CHAPTER 1: Matters of Coffee
Tony only finds out about the so called scavenger hunt because he happened to be bored one afternoon and spent time hacking into SHIELD’s oh so secure server. He snickers, yeah right. When he read through what the stupid ass psychologists decided would be the best course of action for the very recently thawed out Capsicle, he lifted a brow and rolled his eyes. Seriously, how much were they paying these quacks anyhow?
Searching around his workbench for his phone he downloaded all the information to it. He would be ready for the main event and SHIELD would never know. He’d already told SHIELD they were handling the Captain all kinds of wrong ways to Sunday but they gave him that attitude. He doesn’t like that attitude; the little smirk and the condescending nod which relates all kinds of unspoken words like we know better, we are superior, how could you possibly understand the human brain and its psyche?
How? He taps his fingers on the table he’s sitting at in the closest Starbucks to SHIELD headquarters in New York City. What kind of question was that anyway? How could they possibly, even conceivably ask that question of him? He’s Tony Fucking Stark, he understands more of the human mind than most psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists put together. Artificial Intelligence does that ring a god damned bell? No one else in the world has actually perfected A.I. the way he has. They haven’t a clue. Of course, they throw all this mumbo-jumbo about psychological theories and how it isn’t the same, the human brain is oh so much more complicated. They don’t even have a clue as to what they are talking about – seriously how can they compare the human brain to an A.I. when they don’t even understand the A.I. in the first place?
No one listens to him, but then again they didn’t think he was a reasonable candidate for their little club or initiative or whatever they were calling it. Who exactly is right for this team of Avengers and just what the hell are they going to do all day? Fight the bad guys, yeah right.
And he didn’t even get any thank you cards.
Since he can’t trust the directors or operatives at SHIELD to find their way out of a paper bag, he’s decided to take the bull by the horns and wrestle this thing down to the ground. Someone has to do it. If they expect the Star Spangled Man with a Plan to even understand that his plan has to be emailed and not hand written in triplicate, then they need Tony Stark to guide the poor soulful half-wit. Plus, his ideas are levels and levels above what SHIELD doctors and medical staff have planned for the Freezer Pop.
Scavenger Hunt, idiots.
What ticks him off the most is that he should have been brought into the project earlier (or, at the very least, brought into the project). When they discovered Captain America’s frozen body, he should not have received a message for some Stark Industries cold weather equipment. It wasn’t the first time his company had been requested to assist on a non-military operation by the government or SHIELD (are they one in the same – nobody knows). He actually funds and supplies a boatload of money and equipment to the Antarctic base at McMurdo Station. In addition to that he provides the scientific instruments and insulation needed for deep space exploration to NASA. So, when the requisition came through with an explanation that SHIELD was going on a study of the Arctic Ocean based on findings from a Russian source, he didn’t really think anything of it. Who would?
Granted it, he should have because he is brilliant and these little connections shouldn’t get away from him. Arctic Ocean, studies, recovery, none of it fell into place until after he’d heard the news. Well, not heard it, found it because he’d hacked into their systems and yanked that information right out from under their noses. Because really, they have a thirteen year old doing their security or something.
What he found still pisses him off today. They discovered Captain America’s plane and recovered his frozen body. Just by virtue of who he is, he should have been called into play- his father searched for the dumbass for years. Which is something that Tony still cannot wrap his head around, why search for a dead person?
Did his father have some inkling that Captain America could survive not only drowning but freezing as well? How the heck did he know to keep looking? Was he just looking for the body to harvest information and data from it, because that is all kinds of morbid. There’s a part of him that hopes it wasn’t that, he hopes that in fact his father knew something, something secret that he had to keep tucked away from the government for fear they might exploit it wrongly. There’s a part of Tony that still wants to redeem his father.
Tony sometimes hates that part of himself.
Maybe that is one of the reasons he currently finds himself sitting in the Starbucks waiting for his father’s obsession to waltz through the door. According to his research into the files of SHIELD today is the day Captain America starts his scavenger hunt to learn about the 21st century. The first thing on the hunt is a cup of coffee but not your routine everyday cup of coffee, the list specifically instructs the dear Captain to seek out a Starbucks and order a coffee containing the word espresso in it.
This is the first thing SHIELD placed on the list- and it is the only part of the original list that remains completely unaltered by Tony’s tinkering, because a list that SHIELD construed to get Captain America up to speed is only asking for disaster to occur.
He feels like it is the least he can do. Something didn’t feel right when he shook Rogers’ hand that day in Central Park and watched him speed off on his motorcycle. He seemed like such a solitary figure and no one around Tony even seemed to give a rat’s ass just what Captain America planned to do with his time. Most people assumed he was going on a sightseeing trip around America which – after Tony thought about – was an inane conclusion. Why would someone who was completely and utterly a stranger in a strange land set off alone to learn about his new present? None of it seemed reasonable.
