Steve wakes up on Saturday morning to a quiet apartment. Nothing seems wrong, but… something’s not quite right, either. Steve knows better than to ignore his instincts. After a few uneventful moments, he realizes the smell of coffee wafting in from the kitchen.
Steve had fallen asleep alone. The only people that have access to his apartment (technically his floor ) are the other Avengers, but none of them have ever come in while he was sleeping before. The odds of this being an intruder are slim-to-none. Anyone that would have been able to disable JARVIS (and Tony’s other, equally impressive security measures) would certainly not be hanging out in Steve’s apartment, making coffee.
Steve groans. He had gotten in late last night, and while the serum allows him to operate on little sleep, he generally prefers to get more than… three hours, according to his clock. Christ. The petulant part of Steve wants to burrow into bed and ignore whatever is happening in his kitchen, but he knows that he can’t. Odds are the intruder is Natasha - and, if it is, she won’t hesitate to come into his bedroom and perch somewhere like an unwelcome gargoyle until he gets his ass out of bed.
Resigned to his fate, Steve levers himself out of bed and pulls on a pair of pants. He debates the shirt for a second, but ultimately pulls one on as well. Natasha can’t be here for something time-sensitive or she would have woken him up, but he never knows when she’s going to drag him out of bed for an early morning training session.
Natasha claims that she wants them all to keep constant vigilance. Steve thinks that she’s a secret morning person that also loves to torture her teammates.
Steve leaves his bedroom rumpled and half-ready to fend off a flying attack from Natasha. Instead, he finds her sitting cross-legged on his kitchen counter, drinking a cup of coffee and reading something on her tablet, like this is what she does every morning.
Natasha keeps poking at something on her screen for a few seconds, even though Steve knows that she knows he’s there. Steve is moments away from just asking what the hell is going on, when she finally looks up at him.
Natasha looks at Steve, expressionless. That alone is enough to send alarm bells ringing, klaxons blaring in Steve’s mind. That’s Natasha’s I-can’t-be-honest-because-we’re-in-public face. That’s Natasha’s I-don’t-quite-know-how-to-comfort face. That’s how Natasha looks while she’s processing information for a difficult mission - not how she should look while breaking into Steve’s apartment at 4:30 in the morning on a Saturday, drinking coffee.
“What happened?” Steve asks, already mentally preparing for something big.
Instead of answering, Natasha hops of the counter, grabs Steve’s favorite mug, and pours him a cup of coffee with a hint of sugar. When she turns around to press the mug into his hand, her face is still blank.
“You probably want to sit down.”
Steve sinks down into one of the kitchen chairs, mind whirling. She couldn’t possibly know about last night… could she? Would she care? Steve wouldn’t have guessed that Nat would care about his sexuality, but.
Natasha hands him her tablet silently.
Pulled up is a news article: Captain America, GAY?
Below it, there are photos. None overly damning, but more than enough: A tall blond man in a black shirt in what is obviously a gay bar; a tall blond man, leaning close to a man with brown hair; the brown-haired man, with a suggestive hand on the blond’s bicep; the blond man and the brown-haired man, headed towards the door, holding hands.
These are indistinctive. How can they be sure that they’re me?
Because Steve knows that these pictures are of himself and an attractive stranger that he had met last night. He knows because he was there.
He scrolls past several other photos of progressively more dubious quality, until he find the money shot: Steve, turned around, facing the camera, face completely recognizable, with a protective arm wrapped around his paramour , facing away from the camera. There’s no arguing whether or not Steve is the man in the photo. There’s also no arguing that the person he’s leaving the bar with is another man, or that the purpose isn’t sexual.
Sunday morning, Steve’s phone buzzes with an incoming text message from an unfamiliar number.
(202) 555-6384: Hey there stranger, Tony gave me your # so that we could chat about our great love affair
Steve blinks, frowns, then blinks again. He barely restrains himself from looking around his apartment like he’s being pranked, but he knows that he would have noticed an intruder, and JARVIS has no active video cameras in Steve’s personal space. There’s a lot to unpack in that relatively short text message. Tony gave his phone number to someone? In a romantic context? Why? Steve sighs and gives into the temptation to rub his eyes. What the hell is Tony thinking? Is this a prank? If it is, then why the hell can’t Tony tell when he’s pressing on a fresh bruise?
There’s no way that Tony could have found the guy and given him Steve’s number… is there? Steve had refused to tell Tony or Natasha where the man lives, or even his name. Mark. Not enough for either of them to find the guy, but Steve’s prepared to out-stubborn them both. There’s no need to drag the stranger into this unless he starts making trouble. It’s not the guy’s fault that he unknowingly slept with a superhero.
Tension-headache already forming, Steve unlocks his phone and opens the message. Best try and get information from the source.
Steve: Who is this?
(202) 555-6384: Your boyfriend
Steve waits for a few minutes but the stranger offers no more information. A dozen different possibilities whirl through Steve’s mind, from sex worker to groupie to stalker to prank, all of them landing at Tony’s feet. Steve doesn’t give out this phone number to anyone, and the stranger already implicated Tony. So Steve may not know why but he certainly knows how. Steve could see through Tony’s warped sense of humor that sending a strange man to Steve might be funny. In a future scenario, where things have already settled down and Steve is comfortable with the world knowing his personal business, he might even be able to find something like this amusing.
But right now? Too soon.
Steve takes a deep breath, counts to ten, and lets it out. Getting angry won’t help. All of Steve’s emotions have been close to the surface, to say the least, so he’s trying his best not to get angry. Maybe Tony has a good reason for this, whatever this is. Maybe Tony’s trying to be helpful… somehow. Steve has to give him the benefit of the doubt. Slightly calmed and ready to talk, Steve goes in search of Tony.
Unsurprising, Steve finds Tony in the lab with Bruce, monologuing about something science-y and gesticulating wildly with a screwdriver. Bruce nods, mentions something about carbon, and then they’re both off, talking over each other excitedly. Steve stands off to the side with his arms crossed, waiting. Trying to interrupt them at this point would be useless - he’s tried before, with little success. The moment gives Steve a chance to try and corral something to say to Tony, other than what the actual fuck, Tony? He needs to convey that giving his number out to strangers is not funny, and that Steve hasn’t gotten to a point yet in this saga that it could be funny. Maybe one day, but that day is not today. Maybe in a month, or two, or six.
