5. Everything You Like Will Kill You
The sign had to be a joke.
Steve Rogers had been awake again for all of 20 minutes - long enough to wake up in a fake hospital room and break out, long enough to be confronted with a new world and a Negro man who wants to give him orders. Long enough to see blinking lights and blaring sirens.
But it's the sign that was really throwing him off.
Steve was in an elevator, back at SHIELD, standing there with an agent introduced to him as "Barton". And the sign in the elevator said "no smoking".
Steve never smoked - asthma precluded it, the coughing was painful - but everyone smoked. And there's no reason why- it didn't make sense. Cigarettes were just a thing, right? Just a truth.
Barton noticed Steve shifting his weight, followed the line of his sight.
"Do you need a smoke?" he asked, and Steve shook his head.
"I don't - I can't even get drunk. Doubt smoking would do much for me."
Barton nodded. "We have patches that put nicotine into your system-"
"No," Steve told him. "Why don't people smoke in elevators?"
"Oh. I um- did they have cancer in the forties?"
Steve gave him a look. "What you think you invented it?"
"No, it's just - cigarettes cause cancer. In people who smoke them. And people you smoke them around."
Well, that can't be true. "My mother smoked and I don't have cancer."
Barton took a deep breath, and the elevator made a noise as the doors slid open to a frankly terrifying display of blinking lights and monitors.
"Come on, Captain Rogers," he said. "We've got a lot to teach you."
Steve followed for a moment before a thought stopped him in his tracks. "Barton?"
"I'm not in Kansas anymore, am I?"
"No, Dorthy, you're really not."
Steve relaxed, and fell back into step. If this guy knew about Wizard of Oz, he couldn't be all bad, could he?
4. People Are Still People
By the time he got to the helicarrier, Steve was pretty sure that this world had nothing in common with the world he had known. The very fact of the 1950s, the Cold War and McCarthyism almost made him ask to go back into the ice. He wasn't sure he wanted to live in a world where the people he fought for decided to turn inwards, where the things he believed in were perverted into hatred.
And he couldn't even begin to discuss how uncomfortable having a fan club made him, how weird it was for him to know that there were trading cards with his face on them. He wondered what Peggy thought of that, if she bought them for the kids he knew she had and he's too afraid to contact.
He had come to terms with most of the atrocities - the 60s were worse than the 50s, the riots and racial turmoil, but he thought he would have liked Martin Luther King, Jr., and if things hadn't gotten all the way better, if there was still a lot to learn and about a thousand reasons to wish Ronald Reagan had stayed on the screen, at least the things he fought for were still around, if they weren't always embraced.
He would be lying if he said Miss Romanoff didn't worry him. To begin with, she was wearing casual trousers in lieu of the SHIELD uniform he was accustomed to. But he followed her and doctor Banner inside anyway, trying to keep his cool as the world lifted under his feet.
Steve was overwhelmed with the bridge, too many monitors and people, too much new. So he watched Agent Romanoff as she knelt next to the monitor, watched the gentle press of her fingers as she checked something, a picture of the same agent - Barton - who had been so kind to Steve in New York.
She wore a mask, Agent Romanoff, but he was used to that, and he was sure, on every level of his being, that she was as old as him, and as good. He was sure the world still had goodness.
3. Number Five Was A Lie; Coffee Is Still Okay But It Isn't Exactly Coffee
While they were saving the world, there wasn't a lot of time to do anything but, well, save the world. To fight, to kill or be killed, to run the show. Steve was exhausted just thinking about it, really, and he was just a little shot - he didn't get to fly into space or crash through a window or jump off one of those speeders. Really, in all honesty, he had it easy.
Well, comparably. He did get exploded out of a bank and onto a car.
And then they took him to a restaurant, or they called it one, but Steve thought it felt more like an automat, really, and he was just crushed when Tony told him that those were gone, replaced with, apparently, something called a drive-through that sold coffee for four dollars, which, as near as Steve could tell, was blatant highway robbery.
Steve was tired; they were all tired, but Steve didn't know how he was going to keep his head up, let alone his eyes open. Next to him, Thor tucked into the sandwich with gusto, eating like it was the last food he'd see for a while.
Finally, Tony spoke up. "Shouldn't you be- I mean, Thor, buddy. Don't you eat nectar and ambrosia?"
