Steve's uniform used to be leather -- good, hard-wearing, durable and tough to pierce, but still just leather. Now he has some kind of bullet-stopping stuff that's really impressive, definitely top of the line...but he can't stitch it up himself like he used to do, sitting around a fire with the Commandos, an awl tucked in his belt, thick twine binding up the rips.
For a while he takes it to the SHIELD arms guys, and they give it back to him spruced up and sometimes improved. He doesn't think anything about it until one day Tony asks him, "How's the new armor?"
"The uniform? I just got the new version this morning, I haven't had time to test it. Why?"
"I wanted to see if the flex-plating works for you. Let me know if it doesn't, huh?"
Which is when Steve finds out that he's been giving his armor to SHIELD and they've been giving it to Tony.
It's early on, when it happens. They're not friends yet, but at least they're not at each others' throats anymore. Still, it means that all the times they were, Tony was still taking his armor after every battle, fixing it, making sure he was safe.
Steve doesn't know what to think about that.
Steve met Picasso once. No, honestly, he did.
During the war, Picasso stayed in Paris at his studio and continued to work. It was against the law in occupied Paris to do bronze casting, but the Resistance used to bring scrap metal to the studio, smuggle it in, and Picasso would cast his scuptures anyway.
Steve was looking for intel on HYDRA, and he was told that there was someone in Paris who could help; the Resistance agreed to get him there if he'd deliver a package for them before going to meet his source. He ended up on Pablo Picasso's doorstep with a box of scrap metal, and the man invited him in for tea.
He'd loved Picasso's work even before meeting him; he'd seen it at the Museum of Modern Art in New York back before...before. Picasso was a noisy, energetic, wonderfully funny man, very strange but very welcoming.
He's never really managed to warm to much of the 21st century's art. He does like art, in a general sense, he's just picky. Now more than ever, Picasso makes him feel at home -- the disjointed quality of the work is just how Steve feels, all edges and corners sticking out of perspective, ill-suited to the new era in which he finds himself. It's nice someone else once felt that way too.
"But is it art?" Tony asks jokingly, when he finds Steve standing in front of a heap of rusted metal at MoMA one day. The heap is part of a new exhibit, and his skepticism is probably showing. Steve glances at Tony, thoughtful.
"You know what Picasso would have done with this?" he asks. "He'd have melted it down and poured it into a mold, cast a sculpture out of it, maybe one of his giant skulls or those wonderful heads he did. I mean, I think that's better art. But this can be art too. That's okay." He pauses. "I think he'd have loved Iron Man."
"Yeah?" Tony asks.
"Well, I think he'd have liked you, and Iron Man is definitely art," Steve says, and walks on.
It takes Tony a while to catch up.
Steve wants to protect Bruce, instinctively, but he knows this for what it is: the same urge Bucky had for him, all those years they were growing up. He didn't welcome it then, and Bruce wouldn't welcome it now.
Bruce is nothing like how Steve had been. Bruce is shy and quiet where Steve was scrappy and outspoken, and he's oddly abrupt at the strangest times. But -- Hulk aside -- Bruce is terribly vulnerable, and Steve works hard, harder than perhaps he works for anyone else, to figure out how Bruce will fit into the team.
He wants to shield him but he gives him his head, never stops Bruce from going into a fight with them, never questions his abilities. He's sharp with anyone else who questions him, and before he understood that Tony was trying to make Bruce feel welcome he was sharp with Tony for teasing him, too. He's really just grateful that Tony respects Bruce's mind, because he can only imagine the mess they'd be in if Tony went after Bruce in any real way. He's seen him go after Clint, and those two can be immeasurably cruel to each other if Steve doesn't step in. With Bruce, the others are...distant, perhaps, but not cruel.
"Do you trust me?" Bruce asks him, after a battle.
"Yes," Steve answers without hesitation.
"You shouldn't," Bruce replies.
"Why shouldn't I trust him?" he asks Tony, as Bruce walks away.
"You shouldn't trust any of us," Tony says, not looking up from the tablet he's working on. "We're all batfuck crazy."
"But I do."
Tony shrugs. "That's why you're the leader."
Clint was his first real friend when he woke up. He liked Fury and Coulson, but Clint wasn't under mandate to teach him anything or mold him into anything. They could just talk, and Clint would show him around SHIELD. Clint did teach him how to use the television, and stopped him from putting tinfoil in the microwave.
Clint spends most of his time on his archery range, but he also loves murder mysteries, and they talk about those, Clint loaning him the "good ones" that have been published since the forties. They talk, sometimes, about the job they do (Clint does, Steve did, but SHIELD keeps promising him that will change with the Avengers Initiative) and the people they have to put up with. Coulson gives him dossiers on everyone he's going to be working with, but Clint gives him the dirt.
Like how Natasha doesn't like to talk about her past or her family -- actually, she doesn't really like to talk at all, but she'll back you if she believes in you, right to the hilt. Bruce is brilliant but risky, and can't be depended upon even though he's a nice guy. It's not his fault, it's the Giant Green Rage Monster thing.
Clint likes Thor, but he's kind of self-absorbed sometimes, and you have to watch him because he's still figuring Earth out.
"What about Tony Stark?" Steve asks. He has yet to meet him. Howard's son.
"You know everything I said about everyone's issues?" Clint asks. Steve nods. "Take it all and double it, and that's Tony Stark in a nutshell, which if you ask me is where he belongs."
"I knew his father. He was a good man."
"Yeah, well, I'm not sure he was a very good father," Clint replies.
"I guess I'll have to go to someone else for dirt on you," Steve says, changing the subject because it's uncomfortable to think about Howard being a dad, having a kid. More so, how easy it is to imagine him being bad at it.
"No dirt to be had that can't be found on Google," Clint assures him, laughing. "But if there were, you'd only get it out of Coulson."
Coulson, of course, refuses to talk.
These are nature's perfect food. Steve is positive that in the breakfast burrito, mankind has reached some kind of culinary pinnacle.
In a breakfast burrito you get protein and vegetables and fiber. They taste delicious, because eggs and tomatoes are a natural combination and sometimes there's bacon or sausage, but at any rate they're usually spicy and complicated. And they come wrapped in a tortilla so you can just hold the whole thing and eat it without even needing cutlery or a plate.
"Watching you eat is like watching a demolition crew implode a building," Tony remarks one morning, though Steve will kindly refrain from pointing out that Tony is on his second breakfast burrito and Steve's only on his third. "I mean, it's controlled destruction on an epic scale, but fascinating all the same."
"I can't help it," Steve says. "I get hungry."
"Good old supersoldier metabolism, no, I get it," Tony replies, and cocks his head. "I wasn't objecting."
"Hey, why are we always out of eggs?" Clint calls from the kitchen.
Catholic Church, The
What do you mean, the service is in English?
Steve was never very religious and he mostly didn't go to church after his mother died, but he figured the Catholic church was probably a constant -- unchanging, eternal. Turns out, not really.
When the service begins in English, Steve actually asks "What the hell?" and then claps a hand over his own mouth, shocked that he just blasphemed in a church. Nobody hears him; he's in the very back, unsure he'd remember when to stand or kneel. It's nice to hear but it's not what he's used to, and he never goes back.
He does look up on Wikipedia when the change happened, and drifts into the lives of the popes who have held the office since he...since it all happened. The pope now is Benedict XVI, and Steve reads with confusion and horror that the man who now leads the Catholic church was a German infantryman during the war.
He knows what Erskine said, that the first country the Nazis invaded was their own; he knows that he should forgive the penitent, and it doesn't sound like Benedict was a very enthusiastic Nazi. Towards the end of the war he even deserted.
But...well, Bruce listens to this band called They Might Be Giants, and Steve has heard the part where they sing Can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding.
Forgiveness, in this instance, is probably going to take a while.
They come up to him all the time, when he's in uniform. After a battle, or when they're doing press conferences and such. The others get it too -- they've all become very adept at dealing with kids.
The children ask if they can touch the shield, or if he picks them up they poke him in the head where the wings are stenciled on his cowl. There are approximately one kazillion (according to Tony) photographs online of the Avengers with someone's kids. Steve knows he has signed about that many autographs; Tony keeps a pack of markers in his suit for all of them. Thor gets a glitter marker, but then he asked for it specifically.
