Pairing: Vampire!James Barnes x Human!Steve Rogers
Summary: James takes Steve to a Beltane bonfire to celebrate the start of summer.
Warnings: More nonsense. Some self-doubt flavored angst. Shirtlessness (gird your loins!). More poorly thought out vampire mythology.
Word count: 2.9K
A/N: The utter nonsense continues. I had this idea in my head but had not been planning on writing it when I did. But it just started writing itself yesterday, so I went with the flow! I hope you enjoy! Divider by @firefly-graphics
A raucous laugh sounds in Steve’s ear as James shouts out a reply to some jest of his friend’s as he guides Steve away from the bonfire.
James’s arm tightens around his shoulder, pressing him even more firmly against his very bare and very sweaty chest. Steve’s vision doubles and his head spins as he inhales the scent of James’s skin. He wonders vaguely how it’s even possible that James could be so sweaty or so flushed. His understanding of vampire physiology is still evolving and leaves him feeling confused more often than not.
He’s beginning to feel that the things pop culture taught him were all lies.
Which according to James is exactly the case.
What is this whole thing about burning up in the sunlight? What sense does that even make? How could we have evolved into apex predators if we can't even leave the house during the day? And don't even get me started with the whole "sleeping in a casket" thing.
James steers Steve towards the half-circle of log benches set up for seating, so that he can take a break. When James first told him about Beltane, Steve had imagined something much darker, more primal, sinister even. Like something from a 1970s Italian horror movie. Or Eyes Wide Shut. Pop culture was again, partially to blame for this, but James was also at fault for misleading Steve. He seemed to enjoy riling Steve up by feeding into his gothic fantasies.
What he found instead as they made their way through dense forest to a wide clearing, was something more akin to a high school bonfire party. Except of course, the liquor was of much higher quality, the company far less human, and the fire- fed by some magic Steve did not understand- occasionally flared up in rainbow colors.
Steve was relieved. And enthralled. The whole thing had a kind of ethereal and hypnotic quality. He couldn’t help but smile. Just as he was about to turn to James and tell him how excited he was, he was shocked into silence. Because James was taking off his shirt. And when Steve looked around, he saw that everyone else was disrobing as well.
Turns out the naked dancing was not something James had just made up to tease him.
James, conscious of Steve's discomfort, assured him- at first teasingly and then in seriousness when he saw the way Steve's breath sped up anxiously- that it really was okay if he wanted to keep his clothes on. In deference to Steve, James kept his own pants on. And while Steve admired James's staunch adherence to the rules of politeness, on this particular topic he wouldn't have minded if James had been rude just this once.
“See? It’s fun, isn’t it?” James asks once they reach the benches. “Dancing around the bonfire, turning that busy brain of yours off for a while, and just letting loose?”
Steve doesn’t think he’s ever seen James this excited or this unguarded before.
It’s infectious. He can’t help but smile back.
It was fun, with the music beating so loud he could feel it in his bones. He just let it wash over him and take control. And he certainly didn’t mind when James, with one hand in his and the other gripping his slim waist, took the lead and spun him around in wide circles until he nearly lost his breath. In fact, Steve was having more fun than he could ever remember having before.
Or at least he had been, until he noticed the eyes on him and James as they danced their way around the clearing.
At first, he was so caught up in the moment, he barely registered it. But once he did, he realized that nearly everyone in their near vicinity was staring at them, or at the very least, casting quick, sharp looks their way. He couldn’t read their expressions, but he was sure we knew what they were thinking.
What was someone as gorgeous as James doing with an ungainly little runt like him?
When Steve stiffened in his arms, James quickly stopped his fevered dancing to ask if he was okay. Touched by his concern, Steve forced a smile for his sake and lied, saying he simply needed to catch his breath. Remembering Steve’s proclivity for asthma attacks, James insisted that they take a break and led him to find a seat.
Caught up in his reverie, it takes Steve a full minute to realize that James is watching him.
He forces a smile again. “It is fun, you were right.”
James purses his lips and tilts his head. “Oh? Then why do you seem so miserable all of a sudden?”
“I’m not! I really am having fun!” Steve protests, but James’s eyes narrow keenly. Knowing that James has an uncanny knack for reading his moods, Steve’s words die on his lips. He knows James won’t let it drop until he gives him at least some measure of truth.
Steve shrugs and tries to make his voice light, as playfully self-deprecating as he can. “I think I’m making a fool of myself.”
“What? Why do you think that?”
“It’s just that-” Steve shrugs his shoulders again uncomfortably- “everyone was staring.” Finishing miserably, he adds, “They must think I look like a total idiot.”
Steve is surprised when James throws his head back in laughter. His cheeks flame red with embarrassment and he looks away. But then James cups his chin lightly and forces him to meet his eye.
