There wasn’t anything wrong with the house, at least nothing wrong that buying the four neighboring properties on each side and doing a twenty mil renovation wouldn’t fix. It was so ordinary that Tony had to use a satellite map overlay on his phone to pick it out of the block, and there couldn’t have been more than two bedrooms in the place. The car in the driveway was a beater, and the driveway itself was so narrow that the motorcycle had to be parked ahead of it.
“Seriously, Jarvis, you’re sure this is where he lives,” Tony said, and banged on the front door even as Jarvis made a pissy deal of confirming.
A stranger opened the door, a black guy Tony had never seen before: tall, built, military written all over him: literally, he was wearing an Air Force sweatshirt, dark down the front with fresh sweat stains, and a scattering of grass stains too, like he’d been wrestling with a lawn somewhere.
“Hey, weird question, does Captain America live here?” Tony said.
The guy was staring at him, but in an unusual way; he’d obviously recognized Tony, which no kidding, but the stare wasn’t a holy shit it’s Tony Stark stare, or the second-level can I ask for his autograph or even the third-level what tabloid can I sell this to. Tony couldn’t actually identify the particular quality of the stare, until the guy said dryly, “So this is going to be a thing, huh?” and it turned out to be something like resigned. That was new. “Just tell me up front, have aliens invaded again?”
“Not to my knowledge, which means pretty much no,” Tony said. “Can I — ? Thanks,” he said, eeling in. He pulled off his sunglasses and took a look around. The interior was fully as ordinary as the exterior. The TV wasn’t even as much as 50 inches. “No, I just need to talk to him about a — topic of mutual interest. And you are?”
“Sam Wilson,” the guy said. “Steve’s in the shower. Make yourself at home.” He waved a hand at the living room. “Coffee’ll be up in about five minutes.”
“I’m more of a smoothie kind of guy,” Tony said.
“You want to make yourself one, go ahead,” Wilson said, sounding amused, and turned as Steve Rogers came into the room in almost all of his not-insubstantial glory, saved only by the towel tucked around his hips and the one was using to dry off his head. “Mm, is that victory I smell?” he was saying, making a loud sniffing noise.
“That’s probably just me,” Tony said, and Steve jerked up out of the towel.
“No aliens,” Wilson said, patting Steve on the arm as he headed past him. “I checked. Don’t drink all my coffee while I’m showering.”
“My coffee,” Steve said, halfheartedly taking a snap at him with the towel, and looked at Tony. “What’s this about?”
Tony waited until he heard the bathroom door close and the shower start running again. “Another attempt to persuade you to listen to reason,” he said, “but before I get into that, fill me in: who’s the new boyfriend? I don’t know anything about him. Why don’t I know anything about him? What’s he doing here?”
“Uh,” Steve said, “this is his house.”
Tony frowned. “You live here.”
“Yeah,” Steve said. “I moved in a few months ago. It’s still Sam’s house.”
“Seriously?” Tony said. “You’re frozen in ice for seventy years and the DOD wouldn’t spring for back pay?”
Steve was staring at him like Tony was speaking a foreign language. “I can afford my own place.”
“So what are you, wait, he’s actually your boyfriend?” Tony said.
Steve blushed, literally: a visible pink flushed wave that swept all the way down his chest. “Yes,” he said, managing to sound smug and embarrassed at the same time.
“Holy shit, are you out of your mind?” Tony said, staring.
“Excuse me?” Steve said.
“I’ve sent you keys,” Tony said. “I’ve emailed, I’ve texted, I’ve called. Pepper called. There is an entire floor of Stark Tower waiting for you to move in. And instead here you are living in a two-bedroom shack out in the open with your — extremely hot, by the way, nice job there — boyfriend. The paparazzi are going to eat you alive, Rogers.”
“They’re fine,” Steve said. “I know most of the ones who take pictures of me, they’re not bad guys.”
“They are not fine!” Tony said. “They just haven’t realized yet, probably because it hasn’t occurred to them that you could be insane enough to be pulling this stunt. And when they do figure it out, they are going to go into a blood-maddened frenzy that will only be made worse because you managed to cover it up for this long.”
“I’m not covering anything up!” Steve said. “We live together!”
“Have you held a press conference to discuss your sexuality?” Tony said.
“What? No!” Steve said, recoiling with a horrified expression.
“Then you are secretly dating a man,” Tony said.
“It’s not — we’re engaged!” Steve said.
“Dear God,” Tony said. He groped over to the armchair and sank into it, covering his eyes. “The only saving grace,” he said, muffled, from behind his hand, “is that I’ve found out before you went in and got the license. Which I’m assuming you would have done in the middle of the day, in uniform, blowing a bugle. Jesus.”
Steve rolled his eyes and went into the kitchen and started pouring himself coffee.
Tony pulled out his phone. “Jarvis, get Pepper for me stat, on a secure line, and tell her I don’t care what she has to interrupt.”
“Oh my God, Tony, what?” Pepper said in a moment over the phone. “What’s happened? Are you okay?”
“Steve’s engaged,” Tony said. “To a guy.”
“Steve?” Pepper said, bewildered.
“Steve Rogers,” Tony said.
“Who is — wait, you mean Captain America? Wow, really?” she said. Then her inner nice person kicked in. “What I mean is, that’s wonderful, obviously!”
“No, it is not wonderful,” Tony said. “It is the direct opposite of wonderful. We need to get our PR people started on a full-scale crisis management plan—”
“What?” Steve reappeared. “You don’t want people to know, so your idea is to tell your entire staff?”
“I do not not-want people to know!” Tony said, lowering the phone. “You do not want people to know, and your brilliant plan for achieving this goal appears to be running around waving a rainbow flag and hoping nobody notices you. I, on the other hand, recognize the obvious and absolute futility of concealing something like this for any length of time, and want the release of information to be controlled in a manageable fashion so you don’t get hunted down like an elk by the entire paparazzi population of the East Coast.”
The conversation devolved from there. After about ten minutes, they got interrupted when Wilson suddenly shouted, “Hey!” in a parade-ground voice, and they both stopped yelling and jerked to look at him: he was leaning against the doorway to the living room, dressed and arms folded across his chest. He said, “I was going to let you two finish, but I don’t have all day, and it looks like that’s what it would take.” He came in the room, picked up the cup of coffee Steve had abandoned on the mantel, and put it in his hands. “Take your coffee and go cool off out back.”
Steve was still flushed and glaring at Tony. “Sam, we don’t need to — ”
“Dude,” Sam said. “When somebody from the bomb squad shows up and tells you there’s an IED in the road up ahead, you don’t keep going just because the guy’s a jerk.”
