“Nah, man, but I’m saying like—that’s just how it is. I know that most people are there to see you or Chris or Scarlett before they’re there to see me. They might also be excited to see me, but I’m not first on the list.” Anthony played with the tiny straw drifting in his ceramic coffee mug that had “That’s What My Boyfriend Says” emblazoned across it in lime green letters; he twisted the thin plastic until it turned white at the pressure point and snapped open.
“That’s not true.” Sebastian’s gaze dropped as he said it, unconsciously, but Anthony still caught it. Sebastian hit the power button on his phone but didn’t slide it unlocked. “I mean, why would Marvel be booking extra appearances for us if people didn’t want to see us both? It’s not like my interview answers are particularly enlightening or anything.”
Anthony chuckled into his drink, eyes crinkling up and Sebastian thought that for all the time this guy spent laughing at him he should probably be offended. Upset. Annoyed, at least. But Sebastian wasn’t really one for grudges or wounded egos; it just seemed really exhausting and besides he knew that Anthony wasn’t being mean. He was just being Anthony.
Even under his half-assed Clark Kent disguise—a baseball cap and every shade of neutral—Sebastian could have picked Anthony out with his eyes closed. He wasn’t physically imposing but there was something about his presence that was irrepressible. Sebastian couldn’t understand how everyone in this pretentious little indie café wasn’t just staring at Anthony. Like he was.
Not that Sebastian was any better at being inconspicuous; he was wearing glasses and a blazer but still managed to get tagged for a selfie while they’d been waiting in line. He’d looked between the girl and Anthony, tried to get her to clue in without doing something obvious like clearing his throat or thumbing towards his co-star, but she hadn’t taken the hint and Anthony had just shrugged and raised a pointed eyebrow before offering to take the picture for them. The girl had been very nice and probably just on the cusp of underage and Sebastian was grateful, he really was, for random adoration that made a habit of just kind of sneaking up on him and deploying but he didn’t get why that girl—or any of those girls—wouldn’t want a picture with Anthony too. To be fair, a lot of them did. And most of the time he wasn’t even with Anthony; it’s not like they lived in the same city or the same state and they weren’t flying out every other weekend for slumber parties or anything. Usually, it wasn’t even an issue. But once in a while it was, and this was one of those times.
Anthony hadn’t said anything, other than asking if Sebastian was going to buy his drink since he’d paid for the pizza they’d eaten last night. Sebastian had gotten flustered, mumbled a yes, and Anthony ordered one of the seasonal specials. He winked at Sebastian when the barista asked if he wanted an extra shot of honey cream for $1.50.
Then Sebastian had brought it up, interrupting Anthony’s rant about flax seed cakes and how nothing could be considered a cake if it was made of mostly seeds.
“I don’t know why that girl didn’t ask for a photo with both of us.” He said it and immediately regretted it because Anthony’s back went stiff and he tapped on the display glass with his fingernails and gave Sebastian a look that could have been patronizing if Sebastian thought about it for too long.
Anthony crossed his arms across his chest but Sebastian didn’t think it was for intimidation. “Yeah, you do.” He smiled without teeth.
And that’s how the conversation started, twenty-some minutes ago, as they waited for the manager to clear a table tucked away in the back and out of view of most of the customers. Sebastian had protested that he didn’t know, that it must be the crowd here—all skinny jeans and screen-print tees, the epitome of the hipster that people were always telling Sebastian he was—that maybe that girl was just oblivious or even a little rude, that people loved Anthony.
“Yeah,” Anthony leaned back in his wicker chair now. “Because I’m funny. Sassy. I tell it like it is, or whatever other bullshit stereotype people get a kick out of me parading out.”
Sebastian wasn’t sure what to say to that. Anthony was funny; it was one of the things Sebastian liked about him. But he told himself that it couldn’t be the only thing.
“Face it man, it’s because I’m black. A black male superhero played by a black actor. All roads point to it.” He reached forward and for a second Sebastian thought Anthony was going to poke him or smack at his hands, but he grabbed the muffin they were sharing between them instead. “I’m just never going to get as much attention as pretty-boy white heroes with leather S&M costumes, no matter how devastatingly handsome I am.” He bit off a chunk of the muffin top.
