After returning from a low-key mission with Natasha, Steve finds himself running around the Reflecting Pool at sunrise, around the time he’d first encountered Sam Wilson. He turns their encounter over again and again in his head, unsure of what conclusions he should draw.
There was the way Sam spoke to him, as a fellow soldier. Most people Steve’s met in this century who recognize him right off the bat are either Cap fans, who fall over themselves to flatter him, or are SHIELD agents whose eyes run over him like his body is his dossier. Sam obviously wanted to speak with him, making the effort to connect even when Steve tried to leave, offering advice, and it was unexpectedly comfortable. Despite the Avengers, and SHIELD, it’s been years- decades- since Steve has shot the breeze with another soldier. As his feet pound the cement walkways around the monument, Steve realizes that the odd feeling when he remembers that part of the conversation is... contentment, belonging. It’s been a while.
And then there was the way Sam eyed his body- more than just appreciative, as one man might look at another’s figure. Once, that and a few choice words or intimations would have had Steve finding a secluded spot on the outskirts of camp that evening. Now that it isn’t illegal for men to approach other men, there’s a whole new language to it, one that Steve hasn’t had much practice with.
Not that Sam was flirting with him, Steve chastises himself. He glances around self-consciously, as though someone might be able to see the notion inside his head, but the area is abandoned. Sam had mentioned a woman he wanted to impress at the VA. On the other hand, Steve thinks, she could just be a friend. Or it could be an excuse to see Steve again. He blushes slightly. So what if he hasn’t flirted with a man in this century? So what if he’s never flirted with a Black man at all? Sam was friendly, fit (for a non-super soldier), and attractive. Worst case, Steve could make a friend. He hasn’t got a lot of those around, either.
With the decision that he’d like to pursue some sort of friendship with Sam Wilson, Steve’s shoulders lose their tension and his strides smooth out into a more graceful lope. The last few minutes of his run are positively restful. As he slows to a stop, grateful for the cool breeze that wicks away the sweat he’s worked up, the universe decides to reward him. A man waits, arms crossed over a gray Air Force sweater, a grin spread across his face. Steve walks up to Sam, carefully concealing the mix of hope and suspense that twist in his chest.
“Looks like I missed the whole show,” Sam jokes. He reaches out a hand, which Steve shakes firmly in greeting.
“I could go again, if you wanted to partner up.”
“You sure you could go slow enough? Maybe you could just walk next to me.” He’s still kidding around, but his eyes are bright and twinkling, and it makes Steve speak without thinking.
“Can you run and talk?” He can’t quite suppress that blush; maybe it’ll pass as exertion.
Sam’s eyebrows go up just a bit, but his smile softens. “Sure, man. Let me do a quick stretch. We don’t all get up at 0-dark-thirty.”
Steve watches the sun rise over the water (away from Sam stretching) and before long they’re on the path again at a warm-up speed for Sam. Steve waits until Sam hits his stride before speaking. “What do you do at the VA?”
“I run a few support groups,” Sam replies. His breathing is even, good for the pace, and he doesn’t struggle to talk. Steve catches a glimpse of well-built thighs under Sam’s long shorts, teasing him with every step. “Mostly for veterans with PTSD.”
“And how’d you get into that?”
Sam’s explanation, and the more complex detailing of the VA’s work, takes them through the rest of the run. Normally, a jog like this would have Steve’s muscles itching for a sprint. Today, just listening to Sam talk knowledgeably about the work he does for veterans (and, to be honest, watching his consistent, capable pace) is enough to make Steve… content. Like he belongs there, at Sam’s side. On his left. He grins.
Steve catches Sam watching him as they cover the last stretch at a cool down pace. “You, ah. You want to know more about the VA, you can always come down, you know. I could set you up with some brochures.”
He doesn’t meet Steve’s eye as he speaks, even though they’re basically walking now. Steve maybe can’t flirt well, but he can still read people, and this isn’t the result he was hoping for. Steve swallows a surge of fear, and reminds himself that it’s a brave new world. “I do want to know more about the VA,” he says truthfully. “But to be honest, I’d rather get to know more about you.”
There’s a moment of silence. Steve’s chest feels tight; he second-guesses himself. Is it worth it, trying to make this something different? Suddenly, he feels Sam’s friendship slipping through his fingers, and wonders how he’ll go back to the world, just a few days ago now, where he doesn’t have someone who’ll understand when his bed is too soft.
And then Sam looks up, and his eyes are twinkling again. Steve’s breath flows out of his chest more forcefully than after his own run. Sam notices, of course, and that teasing smile (cute, Steve lets himself think) makes a happy return.
“Is that how it is?”
Steve doesn’t know how the men in this century flirt with each other, but he can pick up on the warm acceptance in Sam’s voice. The way Sam’s dark eyes take their time to openly admire Steve’s biceps and chest is pretty telling, too.
He can’t help the sweet smile that comes to his face, natural, like Sam drew it out of him. “That’s how it is.”
Steve’s heart picks up in his chest; surely that was too intimate a tone, too forward, for- gosh, they’ve only met twice, and Sam’s already got him in knots- but the other man just chuckles and steps closer, bumping Steve’s shoulder with his own. “You want to get breakfast? I know a great diner nearby. Pancakes are worth every penny.”
“You sold me.”
Sam leads the way, running down the menu to let Steve know exactly what he’s in for. Beyond breakfast, Steve doesn’t know where he’s going, but for the first time in a long time, the future looks bright.