Steve hated galas. In fact, he hated any PR event that he was always forced to attend. They were loud and fancy and involved too many people he didn’t know, all with different motives. It unnerved the soldier in him (not to mention the socially awkward tiny-Steve that had never gone away, even after getting super-serumed up.)
That’s why, three months after all the Avengers have moved into the tower and Tony tells them all that they’re needed to appear at an annual function for the Maria Stark Foundation, Steve has to take a few deep breaths and bite back a sigh. His USO days were only remembered with a taste of sickness in his mouth and the feeling of shakes wracking through his body. He had always hated public speaking of any kind, and the thought of having to sit and socialize with people he didn’t know for hours truly horrified him.
He didn’t know what was wrong with him. Everyone else was fine with public outings except him. Because even the serum couldn’t fix some things.
But he always goes. Because he is Team Leader, and he has to set a good example.
“It won’t be that bad, Steve, I promise.” Tony reassured him, hurrying along to keep up with Steve’s long strides.
Steve just raised one singular eyebrow, and continued forward.
“Okay, okay, it’s gonna be a full night of absolute shit- buuuuuuutttt, it’s for a good cause! And Steve Rogers LOVES good causes, right? Good causes turn him on.” Tony continues, smirking at the sight of red crawling up Steve’s cheeks.
That always happened whenever Tony flirted with him. He didn’t know why, it’s not like he was embarrassed by anything dirty, like Tony thought was the reason behind it. It was just the fact that…well, it was Tony. Pretty, funny, charming, who-smelt-like coconut-and-was-way-out-of-Steve’s-league Tony.
(But let’s not go there yet. Denial is a beautiful thing.)
“What part of me being there will benefit the cause? I can’t even ask the waiters to bring me a spoon, how the fuck am I ever expected to schmooze with all the big-boys and girls of New York? That’s your job, Mr. I-can-stop-wars-with-my-charm-and-pizzazz Stark.” Steve replied, wishing that he was walking toward his room just because he wanted to go to bed, and not because he had to get his dress uniform ready for the first time since coming out of the ice.
“Okay, well there are so may topics I want to bring up about that last sentence, but I am going with the most important one first- did you actually just say pizzazz? Like, un-ironically?” Tony asked, beginning a light jog as Steve’s pace increased.
“I hate you.”
“Why thank you,”
“I don’t think that was a compliment, Tony.”
“You don’t think? You were the one who said it, you should probably know.”
“Okay. I hate you and it was definitely not a compliment because it is 100% true and you are the worst person I have ever had the misfortune of meeting in my 90-odd years of existence. you also have a weird beard. Goodbye.” Steve said, rolling his eyes and grinning a little as he jogged off toward his bedroom in order to escape from the maniac who was now running to keep up with him.
“Awww, Stevie, baby, you wound me. And thE BEARD IS NOT WEIRD, IT’S FASHIONABLE YOU IGNORANT HERMIT!” Tony shouted, as Steve turned into his room and willed himself not to look back at Tony’s laughing face.
The room was huge, and insanely crowded. People drifted in and out, mingling and socializing with drinks in their hands and smiles on their faces. Steve knew that he should probably talk to some people- these folks loved Captain America, and that usually meant that their wallets were much looser than they would be for anyone else.
So he sidled up to a nearby conversation and put in a smile or two, dropped a few names and said a few words, and then moved on to the next crowd of people, trying to quell the constant unease in his stomach.
He could see the others doing the same, Natasha having one-on-one conversations with various patrons, an uncharacteristic smile on her face- Clint laughing along with a group of people in the center of the room. Bruce was quietly talking with a few fellow scientists on a table in the corner, and seemed to be getting pretty into the subject matter, if his hand gestures were anything to go by.
But it was Tony who caught his eye.
This was the first PR event where the Avengers had all gone out together, usually it was just Tony who attended. And from what he was looking at now, Steve could see why he was the obvious choice.
The man was currently at the bar, and was holding court with at least ten different people. In one hand there was a cocktail, and the other was resting gently on a woman’s shoulder. He was talking, grinning away as everyone laughed at a joke he had just told them. Every person in the circle seemed to have eyes only for Tony, and he held their attention so easily, Steve wondered how he himself could possibly find it so demanding just having a short conversation with one person.
The woman nearest to Tony muttered something to him, looking up at him suggestively from underneath her (very tacky, if you asked Steve) false eyelashes, and Tony whispered something in her ear, grinning provocatively. She laughed, and Steve felt something hot curl up inside his stomach.