It's funny watching the others react. Natasha is perpetually surprised by it, by how many girls come up to her with unsubtle questions about how she got to be an Avenger. Clint doesn't know how to deal with children at all, so he does backflips to impress them. Thor adores children, but they're not allowed to touch the hammer. Bruce hangs back when he's Bruce, so he gets the fewest, but really really brave or really really stupid parents will ask if it's safe to take his picture when he's Hulk. Most of the pictures of Hulk are of him covering his face in mock-fear, one eye peeking out, while some little kid waves a fist at him.
Steve ruffles their hair or calls them slugger or offers them a hard candy (handily stashed with the markers in Tony's suit) because that's what he remembers the neighborhood guys doing for him when he was a child.
He thinks people expect him to be shocked at how fast kids grow up, but he was born poor and spent half his life in the Depression. Compared to how fast he grew up, these kids are doing just fine. Besides, you have to be a pretty brave, pretty good kid to want to say hi to Captain America.
One of them looks older than most -- fifteen, maybe sixteen. But when Steve asks, "Are you in school?" the kid says, "No, sir, just got out of Basic. Honor to meet you, Captain," and salutes.
It's painful how young he is, and it's wartime, so it's not like this kid is going to spend his hitch doing drills.
"Hey," he says, as he signs the book the kid pushes at him shyly, "Keep your chin down and your eyes up, fight hard and come back alive, okay?"
"Yessir," the kid says. "Thank you, Captain."
The most surprising thing is Tony. His armor's pretty shiny, so he gets a lot of toddlers. He always tips up his faceplate, holding the little ones gently in his gauntleted arms, making conversation with the parents. But he gets a lot of older ones too, some of them scrawny and pale and obviously not the cool kids, and he chats with them like he's not old enough to be their father, like he's one of them.
"I am," he says, when Steve points this out after a girl in inch-thick glasses with a huge backpack runs back to her friends with an autographed physics textbook. "I remember what it's like being the smartest kid in class. They're the ones who'll be running the place in fifteen, twenty years."
"You gonna argue with Iron Man? I graduated college when I was seventeen. Doesn't matter if they're tiny or dorky or awkward. Brains are all that matter." Tony glances at the crowd of kids, who look at him and then giggle nervously and look away. "Without the suit, I'm not a superhero. But I built the suit, and with the suit I can do anything. So yeah. Those kids are gonna rule the world. They say where the future goes. I want to get on their good side now."
"Well, it doesn't hurt to have looks and brains, but not everyone can be Tony Stark."
Thank God, Steve thinks. One Tony Stark, even Tony Stark making faces at little kids who yank on his armor, is enough.
Steve would like to see a discussion someday about what television did to cinema, but as far as he can tell it hasn't happened yet. It goes beyond having a little mini-picture-show any time you want; the basic way that the movie houses work has changed.
Back when, you got a newsreel and then a cartoon and then the feature picture. That's what feature meant, it was the featured part. And a lot of times you got little intermissions while they changed the reels, where you could get up and stretch, and that was nice.
But of course you get so much news on the television. Cartoons, well, there's a whole channel for them too, and they got...awfully small, the cartoons did, small-minded. Steve would pick Bugs Bunny over Spongebob Squarepants any day of the week, but that's not just personal preference. He's willing to argue narrative and artistic quality as well, and will do so until the other side gives up, if he must.
Granted, Spongebob Squarepants never made those awful propaganda films during the war with the buck-toothed, yellow-skinned Japanese caricatures or the obese, round-nosed Germans.
The point is, you go to the movies now and there's a bunch of ads for a bunch of other films, and no cartoon or newsreel, just the movie. The movies are okay -- they're better than most of what you got in the thirties, and definitely better than those hackhouse films Steve did for the war effort. And there sure are a lot of them; he went to the picture house once a week if he could afford it, but now you could go twice a day and still never see all the films playing at any given "cineplex".
Some nights, Steve has his own private movie-house ritual. He finds a movie he thinks he might like to see, and then has JARVIS play it with ten minutes of news highlights and a Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny cartoon beforehand. They still make him laugh, even the ones they made after he...well, even the ones made later.
At first he tried to do it late at night so nobody else was bothered by him hogging the big TV, but he forgot he lives with a bunch of crazy people who don't sleep regular hours. Natasha drifted in first, and he swears the first time he ever heard her laugh was when Elmer Fudd shot Daffy Duck and his beak went around backwards.
She brought Bruce, another night, and Clint ambled in halfway through, and Thor likes to be where everyone else is, so he showed up, too.
The movie was finishing up, the first time Tony came; they heard him wander up from his workshop, talking to himself in the kitchen, and then he walked out and looked startled to see them all there.
"Is something exploding?" he asked.
"Movie night," Thor replied.
"Oh. Uh. Okay," Tony said with a confused look, and started to walk away.
"Come watch with us," Steve called, because it occurred to him that maybe Tony thought he hadn't been invited, when really Movie Night just kind of happened.
When he comes to a proper one, not just walking into the middle of it, Tony whines about the newsreel and the cartoon, because Tony is a philistine.
Steve is used to fighting with people who won't shut up during the newsreel. It's not even hard anymore; now he just wraps an arm around Tony's head and covers his mouth with one big hand, and Tony falls silent. Usually after about a minute Steve pulls away, mission accomplished, but sometimes Tony leans into him, and when he lets his hand fall he leaves his arm where it is.
Steve doesn't really want to talk about it. It's confusing, and a lot of people have very strange ideas about it, and it just never ends well, talking about it.
(see also: Burritos, Breakfast; Grocery Stores)
There's just so much of it, and it's everywhere.
Steve doesn't disapprove of America's excess, precisely. He sees problems with the financial balance of the country, once he's able to look at the information for himself -- he's always been good at building a picture from data -- but he can't bring himself to feel bad that his country has a wealth and variety of food.
At first, when he's staying at SHIELD's compound, he only eats in the cafeteria, but that's revelation enough; they sure didn't have food this good in the Army, and he ate better in the Army than he ever had. All kinds of foreign food too, from places like China and Mexico. Steve likes burritos, and pizza has, in his opinion, come a long way. But he misses going to Greektown with Bucky. (Maybe Greek food is out of favor?)
Later, after the Avengers Initiative is off the ground and they've saved the world once or twice, he starts going out more, off-compound, usually just walking around New York. Chinese and Mexican food aren't the limit of America's culinary expansion; there's Thai, Japanese, Chilean, Brazilian, Indian, Ethiopian, Mongolian, Korean, and all kinds of mixtures of some or all of them. Greek food is still around, just not something you get in a cafeteria, apparently, and there's Polish food too, which Steve loved in actual Poland.
Steve, who always was the kind of guy who'd eat something on a dare, tries all the new foods systematically, though sometimes he has to do some research first. He likes just about every kind of curry that exists, definitely loves banh mi sandwiches, and there's this stew he gets from an Ethiopian place near SHIELD's downtown office and he's not sure what's in it but it's the best thing to eat on a cold day, hands down.
He holds off on sushi until last, because even Steve is having some issues processing "raw fish on rice". He actually doesn't eat it until long after he's moved off-compound to the mansion and Tony and Natasha drag him along to a sushi bar one evening. It's fun; Tony does shots of warm sake and Natasha drinks imported beer and Steve discovers spicy tuna roll. And namasake. And pickled ginger. And eel!
"So? Rogers-approved?" Tony asks, at the end of the night. It's warm out, late spring, and the others seem content to wander instead of calling a cab to take them home.
"It's amazing, you know," Steve says. "All this variety. We thought we were a melting pot in the forties but we had no idea what was coming. The world is so much bigger than it was."
"Most people would say it's smaller," Natasha replies.
"No, it's bigger -- because -- " he fumbles for words. "I can see so much more than I did. My world is bigger."
"And Fury was worried he'd freak out," Natasha says around him, to Tony.
"What?" Steve asks.
"When you woke up, Fury thought you'd probably go all Grandpa on us and refuse to try anything new," Tony explains. "None of us bought it, because we've met you."
"Hey," Steve stops, distracted. "Can we get ice cream?"
"How are you still hungry?" Tony whines.
"But this place is great, they do ancho chili ice cream," Steve says, finding a place in line, and Tony and Natasha roll their eyes and get in line too.