Sebastian balked. “You said you didn’t even like peaches.”
“But I didn’t say anything about peach cobbler—which I love by the way.” Anthony grinned smug, licked a few crumbs off his lips and offered the half-eaten muffin to Sebastian, who was a little slow to take it. Sebastian tried to split it down the middle but it started to crumble so he just dumped it back onto the plate.
Anthony quirked his head; he seemed like he was waiting for Sebastian to say something. What that was, Sebastian had no idea. Anthony sighed before the silence stretched too long and too tight between them. They still weren’t close enough friends to be able to enjoy not talking together. “Look kid, it’s not like it’s your fault. This is just the way things are. Believe me, I’ve got bigger problems being a black man in America than whether or not some teenage girl wants to Instasnap a photo with me.”
“Instagram.” Sebastian said it almost before he thought it, and he didn’t wait for Anthony to shoot him a totally justified Really? face before adding, “Sorry.”
“My point is, this kind of stuff didn’t start with me and it sure as hell ain’t gonna be solved by me. But that doesn’t mean I’m just gonna accept it.” Anthony’s half-grin was cocky and maybe—Sebastian thought—a little defiant. “And it doesn’t mean I’m gonna stop talking about it, anytime it comes up. If people want me to play the real-talk brother, then I’m absolutely gonna use it to call them on their bullshit.”
“Me too.” Sebastian reached for a piece of peach, popped it in his mouth and licked the sticky syrup off his fingertips. For a second Anthony’s face seemed to slip, he blinked a little too fast and pressed his lips together a little too hard. Sebastian pulled his eyebrows together; he probably wasn’t making sense. He tried again. “I mean, you should call me on my bullshit too—if I do it. When I do it.” And that must have been better, because Anthony’s face eased back to smug.
“You may regret that. But for the record, feel free to call me out too.” Anthony smirked, rolled his shoulders and Sebastian watched the fabric catch across the shifting muscles underneath. He has a good build, Sebastian thought to himself for the hundredth time. Even if he won’t take the compliment for it.
“What?” Anthony tipped the brim of his cap up, but his eyes were still shaded.
Sebastian took a sip from a mug that must have been someone’s elementary school art project. The rough edges scratched the inside of his lip. “That shirt looks good on you. Like, it makes you look good.” Sometimes Sebastian felt like he’d been in America for almost two decades, had spoken English for longer than that, and still couldn’t always say what he meant. “You look good in it. I mean, you always look good in what you wear so I guess—you’re continuing the trend today?”
Sebastian didn’t know if he even really knew what he meant this time.
Anthony cracked his knuckles, didn’t look right at him. “Your compliments, man…” He shook his head. “They’re like ambushes sometimes, you know?”
Sebastian opened his mouth, was going to argue or apologize or make a joke or do something else that he hadn’t decided on yet but then Anthony was talking again, changing the subject.
“Hey, I’ve got some shit to call you out on.” He leaned forward on his elbows and twisted his mouth up like a kid with a fifty dollar secret. Sebastian bit his tongue and laughed a little too loud.
“Okay, go ahead.” Sebastian was drinking faster now; with all this heavy talk his coffee had started to go cold.
Anthony pursed his lips. “You’ve kissed a lot of dudes, right?”
If Sebastian had quicker reactions, a mouthful of his $7 caramel latte would have been all over everything within spitting distance. Instead he choked a little and coughed out, “Huh?”
“I mean on film, kid.” Anthony was running his fingers over the handle of his mug. “You’re always kissing dudes; every time I watch something you’re in I run a bet on which guys you’re gonna make out with.”
Sebastian wasn’t sure what Anthony’s point was, or if he’d missed it already. “I don’t kiss guys in everything I do. Frequently, but not always.”
Anthony barked out a laugh and the cold coffee hit Sebastian’s stomach warm because Anthony was contagious and that was another thing Sebastian liked about him.
