It started with—
No, okay, technically it started back whenever it was that the good Captain discovered that boys were good for kissing, but it wasn't as if Steve Rogers being bisexual was in any of the files Tony liberated from SHIELD. He hadn't known. For all intent and purposes (ie., for Tony), it probably started with the introduction of one Carol Danvers, aka Ms Marvel, into the Avengers. Tony was inclined to dislike her — hey, if SHIELD wanted an Air Force zoomie, why couldn't it be Rhodey? — but she wasn't bad, for a given value of someone who threatened to put a photon blast through his skull if he didn't stop dicking around. Just not his type.
Very much not his type, as it turned out, when he invited Danvers to the Stark Tower for a meet-and-glower with her new teammates. She brought along a smoking brunette as her plus one, whom she introduced as, "Jessica Drew, my wife."
"I'm a consultant at SHIELD," Jessica said, all plummy Received Pronounciation vowels and impish smile.
Steve's face was a sight for malicious eyes at Danvers's little bombshell: utterly gobsmacked. He kept glancing between Danvers and Jessica like he couldn't believe his sepia-filtered ears. What a laugh. Tony was constructing a bon mot in his head when Natasha horned in with a hello for Jessica — they clearly knew each other well, which was probably worrying — and the moment was lost.
Later he caught sight of Steve and Danvers out by the pool, their heads bent close together. He took a minute to appreciate the blond-on-blonde, Steve's old-fashioned, precise cut next to Danvers's loose waves. Danvers was probably educating Steve on the realities of gay life in the 21st century. Tony hoped that it wasn't going to end up with her punching Steve in the face. Or, if it did, that Tony would be there to witness it.
Around the time Tony started calling Ms Marvel "Carol" in his mental narration as well as verbally, the Avengers were called in to stop — of all things — a minor invasion of Kree soldiers. They turned out to be rogues rather than the prelude to a bigger war, but the knowledge didn't help ease the dismay on Bruce's face as he contemplated the smoking ruins of a section of the Museum of Natural History.
Tony clapped him on the shoulder. "You were a dinosaur-head, weren't you?"
"I had posters," he sighed. "And a geologically-accurate diorama."
Steve was busy with a clutch of wide-eyed schoolchildren who were milking Captain America's attention for all it's worth, pestering him with questions and asking to touch the shield. Tony was betting on an uptick of activity on Facebook and YouTube that night — all of the kiddies, bless their widdle hearts, had their cellphones out.
For once, though, Steve wasn't cuddling a plump-cheeked cherub or whatever it was he did that made ovaries all over the nation go boing. Steve was always polite, but Tony could tell that he was distracted, more interested in talking to the kids' guardian, a black guy in a t-shirt emblazoned with HARLEM YOUTH CENTER. He eyed the design. Could be better. The guy wearing it was something else, though — Tony had to give him props for diving in and herding people to safety while the Avengers got on with the ass-kicking.
Steve looked unbelievably fascinated with the minutiae of whatever it was that people do in youth centers. Maybe the guy had a grandad who was a veteran or something.
Bruce nudged Tony and pointed with his chin. "Who's he?"
"I'll find out." Tony, shameless, put his helmet back on and zeroed in on the business card Steve was accepting. Samuel Wilson. Social Worker.
"I hate spiders," Clint muttered dolefully, flicking away spider guts with the tip of an arrow.
"Yeah, but they make satisfying crunchy sounds when you hit them," Carol said. She and Thor fistbumped each other.
"But why giant spiders?" Steve asked. His shield was smeared with ichor. "What kind of mind would think they make good weapons? They're... spiders."
"Maybe we're dealing with an arachnophile." At Steve's skeptical look, Natasha added, "Or we could be dealing with a madman."
Clint looked around them, at the parts of spider anatomy scattered across Hell's Kitchen. "Man, I wouldn't want to be the people cleaning this up."
"At least they didn't come crawling out in the Preservation Area." Tony grimaced, remembering Pepper's judgey face as she held up a letter. "The Heritage Society was all over our ass when we broke the Lower East Side."
Someone's cellphone cut into the moment, blaring work it, make it, do it, makes us harder, better, faster, stronger with every fibre of its hellish soul.
"Okay, who didn't put their phone on silent?" Tony called out, hands on hips.
Steve turned red and fumbled for one of the pouches on his belt. "Sorry," he said sheepishly, already turning and walking away, his phone pressed to his ear.
"Is that a Starkphone? Who gave you a Starkphone?"
Steve scowled at him, picking up the pace as he moved farther away.
"Did Pep— Pepper gave you that phone, didn't she? Why would you even need a Starkphone? Do you even know how to use a touchscreen?"