Admittedly, the first time he went into a supermarket, Steve ended up a little overwhelmed. There's such a thing as too much variety. How many kinds of bread can one possibly need? When he was a kid a potato chip was a treat you got at the fair, and now you can buy potato chips that don't even taste like potato chips. And what on earth is a kiwi?
When he's still living at SHIELD, he tries to avoid grocery stores when possible, which isn't hard in Manhattan. He goes to bodegas instead, reassuringly claustrophobic and usually stocked with whatever he needs. After Tony opens his home to them, the food just appears in the kitchen, and he eats whatever happens to be there.
From television and movies and just general culture, he begins to draw the inference that there's a whole part of America he's unaware of, a part that doesn't live in the city or on a farm, that lives in suburbs and goes to grocery stores and malls. It's frightening and a little alarming, that there's so much he doesn't know about this new world. There's a whole aisle in grocery stores for crackers. Steve likes goldfish crackers, he's not afraid to admit that, but all the different flavors still seem excessive.
But he swore an oath when he joined the Army, and if that means protecting grocery stores, he will protect grocery stores.
Steve likes the internet very much. It's like chatting with folks on their front stoops, only you can do it any old time, and you can get news, and look up information, and sometimes he just sits and plays with GoogleEarth, learning about countries he never got to visit before. The Avengers have a Facebook page and while he doesn't understand Facebook very well, Tony bookmarked the page for him so he can go and read the nice things people say about them. Admittedly sometimes the comments are rude or cruel, but after all, speaking your mind is the right of every American. Even if they say really nasty things about Tony.
There are a lot of pictures of all of them on Google, if you do image-search, and Steve likes to study the pictures of them when they're fighting, figuring out where the people were when they took them, working out how the battle could have gone better. This, Tony has informed him, is called "Crowdsourcing."
Tony has also explained to him about Safe Search and how the internet is pretty unregulated when it comes to pinups and such; Tony took Safe Search off and googled himself and goodness, that was more of Tony than Steve really ever expected to see. Most of the pictures weren't even real, Tony called them "photoshopped," but still.
"I shouldn't search myself with Safe Search off, should I?" he asked.
"That's up to you. What a consenting adult does with his computer is between the two of them," Tony replied.
There are all kinds of websites that mention him, when he does tentatively search "Captain America" with Safe Search very firmly on. There are news stories and "blog" entries, discussions about him on message boards (including one very upsetting one about how he's probably not even the real Captain America, but some shill the government hired to drum up jingoistic patriotism).
He finds one post somewhere about how the writer thinks he's sexy and probably very nice. That does make him smile, because he likes to be thought of as a nice guy.
"I think this dame's sweet on me," he says, showing the post to Tony.
Tony peers at it. "Steve, that 'dame' is a dude named Joseph," he replies. He looks up at Steve without moving his head, just his eyes. "Uh, maybe that's a good segue into something Fury wanted Bruce to talk to you about, but I was kind of maybe in the next room -- "
"Eavesdropping," Steve says sternly.
"Well, and everyone knows it anyway, but um. You do get you're kind of incredibly popular with gay men, right?"
Steve still has to translate to himself sometimes; Gay means Homosexual, not "cheery".
"Why?" he asks, baffled.
"Well, to start with, you're six-foot-plus and you wear a skintight costume," Tony says. "Besides, you're the clean-cut All American Boy. Some men dig on that." Then he grins. "Some want to try getting you a little dirty."
"Oh. Well." Steve considers this. "Bruce probably would have taken a lot longer to explain that, huh."
Tony's smile widens. "Probably. Does it bother you?"
"N...o, no, I don't think so. So he's..." Steve looks back at the post. "I should send him an autographed photo or something."
Tony chokes out a laugh. "Just make sure it's not shirtless. Being nice is okay, encouraging people is bad."
Steve knows this. It's okay to make friends on the internet, Coulson told him, just be careful with personal information.
The thing about people, versus Tony, is that people tend not to realize that Steve doesn't know things they take for granted. Steve didn't know about ordering food to be delivered or Googling or kiwi fruit or a million other things in this new world. He intuits a lot of it, and he's good at faking the rest (especially after he figures out Googling) so people don't notice.
Tony does. Or...it's not even that he notices, so much as he considers. Tony will assume Steve knows something he has no idea about, but then thirty seconds later Tony will backtrack and demand, "Wait, do you know what a handheld hairdryer looks like?" And then Steve will learn about handheld hairdryers.
It's the same with JARVIS. The first time he visits Tony's home, Tony introduces JARVIS, and Steve assumes he's a man in a control booth somewhere, with access to cameras and speakers. This time it takes Tony a good half-hour to realize he's left out a vital part of the conversation.
"JARVIS, run those calculations for me," Tony says, after feeding what looks like half an advanced math textbook into his computer, and JARVIS fires it right back ten seconds later.
"He must be really smart," Steve says, and then, teasing, "Why's he working for you?"
"I often ask myself that question, Captain," JARVIS replies with what sounds like dry amusement. Tony pauses, and then looks at Steve.
"I should have said. JARVIS isn't a person," he says. "Well, obviously, he's a person, but he has no physical form."
Steve accepts this with reasonable aplomb; after all, he hangs out with a Norse god.
"He's a computer program, like Google, only much cooler," Tony continues. "It's called Artificial Intelligence. He's a thinking machine."
"Oh! Wow!" Steve looks up and around. "So you're a robot, JARVIS?"
"Not precisely," JARVIS replies. "Although I could control a robot were one provided for my use."
"Was that a hint?" Tony asks, laughing.
"Where did you come from if you're a program?" Steve asks, still looking up. "Did someone build y -- oh, Tony," he says, and then laughs at him. "You invented yourself a butler?"
"He's so much more than a butler," Tony says, dignified.
"Thank you, sir," JARVIS adds.
"Why do you have an English accent?"
"Why are you asking him stuff? I made him," Tony asks.
"That'd be rude, talking about him like he's not here," Steve replies. There's a long silence. "Well, anyway, thanks JARVIS!" he adds, waving at the nearest camera. "Nice to meet you."
"The pleasure is mine, Captain Rogers."
God in Heaven, have you heard the music of the last seventy years?
Not that Steve doesn't love jazz, always has and always will, but there's so much more interesting work that's been done. Buddy Holly and Elvis and the Beatles, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Metallica and Def Leppard, Madonna and her daughter Lady Gaga --
Okay, he thinks that for a long time, but can you blame him?
-- and club music, reggae, ska, disco's okay, and there's motown and emo and...well, punk just sounds like noise to him, and they have an uncomfortable fascination with Nazis sometimes, but some of it's okay.
Pop music! He listens to the top forty countdown religiously.
Bruce plays Barenaked Ladies and They Might Be Giants for him, and Natasha shows him how to find classical music that's so clear and pure, so unlike the scratchy records from before. She's also the one who hooks him on Lady Gaga, who is awfully pretty.
Tony teaches Thor and him to headbang, which makes everyone who witnesses it die laughing. Clint likes Radiohead and a lot of really obscure bands. The hipsters Steve sometimes encounters are always shocked when he knows the bands they're talking about, but Clint keeps him in the know.
He goes out a lot -- well, a lot for him -- goes to hear people do open mic nights in coffeehouses and concerts in bars, and sometimes even to clubs if Tony's going, because Tony can help him pick the right kind of clothing and knows he loves the DJ stuff. Clint loses his mind if the right beat comes on, and he watches Clint and Tony and sometimes Natasha dance in the dim club light, nursing a beer, enjoying the music.
And there's this one night...
He actually kind of liked Star Spangled Man, back when he was doing recruitment performances, but of course it was always a little embarrassing too. He's sort of grateful nobody's dug that one up and tried to do some kind of mix with it, because sometimes when DJs see him at a club they'll do a riff on the Star Spangled Banner (though in Steve's humble opinion nobody will ever top Jimi Hendrix's cover).
At any rate, this one night he's out at a bar where a woman is doing an unplugged set, just her and a guitar, which should be kind of hokey but she's really good. For her last song she says, "My grandfather had this song on a record, and he used to play it for me as a kid," and then she opens with something that sounds awfully familiar.
Steve stares at her, because that's the song. Who's strong and brave, here to save the American Way?
But it's slow, and sad, and not all the lyrics are the same -- because the song was about him but more about this mythical hero who would do it all, and --
She's left out the line. The song was always just a lot of questions about who will fight for America or save America or give his all in battle, but in the original, there was an answer: The Star Spangled Man.
