The thing is, Tony quickly realised, there are certain things that SHIELD never told Captain America. Sometimes small things, sometimes big things. But things, nonetheless, that they thought he wasn't quite ready to know (which is stupid, because, even when Tony doesn't like him very much, he can admit that Steve is remarkably adaptable and has been able to deal with everything the future has thrown at him – sometimes literally).
The Dodgers is one of those things. Turns out, no-one bothered to tell the Cap about the changes there. The poor Capsicle found out when he and Bucky (and wasn't that a trip and a half?) decided to go see a game.
Tony thinks it probably says something bad about him that he found their devastated expressions incredibly funny (but he thanks Pepper for the fact that he didn't actually laugh in their faces – considering the righteous fury Cap had been working up at the time, he figures that might have actually gotten him punched out).
So, when they're sitting in an interview (yet another, boring, mind-numbing, make nice with the press in the wake of all that has happened, interview), and one of the interviewers asks that question, and Steve freezes – well, Tony realised that there's something else they neglected to mention to him.
It goes like this, Black Widow, looking put together and perfect, had just said something which probably had everyone eating out of her hands and agreeing with her. Tony was sitting on her right, with Bruce on his other side. Cap was sitting to Nat's left, an empty space between him and Thor. There's another empty space on Thor's other side (one of the reporters had jokingly questioned, when they first started the interviews, whether they were deliberately leaving space around Thor for some reason – he had been firmly told that the other two members of the Avengers would be joining them shortly).
In front of them were a number of reporters, all eager to get their stories. Some were serious, asking serious questions about the repercussions for security and safety and things like that. Others were just there looking for a scandal.
The man who leant forward to ask Steve 'the question', was, in Tony's opinion, looking for the latter. Still, they'd been to enough interviews and press conferences by then, that Tony'd figured out that all the initial worry over how Captain America would do in front of the cameras – well, that had been pointless. As Steve himself had pointed out, he used to tour around and star in films and shit like that (no, Steve hadn't used the word shit, but Tony's allowed to editorialise in his own head, okay).
So Tony, none of them really, are all that worried at first. Then Cap freezes. Like, complete and total shutdown. Something he's never done before. He weathered all the questions and comments when Bucky was first found with a calm that Tony had (privately) envied. He hadn't been fazed by the new technology thrust at him at times, with inane questions or quizzes or games for him to perform for them. He hadn't even blinked that time a few weeks ago, when he'd been called a traitor. Nothing they threw at him seemed to faze him (Bucky maintains that, as the Cap used to basically be a chorus girl and wear tights in front of crowds – without the Captain America legends to back him up – anything the future throws at him should be easy, right?)
But Cap freezes.
And then he leans forward, right forward, so that there is no way the microphone won't pick up his response. But he doesn't answer – he asks.
“Are you telling me,” he asks, “that two men can, can get married now?” And Tony's never heard him stutter before, either.
The reporter, looking smug, nods. “That's right,” he says. “As Captain America, I was hoping for your thoughts on his change since your time, and -”
“I – Excuse me,” Cap says, unfailingly polite, even as he interrupts the man. Pushing his seat back, Steve shoves himself to his feet and away from the table. Then – then he basically runs out of there (okay, so he walks, but it's the closest to stumbling Tony's ever seen him come, despite the straight back, and rushed in a way Steve never is unless the world is ending).
Tony, well, Tony gapes. Because, of all the things he expected of Steve (and yes, he sometimes calls him Steve now, in his head, but that's okay, because they saved the world together and now hang out sometimes, and Tony helped out with Bucky – mainly so that he could get a look at his arm, but he still helped out, so...), that was the last one.
Steve is, well, Steve is Captain America. His motto is basically, 'stand up against bullies' and 'protect others' and stuff like that. Tony didn't think Steve knew how to be racist (he fought in the war, but Tony's never heard him make a single crack about Germans), or sexist (despite when he grew up, Steve's only trouble is that he's so polite to women and sometimes some of them find that offensive, and even then, Steve's so earnest they can never stay mad at him for long), or basically any kind of a bigot at all.
So no, Tony hadn't broached the whole 'change in attitudes towards homosexuals' and 'gay rights' thing with the Cap – he hadn't thought he had to (honestly, he wasn't sure how Steve hadn't noticed at least something , he was sure he'd seen the guy smiling at a couple on the street just the other day – the kind of sappy smile he tended to give when he saw people who were happy).
But the Cap is gone, and the reporters are murmuring amongst themselves, and Tony knows where this is going, that they're going to have to do some damage control – and fast. The interview is being televised live, so there's not a lot they can do, still, he's trying to think of something when he catches Natasha's eye – and she's just sitting there, smirking.
