It was supposed to be just a regular double date with Bucky, his girl, and a girl he found for Steve. And Steve was really expecting it when both girls went off with Bucky to dance on the dance floor. Bucky had his gal and the girl who was Steve's date found another guy. It was totally expected. He knew that most girls didn't want a partner that they could step on, no matter how well-meaning Bucky may be.
So Steve sat on the sidelines at the table they had been sitting at, watching the three have fun. He knew it didn't matter; he couldn't dance anyway. Even if he was bigger and taller and didn't look fifty pounds underweight, he would probably just topple over everyone anyway.
He sighed. At least Bucky looked smooth, calm, and debonair in a way that Steve knew he couldn't match. It had always been that way and Steve admired Bucky for being able to sweep girls off of their feet. He liked the cocky confidence Bucky held in his shoulders, how his dark eyes shone with mischief and if Steve was being honest, he would say how much he wished Bucky would look at him that way. But even if it weren't....wrong, Steve was still a tiny nobody. A best bud, sure, but Bucky deserved better. Bucky deserved someone he wouldn't have to step on.
Getting tired of watching the floor, Steve looked around the area he was sitting in. It was dimly lit; there were candles on each of the tables where a few couples lingered. It made the place feel a lot fancier than it actually was, but it was charming. Steve looked around at some of the people there and found himself gaping.
One of the most beautiful men Steve had ever seen walked in with a few other guys, looking like he had stepped straight out of a movie screen. He was wearing this suit jacket that looked more expensive than Steve's entire outfit and he ordered something from the bar, laughing and joking with some of the other men standing around him. Steve wanted to draw him. He had a bone structure that gave his face a strong frame, but wasn't too square. He had sharp cheek bones, full lips, and Steve was sure that if that half-smile was directed upon most of the women in the room, they would be his.
Steve wished the lighting was better so he could see the man's eyes. They were one of his favorite things on a person, they were great for pastels, and while Steve didn't necessarily believe that whole "window to the soul" baloney, he knew a pretty pair of eyes—male or female—could leave him feeling breathless. Bucky's did, that was for sure.
But Steve remembered where he was and how detrimental it would be to be caught staring at another man. He hoped he didn't look longing; he didn't want to do anything to the guy, he just wanted to draw him. Steve looked down at his hands, watching the way the light moved across them. He wished he could do things with them other than art.
Suddenly, Steve realized he wasn't alone and looked up and saw the beautiful man standing across his table. His heart raced. Had the other caught him staring? What did he want with a nobody like Steve?
"Is this seat taken?" The man asked with that half-smile that made Steve's heart flutter just a little. In the flickering light Steve could see that the other's eyes were light brown, amber against the golden flame and Steve swallowed nervously. He looked over at Bucky and the other girls. A slower song was playing and they didn't look like they were going anywhere anytime soon.
"Uh, no sir. Not right now."
The man nodded and pulled himself a seat. Steve tried to look everywhere but this person's face, lest he was figured out.
"My name's Nelson. What's yours kid?"
"Steve, sir. My name is Steve."
"Nice to meet ya, Steve. What's a kid like you doing here all on your lonesome?"
Steve felt his cheeks burning with distant shame. "Well, I had a date, sir but...she didn't seem too interested."
"Are you sure kid? Because the way you were staring at me, I'd say you were the one who wasn't too interested."
Steve's heart nearly stopped. No, he thought. He wasn't being found out now, not here. He was diseased, he knew it, but a public humiliation wouldn't solve anything. He couldn't live with the thought of Bucky being disgusted by him, of never being Bucky's friend again. Suddenly, he felt very very sick.
"Hold your horses kid, don't have a fit. I just want to talk, okay? We can go outside and do that."
Anything was better than a public humiliation and while Steve knew he should have protested, he should have told the man he wasn't different like the kids at school joked he was, Steve would rather have this talk in private.
"O-okay. We can do that."
That was a mistake.
Steve didn't realize it until he had followed the guy, Nelson, into the alley and he tugged his jacket closer to him for warmth. It certainly wasn't because he was afraid of what was about to happen. He hoped Nelson just wanted to clear a misunderstanding or something.
Steve realized something was wrong when Nelson stepped out of his line of sight and he realized someone was approaching him from the side. He turned, but there was someone else closing in on him and he realized, terrified, this was a setup. This wasn't like one of those incidents where his mouth got him into trouble in high school. This was so much worse. One of his classmates, and everyone knew he was off but just didn't want to say it, once ran into the wrong people and was later found dead in a ditch. Steve didn’t want to be him.