And she's left the answer out. So it's not an anthem to raise money for a war or get enlistment numbers up. It's a cry out for help. Who'll rise and fall, give their all for America?
(She's left out a lot of other stuff too, about the goose-stepping goons and the Krauts and all that guff, which is just as well.)
After the song, after she's gone off the stage and people have turned back to their drinks, he sidles through the crowd to find her. He's still...uncertain around women, sometimes, but his need to ask her about the song overrides his reticence.
"Ma'am?" he asks, and she turns from where she's talking to the bartender. "You play beautifully."
"Thanks, handsome," she says, smiling. She can't be older than him, probably younger.
"I uh..." he rubs the back of his head. "The last song you played. I remember it. You did a better job of it than just about anyone ever, I think."
"Well, that wouldn't have been ha -- " she starts, and then really looks at him.
"Steve Rogers," he says, offering his hand.
"You're Captain America!" she blurts. "You're really tall!"
"Right now I'm just a guy who liked your song," he replies. He gets this a lot, Tony coached him on how to reply.
"But -- they wrote that song about you!" She looks horrified. "I cut you out of it!"
"Well, maybe, but...don't you think it's better that way?" He smiles, shyly. "I do."
"Sure. Because..." He thinks about this. "Well, if it's just some Star Spangled Man doing it all, ordinary people feel like they don't have to do anything. And I think the point of democracy is that everyone has to do their part. I sure don't want to do it all myself, anyhow."
"That's...that's why I..." she stammers. "Damn, you should run for president."
"Um?" he blinks.
"Sorry, I'm a little flustered, it's not every day the guy you sang a song about comes up to you and talks politics," she admits.
"Do you have a copy of it?" he asks. "The song, I mean, I'd like one."
"Oh -- god -- I um. No, but it's up on my website -- do you have any paper...?" she trails off as he offers her his phone. "Or, okay, wow, Captain America's cellphone, that works too."
"Thanks," he says, when she passes it back with the URL in it. "You played a great set."
"I'm, uh, glad you liked it," she replies, and Steve drifts away before things can get any more awkward.
A few weeks later he has the song on while he's making breakfast, and Tony and Clint walk in; they cock their heads in unison, which is funny, and Tony says, "Who's singing that?"
"Her name's Meg Bodoun," Steve says. "I saw her playing a while back. It's great, right? So much better than the original."
As it turns out, while Tony doesn't own a record company, he has friends who do. Meg Bodoun's "soulful, dazzling" (according to the reviews) cover of Star Spangled Man makes the Top 40, and she stops playing coffeehouses and starts playing concert halls.
Steve gets to play a heroic protest marcher in the music video, which is neat.
Potts, Virginia "Pepper"
Steve is only in Tony's workshop to begin with because Fury sent him to loom over Tony until he finished making Clint's new arrowheads. Apparently he keeps getting distracted.
So he's looming, and Tony's grinding metal down, throwing sparks in a cascade against the floor, when one of the most beautiful women Steve's ever seen walks into Tony's workshop without even knocking and opens the conversation by announcing, in a very loud voice, "Tony, you have to stop getting thrown into walls. Every time you do property damage our stock dips and -- " she sees Steve and breaks off sharply. "Hello, tall-blond-and-menacing."
"Pep!" Tony cries. Great, distracted again. Steve, meanwhile, is tongue-tied. "Steve Rogers, Pepper Potts. Pep, this is Steve. Don't talk to him, women make his head explode."
Steve glares mutely at Tony.
"Captain," Ms. Potts says, and offers him her hand. He shakes it, tries a smile, probably looks like an idiot. She raises a perfect eyebrow at him and then turns back to Tony, her shoes scraping lightly on the floor. Her heels are the highest he's ever seen, shiny and red.
"This is your fair warning, on Thursday I want you in the shareholder meeting to reassure them you aren't insane."
"That might go better if he's not there," Steve hears himself murmur. Tony looks like he's fighting a laugh.
"Promise I'll be there," he says. "Villains allowing."
Ms. Potts just looks at him.
"What? I'm trying this new 'dependable' thing. Steve's your witness, he'll make me go."
"Make him," Ms. Potts orders. This, Steve knows how to deal with.
"Yes ma'am," he says, squaring his shoulders.
"My god, you're adorable," she observes, and then she's gone. Steve lets out a breath, glancing at Tony.
"She's something else," he says.
"Yeah, you're not the first to think that," Tony answers.
"Are you and she...?"
"Oh. Uh. Sorry?" Steve ventures. Tony flaps a hand dismissively.
"I gave her my company, she gave me a kiss, I moved to New York and started getting blown up on a regular basis. Not a good foundation for a relationship." Tony tilts his head. "Why, interested? You'd have very tall babies."
"N-no! She's..." Steve gives a low whistle. "Out of my league."
Tony stares at him.
"Nothing," Tony shrugs. "It's probably for the best they got someone with crippling self-esteem issues to be Captain America. Anyone else would be unbearable."
But it's true: Ms. Potts is beautiful and clearly smart, she's a career gal and she spent years keeping Tony in line, which Steve is barely managing himself. A woman like that doesn't need a lunk like him lurking around.
On Thursday, Steve puts on his nicest suit, menaces Tony out of the kitchen and into a suit of his own, and drags him to the shareholder meeting. Ms. Potts greets him with a wide smile.
"My hero," she says. "Glad someone's looking after him."
"Oh, I don't -- I'm not -- you just asked," Steve stammers. She pats his arm.
"Deep breaths. I'll take it from here. See you after, Tony will take us to lunch."
Steve is very quiet at lunch, which is fine; the others fill the air with conversation. He just basks in the pleasure of being out at a fancy restaurant with Tony and the amazing Ms. Potts.
They had refrigerators in the forties, but not very big or very efficient. He and his mother never could afford one, but if she needed something for dinner he'd usually pick it up from the market on his way home from school.
It's amazing what you can keep in the refrigerator. By the time the team is living in Stark Mansion, the big industrial fridge in the kitchen is packed. Bruce and Natasha tried to institute the "everyone gets a shelf" rule, but Tony just eats whatever's there and Thor doesn't really understand the concept of personal property very well and Clint positively delights in eating other peoples' food, because he says it tastes better if it's stolen.
So now it's a free-for-all, and whoever gets to the bacon first is the champion.
Steve grew up in a time essentially before the FDA, before safe cooking guidelines and e-coli terror. He ate chicken that had been sitting on someone's chopping block for hours, bread that not only wasn't sliced but didn't come in a bag (and, during the war, was sometimes cut with plaster), soup that you kept on the stove for three days without even wondering if you were incubating bacteria. And that was before the serum.
"Does this smell off to you?" Tony asks, shoving a carton of stir-fry from two weeks ago under his nose.
"Heat it up and add some pepper," Steve suggests. Tony throws it out, much to Steve's dismay.
Clint calls Steve the Garbage Disposal, because he always eats the leftovers, but Steve just shrugs. No point in wasting food, even with a refrigerator in the house.
"Let's get this straight," Natasha says, the first time they meet. "I'm never going to sleep with you."
"Uh, okay," Steve answers, puzzled. "I mean. Why would you? Or, uh, why would I expect...?"
She gives him a narrow, assessing look. "Because the ratio of men to women in this building is about eight to one, and none of you have the time for social lives, so you try to have them here. But I'm here to fight, not to find a boyfriend."
He has a powerful moment of déjà vu, but telling her she reminds him of Peggy will probably go badly. Still...
"As far as I'm concerned, you're a soldier," he tells her. "Same as me. And, and -- " he remembers Peggy's remark about just like all the rest, " -- if anyone, um, bothers you...not that you need help, but if they do, and if you do...well, I'm the team leader, and I can make sure they...stop."
She gives him a mistrustful look, but that's the end of that incredibly awful conversation.
He sees, after that, what she means -- he notices how Bruce admires her but keeps his distance, hears Clint mention the one time he tried, sees half a dozen SHIELD agents get shot down (once literally). Tony, to his surprise, never even tries.
"Oh, he did try," Pepper tells him, when Steve remarks on how Tony stays out of Natasha's way. "Before he knew she could kill him with her thighs."
"You'd think that'd just encourage him."
