I suppose,” Steve offered, even as a hot ball of anger burned in his chest. They’d wanted to leave -- they had been ready to leave -- and his giving them permission had made no difference. They would have gone and you’d have woken up alone, the same way you had after the accident.

You had told him that in confidence once, how terrified you had been to wake as a young girl, practically tied down to the hospital bed with restraints so that you wouldn’t move your setting bones or aggravate your incisions. Your parents had been released two days prior and you’d lingered in the anesthesia; they’d gone home to get some rest and when you opened your eyes, you were in a strange place and in so much pain.

The thought of you going through that again made Steve as ill as he was angry.

He gave the surgeon a weak smile. “Could you take me to her? I don’t want her to open her eyes and find herself alone.”

The surgeon smiled in return, thinking of how doting the young priest was and how lucky you must be to have him in your corner, and led him towards the double doors.

 

You woke to little pain, still floating too far in the anesthesia to really register it. What you did feel was overwhelming fatigue and the stiffness of your limbs, eyes full of crust and a mouth dry as the desert. You inhaled deeply and licked at your chapped lips, groaning as you swallowed against a dry throat.

“Hey, there she is,” Steve said softly. Your eyes were bleary and unfocused but you felt his strong hand brushing back your hair, and a plastic straw pressed to your lips. “Take a drink, baby. It’ll help.”

It hurt a little to swallow but you did as you were told, the flood of cool water feeling almost heavenly; he wiped at your eyes with a dampened cloth and when you opened them, you were treated to a vision of Steve perched at your bedside, looking worse for wear but still so pleased to see you.

“Steve?” you muttered, frowning; you thought you were dreaming. Taking in the sharp tang of antiseptic in the air and the slow steady thrum of the different monitors and machines around you, you blinked and glanced around wildly. “F-father?” you amended.

Steve smiled. “It’s okay,” he told you, voice still pitched low and soft. “It’s just us here. Your parents went home to get cleaned up and there’s no one else in recovery. Just me an’ you.” He was threading his fingers through your hair, the gesture feeling sweet and soothing.

“Am I okay?” you asked in a small voice. The specter of another surgery and hospital stay had filled you with dread, thoughts of losing another year to illness plaguing you in the few clear moments you had in your morphine-fueled haze in the prior days.

“You’re okay. You’re perfect,” Steve told you. He gave a furtive glance around the room even as he knew it was empty but for the two of you, then pressed a very gentle kiss to your forehead. “Everything went well. You’re going to be just fine.”

The relieved sigh that erupted from you seemed to sap the last of your energy and you wilted back against your pillows.

“M’tired,” you mumbled, eyes fluttering shut.

“Sleep,” Steve told you. “I’ll be here with you, you don’t have to worry.”

You raised one shaking hand from your bed and Steve took it immediately, the warmth of his palm chasing away the chill that had come from the cool clean air of the operating room. You mumbled something unintelligible, listening to the soothing sound of Steve whispering words of comfort beside you, and let sleep take you.

 

It was a full day before you were conscious again and you woke to hear polite if stilted conversation between Steve and your parents. It was something about the church -- of course it was -- and the upcoming events for the year: Harvest Festival, Christmas Bazaar, Spring Carnival… your parents attended all of it, mingling with the other families and leaving you to your own devices. That was fine by you -- you much preferred it anyway.

“Well hello there!” your mother called cheerfully, spotting your open gaze. “And how are we feeling?”

“Like hell,” you grumbled, frowning.

Your mother gave a short gasp. “Please, dear. Your language! And in front of the Father.”

Steve chuckled. “I’ve heard far worse,” he said with a warm smile. “I don’t think any of us can be expected to keep completely civil after everything your daughter’s been through.”

Your mother gave a pinched frown. “I suppose,” she relented. Glancing back to you, she gave you a considering expression. “Your father and I were about to go and get some dinner, but if you want us to stay…”

“S’fine, go,” you said, shaking your head. “I’ll be fine. I’m not alone.”

Steve gave you an indulgent smile before turning to face your parents, your father standing silently at the door while your mother dithered alongside your bed.

“It’s fine,” he echoed, waving them off. “I don’t mind keeping her company. It’s what I’m here for, after all. Go ahead, we’ll be fine.” It was enough for your parents to feel secure in their decision to go and they left you there, Steve at your side, to go feast on the meager offerings of the hospital cafeteria.

Steve smiled at you again once they were gone. “Hi baby,” he said quietly. In spite of your situation, you felt a burst of warmth and happiness in your chest at his greeting.

“How long have you been here?” you asked, reaching out to touch his face. His cheeks were covered in stubble, dark shadows circled beneath his eyes.

He gave a noncommittal shrug. “I’ve gone back to the rectory to sleep and shower, but not for long. I didn’t want you to wake up alone and I… I needed to know you were alright.”

Tears welled in your eyes. “You’re too good to me,” you said.

Steve shook his head. “Nothing’s too good for you, sweetheart. Nothing at all.” He reached over to your bedside table and picked up a pale green paperback; he had found it at a library sale just a few days prior to your falling ill with intent to gift it to you, and brought it with him to the hospital when he had first arrived.

“How about you relax, and I’ll read to you for a little while?” he offered, and you nodded. There had been a nurse when you were a child who had done the same; it had offered you much needed comfort while your parents were absent, still struggling with what had happened.

Steve began to read in his clear deep voice, and you felt your heart flutter in your chest; you had mentioned your favorite childhood book to him only once in passing. It seemed he had remembered.

“When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle,” Steve began, “Everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too. She had a little thin face and a little thin body, thin light hair and a sour expression…” ¹

Chapter Text

It was two weeks before you were able to return to school and when you did, it felt as though you’d taken a giant step backwards. Things hadn’t changed with Scott or Angie -- you considered them both friends and their attitudes towards you hadn’t changed a bit -- but it seemed everyone else was holding you at an arm’s length. You were the Sick Girl again, the strange one, fresh from a bout in the hospital; you differed from the norm and even though they weren’t doing it on purpose, people were treating you different. Again.

Not Steve, of course. If anything, his affections were even stronger. Seeing the way your parents had regarded you doing your hospital stay had lit a fire of fury in his belly the likes of which he hadn’t seen since his days as a playground avenger, tiny angry whirlwind of terror to all bullies who crossed his path. Parents aren’t meant to tolerate their children, to offer the bare minimum of support and care necessary to keep them alive; they’re meant to love them, to support them, to make them feel safe and secure.

He hadn’t seen any of that from yours.

It didn’t matter, he had decided; you didn’t belong to them, not anymore. You were his now, his to cherish and care for as much as he could, and he’d be damned if he let them make you feel like an afterthought.

The fact that his vocation guaranteed that he was most likely already damned was no matter to him.

Father Donahue had, of course, had a lot to say about the time that Steve spent visiting you in the hospital. It was clear that he had neglected his duties at the high school and at the church, though it was not by any complained that the elder priest had even noticed. It was only when your parents called, to express their thanks and their admiration of the young priest, spending so much of his time ministering to you while you were ill. Of course, they were pleased; it had given them leave to relax, reprieve from being the doting parents they so clearly were not.

“You can’t be doing that,” Father Donahue had said, voice smoke-rough and tone patronizing. “You have responsibilities, Steven. Duties here.”

Steve had gritted his teeth. “The young lady needed some watching over,” he said plainly, trying to keep his voice from wavering with annoyance.

“Can’t neglect the whole flock to chase after one wayward sheep, son,” Father Donahue droned on; Steve smartly bit his tongue to keep from responding that nearly every parable regarding sheep said quite the opposite. It would have just caused more trouble in the long run.

So he pretended he understood, that Father Donahue was right, and that he needn’t be concerned with it in the future, full well knowing that he’d do the exact same thing if, God forbid, such a situation would arise again. Steve was careful and he was far from stupid, but when it came to you, he had a definite weak spot.

 

The town had been graced with a late Indian Summer; mid-October saw a sudden spike in the temperature and you were reveling in it, enjoying some extra time out of doors before the chill of a midwestern winter took over. It gave you leave to take your bike out -- your parents had offered only half-hearted objections, given your delicate state post-surgery -- and it gave Steve excuse enough to take to running the forest trails in lieu of the basement treadmill.

You had rolled out your blanket in your favorite isolated clearing and were curled up against Steve’s side. You’d been there for hours already, just drinking in each other’s presence, talking quietly when the mood struck. Steve’s arm held you close, fingertips tracing a lazy path up and down your forearm, the gentle motion of his breathing with your head on his chest almost but not quite lulling you to sleep.

Steve plucked a tiny purple flower out of the grass and inspected it in the sunlight before reaching to tuck it behind your ear. He smoothed your hair back and smiled as you grinned up at him, a deep contented sigh rumbling in his chest.

“Sometimes I think this nice weather is just for us,” you told him quietly. “Just so we could have this, together.”

“”Wouldn’t surprise me,” he posited mildly. “Sometimes I think I was sent here just to find you… or for you to find me.” He leaned down just enough to kiss you, soft and sweet and just perfect in the warmth of the air. When he pulled back, his blue eyes seemed to be searching yours for a long moment before he spoke again.

“Do you ever think about the future?” Steve asked, sounding curious and a little uncertain.

You snicked. “What, like flying cars?” you teased. He pinched you on your side, just the right side of painful, making you giggle and jump.

“You know what I mean,” Steve told you, trying to sound as though he were scolding you, but failing entirely as he couldn’t help but smile. You sighed and did you best impression of a shrug while laying on your side.

“I didn’t used to,” you mused, walking your fingers up his t-shirt in a lazy, meandering pattern. “Figured I’d end up taking classes at that little business school in town, get a job at Hydracorp like everybody else in this town does. Marry some idiot from school, spend too much time organizing bake sales and protesting the R-rated movies they play in the theater.”

Steve chuckled at that, the mental image of you as one of the town’s milquetoast adults too laughable, now that he knew you so well.

“And now?” he asked. You closed your eyes and settled yourself closer against him, your fingers ceasing their slow traipse up his chest to curl into the soft material of his t-shirt, bringing you that little bit closer against him.

“Now? I… I don’t think I really belong here,” you told him quietly. You’d been dreaming lately -- dreaming of leaving the tiny town you had been born in, the unwanted birthright of a doldrum life in a place where everyone knew everyone else’s business and the only thing more cruel than the rumor mill was the way the people treated each other. Shunning some, branding others as outsiders; even the parents of the kids in town kept them separate where they could, the children who attended the church school kept carefully away from those who went to the county school, families separated by faith and finance.

You didn’t want that kind of life. You wanted to live in a place where you could get lost in the crowd if you wanted to, separate by choice and not by happenstance. You needed to be something other than the sick girl, the one who nearly died, the one who lost a year to illness and came back different, quieter.

You wanted to be somewhere that would allow you to be you -- the real you, the one that Steve saw and knew and, you hoped, loved.

You wanted to go away somewhere and leave everything behind, everything but Steve. You’d toyed with the idea, just ghosting on it in your dreams and fantasies, never giving full breadth to the idea, as though thinking it alone was sacrilege. That was it, all of it, everything you wanted for your future: you wanted to run away, leave this town and everyone in it behind… and you wanted to do it with Steve at your side.

“I think I’d like to go away,” you said, voice small and tentative. “Someplace different. Bigger. But only if… I mean, I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t want to leave you behind, I… I wouldn’t want to go without you.”

You kept your eyes squeezed shut, afraid of what his reaction might be. You never talked about it, your age difference or his position in the church and what it meant to whatever it was, this relationship between the two of you. It was all left unspoken, neither of you daring to give it voice and make it all the more real.

Steve’s arms tightened around you and with your head on his chest, you could feel his heart thudding against his ribcage.

“I’d like that,” he told you, voice soft in the sunny afternoon haze. “I think about it, what my own future is going to hold and I… sweetheart, I can’t imagine it without you.”

Chapter Text

Eventually the weather changed and winter made its annual return. You complained about it every year, disliking the bitter cold and chill winds, but there was no helping it. You spent much of your time indoors, feeling more and more trapped as the days went on. You missed the freedom the summer had given you, the quiet rendezvous you’d managed with Steve during the warmer weather. Afternoons spent in Steve’s office were nice, but it lacked the sort of spontaneity you had enjoyed in warmer weather. You missed it dearly.

On a frozen Friday afternoon while you pretended to pay attention in a mandatory Catholic Lifestyles class taught by Sister Sharon, Scott twisted sideways in his desk beside you and poked you with the eraser end of his pencil.

“Hey, wanna go to the mall?” he asked in a whisper.

You glanced at him with an arched eyebrow. “Huh?” you asked. Dot was sitting on the other side of you, watching the exchange with some interest, and ou did your best to ignore her. The little gossip was always looking for rumors to start.

“Tomorrow,” Scott went on. “My dad is donna let me take his van to the mall. You wanna go?”

You blinked. You saw Scott regularly in school, chatted during classes and tended to gravitate either towards him or towards Angie during assemblies and school orchestra concerts, but you hadn’t really spent any time together off campus since school had started for the year. Summer was an aberration; long empty days to fill led to more socializing on your free time, but when the new school year kicked into high gear, your days were filled with classes, Steve, and the occasional club our council needing a poster or decorating tips.

But you liked Scott well enough. He was friendly and pretty harmless; he made you laugh and never seemed to harp on the fact that you were a year older and the token sick kid in your class. Plus, ‘the mall’ was the River Valley Galleria, huge and sprawling and more than an hour away from your little town. You rarely had an opportunity to go.

“Yeah, sure,” you agreed, nodding. “Sounds fun.” Your parents might kick up some grief about Scott being newly licensed or the mall being so far away, but it would be all for show. They were fairly ambivalent about your extracurricular activities, provided they didn’t threaten their strong Catholic sensibilities.

“Did you have a question, Scott?” Sister Sharon called out, a low murmur drifting through the rest of the class, the way it always did when a student got called out for not paying attention.

“Uh, no Sister Sharon, I’m… yeah, no, I’m good,” Scott said quickly.

The young nun smiled. “Then perhaps you could turn to face the front of the class?” she suggested.

Scott flushed, straightening in his seat. “Sorry, Sister,” he mumbled; Dot snickered beside you and you shot her a dirty look.

“Now,” Sister Sharon continued, gesturing to the notes she had written on the board. “For our young ladies who are considering studying for a vocation, the sisters and I at the convent outside of town limits would be more than happy to speak with you. For the young men, you could make an appointment either with Father Donahue, or Father Steve…”

 

Your parents weren’t exactly wild on the idea; your mother was outright dead-set against it. The thought hadn’t even occurred to you that they might say ‘no’. There were very few things your parents were wont to put their foot down about, and you always considered it to be based in their general disinterest in you. It hadn’t even popped into your head that the reason they so rarely denied what you wanted was because you so rarely asked for anything out of the ordinary.

You went to school and got decent grades.

You went to Mass every Sunday.

You didn’t try to dye your hair wild colors or get a piercing in your navel. You didn’t fight your mother on her modest clothing mandates, as fashion was never all that important to you and you wore a uniform almost daily for nine months out of the year.

So to see her frown and shake her head caught you more than a little off guard.

“It’s too far, and we barely know this boy,” she pointed out.

You frowned. “Mom… it’s Scott Lang. You know his parents. They sit two rows behind us at church every Sunday. You asked his mother for her potato salad recipe after the Harvest Picnic this year.”

“It’s not all that far,” your father relented quietly, catching you by surprise.

“It’s a long way, with a boy we barely know, in a van,” your mother went on.

You huffed in an annoyed breath and plunked down on the couch, the plastic covering your mother insisted on keeping on the ‘good’ furniture crinkling loudly as you sat.

“Oh my god, Mother,” you grumbled.

She sniffed. “Watch your language.”

“I do believe we should be picking our battles better than this,” your father mused; he sat in the only piece of the furniture in the room not covered in plastic, a wooden rocking chair by the fireside. “Let the girl go have a little fun with her friend. It’s about time she got out more with people her own age.”

“Please?” you asked hopefully, surprised to find your father on your side. “I can do my Christmas shopping! It’s not like you let me order things from the internet and I don’t want to have to wrap presents for my friends that came from the drugstore!”

Your father quirked a small smile at your use of the word ‘friends’. “Of course you can go,” he agreed, nodding. “You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, and we trust you. Don’t we, dear?”

Your mother frowned deeply. “I suppose,” she relented, and you grinned.

 

Scott picked you up early on Saturday morning. Your parents were awake, your mother watching the sky with a frown, as though willing the clouds to open and drop enough snow to keep you home for the day. There was a light dusting on the roads, not enough to be dangerous; not even enough to warrant changing to boots rather than the sneakers you had chosen.

“Isn’t he coming in?” your mother asked, still frowning as she peered out the kitchen curtains. Scott was waiting at the curb, the old brown minivan he was driving putting out enough exhaust in the cold air to create its very own circle of fog.

You rolled your eyes. “No, mother, we want to get on the road quickly. We’ll be back before it gets dark out, okay?”

She pursed her lips and didn’t respond.

“Okay!” your father called cheerfully. He reached into his billfold and peeled out a couple of twenty dollar bills, trying to be surreptitious as he handed them to you and failing spectacularly. “Have fun, and be careful!”

“Always!” you called back. You tucked the bills into your purse and ran for the door, trotting out to join Scott. The passenger door to the minivan didn’t open; you had to pull open the sliding back door and wriggle up to the front.

You could only imagine your mother’s horrified expression when she noticed, still peering out through the kitchen windows.

“Ready to go?” Scott asked cheerfully, and you nodded, buckling your seatbelt and waving out the window to your parents before he pulled away from the curb.

The long drive was quiet and uneventful, the radio flitting back and forth between country-western and hard rock, depending on the frequency that it was picking up. It was a little strange; you hadn’t spent all that much time out of school with Scott, and even when you had, it had been in large groups at the public pool. It was beginning to border on uncomfortable when Scott suddenly broke the quiet.

“Everyone thinks we’re dating!” he blurted.

You blinked. “...sorry?” you asked.

Scott groaned, gripping the steering wheel a little tighter. “Dot Underwood told everyone we’re dating. Like, like this is a date. And it’s not. I mean… I didn’t mean for it to…”

“I kind of have a boyfriend,” you offered, arching an eyebrow.

The relief in Scott’s face was a little overwhelming. “Oh thank god,” he said, shaking his head.

You frowned. “I mean… not that I’m not glad we weren’t… confused about anything, but… I mean… I’m not exactly Quasimodo here, so…”

“Oh! No! It’s not that!” he explained, sparing an apologetic glance your way before focusing back on the road. “It’s just… I have a girlfriend. A secret girlfriend. Not secret, like, I don’t want people to know, but secret because my parents would lose their shit. She goes to the county school… and she’s Jewish. I mean, they’re not like… like those crazy-ass neo-Nazi people but they’re like… so Catholic. Like, really, really Catholic.”

“I know the feeling,” you told him dryly.

“So I can’t tell them about Maggie,” Scott babbled on. “Not yet. Maybe after we graduate? I don’t know. It’s complicated.”

“I know that feeling too,” you told him with a snort.

“You too, huh?” Scott asked curiously. He glanced your way again, eyebrow raised. “You didn’t mention who…?”

“And I’m not going to,” you replied quickly. “Some secrets need to be kept. At least awhile longer.”

“Good deal,” Scott said, nodding quickly. The turn-off for the mall was just up ahead and he maneuvered the old minivan into the turning lane. “I have a secret girlfriend, you have a secret boyfriend, this is definitely not a date. Even if everyone else is going to think it is.”

“Maybe we should let them,” you advised, earning another glance and eyebrow raise from Scott. “Look, my parents were already acting like they thought it was, and if Dot is telling everyone we’re going out, it kinda makes sense to keep up the act, doesn’t it? No one will find out about your Maggie, or my… my guy. It’s the perfect cover.”

Scott nodded slowly, perusing the crowding mall parking lot for the perfect spot. “Makes sense,” he agreed. “So instead of sneaking around all the time, I could maybe tell my parents I was going out with you, when I’m going to meet Mags?”

“And I can say I’m going to meet you when I’m going to… when I need to get away,” you added.

Scott grinned. “This is perfect!” he declared, pounding his palm on the steering wheel. “Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way… can you please help me pick out a Hanukkah present? I’m completely fucking lost.”

Chapter Text

Small towns thrived on gossip. On Friday, Dot was telling everyone that you and Scott had a date for the weekend. On Saturday, the scuttlebutt was that Scott had been dating you quietly since the year prior -- didn’t everyone hear about that time you landed in detention together? By Sunday morning at the church Christmas Bazaar, word was that the two of you were going steady and had been spotted making out in the Cinnabon at the mall, and getting touchy-feely in the changing room at the Gap.

Of course you hadn’t even gone to the Cinnabon or the Gap, but that was of little matter to the long line of chatter.

The Christmas Bazaar always began directly after the mid-morning Mass, drawing quite the crowd with its reasonably priced vintage decor, handmade decorations, and piles upon piles of baked goods. Your father immediately ran for the Cookie Walk, snatching up a cardboard box and starting the circuit of baked goods to fill it up with treats. Your mother gravitated towards the wreaths, handmade from layers of tulle and glittering ornaments; she was looking for something new for the front door for the season. You took a meandering pace, inching towards the personalized ornaments booth where Steve sat writing names and dates on the premade ornaments in calligraphic script.

“Good morning, Father,” you said cheerfully as you approached, almost bouncing on your heels. The booth was deserted; it rarely got many customers each year until late in the bazaar when people were scrambling for gift ideas. As it began, they were always more entranced with the cookies and pies and parishioner-made crafts.

Steve glanced up from the ornament he was decorating -- a small family of snowmen, each labeled with the names of the Hodges family, it seemed -- and regard you quietly for a long moment before dropping his attention back to his work.

“Hello,” he responded evenly.

Your eyes widened in surprise. You hadn’t expected quite so cool a response, after all; especially since the last time you’d seen him ended with you putting in some quality time on your knees in his office. When you had finished and he’d collapsed back onto the couch, he’d pulled you up into his lap, pressing his sweaty forehead against yours.

“My sweet, beautiful girl,” Steve had muttered, eyes falling closed. “What did I do to deserve you?”

You frowned. “Everything okay… Father?”

“Fine,” Steve replied tersely. “Why wouldn’t it be?” He didn’t even glance up again, tilting the small desk lamp he had set up to give him light just a bit to see his work a little better. One hand went to his breast pocket and removed the pair of glasses you often forgot he wore from time to time, slipping them on as to better survey the lettering he had already done.

“You just seem… I don’t know, kind of…” you stammered. Steve slapped his pen down on the table with a loud clack, and turned to look at you.

“Did you want to purchase an ornament?” he asked. “If you do, please pick one out. If not, I’m sorry, but I need to concentrate. I don’t have time to chat.”

Mouth dropped open in surprise, you shook your head slowly. “No, I… I guess I don’t want…”

“Are you sure?” Steve asked, gaze turned away once again. “We have new ones this year. Sweetheart ornaments. Snow people, penguins, a gingerbread couple… you could pick one out for your boyfriend.”

You couldn’t help yourself; you instantly snapped at his words. “Are you fucking kidding me?” you asked incredulously.

Steve looked unimpressed. “I realize this is just the school cafeteria we’re using for the bazaar, but I’d appreciate it if you treated it as an extension of the church and watched your mouth.”

“Watch my mouth?” you repeated, crossing your arms over your chest. “You sure about that, Father? Because you seemed pretty damn happy with what my mouth was doing in this extension-of-the-church two days ago…”

“Oh, there you are, good girl!” your father called cheerfully, clapping you on the shoulder. “I was hoping we’d run into Father Steve and here you’ve found him for me.”

Father Steve stood, putting on a tight smile, and shook your father’s hand, greeting him by name. “What can I do for you today?” he asked.

Your father smiled. “The wife has been determined to clean out our pantry these past few days. I have a stack of casseroles in the trunk of my car for you and Father Donahue. If you can take a break for a bit, I can help you bring them into the rectory.”

“Hey, I can do it, Dad,” you spoke up quickly. “You don’t want to miss the first cake raffle, do you?

“Oh, I certainly don’t!” your father agreed, nodding. Your mother had something of a moratorium on sweets in your home; the Christmas season, and specifically the church’s Christmas Bazaar, was his one chance to really indulge his sweet tooth.

“Just give me the keys and I’ll help Father Steve,” you offered. “I think Mrs. Martinelli’s hummingbird cake is in the first raffle, I know how much you like that one.”

 

Steve joined you at your family car in silence, loading is arms with stoneware casserole dishes and leaving a few small Tupperware containers for you. The walk to the rectory door was just as icy, in more ways than one; the heavy wind was whipping your skirt against your legs, the chill in the air biting at your bare legs. Your mother wouldn’t allow you to wear pants to Church until she absolutely had to, and since the temperature outdoors hadn’t dropped below zero degrees, you were still stuck in your usual church-wear. You were shivering by the time you made it indoors.

“Steve, please, I need to talk to you,” you started, even as he methodically began piling dishes into the rectory refrigerator, delegating a few of the Tupperware containers to the freezer.

“We should put these away before they get too warm,” he replied stiffly.

“You’re being ridiculous,” you told him, slipping around him to put a dish into the refrigerator.

“Am I?” he responded, voice cold.

You sighed. “I can’t believe you,” you said, shaking your head. You didn’t even hear the fridge door close or see Steve moe, but in less than the blink of an eye, you suddenly found yourself pressed against the wall beside the pantry door. He had moved quickly, his arms around you keeping you from hitting the wall too hard.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he practically growled, breath hot against your neck. He leaned in and scraped his teeth along your throat just enough to make you shiver but not enough leave a mark.

You could only whimper in response.

“You think that boy can do anything for you?” he asked, one hand drifting down to slip beneath the pleated grey wool of your skirt. “D’you think he can make you scream like I do?”

Your breath was coming fast, your head leaned back against the wall. “Oh god… Steve…” you whimpered, feeling his fingertips ghosting along the edge of your lacy panties. Steve’s eyes went a little wide at the touch, the fire burning even brighter in his eyes.

It was meant to be a surprise for him -- your day at the mall including a stop at a small lingerie store with Scott trailing along, blushing red as a firetruck. The panties were red too, lacy and thin and making Steve purr.

“These for him, baby girl?” he whispered, fingers slipping just beneath the fabric to tease along your slit. “Dressin’ up all pretty for somebody else?”

“No, god, no, Steve…!” you gasped, arching your back when he dared tease his fingertips just inside your folds. “For you, all for you… always just for you…”

“Better fuckin’ be,” Steve growled, and crushed his lips to yours.

You could barely breathe; Steve wouldn’t stop kissing you, sliding his tongue against yours, biting at yous lips. It seemed he didn’t care in the least that you both would need to return soon enough and face the teeming bazaar, your parents included among the masses. You were already so wet, it was like nothing for Steve to push his strong fingers inside of you, first one and then two, your hips beginning to rock with the motion of his hand.

“So tight,” he grunted as he broke your kiss. “So fucking hot and tight, can feel you squeezin’ me, god sweetheart, you feel so good…”

“Please, please, I’m so…” you panted, your eyes shut tightly. “Steve, baby, please… please, you know what I need.”

You gasped when he pushed another finger inside of you, not even breaking rhythm, and when the fat pad of his thumb reached to press hard and insistent against your clit, you were gone. You shook and trembled against him, listening to the way he groaned, drinking up your moans like a fine wine. He pulled at the collar of your blouse with his free hand, setting his lips well below your neckline to bite and suck at your tender skin.

Steve liked to push your limits, not stopping the motion of his fingers inside of you even as your climax ebbed and your thighs began to shake. When he crooked his hand just a little it drove you over the edge he was searching for, your knees giving out so that you were held up with just the weight of his body pressing against you, your cunt quivering around him and soaking his hand with your release.

He moaned your name, long and low, pressing his forehead against yours. “Jesus, sweetheart… what you can make me do…”

Still shivering, you tried to reach for his belt, but he swatted your hand away and, to your surprise, began to blush.

“You don’t have to… I’ve already…” he muttered.

“Just from that?” you asked with a shaky laugh.

“Just from you, sweetheart, just from you,” Steve replied, smiling. He helped you get steady on your feet again, pausing to kiss you soft and sweet. “You know I was just playin’, right?” he asked uncertainly. “I don’t know what’s goin’ on with you and this Scott kid but I know you… and you’re always going to be my girl.”

Chapter Text

Steve rested his bed back on his pillow, clunky cellular phone clutched to his ear, and sighed.

“I’m in love with her, Buck,” he said, as though it were some great revelation.

Somewhere around a thousand miles away, Bucky put his feet up on his desk and snorted. “No shit, Sherlock,” he said, shaking his head and chuckling.

They spoke on the phone regularly these days, especially since Bucky had sent Steve a prepaid cellular phone in the mail. The rectory phone line had only two receivers, both on the main floor of the building and neither affording much privacy when Father Donahue was around. It was easier for Steve to speak freely in his own small bedroom in the evenings, after the elder priest had taken his evening sleeping pill and three shots of bourbon and retired for the night.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up,” Steve replied. “I’m tryin’ to be serious here, you jerk.”

“Hey, I’m not givin’ ya grief here, punk, I’m just sayin’,” Bucky told him. “I can hear it in your voice when you talk about the girl, it’s pretty obvious. And I’m not even seein’ the expression on your face -- probably all smiles and big fluttery eyes.”

Steve blushed; he had been grinning to himself, after all. “Shut up,” he grumbled over the line, and Bucky laughed again.

“So when do I get to meet her?” Bucky pressed. He had been pushing Steve to give up the ghost and come home ever since they first reconnected; he had been adamant from the start that this only proved what he had known all along, that Steve was never meant to be a man of the cloth.

Steve sighed and closed his eyes. “I don’t know. Not for a while, we have… we have a lot that we have to work out first.”

“Still keepin’ it under wraps?” Bucky asked.

Steve gave a dark chuckle. “I can’t exactly go around tellin’ everybody about my girlfriend. What do you want me to do, slip it in during the homily?”

“Speakin’ of slippin’ things,” Bucky said, “You two seal the deal yet?”

“Jesus, Bucky…!” Steve grumbled.

“What? I gotta ask, I’m curious. And between the two of us, you’re the only one gettin’ any action these days,” Bucky told him. “This dry spell lasts much longer, I’m gonna end up makin’ out with Morita over here.”

“You wish, Sarge!” Steve heard another voice call out, followed by a chorus of raucous laughter. He liked the men that Bucky worked with, a security team he had handpicked from discharged members of his old unit. They were good friends, Bucky had told him; Steve was glad he had a solid group of people around him, both when he was serving and since he’d gotten back.

“I thought you said Falsworth was the pretty one?” Steve said with a snort.

“Yeah, but Morita’s got that sweet ass…” Bucky replied.

“Damn right I do!” the voice called back.

“Gabe’s got the nice legs, though,” someone else added, earning another round of laughter.

“Anyway, stop deflecting,” Bucky went on. “You’re tellin’ me you love this girl, you wanna be with her, you’re ready to drop everything and do that, so what the hell is the old up?”

“She’s… we’re just not ready,” Steve said, sighing again. He blew out a frustrated breath and pushed his hand through his hair. “We need some time. Just a little more time.”

 

Steve had told you all about Bucky, and you knew he shared at least some details of your relationship with his old friend. You understood that much; he needed an outlet, someone safe he could speak to about all that had grown between you, and you were glad that he had that.

Sometimes you wished that you did, too.

It was a lot. It was a lot. You’d gone from a quiet withdrawn teenager to having real friends for the first time in years and, beyond that, a relationship with an older man that felt more serious and more real than anything else had in your life. You could talk to Scott about it, a little, but you couldn’t really tell him everything.

The fear of being caught; the exhilaration that came with it.

The longing to see him, to touch him, when it was impossible to do.

The fear that you were somehow bad -- that you were the one leading him astray, damning is soul if your mother’s religious rhetoric was to be believed.

It was a lot.

But even in thinking that, in your worrying, in your mental ranting, you knew you could never, ever give it up.

Steve had met you after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, while your parents were enjoying a late fellowship hour and drinking lukewarm coffee interspersed with quiet conversation in the small church hall. You couldn’t figure out how he had managed it, where he had found the time to go shopping or even how he could have bought anything without having been spied upon by a nosy parishioner, but he’d passed you a gift bag with a smile and an almost shy, “I really hope you like it”.

There was candy, chocolate Santas and marshmallow snowmen, and a floppy plush dug that carried the cool scent of his aftershave. You had slept so soundly in the hospital when he was there holding your hand and so easily drifted off during your quiet meetings in the woods over the summer that you had thought aloud one afternoon that you slept much better when he was with you. He explained that he had kept the plush toy in his bed for a week, hoping it would carry some of that physical comfort to you when he gave you the gift.

He had been blushing when he told you, hidden outside just under the eaves of the small prayer grotto behind the church building, neither of you minding the cold. You could have sworn your heart was fit to burst out of your chest with affection. In the very bottom of the bag was a little cardboard box, holding a pair of delicate silver earrings, heart-shaped studs with the tiniest chips of your birthstone at the apex of each heart. Steve must have saved every last dime he had to afford them.

You had tears in your eyes when Steve pulled you close, pressing a chaste kiss to your lips and whispering “Merry Christmas, sweetheart”.

The sapphire blue scarf and gloves you had given him seemed to pale in comparison, but Steve had been delighted, quickly winding the scarf around his neck and then looping it around yours as well, holding you close in the cold for as long as you both could manage without arousing any suspicion.

When you returned to the church hall, your parents were ready to leave; spying your rosy cheeks and the gift bag in your hands, they exchanged a knowing glance an waved to the Lang family where they stood before leaving.

 

The New Year soon beckoned and in spite of everything weighing down so heavily on your shoulders, your spirits were high. You suspected you knew what it was that was making you so happy; you had thought about it before but never really let yourself get used to the idea, that what you were feeling was more than a mad mix of hormones and loneliness, but as you woke each morning smiling, your arms wrapped around the floppy plush dog that still smelled like Steve, you couldn’t deny it any longer.

Your real mistake was asking your mother. You should have waited for school to resume, to talk to Angie or even Scott, but you couldn’t help yourself. The idea was just sitting there in your head and in your heart, you had to get it out.

How do you know when you’re in love?

Your mother had scoffed. You were too young, she said. Just a child. So immature still, so much left to learn about life. As though you hadn’t learned everything your tiny sphere of the world had to offer: boring days and nights in the same town with the same people, school and church becoming work and church becoming child-rearing and church until it was their turn to complete the circle. You’d found something better -- something amazing -- and she said you were just too young to know better.

You argued. It was a stupid thing to pick a fight over but she had been so condescending, you couldn’t stand it. Hours later, when your temper had cooled, you decided you’d apologize; if you felt you were grown you enough to know what love was, you were old enough to be the bigger person. Early in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, you came out of your bedroom with intent to repair any hurt feelings you might have caused, and that’s when you heard it.

“I didn’t expect it to be this difficult,” you heard your mother say, and you realized she was on the telephone in the kitchen. Most likely to one of your aunts -- your parents didn’t have many close friends in town, just your mother’s sisters, all scattered across similar nowheresville towns in the midwest.

“I mean I knew this was coming, the attitude, you know, all of the teenage stuff, but,” she paused and sighed heavily. “Honestly, it’s such a chore. She has this boyfriend now and thinks it’s really something, when she’s just a child!

“You know, I never wanted this. Even before I got married, I didn’t think I wanted this. But we did our Christian duty, we had a baby and, oh… oh, really, sometimes I think we’d have been all that much happier if we’d let ourselves be selfish and sin, and focus our marriage just on each other instead of bringing a child into it.”

You froze in place, feeling a thick knot of ice in the pit of your stomach, the chilling tendrils of it creeping out and making you shiver and shake, all the way to the tips of your fingers and toes. Eyes wide and on wobbly knees, you crept back up to your bedroom, closing the door with so soft a click that she might never know you had come out.

For the longest time you just laid on your bed, clutching your plush dog close to your chest, eyes wide and staring but seeing nothing.

Chapter Text

There was perhaps a time in your life when what you had heard would have drawn you to tears. You simply sprawled on your bed and stared at nothing for awhile, the gravity of the situation sinking in, and then you felt something entirely different. You had never had too violent a temper; it would well up inside you, of course, but you’d do your best to ignore it, bite your lip and pick at your nails and try not to make any waves. But now? If there anything you’d picked up from Steve that wasn’t precisely beneficial it was your new inability to maintain a tight hold on your temper.

Difficult? She thought you were difficult?

A chore? An attitude? Really?

You were a model daughter. Right, so… Steve. That was breaking all the rules, breaking the mold she might have wanted, obviously. But it wasn’t as if she knew.

She knew a girl who maintained a high-B average in school. She knew a girl who went to Mass on Sundays and rarely complained. Who had more service hours than necessary even to graduate next year.

She knew a girl who did her own laundry and kept the house clean, who helped with the dishes and even cooked dinner now and again. Who spent her free time in libraries and bicycling forest trails.

You didn’t get into trouble. You didn’t make waves. Well, that was ending now.

Difficult? You’d show her difficult.

 

You’d found the dress at a thrift store that operated just inside of city limits but far enough away that it seemed separate and foreign to most people’s small town sensibilities. You had been out riding your bike and had run into Angie on hers, the two of you deciding to head out and poke around for any treasures. Angie was going through a vintage phase and obsessing over old-fashioned hair clips and rhinestone jewelry; you’d been sifting through the beads and baubles together when she spotted it on a dressmaker’s dummy and nudged you.

“Look at that,” she said. “It’s perfect.”

It really was; a thin, pale pink slip dress, lace edging at the hem, a low back with thin spaghetti straps, and the slightest bit of ruching at the neckline. It was gorgeous and sexy in a way that you didn’t see in town, where all the hems were sensible and the necklines modest, and there wasn’t so much as a sleeveless top to find.

“You should get it,” Angie told you, and you’d shrugged it off at first but then checked the tags. It was a brand you’d recognized from being mentioned in magazines and it was just your size.

“My mother would burn it in effigy,” you told her, biting your lip. It was extraordinarily cheap; you had more than enough cash on hand to buy it.

Angie had snorted. “Well she doesn’t have to know about it, does she?” she asked, and that did it. You’d rolled it up and stuffed it into the knapsack you carried with you after you paid for it, carrying it home with your parents never any wiser.

Giving your plush pup a final squeeze and tucking it beneath your pillow, you stood and fished the dress out from where you had it hidden in your bottom dresser drawer.

Just a child, your mother had called you. You’d show her a child.

 

Daisy Johnson lived on the wealthy side of town, daughter of doctor who ran the largest clinic in the area and the closest thing your town had to a socialite. They were off skiing for the holiday, Daisy left home alone in their house in the center of town, on New Year’s Eve. Everyone knew Daisy threw the best parties whenever they were gone, and that night’s promised to be epic. Everyone from school was invited, and even kids from the county school were expected to show up. You hadn’t really thought of going -- it was never your style -- but tonight, you were ready to make an exception.

You moved about quietly, fixing your hair, slathering on make-up like you rarely ever did, and finally slipping into the dress. It was cool against your skin, the material soft and silky. It was impossible to wear any sort of bra with it, and that suited you just fine.

Your parents were in the den, bickering over watching a rerun of Matlock or turning on the evening’s Dick Clark special; they never heard you come down the stairs or slip out the door.

It was freezing out -- you hadn’t even factored that into your plans, judging your thin denim jacket and open-toed shoes as terrible mistakes but knowing you couldn’t turn back now. The walk was only a few blocks but there was still ice on the ground and the air was so cold it made your joints ache.

You could hear the party as you approached, the music and the laughter. No one dared call the town sheriff on Daisy; her parents were more likely to snub the one who made the complaint than the punish their daughter. Besides, things rarely got much beyond some loud music and a few beers snuck from her father’s private stash.

Daisy seemed surprised when she opened the door to find you there. “Oh, hey! C’mon in!” she said, eyes perhaps a little wide. You didn’t do this sort of thing, after all.

There were more than a few catcalls when she stripped off your jacket and threw it over a couch, Angie perking up from the corner where she had been huddled up with a blonde you didn’t recognize, a girl from the county school.

“Hey! You came!” She called out happily. “Look at my girl in that dress, ain’t that a great dress?” she went on to tell her friend, slurring her words just a little as she raised a plastic up to her lips.

“My girl, you mean!” Scott corrected loudly, sidling up beside you and placing a loud smacking kiss on your cheek. He gave you an exaggerated wink and you tried not to laugh; Scott Lang just didn’t do subtle.

For about an hour, it was nice. Casual chatting, a drink in your hand -- something fizzy and sweet with a slow burn behind it that you sipped at, not wanting more than one and knowing that if you didn’t have a cup at least half full, someone would be pressing another into your hand. But a reedy girl with a straight nose and big eyes turned up after a bit and you saw how Scott perked up. You knew immediately it was his real girlfriend, and you helped distract the rest of the crowd as the two slipped away down a darkened hallway together. Angie was still wrapped up in her blonde and the friendly group seemed to drift away as soon as Scott was gone.

You shouldn’t have expected any better, really.

You sunk down onto an overstuffed couch and sighed, glaring at the cup in your hand as though it was the cause of all your problems. The thought of finishing the drink made your stomach turn but you wouldn’t set it down, lest someone try to give you another. You were just thinking of calling it a night and returning home with your tail between your legs when a heavy hand landed on your shoulder.

“Well look who came out to play?” a voice crooned, and you tipped your head back to see Brock Rumlow grinning down at you. “And dressed up all pretty too.”

You rolled your eyes and scoffed. “You’ll wanna get your hand off me, Brock. I’m not above biting.”

His smile grew. “Maybe I’d like that,” he said.

“Maybe I’ll stab you with my keys instead,” you replied with a glare.

He huffed and pulled his hand away. “Freak,” he grumbled, wandering off in search of new prey.

And that was the crux of it, wasn’t it? Here you were, trying to make a point, trying to be everything that your mother hated, everything she would have been afraid you’d turn out to be, and you couldn’t even do that right.

You didn’t belong here. You weren’t wanted here, and you weren’t wanted at home.

Panic rose high in your chest and you suddenly had to get out of there, away from the crowd and the noise and the people who didn’t want you around. You’d never fit in. You’d never be a part of this, and you had to get away.

You left quickly and forgot even to grab your jacket, just running out into the cold, tossing your drink into the bushes beside the door. Someone called after you -- you could hear them, just on the peripheral, just outside of your frame of mind -- but you paid it little mind, stumbling down the street in your open-toed wedges.

You didn’t really think of where you were going. Something inside of you drove you forward, your arms wrapped around yourself as you shivered in the cold. It had began to sleet, thick drops of half-frozen snow falling from the sky and soaking you to the bone, make-up running down your face.
All you could think was how you didn’t belong, not anywhere. Perhaps you never would.

You made no conscious decision but your feet carried you forward, turning off the slippery sidewalk and onto the wooded path that led straight to the rectory garden.

Chapter Text

It was only when you found yourself creeping through the icy rectory garden that any real thought returned to your mind. You realized you were freezing, shivering with the cold, and your hands and feet felt almost numb. You knew they never locked the garden door that led to the kitchen; there was little worry about theft in your town, children leaving their toys and bikes in their front yards overnight and front doors often left unlatched. Your hand was shaking as you turned the knob, stepping inside the welcoming warmth of the kitchen.

You left your shoes by the door. You didn’t want to make any noise on the hardwood floors and you didn’t trust yourself on the wedges anymore, knees still knocking from the cold as you stumbled along. The door that led to the master bedroom where Father Donahue slept was closed tight, his loud snores still echoing out from behind it. You wouldn’t have cared if he had been awake and sitting at the kitchen table -- you needed to see Steve now, and your one-track mind would not be swayed otherwise.

It felt eerie to be walking through the rectory at night, shadows and moonlight washed across the walls as you went. The basement door was closed and it creaked as you opened it, but there was no pause in Father Donahue’s snoring and no noise from below, though you could see the soft light spilling from Steve’s open bedroom door as you crept down the stairs on bare feet. When you made it to his bedroom, you stood in the doorway for a long moment before he noticed you, watching him read a battered paperback novel before he finally noticed you, glancing up in surprise with your name on his lips.

Steve quickly got to his feet and for one brief terrifying moment you thought he would yell at you, berate you for showing up in the middle of the night, practically inviting the elder priest asleep upstairs to find you out. You should have known better, of course; you should have known Steve better than that.

It had been a hard day. Your mind was too overwrought to think clear enough.

Steve was at your side in an instant, one strong hand reaching to cradle your cold cheek.

“What on earth are you… oh my god, you’re freezing! You’re soaking wet! What happened, are you okay?” he asked in a rush, voice pitched low with the lateness of the hour.

You opened your mouth to speak but all you could manage was a shivery “Please”. You weren’t even sure what you were asking for, but Steve seemed to know.

“It’s okay, sweetheart, it’ll be okay,” he told you, leaning in to press a soft kiss to your forehead. The heat of his lips against your cold skin was almost blissful. “I’ve got you. I’ll take care of you.”

You missed him immediately as he stepped away and out the door, but he returned in mere seconds with a large fluffy towel to wrap you in and a washcloth damp with warm water. Your shivering began to lessen as he wiped away streaks of make-up and a few stray tears from your cheeks, and when he’d finished you buried your face in his chest, letting the towel fall to the floor.

“There’s my girl,” Steve said quietly, his arms wrapped around you tightly. “Whatever it is, it’s going to be alright. I’ve got you now. I’ve got you.” You looked up at him and he smiled softly, leaning down to press a soft chaste kiss to your lips.

In spite of everything -- the cold, your parents, your anger and frustration that had progressed throughout the night -- you felt safe. You were warming up in Steve’s arms and you felt… right. Like you’d found where you belonged. Like you were home.

“Please,” you said again, voice still soft but no longer shaking. You were asking for him without really saying it, without using the words.

Steve knew without you saying, eyes darkening as he gazed down at you. “Are you sure this is what you want?” he asked, his voice a low rumble. You nodded and he kissed you hard, pulling you close against him. When he pulled away, you were shivering again, but not from the cold.

You felt his eyes drift over you, strong hands coming to rest on your shoulders, fingers playing with the still damp straps of your dress. You felt open and exposed to him in a way you never had before; it was exhilarating, and you knew that feeling would only grow.

“I want to see you,” Steve murmured softly. “All of you.” Your time spent together had always found you half-dressed, skirt rucked up or blouse unbuttoned, never completely bare to his eyes or his touch. It just wasn’t possible, not when your moments together were stolen and too short.

You slipped the straps of your dress from your shoulders, letting it fall to puddle on the floor. Beneath it you wore only a small pair of white lace panties and you slid them from your hips to fall there at your feet. You could swear you felt his gaze as it drifted over you, drinking in every detail of your form and leaving goosebumps in its wake.

“Beautiful,” he said softly, sighing to himself. “So beautiful. And all mine.”

Steve knew he was out of control, that he should have stopped this immediately, insisted on taking you home when you turned up at his door so late, but he couldn’t help himself. This had been a fantasy of his, a secret dream he had never told you about: you coming to him, late at night, undressing yourself before him only to take to his bed.

He knew by then that if he had any weakness, it was you. He’d never be able to resist you -- never be able to deny you anything that you wanted. To deny himself either.

