“Tony, hold up.”
Tony slid on his aviator glasses, waving a hand dismissively in the direction of Clint’s voice, as if to bat away a pesky black fly. After an hour and twenty-seven minutes of sitting and listening to Fury take himself far too seriously (like he was responsible for the safety of the world, or something), all he wanted was some air.
The whole team had gravitated to the deck of the Helicarrier, seeing as it was currently ocean-bound rather than hovering thousands of feet above the surface of the earth. It was like surfacing after having been held under water for too long. Proverbially. Far be it from Tony to compare a conversation with Fury to being half-drowned.
Bruce, especially, seemed to appreciate some open space.
He kept stride with Tony, even with the rest of their teammates dropping off like a human breadcrumb trail behind them—to do God-knew-what, other than stare off at the cloudy scenery. Walking to stern with a breeze at his back was all Tony needed for the moment.
“Your loss, Stark,” Clint called after him, in an odd almost-stage-whisper.
Something in his tone made Tony pivot, and Bruce with him. And Clint was right, it would’ve been his loss. A few yards off, amid the on-deck hustle and bustle, stood Steve, in companionable conversation with a circle of loitering SHIELD agents. That, in and of itself, was unremarkable. Steve had a bad habit of going around boosting morale, showing up the rest of them up by apparently undertaking to find out every last agent’s name, and remember them. He had an adorable habit of overly formalizing introductions whenever the team joined a group where he knew everyone, and the team didn’t. The Walking, Talking, Book of Etiquette. Stars ‘n Stripes Edition.
No. The fact that Steve was playing another round of Getting to Know You was about as commonplace as finding wads of ABC gum stuck to the underside of a restaurant table. The remark-worthy part was the fact that said loitering SHIELD agents were standing in a circle, smoking—and Steve was just accepting a cigarette, and a light, from the woman on his left.
Tony gawked, unrepentantly, at the sight of Captain America snagging a cigarette and taking a casual drag. He held it gentry-style between forefinger and middle finger, hand curled comfortably around it, arm parallel to his body, posture relaxed. He kept his free hand in the pocket of his khaki pants, shoulders loose and less squared than usual beneath the leather jacket. All of which somehow made the whole action look a whole lot less edgy or rebellious than smoking had any right to look in the modern age of lung cancer and emphysema awareness.
Seriously—edgy? Rebellious? That was the whole point. Captain America made smoking look entirely advisable—as wholesome as mac and cheese, or kittens, rainbows, and carousels. Which was why the whole picture was ten kinds of wrong, wrong, wrong.
Coming from Tony, the King of Proud Wrongness, that was saying a lot.
But going by the collection of subtly slack-jawed and wide-eyed expressions around him, it was an opinion obviously shared by Natasha, Clint, and Bruce. Thor probably would’ve joined Steve if he hadn’t already left for a visit with Ma and Pa.
Watching Steve blow a perfect smoke ring was just reaching a whole new level of surreal.
Feeling oddly twitchy about standing there watching Steve do that, Tony remarked, “One of us should really go over there and tell him about the dangers of secondhand smoke.”
“Be our guest,” Natasha retorted.
“Yeah, I’m not going to be the one,” Clint seconded.
Bruce just looked staunchly unwilling—and an unwilling Bruce was a Bruce you didn’t pester.
On second thought, Tony decided informing Captain America that he had a bad habit that could kill people was probably a conversation best left to Fury, or Coulson. Definitely.
They were all still watching warily, when Steve noticed them, and lifted his cigarette in cheerful wave-salute, clearly meant to encourage them to go on without him. A glance into his eyes, and all Tony could think was: Innocent Blue Beacons of Compelling Tobacco-Endorsement. Dear God. Save us all.
“Wrong. Just wrong,” Tony muttered, cramming his hands into his pockets and sauntering off.
A few days later they were in Stark Tower on down time, lounging like slobs around the flat panel TV in the rec room on level twenty-three.
While the TV droned on, Steve had a non sequitur for them all to answer:
“Why didn’t you guys tell me about secondhand smoke, and how bad tobacco is for your lungs?”