Pepper laughs. "Tony has no self-control, but excellent instincts for self-preservation. Do you..." she arches a brow, "...like Natasha?"
"She's smart and fast, obeys orders, thinks on her feet. She's a great asset to the team," he says, and then catches her meaning. "Oh! No, not like that, not at all. I. Uh. Can you imagine."
Pepper gets a sort of glazed look for a minute. Steve turns back to Natasha, speculatively, and he supposes he can imagine too.
"Compelling," Pepper says.
"But I think it would end in explosions," Steve replies, and Pepper nods.
(See also: Virginity)
It strikes Steve, who now has the benefit of the internet at his fingertips, that the minimal amount of education he was given about sex as a young man was hilariously confused.
They got one vague afternoon of "Male Health" and a lot of calisthenic exercises, and even the church never seemed to be able to mention it outright, always worked around it with terms like "self-abuse" and "fornication." It was like the adults were afraid to even mention sex, in case a child actually asked them a question about it.
But on the internet you can find an answer to any question. You don't even need to ask it yourself. And people talk about sex all the time; there are agony aunts who give advice about it in the magazines, and people say they'd "hit that" -- occasionally the "that" is Steve, but he pretends not to hear -- and one time Tony and Clint debated the merits of XTube versus PornoTube in the locker room after a mission.
People are so inventive about sex.
Steve investigates the websites Tony and Clint talked about, cautiously, door locked and headphones plugged in. At first it's just to figure out if he's...doing things right. His sex life is solitary, at the moment, but he'd still like to make sure he understands. It's self-improvement, really. He feels a little weird watching strangers do that, but the women are pretty and they seem to be enjoying themselves. At least most of the time, and he back-buttons quickly from the ones where they're not.
It's a difficult revelation to have, when he finally figures it out: he doesn't need to watch men for technique anymore, but he still watches. He's had all the theory, had words like bisexual explained to him, but he hasn't ever tried to apply that to himself. He identifies the low, hot twist of pleasure he feels, watching men, and still it takes him time to understand what it means. He doesn't know why he didn't feel this before; or maybe he did, but never had the words or the context for it. It confuses him, but plenty of things from this time confuse him, so he gets on as best he can. Besides, for now it's a moot point, since he's not likely to be any smoother around a man he's attracted to than he would be around a woman. He spent three years in a war and seventy in the ice; he can wait.
He has fantasies. He thinks everyone must. But they're all...sepia-toned, blurred and faded, like they belong to the world he lost. He isn't sure if that's a problem, and the internet is surprisingly sketchy on "So you grew up in the thirties..."
He's confident anyway that when he meets the right person, at least he'll know what to do.
Clint's the one who takes him clothes shopping, the first time, which Tony has declared he will never forgive him for. But while he was still living at SHIELD he asked Clint, "Is there a sewing machine around here anywhere?" and the whole story came out. It's just that Steve is used to sewing his own clothes, as a civilian, and while the SHIELD-issued clothes are nice enough they're a little short on dress shirts and he doesn't like the underwear. Clint looks honestly offended when he sees the cloth Steve bought to sew a shirt with.
So they go to a department store, which were always far too expensive for him when he was younger. Clint says to the salesman, "We need a couple of everything," and the salesman gets a gleam in his eye.
But shoes are the real eye-opener. As a kid he had one pair of shoes for wearing every day and one for church, and he mostly went barefoot in the summer to save the leather. In the army he had uniform shoes and boots, but they were really more concerned with clean dry socks.
Now he has his SHIELD boots and his Captain America boots, and a pair of shoes just for running, and two pairs of beautiful leather shoes, one brown, one black, for wearing with nice clothes, and something called "flip flops" for wearing in the locker room. The others have all kinds -- shoes just for basketball (Bruce), shoes for different kinds of fancy events (Tony and, technically, Natasha, but she's a woman, she should have lots of nice shoes), shoes just for wearing on boats (Tony), shoes to wear on the street that aren't dress shoes (Thor and Clint), shoes for the sake of having shoes (Tony again). They make shoes with toes in them, now, which he finds baffling (Thor loves them).
There are shoe companies that want him to make advertisements for them, which he politely declines, but he becomes kind of a walking ad for Reebok anyway. He likes Reeboks, so he buys those for running in, and apparently if you wear the same brand often enough they kind of claim you. Reebok puts out a "Stars and Stripes" edition, which is a thinly-veiled Captain America Running Shoe, but they're good shoes and Steve genuinely likes the big white star on the side, so he buys a pair. Tony sulks that they never put out an Iron Man edition, and sulks more when Steve points out that there are lots of children's shoes with red robots on them.
Thor has a promotional deal with Nike, because he likes the swoopy logo and approves of "Just do it".
Unless they're on a mission, Steve spends Sunday evening polishing his boots, and -- if he's worn them that week -- his dress shoes. He knows it's not strictly necessary, but it's a soothing ritual, and if anyone else is around they sit and talk with him.
He remembers this: the easy camaraderie of soldiers and the smell of boot polish.
Steve and Tony got off on the wrong foot, but that's hardly Steve's fault. Ask anyone. (Anyone except Tony.)
He tries sometimes to think about how his experiences with Tony compare to his experiences with Howard, but it's hard to draw parallels. He was, would always be, an experiment to Howard; the first time they met he wasn't even sure Howard Stark knew who he was. He's pretty sure Howard only dropped him over the HYDRA base that first time because he wanted to see how Steve would do. He knows Howard took notes on it.
He and Howard weren't friends, exactly, but they worked well together when they did meet. Steve doesn't see much of Howard in Tony, aside from the hair and the tendency to try and sleep with every woman he sees. Tony is his own man, and if they didn't have the same last name, Steve would never associate the pair of them.
Tony is a challenge, but at least that was a change from the kid gloves everyone treated him with up until then. Not that Tony can't be kind; he's always thinking about other people, though he'd deny that if it were pointed out to him. But he is, it's true -- he remembers Steve doesn't know things sometimes, and he never treats Natasha any different from the men, and he teases Bruce constantly but his voice is gentle, and he's not mean to him.
Tony and Steve talk all the time. It's like at some point a dam broke and the hostility was forgotten because Steve can listen to Tony talk for hours, always learning new things. He doesn't have to pretend he understands things with Tony, but Tony doesn't treat him like he's stupid, either.
Steve wonders if he's trying to replace Bucky -- Bucky and Tony, now there's two peas from the same smartassed pod -- but he could never replace Bucky, and Tony would never stand for that anyhow. Tony always insists on having a place nobody else has had, doing things nobody else has done.
Sometimes on movie nights they sit together and Tony's very warm, and while he talks through the movie at least he says interesting things, things to make Steve or the others laugh.
So to sum it all up, Tony is interesting and kind, and certainly funny, anyone who's ever met Tony knows he's funny, and Steve likes his stick-up hair and his wide smart eyes, and the way sometimes he'll suddenly go still and calculating and then come up with something brilliant. Steve likes the way he's so fearless in the armor, and the way he's strangely breakable out of it, with the little machine in his chest that somehow keeps him alive.
Tony knows him and respects him, and the feeling is mutual. Steve can't help but wonder if Tony "digs on" the All American Boy, or if he's the kind of man who'd like to mess him up a little.
Probably neither, but that's a pretty decent fantasy, as fantasies go.
Steve isn't sure when people started calling them superheroes, or when they bowed to the inevitable and accepted the title. Not them, the Avengers but them, the crazy bastards who save the world in costume. It's a tradition thing, the costume; probably the X-Men started it. It's possible Steve himself did.
There isn't a lot of mingling among the teams. Tony's the one with the connections, really -- he gets along with Reed and Sue and Xavier, and he knows-someone-who-knows-someone who can get in touch with the solo superheroes, or those on most of the other teams. It's surprising and it's not; Tony has few close friends, because it takes a stout soul to survive him in long doses, but he's charming when he wants to be, so his network of colleagues and acquaintances is beyond vast.
When Tony introduces him to Professor Xavier for the first time, on a visit to the school, Xavier shakes his hand, then glances back and forth between him and Tony and looks thoughtful.
Xavier is nice and incredibly smart, and this isn't official business so much as it is "Hey, you should meet Charlie, he's been asking about you." So they can sit and talk about nothing-in-particular, while students make excuses to pass by the Professor's open office door and sneak peeks at them. One of them hovers outside the window behind Xavier until Steve subtly cues him to get lost before he gets busted.