“I’ll give you that.” Anthony took another sip. “Although the rest of your stuff could have probably benefited from you kissing dudes, just saying. And I’m counting Captain America too.”
Sebastian had to cover his mouth to keep from cracking up, all open wide and big teeth and slapping the table with his hand and drawing all the attention in the damn place onto them. “Well, I did go on cable and compare the movie to Brokeback Mountain so that’s like halfway there already.”
“Right?” Anthony chuckled, wheezing a little between breaths. “You and Chris, man—a lot of people would pay to see that. Myself included. And if that leaves Black Widow with no one to kiss but the Falcon, then so be it.” He let out a few more chuckles and they broke up soft into the air.
Sebastian nodded idly, suddenly trying to remember what they’d even been talking about before they started talking about him kissing Chris Evans. His work, kissing dudes, calling shit out—that’s right. There had supposedly been a legitimate question in all of this.
“So, what’s the problem with me kissing dudes? Am I doing it wrong or something?” Sebastian knew he wasn’t, but he kind of wanted to see the look on Anthony’s face when he asked. It was worth it; Anthony’s eyebrows shot up and he didn’t say anything coherent for ten seconds, which Sebastian considered a win.
“Nah, nah, I—” Anthony cleared his throat and swallowed down the last of his rhubarb ginger tea. Sebastian tried to smirk, but guessed that it probably came off more childish than smooth. Not that he was trying to be smooth—why would he be trying to be smooth?—but it didn’t matter because he was sure he wasn’t being smooth. He never was, unless someone had written the lines for him.
Sebastian’s lack of smoothness seemed to help Anthony regroup. His expression drew back, like cards to a chest, and it had taken a few months of sitting next to each other at panels and running interviews together for Sebastian to be able to catch the difference between Anthony open and Anthony closed. Because they looked so damn similar and both felt so genuine; the only way you could tell if he was closed was by having seen him open and Sebastian wasn’t even entirely sure that he’d seen real open yet. But he’d seen enough. Sebastian sat up a little straighter in his plush chair.
“You’ve kissed a bunch of dudes—so why haven’t you kissed any brothers yet? It’s always just those generic good-looking white guys. You can’t tell me that some of those random hook-ups being black or brown or Asian would’ve messed up the plots. So what’s that about?” Anthony quirked an eyebrow like a challenge. It was more than a challenge, something else too, but that was behind the closed doors and Sebastian couldn’t make it out.
There was a hum between them.
“The Architect, 2006.” Sebastian perked up and pointed a finger at Anthony. “Not only did we have sex, but the black guy was the main love interest. Although he did end up killing himself…it was complicated.”
Anthony looked skeptical. “Yeah, but did you guys kiss? Or was it just holding hands and meaningful looks and fade-to-black nonsense?”
“Yes, we kissed.” Sebastian grinned proud, then felt kind of gross about it. Why was he talking about kissing Paul like he deserved a goddamn medal for it? Now that he was thinking about it, it was a little weird that all the other actors he’d kissed had been white. And one black actor was more than zero black actresses. But that call hadn’t been Sebastian’s to make—he wouldn’t have made that call in real life.
But they weren’t talking about real life, they were talking about acting.
“And how many guys have you kissed?” Sebastian tilted his head and jutted his chin out. The corners of Anthony’s mouth twitched up and Sebastian finished the question. “On film?”
“On film,” Anthony drawled. “I’ve kissed more white dudes than I have non-white dudes, that’s for sure.”
That was news to Sebastian, who’d thought he’d seen all of Anthony’s filmography three times over during his OnDemand binge sessions. He was surprised, confused, and he could tell by the dumb smile that started etching through Anthony’s careful façade—opening him up—that he wasn’t hiding his emotions very well. He focused on rearranging his features; he was trying for blasé but would be happy if he managed mildly intrigued. “Oh really?”
“Yes, really.” Anthony grinned sharp now, but his eyes stayed soft. “Brother to Brother, 2004. It’s about race and sexuality during the Harlem Renaissance and the parallels experienced by a modern-day young gay man, played by yours truly.” And there was Anthony the academic actor. He gave a little flourish with his hand that Sebastian guessed was in place of a bow.
