Actions

Work Header

Not A Disease

Work Text:

Steve always assumed there was something wrong with him. Not that there weren't already plenty of things that fell into that category.

Being unhealthily small and critically sick countless times was horrible in itself, but the taunts and jeers of bigger, stronger men made everything he had to put up with ten times worse. Steve wasn't one for just sitting back and taking things, though, so the weak punches he usually ended up throwing often resulted in him on his back a moment later, the wind thoroughly knocked out of him by a more powerful fist.

His asthma was also to thank for that.

Sometimes he fell for no reason other than his body being too weak to keep him upright any longer. Whenever he realized how bad a situation was and did the smart thing - ran - he never made it far before his knees met the ground and the gang of guys chasing him finally caught up.

Dodging fists and kicks was never his forte, nor did he think it ever could be. If he got an arm up to block a punch aimed for his face it made little difference; a sturdy fist colliding with the weak bones of his forearm wasn't any better than if it were to have hit his face. Wounds opened up easily on his pale, weak skin, much to Steve's chagrin and his attacker's delight. He often felt dizzy after fights, the blood loss enough to make his entire body nauseous.

Bucky helped him out a lot.

Steve was weak; Bucky was strong. He was the one thing Steve had right in his life. They knew each other for a great deal of their lives, and Bucky had been by his side whenever he needed him. Fights that Steve dumbly got himself involved in usually had Bucky coming to his rescue before things went too far, because sometimes the people Steve angered were too blinded by rage to realize how much Steve's body could take before giving out.

Protecting Steve from risky blows wasn't the only way Bucky helped him get by - Steve could survive thanks to his friend. Being ill meant medicine was a necessity, but it also meant Steve couldn't work like everyone else. He relied on Bucky to pay for their housing and food and a myriad of other things, including the various medications he needed to live. He hated how much Bucky had to do for them when Steve himself could do next to nothing. Bucky told him it was okay.

It was never okay. Not for Steve.

There were so many things wrong with Steve. So many things Steve wanted to just leave him be.

Living in a rough neighborhood while being underweight, unfit, sickly, asthmatic, constantly at risk, and a number of other things Steve couldn't be bothered to count was like living in hell. To Steve, it actually was hell.

But Steve was used to how diseased he was. He certainly didn't like it, but being himself was a daily occurrence, so Steve knew how his body acted and there was little he could do to make anything different.

When Steve started looking at Bucky in a different way than before, a way that Steve had looked at a few women he'd never had a chance with, he felt uneasy. There was a strange pulling in his gut, one he was used to getting when he needed to vomit. He tried ignoring the feeling, putting it off as some kind of close friend-bond thing he had developed with Bucky, seeing as they were as close as could be.

When that feeling was dubbed as nothing more than friendly gratitude, Steve felt relief. That relief quickly subsided, though, when Steve was out one night with Bucky.

It was a typical night, nothing strikingly special about it, except for when he saw a guy - a man he had never even talked to before - that made the same nauseated feeling come crashing back into his stomach. Keeling over and coughing violently was the only reaction he could muster. Everything was so sudden that Steve could hardly process his feelings, causing the shaking and sick spell to take over. Bucky took him home after that.

That incident marked another wrongness Steve could add to his mental list of things-desperately-in-need-of-fixing. He lived in a less desirable part of town, and he'd been exposed to a lot of gritty things, so he knew that some guys felt . . . for other guys in a way that wasn't very approved of. He never personally knew what to think of it, as it never played a major role in his life, but since those feelings started twisting his insides in uncomfortable ways, Steve couldn't put it off any longer.

He still liked to pretend he'd get better.

Bucky never knew about Steve's interest in the same gender, not at first. Steve tried keeping it from him. He knew people could be killed over it - he was actually witness to it - and he didn't want Bucky's already likely existing bad thoughts about Steve to get even worse. Keeping quiet seemed to be the best option.

For some time, Steve went on with life, content to look and observe what he had an interest in, but to never act out, knowing any attacks after that would be all the more dangerous, especially if they involved Bucky.

It was Bucky who eventually confronted Steve about his problem.

Bucky had realized sometime since that one night that Steve wasn't just interested in ladies. Steve was taken by surprise when Bucky forced him into that awkward situation. Denying it wasn't an option, since Bucky obviously knew and wouldn't waver from his beliefs, so Steve admitted everything to his friend, shame coating his voice and eyes downcast.

Being hugged wasn't the reaction Steve expected, but he was glad it wasn't anything worse.

They both got through everything fine, and Bucky was there for him even more so than before. Sometimes Steve would be caught looking by unwanted eyes, which would in turn result in Steve being forcefully brought out to a back alley and having to face bloody hits and offensive words thrown at his face. Bucky wouldn't stand for that. Steve had him to thank for getting out of those situations alive.