His suspicions ended up being right when he discovered Rogers is holed up in his apartment. He did this in a non-stalkery way. He happened to just find out that Rogers goes on morning runs and uses the gym down the street from where he lives. So, Rogers didn’t disappear from New York and was still in Brooklyn. This set off all kinds of alarm bells in Tony’s head.
He went to Fury because something compelled him. Maybe it was his own sleepless nights, his need to revamp the armor until it is sentient in some way so that it can protect him and he can call out to it to save him. His behavior scared Pepper away; he can only imagine what it would do to a man with no friends at all.
Fury frowned at him when Tony explained to him that Rogers needed more than a fly be free kind of mentality to help him adjust.
“It warms the cockles of this old spy’s heart to find out that you care so much, Stark.”
“Seriously, I am not interested in what is warming your cockles there, what I am telling you is that your Spangled Man needs something else to help him adjust. Sitting in the dark in his apartment all day or going to the gym to punch out bags do not qualify as a life,” Tony said with a scrub of his finger nails through his hair. Fury always made him feel as if he had bugs crawling through his scalp.
“Agent Romanov is working with Captain Rogers,” Fury had responded.
“Working with him, you mean profiling him?” Tony scoffed. “She doesn’t need to profile him; I can tell you what she’ll find. A loner, brooding borderline depressed, disconnect from the rest of the world.” Fury flipped through a file as Tony spoke. “Am I getting close yet?”
“You forgot suspected suicidal ideation,” Fury said as he tossed the paper file on the desk. His look had been dour, even hopeless.“Tell me why you’re here, Stark, because if you don’t have a damned plan to fix this, then you’re dead weight and not helping me at all.”
At the time, Tony hadn’t had a plan. Now his plan is all kinds of delicious, starting with coffee. He glances at his StarkPhone. Spangles should be here right about – now.
On cue, Rogers walks into the Starbucks and squints at the change in light. It is a bright Autumn Day out and he isn’t wearing sunglasses to protect those baby blues. He doesn’t go right up to the counter, or stand in line. Instead, he scans the place as if he is on a scouting mission. It reminds Tony of someone looking for threats, someone who doesn’t trust, someone who’s sealed off from the rest of the world.
It hits to close to the bone, as if it is a razor scraping away at his tendons and ligaments. He shoves the thought aside, and continues to study Captain America. Rogers nods to several people as they murmur excuse me to step around him. There really isn’t any place to stand that is comfortable and out of the way enough for Rogers to examine the board and figure out what exactly he has to do. Tony peers through the crowd which isn’t thick because it is about mid-day. Rogers has a crumpled piece of paper in his hand and he studies it, and then glares at the board. He is glaring, because his facial expression reminds Tony of when he was in the middle of the fight with the Chitauri. Finally, he steps into line and stands there waiting his turn at the counter. He listens to the other customers as they order and that furrow between his brows only gets deeper, more concentrated.
The barista behind the counter calls for him and the puzzled expression becomes a little more terrified, a little more baffled, but at the same time calm and quiet. Tony has no idea how he pulls it off. Taking pity on the man out of time, Tony pushes through a gaggle of college gals with a flirty wave and wink and then turns his attention to the Captain.
He smacks Rogers in the chest with the back of his hand and leans over the counter, all smiles at the young woman there. She has a nose ring and purple streaks through her hair. For a moment, Tony wonders if the Captain was distracted from ordering just by the look of the service, but he dismisses that and says, “We’ll have one of everything.”
“What?” The girl looks as confused as the Captain. Tony snaps the list out of the Captain’s hands and says, “Look, see this, give us one of everything listed here. Then I want you to bring them all to the table in the corner.” He lets her look at the list and then slides a hundred dollar bill on the counter. “For the tip.”
She smiles. “Sure thing.”
“Mister Stark,” Rogers starts.
“Ah, no with the Mister Stark, you’re older than me by decades,” Tony says.
“I think I’m supposed to do that myself,” Rogers says and avoids using Tony’s name. He’s as uncomfortable with the familiar as Tony is with him.
Tony tosses another few bills on the counter to pay the tab and then shuffles Rogers, who is looking over his shoulder at the wad of money, to the table. Without hesitation, Tony places on hand on Rogers’ shoulder and gently pushes him into the seat. Rogers opens his mouth once as if to say something but then shuts it, as if he’s strategizing that this might be the best deal to get him out of this situation.
Tony raises an eyebrow and smirks. He slides into the booth across from the chair Rogers is in. “Long time no see.”
“How’ve you been, Mist- how have you been?” Rogers says and does just about everything to not look at Tony.
“Oh you know, same old same old. Being Iron Man, inventing, continuing with the genius stuff, and just about everything else.”
“Oh yeah,” Rogers says and quirks a smile. “I remember, genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.”
“Oh yes, that’s about as good a descriptor as any.” Tony knocks the table a few times and point at his once idol. “So, how about you? Getting out, getting to buy coffee.”