“No one thinks you're an idiot.”
Steve blinks dumbly and when James releases his chin, his skin still tingles where his fingers had once been. Realizing he’s staring, he shakes his head and clears his throat.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that. You didn’t see how they were looking at me.”
James bends to grab a bottle of water from a cooler on the ground. Twisting the cap off, he hands it to Steve.
As he takes a sip, James smiles slowly. “Yes I did. I saw exactly how they were looking at you. They don’t think you’re stupid Steve, they were jealous.”
“Yeah, of me.” James steps forward and lightly runs his hand down Steve’s arm. “Because none of them have a human even half as beautiful as you.”
Steve is certain that his heart stops beating for a full minute. When it restarts, it brings with it a surge of blood, starting from the place where James lightly cups his hand and running straight to his face and then down between his thighs where it throbs painfully.
A strangled noise sounds at the back of his throat when he tries to speak. He takes a quick sip from his water bottle and tries again.
“You don’t have to say that.” He says, dipping his head shyly.
His brow wrinkling in confusion, James asks, “Say what?”
“That. Things like that. I appreciate it, I really do. But you don’t have to pretend to think I’m-” Steve gestures vaguely, struggling to even name what he means- “hot or whatever when other people aren’t around.”
Taken aback, James looks away in confusion and lets Steve’s hand drop. Steve can only mourn the loss of his strong fingers for a moment because James is turning back to him with narrowed eyes. Steve shifts uncomfortably.
“Humans are so stupid,” James says quietly, as if to himself. “You think I’m just trying to boost your ego? You think that I’m lying?”
Steve’s head jerks up in alarm, a half-formed apology already rising to his lips, but James cuts him off.
“Well, I’m not. Why would you even think that?”
Flustered, Steve isn’t sure what to address first, his affront to James’s integrity when he suggested that he is a liar or his question.
Stumbling over his own words, he tries for both.
“I don’t- don’t think you’re lying lying.” James’s nostrils flare in annoyance. Desperately trying to correct course, Steve clarifies. “I just think you’re being nice. To make me feel better because, well- I mean- it’s obvious that I’m not beautiful. Especially not compared with-” No longer able to hold James’s gaze as his own cheeks fill once again with embarrassed heat, he gestures towards the crowd- “all of that. I mean, look at them.”
Dropping his head miserably, Steve doesn’t see James frown and he doesn’t see the sympathetic crease in his brow. He does hear James’s voice go soft as he turns his head to look where Steve pointed.
“Look at what, Steve? Hollow reflections of other people’s desire?”
Startled by the sadness in his voice, Steve lifts his head abruptly, but James is no longer looking at him. Steve watches his jaw tighten as he goes on.
“We don’t look this way because it’s attractive to us. We look the way we do because it’s attractive to you.” James turns back at him now and something reflects deep in his eyes that Steve can’t understand. “We’re like those deep sea fish with the-” he reaches his arm over his head and dangles his hand in front of his face- “lures.”
“Anglerfish?” Steve supplies.
“Yes, anglerfish.” He drops his hand to his side. “They evolved like that to attract their prey. And we’re the same. It has nothing to do with what we think is attractive.”
“Oh.” Steve contemplates this new revelation. Cautiously, he ventures, “Then, what do you find attractive?”
James stares at him for a long moment. Just as Steve begins to wonder if he’ll even answer, he speaks. “Life, Steve. Passion. Courage. Optimism. Joie de vivre. The human soul. I never met a vampire even half as exciting as a human. I know the legends say we don’t have souls- and I don’t think that’s true- but our lives are so long, I think we just get so bored. And boring. Even me, I’m only a few years older than you but the idea of living for centuries? Just thinking about it gets so exhausting sometimes.”
His heart constricts at James’s melancholy tone, and he jumps in. “But think of all the things you’ll get to see and the places you can go! If I even get to live a hundred years, I don’t think it will be enough to do all the things I want to do.” The excitement in his voice grows. “Think of all the museums you could visit and the skills you could learn and the music you could listen to. Things that haven’t even been invented yet or-”
Suddenly aware that James is smiling at him, Steve cuts off, embarrassed.
“Sorry,” he mumbles.
James’s smile only deepens. “Don’t be sorry. This is exactly what I’m talking about.”
James leans forward and places the palm of his hand over Steve’s heart. Just like a drop of water in a pond, his touch ripples through Steve’s whole body and sets his blood rushing through his veins. Surely, James must notice, but he doesn’t say.
“In your chest, Steve, beats the wild and hungry heart of an artist.” The look in his eye, though he doesn’t dare to name it, makes Steve’s breath catch in his throat. “If that isn’t beautiful, I don’t know what is. And I’m not the only one who-” he cuts off abruptly and Steve has to stop himself from leaning forward and begging him to continue.