Despite Bucky being okay with him, Steve wasn't okay with himself. His friend wasn't always going to be there for him, he knew, and he needed to figure out how to stop being ridden with diseases that just made him weaker in the eyes of everybody else, even himself.

When Steve heard about the serum he almost had a heart attack.

The army thing wasn't going too well, but Steve was sure that once he went through with the experiment everything would fall right into place. He'd become a better version of himself, where he wouldn't be ridden with a weak body and sicknesses and that problem he had with how he saw other men.

He wouldn't be diseased.

That's why, once the serum cured him of almost every ailment under the sun, Steve was still confused. That same feeling, the really bad one that shouldn't even be there anymore, was still there, brewing under the surface of his skin anytime he let his gaze wander a bit too long on another man.

Steve regretfully accepted that nothing could cure his imperfection.

.

The war let some tension be released.

Steve still hated a lot about himself. Sure, he had muscles and a strong body that could go into combat against anything - man or disease - and come out relatively unscathed, but that meant little to him. If others saw a greatness in him, then Steve only saw a man who didn't deserve the respect of anyone. He couldn't fathom why everyone he knew - and didn't know - had a sudden change of heart for any reason other than his new appearance. Not many people liked him before the change, and now he was the star of his own concocted show, total strangers completely enthralled by him.

That angered Steve and caused his always-present hate to linger. He couldn't forgive himself for who he was and what others thought him to be. He hated how people saw him when their eyes only showed them a "better" man, a man who had looks they loved and strength they wanted to respect. Not an inch of his self before the serum, when he was weak but still had a vigorous sense of determination, occupied the wonderment in their eyes.

Respect was such a fickle word.

People used it too loosely, never contemplating that maybe there was more to a person than whatever it was they themselves saw. People wanted to see a hero, but Steve was not that. If people knew him for who he really was, they wouldn't stick around.

Disgust and revulsion would litter the faces of those who once "loved" him, and the phoniness would finally shine through like a sunbeam. They'd never believe that the glorious Captain America, savior of the American way, saw men in the same light as women. Being blinded by their own minds was their mistake.

But some people did see past what was in front of them. One person, in particular, stood out the most.

Peggy.

She was a gift, Steve had no doubt there. Before the serum, before the revolutionary changes, she was there for him.

That alone meant the world to Steve.

Peggy wasn't some fake soldier, and she wasn't blinded by whom he had become. She was the first person to tell him that his new body - the serum's body - was what she truly thought Steve should be. He really loved her for that.

Seeing her made Steve feel complete, whole. And it finally quelled that awful way he felt towards men. Peggy fixed him; Steve swore he fell in love.

Things only went up from there.

The respect Steve was getting, from the people of America, fellow soldiers, his fans, it was something not incorrectly given, but earned.

He was saving the ideals of America by fighting for what was right, against the evils they faced, both publicly and in secret.

Soldiers lived because of him and his actions. Before that no one truly took him seriously, but now they saw him differently. Steve was happy people were looking at him as a real person, and not just as a popular figure they could craft to meet their desires.

The relationship he shared with Peggy wasn't as clear as day and night, but there was something special to it.

She made the best of him come out and, from then on, it was easier for Steve to do that himself. Going into combat and winning the war - that was all coming along with more smooth grace, unlike how rough the prospect of it was at the beginning, far-fetched and near-improbable.

Steve loved having Peggy around, there was no doubt in his mind about that. She was a great friend, vital to the war effort; without her, Steve would still be at a loss for who he was.

Peggy's presence eased Steve's worries, subduing his previous distress. Their situation went on like that for a while, with both parties adequately relaxed.

When Bucky came back into the picture, things took a turn around.

Steve's stomach twisted in ways he hadn't been prone to since Peggy stepped in, determination evident in her walk, a fierceness swirling in her eyes. Bucky came with something else, a light, exhilarated feeling, almost as if Steve had landed on an airborne cloud. The same feeling was challenged with gut-wrenching guilt that rubbed nastily on his insides, making him want to gag, run away, and never have to look at his old friend again.

Even Peggy wasn't enough to completely erase Steve's personal preferences.

Ignoring the feelings was the only option Steve had on the matter, or so he concluded. He didn't want Bucky finding out about his arbitrary feelings towards him - only bad could come from that - so bottling up those said feelings was the best idea Steve could muster. That decision didn't turn out to be one of his brightest, in the end.

Bucky knew something was up. He had to have. Steve knew Bucky wasn't stupid, and Bucky had gotten keener on reading Steve since he came clean about his unfixable problem. So, with time, Steve could sense Bucky becoming more and more curious, presumably because Steve was being so secretive with him, keeping things better left unsaid. The other soldier was probably hurting in some way due to Steve's selfishness, a nature that never appeared in him before.

