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What Might Have Been Is No Way to Go Through Life

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Steve let his hand hover over his phone, unsure if he should pick it up and make the call he wanted to or not. It was funny, coming to terms with himself in this modern age, learning how comfortable everyone was with themselves. It seemed like there were open conversations about being…different.

He found it overwhelming sometimes, what people were talking about. But they were talking about it. He even had a word for what he felt he was – bisexual – and what it meant. It was…nice, really.

It helped, too, that he didn’t have to talk about it, because it was no one’s business but his own; he appreciated the sensitivity that had been shown in that particular instance. While he hadn’t meant to come out to Phil at the time, he’d been excited about the prospect of having a term for what he’d been feeling inside since the thirties. He’d blurted it out, and Phil hadn’t laughed at him at all. Instead, the agent sat him down with all sorts of resources and patiently explained history and terms to him.

He owed Phil a lot; even when he’d thought the agent was gone for good, there’d still been resources in place for him to peruse, with a note from Phil. He’d thought they might be good for him to read through.

Steve still thought about that a lot, his fingers brushing his phone’s screen. The Starkphone came to life, revealing his lock screen. Steve sighed.

He had a crush, and it was bad. This was worse than Grace McKinnon in the next apartment block over – but at least Bucky couldn’t tease him about this one. Steve’s lock screen was actually the agent in question, during one of their many outings. He’d placed himself at Steve’s disposal, though Steve rarely took him up on things. Still, they managed to meet for lunch once a week or more, with Phil checking in on him to see how he was acclimating.

The photo was a good one, an unintentional snap Steve had taken while trying to write down something Phil had mentioned. His camera had gone off, grabbing a picture of Phil, his coat off and his shirt sleeves rolled up, talking with animation and gesturing with his hands. Steve liked it, and had kept it, though he’d never shown the agent his phone after setting his backgrounds.

He nearly dropped his phone as it buzzed, startling him. Phil, as though he’d read Steve’s thoughts, was calling. Hastily, he swiped the call icon and answered.

“Rogers. Hi, Phil.” He sounded breathless and far too eager, and he tried to tell himself to tone it down.

Phil’s voice didn’t help. It sent a thrill up his spine, the hidden amusement there hinting at all sorts of things that Steve didn’t want to name because it wasn’t fair to put that sort of expectation on Phil. But he did like the knot of warmth that started in his stomach, hearing Phil’s voice.

“Did I catch you at a bad time?” he asked. Steve imagined he was smiling like the day he’d told him to just call him Steve, that same bright and open smile that seemed to shave a decade off an already classically handsome face.

Steve rubbed his forehead, leaning his head back. He really did have it bad. He jerked his focus back to the present, with the conversation at hand.

“N-no, you didn’t, I’ve just been really busy today, that’s all.” A lie, but a tiny one. He didn’t really think Phil should know he’d been spending so much time debating on whether to tell him about this crush or not. He didn’t think Phil would ever laugh at him, but he didn’t think he could bear being let down…even gently.

“Well, are you too busy to grab a bite to eat? I just got back into town and I thought maybe you could use the break.”

“Oh! Sure, I’d love to. Where should I meet you?” Steve tried to remember if he had any clean shirts that looked nice enough to see Phil in.

“Hm, well, there’s Luciano’s on fourth, we could meet there,” Phil said.

“Okay, that sounds great. Should I head out now?”

“Sure,” Phil said, the laughter in his voice making Steve’s cheeks flush. “It’s a date.”

The line clicked and Steve stared dumbly at his phone. It was a date? Like…a real date?

“I have a date with Phil,” he said, not quite believing it even when he said it aloud. He tossed his phone onto his couch and went to go find something nice to wear.

Luciano’s was a little hole in the wall restaurant that had been there since the seventies; Phil had taken him once when they’d come home exhausted from a long mission. There was pasta in plenty, and the owners were so nice and so pleased to actually meet him (he’d saved their restaurant during the Chitauri attack by body blocking one of them into the street), he’d been back several times since. Steve had a standing reservation there, though he often got his food to go if the dinner rush was too bad.

