Indiana’s Finest Diner was ugly.
Steve had an excess of time to study it in the two hours he waited for his no-show informant. Brown booths. Faded white walls and floors. A wanna-be granite table, for that matter. The window on Steve’s right displayed beat-up Fords and Volkswagens that were roasting on pavement and swimming in refracting light. The inhabitants of the diner were more interesting. Teenagers mostly, snacking on fries and chicken fingers. Baubles bounced from their eyebrows and black-painted lips while they chatted with an energy Steve hadn’t felt since middle school. His gaze hopped from one table to the next. With all the boisterous laughter and the rapid fingers texting, it was quiet, methodical busboy who caught and held Steve’s eye.
Because he was wearing teddy bear slippers.
Dingy brown ears flopped over, and the cotton soles made a soft sh-sh sound as the young man gathered used dinnerware and placed them in a tub at his hip. Curious about the waiter, Steve skipped over the ripped pajama bottoms and faded t-shirt, to his face. His breath caught.
The waiter was model beautiful, with short, thick brown hair that was long and wavy on top, a sharp, smooth jaw, and a face that was all perfected angles that must have taken even God himself a devastatingly long time to create. His body was even more sinful, small-ish, but lithe and dangerous looking especially with how low those pajamas hung on his hips, giving Steve the sight to see the black band of elastic peeking out from underneath.
Steve’s gaze continued down the waiter’s body, settling back on those teddy bear slippers. Now those were a mystery.
“Rollins says he’ll get Rumlow there,” Detective Nick Fury relays into the cell phone tucked against Steve’s ear.
“Uh, huh,” he replies. Vice busts weren’t that interesting right now. Teddy Bear Slippers was pierced. Lots of ‘em were in his ear, a fierce looking bar through the top of it, and several little studs falling down the side. There were two in the lobe, and two on the forward helix of his ear as well. Little bumps, nipple high, were outlined under the young man’s shirt which immediately made Steve begin to speculate where else he was pieced… and that made Steve’s mouth incredibly dry.
“Rogers?” Fury huffed into his ear. “Rogers, get your head in the game. Now.”
Blue eyes. No, not just blue-- blue like glacial waters, like falling waterfalls and moonstones and-- and what the ever-living fuck was Steve doing? He turned away quickly and tried to concentrate on Fury’s voice.
“What? Oh.” Steve gave his head a shake, scattering the strange thoughts. “If Rollins says Rumlow will be there, we go with that. My guy is a no-show. Rollins is all we have now.” Steve hoped that was the response Fury was waiting for because Teddy Bear Slippers was coming his way, and Steve lost all ability to think.
“Can I take that for ya?” He had a slight northeastern drawl, like he was from someplace in New York. Maybe Brooklyn. That whole idea of ‘small world’ popped up in Steve’s head but he quickly brushed that aside. Steve was so wrapped up in the voice that it took a moment to follow the long, slim finger pointing across the table at Steve’s syrup-filled plate. Steve’s attention snapped back to the busboy.
Up close Teddy Bear Slippers was even more gorgeous, and a bit older than Steve originally assumed. His skin was smooth and pale, but had the slightest golden touch to it. A perfectly straight nose that was just right, and lips that were deliciously plump and pink and had the slightest look of being bitten raw. There was a little black tattooed star on the inside of his wrist and a word scrawled on the surface of his hand with pen that Steve couldn’t made out.
“Rogers?” Fury growled.
His brain had effectively left the building. “Huh?” Steve replied brilliantly, to the busboy, not to Fury. He could barely hear Fury. Cold blue eyes. That was all Steve could concentrate on. Cold but captivating. The young man screamed of innocence, but there was nothing innocent about those eyes.
“Rogers? Goddammit ! Rogers!”
What was someone who looked that good, working as a busboy in a place this ugly?
“ROGERS!” blasted into the phone, a stream of profanities following the shout.
The yell snapped Steve out of his daze. “What? Someone is talking to me here. Settle down, please .” Great, Steve had now acknowledged that while he knew slippers-boy was speaking to him, he had just been staring at him. The slight smirk spreading across the young man’s perfect lips told Steve that he had noticed the gawping, too.
With considerable effort, Steve flicked a glance to the plate, knowing there was a question in there somewhere.
“Your plate?” The busboy motioned once more, this time leaning across the table. The scent of soap and cinnamon and something downright enticing made Steve’s mind go blank again. He closed his eyes and inhaled, unconsciously lifting a hand to brush his knuckles on the underside of the young man’s reaching arm.
Apparently this was an awesome time to not only discover he had a teddy bear slipper fetish, but to violate someone’s arm in public. Some guy’s arm.