He knew calling for help would be pointless.
"You know, I didn't think it was possible for a guy to look that much like a fairy," one of the men laughed. Of three? Steve thought there were three, but it was dark and he knew his fear was playing tricks on him.
"I'm not a fairy," he replied back, although he knew it was pointless.
"Sure you're not kid. That's why you looked like you were imagining yourself and Nelson taking a holiday together."
"I'm not queer!" He protested, thinking maybe he could convince himself if he couldn't convince the others. One of them spat on him. He tried to take a swing at whoever did it, but someone punched him in the back of the head and he knew it was over before it began.
They didn't stop, not for a long time it seemed. Steve might have tried to run away, no matter how pathetic it seemed, but he was pretty sure one of his legs was broken. So was his nose, his jaw, a rib or two, and he wasn't sure how long he laid there bloody and broken on the chilly earth, but he found out later Bucky found him. He might have died of blood loss otherwise.
He was in the hospital for a long time after that, but he never told Bucky why he was attacked. It was better that Bucky didn't know. It was better nobody knew. A mugging gone wrong, he said and he could have almost believed him himself.
Steve had hoped the procedure would cure him of his illness. Dr. Erskine said it would make what was good about him better, but it didn't change him like he really wanted to be changed. It seemed like it only made his condition worse. Whereas before he had been only content to look, now he wanted to touch and that was dangerous. He felt like he was being put through puberty again, only ten times worse. The show choir girls were one thing and he was grateful for them because they helped remind him that he wasn't too far gone. Maybe one day he could be cured.
(They seemed convinced of Captain America's innocence and had no qualms about changing in front of him, as though he were a little boy. They didn't think that he might want to touch them and hold them. He was frustrated that they still saw him this way—harmless, like he couldn't want a woman.)
The chorus women were one thing, but it was worse living in close quarters with the other men of his unit. It was more difficult to be around Bucky. It was more difficult to hide his wanting stares. He wanted to be touched and loved and held and it was sick. He was sick. Despite all of this, he really had loved Peggy. He had wanted her to make a real man out of him. He would have married her, had kids, and the white picket fence, the whole nine yards, if that was what made her happy. She wanted to dance with him and that was more than enough for his devotion. And even if the thought of her curves never set a fire in his gut like the lean lines of Bucky, she was beautiful.
He was going to be normal. He was going to be happy. And then he crashed into the ice.
- -o0o- -
The 21st century had some strange notions about Steve's condition. It was supposed to be accepted more, but it still wasn't, not according to Steve's own independent research on the internet (and boy, wasn't that something to get used to—he had an entire world of information at his fingertips).
Tony Stark made it infinitely more difficult. He had beautiful eyes.
But that wasn't the real problem, not really. Steve had spent an entire lifetime learning how to ignore his urges and normally he was ignored back by the subject of his desires, but Tony Stark was far more like an abused puppy than he would ever admit. He was attention and touch-starved. He liked touching people, knowing that he didn't annoy them too much, knowing that he wasn't hated. He found approval in touch more often than he claimed he needed anyone's approval. Pepper had normally been the recipient of this, from what Steve saw of them.
Their hands were always clasped when they were together. Or their arms were brushing. They sat closely together, practically on top of one another. Pepper touched his face and soothed his shoulders and Tony would relax. Steve had once walked in on them watching a movie together, an intimate moment that he should have never witnessed. Tony had fallen asleep on her shoulder and she had stroked through his hair to ease his distant whimpers until his face went slack and his breathing calmed.
Steve was more jealous than anything. He tried to not think about Peggy. He definitely tried to not think about Bucky. But it was only the trust and comfort he had wanted, that was it.
But then Pepper broke up with Tony and for some reason, Tony had decided that his next best option was Steve. Steve didn't know how Tony had come up with that. He and Tony were amicable, but he knew Tony was closer to Bruce. He had more in common with the fellow scientist.
And Steve was plain uncomfortable with the attention—men didn't touch like Tony wanted to; it was wrong.
It started out innocuous enough. A pat on the shoulder for a job well done. Arms brushing as they tried to walk through the same door at once. But then Tony was invading his personal space on the couch by leaning onto Steve's shoulder. Steve had tried to scoot away the first time, but Tony looked like his puppy had just been kicked and Steve felt awful.