You’re not the only one who what?
James must sense his desperation and finishes “-who sees it.”
Steve’s sure he meant to say something else. But he knows James well enough by now to know that he won’t say if he doesn’t want to, so he decides not to push it.
“Thank you, James. That’s really- thank you.”
James says nothing, but his eyes crinkle at the edges. After another long moment, he pulls his hand back and reaches for his own bottle of water.
They sit in comfortable silence as they watch the revelers. As his mind drifts, Steve is struck by a sudden thought that nudges uncomfortably at his insides. He looks back at James and watches him for a long moment.
Not sure how to voice his thoughts, Steve ventures, “You don’t think that about yourself do you?”
James turns to him with raised eyebrows, and Steve goes on. “That you’re hollow or boring?”
James’s lips turn up at the corner, but there is no real humor there. “I sure do have a pretty face.”
Steve’s mouth drops open. Incensed, he protests, “But that’s not- yes, you do- but that’s not all that you are.”
Tilting his head in polite acquiescence, James replies, “Thank you, Steve.”
Anger flares up in Steve’s belly because he can tell that James doesn’t believe him. “Are you calling me a liar now?”
Startled, James starts to speak but Steve cuts him off, just as he had done to him.
“You are the idiot if you think that. You’re so kind and so smart and so interesting. Like you know all kinds of things I never even heard of. And you’re a gentleman! You’re always nice to people. Even when people say rude things to you or throw themselves all over you, you’re always gentle and patient with them. And you’re funny. Although some of your jokes don’t really make sense to me... And-” James’s eyes, already wide with shock at Steve’s outburst, widen further still- “you make me feel special, important. Like the things I do matter. Like I could be somebody.”
James’s face softens and he replies gently, “You are important, Steve. You are somebody.”
Steve shakes his head, “But don’t you see? Nobody else makes me feel that way. Nobody. Not since my mom died. You’re the only one. Nobody else sees those things in me.”
His words are soft, but they take Steve’s breath away. He has to swallow to hold back the tears that suddenly sting his eyes.
“And-” James turns his face away, but as he does, Steve swears he catches the reflection of something wet in his eyes as well. “Thank you, Steve.”
This time when he says it, Steve knows he means it.
To Steve’s surprise, he adds, “Nobody else makes me feel the way you do either.”
Too warm all over, Steve swallows hard again. He’s not sure what this feeling is.
He’s been guilty of lusting after James a hundred times before, and when he dares to daydream a little, he knows he feels something more. Something softer, deeper. But in those moments, just like this moment now, he has to remind himself that this whole “relationship” of theirs isn’t really real. That it’s just an arrangement to keep their families off their backs.
He thinks he can say that they’re friends. And he’s grateful for that. He’s lucky to have someone like James as his friend. But he can’t deny the longing that makes his heart feel tight when he wonders what it might be like to be something else.
With a start, Steve realizes that James is staring at him. He offers a half smile and wills his face not to turn red yet again. But when James doesn’t look away, just stares at him with those unfathomable eyes, the heat stirring in his belly rises to his cheeks. On impulse, he holds his breath. He feels like they’re on the edge of something and if he moves too quickly, he’ll break whatever spell they’re trapped in.
But James looks away and Steve could swear a shadow of something sad crosses his face. Before he can be sure, James is smiling that charming, reassuring smile he does so well.
He gestures with his head back towards the bonfire. “Want to take another turn?”
Refusing to let disappointment about what isn’t stop him from enjoying what is, he nods.
James nods happily and steps towards the fire. But when Steve doesn’t follow, he stops and gives him a quizzical look.
“Um.” Steve twists the hem of his shirt, then before he can talk himself out of it, he pulls it over his head and off in one swift movement.
James’s eyes light up and skim down the length of his slender torso. Steve suppresses the urge to cross his arms over his chest.
He smirks and aims for nonchalant, as he quips, “It’s tradition, right?”
With a look that even the Cheshire Cat would envy, James laughs, “It sure is.”
He holds out a hand to Steve. With a sudden surge of confidence, Steve tosses his shirt over his shoulder and takes James’s hand.
Instead of leading Steve back to the bonfire, James pulls him to him with a firm tug. With a squeak, Steve collides with James’s chest and bounces back. Before he can fall on his butt, James loops his free hand behind his back and catches him. Adjusting his hold on him, James positions him into a dancing stance.
Gazing down at Steve, he asks, “Ready to make everyone jealous?”
Steve tilts his head back. The flames of the bonfire shine bright on James’s skin and spark gold in his endless eyes. But as Steve holds his gaze, something glows there that has nothing to do with the fire. It stirs something warm and proud in Steve’s chest.
He wonders how he ever even wasted a minute worrying about what anyone but the man in front of him thought.
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