And hey, part of Steve understands - Tony is a man of action, a guy who likes to fix things, likes to defend his teammates like a tiny growling watchdog with a bazooka. Steve appreciates it. He does. As much as he and Tony clash and argue, he knows that Tony’s intentions are good, even when his actual actions leave something to be desired. But Tony’s ideal scenario is a situation that he can either A: throw money at, or B: blow up. He’s not exactly good at the touchy-feely stuff.
Steve being outed had thrown the whole team for a loop. Aside from the fact that none of them knew about Steve’s sexuality (though he imagines that some of them must have suspected), anything that negatively affects one teammate puts all of the Avengers up in arms. Tony had tried to pry information about the guy out of Steve, talking a mile a minute about suing and NDA’s and hush money; Natasha had offered to make the photographer’s life very difficult; Sam and Bruce both offered support, to talk about it (like Steve was ready to talk about it); Clint had stood somewhat in the shadows, saying nothing, but giving off a very threatening glower. Afterwards, he clapped a hand on Steve’s shoulder, and said, “I’m gay. And if you think I’m good with a bow, you should see what my boyfriend can do with a pen,” then vanished. Steve’s not sure exactly who Clint’s boyfriend is or what the man plans on doing, but plausible deniability is probably Steve’s best bet.
(Steve actually doesn’t want the other Avengers to ruin the photographer’s life, but. He has to pick his battles, and he knows that arguing would be an exercise in futility.)
Steve had ultimately turned down Tony’s offers of lawyers and fiery legal retribution, and so that left them here: Tony doing god-knows-what, giving Steve’s personal cell phone number out to god-knows-who.
Steve’s patience runs out before the science banter does.
"Tony," Steve says, voice harsher than he originally planned.
"It lives! I was wondering if we would get to see your beautiful face sometime today or if you would spend it holing up in your castle again, but -"
"Tony," Steve interrupts, "did you give my phone number to a stalker?"
It’s not that Steve thinks that Tony would do that, per se, but this situation exists so far from the normal realm of their interactions that Steve doesn’t know what to expect.
"A stalker? Cap, I am wounded by the accusation. Would I ever do something like that?"
"I don't know Tony, why is there a stranger messaging me and calling himself my boyfriend?"
"Oh!" Tony’s face lights up, like he had somehow forgotten and just remembered, even though it’s been one day since the photos were published. "I did give your number to Bucky, yes."
Steve stares at Tony, blank-faced and starting to get legitimately angry. Is that supposed to mean something to him?
"Who the hell is Bucky?"
"James Barnes? JB? JB Barnes? Am I ringing any bells here? No? Have you been following yourself in the news at all?"
The honest answer is no, Steve has not. Steve has been more or less pretending that the last 24 hours never happened - not his most mature, brilliant plan, but quite frankly Steve has no interest in hearing what tabloid reporters and talking heads think about his sexuality, or his love life. He knows that Fox News has been frothing at the mouth - that doesn’t mean he needs to subject himself to that. No, Steve spent yesterday (after the meetings, and the threats) reading the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with his TV, tablet, and phone all off.
"Yeah, okay, I shouldn't be surprised. So do you know the name Winifred Barnes?"
Steve nods slowly. The name is familiar, mixed up in the seventy-year crash course in American and world history that he got after waking up.
"She was the first female president, back in the nineties I think."
"Bingo, though it was actually early aughts. And James Barnes is her son. Her famously gay son. Who kinda sorta fits the same basic physical features as that guy in the photograph."
Steve can feel his eyebrows scrunching up in what Sam calls his ‘heroic look of disapproval.’ Tony has never tried to play matchmaker before. Nat, sure, even Clint a few times, and once, hilariously, Thor, but not Tony. It’s never really seemed like his style, even though Tony probably knows more people than every single other Avenger combined.
"So what," Steve says slowly, still processing, "you think he's my type?"
To Steve’s surprise, Tony rolls his eyes so hard it becomes a whole-head movement.
"No, Capcicle. The paps skipped straight over the 'mystery man' portion of the story and decided you must have been canoodling with JB - he was in New York this past weekend, which makes the story remotely plausible - and have moved on to speculating about how you met and how long you've secretly been together."
Of all of the possibilities, that one hadn’t even pinged Steve’s radar. Those pictures had obviously been taken on a cell phone camera, at night - even Steve is barely recognizable, except in the one photo where he’s facing the camera. And the guy never faced the camera. It’s hard to get more generic than “brunette” and “close-in-height-but-still-shorter than Steve.”
This whole scenario is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Steve doesn’t actually know who James Barnes is, but he almost certainly isn’t the guy Steve went home with on Friday night. Unless, of course, “JB” is a celebrity who thinks it’s quirky to slum it in a run-down area of Queens, in an apartment the size of Steve’s hall closet.
“But there are thousands of men in New York that have brown hair. How could they possibly think that -"
"Because they have a 24-hour news cycle to fill Cap. They don't care if it's right. But 'Captain America seen with random stranger' takes up about five minutes of air time, once you skip over the whole sexuality thing, but 'Captain America is in a secret relationship with another famous person' has secrecy and intrigue,” Tony says, waving his screwdriver around for emphasis. “Also, a lot of people are unwilling or unable to believe that someone as upstanding and righteous as you could ever possibly have a one-night stand, so it makes more sense to invent a whole courtship. Basically all the news channels are running with it at this point.”
Steve’s phone buzzes again, where it’s still clutched tightly in Steve’s hand. He’s lucky he hasn’t accidentally crushed it.
(202) 555-6384: Too soon for jokes?
Steve bites back a string of swear words. As if things weren’t complicated enough already, apparently Steve accidentally dragged this total stranger into this mess with him, knowingly or not. So far Steve has avoided making a statement, partially because he doesn’t quite know what to say, partially because he doesn’t think that he should have to justify what he does in his personal life, since it’s nobody’s fucking business. Apparently, the media found a way to fill the void.
"He probably is your type, though, now that you mention it. JARVIS, pull up a picture of JB for the good captain."
Steve looks down at this phone again. He probably shouldn’t keep ignoring the stranger, now that he knows both who it is and why he’s contacting Steve.
Steve: Sorry, I’m talking to Tony.