So he tolerated it. Tony leaning onto his shoulder, Tony leaving his hand on Steve's lower back far longer than what was appropriate, Tony trying to knock their knees together at the dinner table. It helped the team, Steve told himself. If Tony was happy, then the team worked better.
He wanted to yell at the other to stop, but Steve knew that Tony Stark didn't have the same hang-ups that he did. Tony Stark was a very openly sexual man. Tony Stark flirted with everything with legs. Steve was pretty sure that the touching was still platonic, but it was wrong. It made Steve feel like he was getting sicker.
Steve hadn't had the privacy of his own bed and bath area for as long as he lived. Tony ignited a wanting in him that he hadn't felt since Bucky and with the touches, Steve felt more compelled than ever to take care of his urges. He used to furtively (and ashamedly) jack off before, in his bed, with his face pressed against his pillow to stifle any noise, but with all this privacy, he could get out of his bed with a raging stiffie and take a shower without anyone seeing it.
He still didn't take care of it often. He let the cold water do its work because it still felt too shameful to indulge.
(But sometimes, he was woken abruptly from a beautiful dream involving Tony Stark bobbing between his legs and Steve, still too wound in the fantasy, would touch himself long and luxuriously until he came with Tony's name on his lips.)
- -o0o- -
It all went to hell at a press conference Fury arranged for them. The public didn't know them very well, had trouble trusting them sometimes, and this was a chance to get anything they were curious about out of the way. They weren't supposed to answer politically charged questions, but someone had asked Steve how he felt about the recent spike in gay teen suicides due to bullying. He had answered honestly.
"Well, ma'am, I don't like bullying, no matter who it's against, and it's a complete shame that this is allowed to go on with our nation's youth."
And then someone asked, "Captain, you're a man from out of time. What are your views on homosexuality and has the modern era changed them at all?"
Steve had swallowed against the bright flashing lights of cameras. He was vaguely aware that Pepper was giving him a "do not answer" motion from backstage. It didn't really register.
"I believe, like many attributes of people, it's for God to judge, not me."
And the reporters went wild. Their press coordinator had to step in and cancel the rest of the conference, saying some bull about how the Avengers needed rest to continue saving the world. Steve didn't realize how upset Tony was about it until they were alone in his office.
"What the fuck?" Tony hissed as he struggled to get the cap off some alcoholic beverage with his bare hands. Tony was glaring at him so Steve was pretty sure an offer to help wouldn't be appreciated right then.
"You can't—you can't just say how much bullying gay kids sucks and then say they're all going to hell in the same breath."
"But I didn't."
"No, you implied it, when you shouldn't have answered the question at all. It was lose-lose no matter what you said."
Steve frowned, leaning against a leather couch Tony had placed in the anterior of the room.
"You say the wrong things at press conferences all the time."
"This isn't about me, Steve." Tony finally got the top off and took a long swig.
"It's about you. Do you really think that? That whole 'all gays are going to hell' shit?"
Steve shrugged. It wasn't something he liked to think about, he knew he was a condemned man, but he answered calmly, "Yes. If there's one thing that hasn't changed in 70 years, it's the bible. Homosexuality is a sin."
Tony stared at him with some sort of sad expression that Steve didn't understand—it was pitying, perhaps—and asked softly, "You think you're going to hell, Steve?"
And Steve froze. The only time he had ever been called out like this was back when—no, he knew this wouldn't happen again. Tony didn't have it in him to do something like that. Tony was his friend, even if Tony was disgusted by him. Eventually he managed,
"I'm not gay," because denial was all he had left anymore, and wasn't this familiar? He wanted to ask "How?" but that would give away too much.
"But you are, aren't you? I have one of the best gaydars around, you know. And I see the way you look at me when you think I don't notice. I'm pretty sure I looked at Pepper like that."
And Steve felt like crumbling down until he was many pieces against the floorboard. His throat was clogged and he felt like drowning. His face must have betrayed him because Tony's hand was suddenly on his shoulder, warm, and he was saying,
"Hey, it's totally fine if you are. I mean, ugh, I hate to quote Lady Gaga, but you were born this way, you know. It's not a choice you consciously make so you can’t—"
"I know that!" Steve didn't mean to snap, but he was tired and emotionally stupid. He didn't even realize his eyes were filling with dampness until a tear rolled down his cheek and he tried desperately to wipe it away, but that didn't stop them.
"You don't think that I haven't hoped and prayed every day to not be like this? You don't think that I haven't tried not wanting men? I don't want to be like this. It’s sick, Tony. I'm sick."