Most people would say that Julliard had taught Anthony how to talk about their profession, but Sebastian had gone to Rutgers and studied at the Globe and if Shakespeare couldn’t teach you how to give eloquent sound bites then no one could. The truth was, Julliard just added a decorative fringe; Anthony was a natural performer and it didn’t matter what the genre was. Sebastian couldn’t believe most of the stuff that came out of his mouth off-script because it was either totally ridiculous or amazingly insightful. Something else he admired—liked—about Anthony.
“That sounds like a great film.” Sebastian was looking down, picking at his nails and not quite sure why he was avoiding Anthony’s gaze. “I should check it out sometime.”
“Yeah, you should.” Anthony sounded quiet, like he’d moved halfway across the room without telling Sebastian. “I mean, it’s got me in it so there’s your quality guarantee.” That made Sebastian snort, start a sort of half-hearted giggle that just kept going because no one stopped it and pretty soon both of them were sitting there with their faces in their hands, cracking up.
“Man, how did that conversation even get started?” Anthony wiped at the corners of his eyes and coughed a few times to clear out any lingering chuckles. His eyes narrowed at nothing in particular, like he was trying to remember some trick question. “Right—we were talking about why everyone wants the Winter Soldier to make out with Captain America and not the Falcon.”
“No, we were trying to figure out why that girl didn’t ask you for a picture too.” Sebastian was proud of himself for remembering what felt like such a long, convoluted time ago. Then he heard what Anthony said again in his mind and his face twisted up. “Well, I don’t think the Winter Soldier would be making out with anyone, but Bucky would kiss Sam. I mean, if it made sense for the plot.” Sebastian had kissed people when it made very little sense for the plot, but he figured that those had been scripted by much shittier writers than Captain America had.
Sebastian looked up; Anthony’s eyes had gone a little wide and his mouth pulled thin. There was no snappy comeback, no goading remark, and when he finally said something his tone sounded too light. Sebastian felt like he might be diving into a concrete pool with two feet of water.
“I see you, getting Natasha and Cap and now you want to round out the team. You just want Bucky to kiss everyone.” Anthony drummed his fingers on the table. “Besides, nobody would blame you for choosing Chris over…anyone. I mean, he is Chris Evans.”
Sebastian had to agree: he was Chris Evans. And he had to agree that he wouldn’t mind kissing Scarlett, even in a perfunctory professional kind of way. And why were they even arguing about something that was never going to come up in the course of—reality? Sebastian didn’t know. It just sort of bothered him that Anthony put himself so low on Sebastian’s (hypothetical) list. Because he wasn’t low on the list. Sebastian didn’t know about anyone else, but Anthony was pretty high on his—
And then it hit him like a kitschy ceramic mug to the skull.
Shit. Shit. Goddamnit, Sebastian.
What perfect fucking timing, as per usual. It couldn’t wait until they were done with their promotional rounds, of course it couldn’t. It had to dawn on him in the middle of a hipster coffee den the day before another joint event while they were comparing the diversity of the cocks they’d been with on-screen. What a goddamn moment to realize that he had a crush on his co-star, as if his track record on that didn’t speak for itself already.
Okay, it was okay, he could still play this off. Probably not very smoothly and Anthony would most likely come out of it thinking that Sebastian was an even bigger weirdo that he already knew, but that was better than the other option of—what? Letting his co-star whom he’d just started to become actual friends with find out that he’d gone and made it all junior high awkward? Making all future interactions with a man he admired as an actor and as a person uncomfortable because he couldn’t stop himself from getting dorky crushes on attractive and awesome people he worked with? No—no fucking way.
“Hello, Earth to Sebastian?” Anthony was waving his hand and smirking like he knew something that Sebastian didn’t; Sebastian snapped back like whiplash. How long had he not been saying anything, probably staring off into space with this super inconvenient revelation written all over his face? He could feel a flush tickle at the edges of his collar and Anthony’s smirk stretched until Sebastian could see his teeth. “Were you thinking about kissing Chris?”