“Oh, now I’m a jerk?” Tony said. “For wanting to save you from self-inflicted asphyxiation caused by shoving your heads in the sand — ”
“You’ve been a jerk all along,” Steve snapped, taking a step, but Sam’s hand flat on his chest stopped him.
“Now,” Sam said, firmly, and Steve abruptly took the coffee out of his hand and went.
“Does that work on you in bed, too?” Tony called after him: he wasn’t above meanly enjoying the flush that went running bright red all over Steve’s shoulders. “Oh, I’m sorry, was that embarrassing? Did I wound your tender sensibilities?” Sam stepped into his line of sight as the door banged shut behind Steve, and Tony transferred the glare to him. “Listen, pal, I don’t care how much you like the white picket fence life, if you think that’s bad, just wait until TMZ is on your doorstep. You want me to come up with a few more questions they might have?”
“Actually,” Sam said, “I’m a black man engaged to Captain America, so I’m a little more concerned about firebombs through the front window. Which is why Steve’s out back, and I’m here talking to you, instead of putting you out on the stoop for winding up my man.”
“I was not winding — ” Tony began. Sam looked at him. Tony stopped. After a moment he tried to say, “In my defense — ” but Sam’s eyebrow came up, and Tony discovered he had to stop that, too. What the hell. Tony eyed Sam narrowly. “Okay, seriously, who are you?” he demanded. “No, wait,” he said, getting his phone back out. “Jarvis, who is he?”
“Samuel Thomas Wilson: the former pararescueman who assisted Captain Rogers during the recent Insight Incident,” Jarvis said. “He was the individual wearing the wings. I’m accessing his service record now.”
Sam was watching him with more of that resignation. “I’m guessing people have probably mentioned to you before that your interpersonal communication could use some work.”
“I don’t want to communicate with people, people are boring,” Tony said absently. “Most people,” he added. The military records were opening up on his screen as Jarvis got into the databases: Air Force, 58th Pararescue, top scores on virtually every metric in training, a variety of citations for what looked at a glance to be a large number of insanely dangerous rescue missions, seconded to EXO-7 classified project — aha there were the wings; a little crude; he could do better — two tours, Technical Sergeant, two years of a degree at Georgetown, certified Peer Support — oh, shit. “You’re a shrink,” Tony said accusingly.
“Dude, I haven’t even got through college yet,” Sam said. “Speaking of which, I’ve got class in an hour.”
“It’s college, you can skip it,” Tony said. “I didn’t attend more than 5 percent of my undergraduate classes.”
“I’m guessing you built a couple more buildings for your college than I can afford,” Sam said. “You want to give me some life advice, keep it to handling the press, okay?”
“Fine,” Tony said, putting away his phone. “First of all, you need to move into the Tower as of yesterday.”
“Let’s start smaller,” Sam said.
“No, there is no smaller,” Tony said. “You have five immediate neighbors. They’ll all be offered something like ten thousand dollars a week to park television and camera equipment on their properties. You have six windows facing the street, so there will be cars parked up and down both sides of the entire block twenty-four hours a day with cameras pointed at them. Whenever you walk out your front door, at least ten guys will be there yelling personal questions of varyingly offensive degrees trying to get you to react. Firebombs? Don’t worry about firebombs, nobody who wants to firebomb your house is going to be able to get to you through the wall of press. This is not a controllable location. Seriously, what do you guys have against a penthouse in Manhattan? Is it some kind of reverse snob thing?”
“I’ve got nothing against a Manhattan penthouse,” Sam said. “I think Steve’s got some concerns about moving into your place, though. I can’t imagine why.”
“Yeah, well, you talked him into moving in here, didn’t you?” Tony said. “Work with me.”
“Moving in here, Steve traded in loneliness and a third bedroom for blowjobs and pancakes. That wasn’t what you’d call a hard sell,” Sam said, which Tony couldn’t really argue with, to be fair. “Just step it back a little. You said this place isn’t controllable: point taken. So we’ll find someplace that is, whether it’s your place or somewhere else. What else?”
Tony scowled. “For the record, that’s really making me uncomfortable. The whole — reasonableness thing.”
“We’ll get Steve back here before I leave, the two of you can be dramatic at each other for a while to make up for it,” Sam said. “What else?”
Tony ticked off on his fingers. “You have to pick a major publication to come out in, probably Time, and start leaking the story in bits and pieces for at least a month. Go to all the major gossip buyers and give all of them contracts for exclusive content that require them to not buy from the freelancers— ”
Sam was shaking his head. “We’re not doing press.”
“Yes, you are,” Tony said. “Listen to me, this isn’t — you guys aren’t movie stars. You are superheros. You are politically relevant. You are newsworthy. And that means you are handing every news organization in the world, no matter how snooty, a gold-plated excuse to run a fabulously prurient gossip story for twenty-four hours a day, and your willing involvement will not be required for them to keep it going until the end of time. There is only one way you’re going to get it to calm down, and that is overexposure. You need to be everywhere on everything, you need to tell people just about everything they want to know — incidentally, the two of you will have to articulate an explicit political position on every issue affecting gay people, and you’ll probably have to have one on every issue affecting black people, too — and after about a month — two months — it’ll die down. Until the wedding. Please tell me you’re planning a long engagement.”
“We’ve got three weeks left,” Sam said. “Semester’s almost over; after my finals, we’re going up to New York and my uncle’s doing the ceremony.”
“Well, this is going to be a disaster of epic proportions,” Tony said.
At least the happy lovebirds saw some of the folly of their ways: Sam listed the house for sale that weekend. Tony bought it immediately for cash through a charming pair of actors, one of whom was heavily pregnant: they attended the first open house, said the house was perfect because it was one block from the grandparents, and asked plaintively if they could maybe move in soon, and for that matter if there was any furniture Sam would like to sell.
Sam called later that night and said, “Okay, we’re going to give the Tower a try,” and Tony magnanimously refrained from yelling “about time!” into the phone loud enough for Rogers to overhear on the other side. Instead, he waited until after he hung up.
“Tony,” Pepper said, without looking up from whatever paperwork she was paying attention to instead of him at the moment.
“Look, you of all people should realize the horrific magnitude of this situation,” Tony said.
“Where by situation you mean, that Captain America is madly in love and he’s going to get married,” Pepper said.
“Exactly,” Tony said.
“I think it’s sweet,” Pepper said.
“Sweet like cute little fluffy lambs going to slaughter?” Tony said. “Yes, that’s exactly the kind of sweet it is. We have less than two weeks left to do damage control here, and they won’t even let me hire movers for them!”
