Tony and Steve were an overly affectionate couple.
Tony drank his morning coffee sitting on Steve’s lap. Steve never walked past Tony without kissing his cheek. Tony texted Steve constantly, even if it was nothing more than talking about a dog he had seen. They held hands through movies. Played footsie through dinner. Used one pillow at night because Tony slept with his head on Steve’s chest and that’s all he needed. Steve stood behind Tony as he worked and rubbed his shoulders when they hurt. Tony washed Steve’s hair in the shower.
Overly affectionate, and every one in the Compound took it in stride. They smiled and moved around the couple when they kissed in the hallway. Saved the biggest chair on movie night so they could cuddle. Knew better than to come near the lab when the windows were blacked out.
Overly affectionate, and it was fine.
But the minute they left the compound, everything changed.
They arrived in separate cars to press events. Steve posed with Natasha for pictures, Tony with Pepper. Steve would hug Sam when they met in public, but Tony got a handshake. Tony kissed everyone’s cheek when he said hello, but only smiled up at Steve. They never stood next to each other if they could help it. Avoided being seen walking together. If anyone were to ask, they would say that maybe Steve and Tony just didn’t really like each other. Maybe the friction between them at the battle of New York had carried over longer and they really didn’t want to be around each other.
It wasn’t the truth of course. But it was the truth they let the public see.
And the entire team respected that they wanted to stay private, but Peter— Peter had some questions.
“Why do you and Cap hide your relationship?” As untactful as any teenager could be, and somehow uncoordinated despite the spidey-ness, Peter flopped into the chair opposite Tony, and threw his feet up on the table.
“Feet off the table.” Tony said automatically. “This is the Four Seasons, not the Five Guys.”
“My bad.” Peter clonked his feet onto the ground, and then repeated,. “Why do you and Cap hide your relationship?”
“I feel like as a sixteen year old, you have zero business asking me that.” Tony was signing documents as fast as he could, putting a check mark next to where Steve needed to sign.
“Well… as a member of the team–”
“–I think I can handle it, Mr. Stark.” Peter blinked those giant brown eyes at him. “I’m just curious. At the compound you guys are like, glommed onto each other? But then we go somewhere, like now? And you have separate bedrooms. What’s that about?”
Tony took a deep breath in and let it out through his nose, fixing the kid with his perfected dad look, a clear warning to back off, but Peter didn’t flinch, eyebrows raised, hands clasped as he waited.
“Alright.” Tony put his pen down and folded his arms. “I want to go public. I do. I love Steve and if I could paint it across the sky, I would do it tomorrow.”
“So why don’t you?”
“Because it could seriously damage Cap’s reputation.” he said firmly. “He is an American hero, part of the Greatest Generation, fought Nazi’s, survived the Arctic– he is a man’s man. And coming out gay?” Tony shook his head. “He would be crucified. America doesn’t want gay heroes. They want him to save the day, kiss babies and get the pretty girl, and go to church on Sundays.”
“And to vote Republican.” he added after a minute. “The powers that be would want Cap to vote Republican. A gay Captain America would just explode their tiny heads. Could really damage his reputation, and the Avengers.”
“But you hate keeping it a secret.” Peter pointed out. “The magazines always say you guys don’t like each other. I know you hate that.”
“I do hate it.” Tony started signing again. “But kiddo, things are more complicated than highschool would lead you to believe. For whatever reason, people treat a sexual orientation as if its the only thing that matters about you, and I won’t see Cap’s reputation and everything he’s done be tarnished because people can’t handle him not being straight.”
“So you won’t come out, because you think it will ruin Cap?” he asked.
“That’s exactly right.” Tony cleared his throat so he wouldn’t sound so emotional. “For the sake of all that? We will be happy at home, fake everywhere else.”
“Cap. Sir. Mr. Rogers.” Peter saluted awkwardly from the doorway, and Steve smiled at him.
“Pete. You can call me Steve.”
