Antonia Stark was an old hand at looking like a lady. There were certain things her mother had drilled into her as a child, with private tutors and private boarding schools and all the rest of that. Toni Stark understood the fundamentals of make-up and hair and fashion and wardrobe; she had been schooled in etiquette and social dance and deportment. What she didn’t understand, she hired people to understand and take care of for her. Pepper for instance. Good ole’ Pepper who could be counted on for anything.
Antonia Stark understood the fundamentals, and like very basic coding, she had it all stored at the very bottom of her box of thoughts, to be executed automatically. She knew how to dress for meetings with the company board. She knew how to smile for the cameras, how to talk, and even her decision to sit cross-legged in front of the podium as she ate her cheeseburger and talked to the press with her mouth half-full had a degree of calculation built-in automatic. She didn’t have to think about it. She knew how she was coming off and she knew the impression was perfect. Maybe not perfect for the Stark company, or perfect for Pepper, or Fury, or whoever hell else might have stock in the circumstances, but she was perfect for herself. She was 100% self-manufactured Toni Stark and don’t you forget it.
Today she was taking Stephanie Rogers out for burgers. There might have been an apology somewhere in there, as subtext. They had got off on the wrong foot, sure, something said about being a stuck-up debutante in an iron suit, and maybe a bit of sneering about science experiments gone wrong on the side.
Steph had, of course, sought to apologize first. How typical. Of course, Toni could also privately acknowledge that her comments had been way out of hand, the sort of private that did not leave her head and exit in so many words, and then she had decided to pay for greasy burgers as some kind of half-assed attempt at a peace offering. It was a start, anyway.
Toni was very particular about where they’d eat out. It was this great little place downtown, old-fashioned style kind of diner, with all the vintage art posters and memorabilia from the thirties and forties. The food was, of course, all-American, sturdy fare, fancy burgers and fries and milkshakes in all flavors. She figured Miss America here would appreciate this kind of homey wholesome food or whatever after living on the cafeteria crap they served at SHIELD HQ. Maybe later she could ease Steph into some real up-scale places too, really open her horizons, show her the vast and unexplored world of international cuisine, etc. etc. etc. After they were seated, Toni kicked back in their booth and pulled out her phone, busy checking the data files that JARVIS was running through for her back in the lab. Steph peered almost cautiously through the menu.
“Back home,” Steph began from behind her menu, her shoulders hunched a little, “milkshakes usually only came in chocolate or vanilla. They didn’t put pineapple in burgers either. This is all so—“
Toni flapped her hand at Steph without looking up from her phone. “I’m easing you into the new millennium, Rogers. Be glad I didn’t drag you to my favorite sushi bar, that would have given you a real heart attack, I’m sure. Actually, go ahead and order the Hawaiian burger. It’s… how would you say in your quaint old-time talk? ‘Real swell.’” She said the last with a kind of wicked enjoyment. ‘Real swell.’ Adorable, really.
“I had a friend back in art school who wanted to go to Hawaii,” Steph said. “I’ve heard it’s really beautiful.”
The waitress came to take their orders. Toni got the classic burger, while Steph ordered the Hawaiian and a chocolate milkshake. When the milkshake arrived, Steph clasped one hand around the neck of the glass and drank milkshake from the straw, and there was an oddly, huh, small and shy feeling to the look her, never mind her well-built physique, how tall she was, the breadth of her shoulders against the seat of the booth.
Toni studied her mate on the sly while pretending to be absorbed with her phone, chatting it up with JARVIS, or Angry Birds, or whatever, she could always make it up later if asked.
What Toni knew about Captain America: Cap hadn’t supposed to be a girl. There had been two on-going trials with the Super Soldier Serum, one involving an enlisted soldier, and a side trial involving the effect of the serum on the fairer gender. The background motivation was a bit muddy, and you could say all you liked about the Nazis' Aryan ideals, but the Americans had been trying to make the physiologically perfect man themselves, and they would have succeeded except Steph’s male counterpart died, and she hadn’t. Actually, the serum had probably saved her life, if her medical history had been anything to go by.
Toni didn’t know how much thought Miss Cap had put into the ethics of that whole operation. Maybe more than Toni had given her credit for. In their argument, Steph had gone, as they say, white as a sheet at Toni’s below-the-belt snipes about Steph being little more than someone’s little lab experiment. It had probably taken a fuck-ton of sheer self-control for Steph to have stopped herself from punching Toni right in the kisser.
What Toni knew about Captain America was that, in the interests of further studying the effects of the serum, Steph had been allowed to join the military and fight in the war. She had done it all disguised as a man, as approved by her superiors. Probably, they had imagined that having a female Captain America would have done terrible things to soldier morale. Then she’d outed herself to the press, accidentally, saved the world from the Red Skull, and then gotten herself encased in a hunk of ice.
Hearing a story of epic proportions like that, Toni thought, maybe a little pettily, anyone would be having serious issues of insecurity. God damn it. Stephanie Rogers had been her hero growing up, and yes, even as a nerdy little engineering student at MIT she’d had a poster of Captain America on her ceiling, the works, etc. etc. etc.
Speaking of which, Steph was never to know about Toni’s secret collection of fan memorabilia back home. Or the Captain America bedsheets and pajamas that Toni still wore more often than not.
Steph had finished three-quarters of her milkshake, and their food hadn’t even arrived yet.
Toni squinted at the picture in front of her.
“For crying out loud,” she said.
Steph looked unhappy, like she was wondering if Toni was going to try starting another fight. Toni would never. Well, maybe.
“What—“ Steph began.
“You are an unfair human being,” Toni complained. “I bet we could order you another milkshake and you’d have that and the burger, and maybe fries and onion rings and why not some fried chicken, and you wouldn’t gain an ounce.”
“Shut up, you,” Toni said, and hoped it didn’t come off as unkind, because it wasn’t supposed to be. “I’ll just be over here, struggling to fit into my pants after a salad, thank you very much, except fuckin’ forget the salad, I’m having me a burger whether the Vanity Fair photographers like it or not.”
Steph was quiet for a moment. Then she said, “For what it’s worth, I think you’re very lovely, just like that.”
Toni looked up from scrolling through useless emails to gawk at Captain America. Steph had a very open and sincere look. “Maybe you don’t look like what people back home would have said is conventionally pretty, but I like it,” Steph admitted. “Katharine Hepburn always wore slacks like you do, and looked just as good and confident, and I always thought that was tops.”
Toni closed her inbox in a very deliberate way, and then shoved her phone into her pocket. “Steph, with flattery like that, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I like you already.” Then she leaned over and shouted at the nearest waiter, who was trying to take another table’s order, “Hey, garçon, where’s our orders? I’m dying of hunger here! Dying!” while Steph looked like she was torn between laughing and wanting to sink into her seat cushions from sheer embarrassment.