He pulled you close again, luxuriating in the feel of your lithe body pressed to his. Steve was dressed for sleep, wearing nothing but a loose pair of sweatpants, and you left soft open-mouthed kisses against his chest as he held you close, feeling his excitement growing.

“Take me to bed?” you asked softly and Steve nodded, capturing your lips in a searing kiss as he walked you backwards towards his mattress, not caring how close a fit it would bem only wanting to have you there, pressed back into his sheets.

Steve pulled back the bedclothes and laid you down, kicking off his sweatpants before sliding in after you. You shivered, the mere closeness of the heat of his body making you feel lightheaded and dizzy with want. He was all over you, surrounding you, caging you in against the mattress; in that moment, Steve was your whole world, and you couldn’t have asked anything better.

“Please,” you whispered again. “Please, Steve… I need… I want….”

“Shh,” Steve whispered back. “I’ll give you everything, anything you want,” he said, and you gasped to feel the sudden sharp pressure of his teeth at your throat. Steve seemed to understand what you needed better than you did, desperate to leave his mark on your everywhere and anywhere he could. You wanted it -- to be bitten and bruised, marked up for everyone to see that you were owned, that there was someone who wanted you, who you belonged to.

Your heart was pounding in your chest, breath coming fast and heavy. His hand was at your core, strong fingers exploring your folds, finding you more wet and ready than even you might have imagined.

“Please.”

There was that word again, falling unbidden from your lips. You weren’t sure you even knew what you were asking for anymore, what you were begging of him, but Steve seemed to know. His lips closed around your nipple, still hard and peaked from the cold, and he sucked hard, drawing a high-pitched breathy moan from you.

“Want you,” Steve mumbled when he pulled off, returning your lips to your throat, sucking bruises there that no one would be able to ignore. “Want you so bad, sweetheart. Can I have you? Can I?” Your only response was to thread your fingers through the silk strands of his hair and pull him up to kiss you, your whole body spiking with heat when you felt his talented tongue curl against yours.

Steve was big. Logically, you knew that; you’d had your hands on him, your mouth on him, more times than you could count. You’d gagged on his cock, swallowing him down as best as you could, your hands taking up the effort on what your throat couldn’t handle. But this? This was a whole new experience.

The blunt head of his cock against your cunt felt huge, bigger than you could have imagined even after you’d become so intimately acquainted with his body. Steve kept whispering to you, asking if you were alright, asking if you needed him to stop; he pressed in slowly, a prickling sensation just the right side of painful preceding a slow burn as your body stretched to accommodate his size. You were panting already and he wasn’t even moving yet. Steve’s eyes were screwed shut, sweat beaded on his brow with the effort of holding still, giving you time to adjust to the intrusion of his body on yours.

“I’m ready,” you told him softly, watching his eyes opened to stare down at you before he tipped down to kiss your just as he drew back his hips and thrust back in.

You gasped, your body arching on instinct. You’d never felt anything like it, the sense of being filled, of being whole inside. It must have affected him too, with the way he gasped and his hips instinctively rolled again, needing to feel that slow burst of pleasure. Steve moved slowly at first, his pace languid and smooth, each thrust of his hips punctuated by deep kisses and loving words groaned into your ear, telling you how good you felt, how hot and tight inside, your body gripping his cock like it was made just for him.

The more you keened and whimpered in pleasure, the harder and faster Steve began to move. You were sweating, the hand not clutching at his back gripping the sheet so tight you thought it might tear. Steve saw it, pushed your hand back against the mattress and twined his fingers tightly with yours.

“M’close, sweetheart,” he mumbled, following it with a grunt of your name as you experimented, clenching your inner muscles just to see what it would do to him. “Oh god… oh fuck, baby, m’so close, tell me what you need, wanna feel you come with me…”

You gasped at the very thought. You could feel your climax building inside you, a slow rumble like a roll of thunder on the wind, so different from the sudden and sharp way Steve would get you off with his hands or mouth. It was a mounting pressure deep inside of you, begging to be released if you could just figure out how.

“I don’t… I don’t know, oh god Steve, please, please…”

You arched your back again, your head pressed back into the pillows, and Steve’s eyes went wide. He was struck with a sudden memory of his childhood, when he’d recovered after a long illness and his mother had brought him to a shrine celebrating Our Lady of Fatima. There had been a statue there for Mary unlike any other he had seen, the Holy Mother depicted as a woman in full bloom of youth, her veil pulled back and her hair framing her face. He’d never seen anything so beautiful in his life and thought he never would again but now, seeing you with your head on his pillows, your hair spread around you, lips wet and pink and parted, eyes half-lidded in pleasure, the resemblance was so strong as to make him shudder.

His rhythm faltered and his hips rocked forward clumsily, making him hit just the right spot inside of you. You nearly screamed, biting your lip hard to muffle the sound, and he felt your body tremble hard all around him, clenching and gripping his cock deep within you. As your orgasm washed over you, you heard him gasp your name and felt a sudden rush of wet warm inside of you, the mere thought of it drawing one final shudder of pleasure out of your tired body.

You didn’t like it when Steve pulled out, a sudden panic rising in your throat as if he was going to leave you, but he just curled his arms around you and rolled you to your side, cradling you against the wall.

“Steve…” you whispered, wanting to say something but not finding the words.

“Shh,” he hushed you. “Go to sleep now. We’ll deal with everything in the morning.”

You hummed in agreement, suddenly exhausted. You cuddled close to his chest, eyes slipping shut easily, the sound of his heartbeat a comforting rhythm to your ears. You were in that sleepy place just before you drifted away when you heard him say your name in question. You were just so tired that you stayed silent, your breathing deep and even.

You felt him kiss the top of your head and sigh your name again.

“I love you,” Steve whispered. “God help me, but I love you.”

Chapter Text

You might have expected some confusion as morning came, finding yourself tucked close against a warm body, the room pitch dark, but as you roused to wakefulness, you remembered the night before with perfect clarity. There were no windows in Steve’s bedroom and though you didn’t remember him switching off his lamp before you slept, you knew he must have done so to leave you both bathed in the cool darkness. He was warm against you, strong arms holding you close, and for a long time you just laid there, enjoying the soothing feel of his slow deep breathing where your bodies were pressed close together.

It was early, the wee hours of the morning -- you could feel that, even as you had no clock to tell you or intrusion of starlight on your sleepy hideaway -- and you knew there would be a reckoning coming soon enough. You’d never stayed out all night before, but that was the least of your worries. There was Father Donahue upstairs, sure to discover you, sure to realize you had spent the night in Steve’s bed. That would deal a far greater blow than whatever your parents could come up with.

Still, the damage was already done. You had made your bed, so to speak -- the both of you had -- and all that was left was for you to lie in it. It didn’t seem it would make much of a difference either way, if you spent a little longer in Steve’s embrace.

“Stop overthinking,” Steve murmured, pulling you a little closer.

You smiled. “How did you know I was awake?” you asked, voice a little raspy with sleep.

Steve heaved a soft sigh. “You were moving a little, heart beating a little faster. Relax. Everything’s going to be fine.” You felt his fingertips ghost along your cheek, trying to find you in the pitch darkness, soon to be replaced with with his lips. He pressed a soft kiss high on your cheekbone and settled down against his pillows.

“It’s the middle of the night. We have time still before we have to get up,” Steve told you. “Try and sleep some more. Let me hold you a little longer.”

Far be it for you to deny him that.

 

Hours passed before you woke again, this time to the dull beeping of some sort of alarm. You felt Steve moving beside you to silence it, already awake when it began to sound; once it was quieted, his arms slipped back around you, fingers threading through your hair. It was warm and comfortable, and you suspected he had been lying there with you, listening while you slept, for some time.

“Is it time to get up?” you asked.

Steve hummed. “It’s still early,” he told you softly. “We can take our time. How are you feeling?”

You yawned. “Tired,” you replied with a sigh.

“That’s not what I meant,” Steve said. “You ready to tell me what happened last night?”

You didn’t want to, not really. It was embarrassing, the way you had tried to force your way to fit in at the party. You must have looked ridiculous, you thought. Or just awful and slutty, with the way Brock thought he could put his hands on you.

And then your mother. How could you share that kind of thing? Tell someone matter-of-factly that your mother didn’t want you, that she never had?

You sighed. You weren’t thinking straight again, letting your own anxiety take over. If there was anyone you could tell, anyone at all, it would be Steve.

So you cuddled close, buried yourself in the safety of his arms, and whispered all of your secrets and shames into his ear, knowing he’d love you just the same. You cried just a little after you finished unburdening yourself of all that you had been carrying; Steve just held you, whispering soothing things in your ear and rubbing your back until you got it all out.

“Time to get up, sweetheart,” he told you softly, when you were through.

You groaned. “Can’t we just stay here?” you asked with a sigh.

Steve hummed. “I wish, darlin’. Keep you here always, wake up to you every morning. I don’t think there’s anything in this world that’d make me happier.”

“Someday, though,” you offered quietly. Steve had already sat up but he reached for you in the dark, pulling you close to drop a soft kiss to your lips.

“Someday, doll,” he agreed. “Someday. I promise.”

He switched on his bedside lamp and you smiled at each other, your cheeks heating when you remembered that you were completely nude, not even the sheets pulled up to cover you. Steve seemed far less embarrassed.

“C’mon,” he told you, holding out a hand. “Let’s get a shower.”

You took his hand and stood up gingerly, shoulders hunched in on yourself; you weren’t used to it, being this bare to someone else’s eyes. It had been different last night, when Steve looked at you with his dark and hungry gaze; you’d felt almost as though you were under a spell. But now, in the cool damp of morning in the basement, it was doldrums and practicality and it left you feeling open and exposed.

Steve’s gaze was on you again, fond as ever, but when he glanced past your shoulder his eyes widened in alarm.

“Oh no… Oh god, did I hurt you?” he asked, voice low with horror. You followed his gaze, noting a few dark spots of blood on his bedsheets.

“Oh, no, I’m fine,” you said quickly, shaking your head.

“But…” he started, expression almost heartbreaking in its guilty pallor.

You smiled and took both of his hands in your, squeezing them. “Steve, I promise, I’m fine. I mean, I feel… I feel, but… it’s not bad. Little achey, maybe, but in a good way. I swear.”

He looked unconvinced even as you reached up on tip-toes to drop a soft kiss on his lips.

“So,” you said. “Shower?”

Steve smiled, relief evident in his eyes. “Shower,” he agreed. Once crowded together under the warm spray, Steve dropped to his knees to make a personal inspection and ensure that you hadn’t been hurt after all.

 

It turned out Steve’s plans to save you both from any consequence that morning were as simple as they were terrifying. Once you were dressed again in last night’s clothes, he grabbed a hooded sweatshirt he wore when running in the winter from its hook behind his bedroom door and pulled it over you, enveloping you in the warm soft fabric.

“Come on, let’s go up and have breakfast,” he told you with a smile, nodding towards the stairs.

Your eyes widened. “But Father Donahue…!” you said.

“I’ll make enough for him too,” Steve joked with half a smile. When you stood rooted there, he turned back and smiled. “C’mon, sweetheart, it will be fine. He’s probably not even up yet -- he sleeps in on Saturdays -- but it won’t matter when he does get up. All we have to say is that you had a bad night and came someplace you felt safe. That’s all. Isn’t that what happened?”

“Yes, but…” you faltered.

“No buts,” Steve said, shaking his head. “What happened between us is personal… it’s private, and we don’t have to share that. I… you know that I…”

“I love you,” you told him simply, and Steve beamed.

He wrapped you up in his arms and smile. “I love you,” he said with a sigh. “Love you more than I thought I could, and that’s never gonna change.” He dropped a kiss on top of your head, and smiled. “C’mon, let’s go. I’m not much of a cook but I can at least manage some decent French toast.”

You moved to follow him but stopped again. “My parents,” you said. “What do we tell them?”

“The same thing,” Steve said simply. “Believe me, I have a few word for them as it is.”

Chapter Text

Steve was right; he did seem to have a knack for French toast. He insisted that the secret was adding vanilla extract and cinnamon to the batter, but you had spotted him adding nutmeg and what you thought might have been almond extract as well. Sneaky. But that was alright; he could keep his secret recipe, if he wanted to. Hopefully he would be able to make it for you again someday.

Father Donahue appeared, bleary-eyed and befuddled, just as you were digging in and Steve explained your presence just as he had told you he would. If anything, the older priest seemed pleased.

“It’s good to see that our young people know the church is a place of refuge,” he had said, the smile on his face far kinder than you had ever seen before, and patted you on the shoulder. Steve had flashed you a small knowing smile and gentle wiggle of his eyebrows as if to say See?.

Before you knew it, Steve was bundling you into as much winter clothing as he could find over your thin dress and his sweatshirt; he wrapped you up in the very scarf you had gifted him for Christmas and his own snow boots, several sizes too big for you.

Even Father Donahue had balked at the wedges you left by the door. “You walked all the way here in these? Why my child, I’m shocked you didn’t lose your toes to frostbite!”

 

Your family home was only a few blocks from the church campus and rectory, but Steve insisted on driving you home. He warmed up the old rectory car before bringing you out and shuttling you inside the passenger seat, taking the wheel only to turn out of the garage in the opposite direction of your house. You frowned, confused, but didn’t question it, simply waiting quietly for Steve to explain his purpose. You watched the town fall away through the passenger side window, neat brick buildings and manicured lawns giving way to open fields and lines of trees, until Steve turned down a road leading only towards a few old abandoned farms and pulled off to the shoulder.

You watched him curiously, the way his hands gripped the wheel. He didn’t look at you, only stared out at nothing in the road ahead.

“Steve?” you finally asked.

“You don’t have to go back,” he said, voice low. “We can run. Right now, we can just go, if that’s what you want. You don’t have to go back there. You shouldn’t have to go back.” When he turned to look at you, his expression bore some strange mixture of fear and resolution.

“Just go?” you questioned, still uncertain.

“They don’t deserve you,” Steve told you earnestly. He reached out one chilled hand to caress the side of your face. “They never did. No one deserves that, sweetheart, the way they treat you. I saw it in the hospital and I should have done something then, but I didn’t. So I’m telling you this now… you don’t have to go back. If you want to leave, you just tell me, and we’ll go.”

“Where would we go?” you asked with half a smile, your hand reaching to cover his on your cheek. “Look at us, I don’t think we have ten dollars between us right now.”

“We have enough gas to get us somewhere… somewhere far enough away,” Steve told you. “I could call my friend, he’d send us the money to get out of here. He’s already offered a dozen times over.”

“Bucky?” you asked in surprise. “He’s offered…?”

“He knows I don’t have anything,” Steve explained. “He knows I want to be with you, to take you away from here.”

“Where would we go?” you repeated, shaking your head. “It might take a few hours but eventually they’d put two and two together.”

“New York is a big city,” Steve said. “Easy enough for two people to get lost in it.”

“Just leave everything behind, just go?” you asked.

Steve gave a brief nod, his eyes boring into yours. “If that’s what you want. Whatever you want, we’ll do.”

The idea was tempting. Not having to face them -- not having to face her, your mother, after what you’d overheard. It would be nice to forget it all, forget this little town that had given you nothing for years upon years until it brought Steve into your life. To just hit the road, take off and never look back.

But you knew better. You were still too young; leaving now, Steve could get in trouble. Your parents could set the police after him, and if anyone were to look into his little room in the rectory basement, there’d be evidence enough that things between the two of you had moved far beyond innocent infatuation.

You wouldn’t do that -- wouldn’t put him through that. Not for you. Not when you could live with it, deal with it. You’d suspected it for a long time as it was, after all. You could put up with your parents’ indifference for a little longer.

“We’ll wait,” you told him, cuddling closer on the bench seat of the old car. “Another, what, year? Year and a half? We’ll manage. I’ll manage it.”

Steve wrapped his arms around you, resting his forehead against yours, and sighed heavily, his eyes squeezed shut.

“You’re sure?” he asked. “This is what you want?” You kissed him then, soft and gentle, barely a brush against his soft lips, but it was grounding. Reassuring, even; his arms tightened around you. He opened his eyes to peer down at you, brow furrowed in worry. It made you feel all warm and fluttery inside, knowing that he felt that way about you, that he worried -- not for what your actions might mean to his reputation or that you might unsettle the calm, sedate life he had built, not the way your parents worried. Steve worried about you, for you. He loved you and he didn’t want to see you hurt.

Knowing that, feeling that in the deepest recesses of your heart, would give you more than enough strength to face your parents, for as long as you would need.

“This is what I want,” you agreed with a brief nod, and he nuzzled against your cheek a moment before leaning in to return the chaste kiss you had given him. You don’t think you could ever tired of that, the press of his lips to yours, and you sighed into it, giving him leave to just barely lick into your mouth before pulling back.

“We can’t get too carried away, not now,” Steve told you, a teasing warmth in his eyes and a charming half-smile on his lips; his worry had dissipated, for the time being.

You settled back into your seat, mindful of putting a small distance between you as Steve pulled back onto the road and headed for town. Couldn’t have anyone see you wrapped up in each other, after all, but he still kept one hand on the wheel and the other twined with yours.

“There’s one more thing we should probably talk about,” Steve said, grip on your hand tightening just a little. “About last night.”

“You don’t regret…?” you started, a brief moment of panic clawing at you at the mere thought.

“Not at all,” Steve told you firmly. “Never, not for a moment. Don’t ever think that.”

“What is it then?” you questioned.

Steve sighed. You were at a stoplight in the town center, though there were no other cars around, still too early for the sleepy streets to begin even a hint of bustle. He pulled his hand from the steering wheel and pushed back his hair that had fallen into his eyes and blew out a deep breath. Hand back on the wheel, he glanced over at you, face gone a bit red.

“When we… I didn’t have… and I didn’t think, I was just so caught up in… in you, in us, it didn’t occur to me,” he all but stammered. “It’s not like I would have kept anything on hand, I wouldn’t presume that we’d… that you’d…”

“Steve?” you questioned, unsure of what he was getting at.

“Protection,” he finally spit out. “I mean, I don’t have any… any disease or… and I know that you don’t either but we didn’t use… and even, even if it’s your first time, you can still…”

Understanding dawning on you, you snorted. “My mother put me on the pill when I was twelve,” you told him dryly.

Steve blinked in surprise. “That’s… uh… not very Catholic of her,” he told you, and you laughed.

“I used to get these, like, really miserable cramps every month. The pill was supposed to help -- it didn’t, but she insisted I keep taking it, figured I was a drama queen or something,” you explained, rolling your eyes at the memory. “Turned out it was just all that scar tissue trying to strangle out in organs or whatever, but hey, why listen to the kid when she says it hurts, right?”

Steve swore under his breath and gripped your hand a little tighter. “You never said,” he told you quietly.

You snorted again. “Not something I’d think to tell my priest. Or boyfriend. Priest-slash-boyfriend?” Even he had to laugh at that.

The laughter faded when you realized Steve was pulling up in front of your house. He turned to you and gave you a weak smile.

“Last chance,” he joked. “We can still make a break for it.”

You shook your head and with a deep breath, you opened the passenger door and stepped out onto the snowy door, ready to face what was waiting for you at home.

Chapter Text

Your heart was pounding wildly in your chest as Steve rang the doorbell, the two of you standing together on your front stoop. You hadn’t even thought to take your keys with you when you’d left the night before, carrying little more than some cash and a tube of lipstick in your small purse. The door swung open after several long seconds, your mother standing there looking harassed and harried in her purple velvet robe, hair still tousled from sleep.

Her eyes widened upon seeing you standing there.

“Just where the hell have you been?!” she snapped angrily. “Your father went to wake you for breakfast and you’re not there, leaving us both worried sick! You get in this house, you get in this house right now, damn it!”

“I think that’s quite enough,” Steve said sharply, and your mother visibly startled. It seemed as though in her anger, she had missed his presence completely.

“Oh! Father! I’m so sorry, I didn’t even see you!” she said quickly, voice dropping its angry edge. “Please, oh, please come in, don’t stand out there in the cold…” She went on, stepping aside to usher you both inside.

Steve closed the door behind you and peeled out of his winter coat, helping you unravel the scarf you wore and slip out of the old heavy coat he had dressed you in. You couldn’t help but notice the way your mother’s eyes widened in horror, noting immediately that you wore only a thin dress. Steve held your hand to help you balance as you stepped out of your borrowed boots; you kept Steve’s sweatshirt on but the collar wasn’t high enough to hide the lovebites riding high on your throat.

“Good lord,” you heard your mother breathe out, nostrils flared in anger.

Steve turned to you kindly, resting a hand on your shoulder. “Why don’t you go up to your room, get some more sleep?” he told you, smiling gently. “I think your parents and I have a lot to talk about.” Obediently, you turned to mount the stairs.

“Oh, wait just a moment!” your mother interjected. “You’re not going anywhere, young lady, not until your father and I have a word with you about this… this shameful behavior!”

“There’s been plenty of shameful behavior that needs discussing, but this young lady has had a very rough night and I don’t think she needs anything right now but a good rest,” Steve told her in response. His voice was cold as he spoke, so much so that it gave even you pause; your mother seemed cowed by his sharp words, and nodded.

“Of course,” she said, hand fluttering up to rest at the collar of her robe. “Of course, Father…”

You didn’t wait for her instruction, simply hurried up the stairs, clutching your arms around you, tucked into the soft safety of Steve’s sweatshirt. You slipped into your bedroom and locked the door, tucking yourself into your bed. You were asleep almost instantly, exhausted by everything that had gone on since the night before.

 

Your mother ushered Steve into the dining room; it was only used for formal occasions, a rich walnut table draped in a lace tablecloth, a glass and crystal light fixture looming above, and your mother’s china cabinet, full of her wedding china on elegant display and a series of small porcelain Lladro figurines she was so proud of. She gestured for Steve to sit and he did so stiffly, mouth in a hard frown.

“I’m so embarrassed,” your mother offered, gingerly taking a seat across from him.

“You should be,” Steve replied, expression still stony.

Your mother balked; she had expected a different response, some sort of placating or soothing words, explaining that she needn’t feel responsible for your actions, for the way things must look. The young priest had such a great reputation for kindness and compassion; it startled her to see him peering back at her with harsh judgement in his eyes.

“I… I don’t…” she stammered.

“No, not embarrassed,” Steve reasoned, nodding to himself. “I think… ashamed. Yes. If nothing else, you should be ashamed.”

“She’s a teenager!” your mother blurted, hand rising to clutch at her collar again. “I can’t control her, I can’t stop her from doing things like… like sneaking out, like running with boys…!”

“It’s not your daughter’s actions I’m concerned with,” Steve replied, just as your father entered the room. Your mother had shooed him off to make coffee right as you had escaped to your bedroom, and he returned with a serving pot and mugs in his hands, puzzled at what he had encountered.

“What’s this all about?” he asked, setting the things he carried on the table.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Steve told him. “I wouldn’t want to go over this twice. Please, have a seat. There’s a lot the both of you need to hear.”

Your father sighed and sat beside your mother. “What did our daughter do that’s so terrible, Father?” he asked. “She snuck out, gave us a bit of a scare, but she’s young still, that sort of thing isn’t unheard of for kids her age.”

“As I was just explaining to your wife, I have little concern about your daughter’s behavior,” Steve told him flatly. “I’ve gotten to know her quite well in the past year or so, with all the time she’s spent on campus, volunteering for school projects and coming in for the occasional counseling session. She’s a smart, capable young woman, mature beyond her years for the most part. No, I don’t think you have any need to worry about her.”

Your father frowned. “Then what’s the problem?”

Steve’s expression darkened, and he stood. “You know, this isn’t my first parish. Early in the career of most priests and novices, we’re sent around a lot, to get a good impression of where a life in the ministry might take us. From small towns like this to rural villages, to major cities. It doesn’t matter where we go -- the people are always the same. And in every post, we have to learn how to identify and deal with many varieties of problems children and teenagers in our care are exposed to: poverty, violence… abuse.” Your mother gasped; Steve had to physically restrain himself from rolling his eyes.

“Now see here, young man,” your father snapped. “I won’t have it insinuated that either my wife or eye had laid so much as a finger in anger on that girl…!”

“With all due respect, sir, there are many forms abuse can take and they are all just as damaging,” Steve snapped in return, voice harsh and cold and commanding in a way that your parents had never heard before, shocking even your father into silence.

“I can’t imagine what can be any worse on a young woman’s psyche than to hear her own mother say that she was never really wanted,” he went on bluntly. Your father’s eyes widened, and your mother guiltily dropped her gaze to the table.

“You know, my own father passed before I was old enough to walk,” Steve told them. “After that, it was just my mother and me. I was a sickly kid -- something I hear your daughter can relate to pretty well -- in and out of the hospital a lot. My mother worked herself half to death just to put food on the table and keep me as healthy as she could. And never once in my life did I doubt that she loved me, that she had wanted me.

“I saw with my own eyes, the way you treated her illness as little more than inconvenience. I supposed I tried to rationalize it, thought maybe you just didn’t deal well with trauma… or perhaps you were still stewing in your own guilt for driving drunk and nearly killing her in the process, all those years ago,” he went on, eyes flashing; your parents had the decency to look even a little ashamed at that. They hadn’t realized he had known. “Maybe that was the reason you avoided spending any time with her when she was in the hospital a few months back, I tried to reason. I should have said this then, but I needed to believe that you actually cared for her. I know better now.”

“Of course we…!” your mother started, but a sharp glance from Steve silenced her.

“So I’m telling you this now,” Steve told them pointedly. “If I see any sign of distress from that young woman in the future, I will make damned sure that everyone in this town knows how you’ve treated her. If nothing else, maybe you’ll change your behavior to protect your reputations. There are few thing I can say I hate but chief among them are bullies and hypocrites. I see you at Mass every week, singing the hymns and the psalms in time, but you’re clearly not practicing what you so frequently preach.”

Your mother choked a sob; your father slipped an arm over her shoulders, and Steve couldn’t help but snort rudely at the display. At least they cared for each other, he thought.

“The two of you might take some time to examine your consciences, see if you can’t find a way to show your daughter -- your own flesh and blood -- the love and affection she deserves. In the meantime, I’ll want to see her at least twice a week for counseling.”

“Of course, Father,” your father murmured.

Steve turned to leave, and then paused, still facing away from them. “I gave your daughter some more substantial clothing to wear; when she turned up at the church last night, she was half-frozen and had clearly been… getting into trouble. We had a good long talk about how she had acted out that night -- and why. She doesn’t need your judgement now, or your punishment. I would advise that you let her be.”

Without a further word on the manner, Steve stalked out of the dining room, leaving your parents to stare at one another in wonder and shame.

Chapter Text

New Year’s Day marked the end of your winter break, and you returned to school where rumors and whispers seemed all around you. Those who hadn’t been at Daisy’s party had heard of the proceedings, the way you’d run out into the cold on your own. They had also heard that Scott hadn’t left with you -- hadn’t left until well after the year end countdown -- and there you were, walking down the tiled floors of the high school halls with a uniform blouse that barely concealed the hickeys covering your neck.

“I thought you’d freeze to death without this,” Angie drawled at your locker door, handing over your denim jacket. “I tried to stop you when I saw you go… but it looks like you found somebody to keep you warm.”

You snorted and stuffed the jacket in your locker. “Something like that,” you agreed with half a smile.

Angie arched an eyebrow. “Does Scott know?” she asked, voice dropping a note. “Look, I’m not one to start rumors about this kind of thing, but everybody saw you leave. They’re already talking.”

You slammed your locker door shut and leaned against. You thought of what Steve had told you, what he had been ready to do: he was ready to leave everything behind to keep you safe. You wore the marks he left upon you like a badge of honor. Let them say what the wanted, let them think whatever they wanted. You couldn’t bring yourself to care anymore.

“People talk all the time, there’s nothing I can do about it,” you told her breezily. “Have you talked to Scott? Does he seem bothered? He hasn’t said anything to me.”

Angie’s eyebrows just about reached her hairline. “Jesus, honey, I’m not pointing fingers!” she said, holding her hands up in a gesture of surrender. “You know how it is around here, all anybody has to do is talk about each other. I’m just saying…”

“Saying what, exactly?” you snapped, then closed your eyes with a sigh. “Sorry, Ange, I’m not… I know you’re just trying to look out for me.”

Angie smiled and nudged you with her shoulder. “Oh, I know. Remember, they like to talk about me too, you know?”

 

The rest of the winter seemed to pass in a blur, not that you minded. You wanted it to go, wanted to see the fresh green grass begin shooting up out off the earth and the new buds growing in on the trees. Spring would bring with it the Spring Carnival, which always harkened the coming of summer, and summer would bring the freedom you were longing for and soon after, the onset of the new school year.

The last school year. You could hardly wait.

“They were tryin’ to get me into the dunk tank this year,” Steve told you with a laugh. It was late on a Friday afternoon and the two of you were holed up in his office. It was warm, almost stifling, without any windows to open for a cool breeze and the school’s tendency to leave turning on air conditioning to the last possible moment.

“Oh?” you asked. You were only half-listening; it was difficult to concentrate on the conversation when you were perched in his lap on his office couch and he was methodically working at the buttons to your blouse.

“Mmmhmm,” Steve agreed, pulling the hem of your blouse free from the waistband of your skirt to get the last of the buttons undone. “School board seemed to think it’d be a nice cash draw, but I told them I thought it was… hmm… inappropriate.”

“You don’t say,” you said dryly, and when Steve met your gaze, his face split into a boyish grin.

“Told’em they’d make more cash if they put Pierce in there instead,” he told you. You threw your head back and laughed, the merry sound of it drifting quickly to soft gasps when Steve took the opportunity to get his mouth on your breast, nuzzling past the thin lace of your bra.

Your breath hitched and you curled your fingers in his hair, holding him close and biting back a moan when you felt the sudden soft scrape of his teeth. When he did finally pull away, Steve was grinning, his lips fat and pink and slick. You were panting; you couldn’t help it. You knew Steve loved it too, loved that he could drive you crazy with so little.

“God, I love you,” he muttered, hands slipping beneath your blouse slide up your sides before meeting in the back to work at the clasp of your bra. You smiled and leaned forward, kissing him just gently before pulling away; he chased after you, claiming your lips again just seconds after the first had ended. You let him have his fun for just a moment before pulling back a little further and looking at him thoughtfully.

“Why me, though?” you asked quietly.

Dark as his eyes were, Steve’s expression still softened. He leaned his head back against the arm of the couch to touch your face, fingertips lightly brushing across your cheek even as you sighed and leaned into the touch.

“I don’t understand,” he said voice low and soft. “Why would you ask that?”

You thought back to Daisy’s party, the throng of young bodies moving past each other, some twined together, everyone young and lithe and perfect. No traumas in their pasts, no scars. Nothing that made them scared or distant or worried.

They were prettier than you. More free. You couldn’t understand why someone like Steve could ever choose someone like you.

You frowned, trying to find the words to explain. “It’d be easier, with someone else,” you told him. “Girls like… like Daisy, like Dot, they’re… they’re normal.”

“Who wants normal?” Steve asked you, half a smile on his face. “Am I normal, sweetheart? This, what we have… is that normal?”

“You are!” you said, shaking your head. “I mean… yeah, okay, you’re a priest, I get that, but outside of all of that? Any woman on the street would…”

“I don’t want any woman on the street,” Steve said, shaking his head again. “I want you. I want my girl, the one I… the one I love, babydoll, that’s who I want. It’s never been about normal or easy. Normal would be me repeatin’ some scripture at you and sending you off with a pat on the arm and a pamphlet about joining the Carmelites.”

You snorted. “I’d be a shit nun,” you told him.

Steve grinned. “Not as bad as I am at bein’ a priest these days, I’d bet.” He saw your smile begin to falter at his words and his brow furrowed. “Hey now. Don’t be thinkin’ that’s on you, okay? I am what I am… never really wanted this, I don’t think.”

He sighed and closed his eyes for a long moment. When he opened them again he gave you a peculiar sort of smile, almost wistful, but still soft and sincere.

“When my Ma died, I just sort of… gave up, I guess,” Steve told you. His gaze was open and honest as he spoke. “Took the path of least resistance. Packed away everything I ever wanted for my life, cos who was I want things anymore, when I had to depend on everyone else just to survive?”

Your heart broke for him all over again, just as it had the first time he had told you about losing his mother so young.

“Steve…” you started, ready to refute his claims, but he shook his head.

“Baby, it’s true,” Steve told you with a sigh. “I gave up. Let myself get stamped down by everything the Church wanted me to be, lost my best friend over. And then… then, after I thought everything inside me had been… been broken down, beaten away… after all that? There was you.”

You felt yourself flush just from the way he was smiling at you, the way he reached up to run his fingers through your hair.

“There’s this beautiful girl -- I know you don’t think it, sweetheart, but you’re beautiful… a god damn knockout if I ever saw one -- and, even better? Just talkin’ to you… I start to feel like me again,” Steve told you earnestly. “All the parts of me I thought had been dead and buried for years, they’re all coming back to life just by seein’ your smile, havin’ lunch everyday, getting time to talk and laugh, and god, sweetheart, I think I was fallin’ for you before I even knew it was happening.”

You couldn’t help yourself; you ducked down, flattening yourself against Steve’s muscular chest, and buried your face in the crook of his neck. Steve heaved a pleased sigh and wrapped his arms around you; holding you close.

“You’re it for me, you know that?” Steve said quietly. “I love you. And just as soon as you’re ready, I’m going to make sure everybody knows it.”

Chapter Text

“What’s taking so long?” Bucky demanded over the phone. Steve could practically hear the frown in his voice -- and not without good reason.

It hadn’t been easy for Bucky, when he first returned to the city. Even after his time in the hospital and physical therapy, he was still running on a military schedule in his own head. It was a long while before he could sleep past sunrise, before he could enter a room without being permanently on edge, searching out threats and the best exit strategies in case of attack. The new arm, the job with Stark, that had all helped, but so had his family. The first weeks spent in his parents’ place, time spent with his sisters, it helped Bucky normalize and return to civilian life.

There was just one piece missing.

There aren’t many, he realized, who were lucky enough to have a friend close enough to be called family. His team at Stark, the guys from his unit during his military days, were close, almost brothers, but he and Steve had been more or less attached at the hip from even his earliest memories. It left Bucky with an itch under his skin, feeling like he’d never be truly home and settle in until Steve was there.

Which is why it was irking the shit out of him that Steve seemed to be dragging his feet in leaving the little podunk Midwestern town that the Church had dumped him in.

Steve sighed. “I’ve told you before,” he reminded.

Bucky snorted. “Yeah, yeah, waitin’ on your girl to be ready,” he grumbled in response. “What the hell is taking her so long? You said yourself she hates it there and can’t wait to get out. What’s the goddamn hold up?”

“It’s not as simple as just dropping everything and leaving,” Steve told him, leaning back against his pillows. It was late enough that he didn’t bother keeping his voice low, knowing Father Donahue had long since passed out and would be snoring loudly upstairs. “She has things she has to take care of before she can leave, that’s all. I do too, you know… can’t just abandon my post here.”

“Sure you can,” Bucky said. “Just tell them you’re screwing a parishioner, and they’ll pack your bags for you.”

Steve snorted a laugh and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Jesus, you’re a heathen,” he said, still chuckling.

“Says the fucking priest who has more a sex life than I do,” Bucky reminded. There was a pause and a sudden sharp intake of breath before he spoke again. “Hey, it’s not a nun, right? You’re not corrupting one of those good little virginal sisters, are you? I know you said there’s a convent out there…”

“Christ, no!” Steve said quickly, mind suddenly shifting to Sister Sharon, and the thinly-veiled come-ons she had given him when he first arrived in town.

“Maybe God intended for the both of us to be in the same place, at the same time like this,” She had told him, sitting in a pew in the empty church with her hand on his thigh.

Steve didn’t think he’d ever run away from anyone so fast in all his life, not even the bullies on the playground that threatened to knock his teeth in. Those brutish kids, he could handle. A young nun with her hand creeping up his thigh? Not so much.

He sighed. “Next summer,” he promised. “Just need another year.”

 

The annual Spring Carnival was one of the few school and church events that you really enjoyed. It would be difficult not to love it: cotton candy, rickety carnival rides, silly games, balloons, funnel cakes… really, what was not to love? It left you feeling a little melancholy this year, however, in seeing the way couples walked arm in arm over the school parking lot and football field that had been transformed into a land of glittering lights and rides. You found yourself more and more longing to have that sort of thing with Steve, to not have to hide all the time, and to know that you could hold his hand without worrying over what others might think.

It put a little bit of a damper on the evening.

The night was warm and just a little bit humid. Fireflies flitted about and made you smile; there hadn’t been many of them in recent years, it was nice to see them back, lighting up the night with their soft little glow. The carnival was crowded, full of students and parents from your school and church, and large groups of kids from the county school. They had their own carnival in a few weeks, but they always turned up at the church’s as well; it’s not like there was much else to do.

Your parents were spending most of the evening in the BINGO tent and little beer garden, as they always did. Scott had told his parents he was meeting you there but was really taking Maggie out to a movie one town over, and Angie was home, grounded for the weekend for sneaking out after curfew on Thursday night.

You’d bought an unlimited ride wristband and eaten some carnival treats, varying between turns on the Tilt-a-Whirl and Pharaoh’s Fury and munching on popcorn and snow-cones. The line for the biggest attraction, the G-Force Orbiter, finally cleared out a little after eight or so, the younger kids already headed home for the night, so you meandered over to try it out.

That turned out to be a BIG mistake.

It seemed simple enough: four arms turning on a central spire, three cars at the end of each arm. You hadn’t paid much attention to it as it was operating, assuming it would work like a scrambler ride, nothing much worse than the Tilt-a-Whirl. It caught you quite off guard when the main arms lifted high in the air, turning on the spoke as each set of cars began whirling faster and faster in the opposite direction.

The force of the motion pressed you back into your seat; you couldn’t scream of even move your head, even as your stomach lurched and all of your carnival treats threatened to make a hasty retreat from whence they came, even as the force of the ride kept your mouth sealed shut. By the time it ended and your car was spinning lazily, inches off the ground, you were dizzy and sweating.

It didn’t come often, the vertigo. You knew it ran in your mother’s family and you started having the occasional episode when you were somewhere around ten years old. The doctors blamed it on family history and your injuries from the accident, and they’d never been too alarmed about it, insisting that it was nothing serious. You hadn’t even thought about it when you approached the carnival ride, but you hadn’t expected it to be quite so violent a ride either.

“I can’t… I don’t think I can stand up,” you told the ride attendant when he came to open your vehicle’s door. He looked alarmed, as though he didn’t know what to do, but a senior you didn’t know very well was stepping out of the car next to yours and nodded at him.

“She’s sickly,” he filled in knowingly. “Better get someone from the school.”

You wanted to tell him off for that but could only groan, covering your face with your hands and willing the word to stop tilting itself so hard to the left. The ride attendant ran off and the senior, a kid named Justin, stood dutifully by your vehicle to wait for his return.

“Hey… you’ll be okay,” he ventured cautiously.

“Sure,” you agreed, a little breathlessly.

“Hey, kid, I got someone here to help,” the ride attendant said as he approached. You kept your eyes shielded from the lights of the ride, hoping the artificial dark would help you regain your composure.

“What’s happened? Are you alright?”

You knew his voice immediately, of course.

“Father Steve, please help,” you said, uncovering your face to look up to him with a pitiful expression. “I’m having some issues with vertigo and I… I don’t think I can…”

Face drawn in worry, Steve reached into the ride vehicle and scooped you up with little effort.

“It’s okay, I’ve got you,” he said softly. Wary of your company, Justin and the ride attendant who traveled with the carnival, Steve schooled his expression and gave you a tight smile. “Hang on tight, I’ll get you some help.”

Chapter Text

Your parents always sat in the back of the BINGO tent and for that you were grateful; you’d rather not make another spectacle of yourself in so public a fashion. It was enough that you had been seen laying limp and sickened in the ride vehicle, and that Steve had carried you across the carnival thoroughfare. He called your parents’ names in a low tone, not wanting to interrupt the game in progress or draw any further attention.

“Oh my goodness, what’s happened?” your mother asked in surprise; she schooled her tone saw well, loud enough to be heard but quiet enough not to break into the game.

“Vertigo?” Steve offered, gently adjusting you in his arms so the strings of lights along the roof of the BINGO tent wouldn’t shine in your eyes. “That’s what she said, I don’t know too much about it…”

Your father nodded. “Gets that from her mother’s side, just needs some rest,” he told Steve, and moved to stand. “I guess I’ll walk home and bring back the car.”

Steve was about to agree when he spotted the stack of plastic cups from the Beer Garden at the table, several placed one inside the next in front of both of your parents’ places at the table and their thick stack of BINGO cards. The game was meant to run well into the early hours of the evening, as it always did; it seemed they had purchased enough to stay for the whole game.

“No,” Steve suddenly said, voice sharp enough to make your father pause in his actions. He quickly schooled his expression and softened his voice, forcing a smile to add, “Stay and enjoy the game, I can get her home.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” your mother said, reaching for her purse. “She’s not feeling well, of course we’ll take her home, we just need to get the car and…”

“No,” Steve said again, more firmly this time; it was enough to attract the attention of a few parishioners sitting nearby. “I can see you and your husband have been enjoying the Beer Garden this evening,” he went on, speaking quietly. “It’s no trouble for me to take your daughter home and make sure she’s alright.”

Your mother paled and your father swallowed hard, nodding as they understood his meeting. A few more words were exchanged, telling Steve where to find some medication that might help you and giving him their house keys. In a moment’s time, you were whisked away to the rectory garage, placed gently in the backseat, and Steve was driving you home.

 

Your street was quiet and deserted with Steve pulled up, the houses dark and the only light visible coming from street lamps and the errant porch light. Your neighborhood, so near to the church, was thoroughly entrenched in the events and activities that comprised the church calendar; it wouldn’t surprise you if every house was empty, its occupants busy enjoying the carnival.

Steve got out and quickly stepped to the back to open the door, and you started to set up.

“Steve, I can…” you started, but he shook his head, reaching in to guide you forward and scoop you back up into his arms.

“It’s okay, I got you baby,” he told you, voice dropped low. It seemed wrong to be loud on so quiet and abandoned a street, even the slamming of the car door behind you as Steve knocked it shut with his hip seeming jarring in the silence.

“Steve, I can walk to the door,” you protested, but made no move to pull your arms from where you had them around his neck.

“I’ll set you down when I’m good and ready,” he told with an indulgent smile. “I’m taking you right to your bed and I’m not leaving until I’m sure you’re well.”

You laughed softly buried your face in his neck, breathing in the scent of his cologne as he carried you to the door. He balanced you gently against your front door, using his newly freed hand to unlock the front door before shoving the keys back into his pocket and resuming his hold on you to carry you inside.

“Light?” he asked, nudging the door shut behind him.

“Here,” you replied, relinquishing your hold just enough to flick the switch on the wall behind him. You nuzzled closer then, releasing a slow hot breath against his neck; you couldn’t help the but smile at the shudder it produced in him, or the soft breathless way he said your name.

“Room’s upstairs?” he asked, readjusting his arms around you.

“Top of the stairs, first door on the left,” you confirmed with a sigh. Steve found the lightswitch near the staircase and carried you up, his footfalls dull thuds against the thick beige carpet. Your bedroom door was open and he carried you easily inside, nudging on the light with his elbow as you went.

 

You had a love/hate relationship with your bedroom. For the most part, it was a source of solace, your escape when you were trapped indoors and had to get away from their quiet disapproval and general bafflement at your existence. You had a door you could block it all out with -- a door you could close, and lock, and know you were alone and would not be disturbed. You had your books and your stereo, your CDs and even a television in an inset VCR; it was all you could really need. It was the look of it that you couldn’t stand.

The furniture was white and trimmed in tacky gold paint; it had been your mother’s, kept in storage in the garage for years after her marriage, long before she ever gave in to the idea of having a child. That you happened to be a girl suited her just fine -- less expense that way, something she could pass on. Just as soon as you were out of your crib, she had your father dust it all off and haul it upstairs: a full size bedframe, two night tables, a bookshelf, a desk, and a decorative hutch. Despite all of your personal touches -- make-up on the dresser, a few pin-ups of bands you liked on the walls -- the room looked like it belonged to a ten year old.

Even the comforter on your bed hadn’t changed since you were a girl: bright pink and printed with oversized colorful flowers, comical smiling faces on their yellow centers. You kept it flipped over, the plain magenta backing facing up, and you were thankful you had made your bed that morning as Steve leaned to gently place you down upon it.

He dropped forward to kiss you on the forehead.

“My poor sweet girl,” he said quietly, a soft smile on his face. “What am I going to do with you, huh?”

You grinned. “Oh I have a few ideas,” you replied, and leaned up to kiss him. Steve met your kiss enthusiastically for a fraction of a second before breaking it to pull away with wide, surprised eyes.

“You… you brat!” he said, clear shock on his face. “You’re not even sick!”

You laughed, lazing back against your pillows. “I tried to tell you,” you pointed out. “And I was, really. I do get vertigo sometimes and I guess I should have known better than to go on that ride, but it passes pretty quickly.”

Steve straightened and shook his head, hands on his hips. “When did it get better?” he asked. “In the car?”

You snorted. “You didn’t even have to pick me up, I was fine by the time you got to the ride but that idiot ride operator didn’t even give me a minute to get my head straight. Not that I minded being carried off like a damsel in distress by my big, strong Prince Charming.”

Steve’s face colored just a little at your words, and he shook his head. “What am I going to do with you?” he repeated, tone and meaning completely changed.

You sat up and grabbed him by the belt buckle, pulling him forward until he sat down on the mattress, your lips meeting in a deep unhurried kiss.

“I already told you,” you reminded when you broke the kiss, dipping to nibble just where he liked beneath his ear, relishing the way he shuddered through a sigh at the sensation. “I have a lot of ideas about that.”

Chapter Text

There was something delicious about feeling the weight of Steve’s body pressed against yours. Even with the time that had passed, you hadn’t lost the seductive high, the strange sense of giddiness, in knowing how how forbidden it all was. Better still, you knew it wasn’t just that -- wasn’t only that you were breaking the rules, not just a rush of adrenaline at being bad. You knew in your heart that no matter the circumstance, you would always love Steve, always want him this way; you were certain that he felt the same.

He’d slipped his hand beneath your t-shirt, first just stroking up and down the soft skin of your side before drifting up to toy with lace edging of your bra. You sighed into his kiss, your own hands feeling the movement of the muscles in his back beneath the thin cotton of his black dress shirt. You shifted beneath him, lifting your leg to wrap around his slim waist, and Steve groaned, licking into your mouth with such wild fervor that it made you shiver. When he pulled away, his eyes were wide and dark, lips slick and deeply pink.

“I should go,” he told you, even as his thumb slipped beneath the lace of your bra, just enough to stroke the supple skin at the underside of your breast.

You hooked your other leg around his waist, spreading yourself wider and drawing him in close enough for him to groan.

“I want you to stay,” you replied, pouting just a little.

Steve smiled, chuckling softly, and nuzzled against your throat. “Baby, we can’t,” he told you, even as his reluctance to let you go belied his words. “Not here.”