Steve was distraught. He started hating himself all over again, and nothing Peggy tried to say to console him aided to his self-hate in the slightest.

When Bucky fell from the train, Steve was sure a piece of himself fell with him.

Waking up, getting by, and just living were suddenly tasks that required too much effort out of him. Moving hurt, even if no physical wounds were inflicted on his body. His head ached, pounding relentlessly throughout the night. Steve wanted nothing more than to have the chance to see Bucky again, if only so he could tell him how he felt, what he'd really been thinking during their time together.

That chance was lost to him now.

Peggy's comfort was appreciated, and it was definitely wanted, but Steve was mostly driven back to the real world by force of will.

People needed him, and he swore he wouldn't fail, not when so much was at risk.

Steve fought back, long and hard, against threats that would, quite literally, destroy the innocent lives that stood in their way, uncaring of anyone but themselves. Peggy stood by his side in the fight. She stood by his side in times where he simply couldn't manage by himself.

Peggy was there when Steve was deliberately crashing a plane into unforgiving icy waters, terrified beyond belief. He tried not to show it while talking to Peggy. He tried for some semblance of lightheartedness, something that would calm both him and Peggy down while the events played out.

Steve was cut off mid-sentence before he managed a goodbye.

.

Waking up nearly seventy years later was weird.

Nothing more could really be said on that particular topic. Steve was scared, at first. He understood nothing that was going on, or where he was, or who the guy with the eyepatch was. The outside world was full of so much noise he could barely think about how much he couldn't process anything that was happening.

After the adrenaline died down and Steve relaxed, he was overcome with grief. Everything he knew from his time didn't matter now. Technology was different, the people were different, and everyone he knew and loved were dead.

Dead.

The word made his eyes blur with tears, but he didn't cry. He didn't have time to cry over that, not when he still had so many things that needed explaining, like why he was still alive in the first place.

God, he wanted Peggy back.

The man - Nick Fury, he said his name was - told Steve a lot, and he did his best to take it all in. So much had changed since Steve's time. He couldn't see how.

The streets of New York were wilder than ever, as were the people. No one seemed to be reserved anymore. Everyone spoke out, hollering and making a large amount of unnecessary noise that made Steve want to keep to himself. If someone didn't approve of something, then they argued about it, eager to validate themselves on why they were right.

Steve wasn't for all the commotion on the streets, so he turned to Nick Fury and anything the guy had to offer him.

He was relieved to see not everyone was completely crazy.

Time passed by, some days stretching on longer than others, all of them giving Steve new knowledge of the present.

Steve admitted that it was nice to see more people had rights than before, and not everyone was judged as they were back in his time. Things weren't perfect - not by a long shot - but improvement was in the air.

Technology was especially high on that list.

Big names were up worldwide. New inventions were being released everyday. Small devices, barely any bigger than a brick, did more than any supercomputer in the 40s could.

After learning of all the new devices and beliefs and ideas in the world, Steve didn't think much more could shock him in terms of the future.

He was wrong.

When Steve saw two men kiss while out in the park one day, he simply stared, eyes wide and mouth parted. He couldn't help it. Two guys just did that, in public, and no one had really paid them any mind. There were no shouts, no threats, nothing that most certainly would've happened if it were the 40s. Things really were different.

That day struck something in Steve, a feeling that made him want to know more, to educate himself on all that he'd missed while submerged in the ice for seventy years. If relationships were no longer limited to a strictly male-female dynamic, then Steve had to know everything.

The people he went to helped him, as did the research. A few even went as far as to guess on what he might be. Bisexual was, apparently, a word that easily meant he liked men and women. It was also not too uncommon. Steve learned the word had the same meaning back in his day, but he'd just never known about it. He lived for years under the assumption that he was permanently infected with an incurable disease, one that not even a super soldier serum could fix.

Knowing that he had been wrong in his thoughts was pure absolution to Steve.

Steve still wished for Bucky and Peggy and everyone he had ever loved that was now dead to be standing next to him again, there until the very end of everything, but he grew to favor the time he now lived in. Sure, some people still retained prejudice in the way they thought - there was nothing to be done there - but the changes made up for those who refused to think differently.

Working with other heroes came next. Steve was no longer the only special one alive to protect innocent lives. Several people existed to bring good in the world, all going about it in their own special way.

The Avengers formed on that foundation.

Steve found himself in the middle of a group of capable, abnormally strong individuals who had all banded together in an effort to save the city. Steve favored some more than others, though they all gave him new ways of thinking.