Now, he stepped into the restaurant and inhaled, smelling the rich aromas of meat and tomato sauces, closing his eyes a little. While it wasn’t his normal sense of comfort food, Alessandro and Giulia Luciano treated him so much like family that his stomach immediately started growling. Giulia spotted him from the counter and bustled toward him, smiling widely.

“Steven!” She folded him into her embrace and he squeezed her, her flowery perfume drifting up to his nose. Giulia was a housewife turned businesswoman and her dark hair was in a serviceable twist, her dark eyes twinkling as she grasped him by the biceps and smiled up at him. She and Alessandro loved their food and it showed; both had healthy appetites and loved the appeal of comfort food. Steve had a suspicion that she liked feeding him because he cleared his plate.

“Hello, Giulia,” he said, smiling down at her. “I’ve got someone meeting me today.”

“Yes, I know, he grabbed a table about ten minutes ago,” she said, tilting her head to where Steve could see the back of Phil’s head as he sat alone at a table in the back. “It’s always nice to see you and Phillip together.”

That just reminded Steve of Phil’s words and he gave a nervous chuckle, hoping that his pink flush was hidden a little in the dimness of the restaurant. He gave Giulia another squeeze and then let her get back to what she was doing.

He didn’t want to startle Phil, so he called his thanks to her loudly enough that Phil could hear him. As the agent turned, there was a twinkle of recognition in his gaze and Steve suddenly felt overdressed in his collared shirt and khakis, even though Phil still had on his suit. Maybe it was the fact that Phil had forgone the tie, leaving his shirt unbuttoned at the throat. Steve couldn’t help how his gaze was drawn to the strip of skin there, heat suffusing his face.

Keep it together, Rogers…

“Hey, Phil.” He smiled at the agent, grabbing a seat across from him. “Sorry I ran a little late.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Phil said. He took a sip of his wine; Steve knew then that he’d been given leave – Phil never drank on duty. “I thought you’d be a little while, you said you were busy.”

“Yeah, about that—“ He was interrupted by their food arriving. Both the Lucianos knew them well enough that their orders were usuals, and Steve’s stomach growled at the sight of the heaping plate of pasta. He put his napkin in his lap and started to dig in before he realized he hadn’t finished his thought. Phil looked amused, and he flushed. “…I wasn’t that busy…”

“Oh? Well, thanks for meeting me, regardless. I wanted some actual company instead of the usual tired jokes after a mission. Everyone needed the rest.” Phil toyed with the stem of his wineglass, drawing Steve’s gaze. “Adult company, you know? I feel like team dad more often than not.”

“Well, there’s something to be said for being daddy,” Steve blurted, then almost dropped his fork as the connotation hit him. He chanced a glance at Phil and saw him smiling, then started to shake his head. “I didn’t mean it like—“

“Hey, it’s okay,” Phil said, grinning. “You’re okay. I know what you meant.”

“I’m sorry…” Steve said. He wanted to hide. Good gravy, he still wasn’t good at this. “I should know better. The term was in use back in my day in the same way, I should have known. Sorry.”

“Hey,” Phil said, reaching out and putting his hand on Steve’s wrist. He wondered if the agent could see his heartrate triple, but he managed to keep from blurting out anything else stupid. “You’re all right, Steve. I promise I’m not gonna be the one to judge you. Trust me, I’ve put my foot in my mouth plenty of times.”

Steve turned his hand over, taking Phil’s. It was the bravest he’d ever been; he hadn’t even gotten up the gumption to kiss Peggy. That had been all her, and he’d loved her for it. But now, it was his time. He took Phil’s hand, looking deep into laughing blue-grey eyes.

“I wanted to thank you,” he said. “For…for being patient with me.”

“Of course,” Phil said. He shook his head. “You don’t ever have to thank me for that. I just want to make sure that you’re happy and healthy. That’s part of my job.”