But it wasn’t jealousy. Definitely not. Tony was a good friend. A good, funny, really hot friend…
Nope. Not jealousy.
“Having fun, Captain?” Asked a high, unfamiliar voice at his right.
He turned, facing the owner of the noise. She was at least a head shorter than him, even in her ridiculously high heels, and was wearing about a pound of makeup on her face, quite clearly to hide the wrinkles that were beginning to form.
She was also far too close for Steve’s liking.
“Um, yes ma’am. It’s always nice to come out and support good causes.” He stuttered, stumbling back a few steps and trying to smile, hoping that she would give up and walk away.
Unfortunately Steve didn’t have luck on his side tonight.
Swooping forward like a vulture in high heels, she was at his side again almost immediately, leering at him in a way that made Steve shudder a little. The smile showed where her lipstick had bled, and the slightly yellowed teeth behind them. Steve wondered if he was going to vomit.
“I’m sure you’ve heard of me, Captain,” She said, pressing her chest up against his shoulder in a way that definitely let her intentions be known, “I’m Rosalie Macey, quite a significant donor to the Maria Stark Foundation. Helping all those poor children pick themselves off the ground, it truly warms my heart.” She cooed, chuckling in a way that was probably supposed to sound flirty, but to Steve, it just sounded creepy.
Steve stepped away, trying to figure out a way to let her know he wasn’t interested without offending her. She was wrong, he hadn’t heard of her, but if what she was saying was true, and she was a large donor toward the charity, Steve had to tread carefully. A wrong move could result in the foundation losing money, because as much as Steve hated to admit it, people were selfish and would actually do that without a second thought.
Everything around him was...too big. bright and loud and in-your-face. It was as if suddenly a switch had been flipped, and Steve was looking at the room in a whole different perspective. The negative thoughts and bad company almost certainly were not helping, but sometimes just being in a social situation did this sort of thing to him.Made things... distorted.
he didn't like like he was at a gala anymore. he felt like he was on a battlefield.
He tried to catch Tony’s eye from across the room, a pleading look on his face that would surely let Tony know he was in need of some help. He truly was horrible in these situations, and this was only making his already sick stomach even worse, not to mention the fact that he was starting to shake.
Panic attack, he thought, absently.
His brow creased slightly in confusion. True, these were all the symptoms of an all-too-familiar attack, but usually he only felt them after bad dreams or flashbacks. Not talking to horny fifty-year olds.
But that wasn’t the point. The point was, he needed to get out immediately, before something bad or embarrassing happened.He began making his way toward the door of the patio, trying to calm his breathing down to an acceptable level.
“Listen, ma’am, I’m afraid I have to leave you for now. I’ve, um, I’m supposed to be meeting with, um, Miss Romanov in a few minutes. But I am- I’m very grateful for all the help that you’ve put in toward the funding, and I’m sure-“
“Okay, I’ll be blunt. I have money, lots of it. And you, my dear boy, are very, very handsome. So here’s the deal. All those kiddies who need my hard-earned cash, they’ll get that. But first, I would like to have something in it for me. So we’ll have a bit of fun, and then I’ll give all that money away. What do you say?” She asked, standing up to press her mouth right into his neck.
He shuffled uncomfortably out of her reach, but the damn woman still kept coming forward. Steve didn’t know what to do, he knew that walking away was going to mean the Foundation would lose a lot of money, but there was no way he was every going anywhere with this woman, and it was getting harder to breathe with every second and he couldn’t-
“Did you know, Steve, that this entire building- my building by the way- is rigged with some of the most expensive and top-quality surveillance in the world?” Came a beautifully familiar voice from a few meters away.
The woman instantly snapped her head up and moved a few steps back, narrowing her eyes. Steve breathed a noticeable sigh of relief, and felt his heartbeat slow down ever so slightly.
Tony was here. Tony knew what to do.
“Oh, look, it’s New York’s most reputable playboy. I’m surprised you haven’t left off with a pretty blonde yet. What do you want, Stark, I’m in the middle of a conversation.” She snarled, and Steve stumbled over to Tony’s side while she was distracted.
“Okay, I have three points to make there. One- I must say I am flattered you still think I hold that title. I was almost sure it was passed down to you a good few years ago, when you turned, what was it, fifty three?”
She practically snarled at the number, and Steve couldn’t help but chuckle slightly. Tony always knew which spot to prod at.
“Two, the only ‘pretty blonde’ I am leaving off with is my good friend Steve over here.” Tony continued, waving a hand to his left, where Steve was stood.