You hadn’t had much opportunity to really be with him like this, not since that first time. Twice in his office, in the early evening when everyone else had left for the day, when you couldn’t bring yourself to hold back. Once back in his bed again, with Father Donahue away at a Diocese meeting, and once more late at night, after the final performance of that year’s school play, on a couch that had been used as a set piece, just in the wings of the empty theater. It wasn’t enough, not for you -- the usual hurried moments you were able to share more regularly seemed to pale in comparison to the feel of his bare skin against yours.

“Why not?” you countered, and crossed your ankles, veritably locking him in place. “My parents won’t be back for hours.” Steve chuckled again, dipping to give you a gentle kiss even as you started untucking his shirt from his pants and belt.

“This is your family home,” he reminded, and you gave a contented sigh to feel the heat of his bare skin beneath your hands where you had pushed them up beneath his shirt to stroke his back.

“Who cares?” you replied, and gave a slow roll of your hips. He buried his face in the crook of your neck to stifle the groan it drew out and you grinned. “No one’s around. We can do whatever we want. We can be as loud as we want…”

Steve said your name in a warning tone but it lost all affect with the way he slid his hand around to your back, fussing with the hook and eye closures on your bra.You giggled; you couldn’t help it. The sound of it was high and girlish, and more than enough to tip Steve over the edge he had been skirting. He rolled you both, hard and fast, so that you found yourself perched atop him while he roughly pulled your t-shirt over your head and tossed it aside with little care. That was the way it always was with the two of you -- pulling at each other’s clothes, undressing one another with frenzied hands when the situation presented.

God, you loved this man.

You plucked the white plastic clerical collar from his throat and Steve laughed as you threw it carelessly aside, unbuttoning his shirt with practiced ease while his hands drifted to the button on your shorts. You shimmied out of them as soon as you were able, Steve sitting up so you could push his open shirt back over his shoulders and pull off the thin t-shirt he always wore underneath. Once free of the cotton binds of his black dress shirt, Steve made quick work of your bra and slid his thumbs beneath the waistband of your panties.

“C’mon, baby girl,” he whispered. “Let me see all of you.”

You couldn’t help but kiss him then, wrapping your arms around his neck to pull him close. Steve took the open invitation with enthusiasm, stroking his tongue along yours, nibbling at your lips, holding you close in his tight embrace.

“I can’t believe this,” he mumbled against your lips. “I can’t believe we’re doing this, here, like this. God, sweetheart, I want you so bad… want you all the time, makes me crazy just thinkin’ about you…”

“I’m all yours,” you reminded, practically breathless with your own want. You gave him a flirty smile and pushed hard against his chest with both hands, watching in delight as his eyes widened in surprise.

“This is new,” Steve said, eyes fixed to where your hands were busy unbuckling his belt. You made short work of it, moving on to the button and zipper until he was helping you strip the last of his clothing away. He pulled you down then, bodies stretched out together, hands wandering to touch wherever they pleased as you kissed and whispered and moaned.

When you were ready -- when you felt your body go hot and slick from the gentle play of Steve’s fingers, from the searing kisses you shared -- you pulled away and sat up, rocking your hips in a slow rhythm over his hardened cock. Steve was a mess, his hair completely wrecked from your searching hands, lips bitten and red, a thin sheen of sweat all over his sculpted body.

“Why’d you stop?” he asked breathlessly, biting back a groan from a particularly sensitive grind of your heat against him.

“I want to try something new,” you said, and his eyes widened when he realized what you were doing, lifting your hips to glide down and take him inside of you as deep as you could. The moan that came from his lips was downright sinful and you could only answer it with deep gasps that you couldn’t keep from tumbling out of your mouth.

“Oh god… oh my god… look at you… look at you,” Steve groaned, eyes unable to leave your form, watching you ride him, gaze flicking from the bounce of your breasts to the pure pleasure on your face, only to settle where your bodies were joined. One hand gripped your hip tight enough to bruise, the other reaching to tweak and play with your clit, loving the way you jolted and gasped with the added stimulation.

It was too much -- the feel of him so deep inside of you, the look on his face as he stared up at you. Your climax hit you hard and fast and you cried out his name, sharp and loud, no care for anyone who might here.

Steve gripped you tight and rolled you quickly to your back, snapping his hips hard to thrust inside of you, over and over as he chased his own climax, only to fall from that precipice in just a few short seconds, your name on his lips he found his release inside of you.

You both panted in the comedown, kissing and laughing and holding each other. For a moment you wondered if it would always be like this, if it could always feel so good to be with him; just as quickly you pushed the thought away with an internal scoff. Of course it would be. You loved each other, after all.

Steve started kissing your neck and you could feel his cock beginning to harden against your thigh; you couldn’t help but giggle.

“Again?” you asked him, smiling. “So soon?”

“We have a couple hours yet,” Steve reminded, and ducked to nuzzle between your breast. “Seems like we should make the most of it.”

You couldn’t help but agree.

 

It was a little past one in the morning when the final BINGO game was called and your parents made the short walk home. They weren’t surprised to find Steve sitting on the couch, paging through one of the craftsman magazines your father always kept around.

“How is she?” your mother asked.

“Resting,” Steve advised.

Your father shook his head. “Poor kid,” he said. “Thanks for keeping an eye on her tonight, Father.”

“Of course,” he agreed mildly. “I think she’s pretty well worn out from the ordeal, perhaps you should let her have a good long sleep tomorrow morning, and not wake her.”

“That sounds best,” your mother agreed.

“I’ll be heading back to the church now,” Steve told them, moving towards the door. He paused before opening it, and glanced over his shoulder. “Oh, we had to change her bedsheets, I’m afraid. She was a bit sick, you know… they’re probably finished in the washer, if you want to move them to the dryer?”

Your mother smiled and nodded. “I’ll take care of them,” she said with a nod. “Goodnight, Father Steve. And thank you so much for looking after our girl.” Steve simply nodded and hid his smile, slipping quickly out the door.

Somehow, neither of them had noticed that he’d forgotten his clerical collar on your bedroom floor.

Chapter Text

The summer that followed was the very best you’d ever had. There were some bittersweet moments: Angie was leaving. It was practically unheard of for anyone to leave your small town; for her to actually go away to college, to far away Duke University. She promised to write and to text -- your parents having finally relented to getting you a cell phone, a thin magenta flip phone that was quickly becoming your life line -- but it wouldn’t be the same.

Who would ride out to the weird little thrift shop outside of town with you?

Who would raise their eyebrows and whistle when your gym shorts shifted and the pronounced hickey Steve had left on your inner thigh came into view?

There was a lightheartedness to Angie that just couldn’t be matched by anyone else in town. She was a free spirit -- a source of light in an otherwise dim little pocket of nowhere. You hadn’t realized how much you would miss her until you knew she was leaving. You made it a point to spend time with her once or twice a week.

“We used to be best friends, you remember?” she asked out of the blue one day. You were sitting beneath a tree on the side of the road on the way to the thrift store, a carton of fresh blueberries bought from a farmstand you had passed shared between you. Your bikes were leaned against the trunk of the tree, the sun too high in the sky and the heat of the day too suffocating to continue your ride until it cooled.

You frowned. “What do you mean?” you asked.

“When we were kids,” Angie told you. She picked two long blades of grass from the ground and began twisting them together between her fingers. “We used to play together all the time… you were over at my house for sleepovers every other week, before the accident.”

Your frown deepened as you searched your fractured memory. There were scraps there, the sound of childish laughter, memories of running barefoot through a sprinkler in the back yard, or laying on the floor with coloring books and piles of well-used crayons. It was all there, just beyond your reach.

“I lost a lot,” you explained, eyes cast down. “I don’t remember much before the accident, just bits and pieces. Head injuries, you know?”

Angie smiled and nodded, throwing an arm over your shoulder to squeeze you in a one-armed hug. “I get it. But I missed you, I really did. I’m so glad we’re friends again.”

If you weren’t spending the day with Angie, more often than not you were out with Scott. He and Maggie were still going strong but her parents didn’t approve of the match any more than his would, if they knew, so they kept things as quiet as they could, sneaking away together when possible but careful to keep up appearances.

The public pool was your go-to on the hottest days; you’d lounge in the deeper end, arms stretched out along the tiled lip of the pool with Scott bobbing in the water beside you. The other kids from school were always there and in spite of your little scene at the Spring Carnival those months ago, they treated you like you were a regular teenage girl for a change.

“Nice hickey, Lang,” Brock teased, seeming to have taken a pause in his usual routine of knocking incoming freshman into the water and dunking new sophomores when they weren’t looking.

Scott slapped a panicked hand to the side of his neck before he remembered you were there and quickly floated over into your personal space.

“Right! Hickey, from my girlfriend!” he babbled. He pulled you in close and squeezed you, earning an eyebrow raise from Maggie where she sat on a poolside lounge chair on the concrete deck on the other side of the pool. “My girlfriend here, see?”

Brock shook his head and walked away, muttering under his breath. “Fuckin’ freaks…”

You snorted. “Real smooth, Scott,” you told him with a laugh, splashing a little water in his direction.

He just shrugged. “I’m not exactly secret agent material, you know?”

 

The best days, though, were the ones where Steve could sneak away and meet you in the woods. You had your trusty blanket, soft and plaid and perfect for lounging in the hazy forest mornings. There was something about the trees, the canopy of green above you creating a little world all your own. You were out doors and somehow not, exposed but still hidden away in your own little slice of heaven.

Steve would lay on his back, head cushioned by one arm folded beneath it, the other wrapped around you where you could cuddle up close against him. Even on the warmest days you both seemed to crave that closeness; there was a need between you, constant and deep, beckoning the other in to hold them close.

If you could have managed, you’d never let him go.

The very best days were the ones when Steve would bring a book along. You loved his voice; even before you fell for him, you always enjoyed the rare occasion that Father Donahue would allow him to do the homily during Mass. The deep timbre of his voice, the way you could swear you could hear his smile sometimes when he spoke, it kept you enraptured. When he’d ball up his shirt behind his head so that he could still stretch an arm around you as he held a book aloft, you might as well have been in heaven.

You snuggled closer to him, enjoying the sound of his voice overlaid with the chirping of a cricket nearby and the calm, sweet twittering of a pair of birds nesting in the trees above you.

“She heard the barking of an old dog that was chained to the sycamore tree,” Steve read aloud as he carded his fingers through your hair, voice deep and gentle and lulling you into calm. “The spurs of the cavalry officer clanged as he walked across the porch. There was the hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks filled the air.”*

He closed the book as he finished, heaving a slow contented sigh, long lashes fluttering shut in the afternoon haze of sunlight trickling down through the trees.

“Sad ending,” you mumbled sleepily.

“Yes,” he agreed, still lazily playing with your hair as he spoke. “But a good ending, I think.”

“She didn’t belong there anymore,” you reasoned, gliding your fingertips over the taut skin of his toned stomach and enjoying the way the muscles twitched at your attentions. “She’d changed. And she had no place to go.” For a moment, the very thought made your stomach lurch.

“But we do,” Steve reminded, you your lips curved into a lazy smile.

“I can’t wait,” you told him, dropping a kiss on his chest where you rest your head.

“Soon, sweetheart,” Steve told you, the hopefulness of a new future together evident in his voice “Soon we’ll get out of here, leave this all behind. Won’t have to hide anymore.”

“I’ll kiss you on every street corner,” you told him, closing your eyes to envision what lay before you. “And you can read to me every night.”

“I’ll line the bedroom walls with every book I can find,” Steve promised, and as he spoke the words you could see it: a little apartment, a big bed all your own and the walls lined with paperbacks in every size and color. “Read to you every night before we go to sleep.”

“I can’t wait,” you repeated.

Somewhere above you, the birds began to sing.

Chapter Text

It was too good. Things were going too well. You should have known better, really.

There was a sense of safety in the quiet and the calm; even as school started up again, your senior year, you felt so oddly complacent that it had to eventually come to a head.

It wasn’t just you -- Steve seemed to feel it too. He smiled at you in the hallways, bright and sweet and clearly not the sort of expression meant for every student. He’d pass a glance at you in a crowded room so full of heat that it made you blush.

You flaunted it. Played with it. No one seemed to notice. You’d sit in the front row during study hall -- somehow Steve always seemed to proctor your study halls -- and make sure that he saw you spread your knees beneath the desk, flashing him glimpses of the brightly colored panties you had begun buying in spdes during trips to the mall with Scott.

Once he’d even held you after the bell rang with a cold and authoritative “I need to have a word with you”; after the last student filtered out, Steve closed the door and pressed you against it to kiss the breath out of you -- right in the middle of the day, with students and teachers milling about in the halls just outside the closed door.

“You keep that up,” he warned darkly after you broke for air, “And I’ll be dragging you out of the class and into my office for the rest of the damn day.”

You had grinned. “You think that’d bother me?” you asked and he groaned before capturing your mouth in another searing kiss.

You eventually had to leave to get to your Chemistry class, walking into the room looking a little red-faced and disturbed.

“Jesus,” Daisy whispered, wide-eyed, from where she sat at the lab table beside yours. “What the hell did you do to get Father Steve to rip into you like that?” A few other heads turned towards you, clearly waiting for an answer; it seemed they all assumed you’d gotten chewed out over some imagined slight.

You forced a frown. “God only knows,” you grumbled. “He’s so uptight sometimes.” They all nodded; Father Steve was known for his kindness but after a few public rows with Rumlow and his band of bullies, he’d attained a reputation as a bit of a hard-ass when pushed to his limit.

If only they knew.

 

In mid-October, Father Donahue stumbled in some early morning frost on the stone steps to the church as he was going in to prepare for the early weekday Mass. He didn’t fall, easily catching the railing before he might have tumbled down the short flight of stairs, but he still managed to wrench his foot just right to cause a little damage. You weren’t sure of the specifics, only that some tendon was injured or some bone was cracked and he had to wear an orthopedic boot and walk with a cane for a while.

It just happened that the elder priest had been scheduled to attend a small conference with the archdiocese, to address some changes expected in doctrine in the coming months. The trip would unfortunately require a long bus ride to a larger airport one state over, followed by a flight and then a conference that would last several days and require a good deal of walking. There was no way Father Donahue could manage that, but the Church was adamant even the smallest parishes in the diocese be represented, so Steve was sent in his stead.

Between travel time and the conference itself, Steve was gone for nine days; you were taken back to that time when you felt you had no one and nothing to care about in your little town, and it was miserable. You were certain that it showed how much you relied on his presence -- probably not the healthiest thing in the world, really -- but you couldn’t bring yourself to care. You just wanted him back.

He returned unceremoniously on a Tuesday morning and you felt the need to connect with him, to have even just a little time alone together, thrumming through you from the moment you locked eyes in the crowded gymnasium during an early morning assembly. The smile he gave you was small and soft and private, a hint of the same need you were feeling lit in his beautiful eyes.

The rest of the day was utter Hell. You couldn’t pay attention in any of your classes and Steve had to skip out on your usual lunch date to go over some hiccups in the upcoming Confirmation Mass for the eighth grade class at the middle school just down the road. By the time the final bell rang, you were almost desperate to see him.

 

You couldn’t be too obvious about it. Making a straight beeline for Steve’s office would have been far too obvious; you counseling sessions were supposed to be a chore, after all, and not the clandestine meetings you waited for all day long. Still, you at least had something to occupy you. Sister Sharon had recruited you to design the cover for the upcoming Confirmation Mass handout; you had discovered that you had something of a knack for designing printable banners and flyers using the school’s publishing software and word had spread after you made some handouts for Dr. Erskine’s afternoon Science Club.

At least it was something to do -- and gave you even more reason to remain behind on campus.

You put together a fairly simple but pleasant design -- a dove, a holy flame, some letter done in Papyrus, the usual -- and left your floppy disk in Sister Sharon’s mailbox in the main office before heading up to Steve’s little third floor office. There was no one in the hallway but you still played the right part of a dutiful student, just in case he had someone in there with him.

You knocked politely. “Father Steve?” you called in a friendly tone. “Are you in?”

The door opened almost immediately; Steve took a cursory glance to ensure that there was no one else around and then grinned, pulling you quickly inside and closing the door.

 

Sometimes when Steve kissed you, it felt like time itself had stopped. Your world was pared down to the scent of his aftershave, the rough fabric of his dress blacks against your skin, the burn of his stubble and the gentle pressure of his lips on yours; you loved it.

He had you against the wall behind his desk, almost lifted off the ground. There was a ferocity to his kisses, deep and slick and perfect, almost like a man starved for affection. You supposed that’s what he was -- that’s what you were as well, nine days without his touch, without his kiss.

It may as well have been a lifetime.

In no time at all, half of your uniform blouse was undone. Steve’s mouth was making magic along the slope of your throat to your collarbone, whispering beautiful and filthy things between presses of his lips and drags of his teeth, all about how much he had missed you and what he was longing to do to you. You had one leg up up, the knee hooked at his hip, and Steve had slid a hand beneath your skirt, pushing the flimsy material of your panties aside to brush his fingertips along your most sensitive places, and then slip inside to stroke and press until he found the spot that would make you gasp and arch against him.

All that mattered in that moment was Steve and the hot quiet space between you, nothing else.

You didn’t pause to listen for footsteps down the hallway.

You didn’t take a moment to wonder if either of you had remember to turn the small lock on the brassy door handle.

You didn’t even hear the door open, so caught up in each other that the world had fallen away and left you to your own pleasures.

Until you did hear a sudden panicked “Holy shit!”, followed by the thunk of a heavy backpack hitting the floor and the scattered rustle of a small stack of papers falling beside it. By the time you and Steve glanced back, the squeak of rubber soled sneakers was sounding down the hallway and the open doorway stood empty.

Chapter Text

There was a moment of frozen terror; time had stopped, both you and Steve staring at the empty doorway in horror but unable to move so much as speak. Your mind was going a mile minute. It couldn’t have been a teacher or any member of the faculty; they would never react by running away. The papers scattered on the floor looked like mock-up prints of the Confirmation booklets, but Sister Sharon certainly wouldn’t have swore in spite of the shocked horror she would have experienced. It had to be a student, which seemed somehow even more dangerous.

The backpack is what really gave it away. Deep red canvas that had gone through a few years of wear already, littered with poorly drawn band logos in black Sharpie, an errant patch attached with safety pins, and a tattered hole in the bottom corner haphazardly closed with more of the same.

Your eyes widened. “Scott!” you gasped aloud. “It was Scott!”

You wrenched yourself from Steve’s grasp even as he called your name to stop you and went tearing out the door and down the hall. It had only been a few moments, long as they had seemed, since he had ran and you knew you could catch him if you just moved fast enough. You didn’t think on your appearance, forgetting that your blouse was half-unbuttoned and your hair had fallen loose from the neat ponytail you had worn during the school day.

You ran so fast it seemed you almost forgot to breathe. The third floor halls were blessedly empty, no one to see you with your hair flying out behind you and your own sneakers squeaking across the old linoleum floors. You spotted Scott, sitting at the top of the wide staircase leading down to the second floor and finally took a breath, relieved that he hadn’t run immediately to alert someone to what he had seen. He was hunched over and you ran directly to him, skidding to your knees when you reached him and landing just beside him.

“You can’t say anything!” you said in a harsh whisper, as though there were someone hidden among the lockers and empty classrooms who might have overheard. You gripped his uniform sweater, navy blue a tattered from over three years’ day to day wear.

“Please don’t tell!” you continued, desperate tears spilling down your face as Scott stared at you in bewilderment. “Please don’t tell, Scott, you can’t, you just can’t, it’s too soon and you can’t, please!”

For his part, Scott didn’t know what to think. His family was as steeped in their Catholicism as yours and while he didn’t hold beliefs as stringent as theirs, there was so much that had been deeply ingrained into him over the years that it was hard to process what he had seen.

Priests took vows, he knew, same as nuns. Even if he thought Sister Sharon was smokin’ (he did have eyes, after all), there were lines that shouldn’t be crossed, that couldn’t be crossed. That part of life was their sacrifice -- something they let go of along with material possessions and all of the crap that weighed everyday people down -- in order to lead the flock.

And Scott had always liked Father Steve -- even though his distaste for his parents’ religion had long grown by the time the young priest had arrived in town. Steve hadn’t been like the others, his sermons never full of brimstone and damnation. He had been kind, friendly… mostly he had been understanding.

Could that all have been a ploy?

“He… he’s a PRIEST!” Scott finally spat out. As if you hadn’t realized.

“I know, I know,” you said, clinging to him desperately. “I know it’s bad, Scott, I know, but we’re gonna leave, it’ll be okay then, once we’re away from here, please… please just don’t say anything!”

“It’s not just… I mean it’s not just bad, it’s not… it’s messed up, this is really messed up,” Scott told you, running a hand through his hair. He exhaled hard and shook his head. “This is the kind of stuff they gave us assemblies and shit about and I’m not sure what I should do… I mean, I know what I’m supposed to do, but…”

“Oh god, please, you can’t!” you told him frantically. You could see your whole world crumbling around you; one word from Scott, and all the happiness you had found would be destroyed. “You can’t, Scott, please, you just can’t! They’ll take him away from me, don’t you understand? I can’t lose him, I can’t!”

“Priests aren’t supposed to… to do that, with anyone! Let alone a kid in their schools, Christ!” Scott said, shaking his head.

“I love him, Scott. I love him and he loves me and we’re going to run away,” you said, tears still streaming down your cheeks. It wasn’t just about keeping what joy you had found in Steve’s arms -- it was keeping him safe. You weren’t stupid; you knew what people would think, what your parents would do.

You were too young. They’d press charges. You’d run, you’d run that very night if you had to, before you’d ever let that happen.

Something in Scott seemed to break; there was sincerity in your voice, in the way you trembled with actual fear at the thought of losing Steve. Because of all that Scott knew -- the ins and outs of the Church, the rules you had all been raised with -- he knew you.

It was hard not to. There wasn’t much that happened in your town and the accident that had nearly killed you had been big news; young as he was, Scott knew you from the playground at recess and your disappearance had resonated with him, especially with the snippets of conversation he’d heard between his parents about the car wreck. When you did come back to school, you stuck out; all through the years at school, into high school, you were reserved and removed from the crowd.

But then things started to change. You talked to people, took your casual between class conversations into real friendships. Scott wasn’t blind; he knew there had been a change in you -- for the better, he thought -- and it seemed to coincide with the mystery ‘kind of have a boyfriend’ he’d never met but could tell made you so happy.

It made him think of something his father had told him a long time ago. The circumstance hadn’t been quite so high stakes -- something stupid and silly that he couldn’t even recall, but the lesson it had taught him remained with him long after the memory had passed.

“Sometimes the right thing to do doesn’t look so good on paper -- sometimes it breaks the rules -- but when you know it’s right, down in your gut? That’s what you gotta do.”

Scott swore under his breath. “Okay,” he said, with another long exhale, and then smiled. “Okay. Hey, you’re keeping my secret, right? It’s only fair I keep yours.”

You burst into fresh tears and threw your arms around him, choking out repeated mumbles of ‘thank you!’ between half-exhausted sobs, your shoulders shuddering as you clung to him.

Scott gave a nervous laugh. “Hey, not to ruin the moment or anything, but you know your… your bra is showing, right?”

You pulled back with a startled expression and immediately burst into a fit of laughter, toppling backwards off your knees and landing on your side on the linoleum, unable to stop giggling through it all. The wash of relief was so intense, you just couldn’t help it; you knew Scott well enough by then to know that he would keep his word.

What a scene it must have been when Sister Sharon came upon you a few minutes later, Scott still sitting atop the steps, expression mostly calm but still a little spooked, and you there beside him, blouse half-undone, red lace edging of a white bra printed with cherries clearly visible, laughing like a loon. The nun even stared a long moment, too startled to speak, before she cleared her throat.

“I know we treat the dress code a little more relaxed after the last bell, but I think you should really cover up,” she said evenly and you sat up quickly, moving to button your blouse even as you still broke loose with an errant chortle.

Turning to Scott, Sister Sharon raised an eyebrow. “Can I ask what’s happening here?”

“Oh, we just… we were…” he stammered, going red.

“I think I know what you were doing,” Sister Sharon told him, shaking her head. “I would have thought the two of you would have better judgement. Did you even get those Confirmation booklets to Father Steve?”

“Yes, he did,” Steve broke in. He seemed perfectly composed, outwardly at least, but the way his gaze shifted from you to Scott and back again made it clear he was nervous. “Don’t trouble yourself, Sister, I can speak to them. I needed to see them both anyway.”

Sister Sharon sighed but nodded. “If you’re sure,” she said, and started back down the stairs.

Steve nodded in return. “Yes, it’s fine. I have their bookbags in my office, they have to come and get them anyway.”

When she was out of view, Scott put his hands up. “No, it’s cool, I can get my bag tomorrow!” he said quickly, all but running down the stairs himself. “You to go talk, I’m good, we’ll just… just circle back tomorrow, yeah…”

You watched him go, smiling even as Steve frowned.

“Will he…?” he started, deep concern on his face now that he was able to drop his facade.

You sighed and closed your eyes, leaning back against him. “We’re safe,” you said.

Chapter Text

“We almost got caught,” Steve sighed into the phone. It was a little past two in the morning on a Friday night and he was up late in the quiet of his basement room, talking with Bucky while he was working late. Steve didn’t know the specifics of it -- something about launching a new computer program that would act as sort of a safety net for the building’s systems, well above and beyond Steve’s paygrade when it came to computers.

“No shit?” Bucky responded, pausing to chuckle a little. “What happen, Stevie? One of the nuns wander into your little love nest?”

Steve snorted. “Love nest, Buck? Really? I’m lucky I even get to see her half the time… we were in my office, I’ve been away for a couple days and I think we just got a little… carried away.”

“Your office?” Bucky echoed. “Shit, Steve, isn’t that in the school? It is a nun, isn’t it? Out there corrupting that… what’s her name? Sister Sherry? The one you said keeps trying to get all handsy with you. Jesus, man, where’s your shame?” There was no vitriol in his voice as he spoke; if anything, Bucky seemed terribly amused by the whole thing.

“Sister Sharon, and no, Buck, I wouldn’t…” Steve began, and trailed off. He’d meant to say he wouldn’t cross that kind of line, or that he had his limits and defiling a nun was a little past his scope, but the words died on his lips. It didn’t take a great leap of logic for him to know that to some people -- probably to most people -- his dalliance with a teenage girl who was meant to be in his charge was far worse than anything with another consenting adult, even if she did happen to wear a habit and cross.

He hoped that when the two of you were finally able to leave your little town, Bucky at least would understand.

Bucky didn’t seem to notice the way Steve had paused, his focus half on the conversation and half on the work before him, and he laughed.

“I know, I know, just givin’ you shit,” he said with a chuckle. “But seriously, man. Gotta be more careful. The way you talk about that place, seems to me they’d run you out on a rail if they knew what you’d been up to, bein’ a man of the cloth and all. Really seems like the torch and pitchfork kind of crowd.”

“It’s more of the BINGO and potato salad kind of crowd,” Steve told him dryly. He knew there would be at least something of an uproar if you were found out, but he knew better than to think it would be a public affair. Knowing your history, that everyone had quietly looked the other way even when it was public knowledge that your parents had been drinking heavily before putting you in the car as a child… it seemed the people of your small town would rather pretend the obvious didn’t exist rather than make waves.

Run out on a rail? Not likely. Quietly transferred, maybe. And you sent off to some strict boarding school until they could deposit you at some far off college campus for a few years, just long enough for the memories to fade enough that you’d be accepted back into the fold once you were finished.

He just wouldn’t have it.

“But I don’t want any scandal. I’ll be glad to just leave quietly, if we can,” Steve went on. “Out of this town, out of the Church… just starting over. Me and my girl.”

“You’re really doing it, huh?” Bucky asked, no small sense of wonder in his voice. “Going full tilt and all?”

Steve frowned. “It was my mother’s religion, Bucky, not mine. You know that.”

“I do,” Bucky agreed amiably. “Which is why I fought tooth an’ nail to keep you from signing on the god damned dotted line after high school… not that it did me any good.”

Steve chuckled. “You’re just as stubborn as me, quit givin’ me shit about it,” he said.

“Yeah, like that’ll ever happen,” Bucky replied, and in his mind’s eye, Steve could see his old friend rolling his eyes, just as he always used to do.

“I think it all worked out in the end, for me anyway,” Steve pointed out, smiling to himself. “If I hadn’t gone to seminary, I never would have ended up here… I’d never have met her, Bucky. I think maybe that’s why I did dive in like this. To meet her.”

Bucky gave a long-suffering groan. “Ohhhh man, we’re doing this now? From choir boy to star-crossed lover?”

Knowing that Bucky was only teasing, Steve laughed. “Yeah, yeah, I know,” he replied with a snort. “I know how it sounds. But… I can’t help it.”

“Well you two better get all your puppy-dog-eyes lovesick bullshit out of your systems before you make it out here cos I can’t put up with that kind of…” Bucky began. “Ah fuck, this again?!”

Steve sat up on instinct in alarm, even though he was nowhere near to help. “Bucky? What’s wrong?”

“This fuckin’ kid…” Bucky growled over the line. “I swear to god, you give some brat a modem and he thinks he’s a hacker all of a sudden, and I gotta pause my install to put down some moron going by the handle ‘Ant-Man’, tryin’ to bust into Stark’s encrypted files… fuck’s sake, I gotta go Steve, I’ll talk to you tomorrow or somethin’.”

“Yeah, bye Bucky,” Steve agreed, and ended the call. Bucky hadn’t sounded too alarmed, so Steve was certain whatever the issue was, he had it well in hand.

He settled himself back onto his bed and thumbed his way into the images folder on his cheap flip phone. The camera wasn’t great but it was good enough; soon the display was filled with images of you, laughing and smiling in the woods over the summer and a few quick snapshots in your uniform since school had started. Steve knew he’d be in a lot of trouble if anyone found the phone and it’s gallery, but he wasn’t worried; no one even came into the rectory except for himself and Father Donahue, and rarely Sister Sharon. She stayed within the confines of the study, and Father Donahue never ventured down the basement stairs. Still, Steve hid the phone whenever he didn’t have it in hand, tucked into a little ledge on the old steel bedframe that held his twin mattress.

It seemed hiding it was the best choice after all; you’d ‘borrowed’ his phone a few days earlier and taken a few candid shots for him to discover on his own.

He nearly dropped the phone when he saw them.

Chapter Text

There was something in knowing that you’d gotten caught and still gotten away with it that gave you a rush of adrenaline once the dust had settled. It became a high you were quick to chase, and you’d found it once again in leaving a series of intimate snapshots waiting for Steve’s discovery on his cell phone. The way Steve had reacted -- when he’d called you, whisper quiet but breathy and awed late that night when he found them -- made it all the more difficult to resist playing at it more and more.

Though Father Donahue wasn’t fond of relinquishing control and allowing Steve to take up any great responsibility in the parish, he was just as loathe to rise early in the morning. More often than not, Steve would helm the early morning weekday Masses all on his own, without so much as an altar server to help him and little more than a handful of elderly congregants in the pews. There wasn’t much that would draw you out of bed that early in the morning, but the possibility of flaunting what you had with Steve just a little bit -- and perhaps stealing some time with him before school started for the day -- was just too much to resist.

If he was surprised to see you sitting in the second pew during his quite morning Mass, Steve didn’t show it. His gaze kept flicking back to you throughout the Mass, though his expression remained passive. The few other congregants there barely took notice of your presence, most likely assuming you were doing some form of penance after a riotous confession or something to that effect; it was a crowd of seniors who showed up each morning more out of habit than anything else, their minds and attention far and away from what was going on around them as they went through the motions so deeply ingrained after years of church-going that they didn’t need to pass a thought to their actions.

They didn’t notice the way you half-saunted up the center aisle to take communion, and didn’t bat an eye when you didn’t hold out your hands to accept the host.

It was something of a generational thing. You knew, in your parents’ youth and the centuries prior, it simply wasn’t allowed for an average churchgoer to touch the host; they would approach the priest during the eucharist portion of the Mass with their hands folded and their mouths open, to have the host placed there by the priest or other member of the clergy. You didn’t know the reasoning for it, but you knew the policy had changed; by the time you made your First Communion, the typical approach was to outstretch your upturned palms to the priest and receive the host to place in your mouth by your own hand. Some of the older parishioners still went with the old method, but most took the host in their hands after the change came about.

Steve frowned just slightly as you came up the aisle at the back of the communion line, the last one there after all of the seniors had made their way up to accept the host. They paid you little mind even as Steve cocked his head just slightly to the side before giving in and reaching to place the host in your open mouth.

His eyes visibly widened when you quickly closed your lips around his fingers and started to suck. You pulled off after only a second or two and winked at him as you walked away, trying not to smirk at the way he stumbled over prayers at the end of the Mass.

No one else seemed to notice.

Steve kept his eyes on you for the remainder of the Mass and you started to get nervous, thinking you had perhaps finally crossed a line. Steve had been very lax in his faith, more so lately but seemingly for a long time prior to that, but he had still gone far enough to take vows. Was this a trespass you had taken too far?

Your nerves got the better of you. When the Mass was over and the processional done, you moved to slip out one of the side doors of the church as quickly as you could. You hadn’t seen Steve step quickly out of the sacristy, divested of his ceremonial cassock; he cut you off before you reached the door and grabbed you by the wrist, pulling you out of the sanctuary and into the stairwell, down to the basement level chapel.

The chapel itself was only used in the hottest summer months, as it remained cooler than the upper sanctuary. In the early winter it was freezing, the chilled marble offering no warmth. Flickering votive candles provided the only light, clustered at the feet of stone statues that lined the walls of the chapel, and the scent of incense hung heavy in the air. For years to come, that very scent would draw you back to this moment and lead you to shivers with the memory of the cold marble and Steve’s heated touch.

You were stiff and hesitant for a second before you felt his arms wrap around you and the heat of his breath against your skin.

“You are such a bad little girl,” he whispered darkly, and you shivered in response. “Trying to shock me, sweetheart? Get a rise out of me, in front of everyone?”

You laughed and let him back you against the wall. “Maybe,” you teased. You could feel the cold of the stone wall against your back even through your uniform sweater, but you didn’t care. All that mattered was that Steve was there, touching you and loving you.

“I’d say ‘what am I going to do with you’, but believe me doll, I have more than a few good ideas,” he murmured in the dark, and you could feel his smile against the tender skin behind your ear. You sighed with the pleasure of it, pushing your hands beneath the jacket he wore with his dress blacks, just to get that much more closer to him. Steve always ran hot; even through his soft black dress shirt, you could feel the heat of his skin.

Then he was kissing you, soft and gentle and playful, hands dropping to graze his fingertips beneath your skirt and up your thighs. It was more ticklish than anything else, and you giggled against his lips, relishing the way he echoed your laughter and pressed in closer.

It was wonderful; perfect even. You didn’t always need a frantic, overtly sexual encounter with Steve. Sometimes it was enough just to be together, to laugh and touch and just enjoy… until the chapel doors at the far end of the small sanctuary opened and Sister Sharon stepped inside, carrying a box of new votive candles to replenish the supply in the dark chapel. She heard the soft laughter and the rush of breath between you and Steve and paused in her step with a frown.

“Is someone here?” she asked.

Steve grabbed your hand and pulled you out into the stairwell as fast as the two of you could go, still carrying a bubble of laughter with you as you ran, all the way into the small church office with the door closed behind you for safety.

Chapter Text

Sister Sharon made her way to the little office nestled beside the sacristy of the main church, much as you had expected. Once she arrived, she found you sitting quietly in a guest chair opposite Steve sitting behind the desk. You’d had enough time to cease your laughter and make sure neither of you looked disheveled, seeming completely nonplussed as she entered.

“Father, there were kids fooling around in the chapel again!” she announced, more irritated than you had ever seen her and seeming far more human to your eyes than ever before.

Steve looked up in feigned surprise. “That’s still a problem?” he asked, leaning back in the desk chair. “I thought it had been pretty well stamped out last year.” It had never been unheard of, for students to sneak into any dark and quiet place whenever they could; the chapel had been the hot spot for a few years, or so you had heard, before Sister Sharon found out and started policing it. She stopped checking every morning some months ago, and it should have been safe for you and Steve that morning, if not for her errand.

Sister Sharon huffed. “Apparently not,” she said, dropping her box of votives on the end the desk, clearly perturbed. “I think we should speak to Father Donahue, see what he thinks, what we might do to put an end to it for good.”

Steve smiled, soft and placating. “It’s not really worth the trouble, is it?” he asked. “They’re not doing much harm. I’m sure there’s a simple solution.”

Hands on her hips, Sister Sharon frowned. “The chapel is still a sacred space, Father,” Sister Sharon reminded. “They’re desecrating…”

“‘Desecrating’?” Steve echoed, eyebrows raised. “Really, Sharon, that’s exaggerating. We have an attached high school, we should expect a few kids getting themselves in trouble now and again.”

“You can’t tell me you condone…” Sister Sharon began.

“Of course not,” Steve told her with a frown. “But rather than make a federal case out of it, and get Father Donahue all riled up over something so little, why don’t we just keep the chapel doors locked when it’s not in use? Anyone looking for quiet meditation time could use the main sanctuary.”

“And what about the devotional votives?” Sister Sharon replied. “How can the parishioners light a candle in prayer if they can’t access the chapel whenever the church is open?”

Steve shook his head and leaned back in his seat. “We could always have scheduled devotional hours, throughout the week,” he told her. “We’d discussed it before -- you know leaving the candles burning indefinitely makes Father Donahue uncomfortable. This would be a simple enough solution, to both problems.”

Sister Sharon crossed her arms over her chest. “It’s a lazy solution,” she countered.

“Um, maybe I should go,” you spoke up quietly. You weren’t afraid of your cover being blown anymore, but you certainly didn’t want to be sitting in the middle of an argument.

Sister Sharon glanced at you. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I hadn’t realized you were seeing a student this early, Father.” She gave him a quizzical look, but didn’t press any further.

Steve chuckled softly. “I didn’t either,” he agreed.

“Sorry, I kinda just showed up,” you offered. “I was actually looking for you, Sister, if you had a moment to talk…?”

Steve took that as his cue. “Why don’t I let you two chat?” he said. “Sister Sharon, we can discuss this more at the parish committee meeting later this week. Have a good day, ladies.”

He stood and skirted the desk quickly, offering the two of you the flash of a smile before slipping quickly out the door. Sister Sharon watched him go, still frowning, before turning her attention to you.

“Now what is it I can do for you?” she asked. You smiled; you’d been pondering a small surprise for Steve, and your near-miss at getting caught that morning was presenting the perfect opportunity.

“Sister, I heard you play the guitar -- is that true?”

 

You were never going to be a superstar; you knew that much. You could sing, but you were small-town good -- the kind of voice that was pleasant and sweet and would surprise those around you who didn’t realize it, but nothing that would put you on worldwide stages or awards shows. You could carry a tune well enough to be the star of a small karaoke bar or take the lead in a church choir from time to time; nothing spectacular, but good enough.

You’d never really had the nerve to get up in front of a crowd before, but you had an idea in mind that would mean too much to pass up.

Steve was very open with you; you knew him better than anyone, you thought, perhaps even Bucky. He had shared all of his secrets and his fears with you, including the most intimate inclinations of his faith. You knew the veneration of Mary was very close to his heart, and you knew why it was.

“My Ma was real sick before I was born,” he had explained, during one of your long talks deep in the woods on a warm summer day. Even with the heat, the two of you had cuddled close together on your old plaid blanket, craving each other’s physical closeness after several days when you hadn’t been able to meet at all. Steve had been very tactile that day, playing with your hair as you lay with your head on his chest, listening to him speak and feeling the vibration of his words against your cheek.

“I guess she had lost a couple of pregnancies before me, and wasn’t handling me too well either,” he’d gone on. You’d asked about the medal he left with you in the hospital when you’d had your surgery, a silver Our Lady of Fatima medal that his mother had gotten at a shrine in upstate New York; it had replaced the cross on your silver chain and you never took it off. “So she went to the church in our neighborhood and asked for a novena, and they had her praying to Mary and St. Elizabeth. She started feeling better and a couple months later, there I was.”

He paused to chuckle. “Told me if I’d have been born a girl, my name would’ve been Mary. Said I was lucky she hadn’t decided to call me Marion.” You laughed softly, and snuggled a little closer against his chest.

“Everytime after that, if I was sick or something was going wrong, out’d come the rosary or the medal and we’d pray together,” Steve went on. “I guess… I guess it just makes me feel like she’s still here sometimes.”

You wanted to give Steve something special for Christmas, but with both of you saving up every penny you could manage for the coming summer, there was no real gift you could think to buy. If nothing else, you had thought, you could show him that you understood and respected his faith, even as the two of you continued to break all the rules. You didn’t think you were really doing anything wrong, after all; some things were just meant to be.

The idea had been knocking around your head for quite some time and the run-in with Sister Sharon had brought the perfect opportunity. The two of you practiced in secret for weeks, with your excuse that it was a surprise for your parents more than enough to guarantee her silence.

“Maybe we shouldn’t tell Father Steve,” you had said, frowning and biting your lip. “He talks to my parents a lot.” It wasn’t even a lie, really.

Sister Sharon had smiled and agreed, and after every few days, she’d send you on your way from another practice session with some paperwork on her order, clearly seeing your devotion to the matter as something else entirely.

When Midnight Mass arrived on Christmas Eve, you surprised almost everyone when Sister Sharon called you to the front of the church. The school choir had just sung the closing hymn, O Come All Ye Faithful, when the nun had retrieved her guitar and beckoned you forward. Even Steve glanced at you quizzically, sat alongside Father Donahue behind the altar.

With Sister Sharon strumming a soft acoustic guitar beside you and butterflies whipping up in a flurry in your stomach, you closed your eyes to blot out the curious gazes of the other parishioners and sang a slow, even tempoed Ave Maria into the quiet church. When you finished, you snuck a glance back towards Steve to see him smiling, a shimmer of tears shining in his deep blue eyes.

Chapter Text

It was some time before before you were able to spend any time alone with Steve that night. Your parents were busy at the Fellowship Hour following Mass, taking you around to their friends where they had gathered in the school cafeteria to share coffee and cookies, showing you off and preening at the compliments paid to you. Eventually you were able to slip away and sneak out to the little prayer grotto behind the church, finding Steve waiting there for you.

He pulled you into his embrace, tight and so warm against the winter chill in the air, and just held you close without any words. It was different than what you might have usually shared, an embrace and quick kiss together before anyone might spy; there was such deep, raw emotion in the way he held you that it nearly brought you to tears. When he finally pulled away he was smiling, tears shining in his own eyes.

Steve pressed his forehead to yours and breathed a pleased sigh. “Merry Christmas, baby,” he breathed out, his words punctuated by puffs of steamed breath in the night air.

You smiled back and inched just a little closer so you could steal a kiss before saying, “I’m sorry I couldn’t get you anything better than a song.”

“It was perfect,” Steve answered, letting his eyes flutter shut to enjoy the moment. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

 

The new year arrived and you celebrated more than you had ever done in your life, bursting into joyful tears at the stroke of midnight and surprising your parents, who had been ready to head to bed before the ball even dropped but stayed up in noting your excitement at the coming of the new year.

“It’s just the new year, kiddo,” your father had said with a chuckle. “What’s got you so fired up?”

You could only grin, tears streaming down your face. “I don’t know,” you lied, scrubbing a balled-up fist across your cheeks to brush them away. “I just… I just feel like this is going to be a really, really good year!”

The change in your mood was more than evident. It reached into every aspect of your life; your grades went up with very little effort on your part, and your teachers even commented on the upswing in your spirits. The only one who knew the cause outside of Steve was Scott -- you thought it best to prepare him for the fallout that would most certainly occur after you finally got out of town.

Scott would be left behind; there’s no doubt there would be many, many questions asked of him. At the very least, you could let him have time to prepare for it. He’d done so much for you already, just in keeping your secret, and helping you keep up appearances. It felt like little recompense to keep the heat off of him and his actual girlfriend.

You had thought your high spirits would carry you through to your inevitable departure, forgetting -- or perhaps just being a little blind to -- the jealous streak that could run deep in the man you had long ago realized was the love of your life.

 

Father Donahue needed orthopedic surgery on his knee, something he had been putting off for a good long while. Once the winter ice began to melt and the new warmth of spring finally broke, he left for a specialist in Milwaukee, leaving Steve behind to helm the parish.

It would have been such a waste if you didn’t take advantage of the absence, you’d decided, and most of your free time was spent hidden away in the rectory. It worked out for the best, as a heavy rain had set in as soon as Father Donahue had taken his leave.

“You relaxing there ok?” Steve asked, puffing out a breath as he worked his arm on the high-low pulley machine that was the centerpiece of the home gym in the rectory basement. You were spread out on your old flannel blanket on the floor, flipping through a magazine.

You smiled up at him, stretching a little. “Yep,” you agreed cheerfully. “Don’t worry about me! You just go on with your workout, I’ll hang out here.”

Steve huffed, half exertion and half laugh. “Little hard for me to do, you bein’ there bare-ass naked and all.”

You glanced up again and arched an eyebrow. “Looks more than a little hard from here, Father,” you teased.

“Tell me again why you felt the need to strip again…?” Steve asked.

“It’s raining!” you replied, sitting up into a cross-legged position. “I was soaking wet, did you want me to get sick? I hung it all up in the bathroom.”

“Okay, as much sense as that makes…” Steve said, “Don’t you think this is a little distracting for me?”

“Yeah, I guess,” you relented with a nod, and grinned up at him. “And I’m still pretty wet, anyway.”

It couldn’t have been more than five seconds after the weights hit the ground that Steve scooped you up from the ground, even as you giggled madly, and threw you over his shoulder, carrying you off to his bedroom.

 

“We’re definitely getting a bigger bed in New York,” you mused, laying on your stomach with Steve wedged between you and the wall. He gave a little affirmative hum in response, busying himself by pressing soft kisses to your shoulders.

You let one hand dangle over the side of the bed, still a little lost in the afterglow, and closed your eyes. Soon, you thought to yourself, you could have this everyday. Cuddled close and warm with Steve, waking up beside him everyday.

The first thing, the very first thing, you would do once you were free from this place? You were kissing Steve, long and hard, not caring who was around to see it. It would be the happiest moment of your life, you were certain of it.

“Whatever you want, sweetheart,” Steve agreed sleepily, nuzzling against your neck, and you smiled into the pillow. You hadn’t even realized you had been speaking aloud.

The hand you’d let dangle over the side of the bed brushed against something, and you frowned a moment before opened your eyes to peer down. You’d forgotten that you’d still been holding the magazine that you had been paging through before Steve had carried you off, and you reached for it then, holding it up as you rolled onto your back.

“What do you think about this dress?” you asked Steve, pointing to a pale turquoise evening gown with a beaded bodice.

“Hmm? What for?” Steve asked, seeming very disinclined to stop kissing anywhere his lips could reach.

You chuckled and gave him a nudge. “For prom!” you said, and Steve frowned.

“Sweetheart, you know I can’t take you…” he began.