Part of his job. Right. Steve let go of Phil’s hand, feeling his heart constrict a little bit.

“Sure, Phil,” he said. He didn’t feel so hungry anymore. He used his fork to toy with some noodles.

“Are you all right?” Phil peered at him, and Steve suddenly wanted to be anywhere else. “I feel like I killed the mood a little bit.”

“Ah…you didn’t.” Steve bit his lower lip. Like a bandaid. Rip it off, get over the rejection. “I was doing some reading of the things you gave me, remember? The stuff on…sexuality, human rights, the Stonewall Riots?”

“Oh! Yes, I remember,” Phil said. He leaned forward, his attention focused entirely on Steve. That made him feel a little better. No matter what, Phil had said he wouldn’t laugh. “Did you want some more stuff?”

“Well, yes, but…can I get resources on bisexuality?” he asked quietly. “I didn’t have a word for it back then, but I like…both genders. Um. Well, I know that’s not the right term for it…”

“I think I get what you’re saying,” Phil said with a smile. “I’ll get you what I can and try and dig up some more for you. I’m glad you’re learning more about yourself.”

“Me too,” Steve said. Phil hadn’t laughed at all. In fact, he’d seemed really proud of Steve. That was…that felt nice. He didn’t feel so bad now. “Can I ask you something?”

“Shoot,” Phil said. He made finger guns at him, their little inside joke; the first time Phil had used the colloquialism, Steve had been confused. Now it just dragged a half-hearted smile from the super soldier.

“What do you do with a crush you’re pretty sure is never going to happen? I never did figure that out.”

Phil considered, his brows knitting as he thought. It was curiously adorable, and Steve had the urge to smooth the wrinkle between his brows with his thumb, but he refrained.

“Honestly, I’m not that brave, but if you think they would take it well, I don’t see what you’d have to lose by telling them.” Phil tilted his head at Steve. “You’ve been thinking on this hard, I see.”

“Mm.” Steve didn’t give him a real answer this time, just put a forkful of pasta into his mouth so he’d have an excuse not to talk. After chewing and swallowing, he gestured at Phil. “So how’d your excursion go?”

Phil thankfully changed the subject.

As they were heading back to their separate vehicles, Phil stopped him. Steve could see Lola just ahead, and he was parked a little behind Phil in the lot. He didn’t want to keep him any longer than he had to, so he wasn’t trying to make much conversation this time. Phil’s job was to help him. They were friends but it wouldn’t be more than that.

“Steve,” he said, his hand on his arm turning Steve to face him. It was as natural as breathing and Steve hated himself a little bit for it. “Are you sure you’re feeling all right?”

Steve took a deep breath. He might as well get it out in the open.

“Not really,” he said. “I just…this has always been hard for me. I know it’s your job to hang around with me, and I just—I really like you a lot and what I said about crushes is true because I’ve never really known what to do. Especially when it’s a fella and it’s just…”

He sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair, mussing it. He felt like dirt and he was gonna just…go back to the compound and sleep. That seemed like a good idea.

Phil taking his hand brought his attention back to the present. The agent squeezed his fingers gently, his eyes warm and kind. Steve tried to brace himself.

“Steve,” Phil said, and the tone of his voice made Steve meet his gaze. Phil wasn’t laughing. He wasn’t even disgusted. Hell, he looked downright thrilled. “That’s the nicest thing someone’s said to me all week. I was joking about the date thing, but…”

When Phil closed the gap between them, Steve let him. Phil might have been the one to start the kiss, but by god, Steve gave as good as he got, one hand cupping Phil’s jaw and pulling the agent against his chest. They parted, breath mingling in a sort of soft daze, Phil grinning and Steve a little weak in the knees.

“Can we do that again?” Steve mumbled. He could feel Phil’s laughter as well as hear it, and he could honestly say he hadn’t felt this good in a long time.

“Sure,” Phil said. “My place or yours?”

“I don’t care,” Steve said, leaning in to catch Phil’s lips against his own again.