“Tony, we’ve talked about this, okay?” Pepper said. “You need to give them some space.”
“I’m giving them an entire floor,” Tony said. “Hell, they can have two if they want. We’ll knock a hole and run a staircase down if they want to duplex it.”
“One’ll do us,” Sam said the next weekend, when they finally moved in, having carried up their own boxes from a U-Haul truck currently parked next to Tony’s chartreuse Lamborghini. To be fair, Steve could probably have lifted the entire truck if he’d had to, and Sam wasn’t exactly a slouch in the department of lifting heavy objects, but honestly.
“We’ll need another key, though,” Sam added.
“For who?” Tony said. Steve was standing shoulders-slumped in the middle of the 2000-square-foot living room with the view of the Empire State Building and the cabretta leather couch, his hands shoved in his pockets and a look on his face like somebody was making him eat a bad sandwich.
“None of your business,” Sam said pleasantly, and just as Tony’s brain was about to start revving up, caught him by the arm and looked him seriously in the face. “Is this our home or not?”
That was going to continue to be wildly annoying. “Yes, fine, it’s your home,” Tony said grumpily. “Jarvis can print you all the keys you want. Jarvis, let’s get them another one.”
“Very good, sir,” Jarvis said from the ceiling speaker.
“How do we turn him off?” Steve said, turning around.
“Jarvis? You can’t turn Jarvis off,” Tony said.
“If I’m going to live under twenty-four hour surveillance, I might as well be doing it with the paparazzi,” Steve said sharply.
“Jarvis, are the cameras in here on?” Tony demanded.
“No, sir,” Jarvis answered.
“See? What’s the problem?” Tony said.
“He’s listening!” Steve said.
“He’s on call!” Tony said.
“He’s listening all the time!” Steve said.
“If I may say, sir, I am only listening for actionable commands directed at myself,” Jarvis said. “I am very good at disregarding all other conversations and, for that matter, any other remarks made to me; an essential function of my neural network, as Mr. Stark is sadly given to large quantities of irrelevant commentary.”
“Hey,” Tony said.
“Also, Ms. Potts has strictly ordered me to respect the privacy of our guests,” Jarvis added.
“See, there you go,” Tony said. “I promise we won’t be snooping to find out who’s on top.”
Steve, about to say something else, paused and frowned. “On top of what?”
“Jesus, it’s like watching the axe coming down,” Tony said, bridging his forehead.
“I’ll fill you in later,” Sam said, patting Steve’s shoulder. “Jarvis, can we tell you to shut off the mikes when we want to?”
“Certainly, Mr. Wilson.”
“Make it Sam.”
“As you wish, Sam,” Jarvis said. “And if I may add, only authorized keyholders will be permitted to reactivate any of the audiovisual recording facilities.”
Sam looked at Tony. “I think I like him better than you.”
“You know, I did build him,” Tony said. “Does that cover everything? All settled? Ready for a good night’s sleep? We have a meeting with my PR staff tomorrow at nine.”
Steve drew a deep breath to yell with. “Let it go,” Sam said to him, and Steve exhaled all at once and stalked away down the hall.
Tony watched him go. “Seriously, does that work in bed? Because that could — ” He caught Sam’s eye. “Stopping now.”
“Good,” Sam said, and crooked a finger. Tony warily trailed after him into the kitchen, still full of boxes and grocery bags. Sam opened the fridge, where they’d shoved aside the welcome bottle of Dom for a six-pack of Brooklyn Brewery, and got out a couple of bottles. He handed Tony one. “You want to tell me why this is flipping you out?”
“I’m not flipping out,” Tony said. “I am having a sensible, realistic, one hundred percent — okay, don’t do that. Listen, I was living in a dorm room in MIT when my parents died and I inherited twenty-six billion dollars and the largest arms manufacturer in the country, and if you think you have any understanding of how bad this is going to be, you don’t.”
Sam nodded a little. “How old were you?”
“Sixteen,” Tony said flatly.
“Okay,” Sam said. “You want to help us, I need you to pack that up and put it to one side. We don’t want cameras in our business all the time, but we’re in a pretty good place right now, and we’re both grown men. We can handle a lot, and we’ve got a place to get away from it now — and you did that, so thank you. But no PR for now. We’re going to try it our way first. Nothing’s going to keep us from doing a bunch of interviews later if we need to.”
“Except the injuries you’ll have suffered from being trampled flat by the first wave of paparazzi,” Tony said. Sam was reaching over into a big accordion file folder they’d left next to the phone on the counter, and held out an envelope. “I don’t like being handed things. Are you trying to pay me rent? Because the market rent for — ”
“It’s a wedding invitation,” Sam said. “I know you’re pretty busy, it’s okay if you can’t make it.”
Tony stared at him. “You’re inviting me to the wedding.”
“Yeah,” Sam said, raising an eyebrow. “I didn’t think it was going to be that big a surprise.”
“You realize that the news will break approximately three seconds after I set foot inside the church, at the absolute latest, and almost certainly before,” Tony said.
“We’re not trying to keep any secrets here,” Sam said. “What people find out and what they say and do about it, that’s not something we’re trying to control. We’re going to just live our lives. And that means inviting our friends to our wedding. That include you?”
“Okay, fine,” Tony said, taking the invitation. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“No,” Sam said, “we won’t say that.”
Pepper pounced on the invitation with all the starveling hunger of a lean jungle cat. “Oh, a morning wedding!” she said. “I love morning weddings. You’ll have to wear a morning suit. I need to get a dress. Maybe Balenciaga.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Tony said, collapsing on the couch with an icepack. “I hope you all enjoy this very beautiful delusion as long as you can before it shatters into a billion tiny pieces all around you.”
Obviously it had been too much to hope that the secret could be kept even up to the wedding: it started breaking the next morning. The Wilson clan was substantial, and they were all invited, because Steve and Sam believed in family or some wholesome bullshit like that. One of them posted a selfie on Facebook in a fancy dress with the caption “getting it together for my cuz’s wedding next weekend!” and her college roommate asked, “lol which one u have 894 of them don’t u” and the cousin said, “lol girl the superhero!” with another selfie of herself doing a victory sign in front of a framed copy of the front page shot from the Washington Post, the one of Sam in his wings in the middle of the firefight over the Potomac. Another so-called friend tweeted a link, and after that they were off to the races.
To do justice to Wilson’s relations, that was the extent of the leak on their side: they all clammed completely and disapprovingly when reporters started showing up and started asking them questions. Separately, the substantial campaign contributions Tony had made to the current mayor paid off with a privately delivered marriage license, made out in the Tower by a dazed-looking clerk who had signed an NDA in exchange for a check deposited in an escrow account, to be paid if and only if the secret didn’t make it out in advance.