You laughed again. “Well of course I know you can’t take me, Steve! I’m going with Scott. We have a whole thing planned.”

“What?” Steve asked, suddenly far more awake than he had been moments before.

You yawned. “Yeah. We’re going in a big group. More Daisy’s friends than anything but it’ll still be fun. Prom, bowling, motel, and then Six Flags the next day.”

Steve sat up as best he could in the small space and shook his head. “What? No you’re not!”

Chapter Text

“I fucked it all up,” Steve blurted by way of greeting. You hadn’t answered his calls or responded to the email he had sent; it had been hours since you left, the rain growing heavier by the minute, and you were clearly not speaking to him. Steve desperately needed to talk, so he called the only person he had left.

Bucky snorted. “You finally get caught?” he asked, voice teasing.

Steve groaned. “God, at this point? I wish that’s all it was,” he said.

“Jesus pal, what did you do?” Bucky asked curiously. He was just starting his shift for the evening at Stark, and expected it to be relatively sedate; his team hadn’t dealt with any attempted ingress of the new security system in weeks, the renegade ‘Ant-Man’ seemingly having disappeared into the abyss.

Or, Bucky thought, more likely, had crashed their own system. Or gotten grounded. Bucky was pretty sure it was a kid -- the hacker had left a few goofy, taunting messages and seemed more concerned with poking around gaming system specs than looking into any financial records.

“I fucked it all up,” Steve repeated, forearm thrown over his eyes as he lay back on his head. He sighed. “I guess I should’ve known I would eventually. I mean, what the hell do I know about havin’ a… havin’ a…”

“Fuck-buddy?” Bucky offered helpfully.

Steve frowned, even though no one was there to see. “Don’t call her that,” he said in a warning tone, then sighed your name. “She was… you know she was more than that.”

“What’s all this ‘was’?” Bucky asked, propping his feet up on his console table and leaning back in his chair. He grabbed an apple out of the messenger bag on the floor at his side and wiped it on his white t-shirt a few times before taking a loud, crunching bite. “Tew me wha hoppen,” he continued, crunching in Steve’s ear.

Steve explained as best he could, finding it necessary to leave out many specific details as he went along. He’d been open with Bucky about quite a bit, but the one thing he had kept to himself was your age. He didn’t know quite how to address it, afraid of what Bucky would think and how it would make him look; he knew how wrong it would seem.

He didn’t know how to make anyone else understand that, in spite of everything, nothing in his whole life had ever felt as right as being with you. Steve still carried the weight of his guilt but it had lessened as the day of your escape drew closer. To lose you know… it would crush him.

The school prom became a fundraising social event and overnight trip for the church; your teenage faux-boyfriend instead a friend standing in because Steve couldn’t let your secret out just yet. It took much of the impact of the situation away, but it was as best as he could tell it without giving up the ghost.

“Steve, tell me,” Bucky began, having listened to his friends lament with interest and finished his apple in the process. He tossed the core in a nearby wastebasket and continued, “Do you trust this girl?”

“Of course I do!” Steve protested. “It’s not her that I…”

“Right, right, this Scott guy,” Bucky interjected. So far as he knew, Scott was just a good friend who was keeping the congregation off your trail until the coming summer; the fake-relationship aspect was too complicated for Steve to even try and explain. “But hasn’t he been covering your asses all this time? I mean, you said he caught you two. Pants down and all. And didn’t rat you out to your pastor or whoever. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“Yeah, but…” Steve continued to try and protest weakly.

“And you trust your girl. I mean, you’d be throwing your life away if you didn’t… y’know, love her and all…” Bucky went on.

Steve sighed. “‘Course I love her, Buck. More than anything.”

“Then why you acting like some dumbass jealous controlling asshole, Steven?” Bucky asked, voice taking on a breezy, superior tone.

“I told you I fucked up!” Steve snapped. “I’ve never dealt with this shit before! And yeah, I’m jealous! I’m jealous that he can take her out places and put his arms around her in public if he wanted! I’m jealous and I’m stupid and I fucked up, ok?”

“Try telling her that,” Bucky advised.

Steve groaned. “She won’t answer my calls,” he explained.

Letting out a low whistle, Bucky shook his head. “Well, Steve,” he said, “You really fucked it all up.”

Chapter Text

You looked like a princess. You’d never worn anything like the dress before, a flowing tulle skirt that made you seem to float rather than walk, bedecked in rhinestone applique on the strapless, princes-cut bodice. The color seemed to look different with changes in light, ranging from baby blue to teal and even turquoise.

Your hair had been curled and teased and piled atop your head in an elegant bundle, held in place with more bobby pins than you could count and a simple rhinestone clip that gave just the right hint of sparkle without being obnoxious. Your flowers were white, roses and baby’s breath in a sweet corsage at your wrist, and your parents insisted that you and Scott pose for dozens of photos in front of the bay windows at your house before leaving.

You felt like a princess: bedecked and bedazzled to put on a show, your beloved Prince Charming nowhere in sight. You only hoped that your smiles didn’t look as fake as the felt.

 

You’d been so angry at Steve; most of the time, he treated you like his equal, but on rare occasion something would slip out that would make you wonder if he really looked at you as the ‘stupid kid’ he had decried.

It made it difficult for you to even speak to him -- especially when it was so close to your escape, that you’d both been waiting for. It wasn’t the first time you’d seen the jealous side of him -- no matter what he said, the day he had given you the cold shoulder at the Christmas Bazaar, you knew that it wasn’t all just for play. It made you wonder if this is what you were heading for in the long term. It made you question the entire plan.

But those thoughts would give way to what you felt, what your heart told you over your mind’s consistent worrying: Steve loved you. He’d never hurt you. He was just tense, with your escape so near, and envious that Scott could play the role of the doting boyfriend in front of everyone, while his own time with you was relegated to clandestine meetings.

Still. It didn’t make you any less angry, and your time with him over the past few weeks had been sparse. It was hurting you to even deny yourself that closeness, let alone him, but he would have to show you that he hadn’t really meant it before you would give in.

 

The dance itself was fun, for what it was. There was only so much crepe paper streamers, balloons, and painted backdrops could do to transform an aged high school gym into a heavenly wonderland. The theme, of course, was angels; after a long debate over songs and themes, the planning committee had settled on a power ballad from the 80’s entitled “Angel”, and so the theme of heaven-on-earth had been born.

You danced and took photos, laughed with friends who were never really your friends at all. Scott was by your side and just as glum as you were feeling; the county school was holding its prom on the same night, and Maggie was attending with a group of friends. Scott wanted to be there with her as much as you wanted Steve on your arm. You were certain the schools did this on purpose -- held their big events on the same night -- to discourage the two groups of students from mixing at all. It was archaic and ridiculous, and everyone thought so -- except the parents still adamant on keeping their teenagers apart.

The bowling alley was around fifteen miles outside of town; the story was, so far as you knew, was that neither your town or the next wanted to issue licensing for a bowling alley some forty or so years earlier, so the owner petitioned the state and got what he needed, so long as he was outside of town limits. It was cheap and dirty and the food was too greasy, but you had as much fun as you could manage with Scott and the rest of the group. You’d never bowled in formalwear before; there was something so silly about it as to make it all the more fun.

The motel came afterwards; you were still shocked your parents had ever agreed to that.

“A motel?! Oh, I hardly think so!” your mother had exclaimed, aghast.

You’d huffed and rolled your eyes. “Oh my god, Mom,” you groaned. “We’re not going to drive all the way back home after bowling just to turn right back around a few hours later so we can get to Six Flags when it opens!”

She’d put her hands on her hips. “No daughter of mine is sharing a motel room with a boy on prom night!”

Your father had snorted. “We did, didn’t we?” he broke in.

“You’re not helping!” your mother snapped at him.

Your father had sighed and folded his newspaper, leaning forward in his seat at the breakfast table. “Settle down, dear,” he said, shaking his head. “They way I see it, she’s got a good head on her shoulders. If she tells us she’s sharing a room with the Johnson girl, I think we should believe her.”

Your mother hadn’t been pleased, but she had relented, and there you were: standing outside the office of your local no-tell motel, waiting while Scott checked you in. You had no real plans, expecting to pile together into someone’s room -- as the group you’d been spending time with that night had all come to the motel for the night as well -- and drink and laugh and talk and be generally obnoxious until everyone wandered off to sleep. You had no issue sharing a room with Scott; you trusted him completely. You only wished that Steve did too.

When Scott came out of the office, he grinned and handed you a plastic key-card, keep another in his hand.

“One for you, one for me!” he exclaimed cheerfully. He’d been pretty well tipsy since the bowling alley; they didn’t bother to check IDs at the bar there.

“Two keys?” you asked curiously.

“One for your room,” Scott said, nodding sagely. “And one for mine. You don’t mind, right?”

Before you had a chance to ask, a beat-up SUV packed full of teenagers pulled up beside the motel office and a half dozen girls in prom dresses spilled out onto the pavement.

“There’s my baby!” a loud voice announced, and you couldn’t help but smile to see Scott’s real girlfriend, Maggie, tottering over on too-high heels and wearing a lavender mermaid-style dress. She threw her arms around him and kissed him long and lewdly, much to the amusement of her county school friends, who whistled and cat-called at the sight.

You laughed. “Got it,” you said, nodding. “No worries, I’ll catch you guys at one of the room parties…”

You weren’t entirely sure if they heard you; Maggie seemed intent on kissing the hell out of Scott right where they were standing. You had a suspicion they wouldn’t turn up at any of the parties at all.

In a weird way, you were glad. You were tired and didn’t feel much like playing pretend in front of your schoolmates for the rest of the night. You could at least get a little sleep before the theme park in the morning.

You followed the signs posted on the motel walls to find the room number stamped on your key-card, your feet beginning to ache in the cute but slightly ill-fitting shoes you had chosen for your dress. Upon reaching your room, it had just occurred to you that you’d left the bag with your clothes for the following day in the back of Scott’s van; you considered turning back but then just decided you’d wait and text him about it in the morning.

The key-card slid easily into the slot on the door, the little digital light on the reader flashing green and you opened the door, expecting to collapse on the bed, only to gasp at what you saw.

Standing waiting, hands shoved deep in his pockets, Steve gave you a bashful smile. “Hello sweetheart,” he said quietly in greeting.

Chapter Text

You’d imagined this, even dreamed about it -- that somehow Steve would appear at your side, that you’d have the night to spend together. Even as angry as you had been, some part of you had hoped for it, a grand gesture that could reassure you, erasing all the upset and hurt. But you had known better; it wasn’t as though he could turn up at the dance in a tux, ready to whisk you away.

This, though… this you hadn’t expected.

“I’m sorry I’m not really dressed for the occasion,” he said, pulling a hand from his pockets to gesture to the dress blacks he wore. “This is the most formal thing I own.”

You smiled, just a little. “Still the most handsome guy I’ve seen all night,” you told him.

Steve let out a long breath; he must have been nervous, you realized, just showing up like this. The two of you hadn’t been on the best terms as of late and it was risky, to a degree, and maybe even a little presumptuous for him to be there, but you didn’t care. Your world was golden again;; you couldn’t help but forgive him.

Steve moved to the little clock radio on the table beside the large motel room bed and fiddled with the dials for a moment, until he landed on a relatively static free station that had just started playing an old 80’s ballad you’d always like. Walking towards you, and held out his hand.

“Can I have this dance?” he asked, and his voice almost seemed to tremble. It occurred to you only then that he might have actually feared you’d reject him, as if he didn’t realize that you could never really turn him away. You may get angry, you may have to storm off and take some time for yourself, but you’d never really leave him.

You couldn’t. He owned so much of your heart now.

You fell into his arms like you belonged there -- because you did belong there. Steve held you close and you started to sway to the music, the noise filtering in from the party starting in the room next to yours seeming a million miles away or more. All you could feel was his heart beating against your chest; all you could hear were the lyrics he half sang, half whispered in your ear.

Don't ask me
What you know is true
Don't have to tell you
I love your precious heart…

“I’m sorry,” he said softly, breaking away from the lyrics. “I don’t really know how to do this… how to be with someone…”

“Steve…” you began, but he shook his head and said your name.

“Please let me finish,” he told you, and waited a moment before continuing, to make sure you would allow him to speak.

“I never thought I’d have the chance to love someone like you,” Steve went on. “Even before I made the decision to take orders, I was… sweetheart, I was a mess. Skinny, angry, gettin’ in fights… wasn’t a woman on earth who would look at me twice and even after my health got better, well, I guess I had just decided I’d never find the one.”

He laughed softly, a little self-deprecating. “Didn’t think there’d be anyone who’d want to put up with me, anyway. And then there was you… burstin’ like a ray of sunshine into my life and I still thought you’d never… but here you are, in my arms.”

“Not planning on leaving’em any time soon,” you told him, grinning up at him, and Steve smiled.

“I know that now,” he told you. “I always knew it, I think. I just got stupid and jealous… that I can’t be with you the way I want to be, without all the hiding and… god, all I want to do some days is hold you in my arms, no matter where we are, no matter who can see, and it eats me up inside that I can’t.”

“Soon,” you reminded, standing up even in your high heels to kiss him softly before settling yourself back against his chest to sway to the music.

“Priests don’t take a vow of poverty, not like the sisters do,” Steve told you, and you just made a small noise of contentment, to let him know you were listening even as you closed your eyes and enjoyed the feeling of his strong arms around you. “They still expect us to give up most of our possessions, and I did that. Never had much, anyway. I did hold onto a few small things, though.”

You felt him fumbling in his pocket for a moment before one strong hand was on yours, sliding something smooth and warm from his body heat onto your finger.

“This doesn’t have to mean anything, if you don’t want it to,” Steve went on. “I can’t expect you to be makin’ these kinds of promises, not now. But that was my Ma’s… I held onto it all these years and I think… no, I know, there’s never going to be anyone else I’d want to give it to other than you.”

Your eyes opened wide and disbelieving, pausing in your dance to stare down at the ring on your finger. It was simple, a plain gold band with a single small round-cut diamond glittering in the low light of the motel room.

Your heart was thundering in your chest. Perhaps you had believed all along that this affair wouldn’t last -- that Steve would find another girl at your school, someone lovelier and lonelier than you, to move onto, or that you’d lose interest yourself and run off with some stupid boy from your class. Maybe part of you had always thought you weren’t good enough for him -- that you were betraying the trust of your parents and your faith, and one day it would all come crashing down.

That the escape you longed for, that was so nearly within your reach, was nothing more than a daydream meant to keep you occupied while Steve took what he wanted from you, before leaving you behind. Not because he was even that kind of man, but because you weren’t worth it, not any of it -- not good enough for a soul that shined as bright as his.

And now here he was, watching you with earnest, worried eyes, his mother’s own ring slipped onto your hand.

“I love you,” you finally were able to say, voice trembling and tears beginning to fall.

Steve smiled at you, happy and relieved. “I love you,” he agreed. “And soon, I’ll be able to let the whole world know it.”

 

You danced a while longer, the two of you lost in your own little world. Even when the raucous party next door got louder and the radio switched to upbeat pop songs neither of you knew, you still danced on, just the two of you gently swaying on the dull carpeted floor of a cheap motel room. It might as well have been heaven, for all you knew; no balloons and crepe paper and painted backdrops necessary for that illusion, just you and the man you loved, together in a private place where no one could find you, dancing together until your feet ached and he swept you up into his arms, carrying you to the bed where he held you close until you drifted into a soft slumber.

Chapter Text

You both dozed for an hour or so. The emotion of the moment had been exhausting; Steve had been working himself up into an anxious frenzy as he waited for you to arrive, and you’d put yourself through your own wringer in keeping up a cheerful appearance while going through the motions at the dance and after-party at the bowling alley. Whether is was the loud and raucous party happening in the room next to yours or just your subconscious reminding you that this wasn’t an opportunity to be wasted, you were never sure, but something roused you from your gentle sleep. You took a deep breath and sigh, stretching your back and smiling when Steve, still somewhere between sleep and waking, mumbled your name.

He looked so relaxed when he was sleeping, the worry lines completely erased from his face, his expression clear and peaceful. He had abandoned his jacket but still wore his black dress shirt, the white plastic collar at his throat gone askew from cuddling so close together on the bed. Knowing him, you’d be willing to bet he wore a white t-shirt beneath the dress shirt. That was your Steve -- always in layers, and all the more fun for you to unwrap.

Unable to help yourself, you leaned forward just enough to brush your lips across his, enjoying the soft, pleased hum that escaped him when you did and the way his eye fluttered open at the touch.

“Like Sleeping Beauty,” you teased.

Steve smiled. “Maybe, if the roles were reversed,” he said with a gentle laugh.

You reached out to push his hair away from his face -- it had gotten long again on top, the neat part mussed from the pillows -- and he tilted his head to kiss your wrist before you could pull away.

“Do you have to go?” you asked him, biting your lip. You loved that he was there, that he surprised you, but you still knew the reality of the situation; it was still a couple months before you could make a run for it, and it wouldn’t escape the notice of Father Donahue if Steve were to spend the night outside of the rectory.

Still. You wished he could stay.

“I’m not goin’ anywhere, sweetheart,” he told you, a large hand settling at your waist. The joy must have been evident on your face, judging from the way he smiled at you. He pulled you closer, the tulle of your skirt rustling across the bedspread, and toyed with the tiny zipper pull at the back of your dress.

“But Father Donahue,” you pointed out, brow furrowing. It was infuriating: you wanted Steve there, but you didn’t want him to get in any trouble. There didn’t seem to be any way you could have both. “He’ll want to know where you are, what you are doing. He may even want you to report to the diocese or something.”

Steve shook his head. “Oh, I think I’m just about done following orders,” he told you, eyes drifting to your zipper. He began slowly pulling it down, loosening the bodice of you dress bit by bit. “Did I tell you that this dress looks beautiful on you?”

“I think it would look better on the floor,” you countered, and Steve quirked a small half-smile with a sigh of your name.

“Just about read my mind,” he agreed.

 

There was nothing quite like being slowly undressed by Steve Rogers. For a man who’d had such sparse experience with the opposite sex before you had met, he had certainly taken to it like a duck to water. He knew just when to touch, just when to tease; and he always made close inspection of his work, the heat of his breath quick to follow the warmth of his hands. It felt almost like a religious experience at times.

By the time your dress had been gently tossed to the floor, alongside your shoes and stockings and uncomfortable strapless bra, you were shivering with want.

Steve placed a gentle kiss just at the hem of your panties and you gasped, your back arching involuntarily at the touch. He smiled against your skin and continued on his path, nuzzling at the softness of your belly and flicking his tongue into your navel to make you giggle.

He brushed his lips across the underside of each of your breasts as he reached them and looked up to meet your eyes, the dark of his normally bright blue eyes making you release a shuddering breath. Steve moved up just a fraction, circling one peaked nipple with this point of his tongue before wrapping his lips around iat and sucking hard.

You arched your back again and bit back a moan, your hands reaching to tangle in his hair. You loved it when it was messy, wet with sweat and pointing every which way, evidence of the way you tugged and twisted when the pleasure was too much for you and you needed to grip and pull at him.

Steve pulled off with a slick pop, nuzzling the valley between your breasts before scraping his teeth across it, knowing how much you loved it when he just skated the line of being truly rough. You whimpered, unable to stop the noise from leaving you, even as you tried to tamp it down.

“C’mon now, none of that,” Steve gently chided, moving on to your other nipple before you could even ask what he meant. You mewled and writhed beneath him, grasping hands moving from his hair to tug at his plastic collar and toss it away, and then rake down his back, angry at the barrier of cloth between your skin and his.

Pulling off again, he sat up just enough to start unbuttoning his shirt, a task you were eager to assist him with. Sure enough, there was that pesky t-shirt beneath it and you couldn’t even wait for him to remove it; you pushed your hands up underneath, enjoying the feel of his overheated skin beneath your fingertips.

Steve pulled the t-shirt over his head and tossed it away before covering your hands with his own, sternly saying your name.

“I mean it,” he advised. “We’re not hiding, there’s no one who’s going to overhear us or burst in. You don’t have to stay quiet tonight. I want to hear you.”

You chuckled and teased, running a single fingertip down his chest to circle his navel and settle just above the fly of his black dress pants.

“What is it I have to make so much noise about, again?” you asked lightly.

Steve licked his lips. “Don’t play with me, sweetheart. We both know I can do things to make you scream.”

You arched your brows and with a gleam in your eye and full knowledge of Steve’s competitive nature, you grinned. “Prove it,” you said.

“Oh, now you’re gonna get it!” he warned, pouncing on you as you broke into a fit of giggles, soon giving way to more breathless sounds.

Much as you tried to hold back, your whimpered moans and gasps got louder and louder, until a high-pitched scream of Oh, god, Steve! erupted from your throat, loud enough that the party next door seemed to pause a long moment before they all began to cheer and pound on the wall.

Steve collapsed beside you, red-faced and sweating, both of you in a fit of exhausted laughter, and you feel into a much deeper sleep, knowing that for only the second time since your strange relationship had begun, you would wake with Steve sleeping there beside you.

Chapter Text

A little after seven the next morning, there came a knock at your motel room door. You didn’t want to move; you’d been drifting in and out of sleep for a good hour or so, just enjoying the time cuddled close with Steve beneath the covers. When both of you were roused enough, you’d trade soft kisses and touches, luxuriating in just being together, unworried, unhurried, with no fear of discovery.

You sighed. “That’s probably Scott,” you mumbled.

Steve leaned to kiss you on the forehead. “I’ll get it,” he said, searching out his pants on the carpeted floor as he stood. He yawned and stretched once moderately dressed, and you watched with half-lidded eyes, enjoying the slow play of the strong muscles in his back and admiring a few scratches you had left the night before.

Scott had started to knock again when Steve answered the door with a gruff, “Yeah?”, punctuated by another yawn.

“Uh… just, y’know… Six Flags?” Scott offered, clearly a mite uncomfortable with the half-dressed priest at the door.

“Oh, right,” Steve said, and glanced back at the bed. “Sweetheart, you still want to go to Six Flags with Scott?”

You sat up, pulling the blanket up to cover your modesty. “How long can we stay here, if I don’t?” you asked.

Steve gave you a smile. “As long as you want,” he told you. “I booked two nights, in case you’d want to spend the day.”

“Can he pick me up on the way back?” you asked hopefully.

“Yeah, I figured!” Scott called through the door. “Just wanted to make sure and bring you your clothes and stuff. And Maggie wanted to say ‘hi’.”

“Hi!” Maggie called enthusiastically, peering curiously into the room before her gaze drifted back towards Steve -- not that you could blame her.

“I’ll stop here on our way back tonight,” Scott went on. “Gonna meet up with Maggie’s friends anyway, so she can go back to town with them, and then I can just pick you up too. Okay?”

You yawned. “Sound good!” you agreed, and Steve took your duffel bag from Scott before bidding him and his real girlfriend goodbye.

As the door closed, you heard Maggie say in a loud whisper, “That guy is a priest?!”, and you broke into a fit of giggles.

Steve shook his head as he turned back to you. “What was that all about?” he asked, jerking a thumb towards the door. He had taken your duffel bag from Scott and tossed it unceremoniously in the motel room’s single rickety armchair before slipping back out of his pants and moving back towards the bed where you were waiting.

You grinned. “What, haven’t you seen you, Steven?” you teased. “More than enough to turn everybody’s head.”

He smiled, crawling up towards you from the foot of the bed. “Nobody’s head I’d wanna turn but yours, baby girl,” he whispered, tugging at the bedclothes so he could feel your skin against his own. Steve ran his strong hands up your sides, hitting every ticklish spot he could find, until you giggled and squirmed beneath him.

You knew the best way to stop him: you surged up to kiss him, reveling in the way Steve immediately relaxed against yours. It was hard sometimes, to think of him as the same man you remembered meeting so long ago. He had always been polite, kind and friendly as his faith should have dictated, but there was something else. Something tamped down, a spring tightly coiled and held in place.

He was freer now; you had done that. You couldn’t help but be a little smug.

Steve kissed you, gentle and unhurried in a way that you rarely ever had time for. You were surprised when he pulled away and smiled down at you, having thought his sweet kisses would have soon taken a more sultry tone.

“What is it?” you asked.

“I need to know you’re sure about all this, sweetheart,” Steve said with a sigh. His expression had grown troubled, brows knit together in concern.

You frowned. “About what? About us? Steve, of course I am,” you told him. He sighed, and you felt the exhale of his warm breath on your lips. You loved being this close, feeling surrounded by him.

“There’s no going back,” Steve reminded, voice dropped low and quiet. “It won’t matter for me -- I know now that no matter what, the priesthood isn’t the life for me. I’ll burn my bridges here but I’ll always have a place in New York, with Bucky. But you, baby… your parents, they…”

“They don’t matter,” you told him, shaking your head. “Steve, before this… before you... I couldn’t imagine having a life, a future at all.”

“Of course you had a…” Steve started, but you pressed a finger to his lips to stop him; he pressed a soft kiss to your hand, but let you continue.

“Not really,” you countered. “I’d have done what everyone here does. Go to the secretarial school in town. Get a job at Hydracorp, until I married some idiot from school, popped out a few kids, and started making lemon squares for every church bake sale. And I was… not okay with that, but… I didn’t have any fight in me. No reason to change it.”

“And now?” Steve asked.

“Now?” you repeated, and smiled. “Now I have a future. A life. One that I get to choose. With you. I’m sure, Steve. I’ve never been more sure about anything in my life.”

 

Steve kissed you again, long and deep; you sighed into it, relaxing against the mattress and slipping a leg up over Steve’s hip, driving your bodies closer together. He groaned into your mouth, settling himself between your thighs.

He busied himself kissing you wherever he could reach: your lips, your throat, the tender flesh behind your ear… when he reached the dip of your clavicle, he bit down, making you gasp.

“Steve!” you moaned. “Th-the marks… people’ll see!”

“Oh, damn,” he muttered. “Sorry sweetheart.”

Panting, you smiled. “More!” you told him. “Leave more, Stevie, baby, mark me up, I want people to see. I want them to know I’m yours.”

Steve took to your suggestion with gusto; by the time Scott arrived in the evening to pick you up, you had bites and bruises littered across your throat and cleavage. You knew your parents would lose their minds over it -- your mother especially -- and part of you seemed to revel in that. You had only a few weeks left now; it’s not like they could do anything that would really hurt you.

You kissed Steve goodbye at the door to the motel room. He would spend the night before returning to town. It would give him time at least to come up with a good reason for having disappeared for two days.

Climbing into Scott’s van, your prom dress tucked over your arm, you laughed when he let out a low whistle.

“Not going for subtlety, huh?” he asked.

You laughed again and reached out to poke a similar bruise on his neck. “You would know,” you told him, giggling when he batted your hand away.

Chapter Text

You made a show of hugging Scott in front of your house as he dropped you off; you knew your parents were peering out the window at you, squinting in the low light of dusk.

“You smell like upchuck,” you whispered with a snort.

“Maggie hurled,” he answered back in a fierce whisper. “Twice. She can’t handle the roller coasters. But you smell like Father Steve, and that kinda freaks me out!”

You laughed as you pulled away, adjusting your duffel bag on your shoulder and your dress, now appropriately wrapped up in a plastic laundry bag from the motel, over your arm, and headed for the door.

Your mother set her jaw, lips pressed into a thing line, when she saw the array of love-bites Steve had left you, clearly visible in the tank top you were wearing. The late Spring had already started to feel like summer and you’d chosen shorts and a tank top as your day-after outfit, leaving the evidence of your romantic evening on display.

Thankfully the shorts were long enough to cover the bruises that Steve had sucked into your inner thighs. You had to bite your lip to keep from smiling as you thought of it; the man certainly had his kinks.

“Hey kiddo, did you have a good ti… well,” your father said as he spied them, clearly surprised.

“It was a blast!” you said cheerfully as you breezed past them, heading right for the stairs to your bedroom. “But, wow, I’m exhausted. I’m going to hit the sack early, I think. Night!”

“Did you see that? Did you see?” you heard your mother hiss. “Just like I told you!”

You did your best not to laugh before you closed your bedroom door.

 

They were still discussing you the next morning. You paused just outside the kitchen door to listen to them chatter over their toast and morning tea.

“...lucky if she didn’t get herself pregnant!” you heard your mother complain.

Your dad snorted. “It was one night away with the boy, dear. Settle yourself down. I don’t think we’re going to be grandparents any time soon.”

Your mother sighed. “One night, so what? She’s out and about all the time -- who knows what she’s doing! I doubt she’s spending that much time at the church like she says. I have half a mind to march over to the rectory and ask Father Steve if she even goes to those counseling sessions anymore!”

“I’d say that’s a can of worms we don’t want to open,” your father told her, and you held back a laugh. You could hear a rustle of the newspaper and the crunch of a bite of toast before he went on. “Look, what harm is it, anyway? It’s not like it doesn’t happen around here all the time. Better she have a shotgun wedding than keep up with these crazy ideas of hers, going off somewhere to college.”

Your mother sniffed. “Why does she need to go away for school? There’s a perfectly good secretarial school in town. If it was good enough for me, it will be good enough for her. Besides, she won’t need any more schooling than that unless she goes to work for Hydracorp, and they started that job training last year, didn’t they?”

“True,” your dad agreed. “Though I’d be willing to bet she’ll insist on working right up until her first baby.”

Your mother snorted and slurped her tea. “Maybe she’ll work and leave that boy home with the babies,” she said, and she and your father burst into a fit of chuckles.

It took you a moment to compose yourself. You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry -- laugh at the idea of having Scott’s babies, of Scott being a house-husband while you worked at Hydracorp, and cry at the fact that your parents had so little hope for your future that they expected you to fall in line, following in the footsteps long trod by the people of your town, to work, breed, and die in the same neighborhood.

When you did walk in, you put on your sunniest smile.

“Morning!” you called cheerfully, going straight for the fridge. There was a bottle of orange juice in the door and you took it out, pouring yourself a glass and downing it quickly. “Do you know what the weather is going to be like today? Thought I’d take my bike out on the trails today. Scott’s helping his dad clean out their garage but we’re going to meet up later.”

Your mother gritted her teeth. “Oh… how nice…” she muttered.

“It’s going to be a nice day, according to the paper,” your father said, far less perturbed.

“Okay, I guess I’ll see you later then!” you said. You dropped your glass in the kitchen sink and headed out the back door, snorting to yourself when you heard your mother start up again.

“Do you see what I mean?!” she snapped.

 

The rest of the school year seemed to breeze by. Your studies were of no great concern; your grades had experienced a great upsurge once Steve became a part of your life and you’d kept them that way ever since; you had a theory it was something to do with a lessening of stress, or just having someone who was in your corner.

You’d taken your ACT at the beginning of the year and startled even yourself by scoring well enough to guarantee at the least a partial scholarship no matter where you decided to go to school; you’d been accepted into six different schools in New York City alone.

That had been something of a struggle: your parents were adamant you not apply, and you’d had to borrow the application fees from Scott, with even Maggie helping you out with the last one. They understood your predicament, and refused to let you pay them back.

“Hey, you gotta save up,” Maggie had told you. “New York’s supposed to be expensive. It’s all cool, you’re helping me and Scotty out so much as it is.”

 

You started taking things from home, just the things you would absolutely need. Your father’s safe was easy enough to get into -- the combination had been your mother’s birthday for about as long as you could remember -- and you were able to sneak away your birth certificate and social security card easily. You found some of your medical records in there as well, and decided to take those too. You had your ID already, of course; your parents hadn’t allowed you to get a license, but Scott had taught you how to drive his van and it would be only a matter of passing the test once you got to New York.

You weren’t terribly sentimental, so there wasn’t much else that you would want. Just the basics: clothes, shoes, the gifts Steve had given your, a few letters and postcards and trinkets from Angie and Scott. Cutting ties with your hometown wouldn’t be all that difficult after all; when it came down to it, all you had was a backpack and one of your dad’s old suitcases lifted from the garage filled with remnants of your life before Steve that you were taking with you. They were stashed in Steve’s room at the rectory, ready to go at a moment’s notice.

And then suddenly, it was here: Graduation Day.

Chapter Text

“Today, your lives begin anew,” Dr. Erskine began, smiling out at the sea of students seated before him. He had been the perfect choice to deliver the commencement speech; of all the teachers at your school, he was the most loved. Effortlessly cheerful, friendly and funny, he held a special place in the heart of most every student.

“It does not matter how old you are, if you are heading to university far away, or if you are staying here in the town where you were born. Today, your childhood ends,” Dr. Erskine went on. “You have fulfilled your last obligation: your life is now your own.”

There were a few scattered cheers at his words; most of your fellow students, you had realized, were just as much under their parents’ thumbs as you were. Small towns had a way of doing that. The young people were held in place by their parents, even as they struggled and yearned to be free, only to grow old and bitter and blind and do the same to their own children. It was a sick cycle that you were more than ready to break. Angie had been the first of your generation to break free -- now it was your turn.

“Wherever this life takes all of you, there are just a few things you must remember,” Dr. Erskine said. “You must remember where you came from. Even as the little bird leaves the nest for the final time, he carries with him the memories of his first home and the knowledge that one day he will surely build a nest of his own. Whether he will follow the same mold as his parents, or create something entirely new, it is those early fledgling days that will shape him.

“You must remember also the words given to us by Shakespeare, in his greatest work: ‘To thine own self be true’,” Dr. Erskine went on. His gaze settled on a beautiful woman who sat among the other faculty members. Her hair was white as newly fallen snow, curled up into an elegant knot, and though wrinkles lined her face, the smile she wore as she watched him speak was nothing short of beatific. You knew immediately it must be his wife, Emilia.

“Do not let the expectations and obligations put upon you by others dictate the path that your life will take,” he said. “Take risks. Take leaps of faith. Love who your heart leads you to love, and above all, follow the path that your soul bids you follow. I offer all of you my most sincere congratulations on this your graduation day. The whole world is out there waiting for you, my young friends. Simply do your best.”

The crowd of students erupted into cheers; the gathered parents seemed less enthusiastic, but still contributed some tepid applause. The rest seemed to go by in a blur, names called one-by-one, each of you standing in turn to walk across the stage and accept your diplomas. Your school still handed out the actual diploma in a faux leather case, bucking the trend to hold the paperwork back and hand out an empty folder, forcing students to come back and pick them up after the ceremony. You felt as though you were in a daze as your name was called and you walked the stage to shake hands with the principal and Dr. Erskine in turn.

Dr. Erskine nodded at you, covering your hand with his. “Good luck to you, young lady,” he said with a kind smile. “To the both of you.”

You could only nod in response.

There were a few closing remarks from the principal and suddenly the sky was filled with dozens of mortarboards, pinwheeling up into the sunlight, tassells flailing in the breeze. You caught yours easily as it fell and rushed through the crowd to find Scott, pulling him into a quick, tight embrace.

“We did it!” you squealed. “We made it, Scott! Now our lives can actually start.”

He chuckled and hugged you back. “Something like that,” he agreed.

“When do you get to New York?” you asked. He had been accepted to NYU, into their information technologies program. He and Maggie had decided to follow your lead and leave behind your little town to try life in the big city.

The smile that Scott wore faded a little, but didn’t disappear. “Kind of a change in plans,” he said with a shrug. “I got a week off, and then I start at Hydracorp. On the job training, you know? My dad knows the guy in IT, got me an entry level job.”

Your jaw fell. “What?” you asked, shocked. “But… but I thought…”

“Maggie’s pregnant,” Scott told you with a shrug. “But hey, it’s all good. I love her, you know? We’re gonna get married. Her parents don’t know yet, but mine do. Mom’s cousin has an in-law apartment in their house and will give it to us real cheap, and Maggie’s going to start at the secretarial school in the fall, at least until the baby comes.”

“Scott… I don’t know what to say…” you said, shaking your head. You had wanted so much more for him -- he had wanted so much more.

“How about ‘congratulations’?” he said with a chuckle. “I’m gonna be a dad!”

You threw your arms around him again, blinking back tears. “You write me!” you whispered fiercely. “You write and you tell me how it’s going, and you send me pictures of that baby! And when we’re on our feet and you and Maggie wanna get out of her with your kid, we’ll help, I promise!”

“C’mon, settle down,” Scott told you, forcing a laugh. “You’re gonna make me cry or somethin’!”

His parents watched the exchange curiously; if they knew about Maggie, then they must have known that the supposed relationship between the two of you had always been fake. You were glad that they seemed to be far more accepting that Scott had thought they would be, but you didn’t need them to start asking questions -- not quite yet. You kissed Scott on the cheek and made him promise he’d keep in touch, and then went in search of your own parents.

 

You found them seated halfway to the back of the football field that was serving as the auditorium for your graduation ceremony, still sitting primly on the rickety old folding chairs. As soon as you arrived they stood, and you pulled your mother into an uncharacteristically tight hug, and then your father right after. They both seemed surprised but pleased by the action.

“I love you guys, you know that right?” you asked, biting your lip. “I know I haven’t been perfect. Things haven’t always been great. But I do love you. And I know that you guys love me too.”

“Of course we do,” your mother told you. “I… I suppose I never say it enough, or… or explain that sometimes, when I’m frustrated or tired, I say things that I… that I don’t really mean. But you’re my daughter. I know you love me, and your father and I love you too.”

You father smiled, his eyes a little damp. “She’s right, kiddo,” he said pleasantly, reaching to squeeze your shoulder. “We love you. And we’re very proud of you.”

You smiled back, and for a moment, you wished you had more time. But your future was waiting for you -- and you weren’t going to hold yourself back any longer.

You quickly dropped your mortarboard on an empty chair and pulled your graduation gown off to toss over the back of it. Your mother frowned immediately, taking in your appearance; you were wearing a pair of denim shorts and a t-shirt, far too informal for the occasion, but you didn’t want to travel in the girlish flower-print dress your mother had chosen for you.

“Where on earth is your dress?” she asked.

“It’s hanging in my closet,” you told her quickly. “Tags still on, you can take it back. I’ve gotta go. I just… I love you, Mom. Dad. And I need you to know that this is my decision. No one pushed me into it or anything, and it’s not about you. It’s about me. It’s what I want, okay? So remember that. I’ll call you guys once I’m settled!”

You took off quickly before they could say another word, steering your way through the crowd in search of a familiar face. You found him at the far end of the field, watching you with a smile on his face and his hands shoved in his pockets. No one thought it strange that Father Steve watch the graduation, though they might have raised an eyebrow at how he was dressed. His jeans were stiff and deep blue, obviously new, paired with an old white t-shirt and a new pair of running shoes. Bucky had made sure Steve had something decent to travel in. He was leaving behind his dress blacks and collar in the rectory.

The plan had been that you’d meet up and make a run for it, be gone before anyone had noticed, but something inside of you seemed to break open and leap for joy all at once at seeing him waiting there. Perhaps part of you had thought he wouldn’t show, that it was all too good to be true. But there he was and you were free now, and you didn’t care. You didn’t have to care.

Steve seemed to know exactly what you were thinking and made no move to turn or leave as you approached. You picked up speed until you were almost running and then suddenly you were there, your arms thrown around his neck while he lifted you from the ground, your legs wrapping around his waist.

He kissed you soundly and deep. The world fell away and it felt like your first kiss, the new beginning you had been waiting on for so long. You pressed your forehead to his and just laughed, bubbly and bright, dimly aware of the quiet that had begun to surround you, spreading out into the crowd that was still loud and boisterous at the edges.

“This is it, sweetheart, now or never,” Steve said, gently setting you on the ground. He felt out his hand to you. “Are you ready?”

You grinned and, without another word, took his hand and ran.

Chapter Text

New York City was terrifying.

You’d seen skyscrapers in films, spires of concrete and steel reaching far up into the clouds to touch the heavens. It didn’t compare even remotely to the real thing. You felt tiny, overwhelmed by towering structures that dwarfed everything around them.

The teeming mass of people you encountered everywhere made your breath come fast and harsh. Steve was completely at ease, holding tight to your hand and guiding you through the crowds; it may have been a while since he’d been there, but the city was his home. He’d fall into step easily no matter how long it had been. He slowed his pace when he saw how uncomfortable you were, realizing that even the crowd in the airport terminal was probably the largest you’d ever been in.

“Hey, we’ll skip the subway for now,” he told you in a warm, reassuring voice. “We can grab a cab to Bucky’s place, okay?”

You adjusted the strap of your backpack on your shoulder and nodded. “Yeah, okay,” you agreed, taking a deep breath and forcing a smile.

Steve cupped your cheek and brushed his lips across yours, gentle and sweet. “It’ll be fine, sweetheart,” he told you. “I promise.”

 

It had been a long day, and you were glad to curl up against Steve’s side in the back of the taxi. He wrapped his arm around you and kissed you on the temple, smiling when he felt you sigh in contentment.

It had been a day of firsts for you as well. You’d never been more than a hundred miles from your hometown before, let alone halfway across the country. There had been car waiting for you just outside the football stadium; Bucky had arranged for it, a car and a driver to take you to the small regional airport some forty miles away. The whole drive you’d been nervous, glancing out the back window to see if you were being followed. There was a good chance that word had filtered back to your parents of what others at the graduation ceremony had seen before you left, and you knew they’d come for you if they realized you were running away for good.

Thankfully, the roads remained clear. You’d had a decent headstart and your father was never much of a leadfoot, after all.

The airport brought with it its own anxieties. It was your first flight, and you were terrified. Steve held your hand as the small commuter plane took off, whispered soothing things to you when the plane hit pockets of turbulence, and let you dig your nails into his arm during the landing. It was only an hour long flight and you were glad when it was over. The only problem was that you had to take a larger commercial flight from the international airport where you had landed to get to New York. That flight at least had been smoother, but you were still frightened during the takeoff and landing.

Then there was the busy airport, people hurrying past left and right, bumping and jostling you with little care or concern. Steve took it in stride, barely blinking at the bustle, but you were beginning to feel as though you were suffocating. You refused to let go of Steve’s arm as you maneuvered to the baggage claim, breaking your grip there only long enough to pull your backpack onto your shoulders. Steve carried his own backpack -- it was all he had packed, taking only his few personal effects and leaving everything else behind -- and carried your suitcase with his free hand.

Even picking up a taxi had made you nervous, just waiting there on the street. Your new life in the big city was going to take a lot of getting used to.

 

Tucked against Steve’s side in the back of the taxi, you let loose a long deep breath. He glanced down at you with a reassuring smile and you smile back as best you could. Slipping a hand into your pocket, you retrieved your cell phone; you’d almost forgotten about it. You’d turned it off for your first flight and hadn’t turned it back on since.

When it powered back on, it let loose a cacophony of beeps and alerts, one after another in loud obnoxious tones, each demanding your attention.

“Yikes,” you muttered, frowning at the phone in your hand. 47 missed calls; 38 voicemail messages. Only 36 of the voicemail messages came from your mother’s number -- one was from Scott, and another was from Angie. You smiled to yourself to see it; of course Angie would have heard about it by now.

Steve watched you with a bemused expression as you dialed your voicemail and switched it to speaker phone so that he could hear. The cab driver, lost in his own bluetooth conversation over an earpiece, paid you little mind.

“You goddamn WHORE!” Angie shouted gleefully over the line. “I can’t believe you had it in you, oh my god! Like, holy shit, how could you not tell me? Were you already bangin’ way back when we were working at the rectory over the summer… Oh my GOD, you spent all that time alone with him and… how could you not tell me?! Call me. Call me immediately! Love you!”

Steve chuckled and kissed you on the temple. “News travels fast, doesn’t it?” he offered, and you laughed.

“Small town scandals are all the rage these days,” you replied, andended the call only to re-dial and pull up the voicemail from Scott.

The call opened with Scott laughed. “You would not believe this!” he said, still laughing. “You took all the heat off of me and Maggie, let me tell ya… This place is a madhouse, there’s going to be an emergency PTA meeting tomorrow night! Like no one even cares that Mags is knocked up, they’re all talking about you!”

“Hey!” you heard Maggie call in the background, punctuated by what sounded like a slap.

Scott cleared his throat. “I mean, no one is upset that me and Mags are having a baby. Better?”

“Much,” you heard Maggie tell him, before she seemed to take the phone. “Hey, keep in touch! We’ll let you know if things get too crazy here. Byeeeeee!”

“Are there any more?” Steve asked curiously, peering at the digital display on your phone’s screen.

You groaned. “Just from my Mom,” you told him, sighing. “I’ll save those for later.”

Steve kissed your temple again. “Good plan,” he agreed.

 

The taxi pulled up to a brownstone on Prospect Place, the address Steve had given him as you’d gotten in, just as the sun’s last rays began to fade from the sky. It was in Brooklyn, Steve had explained, but a far cry from the crowded apartment building where he and Bucky had grown up. Stepping out onto the sidewalk, you took a deep breath; this was the final set of your day’s long journey, meeting Bucky Barnes in person.

You’d been in the room once or twice while Steve talked to him on the phone and you knew his charming drawl well, but it was still a big step. Bucky was the closest thing to family that Steve had left, and your nerves kept offering up nightmare scenarios where you didn’t meet the man’s approval and Steve decided to agree, turning you out into the big city all alone. You knew it was ridiculous -- Steve would never -- but you couldn’t help the awful images your anxious brain would conjure up.

“One second, there’s something I’ve been meaning to do,” Steve told you, tugging on your hand to pause your walk towards the iron gate in front of the building. He set your larger suitcase on the ground, holding it upright between his ankles to keep it from toppling and stop any would-be thieves. Even as the streetlights came on one by one and the buzz of insects sounded out in their nightly chorus, the street was still alive with activity: children playing and laughing in front yard, parents sitting on porch steps to keep watch, couples walking hand in hand down the street. It was a far cry from the sleepy evenings of your hometown, where everyone was indoors early and the only sounds to be heard were the crickets outside your door.

You glanced up at him quizzically, watching as he smiled and brushed your hair away from your face. He cradled your chin in his hand and leaned down to kiss you, slow and sweet and completely unworried, not caring a lick for all the eyes that could be watching.

Chapter Text

Bucky had, he reasoned, put up with a lot from Steve over the years. It wasn’t the illnesses, no -- that was part and parcel to a friendship, Bucky believed, that you’d stand by when they were sick, pick up their homework in school, even visit them in the hospital. No, he wouldn’t consider that anything near a burden. Everything else, though…

The fights. Constant busted knuckles and bloody noses because Steve, god love him, had a mouth and a temper that didn’t match his fragile, wiry body.

It was the other fights, too -- not the physical throwdowns with bullies that outmatched them both in size, but the causes Steve picked up and needed to fight for over the years, dragging them both to protests and demonstrations.

Save the whales.

Save the oceans.

End the wars.

All of them good causes, no doubt, and things that Bucky came to believe in himself, for the most part, but he lost a lot of important time he should have been spending with his Nintendo 64, taking the train to the city center and marching with scores of people shouting and holding signs, because there was no way he could let Steve do it alone.

And now? There was you.

The men had embraced as soon as Bucky opened the door to Steve’s knock, laughing and patting each other on the back, jabs at each other’s appearance and a general joyful attitude at the circumstance. Then Bucky spotted you, standing there waiting, just a few steps away.