"You know," Steve says, when the conversation has come around (inevitably) to issues of communication among the various teams, "We should have a conference of some kind. Us, the Four, the X-Men, Tony can put the word out to the others. Like a summit, to discuss...issues of the day," he finishes weakly, because Tony and Xavier are exchanging a knowing look.
"Tony said you were an idealist," Xavier says gently. "It's admirable, especially in one who's seen as much as you have. But it's just not feasible."
"If it's an issue of space, we can host it at the Mansion -- " Steve looks to Tony for support, but Tony shakes his head.
"It's an issue of security," he says. "Too many heroes in one place, the baddies will know. Besides, not everyone gets along, and the last thing we need is a couple of super-speeders deciding to race, or Wolverine...talking to anyone, or -- "
" -- Tony making a pass at someone's girlfriend," Xavier finishes.
"That only happened once and I told Summers I was sorry," Tony protests. "And I suggested a threes -- "
"To return to the point, I think it would be a wonderful thing," Xavier says. "But it's not going to happen. That's why we meet like this. To remind each other we're here. Do you remember Philadelphia?" he asks Tony.
"Well, no, that was before my time," Tony says. "But I heard about it."
"My X-Men and the Fantastic Four nearly came to blows," Xavier says to Steve. "Nobody knew the other side was handling it, and they barely knew of each other's existence. In a fight sometimes it's hard to tell who's on your side. As Tony says, that was before his time. Things are...smoother now."
"That's his way of calling me a gossip," Tony tells Steve.
"Gossips are necessary in this line of work," Xavier says imperturbably. "The more communication, the better. You've chosen your right hand wisely, Captain. And, on that note, I think I've kept you long enough -- I can see you itching for your phone, Tony."
Tony grins. "Good talk. I'll send the Four your regards."
"You really do know everyone," Steve says, as they leave the school grounds, climbing back into the limo Tony insisted on getting from the airport.
Tony shrugs. "It's what I do. Airport," he adds to the driver, taking out his phone. "Quick call, promise -- Sue! Hi, it's Tony. Not much, gorgeous, how are you? Aw come on, you know you're my favorite. No, I just got done with Charlie, he's well. Actually Cap came with me, and he had this idea which in the macrocosm is totally ridiculous but I think could work on a smaller scale -- are you and Reed free for dinner? Fantastic, literally. Okay, eight pm, I'll make the reservations. Yeah, tell Ben and Johnny I say hi. Bye," he adds, and hangs up, glancing at Steve, who is equal parts surprised and amused. "What? You heard Charlie. More communication is better, and now when we get back into New York we have dinner reservations with Sue and Reed."
Everyone expects him to be blown away by the concept of the cellular telephone, this much is clear. But Steve was in the war, and they had wireless radio operators and telegrams back then, so he gets it. He grasps the concept firmly, he understands wireless phone communication and even text-messaging, people can stop trying to explain it to him now.
Besides, the little phones are intuitive, easy to learn, and he doesn't get why Tony's so proud when Steve says that until he figures out that his phone is a Starkphone, made by Stark Industries. Wikipedia later informs him that Tony wrote much of the Starkphone code himself.
Cellular Telephones mean he will never be bored again. No matter where you are, you can play a game or read, even take pictures and send them to people.
Tony hears him talking excitedly about his phone and says "We should have you do a Stark Telecom ad" with an amused look. He's joking, but Steve would if Tony asked. It could be pretty funny if they showed him answering his Starkphone in the middle of a fight and then clocking a bad guy with it and the phone not breaking. This did happen once -- not that he answers his phone during battles, but their comms went down and he was keeping in touch with the team.
Steve loves his phone and treats it with the same respect he treats all his belongings: rubs it down with a polishing cloth every night, just like he does his shield, and takes the impact-proof case off for inspection once a week to make sure everything's in order. It always goes in the same pocket of his clothing, and once a month he plugs it into his computer and syncs it. He doesn't really understand what Syncing does, but he has a vague idea it has something to do with telephone hygiene.
Sometimes when he's out running, he'll call Tony on his bluetooth and Tony will put the call on speaker in the shop, and they'll talk to each other across miles and miles, without even having to hold a telephone in their hands.
Rotary telephones are called "land lines" now, and nothing rotates.
Steve misses the clack-clack of the wheel.
The first time Steve hears someone say "Five hundred channels and still nothing's on" he laughs, because to him it's not a joke that's thirty years old, it's a funny observation about television. Everyone looks at him strangely until Tony explains to him the joke isn't supposed to be funny anymore.
Don't get him wrong, he likes television. He likes that there's still a medium where you can tune in once a week, and no more than once a week, to learn a little more of the story. Everything's so instantaneous in this world, but with television you still have to wait a week to find out what happens next.
He doesn't like reality TV, because everyone's really cruel to each other and there's no buffer there, it's not a fake story someone made up. He doesn't like talk shows either -- they make him cringe, remembering all the cheesy lines he said selling bonds. He's had to do a few himself, most notably that time he won some talk show's annual Hottest Bachelor poll. Bruce has assured him he was quiet and modest and had nothing to be ashamed of, but Steve still can't watch it.
The thing is, television isn't something Steve can just watch. He interacts with it, because he's on it sometimes, and he's not always happy with what he sees. It's not entertainment; it's one more thing in this new life that must be managed. Somewhere along the line, while the Avengers were figuring out how they fit together, it became evident that while Steve was the team's leader, Tony was his lieutenant. The media has caught on and eats it up, the idea that pure, brave Captain America has for his second-in-command a rich playboy who's spent years shocking the unshockable.
He does like some television shows, and he finds crime procedurals soothingly repetitive. The bad guy nearly always gets his in the end. The others make fun of him for liking a show nearly everyone thinks is well past its prime, but they leave him alone to watch it.
The problem is, it's "ripped from the headlines". And guess who's sometimes a headline?
"TONY!" he yells one night, when he realizes what's going on. "NATASHA! Uh, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE! IN THE TV ROOM!"
"What, what is it?" Tony demands, appearing in the doorway.
"We're on TV!" Steve says, distressed.
"Well, yeah, we did that thing -- "
"No! Fake TV!" Steve points at the screen, because a tall, muscular blond man is being questioned about a murder, and he's wearing a shirt with a white star on it, and he lived in the same house as the dead woman -- this is terrible, oh God, that dead woman was supposed to be Natasha.
"What the shit?" Clint asks, catching on just as the tall, muscular blond man says, I'm a superhero, I don't kill people!
"I don't kill people!" Steve protests. "I mean, not unless they try to kill me first, and even then -- !"
"Yeah, you kill people back," Clint agrees.
"Oh man, I'm going to have to sue Dick Wolf," Tony sighs, but then it cuts away to the detectives interviewing a short, manic guy in a machine shop, and Clint howls with laughter.
"I don't look like that!" Tony yells at the television.
"What's going on?" Bruce asks, arriving with Natasha. Thor pokes his head in the doorway above them.
"The TV!" Steve says. "They did a show about us!"
By the time the commercials hit, everyone is clustered around the couch, and the detectives think Steve killed Natasha and Tony helped him cover it up.
"Why would they do that?" Steve demands, while on the television a middle-aged man tries to convince the viewers that a new car will make them seem hip. "We haven't done anything to them. I like this show."
"Public figures," Clint grits out. "Fair game. As long as they don't use our names or our actual costumes -- "
"Oh, that's some bullshit," Tony replies. "Any lawyer worth half a damn can make a case. I'm calling Stark Legal."
"Wait," Natasha says.
"They killed you on the TV!" Steve points out.
"Yeah, but these shows always have a twist," she replies. "I bet none of you killed me."
"But Steve's all traumatized," Tony protests. Natasha gives him a quelling look, and he sullenly sits back next to Steve and crosses his arms.
As it turns out, none of them did kill Natasha, but Steve is still upset. For one thing, Natasha still ended up dead, and Clint and Bruce are both annoyed that they didn't get any airtime.
"Well," Tony says finally. "I mean. They did make me look pretty kickass on the stand. But I'll sue them if you want me to," he adds to Steve, who just watched with mounting horror as his onscreen counterpart was arrested and imprisoned for murder before being exonerated.
