“Where did you get the bike?” Tony asks Cap, because while he was never really into that vintage fad (he’s a futurist, after all), somehow it’s growing on him lately. And that’s a mighty fine bike.
Steve beams. It’s quite possibly the most heartwarming thing Tony has ever seen. Looking at it makes his arc reactor itch in really worrisome ways. “Nick Fury gave it to me.”
Tony’s mind does the equivalent of a bluescreen. Or it would, if Tony’s mind were at all comparable to a PC, but obviously it’s Starktech all the way. Metaphorically. Though Tony has ideas. Anyway – Nick Fury, vintage Cap motorcycle, bluescreen of death.
“That was really nice of him,” Cap muses. “I think perhaps you misjudge the Colonel.”
“He’s a conniving bastard,” Tony says and goes away, and maybe breaks the sound barrier a little because he’s wearing the suit. Which is not like slamming the door. At all.
There are probably other vintage Cap items on the market, and Tony could easily afford them, but Tony doesn’t follow in other people’s footsteps. He makes his own. So if Fury thinks he can buy Steve’s trust and affection with a pile of ancient scrap metal (the bike is authentic, unfortunately, Tony checked) then Tony is going to make Steve the newest, most cutting-edge… thing. He isn’t actually sure what Steve needs. A machine that explains the twenty-first century to him, but even Tony isn’t brilliant enough to invent that machine. Steve asks things like, “Tony, I’ve been wondering, where do all the postmen work that deliver our e-mails?” and he keeps bugging Tony about "Lost", demanding that the Avengers go rescue those poor crashed people they keep showing on the television.
Instead, Tony builds Brooklyn.
Hank calls it a Holodeck because Hank is a giant nerd, and yes, holographic projections and forcefields and simulated smells and sounds, so maybe it is sort of a little like a holodeck. But for all intents and purposes, it’s Brooklyn in the 1940s, based on every scrap of historical data Tony can get his hands on plus some real genius extrapolation. He even interviews some ancient retired people, or, well, he sends people to interview them, and in the end, he’s sure that it’s as accurate as humanly possible.
When he walks through the simulated streets, he thinks he has an idea what Cap feels like, lost in time. He has to remind himself that he’s surrounded by modern technology to keep from freaking out a little. It’s perfect, way better than Fury’s stupid bike.
When he tells Cap to close his eyes and takes him to look at his gift, Steve barely takes two steps into the simulation before he stiffens all over. “Tony – “ he says, his voice shaky, “this feels – “
“Yes?” Tony asks grinning. “Familiar?”
Steve opens his eyes. He stares. The look on his face is an iceberg, breaking up into a thousand little pieces.
“Are we – did we travel in time?” he asks in a tiny little voice, like a child.
Take that, Nick Fury, Tony thinks. “Kinda,” he says. “You like it?”
Cars go by, noisy and big. But Steve is staring at the people, the stores, the boy selling newspapers, the woman hanging white undershirts on a line outside her window. He stares at the back alley behind them, dustbins and all. Then he starts walking, almost breaking into a run. After a few seconds Tony knows where they’re going, because he knows every inch of Brooklyn like the back of his hands. He smiles even after he jogs after Steve. This is going to be perfect.
They stop in front of Steve’s house. Looking at it, Steve has tears in his eyes.
Suddenly, Tony has a sinking feeling.
“Steve,” he says. “I – there’s something I need to tell you – “
“There’s a problem,” Steve says, like he expected as much. “I can’t stay, can I? We’d be changing history.”
“No. That’s actually – that’s what I’ve been trying to say. This isn’t really the Forties. It’s a simulation I built. We’re still in the mansion.”
God. Steve is… Steve is really not from the twenty-first century. Tony can see it in his face, he doesn’t understand a word of what Tony just said. Seventy years of unwatched science fiction say hello.
“It’s a holographic projection.”
Steve remains blank. Tony runs a hand through his hair, struggling to explain. In the end, he does what works best when Thor asks a question: just say it is magic. “It’s an illusion created by machines.”
Steve nods slowly. He visibly withdraws, walking around like a elephant in a porcelain store, or a gazelle in a room full of lions. It’s the way he walked when he first showed up in the future, as if everything might be contagious. “The people are actors?” he asks.
“No,” Tony says. “They’re… illusions, too. I made them.”