As a result, the press had as yet failed to figure out who Sam Wilson was marrying. No thanks to the assistant at the tuxedo shop — in more pointless obstinacy, Steve and Sam had refused to let Tony have his tailors do them a pair of bespoke suits — who had posted a stealthy pic of the happy couple getting fitted together, in which Steve’s expression of confusion and dismay should probably have been a dead giveaway that he was getting married. Instead, everyone had assumed he was going to be the best man, which the press loved to bits and would keep loving to bits probably until the minute he was standing in front of the altar. Then they would realize they now all looked like fucking morons and would probably turn twice as vicious in revenge.
Someone at Balenciaga had told a friend about Pepper’s dress, which was being delivered the day before what the press was already calling, with unwitting accuracy, the first Avengers marriage, so the word broke out on the street that she and Tony were going. The church posted a polite notice on their facebook page two hours later saying that due to unusual circumstances, on Saturday the church would only be open to congregation members and invited wedding guests with an invitation.
“That’s very nice, Michael,” Pepper was saying on the phone, “but no, he’s not interested in selling the broadcast rights. No. No, not even if you could get him five million. No, he doesn’t need to discuss it with his fiancé. I have to go, sorry!”
“Who was that?” Tony demanded, lifting off the icepack that had apparently permanently migrated onto his forehead for the duration. “Did he know?”
“No, Tony, he did not know,” Pepper said. “That was the head of the PR company you have representing the Avengers, who is deeply bitter about not being able to do any of the PR you led him to believe he was going to get to do, and therefore keeps calling me with the latest offers he’s gotten for Sam.”
“That is so not my fault,” Tony said. “I completely refuse all blame — ” The loud thump out on the balcony made them both jump: Thor had just landed out of nowhere.
“You know, that’s just not a reasonable way to make an entrance,” Tony said, opening the door. “No offense.”
“None taken,” Thor said, clapping him on the shoulder and continuing straight on to Pepper. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, which was even more wrong. “My lady Pepper, you are as always a delight to the eyes,” and then he kissed her hand, just like he was some kind of prince or something, Jesus.
“Thor!” Pepper said, beaming. “You got my message.”
Message? Tony mouthed at her behind Thor’s back, glaring.
“Indeed, I did,” Thor said. “And I am indebted to you for the news; there is no greater joy to wish for a friend and fellow warrior than that he find the partner of his life, and my beloved Jane and I will be glad to stand with you in place of the kin and the friends whom Captain Rogers has lost, through no fault of his own and rather by the extent of his valor. His chosen partner is a warrior of some honor and repute himself, I understand?”
Tony furiously mimed are you kidding me? at Pepper, who continued to ignore him and smile serenely at Thor.
“Oh, you have to meet Sam,” Pepper said. “When is Jane arriving?”
“I have but now left her upon the streets below, as she wished to purchase a gown suitable for the occasion,” Thor said. “I thought it best to enquire of you, my friend,” he added, turning; Tony straightened up in a hurry, “what garb would be most fitting for the occasion: in Asgard, I would array myself as a warrior for the exchange of vows between two such; but Jane assures me there will be no combat after the feasting.”
“Combat,” Tony hissed to Pepper, after he’d shoved Thor in with the still-sulking tailors, who cheered up the second they saw him. “Combat.”
“Which he now knows is not going to occur,” Pepper said firmly. “You know, now that Thor and Jane came, I’m going to go talk to Sam and Steve about having a little dinner up here, tomorrow night — I think it’ll make Steve feel a little better.”
“Better?” Tony said. “An Asgardian diety is now attending his wedding, the potential for casualties has at least doubled, and since Thor dropped Jane Foster off in front of this building the paparazzi saw it, and if they weren’t literally frothing at the mouth already, they will be now.”
Pepper stepped in and put her hands on his chest. “Tony,” she said, in that quiet way that meant he really had to pay attention to what she was saying, “in case you’ve missed it, Steve feels like he’s bringing nothing to the table but trouble.”
“What?” Tony said. “Wait, who are we — we’re talking about Captain America Steve?”
“Yes, Captain America Steve,” Pepper said. “Who has no family and no friends left and a very weird and dangerous job that could maybe get Sam hurt, and every time you go in there with another rant about how the press are going to make their, read Sam’s, life a misery forever, he feels worse, because he thinks it’s his fault.”
“Ah,” Tony said.
“So I think it would be really nice if we could fill a few pews on his side of the church,” Pepper said.
“Well, Thor can fill one up by himself, so, good going there,” Tony said after a moment.
Pepper tilted a smile at him. “Yes, I thought so.”
Tony had spent the last six months alternately cajoling, begging, pleading, demanding, harassing, coaxing, and otherwise failing to get the gang back together under his roof: apparently all he’d needed to do was throw a wedding. Natasha showed up the next morning with a suit of her own — she was going to be Rogers’ best man — and Barton in tow; Maria Hill made it by the afternoon, and shortly after they all sat down to possibly the weirdest dinner party ever thrown, the doors swung open and Fury came in. He had a suit bag over one arm, which he tossed over a side table; he took one of the handful of empty chairs at the table, picked up the wine glass Thor had already poured for him, and said, “I’m only doing this once, and I’m getting it over with now, so savor it: congratulations. And it’s a good thing you two’re getting married, because nobody else deserves to get saddled with either one of you damn lunatics.”
Steve actually laughed out loud, and he and Wilson both got up to shake hands with Fury. Thor broke out the Asgardian drinking songs after dinner, taught them the lyrics, and they all ended up standing and belting them out together on the balcony. Tony felt considerably mellowed by the large quantity of wine he’d drunk; as the party quieted down finally, breaking out the Cohaibas and brandy, he wandered over to where Steve was looking out over the city, blinking into the wind that was ruffling his hair. Sam was talking with Barton on the other side of the building.
“Cigar?” Tony said. “Or is it don’t drink, don’t smoke...?”
Steve hesitated and looked at it. “I’ve never tried, actually,” he said, and accepted one. He promptly inhaled too deep and started coughing. Tony whacked him on the back a few times companionably.
“So, it occurs to me,” he said, after Steve managed to right himself and take a more cautious drag, “I’ve never actually said this, so: congratulations.”
“Thanks,” Steve said, and cleared his throat. “For — all of this, actually,” he added, waving a hand around.
