After they've saved the world (and wow, that feels weird to think, even to himself), Steve doesn't see the others for nearly two weeks. He drives out on his bike. He finds himself a place to stay and some stuff to put in it that he vaguely knows how to work. He tries to listen to the radio but switches off in disgust after about half an hour. It's not so much the music although that's strange enough, it's a combinations of the disc jockeys and the advertisements. It's so blaring.
After two weeks, he figures he ought to check in. After all, he tells himself, Stark might need help managing Banner - that hadn't seemed like the most stable combination. He doesn't need to tell them that - he can just say he's keeping the team in communication. He definitely doesn't need to mention the fact that life is rather dull on his own. He either sticks to things he can handle, which is boring, or he has to venture out into the twenty-first century, which is overwhelming, if he's honest. He hasn't figured out how to find a middle ground yet.
When he gets to the tower, he's expecting chaos, workmen, noise, but actually, it's surprisingly calm seeming. There doesn't seem to be scaffolding or hard hat notices or anything, but work's obviously being done - he can't see any gaping holes in the upper floors, at least from this angle. He presses the entry buzzer and a British accented voice he doesn't recognize says "Good afternoon, Captain Rogers. Please come into the lobby while I check on Mr Stark's availability." Steve is briefly surprised but then realizes there must be cameras in the entryway. He pushes the door open and steps inside.
Inside there is a glossy clean reception area which could belong to an office building, except that there's no actual receptionists desk, just a couple of those glass panel screens, one showing television news and one with what looks like a report on the reconstruction when Steve wanders up to look over. A lot seems to have been done already - it's a particular relief to see that the "floors with structural integrity" statistic is showing 100%.
It's only a couple of minutes before he hears the voice again, still floating out of speakers somewhere. Perhaps it's too much of a trek to expect whoever it is (Tony's PA?) to come downstairs to personally collect every visitor, but Steve finds it a little disorienting to be addressed by someone he can't see. Perhaps it's just the reminder that he must still be on camera. "Captain Rogers," he says, "Mr Stark requests that you join him in his workshop as he is currently unable to leave the maintenance he is performing. If you will step into the elevator, I will convey you to the correct floor."
As the word "elevator" is spoken, the doors of one which had been all but invisible until that point sweep open. "Umm, thanks, Mr.." Steve says, looking around vaguely, uncertain how to address someone he can't see.
"My name is simply Jarvis, Captain Rogers." the voice tells him and he can't quite put a name to the tone of voice.
"OK, well, thanks Jarvis," Steve says and steps into the elevator. It closes its door behind him almost as soon as he's inside and starts to ascend immediately. They carry on past ten levels labeled as "Fabrication" on the chart on the elevator wall and stop on 11, which is the first of the workshop floors. The door opens into a vast open space - there don't seem to be any internal walls between here and the edges of the building. Steve steps out and looks around. There's a row of cars lined up along one wall that he's sorely tempted to go and examine in more detail but he reminds himself that would be rude and looks further into the workshop, trying to see any sign of Tony.
The space is full of all sorts of things - screens, workbenches, wrenches and tools discarded all over the place, strange struts and what looks like jointed arms but there's no sign of anyone that he can see. He clears his throat and wonders if Jarvis has accidently let him out on the wrong floor. There were about 5 workshop floors listed on the elevator, so maybe Tony's upstairs in one of those.
Tony must hear him cough though, because his voice suddenly comes loud and clear from one corner of the workshop. "Hey, Rogers, over here." Steve starts to walk over to where the voice was coming from when Tony says "Will you hold still!" in an irritated tone and so he stops, confused, wondering what he's done wrong. There's a pause and then Tony sighs and stands up from behind one of the counters on the far side of the room. He smiles at Steve. "Not you, idiot. Dummy." One of the articulated arms next to where Tony's standing beeps and actually starts to roll away under its own power, heading towards Steve. He stares at it, amazed as Tony says "Fine, but you have only yourself to blame when those bearings go and you're stuck. Go make yourself useful - Captain America probably needs coffee and I definitely do."
Steve watches as the arm trundles over to the side of the workshop where there's a sink and a coffee maker and the other accoutrements of a mini kitchen. "That's amazing!" he tells Tony. "How many commands does it understand?"
