Captain Steve Rogers wasn't a man who was afraid of much. He had survived an experimental scientific procedure that would have killed most men, he had faced down the man with the hideous Red Skull, he had saved New York City from a terrible fate, and apparently he had punched Hitler. (He wondered sometimes if people realized that that had only happened in his USO show – people brought it up as if he had met the real Hitler and just outright decked him.)
That wasn't to say that he was a huge fan of, well, leaving the barracks. New York City was so different now. It wasn't that he was afraid of it, precisely; it was just that it was deeply unnerving in a way that was impossible to put into words. The noise, the traffic, the attitude – everything was just ten shades of wrong to him. He knew that hiding in the military complex wasn't exactly helping anything, but he found it almost impossible to do otherwise. Which was why he had reacted with such apprehension when Fury had abruptly told him that the military unit he was staying with was getting shipped out, the building recommissioned, and SHIELD was getting Steve an apartment. He hadn't actually protested, of course. Orders were orders. And the idea of staying in the barracks by himself wasn't much of a picnic, either.
There was a quiet knock on his door, and he looked up. Agent Coulson stood in the doorway, with his usual expression that was too alert to be called placid but too calm to be called anything else. "Captain Rogers?" he said. "Director Fury has asked me to show you to your new apartment and get you settled."
"Oh," Steve said. "Of course. Thanks." He grabbed his duffel bag. He didn't own very much: just a few sets of clothing, a pair of shoes that were currently on his feet, some basic toiletries, and some books. And his Captain America gear, of course. He wasn't sure if that was going to stay on the base or if he was supposed to bring it with him.
Coulson's pervasive era of calm helped Steve relax a little, and fortunately for his sanity, they called a taxi rather than taking the subway. The MTA had existed in Steve's time, but to say that it was different now was an understatement. Steve wasn't a huge fan of taxis, either, mostly because he didn't think those people actually knew how to drive. Coulson watched him press his foot into an imaginary brake, but kindly kept his mouth shut. That, or he was tongue-tied in awe. That happened sometimes when he was around Steve. Steve pretended not to notice, because anything else was too awkward.
He had expected his new apartment to look as strange and space-age as the rest of New York City, but was pleasantly surprised. The taxi took them to Brooklyn, within a stone's throw of his old neighborhood, and parked in front of an old brownstone. "Top floor is all yours," Coulson said, getting out of the taxi. "We figured you wouldn't mind the stairs."
"No," Steve agreed, and jogged up them behind Coulson. The agent gave him a keyring with two keys on it – one for the front door of the building, and one for the apartment – and let Steve open the doors. Inside, he was again surprised. The apartment was on the smallish side, but he was hugely grateful for that. He couldn't imagine living somewhere as extravagant as Stark Tower. It was already decorated, in a manner that reminded him of what his own house had looked like, back in the thirties. A sofa that was upholstered – no leather – linoleum floors, wooden furniture that was old but clearly well-cared for.
His surprise must have been evident on his face – or maybe that was just the way he was standing in the doorway – because Coulson cleared his throat slightly and said, "I hope it's to your liking."
"It's great," Steve said, with real enthusiasm. "How'd you do it?"
Coulson looked at him with that little half-smile and said, "I had some help. From my mother."
"Oh," Steve said, almost blurting out you have a mother? because it seemed so wrong to think of Coulson having ever been anything other than the unflappable agent standing there today. Coulson as a child, Coulson with a mother – stranger things had happened, but not many. He walked into the kitchen, running his fingertips along the counter. There were several appliances on the counter, most of which he recognized.
"I tried to get as many old-fashioned things as possible," Coulson said, and the boyish enthusiasm began to seep into his voice. "I went to a bunch of antique stores and consignment shops. I figured it might make it a little more familiar, comfortable for you. I couldn't do that with all of it, of course – a television from the forties wouldn't pick up any of the stations we use today, and I don't think the microwave was invented until later, but, you know. When I could."
"Thanks," Steve said, idly pressing the lever down on the toaster. "I really appreciate it."
"Oh, before I forget," Coulson said, reaching into his pocket. "Here's your phone." He pulled out what looked to Steve like a slim piece of black plastic and handed it over. "If you're needed, that's what we'll call. Let me show you how to charge it."
Steve studied the screen. It held a picture of his shield, which he thought was kind of cute, above which was the date and time, below which was a button that said 'slide to unlock'. He put the phone down and slid it across the counter. The button didn't disappear. He frowned and tried it again. "This isn't working."
"Oh, no, it doesn't work like that," Coulson said. "You slide your finger across it."
"Oh." Steve felt foolish and obeyed. The phone gave a little musical jingle and he nearly dropped it.
"You can reset those sounds," Coulson told him. "Right now it's telling you that you have a text message."
"Think of it like a letter that's instantly delivered into your hand," Coulson said.