“Yeah, you got me.” Sebastian shrugged and for a split second he could have sworn that Anthony looked disappointed. But that was—what was the phrase? Wishful thinking. Sebastian threw out an easy smile, like he wasn’t giving any of this much thought. “I wouldn’t mind kissing Chris, as an actor. And hey, it’s not my fault that Bucky’s got so much chemistry with everyone.”
Anthony snorted. “Nice. And Sam’s just chopped liver.”
“You and Chris are practically dating by the end of the movie.” Sebastian voice flared; he was suddenly oddly defensive about this whole thing. “And I said Bucky could kiss Sam!”
“Yeah, yeah. I don’t want your pity kisses.” Anthony sat back with a huff and put on a pout that Sebastian was almost sure was only for effect. Anthony parroted back his words. “You wouldn’t mind kissing me, as an actor.” He mimed scare quotes around the last part and pitched a dramatic accent, almost like he was egging Sebastian on.
Which—since he was Anthony Mackie—he absolutely was.
Sebastian rolled his eyes so hard that it hurt. “I wouldn’t mind kissing you.” Now it was out there and he could say that he had just blurted it out and that it was his mouth before his brain like it usually was but that would be a lie because Sebastian had known exactly what he was doing as he stared Anthony down across the table. He pressed a fist under his chin. “Period.”
And that wiped the smug right off of Anthony’s face. Sebastian took it as his second win of the day; but then the silence started to cling and Sebastian wasn’t so sure anymore.
At first Anthony jaw hung slack, like he couldn’t say anything. But then it went tense, he closed his mouth, and didn’t say anything. Wasn’t saying anything. He looked Sebastian up and down quick, like he was sizing him up. Sebastian’s forehead wrinkled, his legs bounced, he sucked in on his lower lip.
Anthony let out a rush of air and crash-landed back on the table, forearms first. “Shit kid, you almost got me. You’re good—the eyes, the mouth, the whole sexy teasing vibe.” He pulled the brim of his cap down again and laughed short and hoarse. “Now I know how your other co-stars must’ve felt.”
“Sexy?” Sebastian must have heard more than that word, but it was the only thing echoing in his head.
One side of Anthony’s mouth twitched up. “Don’t make it weird.”
But it was weird—Sebastian had already made it weird—and what did he have to lose, really. “You think I’m sexy?”
Anthony twisted and untwisted his fingers. “Are you flirting with me?” He glanced up from his hands, almost tentative.
Sebastian’s stomach clenched around half a peach cobbler muffin. His smile was strained; it felt like it might split open at the ends. “Well, if I am I must be doing a pretty shitty job. Even for me.” He tried to laugh, but it came out more like an aggressive cough. “You didn’t answer my question.”
The lines of Anthony’s face were hardening. He was starting to close again, but the door wasn’t shut quite yet. “I think you’re a dumbass.”
At that Sebastian did laugh. He couldn’t help it, it snuck up on him and pushed its way out.
Anthony smiled small, and the door opened a little more. “I think you’re an oblivious, adorable, sexy dumbass. I mean, c’mon man, who doesn’t think you’re sexy?”
Sebastian didn’t think he was particularly sexy, but he wasn’t going to argue about it either. He hooked his ankles together under the table to keep his legs from shaking. “Yeah, well.” Sebastian was pretty sure he had more to say, but nothing else came out. He ran a hand through his hair, caught Anthony tracing the motion. “I think you’re awesome.”
“Awesome!” Anthony’s careful smile broke; he slapped his knee between rough, booming laughs. “That’s—well, I am pretty awesome. Thanks, Sea Bass.”
Fuck, that wasn’t what Sebastian meant. He’d never been good at improv.
“No, I—um—” He stopped, hesitated. He could see Anthony closing fast and it didn’t matter if it was into a shallow pool or off a cliff; Sebastian was taking the dive. “You’re like—you’re hysterical and smart and really attractive and you just jumped right into trying to be friends with me even though you didn’t have to at all and yeah I always feel a little like a dumbass next to you but that’s okay because I like hanging around with you because I like…you. I like you and I wouldn’t mind kissing you.” Sebastian’s mouth had gone dry but the knots in his stomach were finally starting to give.