Tony smiles fondly over at it. "Dummy'll try anything. Not necessarily succeed at much, but try anything. Hey, Dummy, there should be some sandwiches in the fridge there. Grab us a couple." He turns to Steve. "What can I do for you, Captain?"
"Steve, please," Steve says absently. "You mean it just understands what you say to it?"
"Well, mostly. The AI in Dummy is rudimentary, very basic. He can follow simple instructions. Mostly," he yells the last part over to where the robot arm is crashing around in the coffee area. "But there's no complex processing power in there and very little awareness. More like a puppy than a person. I would upgrade him but somehow there's always other stuff to be doing."
Steve watches as Dummy manages to plunk two mugs of coffee on a tray with some sandwiches and starts to trundle back over towards them. It's one thing to know that Tony runs a leading technology company, it's another to see the concrete evidence of that rolling round in Tony's lab. "So you fix these guys up yourself?"
"Maintain, design, code, build," Tony confirms. "I mean, I usually get Jarvis to do the basic fabrication stages but everything else I like to get my hands dirty with."
Steve takes the coffee Dummy is poking at him and jumps when the arm beeps in acknowledgement. "You make them think? Will you ever be able to make one think like a person?"
For some reason, this makes Tony snort with laughter. "Jarvis!" he yells. "Are you not on speaking terms with Captain America for some reason!"
"The Captain and I have been perfectly cordial, sir," Jarvis' voice comes over the speakers again. "I was not aware that he was confused as to my status. Apologies, Captain."
"Jarvis is a computer?" Steve asks, almost breathless as light dawns.
"Jarvis is a functional artificial intelligence," Tony corrects. "He's smarter than most people, and the house couldn't run without him, right Jarvis?"
"It would certainly put a significant strain on our systems, sir," Jarvis's voice agrees from the speakers.
"He's doing most of the repair work on the tower," Tony says. "How's that coming along, Jarvis?" There's a note of pride in his voice which is entirely different from the boastful tones Steve was braced for.
"Extremely well, sir, we are ahead of schedule, although we are currently waiting on Ms Potts to sign off several of the interior layout alterations."
Tony grins. "I'll remind her," he promises and turns back to Steve. "So..." he prompts.
Steve gives himself an internal shake, trying to pull himself together. "Sorry," he says, trying to focus. "So you build all this stuff yourself? You created a person?"
Tony gives him an odd look. "Yeah, in a very broad sense, if you want to put it like that. I like to build stuff. You know I built the suits, right?"
Steve suddenly realizes that he's been thinking of Tony as a CEO, top of the tree, a blue sky thinker with a huge R&D division to actually bring his ideas to life. He hadn't thought of Tony as someone who would be just as at home on the shop floor. "No, I..."
Tony's eyebrows look like they're trying to disappear into his hairline. "You didn't read the SHIELD file on me?"
"They briefed me on the suit's capabilities," Steve says, "and I figured anything else wasn't really my business."
Tony looks at him without saying anything for a long moment. "You're unreal," he tells Steve. He points at his chest, where the reactor he wears is glowing a soft blue. "You know what this is?"
"It's a power supply for the suit, isn't it?" Steve asks.
Tony turns away. "Unreal," he repeats. "OK, I never say this but you need to go away and read the file, because I really don't think I can go over all this for you."
Steve can't figure out how he's managed to offend Tony, but clearly he's done something very wrong. "OK," he says. "You and Dr Banner are both well, though?"
"Yes," Tony confirms, still facing away from him, "we're fine." His shoulders are tense, his whole posture stiff.
Steve leaves him to it and goes back to his apartment but he can't sit still for more than five minutes. After that, he calls Fury and requests a copy of the file on Tony. Fury hums and haws about sending sensitive data off base but Steve insists and eventually gets his way. It's couriered over and he sits down with a cup of coffee and starts to read it through.
He has to read it about three times before he absorbs it. It's not easy reading. After he shuts it, he sits staring at the wall for a while, wondering what it takes to build something like the arc reactor in a place like that. No wonder Tony had a hard time trusting Fury. Eventually, he opens up his phone and finds the option to send a message to Tony. "Sorry," he types in carefully. "Thanks for letting me read this. Steve."
He gets one back pretty quickly. "No sweat," Tony has written, which Steve suspects is untrue. "I've read yours. Let's never speak of this again. Tony." It's the first time Steve can remember that they've been on first name terms.