Chapter 1: Prologue
Steve fussed with his cuff-links for the umpteenth time in so many minutes. He hadn't much else to do with being stuck in evening traffic, and his patience was beginning to wane. They'd been in the same spot for nearly twenty minutes now, and he was about to go on a venomous rant if things didn't change soon.
"Darling, stop with that fussing."
"I can't." He managed not to snarl, although his reflection was indicative of his inner turmoil. "We've been sitting here half the evening. We'll miss the party entirely at this rate."
"So let it be." His companion said flippantly much to his chagrin.
Despite his many deep-seated flaws, Steve loathed to be late. He knew that no one would necessarily miss his presence at a loud, over the top holiday party but the principle remained the same – it was rude. And Steve liked to present himself as a gentleman, even if he was anything but that.
Not many individuals with the wealth and status that he had were genuine people. Steve's persona of a warm, gentlemanly figure was all smoke and mirrors. Certainly he gave to charity and he worried about the state of the world, but ultimately his main concern was himself.
"I hate to be late." He muttered, before glancing towards his fiancée. "Don't you hate to be late?"
"Why be early?" Peggy was glancing at her appearance in her compact, while outlining her lips with a bold shade of red lipstick. "No one will even notice, Steve. This is a party of pleasure not business. And Tony Stark isn't going to hold tardiness against you."
There was a pause in conversation then. It was true that Tony Stark was infamous for his perpetual lateness. He had once shown up to a congressional hearing over an hour late, smelling of whiskey and cigarette smoke. So he couldn't possibly hold it against Steve that he didn't make his holiday party at seven o'clock on the dot. But still, the idea was too unbearable for Steve to handle.
Abandoning his cuff-links, Steve instead bounced his knee up and down to burn off his excess energy. That, however, did not last very long. Peggy stopped in the middle of her make-up application and rested a firm hand on his knee to stop him.
"The party will be there whether we show up on time or forty minutes late. Now stop that fidgeting already, Steve. You're driving me mad."
"Maybe if you distracted me...?"
"Do you even know how long it took for me to do my hair?" Peggy scoffed, as if the idea of copulation in a vehicle was beneath her. "Why don't you entertain yourself with that phone of yours. You use it enough as it is."
Steve suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. He generally used his phone for business; various types of business, but business all the same. But rather than try and explain this to Peggy, who had chosen to continue tracing her mouth with lipstick; he took his phone out of the inner pocket of his jacket, and glanced down at it.
Unsurprisingly, he had several messages already. Most of them were from Tony Stark. Steve bit his bottom lip as he unlocked his phone, and pulled up the conversation window with their correspondence scrawled across the screen like a tattoo.
Peggy didn't know that Steve was closer to Tony than appearances led on to. On the outside, Steve and Tony were only acquaintances. They ran in the same circle of New York's elite. Tony was the CEO of Stark Industries, while Steve was the CEO of, Dugan & Rogers, the fourth largest pharmaceutical company in the country. Of course their paths had bisected along the way.
What no one knew was that they had bypassed friendship entirely for intimacy instead, and that it had been actively going on for a little more than a year now. That wasn't to say that Steve loved Peggy any less, but he had certain needs that weren't being met by his fiancée. And well, she really couldn't provide them either even if she wanted to.
'Where are you, Rogers?' The first message read, although the others became clearly impatient by his lack of appearance at the holiday soiree.
'Traffic is a bitch,' Steve wrote back in explanation, and glanced towards Peggy who was in the midst of smacking her lips together to ensure the lipstick took. 'We might make it at the tale-end of the party at this rate.'
Several short moments later, Steve's phone vibrated in his hand. Tony had written a response back already, and Steve wondered distantly if he had gotten too involved with the other man. For him it was only about sex; he didn't particularly like Tony, and he had been certain Tony felt similarly.
They were alike as much as the privileged class were. But they detoured quite a bit beyond that. Tony was flamboyant, robust, and he could talk for hours on end without any trouble. Steve, on the other hand, was far more reserved in comparison. He enjoyed silence, and it was rare to get any while in Tony's presence.
Their bedroom activities were loud and wild affairs. Steve liked that, although he had to be in a certain mood for it. He got to be the dominant one, and he could manipulate Tony into any position that he wanted. In comparison to his relationship with Peggy, he was usually the submissive one. Peggy was often the one who told him what to do and when to do it.
That didn't mean he didn't like it, though. If he hadn't then he wouldn't have proposed to the woman. But it also got tiresome rather quickly without variety in the bedroom, and in order to maintain the harmony in his relationship with his fiancee; he had gone out to find a partner that could satiate him in a way that Peggy wouldn't want to.