Rogers curves a smile but it is a little lost. “Kind of, they want me to do some, you know exercises to better adjust.”
Tony looks him up and down and says, “Seems like you exercise enough.”
Rogers shrugs and says, “Doctors didn’t like my daily routine. Don’t know how they figured it out, but probably watching me.”
Tony feels a tad bit badly about that but keeps his mouth shut and is saved when the barista brings the tray over to their table.
“I hope you like the combinations I threw together.” She slides a note to him with a description of each coffee. “Here you go.”
Rogers frowns at the array of cups on the table. “I didn’t realize coffee came in so many different varieties.”
“Yes,” Tony says and launches into Rogers’ education. If he is going to do this, he has to do it the right way. “So, let’s see what you know.”
“That’s coffee.” Rogers picks out the black coffee without anything in it, and kind of cast off to the side.
“Good, let’s start with this one,” Tony picks up a different paper cup and sets it in front of Rogers. “Taste it.”
He only hesitates a moment before he picks up the cup and sips. “That reminds me of something I had in Italy during the war.”
“It should, it’s cappuccino.” Rogers’s eyes stay blank. “Okay, let me explain this to you, Lucy.” And it hurts in all kinds of ways that Rogers doesn’t even get a reference to Lucille Ball. “Cappuccino and espresso machines really didn’t get big in Europe until after the 1950s but there was something similar in Italy around the time you were there.”
“Espresso, no x.” Tony says and continues, “It is very darkly roasted, ground very fine, and very hot water is forced through it to make a very rich, concentrated coffee. If served just like that, you see it in those little cups. Most folks drink it black or with sugar. Espresso can also be the basis for coffee drinks, including lattes and cappuccinos. A latte involves one or two shots of espresso plus steamed milk; the milk, when steamed, forms a lot of froth. Latte has more steamed milk in proportion to a cappuccino. A cappuccino has steamed milk and foam added to the coffee, but it's more like equal parts of all three or even more heavy on the foam.”
“Oh,” Rogers says as Tony hands him one of the lattes.
“Lattes and coffees get fancied up like they are going out to have sex or something with different flavors as well with different kinds of syrups like chocolate for instance.”
Rogers eyes the simple black coffee but doesn’t touch it as Tony continues, “Taste.” He hands over the café mocha. “Good?”
“Tastes like a dessert.”
“That’s kind of the point,” Tony replies. “Some people love coffee so much that having it as dessert is good enough to top off a great meal.”
Tony points to the remaining cups. “At Starbucks, there are some things that are specific to them, like Frappuccinos, which are sweetened iced coffees with milk that are whizzed up in a blender with ice, like a milkshake. And oh yeah, Starbucks does serve regular coffee that they make each day - there are usually three coffees of the day -a dark, medium and light or blonde roast- and the iced coffee is made from that rather than espresso. Get it.”
“Can I have the dark regular?” Rogers inches his hand to the side cup.
Tony thinks maybe he should dissuade him but what is the point, the poor guy just wants a cup of coffee. “Go for it.”
Rogers takes a deep drink and, as he does, closes his eyes as if he’s dreaming of some place else. When he sets the cup down and eases back in the seat, he says, “Thanks, Tony, that was – it was good of you to give me a hand.”
Knowing full well what is on the list, Tony still asks, “Well, what else do the doctors have set for you to do in order,” he air quotes it. “Get adjusted.”
He pulls out his smart phone, plays around with it a bit, but eventually does get to the list. He slides the phone over to Tony. “Ten things. Supposed to bring me up to speed on modern day culture and events.”
“I thought you were on your way around the country, Rogers.”
“I thought about it, but it takes a lot more than just deciding to go to actually ride around the country. There’s so much I don’t – I can’t-.” Rogers – no, he should call him Steve in his head if he’s going to do this – looks away and then at his hands folded in his lap. “I know how to be a soldier; I know how to be a man in the 40s, but not in the 21st century.”
“There’s no difference, you know,” Tony says. “A good man in the 40s is the same as a good man in the 21st century.”
“That’s poetic and, somehow, completely not like you.” A small smile creeps on Steve’s lips.
“I think I’ve been hanging out with Bruce too much,” Tony says. He knocks the table once and then point to Steve. “Speaking of which, you want to blow this popsicle stand and go back to the Tower. Bruce might have appeared out of his lab and we can plan our attack.”
“I thought the plan was to attack,” Steve response.
“Maybe, maybe, come on, let’s go,” Tony urges.
For a moment Steve considers him and Tony feels slighted but Steve nods and stands up with Tony to leave the coffee shop. As they exit the establishment, Steve looks back at it and shrugs his shoulders. “It is just coffee in the end.”
“That it is, my friend, that it is.” Tony guides him to his car and they take off before Steve can further protest. If Tony has any chance of implementing his plans he has to do it quickly before the world’s best tactician and strategist figures him out. Get in and strike.