Steve has to admit that they came off looking pretty good in the end. Better than the fake suspects usually do.
"No, I guess not," he says reluctantly. Tony nudges him in the ribs.
"Movie night?" he suggests.
"Yes," Thor agrees. "I wish to see some Mickey Mouse."
What you are if you don't thretch before thparring.
Steve never claimed his sense of humor was sophisticated.
Thor likes loud music, movies with lots of explosions, and destroying things, but the thing is, in himself, Thor's a quiet guy. It's like he knows when to make noise, and he only does it when it's most appropriate. He fits in even less than Steve does, and he's not vaguely ashamed of it the way Steve is.
He's also the only one of them with anything even approaching a stable personal life. Clint and Tony "hook up" with women sometimes, and maybe Natasha has dates or lovers but she keeps them to herself, and Bruce is shyly dancing around some woman he has a huge, invisible crush on, and Steve is, well, Steve. But Thor has a girlfriend and regular dates and regular sex (and don't think the entire house doesn't know when Thor's having his regular sex).
"You have to admire his stamina," Tony remarks to Steve, who's been driven down to Tony's workshop by the noise.
"I think probably hers is more admirable," Steve answers. Tony laughs.
"Can't say I blame her. He's a good-looking man," Tony remarks, and Steve looks at him, perplexed. "I'm just saying. I'd hit that like a hammer if I didn't think Jane would scratch my eyes out."
"You've never shown any interest in men."
Tony's lips quirk. "There aren't many I'm interested in, but it happens now and again. And how many people can say they've gone for a ride on the Norse God? It'd be worth it for the sheer novelty value. What do you think, would you?"
"With Thor?" Steve asks. "He's a teammate, Tony."
"Sure, a teammate," Tony agrees easily, but there's something odd in his eyes.
(See also: Sex; Stark, Tony)
Steve's never had sex, and it doesn't occur to him to be ashamed of that. Being ashamed of sex is something he's familiar with, he has as much misplaced guilt as anyone, but it wasn't a shame to be a virgin in the forties, or anyway not like it is now where everyone seems so desperate to do it all the time. Besides, nobody who loves him enough to have sex with him in the first place will care that he hasn't had it.
"You are disgustingly secure," Tony says to him, when Steve expounds this philosophy while they're playing cards one night. They've been talking about how they lost their virginity, which Steve thinks Tony started for the sheer purpose of making him uncomfortable, and when it was his turn Steve said "Well, I haven't yet" and Clint nearly choked on his beer.
"I think it's sad that you think that's a metric of insecurity," Steve tells him. "You have all the sex you like, Tony, I don't disapprove. But I don't think I want to share that with anyone who isn't worthy of my affection. The best measure of worthiness is whether they respect me even if they think I'm flawed."
"He makes me feel like a kid," Tony complains to Bruce.
"Don't look at me, I think you are one," Bruce replies.
"I lost mine when I was fourteen," Clint says. "Tell you the truth, if I could do it over again I'd have waited."
"I wouldn't," Tony announces. "I did too and I enjoyed every minute of it, and I like to think she has fond memories as well."
"Are we going to gossip or are we going to play poker?" Natasha complains. "God, you guys are like a chick flick with dicks."
"What's a chick flick?" Steve asks Tony, in an undertone. Tony just grins at him and tells him to ante up.
Playing poker with everyone is fun; Steve is positive this helps them bond as a team, and unlike most of their competitive activities nothing gets destroyed. Usually he breaks about even, and it eases the homesickness he sometimes feels, because he used to play poker with the Commandos like this. He never really felt like he was a part of something until the Commandos took him in.
Later, after the game is done and when everyone's heading to bed, Tony catches his eye and delays him until the others are gone.
"You've seriously never had sex?" he asks, pouring them each a drink.
"Well, I kissed a woman with tongue once, but since I was about to die I don't think it counts," Steve replies drily.
"And you're fine with that?"
"Imminent death?" Steve asks with a grin. Tony does not smile.
"Being the only one of us who can still see unicorns."
"Oh. Yeah, that's fine. I mean it -- I don't intend to tell anyone how to live their life. But for me, it's worth it to wait for someone who means something to me. Besides, it's not like I can't get the end result on my own."
Tony chokes on his drink. "Jesus, Steve."
"What? You and Clint talk about sex all the time."
"Yeah, but you don't."
Steve shrugs. "Wasn't the done thing where I'm from."
"So what's your ideal woman?" Tony asks, leaning back on the bar. "If you did find someone, who would she be?"
"What makes you think it'd have to be a woman?" Steve asks. Tony's eyebrows shoot up. "I'm keeping my options open."
Tony grins. "Wise of you. All right, for woman read person."
"I usually do."
"Oh, the ardent feminist!"
"Shut up," Steve rolls his eyes. "I don't know. Like I said, someone who gets my flaws and respects me anyway. Someone smart, but not stuck up about it. Someone I can trust, who trusts me. Wouldn't mind a nice pair of legs, but I guess that's optional."
"Not to mention what's between them."
"Tony," Steve says, blushing a little.
"Hey, you started it." Tony eyes him. "But no teammates, huh?"
"Well, I don't know if that would be right."
"What if I made a pass at you?" Tony asks. Steve almost laughs, but Tony's eyes are serious. And sort of nervous.
"Are you?" Steve manages, after a long silence.
"Admittedly I am completely stuck-up about how smart I am, but I can promise you I respect you, and believe me when I say I have categorical knowledge of your flaws," Tony says. "I trust you, and actually my legs are very nice. There's no denying the thrill in being someone's first, but before you ask, that's not what this is about, and yes, I am making a pass at you."
"I'd certainly be able to trust you knew what you were doing," Steve says thoughtfully.
Tony steps closer, into him, resting a hand lightly on his stomach. Steve tilts his head down a little and kisses him, testing, enjoying the heat that spreads through him on contact.
"I could be good for you," Tony says, and kisses deeper before drawing back to add, "I would be. Make sure you liked it."
"Tony." Steve tries to sound reproachful, because that's kind of dirty, but it comes out desperate.
"Easy," Tony says, kissing him again. This is crazy, and they're still in the living room where anyone could walk in and find them, but he can't stop kissing Tony. It feels so good just to touch someone, and to let someone touch him. To let Tony touch him.
"Not here," Steve manages, and his voice sounds harsh, needy.
"Hm, yes, All-American Boy," Tony says with a smile, leaning back. "Really we should be doing this in the backseat of a car or something."
"What?" Steve asks, confused.
"Nothing. Never mind. Come on," and Tony's heading for the door, dragging him along with fingers tucked into his shirt. There are voices in the darkened hallway, people calling good-night to one another, and Steve pulls him up short before they turn the corner, pins him to the wall and kisses him again to distract him until the doors have closed, the voices are quiet.
Tony laughs and bites greedily at his bottom lip, then slides away again and pulls him towards the first open door, the one that leads to Tony's suite. They stumble in, Steve kicks the door shut behind him, and Tony pulls him up close, bodies pressed together. He's making half-wild promises into Steve's mouth, Show you everything and be so good, you'll see and blow your mind.
"Tony," Steve breathes, as they back their way towards the bedroom. He can't seem to say anything else. "Tony -- oh -- "
It's blinding, how much he wants this, how every time skin touches skin little white sparks seem to go off inside him. And at the same time it feels...inevitable. Like everything since coming awake from the ice was leading up to this.
"How would you like it? Slow?" Tony asks, unbuttoning Steve's shirt, still pulling him towards the bedroom. "Fast? You're a little desperate for it, aren't you?" he adds, running a hand down over his crotch, squeezing, and Steve pushes into it, can't help himself. "It's never as good alone."
"Take your word for it," Steve manages, leaning into him.
"That's it. Trust me," Tony murmurs, hand still sliding roughly over him. "Ever thought about how you want it...?"
"Uh -- if you don't stop it's not gonna matter," Steve moans, and Tony backs off, leans away and looks him in the eye.
"Easy," he repeats, and goes back to unbuttoning Steve's shirt. "Whatever you want. Assuming you know what that is."