'I bet you barely left the house.'
'Untrue; we left almost thirty-five minutes ago.'
'Get your ass here soon.' Tony wrote back, which made Steve snort in annoyance.
He pocketed his phone once more, before his eyes drifted towards the window again. The car lurched forward a foot or so, but it appeared that the traffic jam would continue for sometime still. Whether he liked it or not, it was what it was.
For nearly another twenty minutes, Steve bounced his knee and toyed with his cuff-links until Peggy snapped at him viciously to stop or she'd make him and not in a gentle way either. But they did eventually make it to the party even if they ended up being almost an entire hour late. And quite honestly, Steve didn't want to stand around and mingle by that time and pretend to be happy. He elected to avoid Tony as best as he could too.
Everyone would think that Steve had everything already. Initially, he was under the same impression. But something was telling him otherwise; something was missing, and it made him feel restless because he didn't know what it was.
Chapter 2: Chapter One :: Something Amiss
Chapter One :: Something Amiss
"Look who it is," Tony Stark peered up from his ministrations long enough to give Steve a sarcastic, razor-sharp, smile. "It's the Grinch himself!"
Steve paused in the doorway of the sprawling office space. He couldn't say anything in defense of himself; he had been a horrible party guest the previous night. In retrospect, he should have thrown back a few cocktails and enjoyed the company around him. But instead he'd been broody and insufferable, which caused Peggy to snap at him on the way home.
"I don't have an excuse for that. That's why I'm here – to apologize."
"I'm not sucking your dick, Rogers. I'm kind of busy." Tony set down the crystal decanter he'd been using to pour himself a drink of scotch. "I got a government deal I'm trying to hammer the details out of. Pep's in D. C. right now as we speak."
"I'm actually here to apologize, Tony. I don't have any ulterior motives."
"Okay so you apologized,"
"You know how I get." Steve sighed, frustrated by himself. "I was thinking,"
"Jesus Christ, Rogers you know what a ball you are when you go into those soul-searching moody reflections of yours." Tony picked up his glass, before shooting Steve an exasperated look.
Steve wouldn't have necessarily called his reflections to be moody, but the proof was in the pudding. He had been feeling off of late; something seemed missing, and yet he couldn't put his finger on it.
It was probably nothing. After all, Steve had everything at his fingertips. He had wealth, success, security, and a very active sex life. He wanted for nothing; his life was enchanted by every definition of the word. And yet it didn't feel that way sometimes.
Sure, he had experienced tragedy in his lifetime. Both his parents had been buried before his twenty-second birthday, and well he hadn't any other family to his name either. So not everything was entirely perfect, even though it was damn-near close to it.
Walking further into the room, Steve observed the cityscape beyond the windows. It was late afternoon and there was a miserable haze in the sky. The weather forecast had mentioned the possibility of snow by nightfall. And if he knew anything about New York winters, it was bound to be a fucking blizzard.
"You look like someone kicked your puppy." Tony slipped away from the bureau he'd be standing at, although he maintained a practical amount of distance between them. "So does that mean the annual reports are down at your company? Or are you lamenting about the holiday spirit; either way it isn't a national tragedy, you know."
"So you never feel down during the holidays?"
"Because of the whole orphan thing we have in common? Hardly,"
"I never said that was my problem." Steve scowled as he watched Tony sit behind his oversized mahogany desk. "Quite honestly, I really don't know what it is."
Tony only snorted in response, before he motioned for Steve to take a seat in front of him. Steve did exactly that, and he sunk into the leather cushions of one the low-back chairs parallel to Tony's desk. He didn't really know what to say to Tony beyond the apology he'd been determined to give. Maybe he'd simply wanted to ensure that they were on level ground after his abhorrent behavior the previous evening.
He really didn't want to lose Tony's company if he could help it. Even if they were polar opposites and sometimes their interactions were highly grating, Steve loved the sex. He'd be stupid to deny it; not to mention he'd be a down and out liar if he said otherwise.
"I hate when you pout." Tony muttered with an eye-roll to go along with it. "Buck up, Rogers. You aren't living in a gutter somewhere in the city. And yeah mommy and daddy might be dead, but they left you a nest egg to sustain you for the rest of your natural-born life."
"Get off my back."
"You're the one who came to me with that black cloud over your head."
"To apologize," Steve enunciated each word, as if Tony couldn't understand them.
"Yeah, and I heard you already."
"You could have fooled me with the way you're acting."
"The way I'm acting...?" Tony scoffed dismissively, which Steve honestly deserved and he knew it.