“Aunt May would kill me for calling an adult by their first name.” Peter jumped across the room and landed neatly in a chair. “And I’d like to avoid that, thanks.”
“What’s on your mind?” Steve waited patiently, expecting the teenager to ask for help with homework, or maybe need encouragement for the press conference tomorrow, or–
“Why don’t you let everyone know how much you love Tony? I mean Mr. Stark?” Peter blurted, and Steve’s face turned red. “Not to be rude? Am I being rude? It seemed less rude with Mr. Stark. Um– ok. I just– I just gotta know! You guys are all miserable and cranky in separate rooms and have to act cold to each other at the press conference. Why don’t you just say something? Anything!”
“Well, Peter.” Steve took a sip of water and sighed and Peter tried not to roll his eyes because he knew he was in for one of those Captain America talks where Steve used his Ultra Patriotic voice.
“The thing is, Tony has a very public image, you understand? He has established himself as a charmer, as a play boy. He is a genius, but people want that glittery persona he has as well. Making a deal with Tony Stark involves being wined and dined in fancy restaurants, flirted with, wowed by his charisma–”
Steve chewed at his lip for a few seconds, and when he spoke again, the false tone was gone. “Basically, Pete. If people knew that Tony was gay, it could ruin his image. It would ruin how people see him, what they associate with the Stark name. His stock could plummet, he could lose contracts and god, the rumours.”
Steve sat back in the chair in frustration. “The rumours, Pete. Tony has been plagued by paparazzi his whole life. Do you know what would happen if he came out? Questions about what goes on at the compound. If Colonel Rhodes was his secret lover when he was at MIT at fourteen. People talk about gay people. They talk and they speculate, and they act as if who we want to kiss suddenly changes core things about us.”
“So you won’t come out because it could ruin Tony.” Peter said flatly.
“It’s not worth what it will do to him.” Steve nodded. “We will just be happy at home and… fake… everywhere else.”
“You walk on first.” Tony said, and Steve wrapped his arms around his waist and pulled him closer. “They always like to see the Man with a Plan. Then Peter, because they love the kid. Then I’ll come out. No Iron Man, just my suit. Keep the focus on you two.”
“What if we walked out together?” Steve whispered, squeezing him tight. “No one would think anything, Tony. It could be fine.”
“It could be.” Tony admitted. “But this is how we’ve always done it. Probably better to just leave it.”
“Yeah probably.” Steve rubbed his forehead on Tony’s shoulder. “Don’t want to start anyone talking.”
They were quiet for a minute, soaking in each other’s warmth before having to be separated all day.
Lost in the moment, they both jumped when the door to Tony’s suite banged open, and Peter marched through.
“Oh, Peter.” Tony straightened and started to move off of Steve’s lap. “Are you ready?”
“Stay there.” Peter snapped a pile of web at them, all but gluing Tony onto Steve’s lap and they stared at him in shock.
“Now just– just listen, alright?” Peter hopped up onto a chair, sitting on the back of it so he wasn’t looking up at them. “You guys are so so in love, yeah? Like, its amazing. You know they call you super husbands online? And they’re right. You guys are perfect husbands, but no one else knows that except the team. And me. Junior Avenger.”
He waited to see if they would say anything, but Tony’s face only fell, and Steve looked away.
“Right. So look. Both of you want to go public, but you’re scared of ruining the others reputation.”
“Its a valid fear, Peter.” Steve said and Tony nodded slowly. “You know alot of things, but you’re still a kid and don’t realize that–”
“You’re right.” Peter interrupted. “I am just a kid. And that’s why you guys need to step up or step out or come out or something. Because kids like me need to see my heroes being brave.” he pointed at them. “Like that. Specifically.”
“No listen!” Peter jumped to his feet, balancing on top of the chair effortlessly. “Listen to me. Just for a minute. Kids need to see you being brave. Need to see you facing the camera and the criticism and all that because seeing you do it, means that maybe we are brave enough to do it, you know?”
“…we?” Tony raised an eyebrow. “We, Pete?”