Tony shrugged. “This was all Pepper. Nearly all Pepper. Mostly Pepper. The point I’m trying to make is,” he said abruptly, “I know a little bit of what it’s like to be the, shall we say, less functional human being in a relationship.” Steve looked at him, a little startled; Tony added, “Which, I hasten to say, is a reasonably high bar in your case. Seriously, he’s so sane there’s probably something wrong with him.”
Steve huffed a laugh. “Yeah, I, uh,” he dropped his gaze, smiling a little. “I got lucky,” he said softly.
“Precisely,” Tony said, “which is why my advice to you is this: don’t try to deserve it. You can’t deserve it. You just get lucky.”
Steve looked even more startled, in a vaguely unflattering way, like he hadn’t expected Tony to have useful advice to offer. “You know, Rogers, the problem with you is you don’t appreciate me enough,” Tony said.
“Oh, is that my problem,” Steve said. “I guess I’ll have to work on that,” grinning at him suddenly, and okay, Tony could see why possibly someone would consider marrying the guy, aside from all the nobility and heroism, which probably got boring really fast.
The day of the wedding was beautiful, clear, sunny and not too hot, perfect weather for long-range photography. Tony scowled out the window as he tied his tie, then went downstairs and barged in on the Rogers-Wilson household: Steve was standing in the living room, making his cheap suit look better than it deserved to and muttering to himself over a printed card with his lines on it, wearing a look of mild terror completely inadequate to the experience he was about to undergo.
“Where’s your soon-to-be-better-half?” Tony said.
“He spent the night at his mother’s,” Steve said. “We thought it would be nice to meet at the church.” Then he looked up and frowned towards the door and then back at Tony.
“What?” Tony said. “The security detail is meeting you here.”
“We don’t need a security detail!” Steve said.
“Oh, how wrong you would be about that,” Tony said. “Jarvis!” There was no answer, and he swore under his breath and pulled out his phone. “Jarvis, turn the mikes back on in here and send a security detail to wherever Sam Wilson’s mother lives—”
“Cancel that,” Natasha said, coming in from the foyer; she was razor sharp in a beautiful suit.
“See, Natasha doesn’t think we need a security detail,” Steve said, glaring. Then he double-taked at her and frowned towards the front door again, starting to open his mouth.
“No, I do think you need a security detail, so I’ve already arranged one for Sam,” she said. “Barton’s on it. Are you ready? Let me see the tie.”
“How did you get in—” Steve was still trying to ask, as Natasha nudged him facing her and did a critical pass over the suit, touching the pocket square with a frown, adjusting it half a millimeter up; Tony approved.
“You should have let Stark get your suits,” she said, “but you’ll do.”
“To be fair, no one is going to pay attention to their suits anyway,” Tony said. “The tie, maybe a little to the left.” Natasha nodded.
“I’m going to put a bolt on!” Steve said loudly.
“You think I can’t get through a bolt?” Natasha said absently, tweaking.
“I could just make like Thor and land on the balcony,” Tony said.
“Why did I ever move in here?” Steve said.
“I’m going to take a wild guess and say that Sam told you to,” Tony said. Then he remembered what Pepper had said and patted Steve’s shoulder. “Just consider us the horrible relatives no one wants to have at their wedding but has to invite anyway.”
Because Pepper was a genius, that worked beautifully; Rogers actually got quiet and somewhat suspiciously shiny-eyed, and Natasha even shot Tony a sidelong look that was the closest thing to impressed that he’d ever gotten out of her.
“Mr. Stark,” Jarvis said, “Ms. Potts is looking for you.” The doorbell rang.
“Well, at least now I know the bell works,” Steve said. Pepper poked her head in. “Still not sure about the doorknob.”
“Steve, I’m so sorry,” Pepper said. “I didn’t mean to let him off the leash today. Also, we need to leave now if we’re not going to be late.”
“Okay,” Tony said. “Let’s all just take a moment, have a few deep breaths — find your center — ”
“Tony, I’ve walked into bases full of soldiers armed with machine guns,” Steve said. “Let’s go.”
“The significant difference is that you were allowed to shoot back,” Tony said.
Tony really hated being right sometimes. The look on Rogers’ face when they pulled up to the church obviated the need for any version of I told you so. The cameras were twenty deep, with three helicopters going overhead. Even the tourists had been crowded back: they were packing the sidewalks three blocks in every direction. The explosion of noise when the limo door was opened made Steve unconsciously flatten himself back against the seats. Tony clapped him on the shoulder. “Three rules: smile, keep moving, don’t respond to anything. You’ll do fine. Also, consider this your wedding present.”
He told Natasha, “Give me two minutes, then get him into the church,” and climbed out of the limo into the roar, held up his hands, grinning with all his teeth, come and get me assholes, turned back to give Pepper his hand out of the limo and drew her with him to the edge of the walkway the security team he’d sent in two nights before had managed to cordon off. The press all immediately started trying to converge on them, yelling questions, did he know the bride, was the secrecy an effort to protect her from attacks, “No, just from you guys,” Tony said, smiling, ha ha, hilarious. “What’s that guy’s name in the third row, the one from CNN — ” he murmured to Pepper.
“Michael,” she murmured back. “He hates being called Mike.”
“Hey, Mike,” Tony called, “how did you get roped into this one?”
There was nothing reporters loved more than being called out by name. Tony tossed them a couple more bones, and by the time Steve and Natasha climbed out of the limo, Steve looking utterly appalled, none of them could bear to tear themselves away from the chance that Tony might talk to them, next. He gave it a few more minutes, then waved a hand and escorted Pepper inside.
The church was full, and at least a few of the congregants sitting with faintly guilty expressions and avoiding eye contact were probably ringers planning to sell videos to the press, if they hadn’t been recruited already. But for the most part, Wilson really had that many relatives and friends. Everyone was just starting to sit down; Tony took Pepper up front and Natasha introduced them to the Wilson clan — several matriarchs wearing fantastic hats, and a wide array of extremely attractive cousins — and Sam’s best man , identified by Jarvis as another of the guys from the EXO-7 project; he had a Silver Star and a prosthetic leg.
Tony pulled some statistics while waiting for the ceremony to get underway: it turned out the program had been scrapped because every operator who’d gone out on more than 100 missions had taken a spill bad enough to wash out: not technical failure, just human error. Wilson was the sole exception, which put paid to Tony’s half-formed ideas of putting together an aerial support squadron, but on the brighter side meant he didn’t have to bother with the headaches of figuring out how to get the per-unit costs down, since he’d only have to build one.
The church went abruptly quiet, and as they all stood up Pepper reached over and silently took his phone away, which was — fair enough, actually; Tony sat up. Sam and Steve had both come out with the minister, and were making their way to the front of the room.