Steve looks at him. Then he says. “I’d like to go, please.”
Tony swallows, and tells Jarvis to turn Brooklyn off. As soon as he sees the walls and the door, Steve leaves without another word.
“You did what?” Jan asks when she somehow finds out.
“Hank helped,” Tony says defensively.
Jan rolls her eyes at him. “Yeah, but he’s Hank. For him, there are good ideas, bad ideas and science.” Then she sobers up a little. “So, uh, how did Cap take it?”
Badly. Although maybe he’s fine now. Angry at Tony, of course, but people are angry at Tony a lot. It’s hardly worth mentioning. “Jarvis, how is Cap?” Tony asks.
“Captain Rogers’ vital signs are within normal parameters,” Jarvis says. “He’s currently exercising in the training room.”
Jan gives Tony a look like he’s burning flags on the fourth of July.
Tony wants to dismantle Brooklyn, but when he’s there, he ends up just standing in the street outside Steve’s house.
“Jarvis,” he says, “execute program Rogers 45alpha.”
About a minute later, the door opens, and Steve Rogers ducks outside. He’s wearing period clothing and a smile, whistling to himself as he crosses the street, greeting an old lady, nodding to the newspaper boy.
“Tony!” he says when he spots him, and reaches out to give Tony a warm, friendly handshake. At the last moment, Tony flinches back.
“Stop,” he says, “stop, Jarvis. Turn it off. Delete it.”
“Are you sure? All data will be lost.”
“Delete it!” Tony snaps, and lunges for the exit.
Obviously, the problem is that Tony doesn’t understand what sort of gift Steve wants. Tony doesn’t understand what people want a lot of the time, but Steve is a special case because Steve isn’t even like normal people.
So Tony does something he hates to do. He asks people for help.
“Cake,” the Hulk says. “Hulk think cake good gift.”
“No, no,” Tony shakes his head. “Not a cake. Think big. Money isn’t a problem.”
Hulk thinks hard. His brows wrinkle like the Himalayans. Then he lights up. “Hulk knows. Forty cakes!”
Perhaps in hindsight, asking the Hulk was a terrible idea. Luckily, Tony has a list. Thor is next. Thor and Steve have many things in common besides being huge and blond. They come from a different world, a simpler world, and in many ways they are simpler people. Upstanding, straightforward. Manly. Both Thor and Steve are very manly.
“You wish to bestow a gift on the Captain?” Thor asks. “What is the purpose of this gift? Do you wish to honor his deeds in battle, or to appease his wrath?”
“Definitely the latter,” Tony decides.
Thor ponders this. “You understand, Friend Tony, that I am not always familiar with the customs of Midgard. But in the past, when mortals wished to appease me, they would offer livestock – “
“ – mead – “
“I don’t think Cap even gets drunk.”
“ – or virgins.”
“Virgins.” Tony has a sudden mental image of Thor, surrounded by livestock and nubile virgins. Then he imagines Cap with virgins. It’s a disaster. Steve probably is a virgin himself, and besides, they’re superheroes. Virgin sacrifice is one of the things they’re supposed to prevent.
“Magical weapons, noble mounts and your trueborn children are also acceptable,” Thor continues. “My brother Loki for example – “
Tony quickly excuses himself. No story that starts with “My brother Loki for example” is going to yield any sane advice, even though Thor frequently seems to think so. Maybe lifestock isn’t such a bad idea after all. Perhaps Steve would like a puppy. Or a pony. Perhaps a really good pony that can run faster than a motorcycle. Real ponies probably don’t do that, but Tony could build one.
T’Challa frowns at Tony’s question, then shakes his head. “Your problem is money,” he says.
“No, it’s not. Even if I bought cap a bike made of vibranium, it’d hardly put a dent into my accounts.”
“Money is your problem,” T’challa insists. “You’re trying to buy people’s favor. That is not how a gift works.”
Tony scowls. “It so is. Just ask every lobby on the planet. That is exactly how gifts work. You give people things, and they like you.”
Tony doesn’t even know why he asks Clint. It’s not like he expects Clint to even try to give sensible advice. “Hookers,” Clint drawls at him. “A billion dollars. A Lamborghini. A diamond ring.”
“Classy,” Tony says. In hindsight, maybe that is why he asked Clint. At least it gives him a chance to feel superior.