He knew he was the problem, and he wished he could rectify it somehow. But it was impossible to fix a problem that he didn't even know about. In all likelihood, it was probably the looming holidays that had gotten him snippy and unbearable. It wouldn't be the first time it happened.
Then again, it was possible that last night had simply been a bad night for him. He'd been stuck in traffic for nearly an hour; anyone would have been annoyed by that. So he was probably over-thinking things too much for no good reason.
"You're right; it's the holidays." Steve slouched in his seat and rubbed his temple. "And Peggy's been pretty inattentive of late. She's been talking about building a house in Connecticut. So that's been her main focus."
"Oh nice, first the house in the suburbs and then the howling munchkins."
"You're right; first you'd have to find a surrogate because I know Margaret Carter's not going to birth her own kids."
"Go to hell, Tony."
"Touchy-touchy," Tony chortled, while he turned his attention onto the sleek desktop computer catty-corner to him. "It's all fun and games, Rogers. Settle down,"
Steve had to take in several deep breaths in order to calm down. He really shouldn't be so testy anyway. Tony had a predilection for making fun of him whenever the opportunity arose. And he was usually good at ignoring the jabs thrown at him.
Every one was said in jest, after all. Tony wasn't malicious by any stretch of the imagination; unless, of course, he was on the defensive and then all bets were off. Steve had seen him eviscerate congressmen and women in the past for trying to muscle their way into his company's business dealings. And well, anyone in a similar position would do the exact same thing.
The banter about a surrogate wasn't entirely of base anyway. Peggy had a lively career of her own as a well-respected editor within HarperCollins; she was business oriented too. So for her to take nine months out of her career to have a baby really wasn't something she wanted to do.
They'd spoken about it at length. The family dynamic wouldn't happen any time soon. Both of them agreed upon that. And it was still undetermined when they were actually going to get married. After all, they'd only been engaged for little over a year at this point.
"Do you think we could meet sometime this coming week?" Steve asked as casually as he could muster, while seamlessly putting his thoughts of Peggy onto the back burner.
"I don't see why not. Maybe someone needs to fuck the bitchiness out of you."
"Last time I checked, you weren't the one doing the fucking."
"Duly noted," Tony tapped one-handedly at the keyboard, as the other balanced his drink. "Also noteworthy is that my bitchiness is still firmly intact, so I guess you better brush up on your skills, cowboy."
Steve glowered and wisely decided to leave then, before he somehow offended Tony beyond repair. He could probably do it too; he couldn't deny his ability to be absolutely vicious when the occasion arose. You had to have a mean streak to carry the weight of an entire company on your back.
"You're always a delight, Tony." He pushed himself onto his feet. "So it's unfortunate that I'll have to go. I was really enjoying our conversation too."
"Sarcasm doesn't suit you very well, Steven."
"Bitchiness definitely suits you, though." Steve muttered, as he turned to make his way back to the door.
"Love you too, sweetheart," Tony called out to him in an obnoxious baby voice. "Call me!"
Steve elected not to reply, since he knew his response would only stoke an inevitable argument between the two of them. So without a goodbye, he walked across the office and pushed open one of the double doors. He stepped out into the lobby that housed Tony's secretary, who hardly acknowledged him at all.
He wondered if the woman suspected his frequent visits were more than just friendly affairs. It wouldn't beyond the realm of possibility, but he also figured that Tony had the woman sign a confidentiality agreement to keep her mouth shut. Still, something uneasy rolled in Steve's stomach with the potential revelation that someone knew about his infidelity.
He already knew he was playing with fire. Sometimes he recognized more apparently than other times, and yet that hardly stopped him from continuing to pursue Tony into bed. But that wasn't to say that Tony didn't want to either. In fact, Tony had been the one to blatantly flirt with him the first few times they'd met.
Then again that wasn't anything unique. Tony was known to be a notorious flirt. It never meant anything; Steve could tell it was all in good fun. And maybe the flirtation between the two of them would have been harmless had Steve not followed Tony into an empty coat room during some long-winded gala, where he pushed him against the wall and ghosted his lips across his jaw like an overzealous schoolboy.
The temptation had been too great, though. Tony had looked delectable in a charcoal three piece suit with a crimson shirt underneath. He even liked the gradient tinted Elvis-like glasses he'd been wearing that evening to hide his bloodshot eyes from some wild party he had attended the night before.
Steve never really thought himself to be weak, however it was abundantly clear that it wasn't the case at all. He gave into whatever whim struck at the moment, and Tony was an addiction he couldn't kick.
Despite the threat of eventual discovery, Steve couldn't stop himself. He'd been warned by his best friend Sam to walk on the side of caution, and yet he never could. He could only hope that their affair would remain a secret, and Peggy would become none the wiser to what he did when she was away on business or planning their Connecticut residence methodically.
