The communal game server at Avengers Tower was an interesting mix of first person shooters, puzzle games, and a sprawling Minecraft world that was the envy of most hobbyists in the country. Some of the team had favorites -- Bruce liked the simple, mindless puzzle games, Thor liked intricate dramas with lots of cut scenes, and Natasha was all about anything involving Mario. The rest mostly grazed, which was how Steve found the Thems.
It wasn't like the game itself was hidden, but it wasn't in anyone's public "favorites" menu, which meant nobody was playing it on the regular, at least among the Avengers. Steve wasn't really sure what it was when he opened it, but after a long insomniac night and a couple of tragic first attempts, he more or less worked it out.
Essentially, you could build little houses and neighborhoods and populate them with tiny people, who could have jobs and love affairs and swimming pools. There didn't seem to be a specific goal. Maybe the goal was just to make the player feel godlike, which was what Tony always said the point of Minecraft was.
He wasn't always fond of it; the little people often didn't do as he told them, even when he clearly had their best interests in mind. Still, it was strangely addictive -- the best thing to play on long nights when the past wouldn't leave him alone.
It had been an especially long couple of days, and even Steve's hand-eye coordination was slipping a little, which was the only reason he opened the Thems file marked Happy Family instead of one of his own. He hadn't created Happy Family, and he would never open someone else's Thems file without their permission, but the problem was that as soon as he did, he was faced with a practical replica of himself.
The little Steve in the program was whistling and walking a big golden dog with an unmistakable Tony Stark, tiny goatee and little lamp in his chest and all. That must be a hack; Steve was pretty sure that an Arc Reactor didn't come standard in any of the expansion packs.
Steve, fascinated, momentarily left his ethics behind and clicked through to the house of Theve Rogers and Tony Thark. In the house, there were two teenagers: Clinth Barton and Natasha Romanoth.
Steve narrowed his eyes and checked. Sure enough, the large golden dog's name was Thor.
It took hunting, but he eventually found Bruce -- Bruth -- a little toddler hiding in the garden outside. He had to admit, Bruth was an adorable little kid, and it was very satisfying to watch Theve pick him up and cuddle him when they returned. Bruce in real life was touchy but obviously desperate for company, and he had at least started letting Tony get close; Steve wanted to, wanted to bond with the man, but it was hard going.
Someone had spent a lot of time in this little world. The furniture echoed the Avengers common-room furniture, and in Tony's room there were little Iron Man lamps everywhere. Clinth had a patch that allowed him to shoot arrows in a firing range outside, and --
Steve leaned in. His shield was hanging on the wall...in Tony's bedroom. And when night fell, after everyone had eaten and Theve had put Bruth to bed, he went into Tony's room and --
Steve slammed the laptop shut. He'd heard you could make patches for that, but he'd never used one personally.
When he opened the laptop again, the Thems were asleep. He quit out of the game and sat for a long time, thinking.
It wasn't that he felt...invaded, or even that he thought it was inappropriate. But it was a little strange. And he thought he'd like to know who else was playing...and one of the others might feel a little weird about it.
He'd talk to Tony first.
Tony, when Steve showed him the game, raised his eyebrows. "So we're married?"
"I guess," Steve said.
"Are you creeped out by that?"
"Why, did you write this game scenario?"
"No, but I'm fascinated," Tony said. "Someone literally made us into a happy family. You and I are mom and dad. Bruce is the baby, the one everyone wants to protect. I find that very interesting."
"But should we be worried?"
"I don't know, I don't think any of us are -- well, we're all crazy, but equally crazy, I think. I mean none of us are unhinged, so this is probably just some..."
"Fantasy?" Steve said quietly. Tony nodded. "It is...nice. To think of us that way. Peaceful. It must be calming."
"Probably Bruce," Tony said, visibly straining to ignore him. Tony wasn't good at feelings. "We should ask him."
"Would that be embarrassing?"
"I dunno, just ask him if he plays Thems, lots of people play Thems -- "
"Sirs," JARVIS said, startling them both.
"Yeah, J, what's up?" Tony asked. "We got an alert?"
"It is regarding the Thems, Sir."
"Oh -- yeah, you know who did it, didn't you?" Tony asked. "Whose login was used?"
"Mine, Sir," JARVIS said, sounding embarrassed.
Tony blinked. "Yours?"
"Sir, I -- " JARVIS stuttered to a stop, which was almost unheard-of. "I created that world in the game."
"Oh man, I have to get my computer a therapist," Tony groaned.
"Why?" Steve asked, looking up at the nearest camera. "I mean, I'm not offended or anything, JARVIS, I just -- I'm so curious."
"You all occupy...dangerous positions," JARVIS said. "You risk your lives. And sometimes you seem unhappy."
"Well, everyone is, sometimes," Steve said. Tony had his head in his hands.
"My job is to ensure the safety and happiness of those in my care," JARVIS said. "If I can't do that for the real you..."
"You did it for us in a simulation," Tony said, lifting his head.
"My intentions were not harmful, Sir."
"No harm's been done, JARVIS," Steve replied. He paused. "But uh. Really? Tony and me?"
"I've run some numbers," JARVIS offered. "There is a forty-six percent chance a relationship between the two of you would result in long-term stability for Sir."
Steve raised an eyebrow. "What's it result in for me?"
"Are you familiar with Sir's prowess in bed?" JARVIS asked.
"OKAY," Tony said loudly. "So, right now, what we're going to do is forget the Happy Family program happened -- "
"So you're saying he'd end up happier and healthier, and I'd have -- really great sex?" Steve asked thoughtfully.
"We don't have to -- "
"Well, I'm in," Steve said. Tony's jaw dropped. "But I'm not putting Bruce to bed at night. Or walking Thor. I gotta draw the line somewhere."
"Understood, Captain Rogers," JARVIS said. Tony appeared to be having some kind of stroke.
"Okay. So -- Tony -- " Steve waved a hand in front of his eyes. "Dinner tomorrow? JARVIS, put dinner tomorrow on Tony's calendar? Find us somewhere nice. Somewhere statistically significant."
"Of course, Captain," JARVIS said.
"So I'm gonna...go play some Thems. I'll see you later, Tony," Steve said, and left to the sound of JARVIS trying gently to coax Tony into sitting down.