Steve climbed into the car first, followed by Tony and Director Fury. Steve was dressed in his full Captain America costume with his shield resting on his lap. Tony wore slacks and a vividly red button-down shirt, with a suitcoat draped over his shoulders, partially obscuring the cast around his wrist.
"You ready for this, Captain?" asked Fury.
"Yes, sir." Steve's gaze was strong and his voice was steady.
Tony smirked. "See?" He looked at Fury and pointed his thumb back at Steve. "I told you there was nothing wrong with him that punching me repeatedly in the face couldn't cure."
"Why Mr. Stark," replied Fury, squinting with his one good eye, "I do believe I have the same malady."
"Hey Steve," said Tony, drawing a small plastic box from his pocket, "I want to show you something before you go on."
Steve looked at the device, feeling strongly that now was not in fact the ideal time for another technology lesson.
"This thing can generate an electromagnetic pulse. Warps all electronics within 50 meters. If you decide you don't like how things are going, just give the word and I'll erase their tapes."
"Thanks for the offer Tony, but I think I'll be okay." Steve grinned weakly. It was hard to read his expressions when half of his face was covered.
Someone called for makeup and Tony wondered briefly how much makeup was really necessary when only the lower half of Steve's face would be visible.
"I didn't know your garage door opener could create an EMP," said Fury, once Steve had been lead down the hall.
"Yeah, well, Steve doesn't know it's a garage door opener." Tony shrugged and put on a high-pitched cartoonish voice. "There was nothing magical about your eyepatch, Nick Fury. You assassinated all those communists all on your own. You just had to believe in yourself."
Tony settled into a chair in the green room where he would be able to see the interview on closed-circuit display. Fury turned a chair around and sat on it backwards. They could see Steve walking onto the set, shield in hand as half a dozen staff fiddled with the furniture in an attempt to make the enormous height difference between Matthews and his interviewee less obvious.
Matthews strolled onto the set and introduced himself briefly to Steve with an ominous promise of "no hard feelings."
If Fury was nervous, he gave no sign.
Tony, on the other hand, felt his usual distaste for the press resurfacing and had a strong desire to obtain a detailed record of Chris Matthews' browser history. Just in case.
"Tonight, we present to you an exclusive first look at the man who claims to be the original Captain America, long believed killed in action during the Second World War. This man claims that the experimental serum which gave Captain America his incredible abilities allowed him to survive his injuries in a state of suspended animation only to be re-awoken by the shadowy and unregulated organization S.H.I.E.L.D. when they needed public support for their unpopular wa-"
"What? That's just the introduction. The interview hasn't started yet."
"But S.H.I.E.L.D. didn't intentionally revive me. They thawed me with the intent of collecting a tissue sample and providing me with a proper burial. They couldn't have had plans for me because they didn't know I was still alive."
"Well, that may be the line they've been feeding you. Don't you think it's awfully convenient?"
"Has the interview started now?"
Matthews gave a might-as-well sigh. "Let's start with this question. How do we know you're the real Captain America and not just some look-a-like dug up for PR purposes?"
In the green room, Tony was muttering invectives at Matthews, as if the mere force of his disdain could somehow travel through the walls of the studio.
"You don't," said Steve authoritatively. "You'll have to judge me by my actions."
"You could be a great guy," said Matthews. "Hell, maybe you're a super-fast, super strong mutant. That doesn't make you the Captain America of the 1940s."
"I am willing to submit to tests of my identity insofar as those tests don't place military secrets at risk."
"And why have you been hiding from the public if you were, as you say, 'thawed'," Matthews made air quotes, "two months ago."
Steve took a moment to plan his words, knowing that 'because I was depressed, overwhelmed, and grieving,' would be the wrong answer. "Because so much has changed in the time I was frozen and," he flashed a grin, "it took me a while to catch up."
"I see, well, let's talk about that: how things have changed. You claim you were born in 1917 and you 'died'," there were those air quotes again, "in 1945. What do you see as the biggest change between then and now?"