Steve looks up from his phone to see a life-sized photo projected mid-air. For the first few seconds he just marvels at the technology in front of him. No matter how much time he spends in Tony’s lab, the technology never fails to impress him. As crazy and futuristic the literal future has been, Tony’s lab is a whole ‘nother ballpark, since his tech is about twenty years more advanced than the outside world’s.
Then, he actually pays attention to the figure in the photo. The man is tall, maybe an inch or two shorter than Steve. Lean, but obviously fit. His long brown hair curls over his shoulder in an overly-perfect wave, like a shampoo commercial, and his bright blue eyes stare knowingly into the camera, as though he’s inviting the viewer in on a secret.
So maybe Steve does have a type.
Steve tears his eyes away from the picture and back to Tony.
"So that's my boyfriend?" Steve says. He has to give credit where credit is due - he absolutely would have gone home with the man from the photo, if given the opportunity.
"Yep, though this photo is a few years old now. He cut his hair, has this 40's style ploof thing on top," Tony gestures in a wave over his head. “It’s a better look for him than the long hair, though let’s be honest, he always looks good. America’s heartthrob, right there. Broke a million teenage girl’s hearts when he came out.”
Steve isn’t entirely sure what to say to that. He feels struck dumb by the man in the photo, but he avoids looking at the picture again - easier said than done, considering it’s projected about a foot away from where Tony’s standing.
Tony will never, ever let Steve live it down if he stands in Tony’s lab and salivates over a photo of a random stranger. Particularly a random stranger that the gossip rags pinged as being a good match for Steve. Wow, embarrassing.
It’s not just that the guy is gorgeous, not really. There’s something tantalizing about the idea that Steve could have this guy, this secret-boyfriend, tucked away somewhere, in some kind of cozy/comfortable relationship that Steve could lean on, rather than just some random hookup when Steve got so lonely that he got desperate, and stupid.
"So do you actually know this guy?" Steve says, "or did you have JARVIS look up his number?"
Steve thinks that Tony must know the guy, or else he wouldn’t have given Steve’s number out so readily.
"Oh yeah, we go way back. Met him while he was a kid in the White House, traveled in the same circles for a little while. He's a good kid.” Tony blinks, then scratches his head with his screwdriver, considering. “Huh, I think he’s almost thirty now. Maybe he is thirty? I’ll have to ask Pep, she’s good at remembering those things. Anyway, not important. As far as fake media boyfriends go, he’s the jackpot.”
“He… is… good looking?” Steve says slowly. How does one measure the quality of a fake secret media boyfriend?
Tony waves the screwdriver dismissively. “I mean yeah, he’s a heartthrob. The important thing is that he’s trustworthy.”
Sometimes, Steve just cannot follow Tony’s line of thought.
“You trust a politician?”
To Steve’s surprise, Tony cackles like he does when Steve asks a particularly stupid question about technology.
“He is not a politician. I’m sure he hates politics worse than you do. No, no, he and I have been work-” Tony cuts himself off midword, like he’s thought better of it, and then waves his hand around dismissively, again. "Ah. Well. That's a story for another time. He tries to stay out of the spotlight, figuratively speaking anyway, but the paps love him."
Steve wants to know what Tony didn’t say about James. Cutting off mid-word like that is unlike him - normally Steve can’t get Tony to shut up about his projects, no matter how classified the project is supposed to be. One time he spent half an hour explaining some kind of heat-exchange system to Steve with some version of “I’m not supposed to be telling you this” and “but you didn’t hear this from me” interspersed every other sentence. Tony knew that Steve had no idea what he was talking about, and Steve knew that Tony was essentially just using him like a human skull to monologue at.
Alas, poor Yorick.
Steve doesn’t need to know everything that Tony does, nor does he need (or want) to know everything that goes on in Tony’s projects for Stark Industries. But if Steve’s fake secret media boyfriend is involved with Tony, somehow, it seems pertinent to talk about that.
The phone in his hand buzzes again.
(202) 555-6384: Sounds dangerous
“Anyway, JB messaged me this morning asking for your number to touch base. He’s generally a pretty good sport, and he’s a pro at navigating the tabloids, so it’ll help you to have him in your corner.”
Steve nods, not sure how else to respond. If Tony doesn’t want to say anything else, it’s probably best for Steve not to push. Maybe the project is something personal. Or maybe, Tony wants to get back to whatever him and Bruce were working on, without distracting himself with explaining a majorly complicated project to modern-science-illiterate Steve.
"Sorry, I should let you guys get back to what you were working on."
Now that Steve’s actually paying attention, rather than laser-focused on Tony, he can see diagrams and readouts strewn all over every available surface of the lab. Steve doesn’t have enough of a scientific background to have any idea what they’re working on, and knowing Tony (and Bruce) it could be absolutely anything, from vaccinating schoolchildren in Ghana to developing complicated weaponry for the Iron Man suit. Either way, it’s likely best to leave them to it. Steve doesn’t need to drag everyone into his ridiculous media situation, especially not if they have other things to be working on.
Steve heads back up to his own floor, debating how to respond to James on the way. Tony seems to think that James is a good ally to have, and he certainly seems to be playful and good-natured about this mess, when he could just as easily been angry or dismissive. Considering the many bad scenarios, James’ messages are actually kind of refreshing. Too many people in this century view Steve as the propaganda persona he wears, and so they generally avoid joking with him. Lot’s of respectful nods and yes-sir-no-sir, not a lot of banter.
Returning to his own space, Steve drops onto his sofa and opens the message string. Regardless of whether he likes it or not, him and James are stuck in this together, so he clicks on the tiny info button and carefully selects the “Create New Contact” option. (When he first got his phone, he accidentally called people he was trying to save as contacts all the time. It was mildly embarrassing, and the other Avengers made fun of him for it, and he definitely doesn’t want to do that right now.)
Steve hesitates over what to actually name the contact. The obvious choice is “James Barnes,” obviously. But this is also he guy who introduced himself as Steve’s boyfriend.
In for a penny, in for a pound.
Or maybe when in Rome with a fake secret media boyfriend…
Steve: I had temporary amnesia and had forgotten our great love affair.
Steve: Forgive me?
Boyfriend: Anything for you, honey bear
What a little shit. If he thinks that Steve won’t play along, he has another thing coming.
Steve: Are we thinking of a spring or fall wedding?
Boyfriend: Fall wedding for sure
Boyfriend: Spring is too floral, too tacky
Boyfriend: And I look way better in autumnal colors
Boyfriend: Though I *can* rock a floral suit
James' texts come rapid-fire, much more quickly than Steve can type.