"Leave him alone, Stark." Natasha slapped an arm against his chest, and for a tiny thing she had a wicked punch — he felt the impact even through his armour. "He's got a friend."
"What friend?" He eyed Steve suspiciously. "Did they thaw out a Howling Commando?"
"The good captain spoke often of a Sam Wilson," Thor rumbled. "He has spent many a day with him in the last month."
"Why didn't I know this?"
Clint snorted. "Because you don't spend hours with Rogers kicking each other's butts around the gym, that's why."
Tony thumped his breastplate with a gauntleted hand. "Hey, I get plenty of work-outs. Some of us don't need to fell Shelob's long-lost cousins with our bare hands, because we've evolved to use tools."
Steve eventually wandered back, looking marginally happier. Tony raised his eyebrows at him.
"Kanye West? Really?"
"I wasn't the one who put it on my phone," Steve protested, but he was smiling.
Later, Tony had JARVIS google Samuel "Sam" Wilson while he tinkered with his suit's hardware. Wilson had a Facebook account Tony hacked into with ease: Wilson liked birds, had an abandoned Farmville farm he mysteriously never uninstalled, and was tagged in plenty of pictures. Steve didn't appear in any of them except for one taken from the back, showing off his broad shoulders like a pornographer's wet dream. He was standing, hands clasped together at the small of his back, checking out a cluttered bookcase in what appeared to be an office. Half of an anti-violence poster was just visible to his left. Sam Wilson sat a desk to his right, hunched over a sticker-clad laptop and frowning at something.
Well, that was spectacularly un-enlightening, Tony thought. Wilson's posts on his Facebook wall were more interesting, though. He sometimes posted about work, along the lines of "shit my kids say", but more often about community events, politics-related links. There were arguments — mostly civil — in the comments. Wilson was critical of the prison-industrial complex and had a lot to say about big businesses and the military. Tony bristled — Stark Industries came in for a beating.
"What the fuck is Captain America doing with him?" Tony wondered out loud. He imagined Steve's face going all stony and Capsicle-ish, while Wilson quoted Angela Davis and talked about racism in the system. There was just no way the two of them had anything in common.
In hindsight, Tony blamed himself for letting the Avengers meet Pepper unchaperoned, because it was apparently invitation for them to bring their nearest and dearest to the Tower. Thor started the ball rolling by bringing Jane over to argue with Tony and Bruce about physics, then the Warriors Three and Sif showed up all the damn time to eat them out of house and home. Bruce didn't have any intimate visitors, but Tony knew it was because he and Betty Ross were having some kind of star-crossed secret online romance.
Carol refused to move into the Tower, but she and Jessica swung by at least once a week to be bros with Steve (Carol) and have coded conversations with Natasha and Clint (Jessica). Clint and Natasha were assassin BFFs, and Tony didn't expect them to bring anyone home or care whether the others did.
So it was something of a surprise when one morning, Natasha said to Steve, "You should introduce Sam to us."
Steve ducked his head and busied himself with a mug of coffee. "Jeez, have you been spying on us?" he asked teasingly. "Is that how you know I told him?"
"Wait, when did Samuel Wilson become Sam?" Tony demanded.
Natasha stared him into silence, then turned back to Steve and said, "It's past time he knows the people who have your back."
The corners of Steve's mouth curled into a smile, surprisingly sweet. "Ma'am, I hope I've never believed that being unsentimental is the same thing as being unfeeling."
"I wish someone would tell me what the hell is going on with the Hallmark moment," Tony complained. "Steve, just push him through the door. It's 2012, not 1912 — you can bring a black friend to dinner to meet the family."
Steve glared at him. Natasha cut up her toast with frightening efficiency and knife skills, every click of metal against porcelain seeming to judge Tony and find him wanting.
"Sam" turned out to very attractive close up, with chiselled features and a widow's peak that made him look like a Shakespearean actor, and he was almost as tall as Steve. He was polite but a little distant with the team, which was, okay, fair enough — if Steve told him about them, he had to know they weren't exactly your everyday average people.
Still, Tony thought, the Avengers were sort of a family. And he was wholly justified in trying to find out if Steve's friend didn't approve of them, so they could deal with Steve's hurt fee-fees later, even if it meant snooping on them via a security camera.
"Sir, my databanks indicate that this is considered unethical behaviour," JARVIS said, indignant disapproval imbued in every syllable.
"Shut it and turn up the volume by twenty-five percent," Tony said, staring intently at the screen. "And zoom in on them."
Steve and Wilson were out on the balcony of Steve's room, standing side-by-side and looking down at the city. Steve was pointing out places and rambling like the old man he was about where that shop was now this boutique, etcetera. Wilson seemed to be tolerating the absolute bore of it all, or maybe he was just indulging Steve.