Thor spared him a glance, and then returned to shoveling a mighty handful of french fries into his mouth. "I have no idea what that is," he said, potato bits spraying across the table and onto Barton's lap. Steve wondered idly if Miss Romanoff was going to stab the god in the eye. It seemed likely.
"You know, food of the gods. Nectar, ambrosia. What do you eat in Asgard?"
"That's the Greeks," Banner spoke up, his voice every bit as tired as Steve felt. "The Greek Pantheon was nectar and ambrosia."
"In Asgard we feast on meats and cheeses," Thor told him, swallowing mightily to avoid another of Miss Romanoff's withering stares. "We drink wine and mead, and tell the stories of our victories."
"I could use wine," Miss Romanoff offered. "Or vodka."
Thor regarded her. "I would like you, one day, to meet my companion, the Lady Sif. I believe you and she could spend many nights revelling."
Miss Romanoff nodded blearily, and Steve saw Barton give her a little kick, a playful one. He knew they would both be in mourning for Agent Coulson, them more so than anyone at the table, but it made Steve's heart sing to see them relate like the world was still spinning.
Thor laughed at something Banner said, and Steve roused himself from his reverie to tune back into the conversation.
"What do you like about Earth, anyway, Thor?" he asked, realizing that Stark was in the middle of a story he'd really rather not hear the end of.
The god regarded him for a long moment. "I have watched Midgard for many of your years, Captain. There is much to like." He paused to take another bite, chewing thoughtfully and under Natasha's wary eye. "Do you know of coffee?"
"Yeah, I do."
"I have found that coffee, with what Jane calls ‘hazelnut syrup' - that is the drink of the gods."
Steve laughed - not unkindly, but with a kind of joy that he hadn't felt since he woke up. He'd saved the world, he'd made new friends. And they were just as insane as he was.
(Tony took them to a place called "Starbucks" before Thor and Loki left, and showed Steve how to order a venti extra-hot soy americano with vanilla and an extra shot of espresso. Steve took one sip and declared Tony to be the devil. He'd never felt more at home.)
2. It Runs On Some Kind Of Electricity
If Steve had known, when he set out on the bike, what he was looking for, he thought it might not have taken him three months to show up back at the back-under-construction Stark Tower in midtown.
And if he had been thinking straight, he would have used the pocket telephone that Tony had given him to announce he was coming.
As it was, Doctor Banner was around, though Tony was out of the country.
Steve liked Banner, though they weren't well acquainted. He appreciated the mild-mannered fellow, thought that they had a fair amount in common, with the serums and all, so when Banner offered him a tour of the office Stark had set up for him, Steve agreed, if only to enjoy the company.
There were whatsits and geegaws, trinkets and a thing with more blinky lights than there were stars in the heavens. Steve made appropriate ooh and aah noises every time Banner pointed at something, and pretended he had any Earthy clue what they were talking about.
This went on for fifteen, thirty, fourty-five minutes before Banner gave Steve a long look.
"You have no idea what I'm showing you, do you?"
Steve bristled. He was smart. He had a year of college under his belt. "Of course I do. You invented a machine that knows when there's a fire and it calls the firemen."
Banner smiled, a movement on him that was neither sad nor warm. "It's called a smoke detector, Steve. And I didn't invent it."
"Then why are you showing it to me?"
"Because you missed 70 years of technology. We have a global network connecting computers, yeah, but there are little things we take for granted like compact fluorescents and CO2 detectors and memory foam mattresses that you need to know about."
"I've seen the helicarrier-"
"Steve," Bruce's voice was gentle. "You missed Velcro."
"I don't care about music," Steve huffed, and Bruce laughed.
"Let me tell you, my friend, about post-it notes."
By the time he left that day, Steve was confused, worried, and covered in small squares of yellow paper. But he thought, all the same, it had been a nice way to spend an afternoon.
1. Kids Still Listen To Terrible Music
Tony liked to send Steve presents addressed to "gramps," and Steve guessed that was just something Tony had in common with his father - the urge to share all the wonderful technology and advances with the people he loved. Or liked. Liked worked.
