In Which Steve is Worrisome and Tony Is Unhelpful
"I want to be very clear that I did not want you involved in this," said Nick Fury. "If I find out that you have in any way defamed, debauched, deceived, or defrauded Steve Rogers, I will personally hunt you down and cut off your balls. Slowly."
"I'm going to meet Captain America! I'm going to meet Captain America!"
Pepper put a hand on Tony's shoulder in an attempt to still his excited dance. "Yes, I heard you the first ten times, but that doesn't actually answer my question."
"What was your question?"
"Why are you wearing welding gear?"
"I'm going to meet Captain America! I'm going to meet Captain America!"
Sometimes, Pepper Potts hated her life.
Tony pointed to a red-haired man who was pushing a cart full of blood samples. "You!" he said. "I need your lab coat."
"Come on," said Tony insistently. "I'll pay you a hundred dollars for it. I just need a lab coat right now. I've always wanted to do this."
Tony donned the lab coat and used one arm to hold it up over his face, like a Vincent Price Dracula cape. "Welcome to the world of tomorrow!" he cried in a faux-spooky voice.
Fury glared at him. "You really thought a Futurama joke was the way to go? And give that lab coat back to whoever you took it from!" He turned to Steve, who was still standing awkwardly in his quarters. "Captain Rogers, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me at the moment, I am introducing you to Anthony Stark."
Steve held out his hand politely.
Nick Fury turned back to Tony. "Stark, I shouldn't have to remind you that this man is a national treasure. Try not to, you know, be yourself too much." And with that, he muttered, "I am not paid enough to put up with you people," to himself as he walked away.
Tony leaned on the doorframe. "Aren't you going to invite me in?"
Steve's quarters were small and almost completely bare, except for a clock (analog), a radio, and a rotary phone. Tony remembered from Fury's introductory statement that Steve had declined their offer of a nicer room. There were a few magazines on the nightstand – a Sports Illustrated and a Time – but the pages weren't ruffled in the slightest. If Steve had looked through them, he certainly hadn't done it much.
"So, uh…" began Tony. Captain American – Captain America! – looked back at him.
"Oh, right, of course." Steve pulled out the room's only chair from its Formica writing table and offered it to Tony before sitting on the edge of the bed.
Tony turned the chair around backwards and sat.
"Is this some kind of test?" asked Steve.
"Nah, not that I know about. Although I'm pretty sure Fury's listening in on us, just waiting for an excuse to mutilate me."
"Oh, that's…" Steve trailed off. This must be a joke he didn't get. "I just thought because…they took my gun."
"Yeah well," said Tony with a hands-up, I-didn't-do-it gesture. "Seems they're a bit worried about you eating a bullet."
Steve mouthed the words 'eating a bullet'. Apparently that idiom wasn't in use in the 1940s, but its meaning was clear enough. "I'm not going to… I wouldn't…"
"Yeah, yeah, I hear you." Tony nodded. "But see, I don't know how things were back in the dark ages, but nowadays we've got this thing called lying. So I don't think they care too much whether you say you're going to do it or not. What they want to see is you actually acting like someone who's, you know, not entirely regretting being alive. I'm thinking then you get your piece back."
Steve was quiet for almost a minute. Tony found this unbearable and began checking his stocks on his phone.
"Look," said Tony, after determining that there were no emerging market trends that required his attention. "They said you were having a little trouble with this whole future business and they thought that meeting me might help." Tony handed Steve the photograph he'd been carrying. They had told him, hard copies only, don't try to show Captain Rogers digital images. "That's Howard Stark," said Tony, pointing to a man on the high side of middle age, "and on the other side of the robot – er, big metal thing – that's me."
Steve gaped. The older man really did look like Howard. And the teenager really did look like the man standing in front of him. They really looked like each other, actually. It wasn't that he really thought they had been lying to him about the date; well, it wasn't like he really believed they had been lying, he had certainly thought it from time to time. But it was different to see evidence with his own eyes. "Howard's dead, isn't he?" whispered Steve, before feeling aghast at his own insensitivity. He should be offering condolences to the man's son, not focusing on his own grief.
But Tony stood up, nonplussed. "Yep, that he is. Anyway, I think they're babying you, letting you stay in here." Tony looked to the rotary phone and the radio. "And there's no reason at all for it. The future is incredible and just getting better. You just have to get out into it. And that's where I come in."
Steve smiled and it faintly registered with Tony that this was the first smile he had seen on Captain Rogers' face. "You sort of remind me of him, of your father."
"Oh, let's not say things we can't take back," Tony spun towards the door. "Grab your coat. It's all cold and modern outside."
"You know," said Tony, stretching comfortably into the back of his car, "that radio they gave you isn't really a radio. It plays prerecorded songs from the 30's and 40's."
"Yeah, I guessed that. It doesn't quite sound like a radio should sound. And I guess it would be weird for there to be a radio station now that just plays songs from back then."
"And one that gets perfect reception in an underground bunker?"
Steve laughed slightly. "Yeah, that too."
"So I say, no more coddling you. You've got seventy years' worth of music to catch up on which means you've got no time to sit around listening to Frank Sinatra."
Steve looked unnerved. This didn't appear to be a sinister plot, just a strange one.
"Anyways, I've written up a genetic algorithm that's going to help us find music you like. I'm going to keep playing different songs and you keep telling me what you like and what you don't like. And you're not allowed to dislike everything. Not only is it rude, it restricts the variability of the algorithm input and makes it damn near impossible to generate appropriate predictive coefficients."
Tony hit some buttons on his little handheld controller. It's a phone, Steve reminded himself as music began to play in the background.
"Just listen for a while," said Tony. "Now let's think about dinner. What do you want to eat? Favorite food, anything you like."
"Ah, er…tomato soup?" And then, because Tony was still staring at him, Steve added, "with grilled cheese sandwiches?"
"Okay, you've lost your choosing privileges. Happy, take us to Del Monico's. We're having steak. You like steak, right? Everybody likes steak."
"Sure, I like steak."
"And what do you think of this song?"
"Uh, it's all right."
"This isn't going to work if you're not honest. If you don't like it, say so."
"Okay, no, I really don't like it."
"All right," said Tony, "Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire gets a downvote. Next up on the random seven-decade playlist is Billy Idol's White Wedding."
"Thank you for dinner," said Steve sincerely. "It was a lot better than the food they have at the base."
"Of course it was. Del Monico's has the best steaks in the city. And no, thank you." Tony was a little tipsy.
"You're a legend," slurred Tony, who was apparently more than a little tipsy. "I grew up hearing stories about you. I had all the Captain America action figures and the posters and the bedsheets."
"There were Captain America bedsheets?"
"Sure!" Tony leaned in close. "I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable, but I'm wearing Captain America underwear right now!"
"HOW COULD THAT NOT MAKE ME FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE!"
Tony just shrugged. "'s good underwear."