Steve: Fall is good.
Steve: Gives us a few months to plan at least.
Boyfriend: Oh honey bear no
Boyfriend: You can't plan a wedding in a few MONTHS
Boyfriend: It would have to be NEXT fall
Boyfriend: Year and a half, def
A year and a half? The thought of spending a year and a half planning a wedding makes Steve queasy, fictional or no. That’s just wasteful, on top of being completely unnecessary. And unnecessary wastefulness is one of Steve’s pet peeves of the twenty-first century, borne out of his depression-era sensibilities. Getting married in a quiet ceremony at a church, with your friends and family, makes so much more sense than some kind of circus-like event that costs an ungodly amount of money.
Steve: Can we just elope? The rest of our relationship has been a secret, why not the wedding? Saves us both the trouble.
The little "..." bubble appears then disappears twice. Then, finally:
Boyfriend: ...don't tempt me
Boyfriend: It's all fun and games until you realize that I would 100% elope with you tomorrow
Boyfriend: Name a courthouse and I'm there
Boyfriend: I've seen you shirtless
Boyfriend: I'm ready
Boyfriend: My body is ready
Steve’s face heats up in what is surely a spectacular blush. He knows that James is joking, but all Steve can think about is that devilish little smile from the photo, and the smirk that James is almost certainly sporting on the other side of the phone. The part of Steve that signed up for Project Rebirth and then marched into Nazi Germany with nothing but a wooden shield and an excess of spite and gumption wants to call James on his bluff, or meet him at City Hall in some kind of ridiculous game of media-chicken.
Steve’s getting a little better at ignoring that side of himself.
Steve: Unfortunately, I doubt we could find a courthouse anywhere that wouldn't be swarmed with reporters the instant we showed up. We may have to wait until things die down a little bit.
Boyfriend: Tragic, but true
Boyfriend: This is why you're a tactician and I'm just Out's most eligible bachelor three years running
Steve isn’t sure what “Out” is, but he’s assuming it’s some kind of magazine.
What he wants to do is ask what James is working on with Tony, but he’s not quite sure how to steer the conversation in that direction.
Steve: Tony didn’t tell me that I might be hearing from you, so you surprised me this morning.
Boyfriend: That sounds like Tony
Boyfriend: Brilliant but scatterbrained
Boyfriend: I trust that he set the record straight?
Boyfriend: So to speak
Steve: Yes. He seems to trust you, which says a lot, coming from Tony.
Boyfriend: I've been working with Tony on a project
Boyfriend: Top secret
Boyfriend: Very hush hush
Steve: Tony was being secretive, which isn’t like him. I wasn’t sure what to make of that.
Steve: I don’t know, sweetheart, should I be?
Steve isn’t jealous. Well, not really jealous. Maybe a little. Tony generally takes the stance of distrusing everyone, aside from Pepper, Happy, Rhodey, and the other Avengers - so him immediately declaring James trustworthy came as a bit of a surprise. And maybe part, some small, insignificant part , of Steve has been wondering if James and Tony had a history. Like, a history history . And it would have to be history, because Steve knows that Tony would never screw around on Pepper.
Steve could justify asking because, well, it would be weird to flirt with Tony’s ex, right?
Boyfriend: Aww, baby, no need to be jealous
Boyfriend: Tony's not my type
Steve knows that he probably shouldn’t ask. It’s inappropriate to ask, and he’s presumably going to be stuck in this situation with James for a while, but…
Steve: What is your type?
Impulse control has never really been Steve’s strong suit.
Boyfriend: Tall, blonde
Boyfriend: Strong enough to toss me around ;)
Steve’s knows that if he were to look in a mirror right now he would be bright red. He really, really should not be flirting with his fake secret media boyfriend… right?
Boyfriend: And you?
Boyfriend: What's YOUR type?
Steve tries to respond with the most neutral answer he can, even though he really wants to reply: you.
Steve: I think all of America knows what my type is at this point.
Boyfriend: I wish I knew what that guy said
Boyfriend: To get you to go home with him
Boyfriend: I would be saying it right now
At this point, Steve’s pretty sure that his blush is blushing. He sets the phone down for a second so that he can rub his hands over his face and take a few deep breaths. He needs to bring this conversation back around before he says something that he’ll regret later.
Steve: Where is home? You don't live in New York, right?
Boyfriend: Dupont Circle
Boyfriend: The gayborhood
Boyfriend: Haven't you read my wikipedia page?
Steve licks his lips, unsure about how to respond to that. Reading James’ Wikipedia page would be smart, from a tactical perspective. As of now all he really knows is that James is the son of a former president and that Tony both knows and trusts him. And that he’s gay. In total, not a lot to go on. On the other hand, Steve knows what it’s like, expecting everyone you talk to to have have some base knowledge of your life, and consequently some expectations for who they think you should be. Steve finds that exhausting, and he can imagine that James does too.
Steve: No. I would rather learn about you from you.
James takes a long time to respond. Long enough that Steve starts to worry that maybe he said the wrong thing.
Boyfriend: That might be the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me
Boyfriend: Definitely top five
Boyfriend: But right now I'm meeting my sister for brunch and I've been standing outside the restaurant for five minutes
Boyfriend: And if I don't get inside I'm gonna be late
Steve: Go meet your sister.
Boyfriend: Yeah, yeah
Boyfriend: We should probably chat sometime soon
Boyfriend: About how to handle the boyfriend-thing
Steve’s not entirely sure what else there is to discuss, but he’s certainly not going to say no to talking to James again.
Sure. I'll be home all night, Steve starts to type. No. That sounds... pathetic. He deletes the message and starts again.
Steve: Sure. I plan to stay in tonight, so call me when you're free.
James messages him back a thumbs-up.
Steve isn’t expecting to hear from James again for another couple of hours, so it’s a surprise when his phone buzzes with a new message from “Boyfriend” just twenty minutes later. Opening the message, Steve finds a picture of the biggest Bloody Mary he’s ever seen, with a laughing woman partially cut off in the background.
Boyfriend: Becca wants deets
Boyfriend: Don't worry, I know how to be coy
Steve: You can tell your sister the truth.
Boyfriend: Where's the fun in that?
Forty minutes later, Steve gets a picture of an enormous plate of multi-colored macarons.