So when the small rectangle showed up in his bedroom at Avenger's Tower, attached to something that Tony's note called a "dock," Steve decided not to question it. He followed the directions Tony had written, accessed the device, and pressed on the screen, which responded in a way Steve still wasn't sure wasn't magic.
Tony would later claim it was music, it was something called Black Sabbath, something that was more a cacophony of instruments than anything Steve recognized as musical. Certainly not something you could dance to. Certainly not Billie Holliday or Cole Poter.
Steve scanned the note again, but Tony hadn't left instructions for how to turn it off. Frantically, he tried to make the buttons come back. He yelled at it.
And yet, the noises persisted.
Steve, in desperation, picked up the noise machine and carried it in front of him, trying to keep it from deafening him, or somehow decreasing his intelligence before he found someone to help.
Tony appeared after only a minute of Steve looking angryly at an elevator that wouldn't come.
"You don't like it?"
Steve looked at Tony's face, which had the kind of open vulnerability that seemed to only manifest when Tony wanted something, like for Steve to agree that this was an acceptable thing to listen to.
"How do I make it stop?"
Tony took the machine from him, and with a flick of his wrist, the howling stopped. "I thought you wanted to learn more about pop culture," Tony said, the guilty, kicked-puppy look persisting.
Steve just shook his head. Kids these days.
0. You Didn't Exactly Invent It
They all had their own floors in the tower, with living accommodations and space to work out, but most nights, after hard days of Avenging (or whatever it was they chose to do with their days) most of the team tended to wander up to Tony's penthouse, to stare at the view, to eat dinner, to watch TV.
Tony and Pepper had split shortly after the tower had been refit. Tony loved Pepper a great deal, and she loved him, but they simply weren't compatible romantically - she wanted someone who wasn't going to go out and almost die on a regular basis, even if he did remember to call. Tony wanted to be a hero.
(Pepper was still running Stark Industries, and she was still a regular visitor to the Tower, but it was agreed behind closed doors, between other members of the team, that Pepper and Happy were better suited than she and Tony had been. None of them said that to Tony, of course, but they all knew it.)
They'd been living in the tower for all of six months when the Friday came where Tony had no events to go to and no crime to fight, Bruce was consulting in San Francisco, Natasha and Clint were on a SHIELD mission, and Thor was back in his realm, and Tony and Steve were left alone in Tony's penthouse, trying to figure out if they were going to watch a movie with singing or something with blood, when Tony stopped arguing and regarded Steve for a long moment.
"I have to ask you something, Cap."
Steve froze. Sentences that started like that from Tony's mouth usually ended up with lost nights in Vegas and strange underwear in his pocket.
"You and that Bucky guy. You were just friends, right?"
Steve raised an eyebrow. He thought he saw where this was going becuase, unlike Tony Stark, he was not a complete idiot about other people.
"Are you asking me if we made love?"
Tony nodded, and Steve didn't so much laugh as snort.
"No. Bucky was aggressively interested in women. Always setting us up on double dates."
Tony nodded and turned back to his DVD collection for a moment, long fingers trailing across titles.
"But you know about men who prefer men?"
Steve rolled his eyes. "No, I missed all the men with pink triangles on their chests when I was busy fighting Nazis."
"Are you being sarcastic with me, Cap?"
"Yes," Steve said, "but only because you're being deliberately stupid."
"I'm a genius."
"And if I was a machine, that would mean something."
Tony tossed his head back and laughed, an open-throated laugh that made Steve want to hug him.
"You want to know if I'm - what's your word? - gay?" Tony nodded, and Steve could see the cracks in his armor, the Cool Guy armor, starting to widen. "I've been attracted to men before, sure, but I've also been attracted to women. I'm just - I'm better at talking to men."
Tony smiled, and, DVDs forgotten, stepped up to the couch Steve was sitting on.
"Anyone on the team you like?" Tony asked, and Steve laughed this time, at the sheer silliness of the situation.
"Tony, for goodness sake. Just ask me to a movie."
"We can't agree on a movie."
Steve fisted his hand in Tony's shirt, feeling the warmth from the arc reactor on his fingers, and pulled him down, so their faces were level.
"Then just kiss me, idiot."
Steve smiled inwardly before giving himself wholly to the kiss. He had a lot to teach Tony Stark about life, he thought, and people, but he had all night to get started.