They stood up at the altar together, and Pepper made a small hitching sniff as they all sat down again at the minister’s word. “They haven’t even started yet,” Tony hissed.
“They look so happy,” she whispered back. In Tony’s personal opinion, Sam looked as deadly serious as a man facing a firing squad, while Steve had evidently gone through mortal terror and come out the other side into the perfect calm of knowing the worst was happening and there was nothing he could do about it now. They were exchanging a few quiet words with the minister, and there was some rustling and whispering starting in the back rows, the ones full of ringers, as they realized what was going on.
“Dearly beloved,” the minister began, in a rolling voice, “we have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of Steven Grant Rogers and Samuel Thomas Wilson in Holy Matrimony.”
The paparazzi had set up dozens of directional mikes outside, expertly aimed at every available crack and crevice that could get them audio from inside the church. Tony cocked an ear to listen for it, and he wasn’t disappointed: the slowly growing oceanic roar of a thousand reporters realizing that the story they were here to cover was at least a thousand times bigger than they’d thought it was, that it was all happening not a hundred yards away from their live cameras, and they couldn’t get at it.
There was one fairly odd moment in the “any just cause to bar the marriage” bit, where Sam turned and looked straight over all their heads at the back of the church, to the point Tony turned to see what he was looking at. There was nothing but the shadowy rafters, as far as he could tell, but when he looked back, Sam was smiling at Steve, and Steve had his head ducked and looked weirdly happy or possibly just relieved. Maybe they were getting the OK straight from God or Steve’s dead mother, who knew; anyway in Tony’s private opinion his own wholehearted approval was worth more than what either of those had to say about it, since he could actually back it up in the real world.
Other than that, the ceremony was nice, meaningful, lots of prayers et cetera, the requisite number of crying family members. Tony could admit that when Steve’s voice broke on to have and to hold and he had to stop and grip Sam’s hand, it made even him feel a little verklempt. Fortunately, he got better quickly, which was just as well, because by the time the ceremony was over, Happy was coming to find him, grim-faced, to say he couldn’t even get them across the street to the reception hall.
“I think we’re okay for the moment as long as we sit tight, but Tony, we’re not getting out of this building without freaking riot police,” he said. “Another sixty news vans have shown up, and about half of New York came with them.”
“How many channels are we on?” Tony asked, fatalistically.
“All of them,” Happy said. “Well, I think Nickelodeon’s still showing Spongebob, but that’s about it.”
“Pardon me,” Thor said, leaning over the back of the pew behind them, “do you mean to say we have been besieged? If need be, say the word and I will clear a path through our foes.”
“I think we’re going to just hang out in here for a while and let the NYPD handle this one, big guy,” Tony said.
That plan, however, was only as solid as the church. There were people literally crawling over the building, and it turned out there was an iron bar missing over one of the basement windows, and the one next to it was loose. By the time the security team realized they’d sprung a leak, more than a hundred people had squirmed in, armed with smartphones and two television cameras.
“What do you think,” Barton said to Natasha, “can I just start shooting them?” He was casting a professional eye over the neatly lined up row of celebrity hunters standing on the front pew videotaping. More of them were crowding in close, even shoving their way past the guests, and Steve looked increasingly miserable; he was trying to keep his body between Sam and the cameras, like he could turn himself into a wall, and Sam had a hand around his back and was talking to him low, telling him it was okay, something crazy had to happen at a wedding or it didn’t count.
Even barring a sudden shootout, the wedding was about to count in a big way: some of Wilson’s family had started losing their tempers and were shoving back, a couple of them organizing a human chain to hold off the media. One deeply unfortunate guy had also just made the mistake of knocking over Jane Foster, who was already saying, “No, Thor, wait!”
“No, you may not shoot them,” Natasha said to Barton, absently; she was studying building blueprints on her phone. Then suddenly she swore in Russian, jerked her head straight up and looked into the rafters, “No, don’t you even—”
She stopped, head whipping back around, as one of the videotapers suddenly vanished out of the row, flying over backwards. He hit the floor with a thump followed by a faint moaning, barely audible over the general noise. The others didn’t even register the disappearance immediately. Tony stared in fascination as two more of them followed suit: it was like watching someone shooting ducks in a gallery. Pepper was staring in horror. “Oh my God, is someone — are they dead?”
“Plastic bullets!” Natasha snarled, and was gone, already jumping from pew to pew over the crowd and heading for the back wall. Where something was falling from the ceiling — a silencer, Tony recognized, and the next shot was absolutely loud enough to make the rest of the ducks wake up and realize they were next in line.
Steve’s wide-eyed look of horror went straight up to the ceiling, too, so clearly the Phantom of the Opera was not an unexpected guest. Sam covered his face with a hand and just shook his head. People were starting to scream and run. To add to the excitement, Thor had just picked up a pew, dumped the reporter on it, and shot him down it like a slide into a gaggle of six more.
He then proceeded to bellow out, “All those who have intruded upon this ceremony uninvited shall at once depart, or face my wrath for your shameful discourtesy!”
He punctuated that by holding up the hammer and summoning in a bolt of lightning that blew out all the windows — Tony mentally threw another hundred grand onto the cleanup budget — and put him into full armor, cape included.
All those who had intruded upon the ceremony uninvited immediately made it a priority to depart, including straight out the front doors. The security team had been bracing them against the outside, but the sudden frenzied mob trying to escape from inside overran them, and the doors got opened into the face of the much larger frenzied mob of thousands in the street.
“This isn’t great,” Tony said. “Jarvis, Mark 46, now!” he yelled, and the components of the suit he’d prudently left stashed in the trunk of the limo came flying in through the — now wide-open — windows and doors.
“Sam, I’m so sorry — ” Steve was saying, his voice breaking, and then Sam said, “Okay, man, you’re asking for it,” and grabbed him and kissed him. Even in the midst of the chaos, an explosion of flashbulbs went off.
Steve wobbled back after a good long healthy kiss, looking dazed — apparently Sam had it going on — and Sam poked him in the chest. “We’re married and I can’t get out of it anymore, so stop panicking and get this under control. I don’t want my mom getting crushed.”
Steve stood there, blinked a couple times, then said determinedly, “Right,” looked around the room, and jumped up onto a bench himself and started shouting orders.
Following Cap’s plan, they managed to use the open front door as a safety valve to draw people towards the front of the church, so the security could clear a route out the back: the wedding guests all got safely out with directions to hop the subway to the Tower, where Pepper, evacuated by Thor Airlines along with the oldest and youngest members of the wedding party, was helping them organize a relocated reception. Unfortunately, the guests of honor were still stuck on crowd control.