Boyfriend: When I die, I want heaven to be nothing but these, as far as the eye can see
Steve laughs - what a goofball - and sends back a picture of the sketch he’s working on: the Brooklyn bridge on a sunny day. He’s continuing on his mission of ignoring the outside world, so he’s avoiding both the television and his tablet. And that’s fine. He has some reading to catch up on, anyway, and he’s been saying that he wants to draw more for months.
Steve isn’t hiding if this is exactly what he wants to be doing right now. The fact that he’s holed up, alone in his apartment, is a complete coincidence.
Boyfriend: That's gorgeous!
Boyfriend: Are you an artist?
Steve: Not really. I mostly draw landscapes or the occasional figure drawing.
Steve had more or less given up drawing during the war, but his therapist has been encouraging him to pick up some productive hobbies. Ones that would give him a sense of accomplishment. Steve’s not entirely sure that that’s going to fix anything, but he’s dutifully drawing and trying to teach himself how to cook, regardless.
Look at me, ma, I’m a well-adjusted post-war soldier.
Not that the war has ever really ended, for Steve. There’s always something for Captain America to fight.
Boyfriend: Oooh, figure drawing
Boyfriend: Would you draw me like one of your French girls?
Steve has to assume that that’s some kind of reference, but he’s not sure to what. He has a notebook with probably a thousand movies, TV shows, books, albums, etc. he supposedly “needs” to catch up on, to be part of this century. Right now he’s gotten through less than a tenth of it, and enjoyed less than half of that. Steve has some doubts about his teammates’ tastes, sometimes.
It’s a classic, they say.
You have to see it, they say.
Boyfriend: I maaaay be a little tipsy
Boyfriend: Those bloody marys... dangerous
Steve has a little twenty-first century solution to all of his reference problems: Google. Great invention. An absolute lifesaver for Steve, who can type whatever nonsense people are talking about into that little white box and get both answers and suggestions.
So Steve opens Google and starts typing: draw me like
> draw me like a french girl
> draw me like
> draw me like a french girl titanic
Steve chooses the first option, though he has a feeling that he’ll need to go back to the third. One of Steve’s favorite things about Google is the suggestions - since he often doesn’t actually know what people are talking about, or sometimes how names are spelled, it’s incredibly helpful to be able to look at Google’s suggested hits.
The first result gives some videos that he’s not in the mood to watch, along with a bunch of images of different people and animals reclining on things, sometimes with the words “draw me like one of your french girls” written over the picture in blocky lettering. Those look like memes (and he knows memes thank you very much ), so he goes back and selects the third option, “draw me like a french girl titanic.” The same clip of the movie scene comes up, along with photos of a nude woman reclining suggestively on a sette.
Steve: I haven't done that kind of figure drawing since art school.
Boyfriend: Would you like some practice?
Boyfriend: Sorry, sorry, I'm being thirsty
Boyfriend: Ignore me
Steve thinks long and hard about how to reply to that. Living in the twenty-first century has been… strange. When he went into the ice, he was a soldier and a minor celebrity. Sure, there were the tours and the newsreels, but people back then knew that Captain America was a character, not a person. No one actually cared about Steve’s personal life, or who he was before the serum. They cared that he could lift a motorcycle one-handed and punch Hitler in the face - and then, later, that he was jumping out of aeroplanes and marching into Nazi compounds to free American POW’s.
But twenty-first century technology had made the culture of celebrity into the cult of celebrity. Now, Steve isn’t just a soldier who wears a funny costume - he’s expected to be Captain America, every moment of every day. And Captain America isn’t a man. No. Captain America is a symbol of America itself, and people expect him to act as a paragon of whatever they think America stands for. The vast majority of people neither know nor care about Steve’s real history, or his track record with fighting for socialism, women’s rights, and integration. To them, he’s a living fossil from a “better” time, a time that America should return to, regardless of how shitty that time actually was.
So now, everyone has an opinion on who Captain America should be, and everyone has a cell phone camera to monitor him every time he goes out in public. He can’t even go for a jog without people stopping to ask him for selfies. Though Steve doesn’t readily admit it to his teammates, he hasn’t been adjusting well to the new century, and he knows that they know it. All of the Avengers have baggage, and they all politely pretend that they don’t notice each others’ while also trying to be as supportive as possible. It’s a delicate balancing act.
They all have their own ways of blowing off steam. Nat, Clint, and Bruce are all rarely recognized - Natasha because she can disappear seamlessly into any crowd, and Clint and Bruce because they’re rarely photographed well, so people don’t know what they look like - and so they have a level of freedom to go out and do whatever they want. Thor can escape to Asgard whenever he wants. Tony has cultivated a reputation of behaving badly over the years, so people don’t exactly hold him to high moral standards. Sam is new enough to the group that the average American doesn’t know very much about him.
That leaves Steve. Steve, whose face has been plastered on posters and coffee mugs and action figures for 70 years. Steve, who has been the subject of history books and half a dozen movies about WWII and his life. Steve, who people genuinely feel like they know because they’ve taken an eighth grade history class.
Steve had been able to sneak away with people, back then. He knew where the queer bars were. He knew how not to get arrested, how to escape a raid. And then there was the war, and Peggy, and he knew that no one looked too hard at what the other soldiers were doing in the dark of the trenches. Everyone just wanted to survive.
But here? Now? The women Steve met were all nice enough, but they had expectations, like everybody else. He had been on a few dates. Each had walked in with a complete image of who he was, and what their future “relationship” was going to be like. A few were overly sympathetic, with wide, doe eyes. A few were fierce and independent. A few of them were clearly social climbers. None of them held a candle to Peggy.
(Natasha tries. Steve can’t fault her for the fact that he doesn’t belong in this century.)
And so Steve made a poor choice. He was lonely and fed-up and wanted to have one goddamn night where he could be a random anonymous man living his life in New York City. He found a bar in Queens, far from where anyone would expect him to be, and made sure that he had two days’ worth of stubble, because no one expected Captain America to be a scruffy looking guy at a queer bar. An attractive brunet bought him a drink and invited Steve back to his place. The man gave Steve a blowjob, and Steve returned the favor, and left.
Then, Steve woke up with pictures of him leaving the bar all over the news.
So what Steve should be doing is damage control. He should be responding to the dozens (if not hundreds) of media inquiries he’s received, meeting with his Stark Industries employed publicist, and handling the fallout. Steve’s not sure whether or not America was actually ready for a queer Captain America, but hey, Steve wasn’t exactly ready either.