The teenager flushed bright red, but lifted his chin stubbornly. “I thought for a long time that wanting to– that feeling the way I felt was wrong. It wasn’t May’s fault, she’s super supportive. Its not my friends, they don’t care. But I did. And it felt like the world did. I like girls, I do. But then I think I like guys. Some days I don’t know, alright? But the very first time, the very first time I saw you two kiss?”
Peter looked between them for a few seconds, before continuing quieter, “That was the first time I thought that I was alright. Because seeing my mentors and my heroes in love with each other, regardless of what anyone thought? It was amazing. You guys can do it. I can do it. You can be honest, I can be honest.”
“Bisexual?” Steve muttered, and Tony muttered, “I think that’s what he’s telling us.”
“YES.” Peter cried. “Yes! Kay? I’m bisexual and I was never brave enough to even think about saying that out loud before I saw you two together! But then we go outside and you act like you barely like each other? And all these excuses– all the old school people won’t like it and blah blah blah. Forget them.”
Peter dropped back onto the chair and held his hands out pleadingly. “Forget them, and think about all the kids and teenagers who watch you and if they saw you guys kiss, maybe they would feel for the first fucking–”
“–for the first gosh darn time, that not only can they be brave enough to be honest about who they are? But that they are normal. Loved. Accepted.”
He waited a beat, then added, “Saving the world isn’t just about stopping bombs and saving puppies. Its got to be more than that. We need more than that.”
Peter stood up and left without another word.
Then he ran back in and tore the webs apart, chuckling and waving awkwardly as he left again.
Tony got off Steve’s lap and went to get a drink.
Steve went to get dressed for the press conference.
It was just like every other press conference.
Steve and Peter in full costume, Tony in his suit standing to the side to keep the focus on them.
He deflected most of the questions towards Steve, kept pointing the reporters at Peter, and basically tried to melt into the background.
It was going perfectly well, the reporters smiling and laughing at the clever lines, applauding over the good ol’ boys speeches.
And then a reporter from some teen magazine who had gotten their very first invite to an Avengers press conference to try and get an interview with Spider-man, Teen Sensation, opened her mouth and asked, “Spider-man. You are one of the worlds favorite heroes. And we don’t know how old you are, but polls suggest maybe early college. You are in such an influential position right now, could change this next generation with just a few words. After months of shadowing your mentors Captain America, and of course Iron Man, what would you say to the teenagers of America, and of the world right now? What lessons have you learned from these great men that you could pass on?”
Peter answered without hesitating, “The best thing Mr. Stark and Mr. Rogers have taught me is to be brave, on and off the battlefied.”
“Oh.” the reporter looked a little disappointed, obviously expecting a longer answer. “Could you give me an example of how they teach you that?”
“Uh– I can answer that.” Steve cut in. “If you don’t mind, Spider-man. Because really, he has taught me a thing or two about what being brave means, and I’d like to share that with you all right now.”
A murmur of agreement, a smattering of applause, pens and recorders ready to capture whatever Spiderman had managed to teach the first Avenger.
They weren’t expecting Captain America to reach back and motion Tony Stark forward. They weren’t expecting him to bend Tony Stark over and lay a barely suitable for TV kiss on his lips.
And they certainly weren’t expecting Tony to burst into tears and kiss him back.
“Being brave is more than stopping bombs and saving puppies!” Peter called over noise over the clapping and yelling from some of the younger reporters, the shocked gasps from some of the more traditional.
“Sometimes being a hero means being brave about this sort of thing too.” Steve grabbed Tony’s hand and kissed him again, brushing over his lips. “I love you Tony.”
“I love you too.” Tony grinned. “But if we end up fugitives because of this, we are blaming the kid.”
“I’m thanking the kid.” Steve corrected. “No more hiding.”
“No more hiding.” Tony agreed. “Partly because I don’t want to. Partly because this just went out live on national TV.”
Steve’s eyes widened in a brief flash of panic and Tony shrugged. “Eh. I was never that subtle anyway. This is fine.”