In the end, he’s back with Jan.
“If you really can’t think of another way to say you’re sorry,” Jan sighs, “think about what Cap likes. Not what you like, or what you think is cool, but things he likes.”
Okay. Tony can do that. He knows a bunch of things Cap likes. World peace, for example. Truth, Justice and the American Way. Democracy. Ice cream. It’s a start. Tony can work with that. He’s worked with less, he built an arc reactor in a cave. He’ll think of something.
He finds Steve in his room, sitting at his desk. There’s a tablet on the desk, gathering dust, some pencils, and some paper. At the moment, most of the paper is crumpled up into little balls of paper, and two of the pencils are not so much broken as shattered.
When he notices Tony, Steve gets up, and almost stands at attention.
“Hello,” Tony says. “May I come in? Okay, maybe that’s a bad question, I’m already in. It’s my house. But what I meant to say was – I’d like to apologize. And give you a gift. But I don’t really know what to give you.”
“Apologize?” Steve asks.
“For. You know. Brooklyn. I understand that making you think there was a way to actually bring you back to your time was… bad. I shouldn’t have done that.”
Steve looks away, at the paper balls, which look a lot like his hands, balled to fists at his side. “It wasn’t that.”
“It wasn’t?” Of course it wasn’t. Why does Tony never get these things? He was 100 per cent on this one.
Steve moves his hands while he explains, as if he’s trying to sketch his words before saying them. “It looked real. I couldn’t tell the difference. It was only – I looked it up, those holograms you mentioned, and it’s just light, but I couldn’t tell. I thought I was home. Before, when I remembered, it was real. Solid. It was home. But now it all feels like a trick of the light. Like the past never really existed.”
Okay. That’s bad. Tony can tell that’s bad. He’s never really understood how people can doubt the reality of things, but he can sort of see what Steve means. Maybe he ought to show him The Matrix. Or maybe that would upset him even more.
After all, Steve cried all the way through the latter part of Titanic.
“Then I apologize for confusing you even more than you already were. Because that sucks. And I thought of some things you might like, but I couldn’t decide, and while normally I would just give you all of them, they aren’t really mutually compatible unless we work with parallel universes, and Reed Richards tells me nothing good ever comes of that. So. Here are my plans. And, I’ve thought about this, and at first glance they may seem a little – well, you may get the impression that I’m supervillain material, and frankly, people have been saying this to me for quite some time and I can sort of see where they’re coming from – “
“Tony,” Steve says slowly, “what have you done?”
“Nothing!” Tony shakes his head rapidly. “Yet. As I said, they’re plans. You get to choose.”
And then he outlines plan number one, with a helpful presentation from Jarvis. It’s long, so Tony talks quickly, and in the end he’s slightly breathless, and Steve looks like someone watching the world’s longest car pile-up.
“So at this point we should effectively have achieved a world government and global peace and stability, plus a solution to climate change and the energy crisis,” Tony finishes. “I didn’t plan any further than that.”
Steve gives him a very long and serious look. “Tony,” he says, “you just suggested that we conquer the Earth and then rule it as benevolent dictators.”
“No.” Tony frowns. “I’m pretty sure there was a democratic vote in there.”
“Which you intend to win through mass propaganda.”
“Everyone else does it!” Tony whines. But he can see there’s no use in trying to convince Steve. A pity – but they could always save that plan for later, when Steve was more amenable to it.
“Okay, so moving on to option number two. Time travel. I thought about it, and I could probably build a time machine that could really send you back to the Forties. Of course that might cause a paradox, so further technology would be necessary to prevent a collapse of the timeline, but it’s really essentially the same thing as managing time travel in the first place, so I think it could be done.”
If Steve is tempted even for a moment, he doesn’t show it. “Even if what you say is possible, I can’t risk the safety of the entire world for the sake of my own happiness.”
Secretly, Tony is relieved that Steve isn’t going to choose option number two. Steve is essential to the team and if he went away, that would defeat the purpose of giving him a really impressive gift.