Instead, Steve’s sitting in his apartment, drawing Brooklyn from memory.
Steve wants to flirt with this absolutely gorgeous, openly gay man, who seems to actually be giving Steve the time of day.
Steve fucking wants, okay? He’s only human. And the cat’s already out of the bag, isn’t it?
So Steve picks up his phone and sends:
Steve: What if I don't want to ignore you? Maybe I'd take you up on your offer.
After a minute, Steve gets another photo, this time of James staring slack-jawed down at his phone. The photo was obviously taken by James’ sister. And he looks good. Really good. His hair is shorter than it was in the picture Steve saw earlier, like Tony said it would be, and he’s wearing a fitted pink button-down shirt that makes him look soft and touchable. The dumbstruck look on his face is adorable, and his open mouth...
The less Steve says about James’ mouth, the better.
Boyfriend: This is me rn
Boyfriend: In related news, Becca is a jerk
Boyfriend: Becca says I'm not allowed to sext at brunch
Boyfriend: So put a pin in that thought
Steve exhales noisily. You deserve to have nice things. That’s what Natasha had said, after.
Steve sends back a thumbs up emoji. James responds with an emoji with wide eyes and blushing cheeks.
By late afternoon, Steve finally settles down with his tablet to do some homework. If James is going to call in a few hours to talk damage control on their fictional relationship, Steve should at least know something about said fictional relationship. Biting the bullet, Steve Googles his own name. Predictably, all of the first hits are current-events/news, but he selects the dedicated “news” tab anyway. The first couple are what Steve expects - mainstream news sources speculating on his sexuality, mixed with thinkpieces. A few seem positive, Captain America is the Gay Icon America Needs, and some of them seem negative, Captain America Deceives and Disappoints America. Further down he finds an article titled “Steve Rogers and James Barnes are the Power Couple We Didn’t Know We Needed Until Now,” which seems like as good a place to start as any.
The reporting in the article is sparse, if you can even really call it reporting. Mostly it consisted of a set of pictures of James out and about in New York City, wearing a white shirt and black skinny jeans. Those were followed by a few of the blurry pictures from the bar, showing Steve with a man of roughly the same height and build as James (also wearing a white shirt and black pants, like that really meant anything), though none of the photos showed a clear shot of the “mystery” man’s face. Steve himself was barely recognizable. Then came the infamous photo, with Steve facing the camera and his paramour facing away.
The evidence isn’t exactly convincing.
The "article" went on to talk about the fact that James Barnes was known to be in New York from Thursday night to Saturday, and had been seen back in Dupont Circle...
Oh, that last photo is from today.
The photo is of James standing in front of a fancy-looking restaurant, wearing the same pink shirt as the photo he sent Steve earlier, along with a pair of charcoal grey slacks. He’s looking at his phone in this photo too, but instead of being struck dumb, he has a soft smile on his face.
“Who could he be texting that would make him smile like that? Could it be the star spangled man with the plan?”
The irony of it all is that, for everything else in that the article got wrong, they’re right about that. James was messaging Steve at that particular moment.
(Steve tried not to linger too long on the soft expression on James’ face.)
When the call finally comes, Steve is elbows-deep in dishes.
Reading about the “evidence” of his and James’ secret relationship had been disorienting because, as it turns out, they have more compelling information that Steve had originally expected. Apparently James visits NYC pretty regularly, and there are dozens of pictures of him entering, exiting, or just generally being around Stark Tower. Presumably that has something to do with the “Top Secret” work he’s doing with Tony.
On top of that, James had also been known as somewhat of a playboy, before settling down all of a sudden a few years ago, which may have been the real inspiration for the whole “secret relationship” theory - apparently tabloid reporters have been trying to find out the identity of James’ secret boyfriend for years, so the moment that someone who kinda sorta looks like James was seen with Captain America, they jumped on the opportunity to fit their own narrative.
So given the circumstances, Steve suspects that it’s going to be more difficult to fix things than he originally thought (though he’s privately relieved that the speculation was caused by James’ behavior as much as his own). But the idea of having to stand up at a press conference or make some kind of written statement setting the record straight about what happened that night makes Steve’s chest tighten in a way it hasn’t in 70 years.
And it’s stupid - Steve knows it’s stupid. Steve doesn’t judge people for who they sleep with, and he doesn’t think that it’s anyone’s business what happens between consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes. But Steve has been held to a different standard ever since he woke up in his new body. He’s a role model, an icon, an upstanding example for everyone to aspire towards, according to the propaganda machine. Based on what he read, plenty of people are struggling with the gay thing - technically bi thing, though Steve isn’t sure it’s worth fighting that battle right now - and so he doesn’t even know how to explain the one-night-stand thing.
Thing is? Steve doesn’t think he should have to explain it.
But that’s one of the burdens of carrying the shield.
So rather than wallowing, Steve had decided to channel his anxiety into cooking. He had never been very good at that, before, because he barely had the money to feed himself, and then he was in the army, where they fed him. Since his therapist had given him ‘goals’ (read: busywork, really, though Steve didn’t fight it), Steve decided that he might as well do something practical with his time, killing two birds with one stone. So Steve had set his tablet down, taken a deep breath, pulled out one of the cookbooks Natasha had given him, found a decently easy looking recipe, and tried his best.
(The noodles were overcooked and the sauce was oddly sour, but he’s trying.)
So of course, he’s trying to scrub the sauce residue off the pot he had used, when his phone starts ringing in the living room. Because apparently Steve-the-tactician hadn’t thought to keep his cell phone within arm’s reach, like a fucking mook.
Steve rinses the suds off his hands, then grabs a towel and tries to dry his hands while sprinting towards the living room. Diving for his phone in a maneuver that surely would have ended with him braining himself on the coffee table if not for his superhuman reflexes, he barely manages to hit the “Accept Call” button before the call goes to voicemail.
"Hi. Catch you at a bad time?"
"No! No, I was just washing dishes. And my phone was in the other room." Steve maneuvers so that he’s sitting up straight on the sofa, like a normal human being. "So... yeah. Anyway. I was just trying to catch the phone before it went to voicemail. How are you?"
Smooth, Rogers. Real smooth.