"I want -- " Steve sways forward. "I want -- " You, it's been you since we met, since before I even liked you, Tony, I want you, I've wanted you -- no matter what I think about, you're there somewhere --
"Beautiful," Tony says quietly, ignoring his broken-off words. He's got the shirt open, hands planted on either side of Steve's waist, thumbs skimming the tender skin. His touch is almost possessive, his eyes more than almost. He slides his hands up over Steve's chest, his shoulders, shoving the shirt back until it falls to the floor. Leans in and kisses him again, hands cupped protectively around his neck. The arc reactor presses against Steve's chest through Tony's shirt.
He digs his hands into Tony's hips, a little too hard to judge by the way Tony hisses into his mouth, and then lets go before he bruises him. He fumbles for the hem of Tony's shirt, tugging, pulling it off, ducking back in for a kiss with one hand palm-flat over the arc reactor, the other tangling in the hair at the back of Tony's head. Tony's body jerks forward, one stretch of warm skin from waist to throat.
"Let's try again," Tony says, releasing his mouth only to press his face to his neck, kissing from his jaw down to his shoulder. "What is it you want, Steve?"
"I can't think, I don't..." Steve moans when Tony bites gently into the meat of his shoulder.
"Do you know what men do?" Tony asks, into his skin.
"Yes, I know, I just -- "
"Shh, relax. Tell you what," Tony says, still worrying at the bite with his mouth, hands working at Steve's fly. "You tell me if you like what I do. Or if you don't. We'll figure it out together."
Steve hums happily at the idea, still cradling Tony's head with his hand, twitching into the light touches as Tony strips him out of his pants, out of his underwear. Tony rakes his fingers up his thigh, fingernails scratching gently.
"Natural blond," he says, and Steve laughs. "There we go. This is supposed to be fun, you know."
"Do I seem like I'm not having fun?" Steve asks in his ear.
"You seem a little overwhelmed," Tony replies, turning them both. Steve drops onto the bed, and Tony follows, tangling their legs together.
"I adapt," Steve replies, hips rising. He can feel his pulse pounding in his ears. Tony's body rolls against him, almost liquid, and Steve lets his head fall back.
"This, I want this, just like this," he manages, and Tony bites his collarbone.
"This what you want?" Tony asks, their bodies moving together now. Yes -- he wants this, wants to rub and buck and touch, let Tony suck on the delicate skin of his throat, and yes he wants Tony to teach him everything, he has wanted so much for so long.
"Baby," Tony murmurs, the endearment startling him. "Oh baby, you are beautiful."
Steve stretches and arches and comes, one hand tucked in the small of Tony's back, one wrist in his mouth to bite down on the feral cry rising in his throat. Tony makes a softer noise and collapses on top of him, nuzzling into his shoulder.
"There," he says finally. Steve's still trying to catch his breath. "No more unicorns."
Steve laughs, wild and dizzy, and runs his hand over smooth, bare skin.
Steve's job, in the war, was simple: follow orders. Aside from his one gloriously disobedient flight to save Bucky -- at the time, he thought, to bring his body home -- he has followed orders. Sing and dance, Captain. Go to Europe, Captain. Take out HYDRA, Captain. For the most part he didn't mind, and doesn't now, but he's finding a rebellious streak surfacing because there seems to be little consequence for disobedience.
It's a soldier's prerogative to think his CO is ignorant and arrogant; most men did, during the war, and he's certain sometimes his own men thought it. Bucky told him stories, all the time, of how when he first went over he was under inexperienced officers who put men in danger simply by being blind to the facts. But they still followed orders.
It's not that Fury is a bad officer, but in the field Steve knows his own judgment is better -- he can see things Fury and the others back at headquarters can't. So he dares sometimes, disobeys, and sure he gets yelled at afterward, but it's not like they can court-martial him. As long as he acts to protect people, as long as his actions are for the sake of his team, he can't bring himself to feel guilty.
This is different, though, this feeling of secrecy, of disobedience he has when he sits in the debriefing room when he should be concentrating and instead watches Tony hungrily, his agile blunt-fingered hands twirling a stylus, the shift and play of emotions on his face. It's like that first night opened this floodgate of want, and now he wants all the time. Better; now he can take, because Tony goes so easily, because Tony wants to give him everything. He sees a bruise on Tony's throat just above the collar, and knows he did that with his mouth -- feels his shirt rasp against his shoulders and knows the scratches there are from Tony -- and then has to snap up to attention when Fury asks, "Do I need to fucking repeat myself, Captain?"
Still, he can't regret that, either. Steve is no longer a soldier who obeys orders, no longer one of millions who had to pull together lest the country fly apart. This is a new world, a contentious, opinionated, argumentative world. He can fight if he pleases, fight the people who think he's a deviant or a pervert, fight anyone who takes a swipe at Tony.
He feels this kind of fight is the one he was born for. It thrills him to his fingertips.
The second time he meets Xavier, he's there alone, because this whole "summit" idea has actually kind of caught on, and he's been put in charge (drafted) to organize a series of small, quiet round-table discussions. Never more than a handful of heroes at once, but if they get the rotation right, everyone will know what everyone else knows, and hopefully the distortion-via-gossip can be kept to a minimum if he or Tony or Xavier are at all of them.
"I have to say, I'm pleased," Xavier tells him. "It's a good workaround. Sometimes we become a bit set in our ways -- even Tony. You have a knack for shaking things up, Captain."
"Thank you," Steve says, still a little overawed by the older man. Nearly everyone he knows has been doing this modern hero gig longer than him, but Xavier is a true veteran, and both his experience and his gravitas demand respect.
"And -- if you'll pardon my bluntness -- I'm glad to see you and Tony have sorted yourselves out," Xavier adds. Steve looks at him, startled.
"I thought you didn't -- without permission -- " he blurts, feeling mortified and violated.
"Young man," Xavier smiles reassuringly, not that Steve actually feels reassured, "it doesn't take a mind-reader. You look...happy. And Tony is full of talk of you, when we speak. Please, I didn't mean to embarrass you. I'm genuinely happy for the both of you."
"Oh," and that's even more embarrassing, that he jumped to the wrong conclusion. "We...it's not exactly common knowledge."
Xavier leans back, studying him, and the silence forces Steve into talking.
"Nobody knows. Unless they've guessed, I suppose. We don't even know what it is yet, not really."
"Obviously you care for him. And he for you."
"This is drifting from topic," Steve says.
"Yes, I do that sometimes. And we should certainly discuss matters of less personal import. But if I can give you some advice, for what it's worth..." Xavier leans forward again. "Hold it while you can. Don't think too much about the future."
Steve frowns. "You sound like you speak from experience."
"You're very different men. I've been in your position -- the idealist trying to love the cynic. I didn't have great success. You, I think, might do better."
"Oh," Steve says, and thinks about what he knows of Xavier's past. "Oh."
"Just so," and Xavier's smile is resigned, not bitter. "And now, on to other matters..."
When he comes home that evening, he thinks about Xavier. About the future, and about the past.
"Welcome home," Tony says, from his easy sprawl on the couch. "Have fun?"
"Yeah, it was interesting," Steve replies. "Xavier knows. About us, I mean."
"I thought he'd guessed. Crafty old bastard."
Steve draws a hitching breath. "I love you," he says quietly. "And I don't want this to be a secret. I'm sorry if that frightens you, and if it's different for you then that's fine, we'll figure something out, but I don't see why I shouldn't say what I mean."
"Who's frightened?" Tony smiles. "Come here. C'mere, come, sit, come here."
Steve drops onto the couch next to him, and Tony leans against him companionably, until Steve takes the hint and slides his arm around his shoulders.
"You're not good at saying it, are you?" he asks Tony.
"I was thinking we should tell Fury first, really watch him blow up," Tony says in reply. "Most of the team has probably figured it out, so there's no thrill in telling them. I bet Coulson'll be relieved, because he's been really suspicious of how I'm suddenly not nearly as much of an asshole as usual. Now I'd love to do a press conference because I love fucking with reporters, but I know you're a delicate flower, so we could do a magazine interview, or just go the get photographed kissing in a club route..."
Steve closes his eyes and listens to Tony spin out plans, plans for going public, how they'll do this together, plans that mean permanence. There never was such a man for talking as Tony Stark is.
But what it all adds up to is that it's one in Charles Xavier's eye. He doesn't have to think about the future; Tony will do that for them. Tony likes that. And Tony loves him.
His dictionary isn't complete yet -- Tony's probably going to need his own encyclopedia -- but he's got a handle on this world now.