After a beat, Anthony picked up the broken straw and started spinning it between his fingers. “Shit, kid. Ambushes.” His gaze was hooded and it hit Sebastian like a punch in the face, pinned him to his chair. “And I’m not just talking about your compliments.”
Sebastian swallowed hard against the gravel at the back of his throat. He didn’t know what he’d been expecting out of this conversation, didn’t know he’d wanted to have this conversation until about ten minutes ago. He still wasn’t absolutely sure if he wanted to be having this conversation, but fuck it now.
“So,” Anthony dropped the straw. “You think I’m really attractive?”
Sebastian scoffed, but leaned in closer. “Anthony, you’re making it weird.”
Anthony choked on whatever it was he was going to say. His head dropped and bounced a little with the force of it. “Yeah, wouldn’t want to do that. Everything’s been so normal up until now.” He looked up suddenly, eyes big and round and serious-set. “You—you aren’t doing this to prove a point, are you? Because that would be pretty stupid.”
“What?” The question threw Sebastian, because what point would he even be trying to make.
“This, this stuff.” Anthony gestured around vaguely and Sebastian wondered what the coffee shop had to do with anything. “It matters on, like, TV and in movies for visibility and representation and all that shit that means my son’s gonna grow up in a slightly better world than I did. But in real life…no one’s gonna say you’re racist for not being attracted to me. I mean, I’ll say it but only because I love seeing those goddamn outrageous faces that you make when—”
For a crazy second, Sebastian had to fight the impulse to grab Anthony by the lapels and drag him across the table and kiss him fierce and dramatic, like the typecast always called for. But this wasn’t acting, it was real life. It was a café full of real people with real smartphones and tablets and free WiFi access and he had a real agent and a real publicist and he didn’t want to field a bunch of real, frantic phone calls and e-mails later. So he kicked Anthony’s shin under the table instead.
“And I’m the dumbass?” His foot settled next to Anthony’s and his arm hair prickled like a fucking teenager at the contact. “Dumbass.”
Anthony folded his arms on the table and stuffed his hands in his elbows like he was trying not to reach for Sebastian. “So, you got any plans this afternoon?”
Other than taking a cold—probably long and handsy—shower? Sebastian bit down, chewed at the corner of his lip. “No. You?"
“Yeah, I got some plans, kid.” Sebastian’s shoulders slumped and the shiver that had been itching up his spine dissipated. But Anthony inched in, pitched his voice low and conspiratorial. “So let’s get out of here.”
“Why?” They’d finished their drinks back at Chris Evans and the peach cobbler muffin had been thoroughly dismembered, but sometimes Sebastian liked to stall for time with silly questions that didn’t really need answering. “You in a hurry?”
“Hell yeah, I’m in a hurry.” Anthony arched his eyebrows; his eyes flashed. “You keep biting your lips and flashing your tongue and giving me fucking ridiculous compliments and this place has only got one bathroom and I’m pretty sure people would notice if we both went back there together.”
Anthony sounded like he knew what he was talking about, but Sebastian didn’t really pay attention to anything other than bathroom and together. He nodded slow and flicked his tongue across his upper lip, mostly to be an asshole about it.
Anthony blinked heavy, rubbed the toe of his boot against Sebastian’s ankle. “So, we gonna get out of here or what?”
Sebastian caught his tongue between his teeth and grinned. “Hell yeah.”
They left their mugs and plate on the table and Anthony was so eager to get wherever it was they were going that he almost tripped over an asymmetrical ottoman on his way out. Sebastian watched him apologize to the kid whose feet he’d knocked down and start beaming—a momentary slice through the tension that pulsed between them—when it turned into a request for an autograph. Anthony signed a shirt, a backpack, and what looked like a college textbook and Sebastian didn’t know if this was the kind of place where you tip or not but he tucked a twenty dollar bill under Anthony’s mug anyway.
Because someone else deserved to have a fucking fantastic day too.