And Tony was pulling him around and wrapping his arms around Steve's torso and Steve was still so confused as to why Tony would still want to touch him after all he had said. The tears didn't stop and he bit his lip to prevent from making embarrassing noises while Tony stroked through his hair.
"Hey, shh, don't think that. Just because eighty or ninety percent of the population doesn't swing that way, it doesn't make it sick or unnatural. You're a good guy, Steve and if any god has a problem with you, then fuck them. Nobody who matters is going to care. You...I really like you Steve. A lot."
Steve suspected that he wasn't supposed to hear that last part, but ignored it anyway. It would just mess up things and Steve still wasn't ready to accept having another man liking him back. It would just be too complicated.
- -o0o- -
Tony Stark was nothing, if not persistent.
The fact that Steve was aware Tony knew and was pretty sure Tony knew that Steve knew only made the situation more awkward. That didn't deter Tony though. He simply increased his damned physical contact, even if he knew how uncomfortable it made Steve.
Steve did draw the line one evening when he was reading the paper and Tony sat down on the couch beside him, resting his feet in Steve's lap. Steve folded the newspaper with a flourish and glared at the man beside him, who was completely absorbed into something on his tablet.
"Yeah?" He asked without looking up.
"You have got to stop this. It's...wrong."
"Is it wrong because you feel it's wrong or is it wrong because you feel other people think it's wrong?"
Steve sighed. He was tired of the other's puzzles. "What difference does it make?"
Tony looked up. "Well, if it's the latter, then we can just take a quick poll of everyone and whether or not they'd be bothered by seeing us. And I can tell you the results: nobody cares."
"And what if I think it's wrong?"
"Then I'd ask why." Tony put down the tablet and began to crawl over to Steve. Steve should have told the other to stay put.
"You know why, Tony. It's...sinful."
Tony straddled his lap and touched his hair and this was too much. This was far off the charts of things that Steve shouldn't be involved with, but he didn't push Tony away.
"Then I'd say, you know, you like me and I like you. If it wasn't sinful, then what would you like?"
Steve shouldn't answer that. His mind buzzed with all of the things he had ever dreamed about and never had the hope of having. He should have kept his mouth shut.
Tony smiled, "Alright."
Tony bent down and pressed their lips together. Steve's heart was beating too quickly and if he hadn't had the serum, he was sure this was what dying felt like. His face was red and he kissed back a little, despite the deep burn in his gut telling him it was wrong, so wrong. When Tony pulled back, Steve's hands were shaking.
Tony didn't say anything else, he just got off with a satisfied smirk, picked up his tablet and left. Steve wondered how he had been trapped so easily.
(His heart was still beating too quickly and he was lightheaded. He tried to tell himself that he didn't enjoy it.)
Steve prayed extra hard that night.
- -o0o- -
Tony was testing him. Trying to see how far he could get without Steve punching him in the face (not that Steve ever would, he still liked Tony, despite what he was trying to do). Steve mostly just wondered why he went along with it. He had a strong moral character, he knew his values, but when Tony was around, he became weak and all of those things flew out the window. He had even gone back to church regularly, to help remind him what a heretic he was. But it didn't help.
"You're touch-starved," Tony had told him while they were, quite absurdly in Steve's opinion, holding hands while watching a movie (a movie that Steve didn't know had gay sex in it and Steve had gone furiously red when it got to that, but he knew Tony was trying to make a point).
"And you're not?"
Tony shook his head almost in contemplation. "No...I just like to touch people. But you, you don't ever touch anyone. You can't live like that."
"Well, I'm touching you now, aren't I?"
Tony's responding grin shouldn't have made Steve feel so warm inside.
(Steve continued praying, but it almost seemed like a moot point by this time.)
- -o0o- -
If Steve allowed himself to think of such, the best times were when they were just holding each other. He felt like Tony was probably right about him missing human contact, because it felt unreasonably good to be held. He liked it especially when Tony had his head on Steve's chest, his whole body curled up against Steve’s side, and Steve gently stroked Tony's back. He was certain Tony was trying to hear his heartbeat and that shouldn't have enamored Tony more to him.
- -o0o- -
One of the furthest times Tony had ever taken it was when he pulled Steve in for a long kiss in the kitchen, right in front of Bruce. Steve had squeaked and turned red and flailed under Tony's moving lips, but Bruce had just raised his eyebrows and gone back to whatever he was reading.
It still made Steve very upset and embarrassed and Tony promised to never do anything like that again.