"I don't think I can narrow it down to one thing. It's like cousins: the same, but different. The music, the food, the clothes." Steve paused. "There's been so much progress. The technology is incredible. Sometimes I'm not sure it's really necessary," he added, thinking of some of Stark's gadgets. "And it seems like things are more…equal. There aren't segregated schools anymore. I mean," Steve smiled, "we have an African-American president. That's incredible."
They had moved into the phase of the interview that was dedicated to seemingly pointless questions about Steve's interests and preferences, what Tony had called 'human interest'. How did he feel about texting and bottled water, rap music and piercings?
"Music? Well, I like the Monkees, and Metallica, and the Colorblind James Experience."
"He doesn't like Metallica," whispered Tony to Fury. "He's playing the spread: one of his bands, one of mine, and one nobody's heard of."
It seemed so ridiculous to Steve. Why should it matter if he'd learned to play Farmville? (He hadn't.) Why would anyone actually want to whether if he liked television shows or still listened to radio shows? (Both, thank you very much.) It all seemed to be missing the point, as far as he was concerned. Captain America was a symbol, an idea. Steve just happened to be the guy playing the role and all those little details, those were things about Steve, not Captain America.
"You mentioned equality before. Are you aware that the military has recently repealed its controversial 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' rule?"
Tony didn't react. Maybe Fury knew, maybe he didn't, maybe Steve would start acting all weird and self-conscious on national television. Worse come to worse, Tony was pretty confident he had enough hardware in his pockets to actually pull off an EMP.
"I am," said Steve, "and I think that we should honor the contributions of all of our men and women in uniform," he said simply. When he was rehearsing the night before, he had pondered if he should add a comment about his own experience, but that had seemed…not wrong, but irrelevant, and now he knew why: because they weren't interviewing Steve Rogers, they were interviewing Captain America.
"What about those who say that this will disrupt unit cohesion?"
"In my day, they said that about racially integrated units. I had the honor of serving in one of the first such units and I can assure you, we made it work."
"If we were to roll back the Bush tax cuts, the marginal tax rate on the top 2% would still be considerably lower than it was in your day. Given the deficit, don't you think-"
"Excuse me." Steve held up a hand. "I'm still trying to wrap my head around a hamburger sandwich costing three dollars. I'm not the fella you want to ask about money matters."
"I'd like to ask your opinion as a military strategist on some current events." Matthews gave a half-smile and a laugh. "Are you up to speed?"
"You know, it's interesting. Right after I woke up, they wanted me to catch up on what was going on in the world, so they had me spend a lot of time watching the news. I got to admit, I was pretty surprised that there were news broadcasts that went on all day, every day. I thought there must be so much information. But it seemed like no matter how much news I watched, I never got any idea of how things got to be the way they are, the context of the situation. It seems like with 24 hours a day of time to fill, you might make time for some of that."
"Hah! Suck on that, Chris Matthews!" shouted Tony, rising from his seat. "Suck it like the two-bit syphilitic whore that you are!"
A grip glared at him while making a 'shh' gesture.
"Let's talk about President Bush's wars. From your perspective as a military strategist, should we have ever entangled ourselves in the Middle Eastern quagmire?"
"Should we continue military aid to Pakistan?"
"How should we have approached the Libyan revolution?"
"Do unmanned drones violate the Geneva convention?"
These were questions Steve could actually take a position on, though Matthews argued with him no matter what he said. It would have been an engaging discussion if the cameras weren't rolling and the lights weren't awfully hot overhead.
"Keeping with the theme of the Geneva convention, I'd like to discuss so-called 'enhanced interrogation' techniques such as waterboarding and whether you feel they have a place in America's foreign policy."
Tony's hand tightened on his chair. A word alone couldn't usually get a reaction out of him, but he was already tense, wondering how the interview would go. He could feel the hands on his head and- It was just a feeling. It would pass. It always did. He glanced at Fury, hoping his reaction had gone unnoticed, before returning his gaze to the monitor.
