Part One: Coming Out
The future was different.
Steve knew that that wasn’t exactly a profound statement, but the difference hit him every day. Many were positive, some negative – though more in a nostalgic than objective way.
One night, not too long after the Battle of New York, they’d all been lounging in the tv room of Avengers tower, half-watching some drama or other. He hadn’t really been paying attention, and when he glanced over at the screen, he saw what looked like to be two men on a date.
His first thought was that this must be a parody of some kind. But as the scene went on, the romantic tone never wavered.
He was so enthralled by this couple, these two men in love, on the screen, that he didn’t notice the others watching him carefully.
Tony, Natasha, and Bruce watched him cautiously, uncertain of how he’d react. Of course, they hoped for the best, after all, Steve was a very decent guy, and he hadn’t been weird about women or people of colour at all so far. But, on the other hand, he had grown up in the thirties.
On the screen, the blond one knelt down and reached into his coat for a ring box. Steve inhaled sharply, eyes stinging, as the other man nodded tearfully. The two embraced, laughing as they lost their balance and tumbled to the floor.
Steve became aware of the others watching him and rose quickly. “Uh, bathroom,” he muttered before rushing out of the room. He knew how it looked, what the others must be thinking, but he didn’t want to be seen having such a strong emotional reaction to a damned soap opera of all things.
He made his way down to an empty hallway and leaned against the wall, eyes closed. He took a few shaky breaths, trying to keep the tears at bay.
Flashes of memory plagued his mind. Sneers. Hurtful words thrown like punches. Hiding in dark places from actual punches. Better memories accompanied them. Laughing blue eyes. Knowing smiles. Kisses in dark hiding places. Small cots and tangled limbs.
But always in secret.
“Steve?” a quiet voice asked.
Steve nearly jumped and quietly turned away to wipe any trace of tears from his eyes. When he turned back, Natasha stood there, arms crossed, leaning against the wall, looking concerned.
“Hey, Nat,” he said, grimacing at the hoarseness of his voice.
“You good?” she asked, and, as Steve was starting to realize with her, she really wanted to know. And he didn’t know what to say.
To say something out loud that has always been a secret between two people, never vocalized in a voice above a whisper, something that’s never been seen in full sunlight, is a feat nigh herculean.
So he just shook his head.
Nat simply pursed her lips, nodded and pulled him into a hug.
LGBT history was added to his list of research topics an important category on its own. He made his way tearfully through documentaries about Stonewall with Nat at his side. He watched his first pride parade from a distance, not quite ready yet to participate.
Finally, when Steve had once again pulled Nat out of the room to tell her this new thing he’d learned about (Elton John!), she’d said, “Look, man, I don’t want to pressure you or anything, but have you thought of coming out to the others? I promise that they’d be super chill about it.”
Steve looked at her uncertainly. “Are you sure, I mean, I like them and all, but…”
“100% sure,” she said. “They know I’m pan and, hell, I’m pretty sure there’s something going on between Tony and Bruce, with all that tension.”
The benefit of the internet was that research was so much easier – not just academic research, but research into how people did things, their stories and experiences. Steve read nearly every article about how to come out to one’s friends. But, no matter how much research he did, he didn’t feel quite ready.
That was, until one day, as he was about to head out for a run, he heard his name on the news that played almost perpetually on the tv. He leaned into the room to see what it was about.
A politician who looked vaguely familiar was on the screen – white hair, clean-cut – “… he’s the kind of hero we need as a role model, you see. A traditional man, from a simpler time. I would much prefer my sons to look up to Captain America than Iron Man – who drinks excessively and has a new woman on his arm every time you see him.”
“I’ll have you know that Pepper and I are going steady!” Tony called from the kitchen. “Although we do have an agreement.” He winked at Bruce, who rolled his eyes.
The news host came back on the screen. “That was Senator Johnson at a press earlier today is leading a small faction of senators against L-17, the proposed nation-wide ban of conversion therapy for minors.”
“Obviously, I support the LGBT+ community,” Johnson said a bit awkwardly. “But I also support parents’ rights to raise their children as they see fit. This law is an infringement of people’s freedom of religion.”
Steve’s jaw clenched. He had definitely heard of this guy before – notoriously homophobic but tried to keep up the nice, reasonable guy routine.
“Hey, Tony,” he said. “How long does it take to set up a charitable organization?”
Not very long at all, apparently. After a week of meetings and long hours, Steve found himself with a door between him and a crowd of reporters.
Tony came in a grinned. “Don’t know how you did it, but here are more reporters in there than there were when I announced I was Iron Man.”
“Well, Captain America doesn’t hold a lot of press conferences,” Nat said. “So, they know it’s big.”
Steve smiled, trying to look confident. He’d never liked talking to the press, even back in the day. Then he’d just had to talk about beating the Nazis and try to keep up morale. Now he was about to say something to the whole country that he’d never really said out loud before. He hadn’t really had to come out to the rest of the gang per se. They had kind of figured it out through his determination to get this done as quickly as possible. A kind of silent understanding.
But this had to be him. and maybe he was doing it out of spite – he did wish he could see X’s face – but the more he thought about it, he knew it was bigger than that.
He wanted to make sure that no one in this country had to grow up like he did – hiding.
So, with one last deep breath, a reassuring nod from Bruce, a smile from Nat, and a slap on the back from Tony, he stepped through the door and out in front of the crowd.