It became a point where it was almost familiar. Steve let himself be trapped by the sin, and enjoyed Tony's hand in his. He enjoyed Tony's little cheek-kisses of good morning and he had tried very hard to resist, but it felt impossible when Tony was giving him all he had ever wanted.
(Steve sometimes tried to convince himself that Tony was a terrible person, a drunkard and a former arms dealer, but this never worked. He could take one look at Tony and see beyond that and that scared him.)
Steve didn't even know what their relationship was anymore. It was never sexual, despite what their teammates might have thought. He was amazed that Tony would wait that long for him. He knew that Tony knew there was the possibility of waiting forever. And Steve never really wanted to think about the sexual stuff. It would just make him that more of a sinner. But the urge was definitely there. It always burned him to cinders.
One time, Tony thought it would be funny to lay waiting on Steve's bed, completely nude. Steve had promptly freaked, but not without noticing the surprising muscle of Tony Stark's body. He was middle-aged, but fit, and the arc reactor acted like a beacon towards him. Steve couldn't help but let his eyes briefly wander, to Tony's thankfully flaccid dick, and to his strong thighs. Steve had taken a cold shower and spent three hours in the gym, trying to punch away the heat inside of him.
Steve probably should have been concerned one day when Tony held out a hand and asked, "Do you trust me?" which made Steve think it was a reference he wasn't getting, but he had said yes and followed Tony to Steve's bedroom.
They hadn't ever—in a bedroom before, but Steve trusted Tony to know what his boundaries were.
Tony had just smiled as they lay side-by-side and began kissing him. They didn't kiss on the mouth very often, but Tony was so eager and Steve was hungry.
Tony's hands on his hips were the closest thing to their lower halves touching. Tony's thumbs rubbed circles against his hips bones and Tony's mouth was on his neck, kissing and sucking and making Steve feel breathless. He should have stopped at the first sign of the heat. It raced through his veins and their legs became intertwined and Steve should have known better. He could have stopped it. Tony was suckling against a bite bruise against Steve's neck (Steve was lucky he healed so quickly) and his hands had moved to Steve's chest, roaming in broad circles and Steve felt his trousers grow considerably tighter than before.
It didn't freak him out until he felt Tony's hardness against his thigh, in which case he got up, ran to the bathroom, and locked the door, scared.
Tony tried to reason with him, but he refused and Tony eventually left him there, clinging to his prayers and fears.
Steve felt awful, to be honest. Not just because what had happened, but because of how he knew Tony must have felt. Tony didn’t deserve him. Tony deserved better. Tony needed someone who wasn’t afraid of being touched, someone who didn’t have hang-ups. After he had calmed down a few hours later, he went and found Tony in his lab, working furiously on something with his suit. Tony paused and looked up when Steve entered and it made Steve feel small, like he was before the serum.
“I’m sorry,” he blurted. Tony looked startled.
“For what happened back there. I…you shouldn’t have to be with someone who can’t even give you what you need.”
Tony, still looking disturbed, got up and cupped Steve’s face.
“No. You don’t get to apologize for that. I do. I told you to trust me, and I betrayed that trust and I totally don’t deserve you. Not the other way around.”
“No buts, Rogers.”
Steve sighed leaning into Tony’s touch. “But you’ve done so much for me. I want…I want to make you happy.”
He flushed, avoiding Tony’s eyes. “I mean…you know. In a biblical way?”
Tony sighed, “I know. And if you really want to do that, then we can. We’ll take it slow, I promise. But if you don’t, then that’s fine.”
“It’s not that I don’t want you—”
“But you’re afraid. It’s okay, Steve, I understand.”
And that really shouldn’t have made Steve feel ten times worse. Tony Stark was a sexual creature and it hurt that Steve couldn’t even give him certain things because he was too busy being stuck in his own way. He didn’t want to be afraid. He was tired of being afraid. Even though he had sinned many times already, his mind brought forth images of hellfire every time he thought of being with Tony that way, which had been burned into him since childhood. One step further and there was probably no point in asking for forgiveness.
And then he thought of that awful night, so long ago, where he had been beaten because of who he was, when he had been called awful things like sodomite and faggot and it still hurt somewhere. It still hurt a lot. It made him feel like it could happen again even though he knew it wasn’t possible. He was strong enough to defend himself. He had friends who were strong enough for backup. There were even certain bars and clubs where gay men could meet and nobody batted an eyelash at them. But it was still difficult for him to accept what he wanted.
He just wanted Tony to be happy.