It’s an unseasonably hot spring Saturday at Avengers Academy, but it’s not that hot, and anyway it’s been a long time since Steve has been terribly bothered by heat (cold, yes, but not heat). So he gets up early, like always, and runs his morning laps at the track while the sun gets higher and everyone else sleeps. (Pepper, who often gets up even earlier than he does, waves at him on her way to the Forge, and he waves back, but that’s about it.)
By the time he’s finished, the sun is high in the sky and his t-shirt is sticking to his skin with sweat, which is a small price to pay for the mild high of a good run and the pleasant burn of warmed-up muscles. He jogs back to the dorm, looking forward to a few rounds against the heavy bag before heading off to the Robo Dojo or maybe SHIELD HQ. Sam and Tony are sprawled across the dorm’s outdoor chairs by now, apparently melting in the heat even though neither one is doing anything strenuous—Tony is idly tinkering with one of his gadgets, and Sam is theoretically reading, although at this point he’s stretched out on the couch with the book over his face to shade his eyes. Natasha’s there too, he realizes belatedly, sitting by herself on the grass in the shade of the building, silently working on a StarkPad.
Sam lifts the book off and squints at him as Steve makes for the door. “Man, take a break for a second, would you?”
“Oh god, you’re going straight up to the punching bag, aren’t you?” Tony says. “Please don’t. I’m exhausted just looking at you. How can you even move in this weather?”
Steve shakes his head. “It’s not that bad. I can’t imagine what you must be like during actual summer, though.”
“Uh, during summer I stay inside where the AC is, like a self-respecting civilized human being,” Tony says. “Obviously.”
“Well, some of us grew up without AC and don’t need it to survive,” Steve says mildly.
“You missed out, man,” Sam says, sitting up. “Seriously, come chill for at least a minute.”
Steve shrugs and sits on the couch next to him. “I do take breaks, you know. I just happen to enjoy keeping active.”
Sam snorts. “You really are an old man.”
“Unfortunately, the lawn doesn’t belong to me, so I guess I can’t tell you to get off it,” Steve says.
Tony stares at him. “Did you just make a joke? Sam, Steve made a joke.”
“Better than any of yours,” Sam says.
“You say that, but I actually made Amora laugh yesterday.” Tony pauses. “Then again, she might have been laughing at me falling off the treadmill rather than my rapier wit. Hard to tell sometimes, with her.”
Steve hides a smile. “I can almost guarantee she was laughing at you, not with you.”
“Ah, well. Hope springs eternal.”
“Hey, that reminds me, Steve,” Sam says. “Amora tried to do her thing with you too, right?”
“I suppose,” Steve says. “She did mention love spells.”
Tony whistles. “And she didn’t get you to do something stupid? Damn, you’re even tougher than I thought.”
“How’d you do that, anyway?” Sam asks. “I don’t think I even like her, but…”
“She’s hot enough I’d run errands for her even without all the spooky magic stuff,” Tony says, and Sam makes noises of agreement.
Steve shrugs, uncomfortable. “I don’t know. I guess I’m just…not that interested. She’s a very pretty girl, though,” he adds, because it feels like something he should say, and obviously it’s true.
“Ohhhh, is that why her spells don’t work on you?” Sam says. “Because you don’t like girls?”
“Oh my god, did you guys hear that noise? You must’ve heard it. Sam, ask me what noise.”
“What noise, Tony?” Sam asks patiently.
“It was a great disturbance in the Force,” Tony says, “as if the hearts of billions of women across the planet shattered all at once and they didn’t even know why.”
“Probably made some dudes happy, anyway,” Sam says.
“Gay Captain America, though, that’s really kind of awesome,” Tony says. “Fox News would have a fit. Ooh, hey, you should totally repaint your shield with a Pride rainbow, I bet Jan would love to help with that.”
Steve shifts in his seat, feeling the tips of his ears getting warm. “Well, I don’t know if I like guys either.”
Tony frowns. “You don’t know? How can you not know if you’re gay or straight?”
Sam rolls his eyes. “Bi people exist, genius.”
“Yeah, but then you’d like both and you’d know,” Tony insists. “Right? You’d know. I mean, I know the 40s were really different so maybe you—” he seems to have moved back to the specific you now, because he’s looking at Steve again— “wouldn’t have known then, but you’d know by now if you liked guys, right?”
Steve shrugs again, wishing he’d never taken this detour on the way to his punching bag. “I guess I just haven’t thought about it that much.”
Now even Sam is staring at him. “You haven’t thought about it.”
“Okay,” Tony says, “when you say it, you mean sex, right? Like, we’re not talking about two different things? You mean sex. You haven’t thought enough about sex to know if you wanna bang guys or girls.”
“I guess,” Steve says again. He is definitely going up to his punching bag as soon as it’s even remotely polite to do so, or possibly back to the stadium. Punching bags and race tracks do what they’re supposed to and don’t ask weird, uncomfortable questions. “It just hasn’t seemed that important.” They both stare at him, mouths hanging open comically, and Steve can hear the defensiveness creeping into his voice as he says, “You know, compared to other things, like training so I can help more people.”
Natasha looks up from her StarkPad, eyebrows raised. “Okay, Rogers gets a pass on this one, but really, not one of you has heard of asexuality?”