Questions exploded at him and he quickly walked over to the mic. “Hey, everyone. Glad you could make it. Uh, I’ll take questions in just a sec.”
The crowd quieted down, and Steve took a moment to clear his head and slow his racing heart. “I am here today to announce the launch of my charitable organization, In the Light. And it will be for the support of LGBT+ teens across the country.
The reporters clamoured with questions again. Steve was sure he heard X’s name thrown around. He gestured for them to quiet and continued. “This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, but certain recent events have made me realize that I am sometimes associated with, well, ideas and values I disagree with a lot.” He paused. “Those who yearn for a simpler time, when things were more traditional, must remember that people have always been gay, bi, pan, nonbinary, asexual, all the things people are now. And I’d know, because, well, I’m living proof.” Mutters grew. “I was born in 1914, and,” he paused for a fraction of a second. “I am gay.” He stopped again as the crowd burst out with questions and waited patiently for them to quiet down. “And while I don’t want to dwell up the negatives, I do want to be honest. It wasn’t always easy. Sometimes, it really sucked. Everything had to be secret and hidden – and sure, we found ways around it, but that didn’t improve the circumstances. I want to help make sure that no one has to hide as I did.” His voice shook a little and he took a moment to clear his head. “Cause no kid should be ashamed of who they are.”
Satisfied that he had said enough, Steve took questions from the reporters.
“Are you referring to Senator Johnson’s statements last week?”
“I…” Steve’s diplomatic nature almost took over but remembered all the harm Johnson could do. He was really just another bully. “Hearing him connect me with his homophobic views did encourage me to go public with this earlier than I had intended, and one of the organization’s first focuses will be on the law banning conversion therapy and getting it passed. But this is bigger than one bigoted senator – this is about helping the kids who suffer because of people like him.”
After a couple of questions from other reporters, a much younger reporter from a news source he didn’t recognize, asked. “Just wanna say, love this a lot. We stand with you. Could you say trans rights?”
Steve smiled. “Absolutely. Trans rights.”
The kid – because really, it was a kid – grinned.
“Well, I’d say that’s a perfect conclusion for this,” Steve said. “Thank you all so much. Call your reps and tell them to vote for Bill L-17 and donate if you can. Thank you.”
When he got through the door, he saw Nat, Bruce, and Tony all watching the screen. They looked a little teary-eyed.
“Great job, Cap,” Tony said. “Way to stick it to that son of a bitch Johnson… And help the kids too, of course.”
Bruce merely nodded and smiled.
Nat grinned. “Told you they’d be chill with it.” When Steve shot her a look, she added. “The country, I mean.” She paused. “Well, obviously, you’ll get hate. Like a lot. I would recommend staying off the internet for like two weeks at least.”
Steve noticed that his heart rate had gone back to normal and he looked at them. This was good.
Time passed and he got used to people knowing. The old panicky feeling in his chest when the topic came up subsided. The organization grew. The bill passed – for which Tony threw a party.
Steve got to travel all around the country, opening up shelters and homes for kids who were kicked out or felt unsafe at home. He helped reps in various states push for LGBT+ inclusive sex-ed curriculum.
And he talked to the kids. That was simultaneously the best and worst part. The best because they were all wonderful, and smart, and funny, and brave, and strong. So strong. The worst because of their stories. The stories his so close to home sometimes that hall he could do was hug them and tell them things would get better as he tried not to cry.
He didn’t realize how emotionally draining it was until one day Bruce came to visit him in his hotel in Miami and found him staring at a wall.
“Y’alright there, Cap?” he asked.
“Mmm?” Steve said, not looking away. “Yeah, I’m fine. Long day.”
It took Bruce a little bit to get the truth out of him, but when he did, he just sighed and said, “If you go on like this, sooner or later, you’re gonna burn out and it’ll take months to get back to normal.”
“It’s not that bad.”
“How long had you been staring at that wall before I came in?”
Steve shrugged. “Not long.” When Bruce raised his eyebrows, he continued. “Like twenty minutes. You’re right. But I can’t stop.”
“You don’t have to stop, just don’t push yourself so hard, okay? It’s not just you, other people work for this organization. Like actual therapists who are trained to deal with this. You don’t have to go full hands-off, just, you know, take a break every so often.”
As it turned out, the break from In the Light would come in the form of Avengers work. Steve left the organization in the hands of some trustee employees as his whole world turned upside down for a while.
And then Bucky was back. Bucky who had been by his side as long as he could remember before everything happened. Bucky who had shared a bed with him since they were teenagers and he had started living with Bucky’s family.
Bucky, who had kissed him in a dark alleyway at age fourteen. His first kiss. For almost as long as they had known each other, they had been a little more than friends.
Bucky, who would arrange dates with all the gay and bi girls he knew so that they could go out together without suspicion. When they went to the movies with Ruth and Sarah, he and Bucky would sit on either side so the girls could sit together in the middle. Then they would stand guard outside a janitor’s closet afterwards talking loudly about the movie. And if worst came to worst and there was any trouble, they could keep the girls safe.
Bucky, who was now living with them once everything had quieted down. And while they got back into a reasonably familiar rhythm, there was a degree of separation.
Neither of them dared to step across that thin line between the platonic and the romantic. After all, it had been so long. Feelings may have changed.