He had frowned, the words ‘Who’s the kid?’ dying on his tongue as his eyes lit upon what he knew very well to be Sarah Rogers’ engagement ring glittering on your finger.

“Steve, what the hell?” he finally uttered.

Steve blinked, then glanced back at you and took your hand in his own. “Oh. Bucky, this is…”

“I know who it is!” Bucky exclaimed. “Jesus Christ, Steve, is she jailbait?!”

“Can we maybe not have this discussion in the hallway?” Steve asked, nodding towards the door.

Bucky frowned. “I don’t know. Am I aiding you in committing a felony if she comes inside?”

She can hear you, and is getting pretty pissed,” you finally spoke up, frowning. You’d expected a little fallout, but this was getting a little offensive.

“Calm down, Buck, c’mon, your neighbors are startin’ to get annoyed,” Steve added; true to his word, the door across the hall had opened a crack and a single steely eyeball was glaring out into the hallway.

“Yeah, yeah, fine,” Bucky grumbled, gesturing for the two of you to step into his apartment. Once you had entered, he gave a quick wave to the nosy neighbor. “Sorry Nick!” he called before closing the door.

 

It had been a long day. A long, tiring, and emotionally overwrought day. You were wiped out; all you wanted was food and sleep, not even necessarily in that order. You had finally reached what was supposed to be a safe haven and you were quickly beginning to realize that it was perhaps not going to go as planned.

You were a realist. You knew that Steve could never have told Bucky everything about you, about your relationship; you knew that, on the face of things, it was wrong. If someone had described the same situation to you, even before it had started, you’d have known immediately that it was wrong.

Steve was too old -- you were too young. Not even the age gap itself, which in another decade or so would barely raise an eyebrow, no. Just your relative ages; you were still a teenager.

He was in a position of power over you, a religious elder in the faith you had been raised in, and even in an administrative capacity in your school life.

You were inexperienced. You clearly had some pretty strong family issues.

On paper, it was all wrong.

But your life wasn’t cut and dry like that. Maybe you were mature for your age, or he was immature for his. Maybe you were both so broken that your shattered pieces could fit together into something new, something good.

You loved him, and you knew he loved you. It shouldn’t matter, all the rest of it, at least not to Bucky. Bucky should understand.

And the fact that he didn’t was just pissing you off.

He crossed his arms over his chest and stared at you. “How the hell old are you?” he demanded.

“How is that any of your business?” you snapped in reply.

Bucky sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Christ, have you even graduated high school? “

“Yes!” you responded angrily, pausing to mutter a sheepish, “...this morning.”

Bucky groaned, opened his mouth to speak, and then froze. You could see the wheels turning in his head as he surveyed you, then looked to Steve, then back to you.

“Steve…” he began slowly. “This the girl? The whole time, this was the girl?”

Steve bit his lip. “Yeah?” he offered with a shrug.

The last thing you expected was for Bucky to throw a punch. Clearly, it was the last thing Steve expected either, the blow glancing off of his cheekbone and sending him stumbling back a few paces. Your eyes widened, nostrils flaring with your sudden spike of fury, and as Bucky turned to deliver what was undoubtedly some rude or patronizing comment to you, you reached out and slapped him as hard as you kid.

“Hey!” Bucky shouted, hand flying to cover the quickly reddening mark on his cheek. “Jesus Christ, Steve, control your fucking child-bride!”

His words further infuriating you, you made a move to leap at him, caught swiftly around the waist by Steve’s strong arm, lifting your feet right up off of the floor.

“Settle down, sweetheart, settle down,” he said, trying to sound soothing, even as you could hear the strain in his voice. Much to your own horror, you broke down.

“I can’t!” you said, tears starting to fall. “I can’t, I can’t… we waited so long, Steve, so fucking long, this was supposed to be our out, this was supposed to be better...!”

“Shh… shh, I know, baby, I know,” Steve said, holding you close against him as you twisted in his arms, burying your face against his chest. He frowned over your shoulder at Bucky, expression stony and resolute.

“We’ll go,” he told Bucky. “If that’s what you want, we can go. We’ll… I don’t even know, we’ll figure something out, if we have to. But I’m not gonna have you talking to her like this, Buck. She’s it for me. I’ve told you that before. If you’ve got a problem with us bein’ together, just say the word, and we’ll get outta your hair.”

Bucky grumped about and rolled his eyes. “Don’t be so god damn dramatic, punk,” he grumbled. “Forgive me for bein’ a little surprised when you turn up on my doorstep with a teenager.”

“You punched me,” Steve reminded. “With your metal fucking fist. That you failed to mention.” The gleaming metal arm had been a bit of a surprise for you too; you probably should have taken it more into account when you decided to assault the man, but you were running on fumes at that point.

“I said I had a prosthetic!” Bucky replied, and you could feel the laughter rumbling in Steve’s chest; all was well between the two, apparently, but you couldn’t bear to look. Steve was your safe space; you needed him now, the comfort of his embrace calming you. “Look, I don’t care, if you say it’s all on the level, I’ll believe you, but… for now, we’ll just tell people she’s a coed, yeah?”

Steve chuckled. “Deal,” he agreed. “Now, you wanna show us where we’re sleeping? I’m dead on my feet here.”

“Me too,” you mumbled, turning your face away from Steve’s chest only to glare at Bucky.

“Yeah, yeah, guest room’s this way,” Bucky told you, gesturing down a short corridor. “Do me a favor though. No fucking on my futon. It’s shoddy as shit and you’ll probably break it.”

Chapter Text

Waking up to a sleepy, unhurried Steve was amazing. He smiled at you with half-lidded eyes and cuddled closer under the afghan that covered you both; you’d have to get better bedclothes, you reasoned, a real blanket and some extra pillows. Bucky didn’t seem to keep much in the event of overnight guests -- even the guest room was something of an afterthought, crammed with the old futon, a couple of half-filled bookcases with outmoded technical manuals and a few dogeared Clive Cussler novels, and a few pieces of abandoned exercise equipment.

“They got a start of the art gym at Stark Tower,” he explained with a shrug. “Plus the equipment there is heavy duty, so I don’t have to pull my punches with the prosthetic. Just haven’t gotten around to getting rid of this stuff yet.”

That statement seemed to apply to the futon as well, rickety and misshapen as though it had been hauled from one seedy apartment to another over a number of years. It didn’t fit in well with the rest of Bucky’s furniture or even the general state of his apartment; working for Tony Stark paid phenomenally well, and even the building itself was on the high end of of real estate in the area.

“It wasn’t crazy expensive,” Bucky insisted. “I only paid about $750, which is the low end for this area, and it’s already gone up about fifty grand in equity.”

Steve stared at him a long moment. “There were so many holes in your snow boots in fifth grade that your mom made you put your feet in plastic bread bags before you went out in them,” he deadpanned.

Bucky scratched the back of his neck with a sheepish laugh. “Yeah. Yeah, I remember,” he agreed, and sighed. “Stark has more money than god and he’s giving it out in handfuls these days, I don’t know what to tell ya. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with it all.”

 

Things were a little less awkward in the morning. Bucky insisted on buying ‘fresh’ bagels for breakfast, and he and Steve plowed through an easy dozen together; you thought maybe the muscley-and-enormous-appetite was a Brooklyn thing. You were fine with one for yourself, though you were treating it more or less as a cream cheese delivery device.

The two men were sharing polite, if a little strained, conversation, and you thought it might be time to give in and check some of the voicemail that had been piling up on your phone.

“You mind?” you asked, gesturing towards them with the phone you had plucked from where you’d left it charging on the kitchen counter the night before.

“Go ahead, doll,” Steve said, a sad smile on his face. “If you think you’re up for it.”

Bucky arched an eyebrow. “Up for what?” he asked.

“Parents’ve been leaving voicemail since about ten minutes after we ducked out and got the hell out of Dodge yesterday,” Steve explained. He took the phone from your hand and flipped it open to reveal a blinking notification on the screen; you’d topped out at 47 voicemail messages.

“Christ,” Bucky said, shaking his head as he raised his cup of coffee to his lips. “Go on, go on.”

You tapped a few buttons, and the messages began to play.

“Where’d you run off to, kiddo?” your father’s voice began on the first message; you were using the speaker function, knowing that Steve would want to hear it too. “We’ve got a nice lunch reservation in a half hour, we don’t want to be late.”

You’d set up the voicemail to run one after another, and the next message began just as soon as your father hung up.

“It’s your mother, dear,” her cautious voice began, and you couldn’t help but smile. She always did that on voicemail messages, as if you wouldn’t know. “There’s something happening here at the school, I’m not so sure what it is but something happened with Father Steve. Can you come find me and your dad, please? We’re still in the stands.”

“Father Steve…” Bucky said with a chuckle, shaking his head.

“It’s your mother, dear. Where are you? They’re saying that Lang boy is having a baby with is girlfriend. A baby. Where are you? Did you get yourself in trouble? So help me…”

“It’s your mother. Just where the hell have you gone?! Mrs. Underwood said you ran off with Father Steve! Does he know about what’s happening? You come back, you come back here right now!”

Her voice had softened on the next message. “It’s your mother, dear. Now you don’t have to worry, don’t be upset. There are ways of handling these things. We can go up to the Mercy Home for Girls in the next county, they’ll take care of you there, just like they took care of your cousin Brenda two years ago. We’ll just say you’re doing a semester at some university, and you can come back when it’s over, no muss, no fuss.”

Steve glared at the phone. “Christ,” he muttered.

Your eyes were wide with surprise. “I thought Brenda did do a semester at Indiana State,” you said, disbelief in your voice.

“People still pull that shit?” Bucky asked, astonished.

“Hey kiddo, it’s Dad… look, I don’t know what happening there but… we found out that Scotty has a girl from the county school… I get if if you’re upset and you went to talk to the Father, but you need to check in with your mother, she’s very concerned. Call us back.”

“It cannot be true, what they’re saying,” your mother’s voice came next, confused and quiet. “Dr. Johnson said he saw you jump at Father Steve and kiss him… square on the lips! What on earth…?! You call your mother back, right this instant!”

“Kiddo… c’mon, this is your father. Call us back. We know Father Steve was important to you. We didn’t want to believe… men like him, they’re slick. Real careful. They make you think… they make you think it’s the right thing. You call us back and we’ll come and get you. You don’t have to be ashamed.”

“This is your mother… are you okay? Did he… did he put his hands on you? We’re not angry, I promise. We’ll get the law involved if we need to. Just tell us where you are.”

“You did this, didn’t you? I should have known, I should have known! First running around with that Martinelli girl and now shaming your father and I like this! You… you whore! We raised you better, you braze little hussy! You come home this instant!”

Bucky’s eyes nearly bugged out of his skull. “Jesus Christ!” he gasped upon hearing the latest message.

Steve nodded miserably, face gone grim. “I told you,” he said to Bucky, shaking his head. “I told you.”

Your mother gave up all semblance of propriety on the next message; she was outright screaming.

“Whore of Babylon!” she shouted. “Vile, loose, horrid little tramp! I was right! I was right, we shouldn’t have had children, all we did was breed a damn slut! Sacrilege! You’re nothing! Nothing!”

You hadn’t realized you’d started crying, your expression blank and tears running in slow rivers down your cheeks as you stared at the phone. You barely heard Bucky swearing under his breath and didn’t notice as Steve stood from his place at the bar-style counter, moving swiftly around counter to move to your side. His large hand snapped your phone shut before the next message could start and before you could even pass a thought on it, you were turning your face into his chest, his arms circling you as you shook with silent sobs.

“It’s alright, sweetheart,” he whispered. “It’s gonna be alright. You don’t belong to them anymore, remember? You’re mine now. I’ll take care of you.”

Chapter Text

You decided to lay down after you came back to yourself and found some calm. Steve was perfect, keeping you centered and talking you down from the tears and hysterics that had come in waves. He’d taken your phone and deleted the remaining messages; there’d be no further need to listen to them, they would only be more of the same.

Bucky watched but said nothing, noting the way Steve’s focus stayed on you, settling your nerves, reminding you that you were free now, that you never had to speak to them again if you didn’t want to. You had a new life now, something brand new just for the two of you, something just starting out.

They couldn’t touch you now. They couldn’t ruin this for you.

It exhausted you in the end and you needed to sleep, retreating to the guest room and the rickety futon to try and catch an hour or so of peace before you started dealing with it in a pragmatic manner.

Besides; you thought Steve might need some time to speak with Bucky alone.

 

Steve sank onto the leather couch with a deep sigh, running his hands through his hair before collapsing back against the cushions. He had slept fitfully, smiling each time he opened his eyes to see you there, cuddled close against his chest, seeking him out for safety and warmth even in your sleep. But he still waited -- for the ringing of a phone, a pounding at the door. He knew logically that they couldn’t take you away from him, not now, but he still feared it.

He never imagined he could love someone this much; the idea of losing you now felt like losing a limb, a thought that afforded him a short snort of inappropriate laughter when Bucky appeared, holding out a beer in his prosthetic hand.

Bucky frowned. “What?” he asked.

Steve shook his head. “Nothing,” he said, and sighed as he took the offered bottle. He didn’t care much at all that it was only a little past eleven in the morning.

He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d even had a beer.

Bucky took a seat beside him and twisted the top off of his own bottle of beer, reaching to do the same for Steve with his prosthetic, tossing both misshapen caps onto the coffee table where he’d set a couple back-up bottles he thought they would be needing.

“Okay,” Buck announced, clinking his bottle against Steve’s. “Now’s the part where you make it make sense to me, how you’ve been screwin’ a teenager for actual years now and it’s all supposed to be okay.”

Steve sighed and his head dropped down. “I know, Buck,” he said in a defeated voice. “You think I don’t? Think I haven’t been tryin’ to make it all seem okay to myself? I just… it’s just, it’s her.”

Bucky’s brows shot up. “Don’t tell me you’re blamin’ this poor kid for…”

“No! God, no. Jesus. You think I’m some kind of monster?” Steve cut in quickly, shaking his head.

“I don’t,” Bucky replied carefully. “I didn’t. But it’s been a long damn time since I’ve seen you, Steve, and this one came way the hell out of left field, you know?”

Steve nodded miserably, downing his beer in one long go before speaking again. “I know it was wrong. I know that. And I didn’t mean to… I never had any intention of gettin’ involved like this. She just looked lonely, all by herself, eatin’ her lunches alone at a library table and I… I wanted to help.”

Bucky nodded, polishing off his own beer. “So what changed?”

“I really liked her,” Steve admitted with a sigh. He reached forward and grabbed another beer, holding it out absently for Bucky to open; it’s not like there was a bottle opener in sight. Bucky obliged and Steve took a long pull before continuing. “She’s smart. And sweet. And I know it can’t have escaped your attention… she’s gorgeous. The second I thought that, I swear to god, Buck, the second I realized I was looking at her that way, I tried to pull back.”

“Tried?” Bucky echoed. He was conflicted; this was Steve, after all, the best and oldest friend he had. Maybe there had been a gap or more than a few years, but the moment they started talking on the telephone, it was exactly like old times. No army, no priesthood, just Steve and Bucky, a couple of pals from Brooklyn.

Bucky couldn’t believe that he’d have set out to seduce a kid, just for kicks. The Steve he’d known all his life would never have done that, and though the years had changed them both, Bucky had seen the change beginning in Steve almost instantly… all that time ago, when he first began to talk about you, over a late night phone connection. Even now, that he was home in New York, where Bucky would contend he had always belonged, he sounded more and more like his old self, the formal speech the priesthood had impressed upon him falling well away.

“Tried,” Steve agreed, and he couldn’t help the small, wistful smile that came to his face when he thought on the way you had fought back against him, pushing for him not to let the strange friendship you had stuck up go.

“Felt like it was hurting her worse to pull away than to let it ride. So I did what I was supposed to do, you know? I mean hell, I’m supposed to be a priest. Tellin’ these kids about god and how they should live good lives… I tried to pray on it. Turned out more like beggin’, honestly. Prayed to god, prayed to Mary, said the rosary over and over, looking for help, for guidance… Some nights, I swear I even tried prayin’ to my own Ma… asking for her help, asking her to keep me on the straight and narrow and not ruin this poor kid with my own bullshit. And that’s sacrilege, you know? Praying to your dead relatives.”

“Probably not the worst infraction you’ve made as a priest, Steve,” Bucky drawled with half a smile, and Steve couldn’t help but laugh.

“Ain’t that the truth,” he agreed.

“So what happened then?” Bucky pushed. “What made you stop prayin’ and start… you know?”

Steve shook his head. “I was weak. A stupid, fucked up, sorry excuse for a man. Me icing her out the way I did, it only made her try harder. I should have known better than to act like a jealous teenager, just seeing her pal around with a boy her age and… and I gave up. I gave in. Figured I could at least have her in my life, be a friend to her, maybe a mentor. And then one day, there she was, skirt hitched up, sittin’ on my desk all pretty, and I just… I just…”

“You gave in,” Bucky filled in, and finished off his beer.

“I gave in,” Steve agreed, and groaned. He set his half-finished beer on the coffee table and leaned forward on his elbows, head in his hands. “You must think I’m scum,” he said.

“Well yeah, but why should that ever have changed?” Bucky teased, and they shared a quiet chuckle. Bucky sighed. “You’re human, Steve. Or did you forget that?”

Steve turned to face him. “Yeah, but I was the adult in the situation. I should have known better. Should have done better.”

“She seem any worse for it?” Bucky ventured. Steve had told him all along what a mess your family life was, and he had gotten a good glimpse of it himself that morning. A kid like that, he reasoned, might turn out a little sheltered or shy. But you seemed more confident than that, enough so to lash out at Bucky when he threatened the happiness you had found.

Steve gave a small smile. “She change. Made friends, took a harder line with her parents when they tried to push at her. I won’t claim that it was on me, helpin’ her get there… but I think she needed someone she could trust. Somebody who loves her.”

Bucky let out a long, slow breath. “And you do love her, don’t you,” he said, not a question, but a statement. He had seen it in Steve’s face, the moment their escape seemed threatened by his reaction.

Steve nodded, meeting Bucky’s gaze with a steely, serious expression. “More than I ever should have. More than I thought I could. I… I wish I could have known her, before. If she was around when we were kids, or if I was younger, and… But I can’t change any of that, not now. I love her, Buck. I wanna have a life with her. I’m pretty sure she wants that too.”

“She’s wearin’ your mother’s ring,” Bucky said quietly.

“It’s the only thing I had worth givin’,” Steve replied. “She’d’ve liked her, I think. If it were a different situation, if it were… if it were normal... I think Ma would have really liked her.”

Chapter Text

It was enough. It wasn’t perfect, but it was enough for Bucky, for him to try and understand, to try and make sense of the strange, even somewhat alarming, path that Steve had taken.

The messages from your parents had been more than enough to prove what Steve had said all along about your family: terrible, manipulative people who didn’t deserve anything but each other.

He could hear in the pain in Steve’s voice, when he talked about his struggled, the weight of the guilt still heavy on his shoulders.

This situation was surely ten kinds of crazy but Bucky didn’t see any better way Steve could have handled it, not with the way he talked about you. He was gone on you -- Bucky could see it clearly; there was no way he could have offered the companionship you had so dearly needed without getting in deeper himself.

Steve had tortured himself enough. Bucky wouldn’t add to it. He had his reservations -- a LOT of reservations -- but they would keep. For now, all that was left was to help the two of you get on your feet.

 

Steve wanted you to go to school, ad you were arguing about it. You didn’t want to take on the expense; the ridiculous financial aid system insisted on your parents’ tax returns to process your application, and there’s no way you’d ask them for anything. That meant no aid and no grants. You could get loans without them, but the specter of that debt looming over you would keep you a nervous, jumpy mess.

It was just too much. You couldn’t sign on the dotted line for thousands of dollars in debt when you had no job and jo prospects ahead of you. You wanted to find something you could to do bring in money, anything at all -- retail, waitressing, whatever you could find and whoever would hire you with absolutely no experience.

“You don’t have to do that!” Steve insisted, shaking his head. You’d only been in New York a week and you’d barely left Bucky’s apartment; still, you were acclimating. Having Steve there at your side was certainly helping.

You shook your head. “Of course I do,” you replied. “That’s how this works, right? That was the plan. We get jobs, we get a place to live, we go from there.”

“Nobody’s kickin’ you out the door here, kid,” Bucky put in. He had taken a seat in the armchair, leaving you and Steve to squabble together on the couch. It wasn’t as though you could ask him to leave so you could argue privately -- it was his place, after all.

“Seriously, stop calling me that,” you told him with a frown, not for the first time. Bucky only grinned in return. You’d gotten the idea that it was pretty much par for the course when it came to Bucky, always doing his best to be a pain in the ass.

“I can find a job to support us both while you go to school,” Steve insisted. “There are lots of places that will hire you just so long as you have a degree, it doesn’t matter what it’s in. I can find something. Bucky already has an interview lined up for me, don’t you Buck?”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “I already have a job lined up for you, you mook,” he said, causing you and Steve both to turn towards him in surprise.

“Don’t they have to… y’know, meet Steve first?” you asked incredulously.

Bucky huffed and rolled his eyes again. “You guys don’t get it, do you?” he said, leaning forward in his seat. “Stark is fuckin’ weird, okay, but he’s a billionaire. You expect that shit. But he trusts me, and my team. If I tell him I got a guy for him, that’s it. I got a guy.”

Steve frowned. “How did you even get a job with him, then?” he asked. Bucky didn’t talk much about how he had gotten where he was; he barely brushed over the details of his time in the service and of losing his arm, and he’d never mentioned how he’d fallen into running cybersecurity for a billionaire-genius who could have probably handled it well all on his own.

Bucky sighed. “Look,” he began. “What I’m gonna tell you doesn’t leave this room, right? This is some serious shit and I’m all wrapped up in contracts and nondisclosure agreements. I’ll only tell you about it once and then we never mention it again, got it?”

Wide-eyed, you and Steve both nodded. Bucky paused a moment, as if weighing the consequences of what he was going to say, then sighed again and ran a hand through his hair.

“Okay,” he began. “So when I was overseas with my unit, we get this special recon call. Me and the boys got pulled from regular duty to work on something classified. Stark had been over in the sandbox to showcase some new artillery he had worked out and it all went south pretty quick… somebody on his team sold him out and he got taken by a terrorist cell. Not sure what the plan was, if they wanted ransom or if they wanted to force him to make them new tech or what, but we found him. And we got him home. He was pretty messed up.”

“Jesus,” Steve said, shaking his head. “And none of this made the papers?” Your hometown had been isolated, but news of Tony Stark being kidnapped would have made international headlines.

“Nah, they shut that shit down pretty quick,” Bucky explained, shaking his head. “He didn’t want the press and the army sure as shit didn’t want it known that it happened on their watch. Stark had to practically Frankenstein himself, build a little… reactor thing…. Implant it in his own chest to keep him going until he got to a real doctor. The whole thing changed the guy. You ever wonder why they suddenly stopped with all the weapons?”

“It’s all… what, clean energy now, yeah?” you asked. Tony Stark had been something of a hero to Scott, as you recalled; not when he made bombs, but after, when he started dealing more with science and technology meant to help people rather than kill them.

“Yeah,” Bucky agreed. “So he tells us when he’s getting evac’ed that as soon as we’re home, we need jobs or start-up cash or anything at all, we come to him. That he owes us his life. Then he gets home, completely flips over his image, and a year later I’m back in the city, minus one limb, and completely lost. All I had was my disability pay, a shit-ton of PTSD, and a marker in with Tony Stark.

“I just showed up at his, place, you know? Stark Tower. Just walked right into reception, gave’em my name, and not even five minutes later, I’m getting marched right up to the penthouse. He had specs for a this prosthetic within a week and right before they’re putting me under for the surgical installation, I shit you not, he leans in next to the surgeon and goes ‘hey, remind me when you wake up that I have a job for you’. Just like that.”

“Wow,” you said, shaking your head. The story was almost beyond belief, but you had seen Bucky’s prosthetic in action; it was unlike anything you had ever seen before, sleek, gleaming metal that looked and acted just like a real limb. Bucky had said he even had some sensation in it, sensing pressure and temperature changes.

“You’re tellin’ me, kid,” Bucky said, collapsing back against the chair and shaking his head like he hardly believed it himself. You decided to let the ‘kid’ part slide this time.

“And when the guys in your unit started shipping home, you got them in with Stark too,” Steve put in, and Bucky nodded.

“The jobs, the security team, that was my idea. I knew the boys wouldn’t want to feel like freeloaders. They’d want to pull their weight,” Bucky explained. “But Tony still took care of’em. Whatever they needed. I didn’t think people could ever really change, but this guy… he’s somethin’ else. And they had an opening in his nonprofit, runs out of the Tower, same as Stark Industries, and I said, hey, I got a guy. So he said bring’im down. It’s not an interview, Stevie, it’s your first day on the job.”

Chapter Text

Steve’s first day went well; he was exhausted when he got back to the apartment, but he seemed pleased. You had spent the day mostly fretting ang ignoring the errant calls that kept ringing your phone. You’d set Scott and Angie’s contacts to a specific ringtone; if any other sounded, you ignored it.

“I don’t really know what I’m doing,” Steve told you, of his new position with the Stark Foundation. “But they’re fine with showing me the ropes and said Bucky’s word is as good as gold around there, I guess. Didn’t hurt that my only major job experience was the Church, anyhow. Technically it is a nonprofit.”

He was seated on the edge of the creaking futon you had commandeered, smiling tiredly at you as you changed into a t-shirt to sleep. You didn’t have to look over your shoulder to know he was watching you; you could practically feel the drag of his gaze down the slope of your bare back. You’d greatly slowed your physical affection, since arriving in New York out of respect for Bucky, who was still clearly uncomfortable with your relationship.

It was rough going; you had the freedom to be with Steve now, in any and every way, coupled with the frustration that came with trying not to alienate the one person in the world who was still on your side.

The t-shirt fell to your mid-thigh and you caught Steve’s gaze to share a smile as you turned and moved towards him, stopping to stand before him and run your fingers through his hair. Steve sighed and closed his eyes, leaning his head forward to press against your abdomen. You smiled when you felt him pressing soft kisses against the fabric of your shirt.

“Baby,” you reminded, laughing softly. “We promised Bucky, remember? No breaking the crappy futon.”

Steve groaned. “My first check, I’m buying us a bed.”

 

After the second week, you felt yourself getting more and more acclimated to life in New York. You continued to ignore your parents’ calls but spoke to Scott and Angie often; Scott had moved into the little in-law apartment he had told you about, and Maggie was a little further along in her pregnancy than they had previously thought. The baby was due just before Thanksgiving, and Maggie had her heart set on the name Noah for a boy, or Cassandra for a girl. They were getting married in only a week or so, since Maggie, who had a very thin frame, was beginning to show and her parents didn’t want to see her as a heavily pregnant bride.

“It’s crazy, right?” Scott had said over the phone, voice a cross between excitement and sheer exasperation. “I’m gonna be a dad. And a husband.”

“As long as you’re happy,” you replied.

Scott paused a moment. “Well, the job kinda sucks, you know? But it’s work and it’s paying the bills and I’ll have insurance before the baby comes. But me and Maggie… I mean, we’re happy. I think we’re happy.”

 

Angie was still having a gleeful fit that you hadn’t told her. She was in awe that you had managed to keep it a secret for so long and kept erupting into giggles each time she’d bring up on occasion where something had seemed a little off to her and you’d managed to hide the truth.

“Oh my god!” she had cried over the line, when you told her what became of you the night of Daisy’s party, when you’d worn the dress she convinced you to buy. “See?! I told you that you needed that dress! Oh my god, my fashion advice got a priest laid!”

You giggled loudly, covering your mouth with your hand and earning an eyebrow raise from Bucky, who was picking at a bowl of cereal at the kitchen bar.

“Angie, you can’t just say shit like that,” you told her, trying to smother the laughter that kept threatening to erupt.

“I’m right, aren’t I?” Angie countered. “You looked fucking amazing in that dress and I’m sure Father Steve couldn’t keep his hands off of you when you showed up at his place. God damn, to be a fly on the wall…”

“Angie!” you gasped again, and she you could practically hear the smirk in her voice when she spoke again.

“What? I haves eyes, babe,” she told you. “I may not often swing that way but it doesn’t mean I don’t want to see what the good Father is packin’. I’ve seen his ass in running shorts, it’s a masterpiece.”

Bucky snorted. “Does your friend realize that her voice carries? I can hear every word she’s saying.”

“Is that his friend?” Angie responded, curious; apparently, even though your phone wasn’t set to speaker, it was still picking up Bucky and loud enough to be broadcasting Angie throughout the apartment. “I like his voice. It’s sexy.”

Bucky let out a low whistle. “That’s my cue to leave,” he declared, dropping his bowl in the sink and briefly running the water to rinse is before he headed to his bedroom, muttering something about ‘horny fuckin’ teenagers’ as he passed.

 

Your anxiety had finally started to ease; things were looking up. You thought that it might actually work. It had been a dream for so long -- a faraway fantasy of escape, an imagined fairy tale where the princess was rescued by her brave knight and spirited away to their private paradise. Some part of you had never believed it could be real, and when the reality of it wasn’t as perfect as you had dreamed, it had frightened you.

The brave knight’s best friend hadn’t exactly welcomed you with open arms, after all.

Not that you could really blame him. Logically, you knew that. The age difference was going to come up, and though the years would seem a paltry divider as timed passed, your actual age was going to be a problem from the start. That Bucky had even let you in the door was a small miracle in and of itself.

Steve was really enjoying his job, so there was that. He was still in the early days, learning new software and the basics of the position. From what you understood, he would start with some basic accounting to get his feet wet and move on fully to development. The Stark Foundation was fully funded out of Tony Stark’s pocket, but also solicited donations and donations in kind from other groups and wealthy patrons; with Steve’s kind, easy demeanor, it would be a good fit for him in the long run.

Perhaps it was in knowing that things were looking up that his own confidence was boosted, and he saw it fit to make a decision on your behalf -- and that was when the fighting started.

“What made you think this would be okay?” you demanded, holding up the letter that had come in the mail. You’d talked about several different universities in New York before you decided to put a pin in furthering your education until you and Steve were on better footing; Steve had apparently taken the liberty of sending in your application and essay for St. Xavier University before you had even left home, listing Bucky’s address as your own; you’d been accepted into their art and design program for the coming year.

Steve sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Sweetheart, you know this is for the best,” he told you. “They’re going to pay me well enough that I can support us while you go to school! There’s no reason for you not to do it.”

“Except for taking out thousands of dollars in loans!” you snapped in reply. “That I told you I didn’t want to take! Steve, we’re just starting our lives together, I’m not going to saddle us with a bunch of debt before we even have our own place! I have applications out at a couple of diners and that little grocery store a few blocks away…”

“You’re not working the overnight shift at a bodega!” Steve said, shaking his head. “Are you insane? You haven’t even been in the city a month and you think you’re ready to be out all night, by yourself, working as a cashier? You’re going to school!”

You crossed your arms over your chest. “You can’t tell me what to do,” you told him, regretting the words as they slipped from your lips; you knew it sounded childish, but you were just so angry.

“Look, I’m responsible for you now,” Steve countered, frowning. “I’m not going to let you put yourself into dangerous situations when you absolutely don’t need to! You’re not sidelining your education to prove some stupid point, you’re going to school.”

You laughed and shook your head. “Do you even hear yourself?” you asked him. “You sound like my parents, for god’s sake! Stop trying to control me, Steve.”

“Well obviously someone has to!” he shouted, clearly getting more and more agitated.

“No one, especially not you, is going to dictate my life!” you told him. “You lost the role of the ‘responsible adult’ in my life the moment you decided to put your dick in me!”

“Aaaaannnddd that’s my cue to leave!” Bucky announced. You and Steve had been arguing in the living room, forgetting for a time that Bucky was even in the living room with the two of you. He immediately rose from where he had been sitting on the couch and grabbed his keys from the small side table by the door.

“No, wait!” Steve called, face awash in sudden guilt. “You don’t have to run out of your own home!”

“Please don’t go, Bucky,” you added, frowning. “Steve and I will just go in the guest room to finish our… discussion.”

Bucky shook his head on his way out the door. “Nope, nah, no way!” he called. “You two work out your shit by dinner, and I’ll bring back falafel for everybody, but I am not staying and listening to this. Deal with it!”

Chapter Text

Steve swore under his breath as the door slammed shut behind Bucky. He shook his head then turned back to you, noting immediately the similarly stricken expression you wore.

“That’s the second time I’ve run him out the door in the last couple days,” you said miserably, all of the fight gone out of you. Bucky had welcomed you into his home, in spite of all of his reservations, and you were making it miserable for him.

Steve sighed. “It’s not your fault, sweetheart,” he said, and moved to sit on the couch. He settled in and gestured for you to join him, patting the open seat beside him. You thought better of it and perched on his lap instead, the gesture bringing a small smile to his face.

He reached up and played with a loose strand of your hair and sighed.

“I don’t want to control you,” Steve told you honestly, blue eyes shining up at you, full of earnest intention. “I just want you to have every opportunity to have the kind of life you deserve.”

“I have the life I want,” you countered, smiling at him and walking your fingers up his grey t-shirt. “I never had a dream for anything better than what I had before you came into my life, Steve. This is what I want now. This is all I want.”

Steve captured your hand in his and brought it up to his lips, kissing each knuckle in turn before holding it close against his chest. “You deserve more,” he told you, shaking his head. “You deserve to make friends and go out and even… maybe even meet someone your own age, if it comes to that. Because you deserve that, you deserve to be happy and even if that means leavin’ me, I’d understand, and I wouldn’t hold you back if…”

“Don’t you dare even think that!” you told him, eyes wide in shock. “I don’t want anything else, I don’t want anyone else, Steve… baby, it’s only you. Only you for me. I knew that the moment I let you put your hands on me. That’ll never change.”

He smiled at you, but there was a sadness to it. “I believe you,” he said quietly. “I believe that’s really what you want, right now. But things change. People change. And I want you to have every tool available to you to make a life of your own when -- if -- the time comes.”

You sighed and settled yourself against him, resting your head on his chest and closing your eyes. Steve was always so strong for you. It made it too easy to forget that he as a little broken inside, too.

“It’s you and me, Steve. Us, or bust,” you said, enjoying the soothing feel of his arms wrapping around you. He was so strong and always so warm; you never felt safer than when you were in Steve’s arms. You tipped your chin up and planted a soft kiss at the corner of his jaw, just the way he liked, and shifted your hips in his lap. “You just have to stop treating me like a child. Stop seeing me as a kid.”

Steve gave a soft groan of your name. “Believe me, doll,” he told you, voice gone a little dark and a little desperate. “I don’t see you as a kid, not at all.”

You rolled your hips again and he made a muted little moan. It had been a while since you’d been able to spend any quality time alone together; Bucky’s work hours were haphazard and it seemed he was always around, not that you could blame him, being that it was his home. But you didn’t want to make him uncomfortable and you certainly didn’t want to get him angry, so your physical affection had been limited to a kiss or two here and there, mostly right before you went to sleep.

It was a far cry from the searing kiss Steve had given you before venturing inside to knock at Bucky’s door. You missed the closeness, the intimacy of it.

“Steve,” you whispered, close enough that the heat of your breath drew out goosebumps on his skin. “Baby, we’re all alone. We’ll be all alone for hours.”

You opened your eyes to catch his gaze, dark and hungry as your eyes met, swift to drift down your body, realizing you were wearing only a thin-strapped tank top and a pair of sleep shorts. He licked his lips unconsciously, breath coming a little faster.

“Is that right?” he asked, as if he didn’t already know. One of his hands slipped from your waist to land on your thigh, stroking the soft skin there, fingertips creeping a little closer to the edge of your shorts with each pass. “What do you think we should do with all that time, baby girl?”

You gave coquettish laugh. “I have a few ideas,” you admitted, drawing zig-zag patterns down his chest, loving the way every touch made him grip you a little tighter. “But I’m more interested in what you want to do… Father.”

Steve shuddered and you grinned. The longer your relationship with Steve had gone on, the more that he use of his given title seemed to make him get possessive and completely turned on. You knew it was a power trip, remembering his former position of authority over you, the taboo of it all, but you didn’t mind. Truth was, it did mode than give you a shiver yourself.

He leaned down and captured your mouth with his own, wasting no time to bite at your lips, demanding entry. You couldn’t refuse him; you never could, not from the first time you felt a friendly hand on your shoulder in the school library. Anything he wanted, you’d give him him without question.

“What I want?” he said as he broke the kiss, voice low and sweet. “Ohhh, sweetheart, you know what I want? I want to carry you to our bed, get you out of those little shorts, put those gorgeous legs right over my shoulders, babydoll, and eat your pretty pussy ‘til you scream.”

The strangled moan that escaped your lips at his words was more than enough of an acquiescence for Steve. He was rarely so filthy in his speech, but you’d been so good about keeping things chaste and yet still sleeping next to each other night, dressing and undressing in the same room. The temptation was so strong, and you both had been so good.

It was bound to come to a head.

Steve wrapped his arms around you and stood almost effortlessly, your legs wrapping around his waist in an automatic gesture. You kissed him frantically, taking gasping breaths only when absolutely necessary, your hands tangled up in his hair. Steve was rough and clumsy, kicking the coffee table as he maneuvered you around the living room and knocking a dozen cd cases out of Bucky’s storage tower when he paused to push you against the wall and suck a dark mark into your bare shoulder.

You didn’t care. Steve could wreck the place, bite and kiss your skin anywhere he wanted and leave his mark for everyone to see. All you wanted in that moment was for Steve to get you to bed, to do as he promised. It wasn’t often this possessive, dominant side of Steve came out to play, and you wanted to relish the experience. He was reacting to his own words -- to the thought that you might leave him, find someone else to be wit. As ludicrous as is sounded to your ears, you knew now it was a very real fear for Steve and if he’d let you, you’d spend every last day of your life proving those fears unfounded.

Steve carried you into the guest room you shared and kicked the door closed behind you, dropping you onto the futon mattress. His hands were on your waist immediately and you lifted your hips to give him leave to pull your soft cotton sleep shorts and panties down in one sharp tug. The bed creaked and groaned, but you couldn’t be bothered, not with the way Steve was looming over you, spreading your legs over his broad shoulders.

 

You tried, but you couldn’t really feel bad when you broke the futon, the bottom legs collapsed and a dozen or so springs fallen out from the bottom.

“This doesn’t fix everything,” you reminded, snuggled close against Steve’s chest on the floor, the sheets from the futon pulled down to cover you. “You were still acting like an ass.”

He sighed and kissed your forehead. “I know,” he agreed. “But… I think I might know a way to fix your financial aid situation… if you’re up for it.”

Chapter Text

Bucky eyed Steve over breakfast a few days later, frowning. “Don’t do anything stupid,” he said suddenly, breaking what had been a companionable silence.

Steve looked up innocently from his toast and jelly. “Stupid?” he echoed.

Bucky narrowed his eyes. “Yeah. Y’know, stupid. Like when you thought it was a good idea to tackle Mickey Green for flippin’ up Sally Rowe’s skirt.”

“We were ten,” Steve pointed out, taking a sip of his coffee. “Besides, somebody had to do something about it. Teachers didn’t seem to care.”

“He had thirty pounds on you, easy,” Bucky replied.

Steve shrugged. “Doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do.”

Bucky ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “You got that look on your face, Steve. Like you’re just itchin’ to do something dumb.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Steve replied, rolling his eyes.

“Sure you don’t,” Bucky grumbled, standing to throw his empty plate in the sink and refill his travel mug with coffee. “Just keep your head screwed on straight and refrain from any of your usual bullshit, okay?”

“Sure thing, Buck,” Steve replied, completely unconcerned. He went back to his coffee and toast like they hadn’t even had the discussion, ignoring Bucky’s pointed looks.

“Whatever,” Bucky huffed, making for the door. “And you owe me a new futon!”

“You can afford to get your own damn futon!” Steve called back, chuckling to himself. Bucky was out the door for only a moment or two when he scarfed the rest of his breakfast and went to check on you, sticking his head in the door of the guest room where you were getting dressed.

“Almost ready?” Steve asked.

You snorted. “I’m in a towel,” you pointed out, and Steve gave you a wolfish grin.

“I’d offer to help but I think that’d just take even longer,” he said, and you laughed softly, walking towards him with one hand holding up the towel wrapped around you. You’d been in the shower while the two men ate, drawing it out so that Bucky would leave; he tended to visit his parents on Wednesday mornings, and though there was standing invitation for Steve and even you to join him, you’d both declined so far.

Steve wasn’t quite ready to face Bucky’s parents, with or without you; that, at least, you could understand. He didn’t have many people from his past left in the world outside of Bucky’s family and there was no telling how they might react to his leaving the priesthood, or bringing you home to New York with him. As far as you knew, Bucky’s family weren’t even aware that he had come home at all.

“Then maybe you should step out and let me get dressed?” you said, smiling. Steve shook his head, sitting down on Bucky’s dusty weight bench.

“I said I wouldn’t be any help,” Steve replied, settling into his seat. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t stay to watch.” You laughed and threw your towel at him.

 

Most of what you’d packed for your escape had been utilitarian in nature: t-shirts, jeans, a few pairs of shorts, a sweater or two, a couple old uniform blouses and black dress pants, and all of the undergarments you’d need. You would never have thought to take something as nice as a dress or a skirt, even foregoing your planned graduation dress for clothing that was easier and more comfortable to travel in.

The one thing you did bring, though… was the slip dress.

It wasn’t precisely formal, of course, but it was important to you. It might seem silly o some, holding onto a token of sorts, but there was so much about that night that you never wanted to forget. Most of all was the fact that you’d finally found where you belonged. Whatever the future might hold, Steve was a permanent part of your life -- he had been, you thought, probably from the first time he smiled your way, but you hadn’t realized it until then.

It didn’t matter what your parents said or did. Steve was our family; you didn’t need them anymore. That night, and the following morning, had been when it had finally hit home with you.

It was a little risque, perhaps, for the courthouse, and not the right color, but if you wore your white cardigan over it, it would suit the purpose well.

You flitted back and forth between what was ostensibly your and Steve’s bedroom and the bathroom, drying your hair and fixing it into curls and waves, applying what little bit of makeup you could tolerate, all the while with Steve watching you, a small, dreamy smile on his face.

“Alright,” you finally declared, voice uncharacteristically soft. “I’m ready, if you are.”

Steve smiled and stood, taking your hands in his. “You’re sure?” he asked, voice just as soft and a little bit breathless. “We don’t… we don’t have to, if you’re not ready just yet? If you’re not sure?”

You smiled then, bright and blinding. “I’m ready,” you repeated, nodding. “I’m ready, Steve.”

 

He’d bought the license the week before, when he first told you of his idea. He’d stressed over and over that it wasn’t just a quick fix-it to the problems you were facing; he wanted this, wanted it all along, really, and he didn’t want to rush you into anything you weren’t ready for.

It had filled you with such a great, loving warmth, to hear him say it.

As though you’d ever say no.

You were a ball of nerves for the entire trip on the subway; Steve promised you’d take a cab home. There was already a line at the clerk’s office when you arrived and your anxiousness just increased, as though someone would pop out from behind a door or a pillar, someone from back home, ready to argue and raise a ruckus, even as you tried to tell yourself that you were being silly. Every strange face you passed seemed to glare at you, each one morphing in your mind into another disapproving face from home.

Your father.

Father Donahue.

Sister Sharon.

Mr. Pierce, from school.

Your mother.

You’d squeeze Steve’s hand each time you thought you saw some interloper there to ruin your day and he’d pull you a little closer, smile softly, and draw your knuckles up to his lips to kiss. The calm that came from each small gesture was practically a drug, the wave of soothing sweetness more than enough to quell your fears, until the next face presented itself.

When they called your names, even Steve seemed suddenly anxious. But it lasted only a few seconds and then he grinned, leading you by the hand into the small office where a middle-aged Hispanic woman with a kind face greeted you, pausing only a moment to arch an eyebrow as she looked over the certificate that Steve had carried in and noted your respective dates of birth.

“Are we ready?” she asked, voice smooth and a little deep.

Steve looked to you, and you nodded.

The clerk smiled. “Then let’s begin.”

 

You were giggling when you arrived back at the apartment. The joy that you felt was… ethereal. It was something like the tumblers of a lock sliding into place; one had fallen when you’d first felt an intimate touch from Steve, then another when you finally run from home. Another dropped that very morning, and though you were certain there were still more to come, you were walking on air to feel another piece of your life fall into place.

Steve scooped you up in his arm when you reached the door and you’d gasped, laughing in his arms until he kissed you breathless, maneuvering to open the door while still carrying you over the threshold.

Bucky was standing in the kitchen, a cup of coffee halfway to his lips, and he froze in place.

“You’re shitting me,” he said flatly, jaw dropped in surprise. Even that wasn’t enough to dampen your mood.

“Don’t try and spoil this for us, Buck,” Steve said, eyes still locked on yours.

“Nothing could spoil this day,” you whispered, and Steve leaned in to kiss you, long and deep and true.

The ring of your cell phone, sat on its charger on the kitchen counter, caught your attention, and you bid Steve to put you down. If it was Angie or Scott, you’d be overjoyed to share the news. He and Bucky were speaking rapidly in low tones as you went for it, but you ignored it; you knew Bucky wouldn’t be pleased and perhaps it would be testing his hospitality, but you couldn’t care.

You and Steve loved each other. This was right; you could feel it in your bones.

When you saw the name displayed on your phone, you froze. It had been a day or two since your mother had tried calling, and it seemed as though she somehow knew what had gone on. You couldn’t help yourself; you answered.

“Mom?” you said slowly. “Mom, is that---”

“Finally! Finally, you decide to answer the phone when your own mother calls!” the voice came over the line, sounding harassed and angry.

“I-I know,” you said, feeling suddenly very small. “I’m sorry. I should have answered… I should have called you before, but it’s been so…”

“Where are you?” your mother demanded. “Did you go to New York? They say that’s where he’s from, is that where he took you?”

“Mom, he didn’t take me anywhere, it was my idea that we leave like we did, you just don’t understand..”

“Understand? UNDERSTAND! You brazen whore! Trash! Oh I knew it, I knew it all along, you were just another little tramp in the family, just like your cousin Brenda! Whore! Whore of Babylon, you couldn’t even be content to ruin a good boy from school, no, you set your sights on a man of the cloth, you cheap, useless, waste of…”

Your mother’s voice carried; Steve and Bucky could hear every word she said, and even as you went stock still, your blood freezing in your veins, Steve had hurried over and snatched the phone out of your hand.

“You listen to me,” he said, voice cold and commanding in a way you’d hardly ever heard. “You don’t deserve her. You never did. You don’t deserve anyone to call your own, let alone a woman as special as your daughter. Don’t you dare ever call here and speak to my wife like that again!”

Before he hung up, you could hear your mother’s shocked, indignant squawk on the other end of the line: “Wife?!”

Chapter Text

While Steve was quietly trying to talk you down, Bucky grabbed his own cell phone off of the counter and ducked into the next room, coming back a few moments later to pause at the opposite end of the counter.