Which, okay, so it's not like Tony expects her to fix it all, necessarily, but he doesn't expect her to be so complacent about it. Worryingly, her smirk looks a lot like the one she uses when she knows something no-one else does and think they're all idiots for not seeing it too.
A few minutes pass, while the reporters seem to try and figure out where to go from there. The one who asked Cap the question opens his mouth to ask something else, but Natasha glares at him and he shuts it. Wise choice, Tony thinks.
Then there's a commotion as Bucky and Hawkeye finally arrive. Immediately, all eyes fix on Bucky. And that, that is the other reason Tony hadn't thought he had to have a conversation with Cap (apart from the small, sensible part of his brain that says that pretty much anyone else of their acquaintance would be better at having that conversation than he would be), because he's pretty sure he's seen Bucky checking out a guy or two.
Considering how close the Cap and Bucky are, he figured Steve would have to know about that. That they would have talked about it.
“Sergeant Barnes,” the reporter asks, “what do you think of Captain America's homophobic stance?” It's a question that deliberately sets Steve up as the bad guy (even if it is looking that way), and is deliberately antagonistic.
Bucky, taking his seat next to Thor, blinks, throwing the reporter a politely confused look, a smirk tugging at the corners of his lips, even as his eyes narrow. “Sorry?” he asks.
And this, this is why Tony likes Bucky, because even as he remains polite (propagating the idea many people seem to have of everyone from the 40s being polite), he still looks like he wants to kill the reporter.
The reporter opens his mouth to answer, but Thor beats him to it – voice booming as usual.
“Friend Bucky,” he declares, “I believe the man who tells the news is referring to the way in which the American Captain left this room, mere moments before you arrived.”
Bucky blinks again as he parses Thor's speech, but they've all become quite good at doing that.
“I was gonna ask where Steve is,” he drawls, “why'd he leave?”
Which is when Natasha cuts in, smirk clearly heard in her voice, like she's sharing some secret with Bucky that Tony isn't let in on (which is really unfair). “One of the reporters asked what he thought, as Captain America, of the fact that two men are legally allowed to marry in this current day and age.” She smiled pleasantly, but with an edge that made Tony want to call up his suit.
“Two men are allowed to marry?” Bucky echoed.
The reporters shifted, leaning forward.
“I understand it was illegal in your time,” the one who started it all states.
“Uh, yeah,” Bucky replied absently, eyes flickering over to the door with a sense of anticipation that Tony really, really wanted to make sense of, but couldn't. “Everything was.”
The reporter gave a satisfied grin, opening his mouth once more – which was when Steve returned.
His hair was wind-blown, as though he'd run the entire way, and his cheeks were flushed and eyes bright. Somehow, Tony thought, he really didn't look like a man who'd fled the room when faced with something he disagreed with.
In fact, Tony tilted his head to the side as he considered him, the Cap rather looked like someone who was incredibly happy. And he was holding something in his hands.
Bucky turned, face lighting up with a grin (which was nothing unusual), and the Cap smiled back in turn (also not unusual for those two, it was really depressing sometimes, when Tony was trying to mope, and they both lit up as soon as they saw each other).
“Bucky,” Steve breathed out.
“Hey Steve,” Bucky replied. He grinned.
“Bucky,” Steve repeated, taking a step forward, “they said, they said two men can get married now.”
“Yeah,” Bucky agreed, “I heard.”
Steve took another step forward. Everyone had gone silent, watching what was going on. Swallowing, Steve wrapped his hands firmly around whatever he was holding, Tony tried to get a look but couldn't see properly. The movement drew Bucky's gaze, which suddenly grew soft. His voice, when he spoke, came out dry, parched.
“You -” he said.
Steve shrugged. “Yeah,” he said. “I always said I would, didn't I? After the war, when we weren't so broke anymore. I, I figured, you know, maybe we could wear them on our tags or something, I never thought...” his voice trailed off and Tony wanted to shake him. To demand to know what he never thought.
It was Bucky's turn to swallow. “Shit, Steve,” he said. Then he shoved his chair back, stepping forward. “You gonna actually give it to me, punk?” he asked.
“You're the punk,” Steve replied, automatic, taking a step forward himself so that he was practically standing on top of Bucky, breathing the same air (and eugh, Tony needed a drink if his thoughts were going that sappy).
Steve's eyes darted down to the box he held in his hands and he swallowed again, before relaxing his grip enough to open it. From his seat, Tony couldn't see what was inside, but Bucky made a half-impatient, half-awed noise and thrust out his hand, making a grabbing motion.