"Mom was a socialist and unionist," Steve said. "Right up until two weeks before she passed, she was going out to feed strikers and attend meetings. She used to tell me about how she was learning Russian from this anarchist who lived one floor down, but he disappeared after the FBI arrested Andrea Salsedo."
Wilson leaned closer, until they were bumping shoulders. "Who would've thought it: Captain America, son of a socialist."
"I can't get used to it, the way people now think about how it was in the 30s. There were strikes and protests up and down the country. And sure, the 20s were roaring, but most people were poor — most of us would be lucky to have a couple of square meals a day, even before the Depression. Let alone dine at the Ritz."
"You're not doing too bad at learning to live in 2012." Wilson chuckled. "I kind of miss the grampa suspenders, though."
"Hey!" But the expression on Steve's face was more sheepish amusement than outraged, and something else Tony couldn't identify. He took Wilson's hand between his, and Tony thought he must be going to crazy, because he would swear on his life that Steve looked like he was going to—
Oh fuck, Tony thought.
And then: who knew Captain America was a good kisser? He put his whole body into it, kissing Wilson as if he would die without the taste of Wilson's mouth.
Oh shit, Tony thought. He hoped there was no one around with long-focus lenses or cellphones in the next building over. And satellites. Could he hack into a satellite?
On the monitor, Steve Rogers — who apparently liked penises just fine — was getting hot and heavy with Wilson. Tony put his head in his hands.
"JARVIS, cut feed," he said.
Tony carefully planned an ambush in a tactfully secluded place, but the universe wasn't done screwing with him. Weeks passed and he had to seize the only moment he had Steve alone, which was at the back of a plane, gently bleeding out into their bandages, courtesy of a HYDRA cell.
"So it came to my attention that Sam Wilson isn't just your special friend, he's your boyfriend," Tony blurted out. In the cockpit, Natasha — who had the ears of a bat — gave a soft, barely audible laugh.
"Uh," Steve said.
"You're screwing with my entire worldview, I hope you realise," Tony continued, waving his hands. "Captain America is gay."
Steve frowned. "I looked it up on Wikipedia, you know. I think the correct term is 'bisexual'."
"Oh my god," Tony moaned.
"Tony, are you gay-bashing Steve?" Clint called out from the co-pilot's chair. Carol was eyeing them, eavesdropping without shame.
Steve was beginning to get that depressingly familiar look of exasperation mingled with disappointment in his face, but Tony forestalled the expected lecture by saying, "I'm no historian, but I know folks down at the corner shop weren't going around blessing gay couples. So what's with the Captain Acceptance, no-sir-nothing-weird-here act?"
"Yeah, I want to know too," Clint pipped in.
"Tony," Steve said, and Tony braced himself. "I was in the USO and the Army. Sure, I didn't approve of everything I saw, but there's not much that'll shock me after hearing what chorus girls talked about among themselves. Folks used different words back then, but your generation didn't invent—" Steve hesitated "—sex."
"You can't even say it without blushing." Tony pointed a finger at him. "Yeah, okay, fine, but that doesn't mean a thing to me. What, is 'in the USO and the Army' some kind of euphemism?"
"Where soldiers are stationed, you get a lot of young men looking for a good time — with guys or gals, it's easy in cities. It's that simple." Steve looked like he was resisting the impulse to smack Tony. "There were bars in Harlem when I was growing up where you knew men went in to... be with other men, and these bars didn't care about the colour of your skin. It stayed that way through the war, too."
"Things weren't perfect," Steve said, and there was an old hurt lurking under his words. "But there was a war going on, and I knew commanders who turned a blind eye to what their men were up to as long as they could shoot the enemy."
Silence fell, broken only by the sound of the engines. "This is even more fantastic than when I found out your mom's a militant radical commie," Tony marvelled.
Steve rolled his eyes. "She was a socialist, not a communist. Anyway, how did you find out?"
"Never mind that," Tony said, waving away the question as casually as he could. "But what about— you, and the, uh, religion thing?"
"Mom believed in god, not the church." A wry smile. "I, uh, tried to convince her to let me call a priest for the last rites. I was a kid, I just didn't want her to go to hell."
"And she said no."
Steve huffed a laugh. "She said yes. But she had me call Father Battaglia, who marched with strikers and probably only didn't call himself a communist because he's a contrary old sourpuss."
"I can't believe you're actually real," Tony said, sincerely. "So... how are things with Mr. Samuel Wilson?"
Steve looked down at his boots, smiling. "Getting there."
"That's— well, that's good. This is so weird."
"Thanks, Tony." A heartbeat later, Steve raised his head, his brows wrinkling. "How did you find out about my mother?"
Over Steve's head, Bruce met Tony's eyes. He's going to kill you, he mimed.