"Pretty good." James sounds amused. "Becca was ready to smack me all the way through brunch because I wouldn't tell her anything, so that was fun."
"You could have told her the truth," Steve says. It’s not like Steve wants to encourage him to lie to his family.
"And pass up the opportunity to torture my sister? Not a chance. And I wouldn't have had that kind of conversation in public, anyway. You never know who's listening."
"Right. Yeah, that makes sense." Steve shifts around on the sofa, trying to get comfortable and calm his racing heart. "So, what do we want to tell people?"
Steve blinks. What? He can’t have heard that right.
"Nothing. 'No comment' is your new best friend."
"I mean, if you want to go on camera and explain to the world the private details of your personal life, you're welcome to do so. But just know that if you do it once, you're going to be expected to do it again, and again, and again. You'll set a precedent."
"But if I don't say anything, they're going to assume that we've been secretly dating."
James hums. "That doesn't bother me, though your reputation will take more of a hit than mine."
"That's not - you have paparazzi stalking you, because of me." James has to know about the brunch photos by now.
This time, James laughs. "Steve. Honey bear. Light of my life, fire of my loins. The paparazzi have been stalking me for my entire life. When I've been particularly boring they'll lay off for a few months, but I haven't gone more than eight or ten months without a camera in my face since I was sixteen."
Steve’s actually not sure what to say to that.
"I was ten when people realized my mother was planning on running for president, eleven during the campaign, and twelve when she was inaugurated. She was a senator before that. I have spent far more time doing this dance than you have."
"Right." Steve can’t argue with that. "I just don't want to drag you into this any more than you have to be. You could just say that you weren't with me and be done with it."
James hums again, doubtful. "I certainly could say that. And some people would believe me, some wouldn't. But..." James sighs. "I've been there. I was outed when I was sixteen, and it fucking sucked. That was the worst year of my life. Mmmm..." he pauses then, considering. "Second worst. Still. It's not something I would wish on anyone. And if it'll make the process easier on you, I don't see a reason to set the record straight, so to speak."
"That's, um..." Really generous? Kind? Thoughtful? Steve has no idea what to even say to that.
"Unless, of course, you actually are seeing that guy."
"No," Steve says quickly. "It was a one-time thing."
That, Steve wants to be sure James knows. Aside from the fact that Steve would never step out on someone, he needs James to know that he’s completely, totally single.
"Did he know that you're...?"
"No. I mean, I don't think he did, at the time. Now he definitely does, unless he actually lives in a cave."
James laughs again.
"Do you think he'll go to the press?"
That’s a possibility that Steve’s been trying not to think about. There’s money to be made in a tell-all expose, and Steve doesn’t actually know the guy, doesn’t know if he’s that kind of person or not.
Only time would tell.
"Okay, I can work with that. Do you think it's worth the time to try and track him down?"
Steve had considered that, too, but it seemed too gauche. The only real reason to do that would be to beg him not to tell, or to offer him money.
"Not... really, no."
"So that's it? We just say 'no comment' every time someone asks until they stop asking?"
"Sure, we could do that," James says. "Alternatively, we could always play it up. I could mention you in conversations that I know will be overheard, we could be seen together, that kind of thing."
"Yeah," Steve says, "I don't really want to do that. That feels more like a lie than 'no comment' does."
"Yeah, that's fair."
Now this is the place where Steve could let it lie. James seems to be content to follow his lead, even though he had definitely been flirting earlier. Steve isn’t sure if James is just letting Steve take the lead, or if he had been joking, earlier.
"If we were... seen… together. I wouldn't want it to be an act."
"Oh, yeah?" James says. Steve could hear the smile in his voice.
"And what would you want it to be?" This time James’ voice sounds deeper, with a hint of teasing.
"I don't know," Steve says, heart starting to beat faster. "You were the one offering to elope earlier."
"Mmhmm. I stand by my statement. Your old newsreels were very informative to sixteen-year-old me."
Steve’s brain whites out, a little bit.
"Sorry, sorry, I'm not trying to make you uncomfortable."
"You're not. At least, not that kind of uncomfortable."
Steve’s heart is definitely beating faster, but not in a bad way.
“Yeah? Can I ask ‘what are you wearing?’ or is that too forward?”
“Um.” Steve looks down at himself, unsure of where this is going. “Pants and a plaid shirt, why?”
At that, James laughs, and Steve is sure that he’s missing something. Wedging his phone between his ear and his shoulder, he grabs his tablet off the coffee table and types “what are you wearing” into Google.
“Don’t worry about it.”
The first hit is for Urban Dictionary. The internationally recognized phrase meant to initiate phone sex.
“I will have to say,” James says, “you surprised me this afternoon.”
“Do you mean when you offered to model naked and I didn’t turn you down?”
Once his mind is made up, Steve isn’t afraid of marching into no-man’s land.
James laughs. “Honestly, I wasn’t even sure you were gonna understand that reference.”
“I didn’t,” Steve admitted, “I googled it.”
“Resourceful, I like it. Are you gonna google ‘what are you wearing’ later?”
This is the point at which Steve could fake ignorance and let that possibility wither on the vine. Instead, he says: “I already did.”
“Oh really ?”
“I have a tablet!”
“Resourceful and efficient, I like it,” James says, voice warm and welcoming.
“I am the star spangled man with the plan.”
“I can see that. Color me impressed.”
Steve shifts on the couch again. He’s starting to get uncomfortable, but it a very different way than before.
“And yet I told you what I’m wearing, but you haven’t told me what you’re wearing.”
“You already know what I’m wearing.”
The soft pink button-down and charcoal grey slacks.
“I suppose I do. You looked gorgeous today, by the way.”
“Aww shucks, you’ll make me blush.”
“Please, like you haven’t seen a mirror.”
James chuckled, a soft, intimate thing.
“You know, I was in New York on Friday night, but I didn’t go out. When I saw those pictures on Saturday morning, my first thought was that that could have been me, if I were young and careless again.”
There are a few questions Steve wants to ask, like do you not do casual flings anymore? and what changed? but he doesn’t want to derail their conversation. Steve had started getting hard as soon as he read “phone sex” and heard James’ deliberately suggestive tone. This isn’t the time to talk about feelings.
“It could have been,” Steve says in agreement. And it’s true - he never would have gone home with Mark, if James had been an option. “When Tony showed me your picture this morning, I was honestly a little disappointed that you weren’t the one I went home with.”