“Shit, sorry,” Steve said, “I'm doing this all wrong, I should be -”
And Tony didn't have any time to marvel over the fact that Captain America had just sworn, because Bucky was rolling his eyes and reaching into the box with a, “You already did it right, remember? Now, put it on me.” He dropped something in Steve's hand.
And Steve, hand shaking, slipped it onto Bucky's finger. His ring finger. It was a ring.
Tony gaped. He's not too proud to admit it. He gaped a lot.
Bucky, grinning, grabbed another ring from the box, shoving it onto Steve's hand, before drawing him in for a kiss that left the Captain red-cheeked (and lipped), and had Hawkeye wolf-whistling and Thor congratulating them loudly.
“We're gonna get married,” Steve whispered, forehead leant against Bucky's.
“Yeah,” Bucky agreed, “we're gonna get married.”
There was a bit of a commotion then, all the reporters wanted the story, and it came out in dribs and drabs between all the questions and back and forths, and the incredibly sappy way the Cap and Bucky couldn't stop looking at each other, or holding hands or touching their rings. But the story, as Tony figured it out (and confirmed with them later), went like this:
Back before Captain America. Before Bucky went off to war. Before pretty much everything that anyone thinks of when they think of Captain America or Bucky Barnes – before all that, Steve and Bucky grew up together.
They survived the depression together (sometimes only just), and realised that what they felt for each other went beyond a deep friendship into something more. Only, back then, that was illegal. So, at first, they did nothing.
Then, one winter, Steve got sick, Bucky got scared and mad and said something (a lot of somethings, he admits) that made Steve realise that Bucky wasn't moving on (like he'd said he was). So Steve, being Steve, decided to confront it.
And Steve and Bucky turned into Steve and Bucky .
Still, it was illegal, so Bucky would flirt and go out with girls, and Steve would use his health issues as an excuse not to (even though Bucky tried to get him to, because he felt bad enough doing so when Steve wasn't), and time moved on.
Then, one night, curled up in bed together, Steve had commented that, if he could, he would marry Bucky. To which Bucky replied, “If you asked me, I'd say yes.”
And so, they'd decided, they were as good as (or, at least, as good as they were ever going to be able to get). To make it official, Steve had designed wedding rings for them. Or well, Steve had started designing a wedding ring for Bucky, who found out, and demanded that Steve draw the ring he described – which would be for Steve.
When Bucky left for the war, he took a hand-drawn picture of two rings with him, tucked close to his chest.
When Steve left for training, he took an identical picture with him.
When Bucky fell, and then was taken, somewhere along the way, he lost the picture.
When SHIELD thawed Captain America and then finally gave his things back to him – one of them was a smudged, ice-damaged, hand drawing of two rings.
When Steve realised just how much money he had – backpay and all – the first thing he did was take that old, half-ruined piece of paper down to a jeweler and ask them to create the rings on it (even before he knew about Bucky – which doesn't, Tony is adamant, bring a tear to his eye).
Oh, and that 'project' Steve and Bucky had been working on, soon after Bucky came back – that was Steve re-drawing the rings for Bucky, so he had a copy again.
So, when Steve realised that two men could get married – he basically ran out of the room to go get the rings that had been finished and he was going to pick up later that week.
The interview – the whole thing, including the incredibly sappy 'proposal' (some people, including Bucky, claimed it wasn't actually a proposal considering Steve had already proposed, all those years ago, but others claimed, with rings being exchanged, it couldn't be anything but), aired live, and then again and again and again.
The public ate up the story. The romance. The whole thing. (There were a couple of naysayers, but there always are).
Steve and Bucky got married a month later (Bucky said they'd waited long enough already), and Pepper adamantly refused to allow Tony to have any hand in the preparations for it.
As to why the question had thrown Steve so much (and Bucky) – turns out, SHIELD thought it was something that might not sit well with him, so they'd decided not to tell him straight away. While Steve had noticed the general, much greater level of acceptance within society, he was so used to thinking it would never happen, that he hadn't even considered how that acceptance translated.
And Bucky, well, turns out that the Winter Soldier had never had any reason to know, so he'd never been told (or brainwashed, or whatever).
In the end, instead of suing the reporter who started the whole thing (as Tony recommended), Steve insisted on sending him a gift basket, as a thank you. Tony thought that was stupid, but, well, Bucky had still been in the honeymoon stage (they are both still in the honeymoon stage, and Tony's beginning to think it will never end), so that had been that (although Tony wasn't quite sure the reporter would have appreciated the fact that an ex-international assassin had used his skills to deposit the gift basket right in the middle of his kitchen).