The only thing that would have been more painful than the actual fact and aftermath of Steve refusing to sign the Sokovia Accords would have been if two months later someone in Oslo had released a sex tape of Steve and Tony, so that is precisely what happened.
Pepper called Tony at 8AM on a Tuesday. Tony always knew when Pepper had terrible news to deliver because she asked where he was and who he was with. Otherwise she assumed she didn’t want to know.
“Fuck,” Tony said, pushing himself up with his elbows on the pillow– good humor exhausted, playfulness exhausted, artifice exhausted, self-skepticism at an all-time high. “What?”
“There’s a sex tape of you and Steve,” Pepper said, because she was good at not fucking around an issue. "It’s in the press. Candace forwarded me three voicemails from General Ross. Jen and Terrence are standing by for a teleconference, and we’re ready to discuss ways to handle the story.“
All the breath left Tony’s body in a rush. He leaned his forehead against the pillow.
He and Steve had had sex four times, and only one of those had been in any place remotely accessible by surveillance, so he was pretty sure what the footage would contain.
The two of them leaned against a tree in the middle of nowhere in the late afternoon, Steve’s warm panting breath against Tony’s throat, the plackets of Steve’s jacket knotted in Tony’s hands.
The main road had been no more than twenty feet behind them, and it had been an idiotic risk, but being with Steve had always made Tony feel invulnerable, like all was right, like nothing could touch them.
"Why are you on this?” Tony asked. It should have been Candace reporting Tony’s voicemails, and for one dizzying instant, amidst the noise, Tony congratulated himself for being aware of other people, but that immediately made him think of Steve.
After a second’s hesitation, Pepper said, “I wanted to call you.”
Her voice was gentle, and it hit Tony, suddenly, what was happening– that every major global news channel would be playing tasteful stills of him and Captain America grinding against each other– maybe with Steve’s hand tucked over Tony’s jaw, the crook of Steve’s uniformed thigh hiding Tony’s undone fly. Possibly a frozen perfect still of them kissing. Something sweet for every blog in America.
“Can you see my face?” he asked. "In the video,“ he clarified.
"It’s definitely you.”
Tony huffed a laugh, feeling a sharp twist of something– that old familiar mix of shame, remorse and gratitude– at the thought of Pepper reviewing the footage. The grainy reel of her ex-lover leaned against the man he’d been drawn to more and more, then, as he’d been drawn to Pepper and Stark Industries less and less.
“Tell Jen and Terrence I’ll handle it,” Tony said. “I’ll txt Candace.”
Then he hung up the phone, silencing it, slapping it face-down on the bedspread. He said, “FRIDAY,” and the beginning frame of the footage appeared on the ceiling over the bed. Tony forwarded it to frames in 360-second intervals to get a sense of what it contained so he wouldn’t be caught off guard, and then he shut it off.
He didn’t watch it because he wasn’t Steve.
Steve would watch the whole thing. Maybe curled up on a sofa with Bucky in Belize, watching the whole video to prove that he could– while Bucky said things like, “god, you’re sexy,” or however Soviet assassins from the forties said things like that– with Steve’s soothing hand combing through Bucky’s hair, maybe, his gaze fixed on the screen with steely resolve.
But Tony was weak with ambivalence, weak with hurt, and there was too much to do and too much depending on him.
Steve treated trauma like a villain– a Nazi to be punched, a weakness like asthma to be resentfully managed or ignored– but Tony treated trauma like something to be respected. Like a vaccine or a beloved ex: like something that had tried to make him better and failed.
The official response would be that some imposter had impersonated Tony Stark’s face, just like Helmut Zemo two months earlier had impersonated James Barnes’s face.
Even with that plausible explanation, though, the imagery was enough to spark the global imagination, and Tony could see the conversation as it would occur over and over again for the next six months.
The reporters would ask somberly: What is the nature of your relationship with the outlaw formerly known as Captain America?
Tony would be seated comfortably wearing an expertly tailored three-piece suit, fatigue smoothed away with amphetamines and concealer and botox.
The screen behind them would flash a retouched black and white image of him and Steve– Steve’s mouth on Tony’s neck; Tony facing the camera with his eyes closed, his mouth open, his whole face clenched up with need; Steve’s perfect hand just starting to push up the hem of Tony’s shirt.
Tony would glance back at it and huff a laugh, shaking his head, incredulous.
Then he would look back at the reporter and answer the truth: We used to work together. It’s nothing.