“Yeah,” Steve said stiffly, dragging my offending appendages into my lap before they did something stupid, like brush up against the busboy’s side or press his foot against one of those slippers. Luckily, the guy hadn’t noticed the knuckle-assault, or else he was choosing to ignore it. Steve could only hope that it was the former.
He felt twelve again, those nervous flutters in his stomach appearing for the first time since he had let Daisy Johnson tongue kiss him in eighth grade. Okay, let is probably the wrong word. More like forced her tongue into his mouth while he tried to protect his tonsils from unexpected removal. The memory was enough to jar Steve back into reality a second time. He checked his phone. Fury had hung up. With a sigh, Steve tucked the cell into his pocket. He’d deal with Fury at work on Monday.
Teddy Bear Slippers had long since grabbed the plate and was making his way back to the kitchen without a single backwards glance. He hipped the swinging door and disappeared into the back. It was only then that Steve managed to exhale.
He needed to get a grip. This was an incredibly bad time to ogle teenagers-- wait, no , there was never a fucking time to ogle teenage boys.
All these weird thoughts were giving Steve a headache. The guy was just interesting. That was all. Like spotting an exotic flower in a field of--
Steve really needed to stop thinking like a freshman-writing-poetry-lover. Actually, he just needed to leave. He needed to stop thinking about this and leave.
After paying the bill, Steve slid his sunglasses over his eyes and pushed out into the summer sun. Little bead of sweat popped up on the bridge of his nose, tempting him to remove the offending eyewear. But the light bouncing off his side mirror convinced him that dealing with irritating sweat was better than being blind.
Indiana heat didn’t blast so much as bake. It was a deceiving warmth, slowly building like a preheating oven and just as dry. The other trick of summer-- breezes. They moved at random, dying out and then ambling back, providing little in the way of their supposed function of cooling. By the time Steve had walked across the small parking lot and opened the door to his Jag, his hair was hot enough to fry a goddamn egg, and he dearly wished to be wearing shorts rather than full length khakis. Across the street, a bank marquee announced the date and the day’s temperature: ninety-four degrees.
It was safe to say that when he got the ignition started, he turned the A/C on max and left the door open while waiting for the air to cool Sitting half-in, half-out, Steve heard the door opening in the alley beside the restaurant. He saw him in the rearview first, then swiveled in his seat to check the back window.
Teddy Bear Slippers leaned against the wall, dragging a foot up to brace behind him and cupping his hand over his face. Steve fixated on the tattoo on his wrist, his pulse jumping. When the hand dropped to his side, Slippers took a long drag of his cigarette. His mouth puckering and blowing a cloud of smoke toward the sky was sufficiently erotic enough to ignore the nag of the tattoo and focus on his lips.
Steve hated smoking. The smell alone was enough to nauseate him but right then, more than anything, Steve wanted to be that cigarette.
He was unsettled by an onslaught of unbidden fantasies, which ranged from pressing his lips against the young man’s neck to grinding their hips together. Steve wasn’t sure how long he watched him, but he knew it was long enough for his neck to cramp. Sweat accumulated under his glasses, spreading to his forehead and upper lip and eventually down his temple. The cool air blowing from the car created a stark contrast to the heat outside, but Steve wasn’t at all sure it was what made him shiver.
Then, slowly, Slipper’s head turned against the wall, turning to Steve. No smirk this time, but those eyes were no less beautiful for being empty. The pit of Steve’s stomach clenched.
He had seen that look before-- abuse victims, prostitutes, dealers, pimps, they all carried it. Grief, sudden and powerful, poured over him, making him avert his eyes. Broken boy, was all Steve could think. And broken people were dangerous.
Steve swung his legs in and slammed the driver’s door, backing quickly out of the parking spot. It took every ounce of his will to avoid glancing into the rearview mirror as he pulled onto the street.
Steve aimed the Jag downtown where his tuxedo was getting fitted-- the tuxedo he was supposed to be getting married in, the tuxedo he was marrying Sharon in, he reminded himself.
Sharon was, as always, elegant and beautiful. Her golden blond hair fell straight at her shoulders, and her suit was pristine and pressed to perfection-- unlike Steve who was glazed with sweat from his venture across a good four blocks. Sharon was too focused on a gold tie to notice his disheveled appearance which was a goddamn miracle, honestly.
“Steven, I’m rethinking the gold,” she said when the bell over the door announced his arrival. Her lips were pursed in deliberation as she held up the gold tie with a navy print, tapping her patent high-heeled shoe against the marble floor.
Grateful for something new to think about, Steve pushed the weirdness of brown headed fantasies out of his head and gave his attention to his fiancée. He propped an elbow on a nearby shelf and rested his chin in his hand, basking in the air conditioning. “We could make a rainbow of all the colors you’ve run through, Shar.”