Breathing out an annoyed sigh from his own thoughts, Steve headed towards the bank of elevators down the hallway and pulled out his mobile phone. He unlocked the device, before he tapped into his contact list and found Sam's name amid the hundreds of others.
Once he tapped on his friend's name, he brought the phone to his ear and listened to the monotone thrum of the dial tone. He needed someone sympathetic and non-judgmental to speak to, and well Sam always fit the bill. He never decried Steve for his selfish behavior, although he never promoted it either.
Sam was the voice of reason in Steve's life, even if he didn't usually listen to him. It was still nice to have that resource at Steve's disposal, despite not listening to it though. At least he could touch base with Sam and recognize that his behavior was totally unacceptable, since he was fairly good at pretending that it wasn't.
The line connected after several rings, and Sam's alert and warm voice met Steve's ear just as he reached the elevators. Steve smiled and reached forward to press the down button, which caused one of the elevators' doors to roll open into an unoccupied compartment.
"I've had an awful day. Let's meet for drinks; I'm buying."
The lounge was richly decorated in dark wood and red upholstery. The light was low and drowsy, and the murmur of conversation intertwined with jazz music made Steve feel at home. He slouched back into the booth he was currently occupying, and let his eyes drift across the sparse crowd around him.
Most of the people who had taken refuge in the bar were men in well-tailored business suits; many of which who were nursing hard liquor in crystal tumblers, and somehow or another managed to get away with smoking Cuban cigars without being promptly thrown out of the place over it.
"I should have figured you'd bring me to some hoighty-toighty kind of place." Sam grinned over the lip of his beer bottle. "How I ended up with a friend like you is beyond me."
"Good fortune; great karma, I guess." Steve shifted his gaze onto his friend with a smile of his own.
Steve had only met Sam by chance. He'd chosen to attend a benefit for an organization for wounded veterans that he frequently donated to, and Sam happened to be there since he was a counselor at the local VA hospital. They had hit it off almost immediately, and ever since they made it a point to call one another and meet up for drinks and sometimes dinner.
Sam definitely didn't run in the same social circles as he did. After all, he hadn't been born with a silver spoon in his mouth; he actually lived a productive and genuine life. Steve was dazzled by him more often than not, and he even consulted him on prescription prices to see how feasible it was for veterans to actually afford them. Oftentimes he heard things he didn't necessarily want to hear, though.
"If that's what you call it." Sam chuckled, before he set his imported beer onto the table. "So how are things going? Same 'ol, same 'ol,"
"I have every intention on donating a hefty amount to the VA for Christmas."
"The holiday season is alive and well then!"
"It's the least I can do."
"Besides lowering some of those pesky pharmaceutical prices, you know."
"I'm only the CEO, Sam. There is a board of directors in place; I'm trying my best." Steve tried to sound pleasant, although he sounded anything but.
Since they'd become friends, Steve had managed to decrease the prices of at least two medications that his company made; although there were still many that Sam had brought up that could do with the same treatment. It was just a lot harder to convince Alexander of that, despite Steve thinking he was getting him into a good place of late.
"I didn't mean any offense, man." Sam held up his hands in submission. "I appreciate your willingness to listen, since not many people would. At least I know your heart's in the right place."
"Thank you. It is."
"Which brings me to my next question – what's happening with you of late?"
"You can see right through me, can't you?" Steve sighed and caught the knowing look on his friend's face.
It wasn't that he always went to Sam with his troubles. In all honesty, he tried to internalize quite a bit of his problems. He never really had a healthy medium in which to express them. Considering, his father had been killed in car crash when he was three years old, and his mother had always been sickly and eventually succumbed to pneumonia when he'd been almost twenty-two. So he couldn't exactly speak about his adolescent problems with anyone, and he made a habit of suffering in silence because of it.
Sam was the rare exception, though. He was a sympathetic ear, and he never felt a need to chide Steve for his weaknesses. Maybe it had a lot to do with his vocation and his general disposition; either way, Steve valued their friendship and the perks that came with it.
"Something's been off, Sam. I don't even know how to describe it. But something feels like it's missing." He launched into his worry, although it sounded downright stupid spoken aloud as it had in his head.
The notion was absolutely ridiculous. Steve had everything and then some. The world was at his mercy and he could do whatever he wanted with it. But still there was a feeling of being unfulfilled and restless inside of him.
"Is that why you're carrying on an affair?" Sam asked without any judgment in his tone.
"Besides the amazing sex, I guess so."
"Well, you know how I feel about that. If you were happy with your relationship with Peggy, I doubt you'd be looking for something else. And well, if you were happy with what was happening with Tony then you wouldn't be with Peggy."