Tony refused to look guilty. Unfortunately, Steve was seated next to him on the couch, and for some reason everyone—including Steve—was looking at him, like he was the designated scape-goat of the hour. Or of the century, probably. That would’ve explained a lot, actually.
“I wasn’t addicted to them,” Steve clarified. “My metabolism wouldn’t allow for it, any more than it would allow me to get drunk.”
They’d really all been too busy trying to get past Captain America: Smoking to think about that, Tony realized. Minor detail.
And now they were all too sated on popcorn, or else too tongue-tied by sheepishness, to answer. Natasha and Clint had stopped glaring at Tony in order to pretend they were half-asleep, watching TV.
And, seeing as no one was answering his question, Steve kept elaborating, glancing around at them with a clear need to vindicate himself, now that someone had apparently opened the proverbial can of worms and informed him that it was not cool for a role model like Captain America to smoke. Tony hoped to God he hadn’t had it broken to him by one of those graphic smoking-doesn’t-always-kill ads.
Steve sounded vaguely miserable, though.
Okay, so he sounded a lot miserable.
“Before the serum, just the smell of smoke, of any kind, was enough to set off an asthma attack. Not to mention I never could’ve afforded the habit. But after the serum…. Well, they were everywhere during the war. People back home had to make due with off-brands because of all the cigarettes being sent out to the troops. They named camps after the most popular brands.” Steve shrugged. “There wasn’t really a question. You got them with your C-rations, and you smoked them. Besides, rituals like that were nice. Normal. What else do you do when you’re sitting crammed into the back of a deuce-and-a-half, trying hard not to think about what’s ahead, and to forget what you’re leaving behind? It was about camaraderie as much as anything. I mean…for me. Because, like I said, I wasn’t—I’m not—addicted. The other day, I was just...being social.”
Normally, Steve turning that particular shade of red was enough to make Tony grin unrepentantly. But there was something about his disconcertion this time that was conducive to patting the guy on the shoulder.
So Tony did, at the same time somewhat awkwardly adding on the behalf of the room at large, “Hey. Understandable. That seventy-year learning-curve’s gotta be a real drag.” He tried to morph his wince over that pun into a smile.
“It’s not that it’s so unforgivable or shocking to smoke or anything…”Bruce put in tactfully. “I mean, yes, there is a little more public opinion against it these days, but you’re an adult, you can make your own choices. Plenty of people still do smoke.” He gave a lopsided smile, adding, “It’s just a bit surprising to finally discover that Captain America really does have at least one bad habit, that’s all.”
But Steve was obviously still stuck on the more serious side of the issue. “I never thought… I mean, I didn’t realize—about all the health implications. Chances are the serum would protect me from any kind of long-term consequences, but that’s not going to stop other people from inhaling the secondhand smoke, never mind the example it sets….”
“There just wasn’t the awareness back then,” Bruce consoled. “Not your fault.”
Steve nodded. “But why didn’t you guys tell me?”
The look of hurt on his face was exactly why they hadn’t. Who deliberately went around kicking puppies?
“Who did tell you?” Tony inquired, employing diversionary tactics.
“Agent Coulson.” Steve’s brow furrowed. “He looked kind of nervous. And he rushed away afterwards.”
“Yeah…well. Putting a fanboy put in the position of having to inform their idol they should give up a bad habit...” Tony trailed off.
“I told him I wouldn’t smoke anymore,” Steve said, with an edge of defensiveness, like he expected them all to rag on him to quit.
Tony clapped him on the shoulder. “We’re so very proud of you, m’boy. Easiest intervention ever.”
With spectacularly poor timing (or hilariously apt timing, depending on your point of view) Clint changed the channel, and they were treated to the sight of Kate Winslet taking a seductive drag from a long-stem cigarette holder.
“Does she know?” Steve asked in concerned horror—and it took Tony a good five seconds to spot the not-so-innocent smirk twitching at the corners of his mouth.
Tony snorted, drawling, “Now, Steve, stop misdirecting. Are there any other secret vices we should know about before we recommend Captain America as kid-friendly…?”
Steve shifted into a more comfortable position, accidentally elbowing Tony in the side with an Elbow of Steel, successfully driving all the wind—and goading—right out of him.