“You’re home now, yeah?”
“Couch or bed?”
“Couch,” Steve says, “But I could change that.”
Steve has never had phone sex before, but he’s a quick learner, and by god is he ready and willing to try something new.
“Nah, couch is good. I like the idea of crawling into your lap and straddling you.” Steve could feel himself flushing. “Are you hard?”
“Did the serum make you big all over?”
“You askin’ about my dick, Barnes?”
“Maybe I am. I bet it’s as perfect as the rest of you. You gonna take it out for me?”
“Yeah.” Steve unzips his pants, relieving the pressure on his dick, and palms himself a few times. He feels partly foolish, sitting on his couch with his dick out, but also really fucking turned on.
“If I were there, I’d kiss you and grind against you until you were crazy with it. Then I’d unzip your pants and get a hand in there, give you just enough friction to make you beg.”
“Decisions, decisions. Do I stay up there and rub us both until we come? Or do I get on my knees and suck your cock?”
Steve shivers all over.
“Well you’re in luck, because I happen to love sucking cock. Can you picture me there? On my knees, between your legs?”
“God yes, I want that,” Steve says, starting to stroke his cock. He spreads his legs as much as he can with his pants still on, imagining James between them.
“Are you touching yourself?”
“Nah, I’m doing a crossword puzzle. What’s the scientific name for grizzly bear?”
James laughs. “Ursus arctos horribilis. Anything else I can help you with, punk?”
Steve starts laughing too, and then both of them dissolve into giggles. Fuck. His dick throbs a little at the sound of James’ laugh.
Steve would love to kiss the smile off of his face. He can picture it, so easily.
“You’re ridiculous. Get our hand on your dick, Rogers.”
“Umm, fuck.” James starts laughing again. “You threw me off my stride.”
“Is that so?” Steve’s always happy to take charge, and while he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, he knows how to dirty talk. He strokes himself and says, “Well then I changed my mind, I want you in my lap.”
“Yeah, I wanna kiss you.”
James hums encouragingly.
“So what do you like? You like being on top?” Steve asks. It’s easy to picture James, here, perched on his lap. It’s equally easy to imagine James sprawled out on his couch, the picture of debauchery.
“Yeah? And the rest of the time? You like someone strong to throw you around?”
This time, James moans, which makes Steve’s cock throb. Fuck. Steve loves getting physical, loves being able to toss people around, now that he has the strength. He obviously has to make sure that he doesn’t hurt his partner, but.
Steve isn’t even sure what he wants, just that he wants it all.
“Would you like it if I pushed you down and climbed on top of you?”
“I could pin your arms over your head if you ask real nicely.”
“Oh my god , Steve, I didn’t know you had it in you,” James says, sounding too put-together for Steve’s tastes. “Please, pretty please?”
“That not working for you?”
“Nah, I actually love being pinned down, I’m just bein’ a jerk. Forgive me?”
“We’ll see. What are you wearing right now?”
James starts laughing again. “Steve, we’ve already gone over that -“
“No, I mean right now. Are you still fully dressed?”
“Yeah, just my pants are unzipped.”
Now that’s a nice mental picture: James on his couch, pink shirt rumpled, cock standing up from the fly of his slacks.
“Take your clothes off.”
“Yeah, okay. Gimme a sec.”
Steve could hear rustling on the line for a few seconds.
“Okay, I am naked. How do you want me? Like one of your French girls?”
Steve snorts. “If you don’t stop misbehaving I’ll have to put you over my knee.”
“...is that supposed to be a deterrent ?”
Steve has bite his lip and count to ten. God, James is a brat. Steve wants to manhandle him, get his hands all over James until he makes the other man beg.
“Get on your back and put your hand on your dick, Barnes.”
“Ohhhhh, how the turn tables. My hand is on my dick and I am awaiting instruction, Captain.”
“Jesus Christ. I bet you’d be easier to handle if I were actually there.”
“Yeah? And why’s that?”
“I could shut you up.”
“Yeah? Well you took my mouth off your cock…”
“Yeah, I did.” Steve gets inspired. “I could put two fingers in there, if you want something to suck on.”
“You want me to?” James sounds a little breathless, finally.
“Yeah. I want your other hand on your cock, stroking it nice and sweet. How does that feel?”
James lets out a muffled moan. Steve feels bold, daring.
“Go faster. I wanna hear you.”
James keeps going, whimpering and making a series of choked off noises that has Steve gasping himself. His hand is a little too dry for this, but Steve isn’t going to stop to get lube, so he spits in his palm and keeps stroking himself, faster.
“There are so many things I wanna do to you, I can’t even decide. Should I play with your nipples? Your cock? Your ass?”
Steve can barely believe that he’s talking like this.
James groans. “Want you to fuck me.”
“Well your fingers are already nice and wet…”
“No, not…” he gasps, “want you to do it…”
“Sure,” Steve says, slightly confused but willing to roll with it, “when I’m there I’ll finger you until you’re begging me to fuck you. Start off slow and teasing, just to work you up. Find your sweet spot and rub it until you’re crying.”
“Are you gonna come? Are you gonna come thinking about my fingers inside you?”
James comes with a shout - the hottest thing Steve ever heard.
“Oh my god, Steve.” James sounds hoarse, fucked out. “I want you to come. I want you to come all over me, mark me, make me yours.”
Steve can imagine it: James, sprawled out on the couch, legs spread, come all over his abs, his groin, his cock , waiting for Steve…
Steve comes, hard, into his own fist. He keeps stroking himself until it becomes too much, then collapses back on the couch, panting.
“Wow,” James says, after a minute.
Steve makes a noise of agreement, not quite ready to use words again.
“We’re gonna do that sometime in person, yeah?”
They lapse into a comfortable silence for a minute.
“You know,” James says, almost conversationally, “the part of me that’s just a horny guy that wants to masturbate later wants you to take a picture of yourself right now.”
“Don’t. Hacks happen, it’s not worth it. And I would much rather have it in person.”
“You can.” Steve’s surprised by how much he actually wants that to happen. James is gorgeous, and into him, but he’s not just attracted to James - he actually really likes James. There aren’t many people that he can banter with effortlessly, and laugh with during sex. That was fun. And sweet, and hot. The whole thing feels crazy given that they’ve never even met (and only started speaking this morning), but Steve’s not sure that he cares.
“I’ll hold you to that.”