“Look, Steve, it’s perfectly safe!”
Steve arched a disbelieving brow at Tony. “Oh really? Then why do you need someone with ‘enhanced durability’ to test it?”
It wasn’t the first time that he’d gotten conned into serving as guinea pig for one of the mad scientists in his life, but there was an almost manic gleam in Tony’s eyes that said he’d been up working for an obscene stretch of time and he was past that point where recklessness and common sense got tangled up.
The last time Steve had tested something for him when he’d shown up in a similar state, they’d set the workshop on fire. Pepper still hadn’t forgiven either of them for that. And while Tony being taken to task over creating a mess had not been anything new and clearly had little to no effect, the Look of Extreme Disappointment that Steve had received wasn’t something that would soon be forgotten.
Apparently, he should have known better than to trust that Tony knew what he was doing.
Tony rolled his eyes and made a sound of exasperation. “Because there’s a chance - almost infinitesimal,really, but still technically existent - that it could explode.”
“It’s science and engineering, Steve! Explosions are all part of the fun!”
Steve gave a pointed look to the center of Tony’s stained t-shirt where the mark of the arc reactor was still stretched into the material even though the reactor itself was now gone.
Another eye roll. Steve was waiting for the day when Tony’s eyes finally just rolled right out of his head. “Okay, obviously not all explosions are fun, but on a purely experimental level, in a safe and controlled setting like say... a lab, fun can totally be had.”
“Mmhm.” Steve wasn’t actually as doubtful or as disapproving as he knew he sounded. He’d been a soldier, deep behind enemy lines with Howard Stark and Jacques Dernier for company. Sometimes explosions were the most fun that could be had and he understood that. But Pepper’s disapproval had been as fierce as Peggy’s had ever been.
In new vernacular, Tony could suck it up and explain himself with something better than ‘explosions are fun’.
Sighing, Tony threw his hands up. “It’s not going to explode, Steve. At its core, it’s just repulsor technology. Strangely enough, I do know a little bit about that.”
“Why did you feel the need to put it in a jet-pack?”
“Repulsor-pack and I was bored,” Tony replied with a shrug as he grabbed a screwdriver and leaned in to poke at something in the innards of the prototype.
Steve had the uncomfortable thought that perhaps it wasn’t quite finished yet, but told himself that Tony wasn’t that irresponsible. Not when the life in danger wasn’t his own, at any rate. “Err…”
“JARVIS and I were looking into other applications for repulsors.” Tony continued, overriding any possible questioning Steve could attempt to muster. “We’ve come up with a hundred fifty two so far.”
“One hundred and fifty-one, sir. You decided that equipping a toaster with repulsors was likely to be more trouble than it was worth.”
Tony stabbed through the air with a thoughtful look on his face. “Oh right. I forgot about that. What would I do without you, J?”
“I’ve no idea, sir.” There was a dry tone in the AI’s voice that immediately had Tony distracted, bickering about the amount of sass he was expected to put up with from his own creations.
Steve didn’t even want to know why putting repulsors on toasters had ever been an option to consider. Sometimes he was fascinated by how Tony’s mind worked and wanted to know the hows and whys of it all, but other times…. Other times he just accepted that it was better not to ask.
He ignored Tony and JARVIS and leaned in closer to study the jet-pack. He wasn’t an engineering genius by any stretch of the imagination, but he’d been around his fair share of engines during the war and he’d gotten a lot more familiar with repulsor technology since he’d moved into the Avengers Tower with the others.
Everything that he could see looked sound. And he’d never heard of Tony blowing up any repulsors
“Up to your standards?”
Even though Tony’s teasing expression and mischievous smirk matched the humor in his voice, Steve couldn’t help the faint blush or the way he scratched the back of his neck with a bit of sheepishness. “I’m sure your standards are higher than mine.”
The myriad of emotions that flitted over the other man’s face too quickly for Steve to really parse any single one. Steve’s fingers itched for a pencil. For every expression he’d managed to capture over the months, it seemed like there were a dozen more that he wasn’t quick enough or skilled enough to catch.
Tony was nothing if not mercurial, but he finally seemed to settle on being pleased by Steve’s comment.
“I had to really pull back with the force to keep it user friendly, but I think that someone with a decent sense of balance should be able to handle it. Which would be the other reason why you’re my favorite guinea pig.” Tony tossed the screwdriver back down on the table. He spread his arms wide. “Come on, Oh Captain my Captain. Fly with me.”
His tone was something more than a request, but something less than a taunt. Either way, Steve couldn’t help but respond to it. A smile slipped out of his control and he shrugged. “Could be fun.”