“Hey Steve,” he interrupted, tone neutral and conversational, as if he hadn’t just witnessed your own mother calling you a whore. “Why don’t you go pack a couple bags for you two, okay? There’s a suite waiting for you at the Surrey for the next few days. Kind of an in-town honeymoon.”

Steve looked up in surprise. “Buck…” he began, ostensibly to insist he couldn’t afford it and then refuse Bucky’s generosity, but Bucky shook his head.

“Don’t bother, punk, it’s all set in stone. Besides, I think your girl there can use a little time away, am I right?” Bucky said.

Steve frowned. “Work…” he tried to protest again.

“Just email your supervisor that you’ll be away a few days and I’ll work it out with Stark on the back end. It’ll be fine. Just go and get some stuff together,” Bucky told him.

Steve looked to you helplessly and you gave a quick nod. “Go on,” you said quietly nd, not knowing quite what else to do, Steve did as you suggested. Bucky turned to the fridge, surprising you by pulling out a bottle of champagne. Catching your curious gaze, Bucky grinned.

“I can still read Steve like a book,” he told you, and set the bottle on the counter only to turn towards the cabinets to retrieve the only glassware he had on hand, namely a mix of random coffee mugs. “I knew he was just itching to get another ring on your finger, so I decided to prepare. Do neither of you look in the crisper at all?”

You frowned, watching Bucky pop the cork with little difficulty and start pouring. “I still feel weird digging around in your fridge,” you admitted.

“That’s just crazy,” Bucky told you, wagging a metal finger. “You live here. It’s your fridge too. If you’re hungry, eat something. If there’s something you want, write it on the grocery list. Don’t make me out to be some terrible food-hoarding host. My mom’ll smack me upside the head.”

You ventured a small smile. “It’s not like I’d tell her,” you countered.

Bucky arched a brow and shook his head. “She’s got Old Lady Radar. She’ll just know,” he said, smiling when you gave a quiet laugh.

He eyed you quietly for a moment before asking, “Hey, you know about Tony Stark?”

You shrugged. “Who doesn’t?” you replied. “Cute, rich. They even had a pull-out poster in Teen People magazine.”

Bucky snorted. “I bet he loved that,” he said, shaking his head. “That’s not the whole story though, you know? You ever wonder why he was making bombs and weapons all the time?”

You shrugged again. You knew very little about the man who was Bucky’s, and technically Steve’s, boss, outside of what you’d gleaned out of a magazine or two, or had seen on the evening news.

“It’s what his father did, right?” you offered. That much you knew; weapons were the Stark family business, at least they used to be.

“That’s right,” Bucky agreed. “His old man was big into weapon design, going all the way back to World War II. He kind of just expected Tony to follow in his footsteps, set up this standard that Tony’d never be able to live up to. See, his old man had this friend back in the war, a good guy by anybody’s standards but like a lot of people then, he didn’t make it out. So it kinda builds up in his mind, sets up this standard that’s too over the top to live up to.”

“Oh?” you asked, not sure where Bucky was headed with this. You were appreciative of all of Bucky’s help and thankful that his acquaintance with Tony Stark had helped Steve find a job, but the storytelling seemed to come out of left field.

“Yeah,” Bucky said with a curt nod. “Thing is, something like that? It gets too big. Nobody could possibly live up to it. And so then Tony’s born and his pops gets it into his head that he’s going to raise his son to be as brilliant as he is and as brave and strong as this friend of his that died a hero or something, but it’s impossible. It’s an impossible standard. No one can be that. But Tony? He just keeps trying.”

You frowned. “Why would he keep trying, if he knew it was impossible?”

Bucky snapped his fingers you had zeroed in on the point he was trying to make.

“Because our parents are the first people to mess with our heads,” he replied. “Tony knew his ol man was a shit father, knew he was holding him up against this over-the-top image of what he wanted Tony to be, but Tony couldn’t stop trying. Because deep down, no matter how many times your parents kick you into the dirt for failing, most of us keep getting back up and trying again. The harder they push you down, the harder you fight to be what they want. All any kid wants is to make their mom and pop proud, you know? Sometimes it just takes something big to get your head on straight about it.”

“Like getting kidnapped?” you offered.

Bucky nodded. “Like getting kidnapped,” he agreed. “Or running halfway across the country with someone who loves you as you are.”

You looked down, blushing. “I thought you just figured we were foolin’ ourselves,” you said quietly.

“I thought that’s what I thought too,” Bucky told you with a sigh. “But like I told you before. I know Steve. I think I’m gettin’ to know you too. This isn’t a great situation and god knows I would have been a little more on board if you were somethin’ like five years older, but I know that punk loves you. And I know you deserve a helluva lot better than what your mother is screamin’ at you. Don’t let her mess with your head. You didn’t go lookin’ for this and you sure as shit ain’t hellbound just for fallin’ for a guy.”

“Is this supposed to be a pep talk?” you asked, trying to sound cool and flip about it and failing miserably.

Bucky snorted. “No,” he said. “This is me tellin’ you that your mother is a deranged harpy, you ain’t damned, and you ain’t a whore. Now you just gotta pull your head outta your ass and stop hopin’ for mommy and daddy to love you like you want. They are who they are, and that’s not likely to change. You got enough people around here who care about you now; you don’t need them.”

Judging by the low oof he let out, you didn’t think Bucky expected you to run around the counter and hug him fiercely, but he didn’t seem to mind either.

“No one ever lives up to what their parents want,” he grumbled good-naturedly. “If the did, I’d be a lawyer, my sisters’d all be doctors. Instead, our parents got a busted-up army vet working tech security, a hair stylist, a kindergarten teacher, and a deep sea welder down in Florida.”

You pulled back in surprise. “Deep sea welder?” you repeated.

Bucky grinned. “Yeah, Jessie was always a little weird, but she loves it and says the pay is great.”

“Am I interrupting something?” Steve asked slowly, coming into the room with your old backpack and a duffel bag slung over each of his shoulders.

“Yeah I was trying to convince your wife to run away with me but she’s about as stubborn as you are,” Bucky told him with a snort, and Steve just rolled his eyes.

“What’s all this?” he asked, setting down the bags as he noted the open champagne bottle and half-filled mugs.

“This is a toast,” Bucky said, picking up the mug nearest to him. It was clear glass and had the image of what you thought might be a caffeine molecule on the side of it in green lining. “To the happy couple!”

You picked up the mug nearest you, white ceramic with black lettering that simple said ‘Damn Fine’, and raised it alongside Bucky’s.

Steve took the last one left, another clear glass but this time with a dated image of Garfield, the comic strip cat, paddling a canoe, and raised it in turn.

“Congratulations, and you still owe me a futon!” Bucky said cheerfully, and clinked both your glasses before downing the champagne. “Now get the hell out and go be honeymooners.”

Chapter Text

The five days that followed were some of the best of your life to date. It was just you and Steve, as relaxed and unhurried as you had been the day following your prom, but this time in the lap of luxury. The hotel had a spa and you tried out every service, laughing to see the way Steve blushed during the couples massage, telling you sheepishly later that night that “the only person I want puttin’ their hands on me is you”.

You shared baths in the massive tub and raided the minibar without worry; the stay had been part of Bucky’s Christmas bonus package from the prior year and he had gifted it to you both. You didn’t have to pay for a thing, and everything was included. You wondered, not for the first time, if you’d ever be able to pay back his generosity. By the time you were leaving, you felt relaxed and happy and ready to take on whatever else life had in store for you.

But it was a band-aid on too large a wound.

You returned home -- because you thought of it as home now, Bucky’s apartment -- to find that your cell phone, which you had purposely left behind, had been taken out of service. That had to be your mother; of your parents, she was always the more spiteful.

You kept it charged to write down all the information you had store, including important phone numbers for Angie and Scott, and then handed it off to Bucky, who said he could get any photos you had saved onto a disc for you to keep. You’d just get a new phone, you reasoned, one that you could pay for yourself, once you found a job.

You revised and resubmitted your financial aid documentation at Steve’s urging; you were still dead-set against school if it would impose any sort of financial burden, but Steve was still pushing you to let him worry about finances.

Three days after your honeymoon ended, a certified letter came in the mail for Steve. You had frowned at it; neither of you had bothered to officially change your address but there it was, a thick cream-colored envelope stamped with the seal of the Marist Fathers in deep crimson ink. It was killing you not to open it, but you waited as patiently as you could for Steve to arrive home.

He seemed as surprised as you were to see it.

“This came in the mail?” he asked when you held it out, just after he returned home from work for the day.

You gave a short nod. “Today,” you agreed. “The mailman had to come to the door so I could sign for it. Looks important.”

Steve sighed and nodded. “It’s from my order,” he explained, and you felt a sudden shock of surprise. How strange it was that you’d only embarked on this new life weeks ago and you had already forgotten -- Steve -- your husband -- was -- is? -- a priest!

He settled into the armchair in the armchair in the living room, still staring at the envelope in his hand, and you perched on the arm, reaching with one hand to scratch gently at the fine hairs at the base of his head. Steve turned just slightly and gave you a grateful smile; he laid a hand on your thigh and squeezed softly before heaving a deep breath and opening the letter.

There was a single sheet of paper inside, thick cream-colored stock that matched the envelope, emblazoned with the same seal in the upper left corner. Steve scanned it quickly, frowning at the page before folding it and stuffing it back in the envelope.

“What does it say?” you asked.

Steve closed his eyes and shook his head, giving a short chuckle. “It says that Father Donahue has alerted the diocese, who alerted my order that I had ‘abandoned my post’. I’m to report back immediately or face disciplinary action. If I’m not back in a week of receiving the letter, I’ll be considered to be in exclaustration.”

“You’re going to have to help me with some of the terminology,” you reminded, still playing with his hair. It was getting a little long in the back; you wondered if he was going to let it grow past the clean-cut look he usually kept.

Steve leaned into your touch. “Mmm,” he muttered, closing his eyes. “It means I’m taking a break from the priesthood and trying to decide if I still have a vocation.”

“Do you?” you asked quietly, biting your lip. It was a question that hung heavy on your conscience, no matter how many times Steve reassured you. You’d grown up steeped in Catholicism, trained to believe that the clergy felt a call from god to take up their positions in the Church. You tried to shuffle that off and you believed Steve each time he told you that he’d never really felt a call, but slowly the terrible suspicions would creep back in and you’d start to worry, start to believe your mother that you were some demon whore that had dragged Steve away from hi one true path.

Steve smiled, eyes still closed. “Sweetheart, you know this already. The only thing I need to be doin’ with my life right now? Is bein’ with you.”

 

You slid into his lap, knees on either side of him, and pressed your lips to his, gentle and sweet. Steve made a pleased little noise, hands drifting up to settle comfortably at your waist. There was such comfort in this, in feeling his hands on you and hearing the way he groaned at your touch. There was still so much you were unsure of, but never this: his hands on your, his lips pressed to yours, moving with sweet simplicity.

Steve liked it sometimes when you were the aggressor, biting his lower lip to make him moan and open to you, to allow you to lick into his mouth, curl your tongue against his to make him shiver.

“You’ve been working so hard,” you told him, voice low and teasing as you drifted from his lips to nibbled at his jaw and on to his throat. “My poor baby, you must be so tired.”

“Mmm,” Steve breathed, tipping his head back against the chair. “All for you, sweetheart. Anything for you.”

You started unbuttoning the navy blue dress shirt he had worn to work, pouting to see the undershirt beneath it, keeping you from his heated skin. You shook your head; you would have to break him of that habit, but you had more important things to do now.

You rolled your hips once before reaching for Steve’s belt buckle. He was already hard; it took barely an overture from you on most days, his body reacting to the barest touches, your body doing much the same. Sometimes only the heat of his breath on your shoulder could rile you up.

When you slid from his lap to kneel on the floor in front of him, Steve opened his eyes to stare at you in surprise. He was breathing hard, watching you with parted lips and eyes gone dark and intense.

“Babydoll,” he warned, pausing to lick his lips. “We’re in the living room.”

You grinned and unzipped his fly. “We’re all alone,” you reminded. “Bucky left for his late shift so we are… all… alone.”

You hadn’t been good at this, from the start. You had gleaned a few tips from the internet and trashy women’s magazines, and you managed not to make a fool of yourself and get Steve off without hurting him. Now, after a lot more experience, you’d become something of an expert, at least when it came to Steve.

Steve tangled his fingers in your hair, pulling it back and away from your face. He loved to watch you like this, lips swollen and slick with spit, and wrapped around his cock. He panted and grunted, forcing himself to keep still and not buck his hips as you pulled off, only to swallow him down again.

He gasped your name, his grip in your hair growing even tighter. “Baby… baby, fuck, I… I…”

He always tried to warn you, but you didn’t care; you swallowed everything he had to give and pulled off with a slick pop, reveling in the final groan it drew from Steve’s lips. He tucked himself away and pulled you back up into his lap, fingertips creeping beneath the edge of your shorts. You nuzzled against his chest and sighed.

“You’re so good to me,” Steve breathed, then tipped his chin down to kiss you. He never seemed to mind chasing the taste of himself on your lips; you think he liked it in a possessive sort of way, knowing that your kiss only belonged to him. “Why don’t we go to bed? I can return the favor.”

You smiled. “Why don’t you order us a pizza instead?” you replied with a laugh. Steve would be back up in an hour to raid the kitchen if you let him carry you off now. “Then we can go break in that new mattress.”

Chapter Text

It should have been good.

It should have been perfect. You were free, after years of having to hide. You were married. Steve had stood before god and everyone and told you that he wanted you, only you, for the rest of your life. You’d told him the same, with tears streaming down your face.

Even Bucky had softened, his glib remarks and annoyed outbursts slowing being replaced by gentle teasing with a touch of sarcasm. He may not have been happy about Steve’s relationship with you but he had at least come around to acceptance.

It should have been good.

But it wasn’t.

You knew part of it was boredom. It was frustrating for you, cooped up in the apartment all day long while Steve was at work. You were still on the fence about enrolling for the upcoming Fall semester -- a late enrollment at that, if you could even get in to any of the classes you’d need -- but it would be a good month before it would start, even if you did. Not one of the applications you’d filled out when looking for work had come to any fruition, most likely due to your inexperience.

Not that it would have mattered, of course. The phone number you had listed was your old cell phone that your parents had turned off. Bucky had brought you a new Starkphone home from work with a long-suffering sigh, muttering something about family plans through the company and “just don’t break it, okay?”.

The fights kept happening. Usually starting over something small -- a mess left in the kitchen, clothes left on the bedroom floor, Steve staying late at work without remembering to give you a call, all small and inconsequential things that would somehow build and build until you were screaming at each other in anger.

The fourth time you started to cry and locked yourself in the bathroom, Bucky had to step in. Steve was on the floor, sitting with his back against the door and begging you to come back out, and Bucky had enough.

“Look,” he said, voice low as he squatted beside Steve. “You two need some help. The kind I ain’t qualified to give.”

Steve frowned. “What do you mean?” he asked, still straining to listen to what you were doing behind the closed bathroom door. The sobbing had given way to sniffles, so far as he could tell.

“Your health insurance kicked in already, right?” Bucky asked, and Steve nodded.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Thirty days and the first of the month after I started.”

“Have you looked at your coverage?” Bucky said, and gestured towards the closed bathroom door. “The little woman was eligible to go on your plan as soon as you two went and made it legal. Stark pretty much set the industry premium of mental health coverage, y’know? And you two? Need some serious counseling. Stat.”

Steve arched an eyebrow. “Stat?” he asked.

Bucky rolled his eyes. “I just got the last season of House on dvd, so sue me,” he said. “But I’m not wrong here, Stevie. There’s nothin’ bad about askin’ for help when you need it, and you two? You need it. Check the paperwork, find a doc, and make an appointment. Before it becomes too much for the both of you, ok?”

Behind the door, you washed your face with cool water and stared at your reflection, feeling foolish for reacting the way you did. Your eyes were puffy and rimmed in red, your expression sour. You didn’t know how much more of this you could take.

Steve started to tumble back when you opened the door but quickly righted himself with a hand on the doorframe, standing to his full height only to envelop you in his arms.

“Baby, I’m so sorry,” he told you, and you felt the tears starting anew.

“No, it’s not your fault,” you said, pressing your face to his chest. “I overreacted, I know I did. I don’t know what came over me.”

Steve shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. We’ve been arguing over all kinds of stupid things, and it’s not your fault. We’ll figure this out. I promise.”

 

You and Steve paged through the directory for his insurance until you settled on a therapist that seemed to fit your needs. He was listed as specializing in couples therapy and his office was nearby and not attached to a hospital, the latter being Steve’s personal request. You hadn’t realized his phobia for hospital settings ran so deep, echoes of the time he had to sit and watch his mother slowly waste away as a child. It made you love him that little bit more, knowing that he had sat patiently at your hospital bedside while you were ill, in spite of the fear and agitation it must have inspired in him.

A quick internet search brought up an image of Dr. Helmut Zemo on his practice’s website. He looked nice enough, young and with a long list of accreditations and board certifications that showed him to be a champion of couples therapy and marriage solutions. You were nervous, but Steve seemed so worried over the state of your relationship that you agreed to go.

Steve took an afternoon off of work and signed out a company car for the day, which you hadn’t even realized was an option until he told you.

“It doesn’t bother me to take the subway or borrow Bucky’s bike,” he explained with a shrug. “Just didn’t make sense to have the car full-time. But I thought we could use it today. Enough stress without the commute, right?”

You dressed as though you were going on a job interview. You hadn’t expanded your wardrobe much beyond what you had brought with you, but you at least had a few nice things that you could wear, a prim little skirt and a button down blouse that reminded you vaguely of your school uniform. You knew it was silly, but you felt as though you needed to dress up. Steve dressed in his usual workday fare, khakis and a dress shirt, and didn’t comment on your choice of attire.

It was clear you were both nervous, Steve clenching his hands on steering wheel as he drove and you folding and unfolding your hands in your lap, tapping your foot against the car mat. Steve’s ‘company car’ was a ridiculous sports car, bright cherry red and low to the ground, and it seemed to inspire him to drive a little more recklessly than you would have expected. You were just glad it wasn’t a convertible; it was already sweltering in the city and you were enjoying the air conditioning.

The office was quiet and cool. The elevator was almost disturbingly silent; you could swear you heard every breath that passed between you and Steve during the long ride up to the 32nd floor. It took almost an hour to fill out all of the paperwork that the doctor wanted, all under the watchful eye of his receptionist. Afterwards, he spoke to each of you in turn.

He looked normal. You thought he would be normal, that it would be like talking to any other doctor. But was different. There was a perverse glee as he pressed you for details about your relationship with Steve, about your sex life; he was hyper-focused on your age and pushed for information about your earliest sexual encounters.

It left you feeling almost violated.

You were sent back out to wait and Steve went in for a time, until you were called in to join him. He looked about as harassed as you felt when you entered, and when you took the seat beside him, you reached out and took his hand in yours.

Dr. Zemo gave an exaggerated sigh. “And there’s the crux of your problems,” he declared without preface. “The codependency here is off the charts.”

You frowned. “What does that even mean?” you asked.

He ignored you. “The root of all of this is, of course, is your sexual relationship. You are both far too inexperienced to have entered into an exclusive, committed sexual relationship.”

“Excuse me?” Steve said, straightening in his seat. You could see he was upset, perhaps even gearing up to fight, but Dr. Zemo ignored the outburst.

“Your problems will be treated best by regular sessions with me and, also, exploring your sexuality outside of the confines of your marriage. Particularly you, young lady,” he said, focusing on you with an intense, uncomfortable gaze. “Date. ‘See other people’, as they say. Engage with new sexual partners.”

Steve stood quickly, tugging you out of your seat by the hand. “Thank you, Doctor,” he said, moving swiftly towards the door.

“Your next appointment…?” Dr. Zemo called after you.

“We’ll call you!” Steve responded, not even turning to look back as he spoke.

Chapter Text

Walking back to the car was like swimming through mud. Your mind and pulse were racing but you felt as though your body was moving in slow motion, much as you wanted to just cut loose and run. Steve moved just as slowly beside you, this awful thing hovering in the air between you.

The idea that you were broken.

The thought that your life together was doomed just as it had barely begun.

You had seen a sort of lascivious thrill in Dr. Zemo’s eyes as he had spoken. It had been worrisome and a little bit scary, the idea that his position as your de facto therapist gave him access to all your secret thoughts and leave to press you for the most intimate details. You weren’t particularly well-versed in therapy and boundaries or their ethics, but you knew one thing for certain: he had enjoyed it.

For your own part, the very idea sickened you. The cold chill of jealousy ran heavy in your veins at the mere thought of Steve with someone else, anyone else at all, filled you with a rage you’d never experienced. You belonged to each other now; the idea that anyone else should lay a finger on him, well… you couldn’t have that.

And then the implication that you should find another partner as well… It was too much. Just too much to fathom. Someone else’s hands on your body, touching you, kissing you… No. You couldn’t. Never.

You tried to rationalize the idea. Just a kiss, you thought. You could kiss someone, couldn’t you? It wasn’t as though you hadn’t done it before, long before Steve was nothing more than a distant authority figure at the school. You could handle that again, couldn’t you? Not even a real kiss, not a deep kiss, just a peck on the lips. It didn’t have to mean anything.

But even that made the acrid taste of bile rise in your throat.

You were about as modern a woman as there could be and you had no problem with people who were happy to share themselves with as many partners as they liked, but it was not for you. Some part of you must have known, all that time ago, that Steve would be yours and yours alone from there on out. Even when you talked to other boys, friendly conversation in the lunch line or conspiratorial laughter at the back of study hall, you never thought of them s anything but potential friends, even as jealous as Steve became.

He never had to be jealous, really. He had you from the very start.

 

When you reached the car and settled inside, you felt a wave of panic building inside of you. The car itself, like so much in your life as of late, was shiny and new and foreign to you in the way something top of the line could be to a girl who grew up around twenty year old station wagons and sedans that passed from father to son in a small town where nothing was new. You had handled so much of the change without so much as a blink, but the spectre of what loomed before you was just too much.

Steve hadn’t even buckled his seatbelt when you found yourself climbing over the center console to land in his lap. He had a brief noise of surprise, the extended seatbelt slipping from his hands and the buckle clattering against the window as it wound back into place.

Steve gasped your name in surprise, staring at you with wide, startled eyes. “Baby, what’s wrong?” he asked.

“I don’t want anyone else,” you told him, shaking your head. You could feel tears in your eyes and were afraid you were going to cry. “I don’t want anyone else touching me.”

Steve nodded slowly, his hands going to settle at your waist. “We don’t have to do that,” he advised softly. “We can find another doctor, it’ll be fine…”

“I don’t want anyone else, Steve, ever, and I don’t want you to… I couldn’t stand it if you…” you said, a few stray tears breaking free.

Steve shook his head and took your face in his hands. “I’m not going anywhere, sweetheart. I don’t want to be with anyone but you.”

You kissed him then, suddenly and fiercely, swallowing back the surprised grunt he made and biting at his lips to demand entry. You needed him; there was no other way to explain it, no more pleasant or civilized way to see it. You needed his hands on your skin, his lips against yours, to feel him moving inside of you.

There was always such a sense of completion when were with him and you needed it now, left feeling uncertain and untethered by the prying and manipulation you’d experienced in the hours you had been in the doctor’s office. You pulled at the buttons on his shirt, desperate to feel his skin beneath your fingertips.

“Baby… babydoll, c’mon, we’re right here out in the open…!” Steve sputtered, hands betraying his words even as he spoke, rucking your skirt up around your waist.

“Nobody’s here,” you half whispered, ducking to suck a dark mark over his pulse. “We’re on the top floor, there’s not even another car up here. We’re all alone.”

His body was reacting to you, in spite of his half-hearted protest. He was hard in his khakis, the length of his pressing hot against your thigh even you reached to unbutton his fly. When you slipped your hand inside to grip him, Steve swore and slammed his head against the headrest.

You smiled against the soft skin of his throat. “Please, Steve,” you moaned. “Please, baby, I need you… need to feel you, oh please, please…”

As if he would ever refused.

When you tipped your head up to kiss him again, Steve beat you to the punch, capturing your lips with his with so rough a kiss that you gasped into it, allowing him entry to thrust his tongue against yours, licking into your mouth without worry of being seen. There was no sense of pretense anymore -- it was simply raw abandon.

His strong hands drifted to your thighs, squeezing you so tightly that it almost hurt, falling just the right side of painful. You pulled his hardened cockout of his open fly with one hand, shoving your soaked panties aside with the other before sinking down with a groan. Steve swore again and you buried your face in the crook of his neck, biting and licking at his salty skin even as you rolled your hips, feeling his strong hands guiding your movements.

It was fast and hot and dirty. The summer heat in the enclosed car had you both soaked with sweat, hearing only the pants and gasps escaping each of you as you rode him, fast and frantic. You needed this so badly, a coupling that was almost a claiming, giving yourself up to him again and again, as much as it would take to keep the unsettled fear that had crept beneath your skin at bay.

Steve knew your body as well as his own, knew the right touches and the angles to bring you to the edge as quickly as he could. He couldn’t stop telling you how good you felt or how beautiful you were… or how much loved you. You felt the pressure building inside you, rising to a crescendo you were desperate to reach, throwing your head back with a throaty groan just as you reached the edge. Steve bucked his hips hard, once, then twice, and then you were calling out his name as pleasure overtook you, shaking and shivering as you felt him tense beneath you only to fall over that same edge, hands gripping you tight enough to bruise.

You sat there for a long time, catching your breaths, waiting for your heartbeats to slow down enough to speak.

“I don’t care what he said,” Steve told you, panting. “I don’t care if we’re codependent or inexperienced or anything he said. I don’t want anyone else, sweetheart, not now and not ever.”

“The fighting…” you told him, suddenly so tired that you lolled forward, your head falling to his shoulder.

“We’ll find someone else to talk to,” Steve said. “Another doctor, a therapist. Someone. We’ll figure it out. But I’m not letting you go, doll. Never.”

Chapter Text

You arrived back at the apartment looking disheveled and upset. You could sense that Steve needed to speak to someone and you were afraid that if it were you, it could devolve into another argument. You leaned up on your tiptoes to kiss him on the forehead and excused yourself to shower and change, nudging him in the direction of the living room, where Bucky sat trying to pretend he wasn’t waiting to hear how it had gone.

Steve sank into the armchair with a sigh.

“Well?” Bucky asked, expectantly.

Steve shook his head. “That doctor… there was something wrong with him.”

Bucky raised an eyebrow. “The doctor?” he asked, the silent implication that it wasn’t the doctor so much as Steve himself that was the issue.

He said your name and nodded towards the closed bedroom door. “He was asking her all sort of strange questions.”

Bucky chuckled softly. “That’s what therapists do, Steve,” he replied.

Steve shook his head. “No, Buck, there was something weird about this guy. The things he was asking… the things he was tellin’ us… it felt wrong. Like he was gettin’ off on it.

“Seriously?” Bucky asked, face pulling into a grimace. “I mean if you really think that, you can report him somewhere. To a medical board or the hospital he works out of, or something.”

“I was thinking I’d do something like that,” Steve agreed and sighed again, shaking his head. “Doesn’t do us much good in the meantime.”

Bucky nodded. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Not much else I can say, Steve. All you can do is maybe look for another doctor and hope for the best.”

In the end, Steve found an unobtrusive little listing for a counselor by the name of Wilson; he was billed as a therapist, not a psychologist or psychiatrist, and that was something of a comfort. He wouldn’t be trying to further his career, writing case studies and journal articles to publish and garner acclaim for his practice. He was there to help -- or at least it seemed that way.

You were understandably skeptical. You were a little more closed off going into the small office and its cluttered waiting room, full of secondhand furniture and old magazines but still feeling cozy and welcoming. You were surprised to see that instead of a receptionist, you were greeted by the counselor himself. He had a wide, friendly smile and kind eyes and held out a hand in greeting as you approached.

“Sam Wilson,” he said. “Nice to meet you.”

 

You felt completely at ease talking to him. There was no push for prurient details, no strange brightness to his eyes as you spoke about your sexual relationship with Steve. He didn’t ask for anything further, focusing his questions more on your relationships with your parents, your friendships, and your time with Steve. You felt somehow lighter as you stepped out of his inner office.

Steve had his one-on-one after yours. He’d explained the situation well enough when making the appointment that Sam -- as he had insisted you use his first name -- felt comfortable enough jumping straight into a split session.

“Tell me,” Sam asked, expression open and blank. “What were you thinking, the first day you saw your wife and decided to engage. When you saw her in the library. What was it that you thought when you made the decision?”

Steve pondered the question a long moment before answering. “I thought she looked like she could use a friend,” he said slowly.

Sam raised his eyebrows. “Is that all you were thinking?” he asked.

Steve ducked his head, a sheepish smile on his face. “No,” he admitted. “I guess… I guess I was thinkin’ that maybe I could use a friend too.”

Sam nodded. “And when you joined her at the library table, when you started talking…?”

Steve’s smile grew, his eyes taking on the faraway look of a man lost in memory. “I made her laugh,” he said. “It was… it was beautiful.”

Sam watched the change in Steve’s expression, and decided to change tracks. “You didn’t have very many friends after choosing your vocation, did you Steve?”

Steve frowned, shaking his head. “I lost my best friend when I chose this path, for a long time. But I didn’t have much of a choice. It was the right thing to do. In seminary, no one is looking to make friends. We’re all going to be sent out to different parishes, most likely never to see each other again. Besides, they were all…”

“Different?” Sam supplied.

Steve shrugged. “Devout. In a way I couldn’t connect with.”

Sam raised his eyebrows. “Is one seminarian more devout than any other? Aren’t you all meant to be on the same path, with the same vocation?”

Steve laughed; it was more than a little bitter. “Do you know what a ‘cradle Catholic’ is, Sam?” he asked, and when Sam shook his head, he continued. “It’s somebody who has been raised in the faith from birth. They make all the sacraments, know all the right lines, but it’s just a routine.”

“And your faith -- that was just a routine?” Sam asked.

Steve sighed. “It was all I had left,” he said, shaking his head. “Besides, what else could I do? Father Ben had convinced the Church to take me on as a ward. They kept me in school, got me medical care I needed. There’s no way I could have paid them back for that, except…”

“Except for taking orders?” Sam supplied, and Steve dropped his head to stare at his hands.

“Not the best decision I’ve ever made,” he admitted. Looking up, he shook his head. “I was good at it, though. My first parish assignment went fine, I helped in the community, and when I was transferred it was the same, until… until…”

Sam nodded, smiling. “I think I have a good understanding of what’s happened here. Why don’t you ask your wife to join us?”

 

You sat before him much the same as you had before Zemo, hands clasped together between you, nervous for what he might say.

“Now I have to start here by saying that the way this came about, this thing between the two of you? Not what we’re gonna call ‘ideal’,” he began, and Steve’s eyes dropped as he spoke. There would always be a sense of shame there, you realized; no matter how hard you tried, you’d never be able to erase that.

“But you can’t get us in trouble,” you put in quickly. “Confidentiality, right?”

Sam chuckled. “Right, right, no need to be concerned. Privacy laws prevent me from disclosing anything you’ve said and my own moral compass does the same. You don’t need to be concerned.”

“Can you fix us?” Steve asked hopefully.

Sam shook his head. “You don’t need fixing,” he said. “The problems you’re experiencing, the arguing? This is just two people learning to cohabitate. You don’t need me for that -- it’s an issue of picking up your dirty socks and putting saran wrap on your leftovers.”

“But… we’re not… I mean…” you said, unsure of how to verbalize what you were feeling. You knew it wasn’t right -- you weren’t right.

“The two of you need to do some solo work,” Sam told you, understanding what you were trying to say. “The issues you’ve both described are problems, but they aren’t endemic to your relationship. You have problems differentiating between an attempt to help or provide for you with an attempt to control. It’s not surprising, given the emotional neglect and abuse you suffered with your parents.”

“And me?” Steve asked, somewhere between terrified and curious for the answer.

“Your jealousy problems most likely stem from the extreme state of self-denial you’ve lived in since you lost your mother,” Sam told him. “You wouldn’t allow yourself any pleasures, even small ones. You never let yourself have what you really wanted, be it staying with your friend’s family rather than being fostered by the Church or something as small as asking this Father Donahue for a larger role in parish operations.

“It’s really a perfect storm, you two. We have two people both suffering symptoms of post-traumatic stress, both existing in states of extreme loneliness. We have a man who was never allowed to be an adolescent, and a young woman who wasn’t allowed to grow up. Meeting one another, recognizing the damage in one another, and finding a way to try and heal together.”

“So we’re gonna be okay?” you asked hopefully.

Sam nodded. “I’m going to recommend some individual sessions with a few counselors I know who specialize in your unique needs. I work primarily with PTSD cases in family counseling, but I don’t think you two need that. It’s not often I can say this, but I think you’ve both been healing pretty well just in removing yourself from the negative situation you were facing back home.”

Chapter Text

The world kept turning.

Sam recommended a therapist for you; Dr. Simmons was some sort of prodigy and not terribly older than you. It made speaking to her a little easier, like talking to a friend who could understand things on your own level. She could speak to you in your own language, on your own terms, without dumbing it down or making you feel stupid.

You felt good leaving your sessions. Lighter, as you had with Sam. More free.

You decided to register for the classes still available; you were lucky that there were still a few of your prerequisites still with open slots and the grants available to you covered your tuition and most of your materials.

Steve received three more certified letters in the mail from the Marist Fathers. He had stared at the first one, unopened, for a long while before dropping it in the kitchen trash. The next two he threw away without so much as a thought about it. You tried to question him on it -- to tell him you wouldn’t be hurt or offended if he needed more time to reconcile his faith with the choices he had made, but Steve just smiled and shook his head.

“I don’t need it,” he said, sliding an arm around your waist to pull you down onto his lap in the armchair where he sat. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, sweetheart. Dr. Coulson has helped me deal with all of the mixed-up feelings I had about the Church. I can still have faith and love you at the same time. And I know better than to think that I’m fallin’ into some great sin by leaving. There’s a point where I have to reconcile the things I know to be true and the things I was trained to believe, and I know now that this, right here, with you? This is where I belong.”

You just melted into him then.

Dr. Coulson had done wonders for Steve. He had been another recommendation from Sam, apparently specializing in working with adults who had lost their parents young and the resulting stress disorders. Steve was still Steve, but there were far less appearances of the more blank-faced Father Steve who tended to surface when he was being more cautious and taking a controlling turn with you. The change you had glimpsed in him in your early days of sharing library lunches was near all-encompassing now; he was fully allowing himself to be.

Time could move so quickly when you were happy. You’d never really realized it before, finding your happiness only in short bursts that passed too quickly for you to understand that it was more than just your longing for more happy moments with Steve that made them seem so short.

Suddenly, you were preparing for midterms. Steve was applying for a better position with the Stark Foundation at the urging of his supervisor. Bucky had come to less grudging acceptance of your place in Steve’s life; somewhere along the way, he had transformed from just being Steve’s concerned best friend to also being your gruff and goofy surrogate older brother. It was a more than welcome change; even Dr. Simmons was happy to hear of that particular change.

“A new family structure will be the best thing for you,” she had told you in one of your early sessions. “You’ll be forming new bonds and creating a support network like you’ve never had before. Bucky is already a very important figure in your husband’s life; work on letting him into yours as well.”

It wasn’t easy. Being around Bucky often put you on edge. You hadn’t necessarily expected him to approve of your relationship with Steve from the start, but it had been getting so much better. There were still moments, though, where you feared he would turn on you. As though all that he had done to put you at ease -- the kind words he had shared with you in the wake of your parents’ phone calls, the gifting of a honeymoon -- had simply been to make you let down your guard and allow him to cause the most damage when he turned on you.

Dr. Simmons -- or, rather, Jemma, as she had invited you to call her -- had expected such a reaction.

“He’s nice to me,” you had told her, frowning. “He’s not… I mean, he still calls me ‘kid’ but he doesn’t… it’s not condescending. Why do I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, Jemma?”

She nodded her head and smiled a little sadly.

“Because we look for the patterns we were raised to follow,” she reminded; it had come up in discussion more than once. “This is what your parents did, isn’t it? They’d give you a little leeway, show some kindness, and then just as quickly take it away.”

You nodded. You still felt guilty, talking about them like this. They were still your parents. But when looking from an outside perspective, it was clear to you that they had done the bare minimum to care for you over the years. Yes, they had kept you fed and clothed, a roof over your head, but their needs always came first.

It should have been clear that you were struggling to reacclimate after the devastating car accident that had robbed you of a year -- an accident that should never have happened. But they hadn’t tried to help, hadn’t looked much past your physical health. When you could walk under your own power again, you were simply sent off to school, a year delayed from where you should have been, with no friends to speak of.

You’d needed help. All you had gotten were rules too easy to break and punishments in the form of a cold shoulder, that always had you trying your damnedest to win back their polite indifference.

It was little wonder that you were always afraid of any affection you were shown disappearing in the blink of an eye. That was why the letters had rattled you so, why you had to keep asking Steve if he were certain. You needed to reassure yourself.

It didn’t help when on one ordinary Tuesday evening, there came a knock at the apartment door. You were sitting at the kitchen counter, eyes glued to your open laptop. Bucky had gifted you his ‘old’ laptop to do your schoolwork on -- it just so happened to have the imaging and illustrating software you needed for your class already installed, as well as the latest update to the Stark operating system. You’d burst into tears when he gave it to you, Bucky himself going red and gruff, trying to pretend it wasn’t a big deal, but it was. You could thank him every day for the rest of your life and it’d never be enough.

You glanced up at the sound at the door, but Bucky was nearby and waved you off, turning on his heel to answer it himself.

You frowned when you saw the way he pressed his lips into a thin line as he opened it and you were about to ask who it was when a male voice spoke from the corridor.

“Hello, James,” he said.

Bucky openly glared. “No one calls me that. Literally no one,” he said flatly.

Whoever was in the hall ignored his comment. “Is he here?” the voice asked.

Bucky gave a put upon sigh, pausing only to glance at you, before turning to call towards the living room, “Hey Steve! Ya got company.”

Chapter Text

Father Ben had aged. It startled Steve to see it, as though the man should have remained permanently middle-aged for all of his life, held static in time at the point that Steve remembered best. Steve hadn’t seen him since he left seminary; to see him now, hair gone steely grey, deep lines and liver spots on his face, his back stooped and a cane in his hand, was a shock.

“May I sit?” Father Ben asked, gesturing to the empty couch.

Steve, who had been frozen like a deer in headlights, straightened suddenly in the armchair and nodded. “Yes, of course,” he agreed.

Father Ben groaned just a bit as he sat, settling himself on the sofa before turning to Steve with a small smile.

“I had wondered if I’d find you here,” Father Ben said with a grunt. “I hadn’t thought you’d spoken much to James after you took your orders.”

The knee-jerk reaction of tensing like a child caught at play by a stern adult had dissipated quickly, and Steve frowned at the elder priest.

“That was a long time ago,” Steve replied coolly. “Things change.”

“Apparently so,” Father Ben said with a sigh. “I’ve gotten an earful about you from your parish diocese, and letter upon letter from our order.”

Steve shook his head. “I don’t have a parish, or an order,” he said. “Not anymore.”

“Things change?” Father Ben offered, eyebrows raised.

Steve snorted. “Yeah. Yeah, they do,” he agreed.

The older man sighed and leaned forward in his seat. “We all make mistakes, Steven,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re still a young man. You took to the Church very quickly. We’re not going to fault you for making a mistake.”

Steve’s eyes narrowed, unsure of what he’s hearing. “What ‘mistake’ are we talkin’ about?” he asked.

Father Ben sighed again. “I’d rather you not make me spell it all out,” he grumbled, but when Steve’s gaze didn’t waver, he shook his head. “Look, if the girl’s parents want to bring charges, you’ll have to face them, but it’s unlikely it’ll be any jail time. The Church can move you into a new ministry, perhaps something overseas. We can keep you away from children, from young people, if need be.”

Steve stared wide-eyed at Father Ben’s words. For a long moment, he was dumbfounded. And then… he began to laugh. Long, and hard, and deep, shaking his head.

“Do you…” he started, then stopped, unable to tamp down the chuckles still bubbling in his chest. When he regained control of himself, he shook his head. “Do you think I’m hiding out here, out of shame?”

“What else could it be?” Father Ben asked incredulously. “The girl’s run off, at the very least it seems you’ve broken your vows, if not the law. It’s understandable that you’d come back to the place you no doubt consider your home, though I do wish you had come straight to me.”

It was Steve’s turn to sigh.

“Ben,” he began gently, “I didn’t mean any disrespect at laughing, but you’ve got things all wrong. I’ve made my decision -- my choice. I’ve left the order. I’ve left the priesthood. There’s no going back for me.”

“Steven, you’re not the first young religious to make this sort of misstep,” Father Ben said quietly, casting an eye towards the kitchen doorway that Bucky had disappeared through after showing him in. “It’s not uncommon for a new seminarian to make this sort of mistake, or even a novice sister. You’re young, your ministry brings you into contact with other young people. I know you stayed away from much social activity after your mother passed. I shouldn’t be surprised you’d make such a mistake. I suppose, in a way, I blame myself.”

Steve’s expression darkened. “You should,” he said suddenly.

Father Ben seemed taken by surprise at his worse. “Of-of course…” he said, stumbling over his words. “I could have encouraged you to spend more time with people your age, or…”

“Not for that,” Steve snapped, the anger that had been welling inside him as he’d made a few breakthroughs in therapy beginning to surface. “Not for her. I couldn’t blame anyone for the best thing that’s ever happened to me. But you should be sorry. For what you did to me as a kid.”

Father Ben became immediately defensive. “I never…!” he began, but Steve cut him off.

“I was worried,” Steve said. “I was worried and afraid and my mother was gone, and I confided in you. I didn’t want to be a burden, not to anyone, but least of all to Bucky and his family.”

“You had good reason to worry,” Father Ben insisted. “Mr. Barnes was still out of work, they already had four children, another mouth to feed…”

“The New York foster care system pays a stipend to families that take in kids,” Steve snapped at him. “Did you know that, Father? Of course you did. Because the rectory would have gotten a check from the state, same as the Barnes’ would have. And I’d’ve gotten healthcare through the state, too. But I was a scared kid and I didn’t know any of that.”

“Steven, you must understand…” Father Ben began, but Steve shook his head.

“You took advantage of my situation, and for what? A new recruit?” he asked.

“You were already active in the Church,” Father Ben pointed out. “All I did was guide you in the right direction.”

“The right direction for who?” Steve asked him. “What did you want, to shore up your numbers? To get some young people in the order? I remember you saying that once, saying how the Marist Fathers were dying out. Is that all you wanted? You took all the choices away from me… you took my life away from me, when I trusted you.”

Father Ben looked aghast, his lips parted in shock. He hadn’t expected such a tirade from Steve; he had thought only to quietly comfort Steve, to cajole him back to his place in the Church. He hadn’t expected resistance… or blame.

“Steven, you felt a call to religious life,” Father Ben spoke.

“Never,” Steve replied. “I never did. I just took the path of least resistance, so far as I saw it. And I only saw it as you let me.”

“So you’re done with it, with all of it?” Father Ben asked, clearly getting angry. “You’ll turn your back on your vocation? There’s still time, Steven. We can fix this, get you back where you belong.”

“I am where I belong,” Steve told him and stood, gesturing for Father Ben to follow. The old priest struggled to his feet, blustering as he went, still protesting.

“We can extend your exclaustration as long as you like,” Father Ben insisted, following Steve towards the door.

You were standing in the little hallway that separated the front door from the living area and kitchen, listening and biting your lip with wide, worried eyes. Steve smiled warmly when he saw you.

“Father Ben,” he said, still smiling, his eyes fixed on yours, “I don’t believe you’ve met my wife.” He introduced you by name, not even turning to take in the priest’s shocked expression, and added, “This is Father Ben, sweetheart. He was just leaving.”

Chapter Text

Time seemed to have a funny way of moving faster in New York. Your years at home seemed to drag but before you could even blink, a month had passed since your visit from Father Ben, then two, then more. The holidays came and went; you met Bucky’s family, much as you had been terrified by the prospect.

It had gone very well. You were certain that Bucky had somehow warned them, told them you’d be much younger than Steve or at least look that way. All of his sisters had come home, his parents were there, and it was a warm family celebration like you’d never experienced.

Winnie Barnes drew you into a tight, warm hug, then pulled back and took your face in her hands. She smiled.

“I’m so glad Steve has found you, dear,” she said quietly, tears welling in her eyes. You could see shades of Bucky in her, his dark hair but shot through with streaks of gray, the same sharp cheekbones.

“I promised Sarah I’d look after him, but he was so damned stubborn, even as a boy,” she went on with a sigh.

“That shouldn’t surprise you,” Bucky cut in with a snort. “Still is.”

Winnie smiled amiably and walked towards Steve. “We took it to the courts, you know,” she told him, hands on her hips. “Your mother hadn’t thought she needed to put it down on paper and rewrite the will she’d had in place since your father passed. I suppose neither of us expected Father Ben to take you in, and the judge said you were old enough to decide. We didn’t want to see you dragged into court, so we let it go.”

Steve had paled at her words, his expression drifting between a frown and a strangely lost look.

“You did?” he asked, voice faint with surprise.

Bucky’s father clamped a strong hand on his shoulder. “We decided you’d been through enough, kiddo,” he said, shaking his head. “A boy shouldn’t be dragged through the court system right on the heels of losing his mother.”

Steve slumped in his seat at the table. “I wish I’d known,” he mumbled. You could see it in his eyes, a lifetime of what if’s and maybes that had been lost to him. Then his eyes lit on you and he smiled. “But I guess things have a way of working themselves out, don’t they?”

“That they do,” Winnie agreed, nuding you gently with her elbow. “Now. I also promised Sarah that when the time came, I’d look after her grandbabies”

You choked on your glass of wine -- the wine everyone at the table quietly pretended you were old enough to drink -- and Steve turned a delightful shade of crimson.

“It’s-it’s a little early to… I think, I mean…” Steve stammered.

Bucky snorted. “Yeah, please, let’s wait till they get their own place before we encourage them to spawn, Jesus Christ,” he grumbled, dissipating the quiet tension that had come to the table.

It was just as cheerful a celebration at Christmas; for the first time in your life, the holidays felt the way they always seemed they should in television movies and cartoons. There were Secret Santa games, awful Christmas sweaters, days spent baking and laughing with Bucky’s sisters, and more food than the entire group of you could ever eat.

You’d gone to midnight mass with Steve, sat gingerly in the back row and sang along to your favorite hymns. It wasn’t St. Sabina’s, his childhood church, so there was no looming specter of Father Ben to worry about, but rather a smaller parish near to Bucky’s apartment. You thought you might feel some sense of shame or fear in stepping inside, but there was only a sense of happy reminiscence. You’d walked home holding hands through a light falling snow, looking forward to the morning’s celebrations.

 

The holiday snapshot that Scott had sent you of his new baby quickly turned into studio portraits of a toddler. Cassie was beautiful, and from what Scott told you, quite a handful already. You watched her grow through the photos he continued you send, until he and Angie convinced you to get an account on a social media network that was gaining steam.