"The Geneva convention defines torture as acts that seriously threaten health or make the person believe that you've seriously threatened their health," said Steve. "For the first part, it seems like you should be asking a physician, not me. As for the second part," he paused. "There were rumors that the Japanese were doing that to their prisoners of war. I understand that those rumors were confirmed. You should be asking those men whether what they experienced was torture."
"Actually, there are several journalists who have agreed to undergo the procedure and-"
Steve shook his head. "That's not the same. The agreed to it, which means they could change their minds. It's the difference between fasting and starving."
Tony was staring at the monitor. Fury was watching Tony.
They moved on. The PATRIOT Act. Whether the military could take action without the consent of Congress. The nuclear test-ban treaty. Collateral damage.
Steve looked calm and confident as he walked out of the soundstage, but as soon as he got to the green room, he flopped onto a chair in a frankly undignified manner.
"How do you feel, Captain?" asked Fury coolly.
Steve covered his eyes with his hands. "Like somebody just…beat me upside the head with a railroad spike."
Tony grinned. "You've been talking to Pepper."
"She called last night to wish me luck. I hope that's not…" Bucky would have said it was a bit disloyal to talk to your pal's ex-girlfriend.
"It's all good." Tony patted him on the shoulder. "Now let's get out of here before I'm overcome with the urge to steal a roll of gaffing tape."
"Where are we going?"
"Quick stop, it won't take long," said Tony, obviously failing to answer the question. He was driving, despite his broken wrist.
"Does your arm hurt much?"
"Nah. It really wasn't a bad break."
That was clearly false, but Tony was apparently either determined to play the tough guy or unwilling to admit that he was still on heavy doses of pain medication.
Tony began turning left, then put on his turn signal. They entered a small, tree-lined cemetery. "Fury said they took you to Arlington and that cemetery in Brooklyn pretty soon after you woke up, but I don't think you've been here." He pulled to the side of the narrow road and got out of the car. Steve followed suit to see a long rectangular gravestone bearing the names 'Howard & Maria Stark'.
Tony didn't approach the graves, but for once, he didn't immediately start fiddling with his cell phone. Instead, he stared blankly to the side, cold air whistling quietly between his lips.
Steve walked slowly forward, courage and confidence drained out of him. It was so ridiculous, so childish, that this should matter so much to him. A crush, borne of a blend of simple lust and deep gratitude to the man who built the machines that had made him what he was. But nothing was ever simple. Howard was like the future: good and not-good, well-intentioned but incomplete.
The ground was cold and hard. Steve knelt down and prayed. By the time he stood, his eyes were dry.
"So," said Tony, "where to now, Captain?"
"Mount Rushmore." Steve waited for Tony's face to fall before adding, "then Vegas."
A few notes:
Some ideas and themes in this fic were in homage to the very excellent mini-series Captain America: Man Out of Time. In that series, Steve wakes up and he's very pleased with all the progress that's been made in equality, particularly racial equality. I wanted to play with the idea of a societal situation that has improved but still has a long way to go, and I wanted to put Steve right in the thick of it, so I made him gay.
Please don't assume that I necessarily agree or disagree with Chris Matthews here. I just picked him because he's a definitively non-ass-kissing interviewer and I had a vague sense of his voice.
A clarification: some people have described what the Ten Rings did to Tony Stark in the first Iron Man movie as "waterboarding". This is incorrect. Waterboarding is a simulated drowning procedure in which water is poured over a stationary captive's face which is covered with a cloth. In contrast, in the Iron Man movie, Tony's head was repeatedly forced under standing water. Still horrible, just not technically waterboarding. Tony reacted to the question on waterboarding because the two procedures have enough in common that it had a triggering effect, not because that was specifically what happened to him. Do you really need this information to go forth and live a full and fulfilling life? Probably not, but I couldn't rest comfortably knowing that I may have accidentally strengthened a misconception regarding the fine distinctions among torture techniques.
Thanks to everyone who reviewed! Now I'm off to finish Masters of the Universe!