Her lips pursed for a moment then slowly curved upward. “Bit political,” her hand waved, “But I’d go with that. We could have a gay wedding. Rainbow suits and ties?” Only her teasing smile gave away she wasn’t serious. “Sam and Riley would be proud.”
Steve bit into his cheek then, diverting his eyes. “I could just wear my dress uniform,” he tried instead, steering clear from what she said. And truthfully, wearing his dress uniform would have been preferable. The idea of wearing another tuxedo for any occasion made his skin itch.
“You are yummy when you wear your costume.”
“Uniform,” he corrected with a rueful grin and chuckle.
“Whatever,” she replied airily and laid a grey top on a stack of white button-down shirts. She didn’t mean to be flippant about his job; she was just preoccupied with wedding planning.
“Exactly,” Steve agreed. “Whatever you want.” After their time together, that was one concept that Steve had gotten down quick.
Sharon huffed, rolling her eyes. “You’re not helpful. Just bear with me for a bit longer. Eight more weeks and we’ll never have to deal with stuff ever again.”
Knowing which battles to fight and which to surrender to, Steve took a deep breath before taking the navy jacket from Sharon and turning toward the changing rooms. He kept his gaze down, watching his loafers step across the floor. It was when he reached the changing room that he realized he had been envisioning teddy bear slippers the entire time.
And wasn’t that something? He was here getting fitted for his wedding suit and all he could envision were those slippers’ ears flopping around with the busboy’s legs wrapped around Steve’s waist while Steve pounded into--
Fuck . Steve knew then that he had to be the biggest asshole on the goddamn planet.
Back at his apartment, Steve sat at the computer and shuffled through websites. The moment he found himself downloading the wrong kind of porn, Steve figured he should go out. He needed to get this stuff off of his mind because this wasn’t him.
He wasn’t gay. A person doesn’t go twenty-seven years before the gay gene suddenly kicks in. It didn’t work like that. Steve was sure of it. Not that he knew much about being gay, because Steve fucking didn’t. The only thing he knew was that he had one friend with same-sex orientation and that friend was now married, with a four year old surrogate baby and another on the way. That friend was Sam Wilson, a guy that had taken Steve under the wing their sophomore year of high school and also someone who Steve hadn’t really talked to in a while. Considering they work together and they used to have annual weekend get togethers to watch ESPN, their time together has dwindled since Sharon popped into the picture. All it had taken was one comment from her warning Steve to be considerate on who he let be his friend because one little rumor was all it would take and yeah, Steve had gotten scared shitless so he backed down.
The downside to this, however, was that Sam had always been the guy that Steve sought out when the world confused him. Which it did often. Like now.
One of Sam’s best qualities besides being one of the best humans Steve knew, was that anytime Steve needed him, he was there.
“Do you know any gay guys?” Steve asked when Sam picked up the phone.
On the other end, Sam snorted. “Why? You switching teams?”
Steve considered it for a moment, staring hard at his desk monitor. “I’m… I’m not sure. Maybe,” he answered sincerely. He wanted to laugh when he heard Sam’s chuckle but Steve’s throat felt too tight to do anything apart from swallow his spit. It was a bit disconcerting.
“Yeah, I know some gay guys. And you do, too.”
“I know some gay guys?” Steve echoed. That was news to him. Besides Sam and Riley, Steve drew blank.
“Ennis and Jake.”
“They’re not gay,” Steve argued.
“Yeah? You better tell them to stop sleeping together, then.”
“We played football with them,” Steve maintained. “They can’t be gay.”
The silence on the other end was either Sam covering the phone to laugh, or Sam waiting for Steve not to be stupid. Steve was willing to bet it was the later.
“This for a case?” There was a hint of amusement in Sam’s voice. Steve pulled the phone away and studied it, unsure of how to answer that question. He could lie. He could also tell the truth. But really, what exactly was the truth? Hell, Steve didn’t fucking know.
“Yeah…,” Steve answered, blinking at his computer screen. He couldn’t do this. Not yet. Instead of saying anything more revealing, Steve straightened up and lied through his teeth about having to do some work. He knew that Sam knew he was lying and it should have made Steve feel bad but at the moment, he was feeling all kinds of things that were clouding his senses.
With the phone aside, Steve started tapping his fingers against his computer desk, considering what to do next. He was avoiding the computer because of the gay porn, avoiding Sharon because he was guilty of wanting to watch gay porn, and avoiding his friend because his friend was gay and all Steve wanted to do was ask them about gay sex. He could have called his father but it would be too tempting to piss him off by telling him he might be gay. Which Steve wasn’t.
Steve settled on a beer and ESPN.
By the time he crawled into bed, he refused to acknowledge the last few minutes of beating off while watching a lacrosse match. He rolled over and forced himself to go over his Sunday routine of workouts, sports bars and what to do in the absence of his normal straight-only thoughts.
It was a long fucking night.