Steve really hoped his cheeks hadn’t gone red at that.
“And three, I was just here to talk about the high-res cameras I have installed- cameras that are currently capturing every second of this function. That’s all. I’m not going to mention the fact that I’ve just asked JARVIS to transfer all that lovely footage onto my files at home, where they are just waiting to be sent to your doting husband at a word’s notice. I’m sure he’d just love to see you proposition Captain Rogers here, after your thirty years of marriage.” Tony told her, as casually as if he were discussing the weather.
The color drained out of Macey’s cheeks, and she began to step back slightly, giving a tiny nod.
“Mr. Stark, please, I think this has all been a misunderstanding. I would- I would appreciate it if those files were not sent.” She whispered, eyes darting around guiltily.
“Well, I’m sure if you continued to donate as generously to the charity as you have in the past, then JARVIS can arrange to delete the footage. Is that a good deal? I think that’s a good deal, considering the manner in which you’ve behaved tonight.” Tony said, his voice hardening as he stepped in front of Steve defensively.
Tony waited for the woman to nod and hurry away, before pulling Steve out toward the balcony and into the fresh air outside. As soon as Steve was out in private, he let the shaking take over and felt his knees begin to falter.
out here, it was okay to fall apart. at least there was room to take a damn breath.
But before he could hit the ground, Tony wound an arm around his waist, making sure his fall wasn’t heavy. What with Steve being at least double Tony’s weight, he couldn’t altogether stop it from happening, but it was far more gentle than what Steve was used to when dealing with this alone.
“Hey, it’s okay, Steve. She’s just another desperate, lonely woman looking for a night of fun while her husband’s back is turned. I’m sorry you had to meet her; she’s kind of notorious for doing that. But she donated pretty heavily to the Foundation, so she’s always invited.” Tony explained, as he got to his knees and sat with Steve on the cold stone floor, arm still wrapped around Steve’s waist.
Steve wanted to say it was okay, and that he was fine, but the shaking in his voice and the inability to breathe properly probably wouldn’t convince Tony of anything. The engineer was probably wondering why Steve was being so weird anyway, silently judging him for having panic attack over a fucking come-on, who even does that?
But Tony wasn’t saying anything, just holding Steve tight as he struggled for oxygen and shook heavily and making soothing affirmations in the soldier’s ears.
Steve wondered how he had ever thought tony was anything less than selfless- how a month ago, he had been looking at Tony and only seeing a self-centered asshole who looked after number-one.
“Tony?” Steve whispered, finally gaining enough breath to say one word.
“What- what’s wrong with me?” He asked in a tiny voice, looking away from Tony and toward the slabs of rock under his feet. He could feel his own heart through his ribs, and was waiting for the inevitable 'you’re just a bit fucked up' to come falling from Tony’s lips.
“Don’t you…Oh, shit, yeah- I’m guessing they didn’t have a medical term for it back in the forties, right? You were just classed as a lunatic and carted off to the asylum. Well, Steve, things are different now. I think, and don’t hold me to this, but what you’re feeling, what you are experiencing is called social anxiety. It’s a fear of social situations, and trust me, millions of people have it, Steve. You’re not a freak, and you’re not alone in this. Hell, until father-dearest beat it out of me, I used to literally vomit before parties like this. But Steve, you can get help. I can hook you up with a therapist, if you want. Pepper is always nagging me to go see one, I’m sure she knows just the right person for you. Do you want that?” Tony explained, placing his hand on Steve’s shoulder and squeezing reassuringly.
Steve had so many things to say. He wanted to ask more questions about the social anxiety Tony was explaining, or the therapist and how he could get in touch with her. He especially wanted to discuss the light way in which tony had told Steve that Howard had beat him for being afraid. But somehow, he knew that Tony would not give him any real answers about his childhood, and there was only really one question he wanted answering.
“I’m not…a freak, then?” He asked weakly, gripping Tony’s shoulders and trying to make sure he didn’t accidentally dislocate one of them in his panic.
“Not a freak, Tony assured, smiling a tiny little smile that made Steve’s heart speed up all over again, but for different reasons.
“Come on, old-timer- let’s get out of here. This party sucks anyway.”
“What about that girl you were entertaining?” Steve blurted, and instantly cursed himself inwardly. Great, now Tony was going to remember her and leave. And not that Steve wanted Tony all to himself (he totally fucking didn’t, okay?), but the man was surprisingly gentle when he needed to be- and Steve really needed gentle right now.
Tony, however, didn’t even look away from Steve.
“Not important. Come on, let’s go.”