Tony clapped his hands together and mimed shooting his fingers at Steve. “Now that’s what I like to hear. Since the super spies took the jet out on their latest mission, I figure we can do the initial tests in the quinjet hangar before we head up to the roof. No one wants to see if super soldier serum can heal a fall from a hundred floors up and I’m pretty sure the entire world would literally crucify me if they found out it was my fault. Forget a stock drop. We’re talking deep sea plunge, there.”
It had taken a few months of near constant exposure, but Steve had learned how to sift through Tony’s babble to catch the important parts.
Smiling, he dipped his head in agreement. “So do you want to do this now or should we wait until Bruce is around in case one of us needs medical attention?”
“Oh, ha ha,” Tony replied, scooping the screwdriver back up to point at Steve with a tsk. “Captain America’s got jokes, J. Call the presses.”
“I believe the press is still in a tizzy about his defense of same sex marriages, sir. Director Fury may not appreciate it if you give them too many shocks in one year.”
“True, true.” His expression turned devilish for a moment. “I suppose we can keep the funny side of Cap all to ourselves, then. Their loss. I’m not sure they could… handle all the sides of Cap quite the way we can.”
A fuzzy feeling of warmth filled Steve’s chest at the pride edging into Tony’s grin, chasing away his lingering embarrassment over the incident and the fresh wave caused by the teasing.
Sending the country into a heated frenzy hadn’t been his intention, but when a reporter had asked for his opinion on a national story about a boy who’d been bullied into a suicide attempt for his orientation, Steve hadn’t been able to keep quiet. His blistering condemnations were still coming up on certain news channels even though it had been weeks.
He hated bullies, always had, always would. And he’d never understood why what turned a person’s crank was anyone’s business but their own.
It was something he was still trying to figure out for himself in this new century where it wasn’t illegal anymore and Tony flirted like it was breathing. He hated the idea that some kid struggling to accept himself had been backed into a corner where he’d felt he had no other way out.
He hadn’t realized that his fellow Avengers had expected him to be small-minded and bigoted until they’d each expressed their pride in his willingness to take the hit to his reputation.
More than any of the others, though, Tony had seemed to take a special amount of pleasure in the way the press had reacted to Steve’s telling them all off for placing their agendas before a young man’s life.
“You’ve got about five seconds before I decide that you do want to wait for Bruce and I head back up to my room, Tony. Five, fou-”
“All right, all right.” Tony’s hands cut through the air before the countdown could get any further. He did something with the prototype’s control panel that made the outer cover slide over the innards before scooping up and pushing it into Steve’s arms, ignoring the arched brow as he continued. “So impatient. Didn’t anyone ever teach you that patience is a virtue? At least, that’s what everyone keeps telling me. I don’t have much use for it myself, but I’d have thought you’d be better at it given your advanced age and all.”
Steve wasn’t all that surprised that he was expected to carry everything. Tony took a deep sense of pleasure in using Steve and Thor for manual labor.
Fingering the edges of the case, wondering how it was supposed to work without straps and buckles, Steve followed along behind Tony obediently. “Why’d you make a jetpack, anyway?”
“Repulsor pack, Cap. It’s made to use repulsors, not jet fuel. Which is, like, the entire point. The suit is good, right? No, the suit is great. Maneuverability in a tight situation is key, you know?”
Steve’s lips twitched. “I’m somewhat aware, yes.”
“Exactly!” As he was wont to do, Tony ignored the vague hint of sarcasm and focused on the agreement. His words practically tumbled over each other as he warmed up to his topic. “There’ve been a handful of military and paramilitary programs aimed at quick and solo rescue missions in military hot zones, but the equipment is subpar. They rely too much on fossil fuels and Justin fucking Hammer’s attempts at circuitry. Even after all that mess in- Well, that’s not the point. Subpar. That’s the point. And even that much isn’t available to the general public - not until after the military is ready to retire it from a long and distinguished career where it’s already through half its shelf-life.”
The admonishment got him an eye roll, but also forced the other man to pause long enough to take the ordered breath. He spun around to walk backwards, hands gesticulating. “Bossy. The point is that they’re all limited by their equipment. Police and the fire department, search and rescue, coast guard. The current technology that they’re working with makes rescues dangerous for both rescuer and rescuee. Did you know that the coast guard alone loses almost two hundred every single year? And that’s post-response. Pre-response lives lost are over five hundred a year. If we could give them better, safer equipment, then maybe we could get those numbers down to zero.”
The passion in Tony’s voice made Steve smile. It had taken time, but he’d eventually figured out that New York hadn’t been a fluke. Tony cared a lot more than he liked people to know and he loved using his genius in quirky ways to solve the problems he tried to pretend were beneath him.
Tony filled the entire trip between his lab and the quinjet hangar with statistics and possibilities without needing much contribution from Steve.