“Okay,” Steve said to Tony, as they held a pew together against the best efforts of about two hundred people to start yet another stampede and get themselves killed. “I admit it. I should have listened to you.”
“You can’t imagine how incredibly fulfilling that is to hear,” Tony said, braced against the floor, repulsors whining. “In fact, it’s possible that you’re already cheating on your brand-new husband just by saying that to me. I might have to have that turned into my personal ringtone. Possibly emblazoned on a coat of arms.”
“I take it back,” Steve said.
“Too late,” Tony said. “I’ll treasure it for — oops — ever.” The oops was him skidding off the edge of the dais and tumbling down the stairs. Steve was about to go over too when a sharp thwock sounded from above and a grappling hook wrapped around the other end of the pew and hauled it back, long enough for Tony to pick himself up and get back into position. He still didn’t get a glimpse of the mystery guest, even doing as much of a sweep of the rafters as he could manage under the circumstances. “Seriously, who’s the fairy godmother of destruction?”
“It’s a long story,” Steve said.
The cavalry finally arrived, namely Rhodey, leading about five dozen National Guardsmen the Governor had loaned him on an emergency basis. Rhodey landed just outside the church, gave Tony a look that even through the mask Tony had no problem reading as deeply unamused — “Not my fault at all this time!” Tony protested — and got the crowd moving away in orderly fashion even while he packed off the press.
Afterwards they gathered on the steps and surveyed the destruction. It wasn’t pretty. The church doors were going to need replacing, as were all the pews; the street was littered with broken equipment, and one news van had been completely overturned and was lying in the middle of the street still smoking. “We’re going to need a crane to get that out of here,” Rhodey said.
“Permit me,” Thor said politely, and picked up the van and set it back on its wheels.
“Or not,” Rhodey said. He looked at Tony.
“Seriously, not my fault,” Tony said. “Captain America even said he should have listened to me!”
Sam and Steve were doing some sort of excessively adorable newlywed thing and had locked in together as soon as they got into sufficient proximity, arms around each other’s waists and heads leaned in. Sam lifted his and looked at Steve. “Dude, you didn’t really tell him that, did you?”
Steve groaned. “It was a moment of weakness. I’m sorry for this, Colonel,” he added, tiredly.
“For throwing more gasoline on the bonfire of Tony’s ego? No forgiveness,” Rhodey said. “As for the rest of this, you all need to do me a favor: the next time any of you want to get married, elope to Tahiti. Congratulations, by the way.”
“Come back to the Tower with us,” Tony said. “Have a glass of champagne.”
“Yeah, I know how that ends,” Rhodey said. “No, man, I’m supposed to be in D.C. right now, except for how you started a riot in northern Manhattan and they needed me to fish out your sorry ass before you got trampled.”
“And again, not my fault!” Tony said. “Come on, one drink.”
“We’d be glad if you could stop in, Colonel,” Sam said, grinning. “Half my cousins have crushes on you.”
“And they’re all hot,” Tony added. Sam and Steve both immediately turned laser sharp focus on him. “Just speaking on a purely aesthetic basis,” he tacked on hastily.
Tony threw a great party, if he did say so himself. The reception was already going strong by the time they arrived at the Tower, and it hadn’t flagged at all by the time they all got cleaned up and actually managed to put in an appearance. Sam and Steve had been forced to ditch their wrecked suits and had changed into their dress uniforms instead, which didn’t hurt any to look at. The room burst into applause when they walked in; Tony had magnanimously slipped in through a side entrance so as not to cause a distraction.
A few news helicopters were still hovering in the distance, but Pepper had opaqued the windows, and after a while they gave up. The party kept going through dinner before people started flagging and slipping away, including the happy couple, who sneaked out not long after the cake got cut.
Tony was sitting with Sam’s mother at the time, and Steve and Sam came over to say goodnight. “We’re, uh,” Steve said. “It’s late, and. If it’s okay. That is, we.”
Sam patted Steve on the back. “Quit while you’re ahead.” He leaned down to give his mom a kiss. “You okay getting home? Maybe you should get a hotel for a couple of nights, let this mess die down.”
“A couple of weeks, actually,” Tony said. “Ah ah ah!” He pointed when Steve was about to protest. “As you said, and I quote — ”
“Please don’t,” Steve said.
“No worries, baby,” Sam’s mother said. “Me and your grandma are going to take a little vacation, go down to your uncle Mark’s place for a few weeks. Come here, honey; your mama can’t be here today, so I’m standing in.” Steve blushed and bent down for his own hug and kiss. “You boys take care of each other.”
The two of them slipped out holding hands, Steve looking ridiculously excited. Tony offered her a champagne glass. “Mission accomplished?” he said.
She gave him a skeptical eyebrow that implied she doubted the critical role he had played in the successful conclusion to the day’s events, but clinked her glass against his anyway. “Much as we can do, anyway,” she said. “They’ll have to take it on their own from here.”
Steve concentrated on getting his uniform put away properly. He was almost painfully conscious of Sam moving around the room behind his back, the soft rustling noises.
He’d spent the whole last week irritated at the damn apartment, at Tony, at himself: more ways he’d turned Sam’s life inside out and upside down. The night before they’d moved, he’d even forced himself to say something — to give Sam an out, no matter how unbearable it would’ve been. Sam had sat him down on the couch in the middle of all their boxes and said, “Last time I’m going to say this: if I wasn’t ready for my life to get a whole lot more complicated, I would’ve let you walk away from me on the Mall six months ago.”
Somehow Steve hadn’t really been able to hear it then. But there was no way Sam would take a vow before God and his family and the whole world that he didn’t mean to keep. Sam had stood up and taken him as his husband, and that meant Sam was in for it now, no matter what. Realizing that had been — such a goddamn relief, even in the middle of a screaming mob and complete disaster all around them. The screaming mob hadn’t even seemed all that important, afterwards: just a problem to be dealt with, like any other.
Now Steve could actually be grateful for all of this: a safe retreat, the security that had protected his new family, the people who’d stood up with him — and what the hell, he’d do a few interviews if that made anybody’s life easier. He’d spent three months of World War II pretty much high-kicking in a chorus line; he could live with talking to a reporter.
And right now he was especially grateful for the ridiculously large bed behind his back: he’d groused even about that, when they’d first slept on it, and Sam had just snorted and spread-eagled himself over it and told him to go sleep on the couch if he didn’t like it. Well, now Steve could admit he did like it; he liked it a whole lot.