Thor was big and strong, physically and mentally. The power he possessed wasn't abused on those who couldn't defend themselves. Steve felt a sort of empathy with him, only coming from the fact that both he and Thor came from pretty different worlds, even if Steve's was - technically - the same. Thor had a strange sense of humor, and often took things too seriously when situations were light. He fought like a warrior, not giving in, his sense of pride and dignity all too high for that. Steve respected him like a fellow soldier, albeit an odd one.

Bruce was sometimes hard to understand. He spoke in complex sentences that usually revolved around the topic of science and other stuff Steve couldn't understand for the life of him. And while the words might have evaded his grasp, Bruce's personality did not. From what Steve could gather, Bruce just wanted to achieve what he thought was best for those around him. Worrying for the safety of others was a subject Steve could relate to. Constantly thinking of the dangers everyone was placed in because of unintentional or accidental actions drove Steve insane during the risky parts of the war. Bruce had it worse - he had to suffer everyday for just being himself.

Clint, out of all of the Avengers, was probably the only one Steve didn't necessarily know what to think of. The man wasn't bad, despite the mind control situation courtesy of Loki, but there wasn't much to think over when it came to him. He fought well with his arrows, taking down enemies with ease, and Steve could respect that. Clint was private and Steve wasn't known to pry on the personal lives of others, so he let the man be. One thing Steve did notice was that Clint didn't stand for being put aside, which allowed him to be so open about his thoughts while with the others. Steve noticed he mainly spent his time with only one other person on the team.

Natasha Romanov wasn't the most approachable person on the team. She kept a lot of things to herself, preferring to stay back in silence and watch how events played out. A hard, calculating look almost always adorned her face, masking any feelings she had over a matter. Still, she wasn't unfriendly. Natasha expressed herself through small opinions she had concerning events and humor personally designed for her. Steve decided he liked her. In some ways, Natasha reminded him of Peggy. She was a strong women, certainly capable of handling herself in any given situation, just as Peggy was. She didn't let others get away with challenging her authority, nor did she turn away from potentially dangerous threats. Natasha wasn't a woman to mess with.

Tony was someone Steve had to think about.

He'd known the man's father, he'd be friends with the man's father, but Tony was nothing like Howard, genius inventor and playboy-esque nature aside. Tony was careless to an awful degree, which Steve loathed. Carelessness didn't win wars, and neither did binge drinking. Stark might have been a Mozart of modern sciences and technology, but, as far as Steve was concerned, that didn't excuse reckless behavior.

Those were Steve's first thoughts on Tony Stark, and it took a while for him to see the man any differently.

Sometime after saving New York things changed. The Avengers became something akin to a family and, even though they got on each other's nerves to no end, they all shared a deep bond, one that wouldn't easily be shattered. They still fought crime, alone and together, protecting all they could. Many of them occupied Stark Tower after Tony so graciously told them that they were welcome there anytime. Steve stayed there the most out of all of them, largely due to him not exactly having a place to call home anymore.

Steve was glad events played out that way. He wasn't certain on what would have happened if the Avengers hadn't formed, if he hadn't made a home at Stark Tower. All he knew was that he'd still feel wrong, unsure of his own body even after learning of how okay it was to be himself.

Tony was the one who could reassure Steve, tell him he was wanted and loved in the world. He was someone who was always there, ready to crack a joke or lend him a comforting hand. Steve thrived on a notion of stability, finding solace and ease with people who were constantly present in his life, consistent on reminding Steve about what he was to them, and how thankful they were for it. To Steve, Tony was exactly that, exceeding even further across those boundaries than Steve would've ever expected.

Doubts for who Steve was dwindled in his mind, no longer lingering like pesky bugs, attempting to ruin his life one foul - and ultimately deadly - bite at a time. A new sense of pride for himself filled his body until he could practically feel his risen levels of assurance ooze beneath his skin, until he was sure he'd bleed self-confidence if ever hurt. Steve's morale was a liberation from the loathsome feelings he once directed at his very existence, turning the way he was prone to think around, crafting something better out of the angular folds of who he was.

Steve hadn't known why he had to suffer through a life of disappointments, left only to wonder a myriad of times about why he had to get up everyday if it simply resulted in new ways to find himself repulsive, to gaze at his reflection and find a broken man dejectedly staring back. He didn't understand why maladies and infections used to pour down on him, a complete thunderstorm of burdens he could barely manage to carry. He didn't know why so many people he loved had to be taken from him, whether by stupid chance or by the devastating passage of time. Steve still didn't grasp why a lot of emotional and physical distress used to plague him day in and day out, but he knew his life was now headed in the right direction, one he'd be glad for in the future.

For now, Steve was just glad he could wake up next to Tony and feel - know - he wasn't some ailment in need of curing.

Steve was not a disease.