It was one of the things he’d come to like about the other man. Tony could talk for hours and never needed more feedback than JARVIS could provide for him. As long as he knew that his audience was listening - or at least pretending to listen - he was content. It took the burden off of Steve. Though he could hold his own in an strategic or militaristic conversation, Steve had never really lost his awkwardness in more casual conversations. And too often people dotted their conversation with cultural tidbits that Steve had no background to really understand. Even Bruce did it from time to time and he tended to be more conscientious about avoiding such references than anyone else.
The hangar was as empty as promised. Steve wasn’t sure what mission Clint and Natasha were on beyond it being something related to their continuing jobs as spies for Fury and that they weren’t due back until the end of the week. He’d offered to go with them, but Clint had just snorted while Natasha had actually patted him on the head and said they needed subtlety and the ability to blend in.
“Okay, so.” Tony clapped his hands together and turned to take the pack from Steve. “You are just going to stand there and look pretty for a second while I get this thing on you.”
Part of him wanted to protest, but Steve stood still obediently.
Moving around behind him, Tony held the pack against his back. He muttered to himself for a moment, then mechanized straps shuffled together and practically crawled down Steve’s chest to meet another set coming up from behind his ribs. It was disconcerting, but not entirely unlike watching pieces of the Iron Man armor settle themselves.
“So how do I control this thing?” Steve asked, glancing over his shoulder.
“Well, I considered giving it wings, but I think we can save that for a later model. Simple lift and movement is the most important thing right now.” Tony came back around to the front and motioned for Steve to raise his hands. Then he slapped a pair of metal bracers over Steve’s wrists. Much like the harness had come together over his chest, the pieces extended downwards to cover his hands and fingers forming gauntlets similar to those of the Iron Man armor. “So, basic power control is in the fingers. Motor functions are in the wrist movement.”
“Like the suit?” He’d spent more time watching Tony in the suit than he could really justify under the guise of team leader. It was a fascinating piece of technology, beautiful in form and function, and Tony moved in it with a grace that Steve could only envy.
Tony snorted. “Only in the most simplistic of ways. There aren’t any repulsors in these gauntlets. I might change that later, but it’s pretty common knowledge that I use the repulsors at my hands as defensive and offensive measures as well as maneuverability. I’m not really comfortable just handing that over to anyone.”
“Aren’t you worried about someone reverse engineering something they shouldn’t from the pack itself?” The singularly unimpressed look that Tony turned on him had Steve waving his hands slightly as if to erase his own words. “Okay, okay. Stupid question. But one I had to ask.”
“Sure, whatever helps you sleep at night, Cap. No. I don’t like it when other people mess with my tech, you should know this by now. Hence, only the basic functions. Now. If you’re done second guessing me, can I please finish giving you the Cliff Notes user manual or what?”
The urge to start an argument lingered just under the surface as it frequently did when Tony got short with him, but Steve managed to quell it. He was getting better and better at that every day. It wasn’t even hard anymore, not like it had been when he’d first moved into the Tower, before he’d really gotten to know the man under the mask better.
Instead, he just nodded for Tony to continue.
The genius eyed him for a moment before raising his own hands in front of Steve’s. He wiggled his fingers. “Like I said. Fingers. There’s motion control for the power in the fingers. Move them like this to increase power and like this to decrease it. Small increments. The back repulsors rotate to control your motor functions. Those controls are in the wrists. Moving your wrists like so will toggle the repulsor angles. It should be fairly intuitive, but that’s part of the reason why we’re in here, so you can work all of that out for yourself. Think you got it?”
It was Steve’s turn to roll his eyes at Tony. Why they all persisted in believing he was some kind of an idiot who couldn’t grasp the simplest bits of modern technology no matter how many times he proved them wrong was beyond him.
He liked to think that he’d been intelligent even before the serum had enhanced his brain function. He might never be a certified genius with multiple degrees in whatever took his fancy, but no one had ever had to show him anything more than once.
“Yes, Tony. I think I got it.”
“Hey, don’t get sassy with me, Spangles,” Tony said, grinning at him. “You’re the one that complains that Bruce and I don’t speak English around you.”
“Yeah, when you’re going on about quantum physics and theoretical sciences. Neither of you even finish half your sentences when you get caught up in brainstorming with each other.”
It was like watching a ping pong match and trying to read tiny script written on the ball in the middle of it. Steve did better understanding them when he could get one of them away from the other and have a coherent, complete explanation for whatever they were talking about instead of trying to catch the fragments that flew between them.
Tony waved a hand at him. “Well then, have at it. DUM-E and Butterfingers are getting their own upgrades, so I have JARVIS manning fire control.”