He had hung all his clothes up; he skimmed off his shorts and turned around and swallowed, because Sam had stretched himself out on the bed, one arm behind him pillowing his head and watching him finish stripping with lazy appreciation, smiling. “So,” he said, his voice a low warm rumble. “How does it feel to be a married man?”
Steve had to clear his throat. “Oh — it’s all right, I guess. I don’t know, I was expecting a little more, maybe.” He darted a look at Sam from under his eyelashes.
“Get your ass in this bed,” Sam said sternly, and Steve laughed helplessly and went, as fast as he could, because there was nothing as good as putting himself into Sam’s hands, knowing they would hold him up. “Expecting more,” Sam was muttering in mock-indignation, sliding his hand into Steve’s hair, tugging him down for soft deep sweet kisses.
Steve wrapped a leg up over Sam’s hip. Sam stroked a broad hand over Steve’s thigh, rubbing slow circles over it up to the curve of his ass. “Hmm. Did you have some plans for how tonight might go, maybe?” he said, deep and amused.
“Well, not if you’re too tired or anything,” Steve said, breathlessly. The last few weeks — selling the house, Sam’s finals, moving, his own messed-up head; it hadn’t left a lot of space for making love. They’d jerked off together a few times, but Christ, he wanted to be taken right now; he wanted to feel it deep in his body, Sam’s claim on him. He laid down some hopeful little kissing bites along Sam’s jaw.
“Oh, you’re asking for it, aren’t you,” Sam said, pushing Steve over onto his back, settling down between his legs.
Steve groaned and arched up into him. “Yes,” he said, “Yes, Sam, oh — ” too distracted to keep up anything like banter. Sam’s cock sliding hot against his, the weight of his body resting on him, and Steve gave up talking at all and just groped blindly for the lube, one hand gripping Sam’s head, holding him for kisses, grinding shamelessly up against him.
Tony did a final circuit round the room and slipped up behind Pepper, who was talking with Natasha out on the balcony. “So I thought I’d go check out our news coverage before bed,” he murmured with a quick nuzzle to her cheek.
“Well, that sounds — delightful, but I think I’ll stay here and have some more champagne, myself,” Pepper said, smiling around at him.
He kissed her. “See you in a bit.” He stole a half-full bottle of champagne, snagged one of the crystal Waterford bowls full of salted nuts, and tugged open his tie with one finger as he strolled whistling down the stairway to the Tower’s command center. He frowned slightly as he got closer: there were flickering lights coming down the hallway. The kids had probably found the room. “So while I appreciate Call of Duty as much as the next guy,” he started, coming in, and stopped short. A complete stranger dressed all in black was sitting in one of the viewing chairs, boots up on the console. Also, interestingly, he seemed to have a metal arm. He shot Tony a cold, blank stare out from under long, messy dark hair. There was a large sniper rifle leaned against the console next to his boots.
Tony looked up at the screens. All twenty of them were lit up with different angles going on the same extremely vivid scene currently taking place in Sam and Steve’s bedroom. “Well,” Tony said after a moment, “either you’re a very strangely dressed entrepreneur trying to make your name in online porn, or — I’m not really sure what you’re doing here.”
Tall, dark, and metal scowled at him. “Keeping an eye on things.”
“Uh huh,” Tony said. He took the seat next to him and put the bowl of nuts on the table between them. “Do you have a name, or should I go with Dread Pirate Roberts?”
After a little more scowling, the guy muttered, “Bucky.”
Tony nodded. Right. Captain America’s dead best friend from World War II. That seemed reasonable and roughly in line with the rest of the day. He put his own feet up and waved at the screens. “Is this purely for entertainment value or are there significant concerns?”
“You know how many people Rogers has slept with?” Bucky demanded.
“I hadn’t previously given it an enormous amount of thought, but now you mention it, I’m guessing the number is low,” Tony said.
“One.” Bucky said.
“Ouch,” Tony said. “Including — ?” He jerked a chin towards Sam. Bucky nodded significantly. “Say no more.”
“I believe I should note for the record that I’m quite certain this violates Ms. Potts’ orders regarding respect for privacy,” Jarvis interjected pissily.
“Hey, they’re the ones who gave him the key,” Tony said. He took a handful of nuts and munched them while considering the screens. The view from camera 14, side-on, where Steve’s leg was hooked over Sam’s shoulder and you could see Sam’s cock sliding thoroughly in and out of him, was particularly — inspiring, to tell the truth, especially since camera 13 was directly above the bed, giving a clear view of Steve’s blissed-out jolt each time Sam brought the goods home. His eyes were drifting shut between every thrust, and then each stroke made him come wide awake, almost shocked, and open slack-mouthed gasping. His hips were moving in tiny jerks to meet Sam’s thrusts and his whole body shining all over with sweat, spectacularly golden. Abruptly he said, “Oh. Oh, God,” loudly.
“Yeah, baby,” Sam murmured, husky and panting. “You getting there? You know I’ve got you.”
“Yes,” Steve said. “Yes, Sam, I know. I know,” gasping, almost a sob, his face nakedly joyful.
Tony had to actually look away, clearing his throat. “I’d have to say he’s done okay for himself. Speaking from considerably wider experience.”
“Yeah?” Bucky said, shooting him a frowning, intent look. He didn’t seem at all bothered by intruding on the moment.
“Yes,” Tony said positively. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I wanted to be sure,” Bucky said. “Thanks,” he added with rough sincerity, as though he appreciated Tony’s expert opinion. He looked back at the screens. “I guess we should turn it off.”
“Any time you like,” Jarvis said pointedly.
On the screen, Sam and Steve were moving seamlessly into round two. Tony absently reached for more nuts just as Bucky did, negotiating the bowl around the metal fingers. They watched together for a few more moments. Not his usual thing, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t admire a world-class performance when he saw it.
“If you’re both quite finished,” Jarvis said, even more pointedly.
“All right, all right, let’s get some CNN going in here,” Tony said. All the screens immediately switched over, and that was a whole new source of pleasure, specifically sweet, delicious schadenfreude: three reporters, one bandaged — “I shot that one,” Bucky said, sounding pleased — and their footage was so bad they kept cutting to still photographs of Sam and Steve looking hot and heroic, trying to sell the story with swooshing graphics and dramatic voiceovers. Wolf Blitzer ponderously announced they’d be right back with more on “the marriage of the century.”
Bucky snorted and held out his hand for Tony’s bottle of champagne and swigged from it. “More like the miracle of the century. I remember when that punk couldn’t get himself laid in all of Brooklyn.”
“Can I interest you in telling that story on Good Morning America?” Tony said. “I like the way you handle the press.”