The picture is in the paper, big and bold and in everyone’s face.
Iron Man. Captain America. In suits--not costumes, no--and locking lips under a white arch, an officiant behind them.
It's official, then: The world has gone crazy.
Fox News thinks it's the end of America if these are the people considered heroes and expected to save the day. They call for the deposement of the Avengers and better military backing. In one breath, they're on about the liberal agenda these heroes are pushing to the nation, the nation’s children, and in the next, they're talking about the Avengers as a threat of destruction.
A twelve-year-old boy sees these claims as his father watches on, telling the boy, “Always knew they weren't right.”
Fox doesn't like to show the picture--it upsets their core values--but the boy understands what has happened, as a so-called body language expert shows cell phone clips of battles, explains that if Captain America and Iron Man hadn't been so wrapped up in each other, fewer lives would've been lost.
The boy doesn't know if that's true or not.
He sneaks back into his room and pulls out the figures his aunt had bought for him. Slowly, he puts his Cap figure next to his Iron Man and, with a glance at the door, presses Cap’s plastic lips to the front of Iron Man’s plastic helmet.
Just as quickly, he puts them down, puts the figures away so that his father won't take them from him.
But a spark is lit inside of him.
Maybe… Maybe if Captain America and Iron Man could like each other like that, it was okay that he wanted to kiss his best friend.
Maybe he's not broken like he'd thought.
“I can't believe we're doing this, Stark.”
“Please, call me Tony.” He holds up his hand, gold band on his ring finger. “We are married, sweetums.”
Steve rolls his eyes. “Because it made the most sense, legally.”
“And because you love me?” Tony pouts, making puppy dog eyes in Steve’s direction.
Steve bites his tongue to stop himself from saying yes. Instead, he picks up the paper. “It's a bit flashy,” he says finally.
Tony shrugs, having somehow found food in the moment Steve had looked away. “Well, we already lived together. What else could we do?”
“What about a picture of us holding hands?” Steve asked. “Wouldn't that have worked just as well?”
“Less shock value.”
“Is shock value all that matters to you?” He raises an eyebrow. “Let me guess, the alternative would've been releasing a video of us being...intimate?”
“You can say sex tape. I know you know what it is.” Tony winks when Steve blushes. He has a look on his face like he's considering Steve’s suggestion after that. “We could, if that's what you want. I mean, we'd have to have sex in order to do that. But I find the sex tape thing a little too passé.”
“No, Tony--” And Tony smiles at the use of his first name. “That's not what I want.” He puts his finger on the picture of them. “Just…isn't this too much?”
Tony walks over and stares at the picture. Steve doesn't realize he's staring at Tony until Tony starts to speak. “No,” he says, and it's serious this time. “I don't.” He's frowning and Steve has to swallow, knows that this isn't just some comment Tony throws at him for the hell of it. “Do you know what this'll mean for people? There are gonna be people that are terribly offended. I get that.” Tony sighs. “But there are gonna be kids, ones who think of us as heroes, and they're gonna think...maybe it's okay to be gay.”
Tony shakes his head. “Sorry, I--”
But he doesn't finish his sentence because Steve’s warm hand cups his cheek and Steve’s warm lips press to his.
“How did this happen?” the reporter asks and Natasha’s eyebrows furrow skeptically.
“Love?” she asks.
“With an American hero of the Second World War--”
“Do you think the illegality of homosexuality meant that it didn't exist?”
“Well, no, but--”
“What is the point of this interview? Cap and Stark got married. The end.” She stares at the reporter, a dare that is best gone unpursued.
The reporter opens and closes his mouth. “Thank you, Ms. Romanoff,” he tells her.
Natasha gives only a curt nod in response, off before he can pluck up the courage to try another tactic.
The old woman is surprised when a tall, handsome man starts picking up the groceries she had dropped.
She realizes at his smile, however, who it is.
“You're that gay from the papers,” she says.
The man’s smile falters. “I prefer to think of myself as a human being, not--” He shakes his head, letting go of the thought. “Sure,” he tells her, too soft-hearted to correct an older woman, although likely younger than himself.
She scrutinizes him a moment and Steve glances away sheepishly. “You and that man of yours saved the city, didn't you?”
“We certainly tried,” he tells her earnestly.
The old woman stares at him another minute, expression unreadable. “Thank you very much.” She takes her groceries from him and offers a wide, wrinkly smile of gratitude.
Steve is too stunned to respond.
“Mr. Stark,” the woman greets, and she's probably about a decade his junior.
Tony quirks a smile at her, taking her offered hand and placing a kiss to the back of it. “And you are?”
“Vanessa,” she replies.
“Vanessa,” he repeats with a flirtatious wink. “It's lovely to meet you.”
The woman smiles and it's the kind Tony is used to, the kind that says her dress could be on his floor should he say the right word or phrase.
The conversation is light, but there's a layer of tension underneath it.
“Won't you ask?” she comes to finally, almost exasperated.
Tony blinks. For just a second, he's at a loss. “I'm sorry,” he starts slowly. “What did you expect?”
“I think you know,” she replies with the raise of an eyebrow.
Tony smiles, but he is closing himself off. “I'm married,” he tells her.
The woman scoffs. “I thought that was just for show.”
Tony only screws his eyebrows together, his mouth slightly agape, stares at her until she leaves, shaking her head. “It was,” he responds, belatedly.
Across the room, he catches Steve’s eye, finds that he has to look away so as not to embarrass himself.
Pepper sorts through the mail before it ever reaches the gaze of Tony or Steve.
She rolls her eyes at the more pathetic threats, informs the police about others.
There are messages, however, that she ensures make it to Tony and Steve’s hands.
Hell, she finds herself crying over some of the stories people share--what they've gone through, the way they felt after they saw the picture in the paper. The people who had the courage to be themselves thanks to their heroes, whether or not they had seen them that way before.
Pepper had been against it. The marriage, that is.
She had thought the whole thing was far too much of a sham, that it could only end badly. It had, after all, been somewhat dishonest. Legal loopholes for the transference of certain estates, for the combining of accounts.
For the sake of--
Pepper turns from the sorted piles of letters--real letters and printed emails alike--and stares at the framed paper on her wall.
Then, her phone rings.
“Tony, what--” she rubs her eyes. “I don't need to know the size of your husband’s-- Wait. He’d never? That just can't be right.”