"Tap," DJ said, and Tony, seated at one of the holotables in the workshop, looked down at him.
"Tap?" he asked.
DJ patted his forehead. "Tap," he repeated.
"You are a trickster, I'm not falling for it," Tony declared.
DJ swung forward, leaning on Tony's knee, and looked up at him beseechingly. "Taaaaaap," he groaned.
Tony, very hesitantly, stretched out a single finger and poked DJ gently in the forehead.
DJ shot upright as if he'd been shocked, then assumed what Tony could only consider a pose: feet planted firmly, hands on hips, chin lifted in a very typically Stark defiance.
He looked at Tony expectantly. Tony gazed back, mystified.
"He wants you to give him a task," said a voice. Tony didn't break eye contact with DJ as Natasha leaned in the doorway. DJ's eyes flicked to her and then back to Tony's.
"Normally I just yell at him," Tony said. DJ's lips twitched, then he schooled his features back to an impassive stare.
Natasha came forward, fingers flattened, and pressed on DJ's head lightly. "Three minutes, fold blankets," she said, and DJ scurried away to the pile of disarrayed blankets at his charging station. JARVIS lit up a holographic display above DJ's head with a three-minute timer on it.
"What..." Tony stared at her. "What was that?"
"I gave him a task," she said serenely.
"Have you been pattern-training my child? Is this a pavlovian thing, do I need to worry he's going to become an internationally acclaimed assassin? Because, I mean, if he is, that's not a problem per se, it'll get him out of the workshop once in a while, but I need to start designing his equipment -- "
Natasha reached out and tapped Tony's forehead, which was startling enough that he closed his mouth with a snap.
"It's a game he plays," she said.
"Very new game invented by a former spy?"
"Video game. I'm surprised you haven't heard of it, actually, it's very popular," she told him. "JARVIS, call up Captain's Quest please."
A stylized image of Steve in full Captain America regalia appeared in front of them, with a loading bar beneath it.
"Did I approve this?" Tony asked.
"Technically only Steve had to," she replied.
"That's not an answer," Tony told her. Onscreen, a map of New York appeared. Tiny people strolled around a very, very simplified Manhattan, Central Park surrounded by only the most recognizable skyscrapers -- Stark Tower, the Baxter Building, the Empire State Building. Tony squinted at it. There were some museums too, which were literally half the height of Stark Tower.
"This is not to scale," he said finally.
"It's a game for kids. Captain America explores New York and stops crime. You earn prizes for doing things in the game, and you can use the prizes to buy buildings or special outfits or other things," she explained. She tapped a finger on one of the little people and the camera zoomed in on a tiny Steve in an old-timey bathing costume.
"What..." Tony stared at it. "Why is he..."
"Well, it seemed more modest than the speedo, and apparently the animators had trouble with his abs," Natasha said.
"That's a first."
She tapped Steve, then a little icon in the corner, and the swimsuit was replaced with his Captain America costume circa two years ago. A second menu appeared with a list of tasks and times next to it.
"So you tap a task like LEAP PATRIOTICALLY," Natasha said, tapping it and dragging it to Steve's forehead. "And then he..."
The tiny Steve jumped straight up, caught hold of a convenient flagpole, and began parkouring his ass around the city. Tony watched, entranced and horrified. In the background, he could see someone in a SHIELD uniform taking selfies.
"Most of the characters are generic made-up SHIELD agents," Natasha said. "Steve thought it was a little egotistical to put all of us in a game that was mostly about him."
"How did I miss this?" Tony managed. A thin worry line appeared between Natasha's eyebrows. "This is AMAZING, I'm never going to stop teasing him -- "
The worry line vanished.
"Anyway, Steve gave DJ permission to play it," she finished. There was a soft beep and DJ, a blanket wrapped over his head and tucked around his shoulders, came racing back, timer at zero.
"Tap," he requested, but ducked when Natasha reached out. "No, you," he said to Tony.
Tony raised his eyebrows, but he obediently tapped DJ's forehead. DJ struck a pose.
"Uh," he said. DJ waited expectantly. "Okay, your task is...take a message to Steve. Five minutes."
He grabbed a slip of paper and scribbled on it with a grease pencil ("Please return this child to me personally in the workshop"). He passed it to DJ, who accepted it and ran off, blanket flapping out behind him.
"Tomorrow I'm teaching him a new stealth task," Natasha said. "I figure I can get him to spend at least two hours sneaking around the tower in a cardboard box."
"Why a cardboard box?" Tony asked. Natasha tapped one of the SHIELD agents and assigned her EMPLOY STEALTH. The agent immediately produced a large cardboard box from somewhere and pulled it over her head, then began inching around the sidewalk.
"You realize he's probably going to take off his pants under the box," Tony pointed out.
"Oh, we've already done the CONTINUE WEARING PANTS task. It's an ongoing quest," Natasha said sweetly. She leaned forward and patted Tony's forehead. "Eat lunch, one hour," she said, and JARVIS, that monster, put a one-hour timer up above Tony's head just as Steve came down the stairs, DJ under one arm, a platter of sandwiches in his other hand.
Steve bent to set DJ down, and as soon as his feet touched the ground he came running up to Tony, pointing to the timer over his head before clambering into his lap and slapping his hands on the table.
"I got your note," Steve said, leaning in for a kiss as he put the sandwiches in front of Tony. "I see you got hooked too," he added, pointing to the display. DJ, sandwich in one hand and mouth full of food, craned his neck to study the game before doing something arcane with three different characters, which resulted in a shower of tiny flag icons raining down on the in-game Captain America.
"This game is a blatant indoctrination tool to make children do their chores," Tony told him. Steve looked faintly guilty. "I love it. I want one. Make them make one about me where everyone has to wear pants in the workshop and you buy buildings by earning shoes."
"Really? I thought you'd like rains of credit cards," Steve said.
"Cold. That's cold, I'm trying to contribute to the gamification of childhood development and you're taunting me for having capitalist aspirations." Tony wrapped an arm around DJ's waist to hold him in place as he tried to simultaneously eat, program the game, and balance on Tony's thigh. Captain America began to do the Charleston.
"Eight hours," DJ said with some satisfaction.