You had smiled to yourself a little when you were prompted to enter your name with an opportunity to add a maiden name if necessary. Within ten minutes you had over thirty friend requests, almost all of them kids you had gone to high school with, many with exclamatory comments.

“No fucking way!”

“Rogers? AS IN FATHER STEVE ROGERS?”

“Omg r u in NYC???”

“Bitch FINALLY”

The last one was, of course, Angie; she was still enjoying her college career at Duke, and already making plans to head to New York after her graduation. She had taken to life outside of your small town with gusto while you had tiptoed in carefully as you could.

But it had started to change. You were more comfortable in your surroundings. You took the subway to and from classes without issue, remembering which stops to get off at if you needed to grab an inhaler for Steve at a pharmacy or a carton of milk on your way home. Steve’s anxiety about your traveling solo had eased considerably, and though you’d never truly have the swagger of a native New Yorker, you could hold your own.

Your first semester ended with better grades than you’d ever managed in high school, and soon passed another, and another, and another… You stopped keeping track, stopped counting the days you’d spent since leaving home and focused on enjoying every day that you had with Steve. Your whole future lay before you, a wide open road with so many possibilities; that little town you had left behind had no hold on you now.

And then came a phone call, a frantic and tearful Maggie Lang, not knowing who else to call. Scott had been arrested; his family wanted nothing to do with him and Maggie’s parents were already preparing for her to move home with their daughter. She wanted none of it, but she didn’t know what else to do. It had taken a good half hour to calm her down over the line before she was able to explain what had happened.

After a few weeks of basic technical training at Hydracorp, Scott had been randomly shunted into the human resources department, and he hated it. The hours were long and the work terribly boring; half the time he just sat there at his desk, head in his hands, trying to keep from falling asleep.

He wouldn’t have gotten into trouble if they’d just given him something to do. It only took a few days before him to start poking around on the internet in his downtime, and when he had exhausted his interest there, he started looking at the Hydracorp computer systems. He had access to everyone’s HR files, which was interesting, for a little while -- finding out who had been accused of harassment, who was suspected of embezzling, who was considered untouchable. That got old fast, and before Scott even realized what he was doing, he was digging into restricted files.

That was when he found the report: a land survey and toxicology tests from two towns over. Hydra had been shipping in waste from some of its manufacturing records for years, supposedly to a clean recycling plant, but it seemed the waste was just being warehoused.

And it had gotten into the groundwater.

Scott managed to sit on what he had found out for about three days. He spoke to Maggie immediately, and she had been afraid; Hydracorp was a powerful company, and there was no telling what they’d do. But Scott thought there might be a way to get the information out anyway, and he dumped the raw files had found anonymously on Reddit.

Four days after that, he was arrested for corporate espionage. The charges were trumped up and the whole thing was shady as hell.

“Hydracorp isn’t exactly known for their above the board business practices,” Steve told you after you’d explained the situation. “There’s been a lot of whispers about them being protected by some pretty high up people in the government.”

“This should all be protected under whistleblower laws, shouldn’t it?” you asked, and Steve nodded.

“It should,” he agreed. “But like I said… Hydracorp has a lot of people in their pocket.”

In looking back, you felt like that was the day you really grew up. You’d come to accept that your fairy tale could never be as perfect as you imagined, and that was okay; you and Steve were partners and you could work at it to make it as perfect as you could.

But this was different. This was the cold, hard face of reality leering at the people you loved, and there was nothing you could do about it. Scott took a plea deal and was sentenced to three years in a medium security federal prison in New York.

Chapter Text

A strange thing happened in the ensuing years. Somehow, without even noticing it as it happened, you grew up. Your school days ended, the internship you had landed at a small but well regarded design firm grew into a permanent position, and your world reset itself and normalized.

Little more than two years after Scott had taken his plea deal and been incarcerated, you found yourself trying to comfort a sobbing Maggie Lang, half-drunk on a bottle of wine and a blubbering through her guilt and disappointment on your shoulder. Cassie was spending the night at Bucky’s sister Becca’s; she got along well with Becca’s girls, Lizzie and Anna, and it gave Maggie a little free time.

She had moved to New York with Cassie ostensibly to be closer to Scott, but you knew it had been more than that. She was suffocating in that little town, the same as you had been. She was working as a junior accountant, a job you’d helped her find, and lived in a small but afford apartment with Cassie. Thankfully, given the amount of wine she’d gone through, she had the weekend off.

She’d filed for divorce that morning.

“It’s not just the prison thing,” she told you, sniffling. “Even though I told him, I told him not to say anything. Hydracorp is crazy powerful and there’s no way he’d get away clean.”

You nodded sympathetically. “He’s not great at secrets,” you agreed. “I’m still astonished that we managed all that time before anyone figured out everything we were hiding.”

“But it was bad, it was getting really bad, even before that!” she went on, downing the last of her wine and setting her glass on the table. “I love Scott, I do, and I always will… He gave me Cassie and I’ll always love him for that, but…”

“But?” you prodded.

“We argue. All the time,” Maggie told you, shaking her head. “It got to the point that I was going to bed, pretending to be asleep before he got home from work. We should never have gotten married. We were too young. We were so young.”

She looked up at you with an awkward smile. “Sometimes, it works out for some people,” she offered.

You laughed softly. “I know I’m not exactly the norm,” you told her.

Maggie sighed and refilled her glass of wine before leaning back on the couch. “We aren’t all lucky enough to find the love of our lives as a teenager.”

 

Scott seemed to take it in stride. You visited him when you could, but with work and your obligations for Steve’s job, it was difficult to manage more than once or so a month. Steve had moved up the ladder quickly in the Stark Foundation, his easy manner and charming smile doing well to woo large scale donors. He attended every gala and fundraiser as a matter of course, and you were always on his arm.

Sometimes you looked in the mirror and were startled at what you saw. The girl you were when you left your hometown would never recognize the woman you had become. You’d had to learn how to play the part -- the charming young wife, the sophisticated New Yorker. You’d never been much of a girly-girl, all make-up tips and hairstyles and skin care, but you’d learned. You could paint your face just as well as your nails now, and what you lacked in finesse in hairstyling, Bucky’s sister Becca helped you with.

It could be tedious. Shield & Co, the design firm that had granted you an internship out of college, offered you a full-time position before your internship had even come to a close, and you’d gladly accepted. The behind the scenes work was where you thrived; the Stark software that Shield employed was far beyond anything you had encountered to date and took your work to completely new levels. It was one thing to sketch out the dimensions for a new product line, but something else entirely to see that sketch come to life in holographic dimensions right in front of you. You were thriving.

It was the other side of the job that you were less than fond of.

Courting clients. Wining and dining them. Meetings with creepy, over-entitled middle-aged CEOs who thought it was their god-given right to openly hit on you, in spite of the rings on your finger, and in spite of your clear discomfort. And of course, you couldn’t turn up to the office in jeans and sneakers; business suits, smart little dresses, high heels that took you months to learn to walk in properly, all decked out with more make-up, more hair product, more, more, more.

And after all that, after a day full of workshopping and client meetings, you’d go home and change into evening wear, to accompany Steve to the opening of a new Stark Foundation endeavor in the city, or a gala where those same stuffed shirts that had been grabbing at your ass all day would go to drink and pat themselves on the back for their wonderful philanthropic endeavors -- where they were put through the great trauma and difficult of writing a check.

It was exhausting -- and you wouldn’t trade it for the world.

There were bad days… days when your mother’s hateful words came back to you. You listened to every message she left, in spite of Steve begging you to just delete them. Some part of you was wishing she would give up, change her tune and tell you that you were her daughter and she loved you, no matter what. She never did; you never really expected her to. Dr. Simmons said it was your own way of reassuring yourself over the decision you had made to leave. You may have run, but your mother had been pushing you away for years before you took that leap.

Still. You’d hear her voice sometimes, sniping at you from memory.

He’s going to leave you.

He’s not normal. He only likes little girls.

You’ll get old and he won’t want you anymore.

You’ll just be used up and wasted and he’ll move on to the next stupid girl for him to ruin.

You’d hear it and you’d watch him, and wonder. Sometimes, Steve would go to schools or community centers, the smiling, friendly representative of the Stark Foundation. You were always with him but you couldn’t help that bit of insecurity creeping in, you couldn’t help hearing that hateful, bitter woman’s voice in your head.

You’d watch the way the young girls would sigh and titter at him. Clearly, they weren’t blind to his athletic form or handsome face, not anymore than you were at their age. They’d flock to him and fawn over him, and you’d watch.

You’d watch how he’d grow uncomfortable, his smiles tighter, his answers to their questions shorter and shorter until he was backing away, searching you out in the crowd. He’d smile at you and all of your worries would melt away.

Steve would weave his way through the crowd to find you, and slip your his hand into yours.

“Let’s go home, sweetheart,” he’d say quietly, and your heart would soar.

Chapter Text

Home. Such a wonderful word.

It had been perfunctory for you at one time. ‘Home’ was just a word, the one you were taught to use for the place where you ate and bathed and slept. You might as well be saying you were going to the house. It was never a home, not really. You knew better now -- you knew that a home was much more than just a place to sleep.

Home was where you were happy. Home was where you were loved. You had that now.

Not long after your college graduation, Bucky became vested in his employment at Stark Industries and became eligible for a buy-in at Stark Tower; high level employees were able to buy available private residences in the Tower, if they chose, at below market value. For Bucky, the choice had been easy to make.

“Time for you two crazy kids to make it on your own,” he had drawled with a wink.

Steve had offered to buy the apartment from Bucky outright, but Bucky had a better plan: Steve could make the mortgage payments and Bucky would retain ownership. When you and Steve were ready to move on -- when Steve became eligible for a Tower buy-in or you outgrew the space -- Bucky would simply sublet until he convinced his parents to move in for their retirement years. They would most likely protest, but you were certain Bucky could eventually get them to see things his way.

It was hard for you to see Bucky go. He had become the big brother you’d never had; you’d thought about that a lot and spoken to Jemma about it in your therapy sessions, how part of you wished you’d had a sibling you could rely on while still remaining glad your parents never had another child to ruin.

You’d cried a little on the day he finally moved out, but Bucky had given you a smile.

“C’mon, kid,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m still gonna see ya all the time.”

In spite of the sense of loss it created, that was when it really became home, yours and Steve’s place. You weren’t camping out in someone else’s extra room anymore; you moved into the master bedroom and made the place your own. Once your internship started, you had access to a warehouse full of design prototypes to furnish the apartment and put your own touches on it. When you walked in the door after work in the evenings, you couldn’t help but smile. All of your stolen moments with Steve had led to this, a place that was truly yours. He’d promised you that you’d have it one day, and he had been right.

When word came that Scott was going to be released from prison in the new year, there was little question as to what to do. After moving your desk into the master bedroom and the bookshelves into the living room, Steve helped you pick out a decent bedroom set, and he replaced the mostly unused shower in the guest bedroom. You knew it would be difficult for Scott to find a job, and you owed him so much; it would have been too awkward for him to move in with Maggie and their daughter, now that she was engaged, and you couldn’t let him return to the hopeless little town you had both escaped.

“It’s not even a question,” Steve told you. “We’ll help him get on his feet. As long as he needs.”

You knew it wouldn’t be long; Scott was clever and resourceful, even if he came off as little absentminded at times. Your visits to him in prison had shown you how much he had grown up. Life behind bars would do that, you supposed. It was anything but ideal, but it could have been so much worse. Scott had access to a library and took college courses, earning a two-year degree to help get him on his feet. The felony on his record would be problematic, but you had faith he’d find a way around it.

 

Your life had settled into a happy, comfortable routine and you knew then that it was time to do something you’d been needing to do for quite a while. You hadn’t spoken to your parents since the day you’ gotten married; you didn’t expect them to have changed all that much, but you had spoken on it extensively with Jemma, and you knew it was time to offer an olive branch. They didn’t have to accept it; the gesture on your part was enough.

The phone number hadn’t changed, your parents still clinging to their landline when the rest of the world carried their only phone in their pocket. Conversation was a little stilted and a little awkward, but it really couldn’t have gone any better, you were sure of that. All that was left to do was to discuss it with Steve.

A few days after Thanksgiving, Steve was still on holiday leave from work. You’d had a late meal on the holiday itself, the entire Barnes family kind enough to delay their celebrating until you and Steve had been finished with the Stark Foundation event that Steve had spearheaded. He’d gotten enough vendors to donate product that year not only to give away meal prep baskets to several hundred households, but also to host open kitchens across the city. Steve had been over the moon with the way it turned out, remembering the year a basket of supplies had appeared outside his apartment door when things were especially tight and his mother had explained they’d have to rely on a frozen cache of chicken soup for the holiday.

Steve had taken some of his vacation time to allow himself to wind down and you’d taken a couple of your own personal days to spend with him. The night after you had spoken with your parents, you were cuddled close in bed in the late evening hours, wrapped up in each other in a lazy sort of way. You shared soft touches and sleepy kisses, a meandering sort of affection that wasn’t really going anywhere, just time taken to enjoy each other.

“Steve?” you asked quietly. He only hummed in response and you closed your eyes, getting lost in the moment when his heavy hand slipped up your thigh and his lips caressed the soft skin of your throat.

You sighed, pushing your fingers through his hair. It was shorter now than it had been when you were young, a little more textured and spiky than he used to wear it, a little darker even than it had been. You loved it, loved pushing your fingers through the short locks and scrubbing your nails along his scalp. Steve practically purred.

You smiled, head tipped back and eyes squeezed closed. “Ste-e-eve,” you whispered, tugging a little at his hair and opening his eyes. “Baby, I’m trying to talk here…?”

“Mmm?” he mumbled, pulling away with half-lidded, glassy eyes. It was hard to resist giving in, to let the conversation wait until morning and lose yourself in his sweet kiss and gentle touch. But you didn’t like the idea of sleeping on such an important discussion; best to get it all out in the open.

“I want to go back and see my parents,” you explained quietly. “For Christmas.”

Steve’s eyes widened, suddenly fully awake and alert. “What?” he asked in surprise. “Are you sure?”

You bit your lip, then nodded. “I think it’s the right thing to do,” you told him. Steve nodded slowly, rolling off of you to rest on his side and watch you for a long moment in the dim lighting of your bedroom before speaking again.

“This seems really out of the blue, sweetheart,” he said slowly.

“I’ve been talking about it with Jemma a lot lately,” you explained, and Steve nodded again. He didn’t see Dr. Coulson more than once or twice a month anymore, but you still had regular sessions; Steve was still working through some of his religious guilt, but you had a bit more work to do, with all of the damage your parents had done. “It’s been on my mind for awhile and she thinks that our leaving was so abrupt that I didn’t get any real closure on the matter.”

“Would they even want to see us?” Steve asked quietly. He hadn’t ever thought you’d want to see them again, or that either of you would ever return to that little town.

“I spoke to them on the phone,” you explained, shrugging against your pillow. “It was a little… awkward. But they invited us for the holiday, and I think it’s a good idea.”

He gave you a small, lopsided smile. “If this is what you want, sweetheart. You know I’d do anything for you.”

You grinned, reaching to tug him closer beneath the sheets. “That’s just what I thought you’d say.”

Chapter Text

The bitter cold of a midwest winter had slipped from your memory. It passed so easily, replaced with the hustle and bustle of city streets slick with an inch or so of slushy snow, with sleet and ice that was more an inconvenience than a real bother. Your heeled leather boots and stylish felt peacoat were no match for the cold and snow of your hometown, and you shivered just to walk down Main Street with Steve at your side.

You had made good time on the road from the small regional airport. The flights had been easy as anything, first from New York to Chicago, and Chicago to the smaller airport that serviced the quieter, less populous areas of the midwest. You’d long since lost your fear of flying; Steve had taken you around the world in the years since you left: a summer trip to Paris, a spring jaunt to Tokyo to see the cherry blossoms, even a trip to meet Steve’s distant cousins in Donegal in Ireland. Still, this trip had made you nervous.

Steve had rented an SUV for the drive and it made short work of the long empty highways, which had already been cleared of snow and salted by a half dozen different rural counties. You weren’t due at your parents’ house until six that evening and you didn’t much feel like showing up early, so you decided to take a little nostalgic tour. Everything seemed so much smaller than you remembered. You thought perhaps it was the years of living among skyscrapers that reached towards the heavens and even blotted out the sun that made the neat little brick buildings of Main Street seem dwarfed in comparison. Even the church seemed small, its marble steps looking shabby and dull, the bell tower a small blot against the dark and cloudy winter sky. You had driven past all of your old haunts, noting the few changes that had been made, though much had remained the same. The hours of cramped traveling made you want to walk, so Steve had parked in the old diner’s lot -- closed early for the holiday season, of course -- and you’d taken to the street.

“We should stop in,” Steve said, nodding towards the pharmacy as you passed. “I left my contact solution at home.” The contacts were new; Steve had been getting by with reading glasses for years, but recent months had seen him becoming a bit more nearsighted and he’d finally given in and gotten his eyes checked.

Your eyes caught a glitter of tinsel from across the street, and you smiled. “You go ahead,” you told him. “I’m going to go look at the windows across the way. Meet me over there when you’re done.” Steve nodded and kissed your cheek, watching you cross the empty street before walking into the pharmacy.

There were no big box stores in the little town where you grew up, no Walmarts or Targets less than an hour away. You vaguely recalled your father once saying it was Hydracorp’s doing, involving themselves in politics and zoning committees in an attempt to keep any other large corporations from setting up shop in the vicinity. Your parents, like all the others in town, had made do with what was available: the Main Street Pharmacy and Stern’s Department Store. For much of your life, almost everything you had worn had come from Stern’s; it was a landmark in town, two stories with a large stylized sign lit in bright incandescent bulbs.

Every year at Christmastime, the department store would decorate its large plate glass windows with an animated holiday display. The decorations hadn’t changed much over the years, the same papier-mache elves and wire Christmas trees, lit up with sparkling lights, glittery garlands, and even a life-sized Rudolph with a glow red nose. They’d arrange them a little differently each year but it had a sense of comforting familiarity. It brought to mind a long forgotten memory of you standing there on snow Christmas Eve, your mittened hand clasped in your father’s, grinning at the dancing elves and shining lights.

You’d forgotten all about that, the winter walks you’d take each year to watch the lighting of the town tree and look at the decorations up and down Main Street. The walks stopped the year of your accident and they’d never resumed. Not that it made much difference -- most of the businesses in town had given up on the window displays over the years. Now it was just the department store that kept it up; looking at it now filled you with a sense of bittersweet nostalgia.

“Well don’t you have a lot of nerve,” a voice called, startling you from your revery. You turned in surprised to see Dottie Underwood standing there, bundled up in a warm winter coat, shopping bags clutched in her gloved hands.

You smiled. “Dottie!” you said, all but delighted to see her. You were never exactly friends, but the surprise of a familiar face was enough to make you smile.

She rolled her eyes. “Dorothy, please,” she corrected. “I’m not a child anymore.” You nodded, still smiling; even her attitude was familiar enough to be endearing.

“Of course, Dorothy,” you agreed. “How are you? It’s been ages.”

She snorted. “Small talk?” she asked, tone taking on her same old nasally superiority. “I can’t believe you’d be so crass as to come back. Your parents just barely got past the shame of it all and now you’re here to bring it all back.”

You bit back a rude retort. “Time changes things,” you said. “It’s certainly changed you, Dorothy. I heard you’ve gotten married.” You weren’t connected to her on your social media, but several of your friends were, and you had noted the name change a year or two prior.

“That’s right,” she said, a certain air of snobbishness in her voice. “It’s Dorothy Hodge now.”

“Imagine that,” you said dryly. Gil Hodge was a bumbler and a bit of a follower, never the lead bully but always hanging on the edges back in school. His family was wealthy, his mother coming from the ancestral line of the town founders and his father an executive this-or-that at Hydracorp. Of course Dottie would have married him.

She made an exaggerated show of looking left and right, and over your shoulder, before gripping her shopping backs tighter to put her hands on her hips and giving you a sly little grin.

“Gil’s working, of course, but why are you waltzing around downtown all alone?” she asked, clearly trying to keep the laughter out of her voice.

You arched an eyebrow. “Pardon?” you asked.

Dottie lost her battle and chuckled. “I’ve seen your social media. Have your name up there all hyphenated with Rogers but you barely post a single photo of yourself, let alone your supposed husband. What happened? Did the priest realize what a monumental mistake he had made, running off with a little tart like you? I bet he’s in charge of some nice little church somewhere and you’re living in some trashy little motel or something.”

You laughed. “Oh, wow,” you said, shaking your head. “You’ve really put a lot of thought into that, haven’t you?”

Dottie didn’t have time to respond; while you were talking, Steve had been crossing the street with a paper pharmacy bag in his hand. He sidled up beside you, sliding an arm around your waist.

“All set,” he said, shaking the bag so you could see it. Catching sight of Dottie’s stunned face, Steve gave her a friendly smile. “Dottie! How nice to see you. Merry Christmas!”

“Oh…” Dottie said, cheeks flushing with more than the cold. “Oh, Merry Christmas, Fa… Steve…?”

He smiled. “You about ready, sweetheart?” he asked, turned towards you. “We’re due at your parents’ soon, better get a move on.”

Chapter Text

You paused once you reached the car, holding the lapels of Steve’s coat to steady yourself as you leaned up on tip-toe to kiss him. He smiled against your lips, hands settling at your waist. Flicking his gaze over your shoulder, Steve could see that Dottie was still watching the two of you from outside the department store windows and, unable to resist being a bit cheeky in response, Steve deepened the kiss, reaching down to very obviously palm your ass.

You laughed when you pulled away. “You have impeccable timing,” you told him with a grin.

Steve chuckled. “I maybe spotted her through the pharmacy window,” he confessed, cocking his head to the side with a grin. “Grew up to be just like her mother, seems like. Couldn’t resist showing off a little.”

“Devious,” you said, shaking your head. You reached up to give him one more peck on the lips then slipped out of his arms, rounding the car to get into the passenger seat.

“Let’s be honest,” Steve replied, sliding into the driver’s seat. “That’s what you like about me.”

You arched an eyebrow. “It’s certainly on the list,” you agreed.

 

The gleeful schadenfreude of showing up Dottie Underwood for the first time in your life started to fade as soon as the car started moving. Steve drove carefully, no longer accustomed to the heavy snow on the ground, but intent on keeping you both safe on the way to your childhood home. You felt your anxiety begin to grow with each passing block.

What if they turned you away at the door?

What if you broke, reverting back to a whiny, worried child in their presence?

What if Steve’s temper got the better of him? He was never one to pull punches and an offhand comment could ruin things.

You swallowed hard as you passed the church and reached out to squeeze his arm.

“Steve,” you said, “Pull over.”

“What’s wrong?” he asked, glancing at you for a quick second.

“Steve, I’m going to be sick! Pull over!” you said, hand flying to cover your mouth in an effort to hold back anything that might threaten to spill out.

Steve quickly swerved the car, hitting the brakes as quickly as he could without risking any fishtailing. He stopped alongside a wooded section of the road and you opened the door quickly, fingers feeling clumsy as you struggled to unbuckle your seatbelt; you got out just in time to stumble two feet into the snowy underbrush and begin retching. Steve was at your side before you even finished, a hand on your back and a waiting bottle of water in his hand. You took the water with a grateful glance, rinsing your mouth twice before swallowing half of what remained in one go.

“A little nervous?” Steve asked, brushing your hair away from your face. Thankfully you hadn’t gotten any of the mess onto your clothes or boots.

“A little more than I realized,” you agreed with low sigh.

“We don’t have to do this,” Steve told you, standing there in the cold with the steam of his breath filling the air between the two of you. “We can run. Right now, we can just go, if that’s what you want.” You smiled at him, the memory of the first time he had said those words coming back to you full force.

“I can handle it,” you said, and you took his hand in yours. “I can do anything, just so long as you’re here with me, Steve.”

“I always will be,” he replied, and pulled you into a tight hug.

You squeezed him and then said, “Let’s get back in the car before we freeze to death in our codependency.”

“Hey, it’s not codependency anymore!” Steve told you, grinning in the cold as he walked to his side of the car. “It’s interdependence. Both of our shrinks said so. Beneficial interdependence. We give each other what we need.”

You buckled yourself into your seat and wiggled your eyebrows at him. “If things go well enough, you can give me exactly what I need later tonight.”

Steve laughed, buckling his own seatbelt. “Really?” he said, shaking his head. “In your parents’ house?”

You snorted. “Not like it’d be the first time.”

 

It was strange how a few scant years could make the house where you spent the majority of your life seem so foreign. It was like looking at a photograph in an old magazine, the perfect picture of suburban splendor somehow so far removed that it all seemed fake and flawed. But it was, wasn’t it? It really was.

The house always looked perfect. The lawn manicured in the summers, the sidewalk neatly shoveled and salted in the winters. Your mother’s flowers weeded and the bushes pruned. A string of lights around the front picture window, framing the same old plastic Christmas tree that never faded or lost a needle on the plush beige carpet. It could have been a movie set or a display in a store window, like down at Stern’s department store. This was the perfect little dollhouse where the perfect little family lived. But you knew better.

Maybe that’s all it ever was to your parents -- playing house. You knew for certain that your mother never wanted children and raising you had always been an afterthought for her, even a burden. She has just been playing a prescribed role, the good Catholic woman who had gone forth and multiplied. She had her neat little house and her neat little housewife’s duties, her place in a coveted end seat in the pew each Sunday morning, and then she had her neat little child to dress up in a baptismal gown and Communion dress.

You wondered if there was anything else she had ever wanted for her life, or if it had always been this. People in your town rarely seemed to aspire past what they saw around them. Just look at Dottie -- Steve had hit the nail on the head in saying that she was just like her mother. If memory served, Mrs. Underwood was just as useless and just as catty, married for social standing and wealth more than love if the constant arguments she and her husband got into at church functions were anything to go by. That had been the pinnacle for Dottie, it seemed: marrying well, staying in town, living the same life that her mother had lived, just with a few new and modern accoutrements to keep her happy, like the latest cell phone or a late model car. You hoped she found some real happiness in that, and Gil too, but you had your doubts.

You wondered if your parents found any either.

Steve parked right in front of your parents’ house and stepped out into the street, quickly rounding the front of your rental car to help you out onto the icy curb. You collected the gifts you had brought with you -- a new pipe for father and a nice silk scarf for your mother -- from the trunk and Steve hefted your suitcases, following close on your heels as you made your way up the front walk, your boots crunching in the salt spread on the ground.

It was strange knocking on what had once been your own front door but you did it anyway, holding your breath at the sounds of movement behind it until it swung open, warm light spilling out into the winter’s night.

You put on your very best smile.

“Hi, Mom.”

Chapter Text

It was jarring, how little had changed. You had thought by now they might have finally painted the living room like your father kept saying, or thrown out his old armchair. You thought perhaps there’d be new wallpaper in the dining room or even new dishes for dinner to be served on, but it was like they were stuck in permanent stasis. Nothing had changed all throughout your childhood and adolescence, and it seemed your parents were content to leave things just the same even now.

The small talk was excruciating. After exchanging stilted pleasantries at the door and hanging your coats on the nearby rack, your parents had ushered you into the dining room, your suitcases and the gifts you had brought left in the living room.

“We expected you a little earlier,” your mother insisted, even though you were only ten or so minutes late. Your roadside pit stop had put a damper in your plans to arrive exactly as scheduled. “I’m afraid the roast is probably dried out by now. I had to keep it in the oven, to keep it warm.”

“I’m sure it’s fine, dear,” your father put in lamely.

Dinner conversation didn’t fare much better than the roast, which was indeed barely palatable. You drowned it in gravy, internally wincing at the thought of choking it down, and watched Steve do the same.

“So,” you said, after a moment of uncomfortable silence. “Scott Lang is going to be staying with us after the holidays, while he gets himself back on his feet.”

Your mother sniffed. “Shameful, what that boy did,” she said, shaking her head. “And on top of it, to leave his wife and child to suffer without him. Just shameful.”

“Actually, Maggie and Cassie are doing really well,” Steve offered, trying to sound cheerful. “Maggie’s engaged, and she drives Cassie up to see her father a few times a month.”

Your mother barely seemed to notice him speak. “Hydracorp has always done well by this town,” she went on. “They certainly put the food on this table for years and years. The company is still suffering from that mess. A lot of people will be out of work if it doesn’t improve.”

You shot her an incredulous look. “They were poisoning the groundwater. In a county where almost every town relies on well water.”

Your father cleared his throat. “Sure was glad to be retired before that whole mess,” he interrupted with a forced chuckle. “Even if it just means I’m spending more time in front of the television than at a desk. Isn’t that right dear?”

You mother nodded, seemingly mollified. “His prescription for his glasses has had to be changed three times since then. He’ll go blind if he keeps staying up late to watch those Perry Mason reruns!”

“We got the cable now, you know,” your father said, and you couldn’t help but smile. It was always that way with him -- The Cable, The Internet, spoken as though they were proper nouns.

“A lot more than Perry Mason for you to catch up on these days, Dad,” you told him, and he nodded enthusiastically.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “I swear you can find some Law & Order running just about any time of day. I like all of them, you know, but your mother will only watch the original.”

“I won’t have that dirty one on the television if I’m in the room,” she declared, shaking her head. “Just a bunch of perversions, if you ask me.”

You bit your cheek to keep from saying something rude, and you were certain that Steve’s sudden coughing fit was more of a cover to hide his laughter.

 

By the time you finished eating, you were ready for bed. The day’s travel combined with the exhausting dinner left you tired down to your bones. It had almost felt like one of Steve’s work functions, where you had to be dolled up and play a role to placate the people who smiled their fake smiles and shook hands like it was their life’s purpose. You censored yourself, even while trying to explain how happy you were without outright saying it.

Your mother picked at everything.

You mentioned how quickly Steve had moved up the ladder at his new job and were talking about buying a new home in the coming spring; it was met with a derisive snort and a sly “Well it must be nice not to have that vow of poverty to worry about any longer”. You ignored it, not even bothering to remind her that priests don’t take vows of poverty.

When you tried to talk about your schooling and your own position at Shield & Co, your mother had shaken her head. “Student loans for coloring classes?” she asked. “And now people pay you to pick out their wallpaper? Oh, that New York City just looks for ways for foolish people to spend their money.”

That time, Steve did interrupt, explaining in a patient tone that interior design was only half of what you did, and that you had created new patterns and furniture pieces for many very happy clients. Your mother just shook her head and rolled her eyes.

You tried to take it all in stride, and most of it you could. But the most infuriating thing was that your mother had referred to your husband as ‘Father Steve’ three times. The last time was over coffee and dessert -- some kind of canned fruit dump cake with so much sugar in the syrup that it made your teeth ache -- and you just couldn’t take it anymore. You stood up quickly, Steve’s hand quickly grabbing yours to stead you.

“We should probably turn in for the night,” you announced through gritted teeth. “It’s been a long day, after all.”

“Of course, of course,” your father agreed, standing from his place at the table. “Travel always does take it outta you, doesn’t it?”

You offered to help clean up the table but your mother shooed you away, so you and Steve followed your father to the living room, where your bags still waited. Your mother came along, fluttering about as if to supervise, instructing your father what bags to carry upstairs even as Steve insisted he could handle them himself.

“The guest room is all made up,” your mother announced in a forcibly pleasant tone, glancing at you to add, “And your bedroom is ready for you.”

Steve paused in his step towards the stairs and glanced at you, even as you froze in place and frowned.

“Pardon?” you asked after a long, silent moment.

“We talked about this, dear,” you heard your father say to your mother quietly, but she ignored him.

“Fath… Steve can stay in the guest room,” she explained. “I aired it out all this week. Your bedroom is ready too, fresh sheets and all.”

Your eyes narrowed. “You expect us to sleep in separate rooms?” you asked.

Crossing her arms over her chest, your mother lifted her chin in a resolute manner. “It’s only proper,” she insisted.

You sighed heavily. “Mother. Steve and I are married. We can sleep in the same bed.”

That set her off.

“You’re not married!” she shouted as your father tried to calm her. “A priest can’t marry! You didn’t go to the Church, you just went to the court! You’re not married in the eyes of god!”

“Jesus Christ, Mom, you’re being ridiculous!” you shouted back. “Steve and I are married, we’ve been married for years! Stop being so dramatic!”

“You’re not married in the eyes of god!” she repeated, voice growing near hysterical. “I will not have fornication under my roof, in your childhood bed!”

Steve saw the way you froze at her words, the way you set your shoulders squarely, and he knew exactly what you were about to say. He knew he should stop you, but part of him didn’t want to -- and better still, part of him knew that he would never be able stem the flow of the words that were about to come from your mouth.

Hands on your hip, voice low and deadly, you smiled and said, “Do you really think it’d be the first time?”

Chapter Text

Your mother went off like a bottle rocket, flailing her arms and shouting about Jezebels and whores between half-remembered prayers and pleas for mercy on your behalf. Your father tried to calm her, settling his hands on her shoulders, but she pulled away, shaking her head and gripping the gold cross she had worn around her neck for as long as you can remember.

You shook your head. “I think that’s about enough,” you said.

Maybe it was the way you stood, resolute and stony-faced, or maybe it was something in your voice, the way it was calm and of an even tone, no hysteria or childish screaming. You knew the fury your words were going to cause but you said them anyway; some part of you felt as though she deserved it, deserved to know what had been happening right under her nose, what her negligence had even somehow allowed. Mostly, you had wanted to see the hysteria it would cause. It was funny, in a way; your mother’s religion had always been a crutch, her sincerity only stretching so far as it would serve her personally. She was no more devout than you, really.

She stopped her hysteria and stared at you with wide eyes and an ashy, pale face.

“We’re going to leave,” you said evenly. “And we’re never going to come back.”

“I’ll put the law on you,” she threatened in response. “You were just a child. I can put the law on you for that. Send him to jail, where he belongs.”

You rolled your eyes. “No, you won’t,” you told her. “You couldn’t take the scandal. All your little church friends knowing that your teenage daughter spent her high school years gleefully fucking the parish priest. So no, you won’t. Besides, it’s your word against ours. You have no proof but an offhand comment I made and even that I can say you pushed me to say it, to get a reaction.”

“I wouldn’t invite sin into my home,” your mother said, voice raspy from her screaming.

You smiled softly. “Good,” you said. “Cling to your faith, Mom. It’s all you’re going to have left.”

She shook her head. “And you? What do you have? You’ll realize one day that you need…”

“I don’t need you,” you cut her off, shaking her head. “I need you to understand that. I think that’s part of why I came here, why I wanted to see you. I thought I owed it to you to try and fix this but I don’t. I don’t owe you anything, and I don’t need you anymore.”

Your mother scoffed. “Every child needs their parents,” she blathered. “Who is going to take care of you, when this… this predator runs away and leaves you? Who’s going to be your family?”

Your smile grew and you felt Steve put his hand on your shoulder in a supportive gesture.

“I have a family,” you told her. “I have a wonderful, warm, loving family, full of people who know who I am and accept it… who know Steve, and accept us both for who we are. There’s a woman who loves me like her own daughters… and her daughters who treat me like the little sister they never had. Their children call me ‘Auntie’, and I have the best big brother anyone could ever have asked for in Steve’s best friend.

“And I have Maggie, and Cassie, and Scott… I have Angie and her girlfriend, the friends I made in school and through work, even the friends Steve has made at his company. We have a whole life full of people who care about us, and we don’t need you. Either of you.”

Your heart grew full and warm just to think of them all. Natasha and Clint from work; Bucky’s team, the Howlies as he affectionately called them; Sam, who had somehow fit into your little circle when you realize that Bucky knew him from his time in the service; Steve’s colleagues, Carol and Maria; even Pepper Potts, who had become a good friend after you’d helped redesign your office. And that wasn’t even touching on the Barnes’, who had adopted you into their clan just as easily as they would have done with Steve all those years ago.

Your mother shook her head. “A girl needs her mother,” she pointed out shakily.

“Maybe I did, a long time ago,” you said. “And maybe if you had been there for me when I did, things wouldn’t have turned out this way. You were right when you said that you never should have had kids, Mom. There’s nothing in you but selfishness. There’s no room in your heart for anyone but you.”

She gasped, crocodile tears springing to her eyes even as your father stood nearby, resolute and silent.

“How could you say such things to me!” she wailed. “I’m your mother! I gave you life!”

“That’s not all a mother should be,” you countered with a shrug. “I was never anything but a burden to you, and you made that abundantly clear, time and again. But I’m not angry anymore, Mom. I want you to know that. I forgive you. We can’t help who we are, in the end. None of us can. You’re manipulative, and mean, and though I may forgive you, I’m not gonna forget that. So when I walk out that door, I’m never coming back. You’re going to be nothing to me but a series of bad memories.”

You turned to go, slipping easily into your coat and lifting Steve’s from where it hung beside yours, to tuck over your arm until he got to the car and his hands were free from luggage.

“He’s going to leave you!” your mother shouted, one last attempt to make you second-guess yourself.

You laughed, just gently. “No he won’t. He loves me,” you responded simply. “We’re going to continue to build our life together. We’ll adopt a dog and go on vacations, and we’re gonna have kids, and you won’t be a part of any of that. And it’s your own fault.”

She started her hysterics again after you spoke; you just turned and walked out the door.

 

Steve followed you out the door, hot on your heels as you made for the car. You waited patiently as he piled the luggage back into the car and then slipped into his embrace before he even closed the trunk.

“You okay, sweetheart?” he asked, dropping a kiss on your forehead.

You smiled up at him. “I am,” you said, and nodded. “I really am.”

Steve smiled; he could see you were at peace. “So what do we do now?” he asked. “I suppose we could drive back to the airport, but I don’t know if we’d get a flight any time soon…”

You shook your head. “I had a contingency plan,” you explained. “There’s a bed and breakfast two towns over. We’re booked for a late arrival.”

“That’s why I married you,” Steve said, kissing you again, this time a gentle peck on the lips. “You’re brilliant.”

You laughed and slipped from his embrace, moving towards the passenger side door. Your hand was reaching to open it when you heard the sound of a door opening behind you, and a voice calling “Wait!”

Chapter Text

You turned to see your father standing on the sidewalk. He had rushed out the door, wearing only his grey tattered slippers on his feet and no coat over his flannel shirt to fend off the winter chill in the air. You stared at him with a passive expression; you’d said what you needed to say, and though it had been directed at your mother, he hadn’t tried to stop you or defend either her or himself. The ball was in his court now.

“I… I don’t…” he began, the words coming out in a confused tumble, his breath steaming out into the cold night air.

You started bac expectantly, but said nothing.

Your father squeezed his eyes shut and pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket, scrubbing it over his face before balling it up in his fist. When he opened his eyes again, he looked fearful but resolute.

“I never did right by you,” he told you, shaking his head. “All these years. I should’ve spoke up more, I should’ve done more to protect you, but I was so afraid. I hurt you once, hurt you so bad, and I…”

He dropped his head, gaze firmly on the sidewalk. “I was the one driving. I should never… neither of us had any right to be on the road that night. I made a bad mistake and I almost lost you… thought maybe I should step back, maybe let your mother take a stronger hand with you. Keep you safe, safe from me.”

The words hit you with the brute force of a punch to the gut. You had known, on some level; your mother was never much one for getting behind the wheel, though she did have her license, and your father always drove so slowly, so carefully. Like he knew he had to be. Like he was trying to make up for something. To hear it out loud though, finally, after so many years when they just pretended it never happened, was almost a strange sort of triumph.

“You were drunk,” you said flatly, voice cold and emotionless. Even to your own ears it sounded as though it were coming from down a long, echoing tunnel.

He nodded. “A man has a drink or two, he thinks he can drive. A stupid man has more than a few, still thinks he’s fine. No excuse for it. No one’s fault but mine.”

“She could have stopped you,” you said. Giving him an out, not that he deserved it. Giving him a way to release some of the guilt he must have been feeling for so long. “Someone there could have stopped you.”

Your father shook his head. “One of us should have known well enough that somebody would have to drive home. No one’s fault but our own. I was stupid and selfish, and I nearly got you killed. Thought that meant I didn’t have a place in raisin’ you anymore… I never forgave myself for hurting you, and I’ll never forgive myself for leaving you to your mother’s devices.”

You frowned at him. “That’s it?” you asked. “Did you come out here just to get it off your chest, try and relieve a little guilt?”

He shook his head violently. “No!” your father insisted, then said your name, soft and plaintive. “Please. You’re the best thing that I ever had any part in. I didn’t believe in love at first sight until they put you in my arms the day you were born and I… I can’t lose you again.”

It was true, what he had said. Your memories from before the accident were scattered and blurry, but little things came back to you now and again, like the sudden memory that had come to you that very night, of looking at the decorated windows in town when you were young. There were images in your mind of your father, so young and kind-faced, picnicking in the yard while your mother gardened or keeping you steady on your bike the day he had taken off your training wheels. And there were moments in the aftermath, long after the accident that had taken a year away from your life, when he’d speak up quietly, telling your mother to go easy on you, or when he’d slip you an extra twenty when you were going out.

You glanced at Steve, who was standing on the other side of the car, watching you closely for any sign of distress. You gave him a reassuring smile and then turned back to your father, walking up the sidewalk slowly to give him a quick, tight hug. You reached into the pocket of your coat and grabbed one of the business cards that you always kept there to hand to him.

“This has my email address and my cell number,” you told him. “I don’t plan on having to defend my choices, or my husband, again. If you want to find me, you can. My life is in New York, with Steve, and I’m going home. If you want to be a part of it, that’s fine, but I won’t chase after you.”

Casting a look at house, where your mother peered angrily out from behind the living room curtains, you added, “But I’m done with her.”

Your father nodded. “I understand,” he said quietly.

You kissed him on the cheek and turned, heading back down the sidewalk to where Steve had started warming up the car.

“You never lost me, Dad,” you called over your shoulder. “You just let her push me out the door.”

 

The drive to the bed and breakfast was mostly quiet. The radio was only picking up some fire and brimstone preacher on a local fundamentalist station, so you turned it off rather than listen to him blather about sin and hellfire. God knew you had heard enough of that to last a lifetime.

You were tired but you felt good, as though you’d run a marathon and were left to enjoy the aching muscles that stood testament to your accomplishment. Jemma had told you the trip would be good for you; you’d left home so abruptly and cut off contact with your parents soon after, negating any possibility of resolution or reconciliation. You knew your mother would never really accept your relationship with Steve, but you had wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. Knowing the truth now, and knowing that she would be gone from your life forever, you felt at peace.

After all, blood was just blood. You didn’t owe her anything. You had real family now, people who loved you for who you were without any care as to how your early years had played out. It didn’t matter that they weren’t blood -- they were still family.

Steve snorted softly and you glanced over to him, catching the fading hint of a smirk on his lips over whatever it was he had been thinking about as he drove.

“What is it?” you asked curiously.

He chuckled again. “‘Gleefully fucking’?” he asked.

You laughed. “Well I was pretty cheerful about it, if you recall. Still am.”

“No complaints from me, sweetheart,” Steve agreed, reaching with one hand to squeeze your thigh, right where he knew you were ticklish.

You giggled and grabbed his hand, twining your fingers with his and leaning over onto his shoulder, sighing contentedly and watching a light snow fall on the road before you.

Chapter Text

Steve could tell you were exhausted by the time you reached the little bed and breakfast. It was an old Victorian house that looked lovingly restored, tucked away on a relatively quiet street in a town a little larger than yours. There was an evergreen wreath on the door, decked out with a red velvet ribbon, and still a light burning in what seemed to be the front parlor window. It looked as though an idyllic Christmas card had come to life and you smiled to see it, tired as you were.

Steve wrangled the bags from the trunk, saying, “Go ahead, sweetheart. I’m right behind you.” True to his word, he was only a step or two away as you trekked up the brick walkway and then the wooden stairs of the wraparound porch. Your hand was reaching for the doorknocker when the heavy wooden door opened; clearly, someone had been waiting up for you.

The woman was small but stout, middle-aged with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. She wore a sweatshirt and jeans, and had a cheerful and strangely familiar expression, smiling immediately in greeting.

“Mr. and Mrs. Rogers?” she asked.

Steve nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Thank you so much for waiting up for us.”

The woman stepped aside to allow the both of you to enter, closing the door behind you. “No trouble at all,” she said. “I’m a bit of a night owl anyway. If you just follow me, I’ll take you up to your room and give you the spiel. Let’s try and keep it quiet though, all of our other guests have turned in for the night already.”

Steve was grateful that you had both decided to pack fairly light, as there were three sets of stairs to climb to reach your room. You had booked the only room in the place that had its own private bathroom -- the others had to share -- and it was at the very top of the house. The house itself was a historic landmark, or so the woman had said, former home of a prominent local businessman a century or so prior, and purportedly haunted by his daughter.

“We haven’t really seen anything ourselves,” she explained with a wink, “But we like to play it up around October, you know.”

When she finally you the key to your room and bid you both goodnight, Steve breathed a sigh of relief. He was ready to turn in himself -- and he could see you were flagging as well. He did his best not to fuss over you too much for the most part, remembering how you had resented it early on in your marriage and saw it as a form of control, but sometimes he couldn’t help himself. Sometimes, you needed it, and he could always tell when you did -- like tonight.

The room was somewhat small but cozy, dominated by a large brass bed placed in a central position against the wall and a tall but narrow fireplace inset on the wall directly across from it. A fire had been lit for you and was sending dancing shadows across the walls of the room, which was lit only by a reproduction oil lamp, thankfully wired for electric, sitting on a table by the single large window. A door beside a dark wooden dresser on the opposite wall was half-open, revealing a small bathroom with white and grey checked tiles.

Steve stashed the suitcases alongside the dresser, then helped you ease out of your coat. You looked up at him and smiled, your eyes already half-lidded.

“Thanks,” you told him, then stifled a yawn. “I’m beat.”

Steve peeled off his own coat and laughed. “I can tell,” he agreed, dipping into a suitcase to pull out one of his t-shirts. He moved back to your side to pull down the zipper on the back of your dress, raising an eyebrow when he saw the designer label inside.

“Dressing to impress?” he asked; he knew that you weren’t one to go in for branding. You snorted, patiently allowing him to slide the sleeveless dress off your shoulders and then down past your waist.

“Guess I wanted to show-off to my mother a little,” you mused, then laughed. “Can’t imagine why I bothered. Clothes don’t amount for much, do they? After all, it only took a cheap thrift store dress to snag you.”

Steve chuckled and pulled down the strap on your bra, dropping a soft kiss on your shoulder in its place; you hadn’t even noticed him unhook it.

“You had me long before that, sweetheart,” he told you, repeating the action on the opposite shoulder so that your bra slipped to the floor, landing on top of the puddle that was your dress. “Hook, line, and sinker.”

You turned in his embrace and he smiled at you, unable to resist sliding a glance down your mostly bare form before helping you into the t-shirt he had pulled out of the suitcase. You might hate anything that seemed like being overprotected, but you allowed him the occasional luxury of taking care of you like this. Steve could always tell when you needed it most.