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Gotcha. You’d like that movie, by the way, remind me to show it to you some time. Now. Option number three is – “
“Tony,” Steve says, but whatever else he was going to say is lost in an explosion of noise and dust as a giant green fist bursts through the wall, and Thor kicks down the door. Steve, as usual, goes from zero to sixty like a Ferrari, and throws Tony down behind the cover of the bed before Tony manages to do anything at all. But Black Panther drops down on them nearly as quickly, and a moment later he and Steve are rolling on the floor like a pair of fighting toms.
“What,” Tony says, and Steve grunts, “mind-control!”
“Right. Jarvis, analyze –“
Suddenly, Jan’s tiny form flutters in front of Tony’s face, close enough his eyes cross a little. She has both her stingers pointed at him. “Hold it, Stark,” she shouts. “We’re on to you.”
Tony freezes. On the floor, Thor and T’Challa have managed to pin down Cap. Finally, Hulk takes a step to the side, revealing Nick Fury. Tony grinds his teeth at the sight. “Fury,” he hisses. “What the hell have you done to my team?”
“Told them the truth,” Fury says. “And showed them your plans for world domination.”
Tony opens his mouth, and then closes it again. It isn’t like he can tell them this is all a big misunderstanding, because the plans are real. They would have worked, if Steve hadn’t shot them down. Besides, now that Tony thinks about it, this development is more than a bit disappointing.
“Really?” he asks the assembled Avengers . “Sure, I expected some of you to side against me on this, but everyone? Come on! They’re good plans. And you, Thor, Panther, you’re both part of hereditary monarchies! Don’t tell me you’re with Fury because you like democracy so much!”
Thor looks confused. “Nay,” he says, “that is not so. I was told you had gone mad with power, and we needed to stop you for your own good.”
From the floor, Cap sighs loudly. “I can explain. Tony just wanted…” He hesitates, then looks straight at Tony. “He wanted to prove something. The, ah, hypothetical viability of a strategy like the one outlined in his plans. Moving troops on a map, no more. Isn’t that right, Tony?”
Tony swallows. “That’s right,” he says with a smile usually preserved for particularly ugly press conferences.
After he’s thrown Fury out of the house and argued with Hank about a minor detail of his time machine plan for about an hour, Tony goes back to Steve’s room. By now, there isn’t any way he could make things worse. It’s actually a surprise that Steve hasn’t packed his things and gone with Fury.
The wall looks bad where the Hulk punched through it, but the structural integrity of the mansion is probably not a problem. Steve is cleaning the floor with a broom, a sight that momentarily throws Tony. If someone had asked him five minutes earlier, he would have said there were no brooms in the house. He has a cleaning service for that.
“I have people for this,” Tony says. “You don’t have to – “
“It’s fine,” Steve replies. “My mother made sure her son knew how to clean his own room.”
Is that Steve’s way of telling him what he thinks of people who have never touched a broom in their life? But I could build you an army of nanobots to clean the floor, Tony thinks. Roomba would eat its little heart out.
Steve bends down and sweeps another pile of dust onto a dustpan, with the patience of a man who would lie in the cold and the mud for hours if the mission demanded it. Tony remembers when he discovered, during their mission to Wakanda, that Steve follows his orders like a good little grunt. He used that knowledge to his advantage for a week before Jan staged an angry intervention.
“So,” Tony says. “You lied to the team for me. I made Captain America lie for me.”
Steve shakes the dust into a plastic bin liner before straightening and looking at Tony. “That wasn’t a lie. You’re a builder, Tony, not a conqueror.”
“Funny. None of the others seemed to think so.”
“I don’t know all the details, but I understand there are reasons why people expect the worst of you.” Steve manages to say this without judgment. “And you shouldn’t forget that most of them have made bad experiences with people a lot like you.”
That doesn’t seem right – actually no, when Tony thinks about it, it makes a certain amount of sense. Jan has Hank, the Hulk has been treated badly by just about everyone before joining the Avengers, Clint was betrayed by the Black Widow, Wakandans are probably suspicious of the West in general, and Thor… well, Tony doesn’t see how Thor fits into that explanation, but then again, Thor never expects the worst of anyone, not even Tony.
Steve comes closer, and puts a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “They’re on your team, Stark,” he says. “We all picked you, not Fury.”
Then he presses the broom handle into Tony’s hand. “Now show me your broom work, soldier.”
“I’ll embarrass myself,” Tony warns. “You’ll regret trusting me with this broom.”
Steve’s laughter is a gift money can’t buy.