Though he was hesitant at first, Steve found that Tony was right. The controls were fairly intuitive. There were a few hairy moments where he underestimated the controls or grossly overcorrected that made him glad that they’d started in the safety of the hangar, but overall he got the hang of it without much difficulty.
Tony was his usual helpful self, catcalling and booing in turn, egging on Steve’s more reckless side and threatening to sell tickets whenever he messed up. He was being so ridiculous by the end that Steve couldn’t help but laugh along with him.
Flying was fun and Tony was good company when he wasn’t deliberately being antagonizing.
When Steve finally touched down and flicked his fingers to power down the repulsors, Tony was practically vibrating. “So? Ready to try this out in the wild blue yonder? I’m pretty sure we can safely say that there won’t be any explosions or splats.”
“I can do this all day.” It was exhilarating in a way that he hadn’t expected. Parachuting and riding in airplanes were positively dull in comparison.
A flick of fingers and the power came back on, then another. On, off.
Tony’s grin was huge. “This is kid’s stuff. Let me hop in the suit and we’ll go do some real flying, shall we?”
It was always so easy to get caught up in Tony’s passion for the things he loved. Even if there was still a danger of ‘explosions or splats’, Steve wasn’t sure he could have said no.
The repulsor pack and gauntlets didn’t offer much in the way of protection, so Tony decided that they wouldn’t risk going any higher than the Tower itself - Pepper will literally kill me if we get you above the breathable air and bad things happen - but that left a lot of New York available to them.
The maze of buildings became a playground for their amusement.
Steve saw more than one camera phone turned in their direction as they weaved around the city. He was sure they’d be splashed all over the evening news, but Tony was used to the attention and Steve couldn’t bring himself to care.
By the time they finally settled back on the rooftop of the Tower, the night air had gotten significantly cooler and Steve couldn’t really feel his toes anymore.
It did nothing to stifle the simple joy of the day.
He smiled as Tony’s faceplate came up. “So I think it works.”
“So it does,” Tony replied, smiling back. “We should definitely do that again. I mean, you know… More testing. Might need to tweak a few things. And wings. I think wings should be a thing. Maybe we could add this to your uniform. You’d be like… the bald eagle, or something. Very patriotic.”
Laughing, Steve just shook his head. “This is fun and I’d love to fly again, but… maybe just on downtime or in emergencies, okay? Maybe give Clint the permanent wings.”
He could see the usefulness and he wouldn’t turn down an edge in a crisis, but Steve knew he wanted this to be something he kept for fun and hanging out with Tony. He didn’t want to make it about work if he didn’t have to.
“Oh! A bird joke! Captain, I’m so proud.” He mimed wiping a tear from the corner of his eye.
They both turned at the muffled sound of Pepper’s aggravated voice. She was standing inside the main room, just past the glass walls, waving her StarkPad around. The scowl on her face said that Tony had some explaining to do even if this experiment hadn’t gone belly up.
Tony snickered. “What do you want to bet Fox news called this a date and is slandering your name all over the place now?”
Steve glanced back at the other man in surprise. “Ya think so?”
With an arched brow, Tony shrugged. “It’s Fox and they’re still unhappy with you about the gay thing, so. Maybe not that exactly, but I’m sure they’re going to be going on about how bad of an influence I am. You didn’t even have a helmet on.” He shook his head and moved to let the assembly bots do their jobs. “I better go make sure they haven’t managed to completely rain on our parade.”
He was out of the suit and almost to the door before Steve managed to find his words again. “Hey, Tony?”
“Hey, Cap.” Tony spun around and waved at him.
“Don’t care what they say. It was the most fun I’ve had in ages.” Since long before he’d woken up in the wrong century, though he’d never admit that out loud. “They can’t handle that, screw ‘em.”
Tony practically beamed at him. “Screw ‘em. I like that. Can I tell Pepper that you’re the bad influence instead of me?”
“Doubt she’d buy it, but sure. You’re welcome to try.”
Pepper was learning that Steve could be as reckless and rebellious as anyone else - more so than most of the other Avengers, in fact - but she was the product of a generation of Captain America propaganda. She still tended to give him the benefit of the doubt most of the time.
“So not fair.” Despite the protest, Tony was still grinning as he continued inside.
Steve paused. He turned his face into the breeze and closed his eyes to enjoy it for a moment.
The twenty-first century wasn’t always the easiest place for him to be even when he managed to ignore how far out of his own time he really was.
He still had bad days. Days when he woke up and wasn’t quite sure why he should even bother getting out of bed.
Then there were days like this.
Days like this reminded him that there was still plenty of things to stick around for.
Smiling quietly to himself, he moved to join Tony and Pepper.