"Pretty logical standpoint,"
"So I have to figure that your emotional needs aren't being met."
"Or maybe it's just the physical," Steve knitted his eyebrows together, since that's how he ultimately characterized the reason behind his infidelity.
Sure, Peggy wasn't always attentive with him. But he was equally to blame in that respect since they both were busy people. They couldn't always meet one another's needs; it was impractical and idealistic.
No, the blame lied solely on Steve's sexual insatiability. He knew he loved Peggy and damn-near worshiped the ground that she walked on. That wasn't the problem. It was need for more in the sexual arena, and how he craved to dominant someone like Tony.
"I think you're over-simplifying things, Steve." Sam said after a beat of silence. "But hey, I'm not your therapist. I'm your friend, and I generally don't deal with these kinds of problems anyway."
"So are you suggesting I go to a therapist?"
"It certainly wouldn't hurt. But I also know what a stubborn son of a bitch you are, so I doubt that'll happen any time this century."
"Stranger things have happened." Steve shrugged dismissively. "I ended up being a complete bastard last night to Tony. It was completely uncalled for, and I don't know if it was because I was stuck in traffic for nearly an hour. Or if it's the holiday season,"
Sam didn't try to convince him otherwise, which was another great thing about him. He wouldn't push his psychoanalysis on anyone, and he didn't judge you if forewent his advice. Steve felt infinitely fortunate that he had someone like Sam in his life.
Sam not only kept Steve grounded, but he also kept him remotely sane too. Because it was almost too easy to believe your own hype, and well Steve did to an extent already. It was hard not to find yourself to be the best thing since sliced bread when Forbes Magazine declared you to be New York's most eligible bachelor two years in a row.
"I have a sneaking suspicion that you haven't changed your ways, though." Sam reached for his beer bottle and lifted it to his lips.
"Traffic's a bitch."
"So you have absolutely no clue why you feel the way you feel?"
"No," Steve admitted with a frown. "Maybe I'm in some kind of a rut. Or maybe it's all this commitment talk; there's the wedding and the fucking mansion Peggy wants in Connecticut. I really don't know."
There was a lull in conversation then. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence, however. Steve didn't feel awkward around Sam, and he hoped the same could be said when it came to Sam. He suspected it was the case, which was a huge relief to him.
They sat for several minutes enjoying their drinks and the atmosphere around them. Sam had finally gotten comfortable with the pricey establishments that Steve usually dragged him to; although it had been a bit of a struggle to get him to agree to not pay for whatever he drank or might have eaten while there.
It hadn't been an easy feat for Steve to make Sam comfortable in these types of settings either. Sam was fiercely independent, and he didn't like to take any handouts. But once they'd established their friendship beyond a reasonable doubt, Sam finally loosened up to getting a few beers on Steve's tab.
"Self-reflection isn't a bad thing, you know." Sam said, before he leveled Steve with a serious expression. "No one has their life completely together. We all have our own shortcomings."
"Is that so?"
"Well, maybe it would help you figure out what's missing."
"It also might not." Steve responded almost stubbornly.
Quite frankly, he could have used some time to self-reflect. He had plenty of issues that he'd never addressed beforehand. And one of them had been his mother's unfortunate death.
He'd been very close to his mother. He'd inherited almost everything from, including his weak immune system that only seemed to right itself a year and a half before she died. So it was hard for him to really think about her nowadays, and he probably hadn't properly mourned her simply because he couldn't bear the thought of her being gone.
Self-reflection probably would have been healthy for him, but Steve didn't want to deal with the pain of it all. He rather remain oblivious to his myriad of issues that he knew he harbored. And well, ignorance was bliss after all.
"I wasn't trying to offend, Steve. I only want to help." Sam murmured sincerely.
"No offense taken. I know you're right. I guess I'm just not evolved enough to actually take your advice yet. But I'll consider it; I have to if I'm going to feel like shit for no apparent reason, you know."
"Therapy isn't a bad thing. People go to therapy every day; it doesn't mean you're broken. Lost maybe, but not broken,"
"Your psycho babble is pretty effective there, Wilson." Steve lifted his nearly empty glass. "I'll give it some serious thought; I promise."
Steve hoped he sounded sincere, since he really didn't think he would consider therapy as an outlet for whatever was troubling him. He didn't want to face any demons that he might have been harboring inside of him. Because he knew they might be too ugly for him to bear, especially since he was far from a moral human being and he didn't want to stop what he was doing with Tony either.
It was probably the holidays. It had to be. Once they were over, he'd feel like himself again. Or at least he could only hope that he would anyway.