“What, like…asexual reproduction?” Tony asks. “Like plants and amoebas?”
Natasha’s expression turns murderous so fast Steve’s impressed (doubly so when Tony actually shrinks back in his seat). “I mean like normal human beings who aren’t interested in sex. Just because it’s all you think about doesn’t mean everyone has to be that way or that anyone’s less human for not caring about sex.”
“Whoa,” Sam says.
“I never said that!” Tony protests. “I just…I mean…there are people who don’t care about sex at all?”
“Yes, and you heard ‘asexual’ and thought ‘plants and amoebas,’” Natasha says, “so yeah, you kind of did imply that not caring about sex means you’re not human.”
“That’s not…I didn’t mean…” Tony flushes, probably not just from the heat. “Maybe people just don’t know? I mean, if somebody—” He’s very carefully not looking at Steve, but it’s pretty obvious who he means— “hasn’t had sex, maybe they just don’t know what they’re missing.”
Steve has no response to that one, but again, Natasha does. She folds her arms and fixes Tony with a steely-eyed glare. “How did you know you liked girls before you ever slept with one? I’m being generous here and assuming you’re not all talk.”
Tony turns redder and mutters, “That’s different.”
“I dunno, man,” Sam says. “She’s got a point.”
“Thank you,” Natasha says. “Of course I do. And to answer the question you apparently didn’t realize you were asking, Stark, I’m not a virgin.”
“Um,” Tony says.
She raises her eyebrows, daring him to say more. When he doesn’t, she says, “It was fine. I liked it. I didn’t care enough to go wild looking for more, and I still don’t. Some people care even less, some people don’t want sex at all, some people do but only sometimes. There’s a whole spectrum, and you have the entire internet to educate you, so maybe look it up and stop saying ignorant things.”
“…okay,” Tony says. He fidgets with his screwdriver, not looking at anyone, and Steve takes pity on him.
“I don’t know, Tony,” he says. “Maybe I’m…asexual. It’s probably not a huge deal.”
“Still explains why Amora can’t work her mojo on you,” Sam says. “Which is still pretty cool.”
“So if she can’t do her thing with gay and asexual guys,” Tony says, “can she hypnotize lesbians and bi girls? Or is she really, really straight too, so it’s never occurred to her to try?”
Natasha stands up, tucking the StarkPad away. “If you’re going to discuss somebody else’s sexuality, I’m out. Steve, I’ve been working on some new moves I wanted to test on you—feel like a little arena practice?”
“Sure,” Steve says. Sam and Tony both look appropriately abashed, so Steve gives them a friendly smile as he gets up. “By the way, Tony, I’m still waiting for you to beat my record in the Robo Dojo like you said you would. Better get cracking.”
“I said I could, and you are such an old man,” Tony mutters.
“Keep telling yourself that,” Steve says over his shoulder. He hurries to catch up with Natasha and falls into step beside her. “I don’t think Tony meant to upset you.”
“Oh, I know,” Natasha says. “He’s not that dumb. And yes, I know he doesn’t actually mean to be thoughtless, but he could learn to think before he opens his mouth.”
“Well, I can’t argue with that,” Steve says. He pauses, then admits, “I’ve never heard of asexuality either.”
“Well, like I said, you get a pass on that one from the whole asleep-since-the-40s thing. There’s a lot of stuff that wasn’t understood or widely discussed until recently—”
“Believe me, I’ve noticed,” Steve mutters.
Natasha’s lips twitch. “And there’s a lot of stuff people are only just starting to understand now.”
“A lot of people don’t know it’s a thing. Sam and Tony aren’t really unusual that way. Hell, the DSM still considered asexuality a mental illness until just a few years ago. But it’s a thing. Anybody who tells you sex is what makes us human is full of it.”
“You called me a robot,” he says.
“Uh, yeah, because you never seem to get tired when you’re training, not because you’re not attracted to anybody. Come on. You don’t see me dating all the time either, do you?”
“I…guess that’s something else I didn’t really think to notice,” Steve says. “I just…really haven’t thought about any of this much.”
“You might want to do a little research yourself, see where you fit. Labels can actually be nice when you get to choose them yourself. But the main thing…” Natasha stops outside the arena and turns to face him. “The important thing is, if you’re asexual, you’re just asexual—you’re not broken, or abnormal, or weird.”
The nice part about not really having thought about any of this is that it also hasn’t particularly occurred to him to feel broken, but it’s still good to hear, especially when he’s pretty sure he would be wondering that after talking to Tony. And knowing he seems to have this in common with Natasha is a good sign that asexuality isn’t a byproduct of the serum, either, which is the other thing he’s pretty sure he’d be wondering. “Except for the training thing.”
She smirks at him. “Well, we already knew you were a freak of science, Rogers. A little weird shouldn’t be surprising.”
Steve feels himself smile. “Yeah? You’re pretty weird, what’s your excuse?”
“Pissed off Fury in a previous life, probably.” She steps backward into the ring, grinning up at him in clear challenge. “See if you can keep up with me, old man.”
"Oh, it's on." He slides the shield off his back and settles into a fighting stance. “Seriously, though. Thanks.”
Natasha’s answering smile is small and genuine. “Any time.”