You leaned up to kiss him, meaning it to be just a simple brush of your lips against his, but found yourself relaxing against the solid warmth of his body and licking your way past his lips with slow, sensual abandon. He returned the kiss with a gentle eagerness and you might have seen it further along if you hadn’t been so tired. Steve knew it as well as you did, and broke away to drop a kiss on the tip of your nose, making you laugh.

“Why don’t you get into bed?” he offered. “Don’t need you falling asleep on your feet again.”

You slipped away from him and walked towards the bed, but shook your head. “I’ve never done that,” you countered.

“Oh no?” Steve asked, stripping out of his own dress shirt and khakis. “What about last week, in the shower? You were leaned right up against the tile, snorin’ away. Might’ve drowned if I hadn’t decided to join you.”

“It was five a.m.,” you reminded, settling yourself under the cover. The sheets were crisp and cool, and the coverlet, printed in a quilted flannel pattern, was as soft and comfortable as you liked it. “And I’ve never been a morning person. Besides, I perked right up again once you popped in.”

Steve gave you a lascivious grin. “I’m told I have that effect on people,” he said with salacious little wink.

“Better not be havin’ that effect on anybody but me,” you grumbled goodnaturedly, enjoying the way he laughed at the very thought. Your eyelids were heavy when he slid into bed beside you, sidled up closer than you were used to in a bed that was smaller than the one you had at home.

It was nice though, having him so close. He draped one arm over your waist and you turned in his embrace to push him onto his back and press your face into his chest, firm and warm beneath your cheek and more comfortable than any pillow could ever.

With his free hand, Steve flicked on the StarkPad you hadn’t even noticed he had retrieved from your bags, and asked, “Where were we?”

You yawned. “Renfield,” you said. “At Carfax.”

“Right, right…” Steve muttered, and a moment later, began to read, his steady voice lulling you quietly into a deep, much-needed sleep. “'I ran back at once, told the watchman to get three or four men immediately and follow me into the grounds of Carfax, in case our friend might be dangerous'…”*

Chapter Text

You slept deeply, but not as long as you would have liked. By dawn, Steve was rustling beside you, attempting to get more comfortable in a bed smaller and softer than what you had at home, and the motion had roused you. You knew it was automatic for him; he still ran most mornings and he woke early without need of an alarm. You had half a mind to tell him he was crazy if he wanted to go out for a run in the frigid Midwestern winter, but he had just cuddled closer to you and sighed softly, nuzzling against your hair, clearly having no intention to run.

It was perfect. You felt so wonderfully content. You had been afraid that you would be rattled and regress if you tried to confront your parents, but you felt nothing but peace over the whole situation. You had given them both a chance; she had made her decision, as had your father. You didn’t know for certain if he would really be a part of your life in the future, but it was all up to him now.

Some part of you had never really believed you could have this, that your dream of running away with Steve to find some bright and beautiful future together was simply that: nothing more than a dream that would never come to fruition. Time had proved you wrong. You had a wonderful, fulfilling life with the man that you loved. And you were happy. You were just so damn happy.

That was what had made you break your silence. You had planned to wait a while longer, but all the joy just bubbling up inside you wouldn’t allow it.

“Steve?” you said softly into the early morning stillness of the room, checking to see if he was still awake.

“Mmm?” came the response, the arm he had wrapped around you, just beneath your breast, tightening just a little in an affectionate squeeze.

“Steve, we’re going to have a baby,” you told him.

“‘Course we are,” Steve readily agreed, voice thick with sleep. “We’re gonna have a family and a dog and everything, anything you want.”

You laughed softly. “No, Steve. We’re going to have a baby.” You slipped your hand over his, gently guiding it down to the soft expanse of your belly. There was nothing there yet, not really; you’d always been a little soft around the middle, something Steve seemed to enjoy, if the way he would nuzzle and kiss you there was any indication, but you thought that maybe, just maybe, you’d gained a little more padding.

You’d been nervous to tell him. It wasn’t anything you’d planned on. You’d talked about children, yes, but only in the abstract: some day, one day, in the future. Nothing concrete, no talk of starting to try or when would be the perfect time. The only room you had for a nursery had been offered up to Scott before you had known, but that was fine; you had it in your head that you’d like a bassinet in your own bedroom, at least for a little while. Something so small and precious shouldn’t be out of sight for too long, after all.

You had been saving the news but last night had changed your mind. You knew then that you had it in you to be a mother, to safeguard this small, fragile thing from everything out in the world that might seek to harm it, to take the lead to protect it from anything that might rear its ugly head. And you knew that no matter what happened, Steve would always be there beside you, ready to protect you both if necessary. There was no question to that, not now; there never really had been, only your own insecurities wreaking havoc alongside your hormonal turmoil.

Your words seemed to wake Steve from his half-sleepy state. “Did you… did you say…?” he said.

You laughed again. “I did,” you agreed. “You’re going to be a father.” You rolled onto your back to get a better look at his expression, unable and unwilling to get the smile off of your face. Steve was up on one elbow on his side, staring down at you with a wide, unreadable gaze.

“And you’re… you’re happy about that?” he asked slowly, measuring his words as though he were afraid he might say something wrong.

“I am,” you agreed, folding your hands over your midsection. “I know it’s not planned and we never really sat down and talked about when would be the right time, but you know we’ve never been careful about it.”

You’d gone off birth control a year or so prior, after your doctor became concerned about the effect it was having on your blood pressure. You’d always meant to get an implant or an IUD, but you just kept putting it off. You hadn’t really thought of the risk; you’d never even considered it, in spite of the very active sex life you’d always had with Steve. The mere idea had been such a shock that you’d taken six at-home pregnancy tests before you made a doctor’s appointment to confirm.

If you were being completely honest with yourself, you had held a little uncertainty over whether or not you’d ever be allowed to have a child with Steve. You weren’t sure where you fell on religion as of late -- it was little difficult to stick a pin in where your faith had fallen when you had slept with and married an actual priest, Steve never being fully defrocked by his order. Sometimes you wondered if there even was a god, and if he -- or she, or it -- would ever allow you to fully experience the life you wanted, due to that trespass alone. It was something of a vindication that this new life had begun to grow inside you. If only Steve would give something away about what he was feeling.

You bit your lip, unsettled by Steve’s momentary silence, but you should have known better. The grin that split his face was brighter than the sun, and a bubble of deep laughter escaped him before he was leaning to kiss you. The warmth of joyful tears spilled down your cheeks, mingled weness from Steve and you both.

“A baby,” he whispered, voice low with a hushed sense of awe. “We’re having a baby!”

You’d missed breakfast that morning, spending the early hours of the day wrapped around one another in bed, laughing and talking and crying a little here and there. You still had some fears you needed to conquer, neither of you quite sure if you had all the tools you needed to give your child a good, normal life when your own experiences with your parents had been so varied. Your issues were easily read, and Steve had never known his father and lost his mother too young to know fully what a parent should really be. But you were confident you could muddle through it together; after all, you’d gotten this far.

Chapter Text

The bed and breakfast you had chosen offered an evening meal as well as the standard breakfast fare, so though you had missed breakfast that morning, you chose to join the host and other guests at the dinner hour. The dining room was a little smaller than you’d expected, full of hulking dark furniture and dramatic burgundy floral wallpaper, but the atmosphere was cheery enough and the table was full of a roast chicken dinner. You and Steve took seats closest to your host, the woman who had greeted you at the door the night before, and were quickly introduced around the table.

There was an older couple, Hank and Janet, who were on what they were considering a second honeymoon. Their only child, a daughter, was working overseas and wouldn’t be home for the holidays, so they decided to take a romantic getaway together instead of going through the motions at home. The only other guests were a pair of friends, two women named Darcy and Jane, who were traveling on what the former referred to as their ‘Friendship Festivus Tour’, as neither were keen on spending the holidays with their respective families and had no other earthly ties.

Conversation was friendly and the food was delicious, but throughout dinner, Steve seemed to be stealing glances at your host. For that, you couldn’t blame him: there was something terribly familiar about the woman, though you were all but certain you hadn’t met her before. Finally, Steve seemed unable to stand it any longer.

“I’m sorry, but have we met before now?” he finally asked, while the others at the table were engaged in a lively chat about some college in New Mexico that they were all familiar with. “You look so familiar, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

The woman shook her head. “No, not that I can recall,” she admitted.

You frowned. “We’re from a town not too far from here,” you offered. “Maybe we just passed by on the street or a local fair or something.”

She asked you the name of the town and when you told her, she smiled. “Oh, you probably knew my father,” she explained. “Abraham Erskine?”

Steve’s face lit up. “Dr. Erskine!” he confirmed, recognition shining in his eyes. “You must be his daughter Miriam! He spoke so much about you!”

You took a closer look at her and you could indeed see the resemblance, muddled alongside hints of Dr. Erskine’s lovely wife, Emilia.

“You look so much like your parents,” you told her, smiling. “I’m surprised we didn’t notice it straight away.”

Miriam nodded. “I get that a lot,” she agreed. “It seems he touched a lot of lives while he was teaching. A more fitting tribute than any other, I’d say.”

Steve’s expression softened, realizing that Miriam was speaking of her father in the past tense.

“He’s passed?” he asked.

Miriam nodded again, a sad smile on her face. “‘Gone home to god’, he would have called it,” she agreed. “About two years ago.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Steve said, slipping his hand into yours beneath the table. “Your father was a friend to me when I had very few. I should have told him as much.”

“I’m sure he knew,” Miriam said, expression brightening. “You’re Steven, aren’t you? From the church? I should have realized when the booking came in under ‘Rogers’, I just never put two and two together. Dad spoke about you from time to time, both of you, hoping you were doing well. Said you reminded him of himself when he was young… of him and Mom.”

“Is your mother…?” you ventured, and Miriam shook her head.

“No, no, she went very quickly after Dad,” she explained, and seeing your face fall, reached over to pat your free hand on the tabletop. “Oh, don’t be said. They would have wanted it that way. Dad fell asleep in his garden chair one day and just never woke up again. The doctors told me it was a stroke, and he hadn’t felt any pain. And he was in the place he loved best. Mom went in her sleep a few weeks later. Honestly, it was the longest they’d been apart since they ran away together, I think she was ready to join him. I’m sure he told you about the way they met?”

Steve chuckled softly and nodded, remembering the little heart-to-heart Dr. Erskine had given him in the school corridor one day as he left your usual lunch date in the library.

“It was all about timing, right?” Steve offered, a twinkle in his eye, and Miriam laughed.

“Exactly,” she agreed, and sighed, leaning back in her seat. “He’d be so pleased to see the two of you, so happy together. I’m glad I got to, at least.”

 

You spent two more days at the bed and breakfast before returning home to New York, enjoying the company of Miriam and the other guests. Darcy and Jane were in New York often, and you exchanged information to meet up the next time they were in the city. You also made plans to revisit the bed and breakfast come springtime, to see the expansive gardens behind the house. The original owner had built an elaborate garden for his wife, and Miriam had restored it as a memorial to her parents, spreading their ashes here so they would always be with her.

The Barnes family was elated to hear you were coming home before Christmas and would be joining them in their celebrations. Bucky was at his parents’ for dinner and put you on speakerphone when you called, so there was a chorus of cheers and laughter from those gathered and everyone talked over one another, making plans and promises for the holiday to come. It filled you with a tender warmth inside; you had been right in what you told you mother, after all. You didn’t need her; you had a family.

And, in time, it would grow by one more.

You made the decision on the flight home to keep your joyful news to yourselves, for the time being. It was still early on; you hadn’t even had your first sonogram yet. Steve was glad to hear that much -- he would have been gutted if you’d had it without him. You made plans together all through your journey, discussing all the happy decisions to come: names to choose, whether you wish to find out about the baby’s gender, how you’ll design the nursery, and all of those lovely things you never really dared to dream you might get to do.

Chapter Text

It was difficult to keep your wonderful news to yourselves over the holiday celebrations. The moment you walked into the warm, cozy apartment shared by the Barnes’, Winnie enveloped you in a tight hug.

“We’re so glad you were able to make it!” she declared. “It just wouldn’t have been the same without you two!”

That made you grin; after all, it had been only a few years now that you had been a part of the Barnes’ holiday celebrations. That Winnie considered both you and Steve to be an integral part of the festivities warmed your heart.

Pulling back, Winnie took your face in her hands. “Look at you,” she said with a bright smile. “That trip away did you some good. You’re glowing.”

The way she winked at you before letting you go made you believe that she perhaps knew a little more than she was letting on. Later on, after Bucky had made the family’s customary toast to good health and happiness over dinner, Becca spotted you as you raised your glass of wine to your lips but did not drink. She raised an eyebrow and smirked at you across the table and you had to turn away, your cheeks burning and a small smile playing on your lips.

 

A week before Scott was due to be released, you came home from work to find Bucky on your couch, clearly waiting for someone to arrive home. It wasn’t an uncommon sight; though Bucky had moved into new digs at Stark Tower ages ago, he still popped in at your apartment with startling regularity. More than once you’d come home and wandered into your kitchen for a cup of coffee, only to find Bucky foraging through your refrigerator.

Not that you’d ever complain. You owed him so much; besides, you didn’t mind the company.

“Hey Buck,” you called in greeting, stripping out of the new woolen trenchcoat that Steve had insisted on buying you as soon as you returned to New York.

“Your jacket isn’t warm enough!” Steve had pressed, pulling you along into Bloomingdale’s by the hand. “You know how cold it’s been getting, I don’t want to risk you getting sick!” He was going a bit Mother Hen over you as of late, but it was sweet, in its way.

Sometimes, you reasoned, it was nice to be doted on.

“Don’t you ‘hey Buck’ me!” Bucky called, breaking you from your reverie. “Why the hell am I getting calls from a federal prison at work?”

You turned and smiled. “Oh! Scott got in touch?”

“Yeah, Scott got in touch,” Bucky groused, clearly well steeped in his grumpiness. “Why, exactly, is Scott getting in touch? Seems to think I could get him a job?”

“You were just complaining that Dernier was leaving,” you reminded, slipping out of the heels you had worn to work that day. Your feet were killing you; the swelling wasn’t too bad, but all of the pregnancy forums you had been surfing lately assured you it would only get worse. You were intent to switch to flats as soon as possible.

You settled yourself onto the couch, leaning onto the arm and tucking your feet beneath you.

“Scott is good with computers,” you reasoned. “And he finished his degree while he’s been in prison. It seemed like a good match.”

Bucky snorted. “In prison. For corporate espionage,” he said; clearly, he had done a bit of research about your old friend.

You rolled your eyes. “It’s a trumped up charge,” you said. “Scott was a whistleblower. He didn’t make any money or attempt to sell the information he found, he just did an infodump of things people needed to know.”

“So I’m supposed to go on your word of ‘good with computers’ and ‘whistleblower’, and hire the guy sight unseen?” Bucky pressed.

You laughed. “No one told you to hire him, Bucky. I just thought you might take a look at what he can do, see if he’s a good fit. I don’t expect him to take too long to find work but it might be a bit hampered by the felony.”

Bucky crossed his arms over his chest and put his feet up on the coffee table, in spite of the warning frown you gave him at the action.

“I get what you’re tryin’ to do,” he said, shaking his head. “Your old pal needs a leg up and you worked your connections, I get it. But this is Stark Industries -- this is high tech shit. Can’t haul in any jackass with an IT degree.”

“He took down the Hydracorp system,” you pointed out. “That was before he had any real schooling behind him, and he was always messing around on the computer when we were kids.”

“Hydracorp is crap,” Bucky replied stubbornly. “They put no money into security. My nieces could unravel that shit if they tried hard enough.”

You frowned. “He was really heavy into poking around major security systems back in the day,” you told him. “I think he took a crack at Stark once or twice.”

Bucky snorted. “No one’s made so much as a blip on our radar in years.”

You arched an eyebrow. “You sure about that?” you asked.

Bucky snorted again. “I think I’d know.”

You couldn’t help but grin. “So then you never had trouble with someone using the handle ‘Ant-Man’?”

 

Bucky was still winding down from his rant about ‘punk kid wannabe-hackers’ and ‘parents not monitoring the shit their kids get up to on the fucking internet’ when Steve came home. He hung up his own coat by the door and gave you a quizzical look paired with a nod towards Bucky, who had worked himself up into quite the lather.

You laughed a little. “I told him about Scott,” you explained, and Steve smiled.

“Guess that didn’t go well,” Steve replied with a chuckle, leaning to kiss you in greeting and press a paper cup into your hand. You’d had incessant cravings for the Mexican hot chocolate sold in a little shop on Steve’s route home as of late, and he brought you them once or twice a week when he remembered.

You’d had to leave early that morning for a breakfast meeting with a high-end client looking to retool the entire feel of his offices, and Steve had still been in the shower when you walked out the door. You hadn’t been able to kiss him goodbye as you almost always did, so you took a moment to revel in his kiss now, reaching your free hand to scratch the soft bristly hairs at the back of his neck and earn a pleased groan in response.

“Jesus Christ,” Bucky grumbled, most certainly wearing his signature PDA-exposure grimace, though you were too occupied to look. “I thought by now you’d quit with the makin’ out like teenagers at the drop of a hat.”

Steve was grinning when you finally let him pull away. “Didn’t I tell you, Buck?” he asked. “Can’t help myself. My shrink says I’m sexually obsessed with my wife.”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Yeah? And what’re you supposed to do about it?”

“I believe Phil’s exact words were ‘have fun with that’,” you replied with a laugh. Noting Bucky’s questioning look, you shrugged. “It came up in a joint session.”

“That doesn’t mean I need to see you two pervin’ up on each other every time I come over,” he complained. “And besides -- you knew about this Scott guy, you punk? You didn’t think it’d be pertinent to tell your ol’ pal about some kid you knew who was tryin’ to mess with my system?”

Steve collapsed into the other armchair and reached up to loosen his tie. It was your favorite -- deep blue with tiny little black dots in a diamond pattern that lit up his eyes like nothing else. Only Steve could manage to make a slate grey business suit and white dress look so damn appealing.

“I didn’t know he was doin’ it at the time,” Steve countered with a sigh. “Besides, I was a little occupied with other… matters… back then.”

Bucky crossed his legs and snorted. “Yeah, I’m sure you were,” he said. “You were too busy…”

“Finish that sentence wrong, and you don’t get to be godfather to our kid,” Steve warned, winking at you as he spoke. You’d already decided that it was time to start telling people, and he had wanted Bucky to be the first. You couldn’t help but smile in reply.

“Yeah, sure,” Bucky said with a snort. “You’d actually have to have a kid to… to…” he trailed off, eyes flicking between your and Steve’s beaming smiles. He suddenly grinned, eyes gone wide and, unless it was a trick of the light, just a little bit teary.

“Well I’ll be damned!” he cried out happily. “Wait… well, shit. I owe Becca fifty bucks.”

Chapter Text

Spring came and with it, your growing belly really began to show. You’d kept mum for the most part, telling only close friends and family, but it eventually became too obvious to hide. Bucky’s sisters had thrown you a baby shower, which had been wonderful. Somehow they’d gotten in touch with just about everyone you knew, the best moment by far being when Angie turned up fashionably late.

“Surprise!” she had called cheerfully, and you promptly burst into tears; you knew she had been busy, working with an improv group in Chicago, and you hadn’t thought she’d be able to make it. The shock of seeing her, combined with a rare sudden pre-accident memory of the two of you tumbling about on a playground as children, and a wave of pregnancy hormones had you bursting into joyful tears.

“Settle down, girlie, settle down,” she said, pulling you into as tight a hug as she could manage with your baby bump between the two of you. “No need to get all blubbery for me. Improv is the pits, I’m taking a crack at Broadway. Plenty of time to bask in my glorious presence now.”

She fell into the gathered group with ease, squeezing herself on the couch between Natasha, who had once been your supervisor at Shield & Co, and Pepper, who had become a fast friend after you did some work for her early in your career. The chatter around the room was almost deafening, but it felt perfect. All of these people, so important to your life now, gathered together to celebrate the child you were carrying… you’d never felt more loved in your life.

You told Steve as much that night, and he had grinned.

“Makes sense,” he agreed, sliding into the sheets beside you. “Never thought I’d love anyone as much as I love you. You bring it out in people, sweetheart.”

 

The Stark Foundation held a golf outing in Farmingdale in the Spring, a good hour’s drive away from the city and not necessarily a trip you felt like making, but Steve’s presence was required and you would never abandon him to the hordes of socialites who had a habit of fluttering false eyelashes and pinching his bottom. Golf was one sport that Steve had no taste for, so he stayed at the reception grounds with you for much of the day, only stepping away to shake a few hands here and there where necessary.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad day. The hors d'oeuvres were wonderful -- you were immediately obsessed with the little shot glasses of a creamy radish soup, of all things -- and the baby was especially hungry as of late, so you had no problem spending the afternoon demolishing as much as the buffet as you could manage.

One older gentleman had clucked his tongue when he saw you take your third bacon-wrapped scallop from a passing waiter.

“Keep that up, my dear, and you’ll never get your figure back after the baby’s born,” he tutted. You were incensed at the nerve of the man to even say a word, and to make it all the worse, he bore a striking resemblance to Mr. Pierce, the reviled mathematics teacher at your old high school.

You popped the scallop into your mouth and stared at him while chewing before deadpanning, “What baby?”

He was still spluttering when you walked away, grabbing two more scallops on your way.

Steve caught up with you as you sought a little shelter from the sun beneath one of the few trees in the reception area. It was warmer than usual for so early in the spring and the humidity in the air brought with it certain memories of finding your favorite hideaway in the woods beyond the rectory, a flannel blanket spread out in the clearing and Steve at your side. That was the one thing you truly missed about your hometown; living in the city, there was very little green space outside of the carefully manicured parks. No woods to explore, no hidden clearings perfect for secret rendezvous.

You were certain Steve had been thinking as much when he suggested the two of you look into purchasing a summer home, a cabin somewhere upstate or even further north in rural Maine. You had to admit, the idea had merit.

Slipping behind you and wrapping his arms around you, Steve kissed you gently on the temple.

“We can escape soon, I promise,” he whispered. “Just have to wait for the stragglers to drag themselves in from the green and for Tony to give his speech.”

“Good,” you said, putting on a pretty pout. “I don’t like these people. They’re rude and they think they can say or do whatever they want to whoever they want.”

“Don’t I know it,” he agreed with a sigh. “One more old lady makes a grab at my ass, and I’m slapping her hand!”

You couldn’t help but giggle. “Not if I do it first!”

You hadn’t even realized there had been an event photographer nearby until three days later, when Pepper sent you an email with a few photos attached.

>> Really loved how these came out! Thought you and Steve might want to print them!, was all the body of the message said and you downloaded the images curiously, not remembering any particular ‘Kodak moments’ at the golf outing. You were shocked at what you saw.

The pictures were perfect, shots of you and Steve standing together in the shade of a tree, his arms wrapped around you and his hands on top of yours where they sat atop your swollen belly. The way the light fell, the lush green of the tree, even Steve’s dreadful plaid golf shorts and pale blue polo looked amazing. The dress that you hadn’t been sure of -- sherbet orange layered lace -- looked gorgeous on you.

That morning you had glared at it in the mirror. “I look like a pastel orange beach ball!” you had declared.

Steve had shaken his head. “Nah, you look like a creamsicle,” he declared, grinning even as you frowned at him in the mirror. “And when we get home, I’m going to have to see if you taste like one too…”

You smiled at the memory, and passed a pleasant thought towards Pepper. The photos really had come out well; you’d be remiss if you didn’t print at least one to keep in the baby book you were creating, or maybe even to frame and place on the mantel. They seemed worth sharing -- and that gave you an idea.

You still weren’t too keen on social media, keeping accounts open only to keep up with Angie, who lived half of her life on her smartphone. She often bemoaned your having not made your pregnancy ‘Facebook official’ yet, so it seemed the perfect time.

You uploaded the best photo of the bunch to your account, tagging Steve’s dormant account in the image and, with a smirk on your face, captioned it simple: #Blessed.

Within five minutes, you had to turn notifications off on your phone, as it hadn’t stopped buzzing since you made the post.

 

B. Rumlow: Is that even legal? Wit a priest?

Dorothy Hodges: Shameful!

Angela Martinelli: Put a sock in it, Dot.

Angela Martinelli: Btw you look beautiful babe! I might get knocked up just so I can borrow that dress…

J.B. Barnes: About fuckin time. I only got so many years of ‘fun uncle’ left in me.

Skye [Daisy] Johnson: Omg omg omg!

Clint Barton: WAIT FUCK WHAT STEVE’S A PRIEST???

Clint Barton: HA I get it BLESSED sick!!!

Clint Barton: Wait do I get to be a fun uncle too?? FUNCLE!

Chapter Text

Scott became a godsend in the finals months of your pregnancy.

Steve was courting a large bequest from a former Stark Industries board member and it required frequent trips to the elderly man’s home in North Carolina, ensuring the man’s favor and hoping to win over his children as well, so that wouldn’t fight a sizable donation. Sleazy as it sounded on paper, Tony matched every large gift and the money did a lot of good. You knew Steve’s heart was in the right place, even if it meant leaving you alone for long weekends.

You hadn’t needed to worry at all. Scott has, as he put it, ‘been through this whole rodeo before’. He was there with a heating pad when your back ached or a pillow to rest your feet on when your ankles began to swell, doing his best to help you through every fit of anxiety that cropped up. You counted yourself incredibly lucky to have him in your life; it seemed from the moment you started chatting and laughing between classes, you’d needed him -- and he was always there with a helping hand.

Prison had quieted some of his humor. He barely seemed to have aged but his eyes carried his troubles more than they ever used to; his job search, with a federal felony on his record, was difficult, and it wore on him terribly. You were certain Bucky would come around, it would just take a little time.

You kept assuring him of that, but you could tell he was uncertain. He’d see, eventually, that everything would be okay.

“Things happen the way they do for a reason,” you told him. “If you hadn’t been arrested, you would never have come to New York. Look how happy Cassie is here. If you’d stayed back home, you and Maggie would be making yourselves miserable, trying to stay together, and Cassie’d have to deal with that.”

Scott had sighed. “I guess you’re right,” he agreed. “I just wish I was pulling my own weight around here. You and Steve… man, I’ll never be able to pay you back.”

“You won’t have to,” you said, shaking your head. “We’re not doing any more for you than Bucky did for us. Just getting you own your feet. You did so much for us, Scott… you kept our secret. We’ll never be able to repay you for that.”

 

Your daughter was born the first week of September, a little past two in the afternoon. You’d gone a few days past your due date and your doctor chose to induce; it turned out for the best that way, ensuring that Steve was home and the waiting room was full of your near and dear.

Your father took his very first trip out of your home state to be there, looking like a textbook example of a tourist in khaki shorts and a terrible flower print shirt. He brought a ridiculously large camera and took photos of everything from the taxi that picked him up at the airport to the balloons in the hospital gift shop.

“Your mother sends her best,” he said nervously, perched at your besides as your slow contractions were being monitored.

You gave him a tired smile. “You don’t have to say that,” you told him, shaking your head. “I know the score there, Dad. I’m okay with it.”

“She’ll come around,” he insisted, and you sighed. He’d always hold out hope, it seemed. Perhaps that had been what he was doing all those years you lived at home -- hoping for a family life that he had been raised to expect, but never really had.

“How is she?” you asked, trying to humor him at least. Some part of you would always care, at least a little, but not enough. Not the way a daughter should worry after her mother. But that was fine -- you were older and wiser, and no longer felt guilty over something that you couldn’t control and that was mostly her doing.

His eyes dropped. “Your mother has been staying with her sisters for a few months,” he explained. “She… she decided to spend some time with her family.”

“Let me guess,” you said. “Left right after I told you about the baby?”

The expression on his face told you all you needed to know. “It’s not…” he began, but you shook your head.

“It’s okay,” you told him. “I just feel bad that you’ve been on your own.”

“It’s not all bad!” he told you, growing suddenly cheerful. “I’ve been golfing with Mr. Lang, and I joined a bowling league with the Martinellis! Next month, we’re going to have a bridge night!”

You smiled. Perhaps your mother being away was for the best.

 

When it came time to do the hard work of pushing, it was just your doctor, the nurses, and Steve in the room. You were glad so many had come to see you, flitting in and out throughout the day, but for the last moments, you needed no one but Steve at your side. He held your hand and kept talking to you throughout, telling you how amazing you were, how strong you were, even how beautiful you were, all red-faced and sweating.

“I can’t,” you told him, shaking your head. “I can’t, Steve, I can’t do it, I can’t be someone’s mom, I can’t, I’ll be awful and hateful…!”

“No you won’t, sweetheart,” Steve said, pushing sweaty tendrils of hair away from your forehead even as you squeezed his hand so tightly you were likely to crack a few bones. “There’s not a hateful bone in your body. You’re gonna be an amazing mom. We’re going to be fantastic parents because we already love that baby so damn much…”

You choked back a sob as another contraction wracked you with pain. “Oh god, I can’t, I can’t do this!” Half-knelt beside you, holding fast to your hand, Steve refused to be swayed, telling you over and over again how strong and amazing you were. Much as you tried not to believe him, your body and natural instincts wouldn’t fail you.

Sarah Winifred Rogers came into the world screaming her head off, full of her father’s youthful temper and apparently a good deal of your voice. You were laughing and crying when they placed her in your arms, her pinched red face and sleepy blue eyes suddenly the most beautiful sight you had ever seen. The room was a flurry of movement, nurses rushing to clean you up and take your vitals, but you were in your own little world, your daughter in your arms and Steve at your side, the both of you weeping with pure love and joy.

“Steve…” you breathed. “Steve, we have a little girl!”

“She’s beautiful,” he said, weeping openly. “She’s beautiful and she’s perfect.” Glancing up at you, he gave you a small, sly smile. “And she’s not going to Catholic school.”

You laughed so suddenly and loud, you startled the nurses.

Chapter Text

Sometimes you had to stop and frown, shaking your head. It seemed that it had only been a day or two since you’d brought Freddie home, bundled in a hand-knitted blanket that Natasha had given you, but then suddenly she was smiling and laughing, rolling over in her crib and sitting up. Time was moving past you so swiftly, it nearly brought you to tears; you wanted her to stay a baby forever, so you could bundle her up in your arms and keep here there forever.

Steve felt much the same way. His overwhelming need to keep you safe and protected quickly extended to your daughter. There were plenty of nights you’d wake to him standing beside her bassinet, watching her sleep, and if you ever left home with her, he’d bundle her up as though you were trekking out into the arctic.

One night when a cold had kept Freddie fussy and sleepless, Steve had told you to sleep and let him handle baby duty for the night; you’d barely gotten over the same cold yourself, and he wanted you to get more rest so it didn’t double back. You woke to the sound of Steve’s calm, comforting voice, as familiar in tone and cadence as the rhythm of your own breathing. You opened your eyes in the dim light of Steve’s bedside lamp, watching him sway in place with your daughter cradled in one arm.

“Shh shh shh,” he tutted softly, her whimpers dying off as she stared up at him. She looked so tiny there, tucked into the crook of his arm, and the look on his face was so joyful and loving that it filled your heart to burst. “C’mon now, chickadee. We don’t want to make up Momma.”

You smiled and shifted quietly among the bedclothes, angling yourself for a better view. Steve bounced a little in place, soothing Freddie into settling a little in his arm, then picked up his phone from inside the bassinet, where he must have set it down when he scooped up Freddie.

“There we go,” he said softly, flicking his thumb over the smartphone display. “Now where were we? Oh, right. ‘Dorothy had only one other dress, but that happened to be clean and was hanging on a peg beside her bed. It was gingham, with checks of white and blue; and although the blue was somewhat faded with many washings…’”*

You gave a long, relaxed sigh and closed your eyes, letting the sound of Steve’s voice carry both you and your infant daughter off to your dreams.

 

There was a good deal of hemming and hawing before you decided that you would have the baby christened in the Church. It was a difficult decision. Neither of you were interested in being involved deeply in religion anymore, but it had been so deeply ingrained in each of you that to step away completely made you feel strangely tetherless. It had become almost a superstition — you didn’t believe in original sin, but some part of you was uncertain and anxious that Freddie hadn’t been baptised.

Steve found a parish not too far from where Bucky’s parents lived that was known to have a fairly liberal congregation and an activist priest who made the local news often for spearheading protests right alongside the usual church bake sales and pet blessings. The man was delighted to preside over Freddie’s baptism, even after Steve had explained the entire situation.

“We can’t let the bureaucracy of the Church lead us away from the true meaning of what it is to be a Christian,” Father Manuel had said with a kind-eyed smile. He was an older man, in his late sixties at the youngest, but his hair still had traces of the honeyed blond it must have been in his youth and smile was lively and bright. “A child with loving parents, asking for the Lord’s blessing? I’d never refuse her in my parish. No matter if her parents were wed by a priest or a judge, or if her father had been a man of the cloth.”

Steve had been a little embarrassed. “I was worried to even come here,” he admitted. “I guess I thought Father Ben would pull some strings and have us… I don’t know, thrown out.”

Father Manuel threw his head back and laughed. “That old grump wouldn’t set foot in my parish,” he said, shaking his head. “Clinging too much to the old ways, can’t see the forest for the trees, that one. It’s a new century, Steve. Sooner or later, the Church will realize that the old ways aren’t the right ones just by virtue of their age.”

Once everything had been arranged and a date had been set, it left you with a very difficult decision to make. There were so many people who had helped you find your footing in your new life, so many people that you wanted forever bound to be in Freddie’s corner… to choose godparents was more difficult than you ever could have imagined. Thankfully, Father Manuel had made a very good point during baptismal preparation classes.

“Of course, there’s no set in stone rule,” he had told you with a smile. “You may ask any number of people to stand for your child.”

Sarah Winifred Rogers was baptised by Father Manuel on a warm Sunday afternoon, with a small crowd of people standing around her. Her godfathers, Bucky and Scott, stood beside where you held her in matching ties -- Scott’s idea, of course -- while her godmother, Angie, flanked Steve. You’d worried it was a rush -- if there were more children down the line, who would you ask? -- but Father Manuel had come to your rescue then as well.

“There’s no rule that you can’t ask the same friends and family to stand for many, many children,” he had told you, with a twinkle in his eye. It had put you at ease, and you could see that Steve had relaxed significantly as well. You’d never become regular churchgoers, you were sure of that, but you were glad to see whatever fears and worries that Steve might have had dissipate with the kindness that Father Manuel had shown you.

Three weeks after your daughter’s baptism, Steve received a final certified letter in the mail. It came from the Marist Fathers and was signed by their provincial head, stating that his petition to be dispensed from his vows had been approved by the Holy See. He was officially no longer a priest in the Catholic church.

You both had a good laugh over that.

~*~

Steve cleared his throat and gripped your hand a little tighter beneath the dinner tables.

“That’s about all of it,” he said, and you bit your lip. You’d never before spilled out your entire story to anyone outside of your therapists’ office. You’d left out the more prurient details of course -- no one needed to know every little thing about your sex life -- but you were trying to be transparent.

Across the table, Tony gaped. “You’ve gotta be shitting me.”

Chapter Text

It was quite the novelty to see Tony Stark completely flabbergasted. You had gotten to know him fairly well over the years and though he had adopted a farm more caring and king attitude than you would have been led to believe by tales of his more disreputable youth, he had still kept his swagger and his humor.

Now, he just looked flummoxed.

Tony turned to Pepper, seated at his side, and frowned. “Didn’t we do a background check?”

She huffed, offended at the thought she would have neglected that particular task. “Of course we did,” she replied. “It’s in his file. We knew he went to seminary but that’s as far as it went.”

Steve chuckled softly. “The Church doesn’t really make ordination records available to the public,” he explained.

“And there would be nothing from back home either,” you pointed out. “My parents never made a fuss and I doubt there’d be anything noted about it in any sort of official record.”

Tony’s eyes narrowed. “And how old were you…?” he asked.

You opened your mouth to speak and stopped, glancing to Steve, who looked a little concerned. It turned out that neither of you needed to worry.

“You know what? Nevermind!” Tony announced, then snapped his fingers. “Plausible deniability. I don’t need to know, I don’t want to know, I don’t… why do I know? Why are you telling me this?”

Steve sighed. The dinner party had been a source of anxiety for both of you for well over a week; you’d discussed it at length, weighing all the pros and cons, before deciding to share your story with Tony and Pepper. You had no shame over it, but you knew that it wasn’t something that would necessarily be accepted.

Especially when Tony was preparing to name Steve as the new CEO of the Stark Foundation.

The years had been good to you and Steve both. Your were discussing going into a partnership with Natasha and opening your own design firm within the next year, and Steve had moved swiftly up the laffer at the Stark Foundation. He had taken to development work like a duck to water, and his charming and easy-going presence did well to endear him to major donors. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t have hesitated to accept Tony’s offer, but the two of you had never really done normal.

Your past coming to light could be disastrous for the foundation. Steve hadn’t wanted to decline Tony’s offer without explanation, but he didn’t want to take the position and have it all fall down around the both of you.

Steve squeezed your hand beneath the table. “So you understand why I can’t accept the position,” he spoke up, sounding disappointed himself in the prospect of not taking it. There was really nothing either of you could do to fix it; your past was your past, and though you weren’t the least bit ashamed, you knew it wasn’t exactly palatable for the general public.

“What? Why not?” Tony said, shaking his head. “Jesus, you think this is bad? Even if it did blow up, we could just pull one of my sex tapes and leak it to the public.”

“Wait, one of your sex tapes?” you asked, eyes wide at the very thought.

Pepper snorted. “Oh, we have an archive,” she said, rolling her eyes.

Tony pointed at her. “Most of those are from before I met you!”

She rolled her eyes again and took a sip of her wine. “Most of them,” she agreed, then glanced at you and Steve with a small smile. “I understand your concerns, but honestly, if there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing to worry about. And you weren’t formally defrocked, were you, Steve?”

Steve shook his head. “I was released from my vows. It’s not unusual… not particularly frequent, but it happens from time to time.”

“So they’ve got nothing on you,” Pepper declared with a shrug. “If the Church had taken any sort of hard line, it could crop up at an inopportune time, but with nothing in official record, it’s all conjecture anyway.”

“Everyone in town knew by the time we left,” you pointed out, cheeks heating up at the thought. “I made a bit of a spectacle as we were leaving. I didn’t have many friends, and people can be vicious if given the chance.”

“Small town folks jealous of your success,” Tony responded. “Bringing up tabloid stories to make a buck and leach off what the two of you have managed to accomplish.”

Pepper seemed to think on it a moment before adding, “Young priest, taking a girl in an abusive situation under his wing.”

“Hands tied by the Church,” Tony pointed out, and Pepper nodded.

“So he does what he has to do to keep her safe,” Pepper goes on, folding her arms on the tabletop. “Time passes, the fondness between them develops into something more…”

“And then comes baby in the baby carriage!” Tony finished with a flourish. “See? It’s not so bad. We can spin just about anything.”

Steve glanced at you, bewildered, before turning back to face Tony. He had come here assuming he would be formally submitting his resignation, and now it seemed that Tony was telling him the path was clear for him to not only stay on board, but take the top tier position at the foundation.

It almost seemed a little unfair. You both knew that the way you had come together really hadn’t been right -- that you’d made poor decisions and bad choices, that you could have brought a lot of harm to a lot of people if you had been found out. It seemed wrong somehow, on the logical face of things, that everything should go so right in the future you had stolen together.

Pepper smiled, seeing the expression on Steve’s face. “I’ll be honest with you,” she said, shaking her head. “If I didn’t know the two of you… if I was just reading this on paper, if it was something that came up in a background check… I think my reaction would be very different.”

Steve dropped his gaze to the tabletop, and you squeezed his hand gently beneath the table. The guilt would always be there.

“But,” Pepper went on, “I suppose there are such things as miracles. Sometimes, the right people are in the right place at the wrong time.”

You squeezed Steve’s hand again. “It’s really all about timing,” you said, catching his eye and smiling.

“Besides,” Pepper added. “I’ve always loved The Thorn Birds.”

Chapter Text

You couldn’t stifle your yawn as Steve unlocked the door to your apartment. He glanced towards you and smile, slipping an arm around your waist to pull you a little closer and give you a tight squeeze before opening the door. It had been a long night; an early evening dinner party for four had turned into a long discussion of past history and potential roadblocks in the future that lasted well into the night. Thankfully, it was a Friday night, and your babysitter didn’t mind staying a little later.

Besides, she lived just across the hall, so it wasn’t as though she’d have a long trip home.

“Thanks for staying a little later tonight, Wanda,” Steve told the slim teenager, who was perched cross-legged on the couch, surrounded by open schoolbooks. She and her twin brother lived in the apartment across the hall with two other teenagers who had received Stark Foundation scholarships to highly regarded STEM schools in the city. Tony owned the building, so it seemed sensible to house them there, and much safer than anything they could afford.

It was part of the reason you and Steve had chosen to buy into the building yourselves, rather than take the deal to option a space in Stark Tower itself. Steve hadn’t wanted to live and work in the same building, which you could understand. It was nice to have your own place to go back to at night.

Wanda smiled. “No problem,” she said, and began gathering up her books. “Freddie went down a couple of hours ago, after her medicine. She’s coughed a little since then but she hasn’t woken up.”

You smiled. Freddie had been fighting off a nasty little cold for a couple weeks now, complicated by the mild case of asthma she’d started showing signs of as a toddler. You were happy to hear that she seemed to be on the mend.

“Did she give you any trouble with dinner?” you asked, slipping out of your coat. Steve was already peeling bills out of his wallet to pay Wanda for helping out; knowing him, he’d be adding in a few more for keeping her late, and rightfully so.

“There were some hot dog pieces tossed at me,” Wanda admitted with a chuckle. She stood, swinging her now-full backpack onto her shoulder. “But the choo-choo method worked after a few tries.”

“Do you want me to walk you home?” Steve offered, handing her payment for the evening’s work. There had been a time, early in your marriage, that such an offer might have given you pause -- Wanda was at just that age, after all -- but years of therapy to work out your insecurities and deal with your hangups as a couple had washed all of that away. Steve was just being Steve -- wanting to help, to protect, wherever he could.

Wanda laughed again. “I think I can manage making it down the hall on my own, Mr. Rogers,” she told him, and waved goodbye at the door. Steve bolted it behind her, and turned to catch you smiling at him.

He returned your grin with a puzzled one of his own. “What is it?” he asked. “I got spinach in my teeth or something?”

You shook your head. “Just enjoying you being you, baby,” you told him, and he stepped forward to slips his arms around your waist.

Steve dropped a kiss on your forehead, then the tip of your nose, before reaching your lips. When he pulled back, he pressed his forehead to yours and sighed.

“I’ll check on the baby,” he offered. “You can go get ready for bed. Okay, sweetheart?”

You heaved a pleased sigh. “Okay,” you agreed, and kissed him again before you separated.

 

You flicked on the baby monitor once you reached your bedroom. The apartment was large enough that you didn’t feel comfortable not having an ear on Freddie when she slept, even though she was in a toddler bed now and could come to your room if she needed you at night. It was a far cry from your first place, when she slept in a bassinet in your own bedroom. You missed that sometimes: the feel of a sweet, sleepy infant in your arms. It’s something you’ve been talking about with Steve more and more; neither of you wanted Freddie to be an only child.

You yawned again and stretched, kicking off your heels and then placing them neatly in your closet. It was a walk-in, almost bigger than your childhood bedroom. The largesse of your lifestyle could seem off-putting on bad days, but on nights like this, when you were quietly content and ruminating on your future, it didn’t bother you as much. If anything, you found yourself nostalgic for Bucky’s place -- your first home together with Steve, the place you’d brought your newborn daughter home to. It had been hard to leave, but it had been time.

You’d finally managed to wear down Bucky, and he had agreed to give Scott a shot. It went very well, and there had been no need to worry about a background check. As it would become apparent time and again, Tony Stark truly believed in second chances. Scott needed a place of his own, and you had been ready to give it to him and give your small family room to grow.

You smiled to yourself and slipped out of your dress, tossing it into the dry cleaning hamper, before pausing at the dresser to take off your earrings. Your family. It was such a nice thought, one that you never could have dreamed of all those years ago, when you were a lonely kid in the school library, eating her lunch all alone until a kind eye met yours across the table. The life you had now wasn’t even a glimmer in your imagination then.

You opened your dresser drawer and fished around inside, searching out something to slip in, when your fingertips slid across a puddle of soft, cool fabric. You smiled; you had been saving the negligee for your anniversary, but traipsing down memory lane at dinner that night had left you feeling nostalgic. You pulled it out of the drawer and looked it over in the soft light creeping in through your bedroom windows. The pale pink silk looked almost exactly like a certain little slip dress you had worn so long ago. You unhooked your bra and slid the negligee on over your head, then walked to make yourself comfortable on the bed, just as as baby monitor crackled to life.

Freddie coughed lightly, and it was followed by a soothing shushing noise.

“You okay there, chickadee?” Steve’s voice came over the monitor.

“I sick, Daddy,” Freddie whimpered.

“I know, baby,” Steve told her, and you could hear the rustling of her bedclothes as he no doubt tucked her in. “But you’re going to be all better soon.”

That much you knew was true; Freddie was miles better than she had been a few days before, and was most likely playing possum to get a healthy dose of her daddy’s sympathy.

“You go on and close your eyes now, okay Freddie?” Steve said softly. “It’s time for you to go to sleep, baby.”

Your daughter murmured and you heard Steve humming her a little tune; you smiled and stretched out on your side of the bed, crossing your arms behind your head to wait for him.

“She sounds a lot better,” Steve announced as he entered your bedroom. He’d stripped out of his sportcoat somewhere between your room and Freddie’s, and cut a handsome figure at the dresser where he stopped to remove his tie.

“I heard,” you told him.

“We’ll probably be able to cancel that follow-up with Dr. Cho, as long as she doesn’t start wheezing again,” he went on, unbuttoning the cuffs of his dark dress shirt.

“Mmhmm,” you agreed, smiling a moment later when he turned to face you and his eyes widened in surprise.

“Well what do we have here?” he asked, a slow smile growing on his face.

“I was hoping you could help me,” you told him, voice a perfect tone of innocence, even if your position wasn’t. So much talk about your early days with Steve had put you in the mood for a bit of a more personal journey down memory lane, to celebrate the even brighter path still ahead of you.

“How’s that?” Steve asked, eyes gone dark and hands on his hips.

“I’m worried that my skirt may be too short,” you said with half of a shrug. “Would you mind measuring it for me… Father?”

Steve turned back to your dresser, rummaging through a drawer for a moment before emerging with a small piece of white plastic in his hands. It was bent and beginning to fade to a yellow tinge, buried for a long time beneath socks and t-shirts and loose paperwork. Steve hadn’t brought any of them with him from his tiny room in the rectory basement, but you’d kept the one he’d left on your childhood bedroom floor.

You couldn’t help but smirk when he turned back to you with the plastic neatly tucked into the collar of his dark dress shirt.

“Let me see what I can do,” he offered, the mattress dipping with is weight as he began to crawl towards you.

You let out a sigh that drifted into a soft moan when his teeth scraped a path up the inside of your thigh, and reached to run your fingers through his hair; the only thought in your mind as Steve began to ruck up the bottom of your negligee was Bless me Father, for I have sinned….