Steve nodded in understanding, but was studying the new screen in bafflement. The picture of his shield was still in the background, but in front of that were a bunch of little boxy pictures, under which were words that held relatively little meaning to him. Some of them, like 'messages', 'maps', and 'camera' were obvious. But then there were others like 'twitter' and 'app store'. "So someone sent me a letter?" he asked, choosing to focus on the immediate problem.
"Yes. Just tap the little button that says 'messages' to retrieve it."
Steve did so, feeling ridiculously proud of himself when he was able to coax the strange device into displaying the letter. It read, 'Yo Cap! Hope you like the new phone. Special ordered it for you. Top of the line Stark tech! See you next time the world is in peril. Bruce and I are off to make science our bitch!' The top of the screen said 'Iron Man'.
Coulson, peering around Steve's shoulder since he couldn't very well look over it, said, "It looks like Mr. Stark has programmed his name and number into your phone. That's how you can tell who it's from. He probably put the others in there as well. That was . . . surprisingly thoughtful of him."
"Can I send him a letter back?" Steve asked. "Thanking him for the phone?"
"Call it a text message," Coulson advised, "or just say 'can I text him back'. Otherwise you'll confuse people." The mild admonishment was delivered with a smile that made it sound almost apologetic. "Sure. Just type on the little keyboard there."
Steve nodded and laboriously typed out, "Good to hear from you, Tony. Thanks very much for the phone, and for programming it for me. See you soon."
Or at least, that was what he meant to type out. What he actually typed was, "vgflod gftrlo hjeaTR – " before he stopped and frowned at the offending letters. "Are my thumbs really that big?" he asked Coulson, who was biting back another smile.
"It just takes a bit of practice," the agent said. "While I'm thinking about it, let me turn off auto-correct for you."
Steve let him take the phone and said, "What's auto-correct?"
"Something you don't want on your phone if you're ever going to message Tony Stark," Coulson explained, sort of. His fingers flew over the screen with amazing precision, and then he said, "Okay, I sent your message for you. If you want to practice with the keyboard, just go back to the main screen and go to notes – you can type all you want in there without anybody seeing it."
"Oh, thanks," Steve said, relieved that he would be able to do this before having to actually send anyone a text. "You were, uh, you were going to show me how to charge it?"
"Right," Coulson said, taking out the charger and demonstrating how to use it. After that, he said, "Well, I'll leave you to settle in. There's plenty of food in the fridge. I'll be back tomorrow – Director Fury asked me if I could bring you up to speed on a number of things – history, politics, technology, et cetera. Think of me as your ambassador to the modern world." He gave a particularly dorky smile. "How does nine o'clock sound?"
"Fine," Steve said, and nodded. "That sounds fine." He walked towards the door to the apartment with the obvious intention of showing Agent Coulson out. This display of manners made Coulson hide another smile. As the left the kitchen, Steve spotted something on the far wall of the living room he hadn't noticed before: it was a Captain America comic book, matted and framed. "Hey, is that real?" he asked.
"First edition," Coulson confirmed, as Steve went over to take a look at it. "Issue sixty. Published in 1949. You saved a group of German school children on their way to a concentration camp."
Steve laughed. "I never did that. But I guess there wasn't a lot of actual material for them to work with once I was frozen in a block of ice. Did you get that at the antique store, too?"
"No, actually," Coulson said. "I've had that since I was ten."
Steve's mouth opened slightly, and then he moved as if to take it off the wall. "You can't give that to me," he said, fumbling with the back of the frame. "I'll sign it for you, okay?"
"I want you to have it," Coulson said. "I thought it would be nice for you to have. You know, kind of as a memorial. To times past." He seemed to realize that this may not be something Steve wanted to remember, and said hastily, "Unless you don't want it."
"No, I . . . thank you," Steve said, his hands smoothing down the cover of the comic book. "I really appreciate it."
Coulson gave him another half-smile and said, "I'll see you at nine tomorrow, Captain Rogers. Have a good night."
Steve was familiar was coffee makers. They weren't that complicated. You put the coffee in the top, the water in the back, the pot below the drip. Frozen in ice for seventy years or not frozen in ice, it was still just a coffee maker. A coffee maker he had currently been staring at for upwards of two minutes, wondering what 'prog' was. He guessed that 'brew' was what he wanted, but then there was 'auto on' and 'auto off'. And carafe temperature. Did that make a difference? Which part was the carafe?
He had hoped to be able to offer Coulson coffee at their meeting, but it looked like that might not happen. He dumped some instant in the filter, turned the dial to 'brew', and crossed his fingers. The worst that would happen was that he would get undrinkable coffee. The little light changed from 'add water' to 'water ready'. He hoped that was a good thing.
Just as he had finished doing that, there was a knock at the door, and Steve went over to answer it. Coulson looked almost identical to how he had the day before: impeccable suit, shiny shoes, serene expression. "Good morning, Captain Rogers," he said, entering the apartment. He was carrying a little tray that had two paper cups in it, and had a bag slung over one shoulder.
"You really should call me Steve, you know," Steve said, closing the door behind him. "I mean, I guess we're going to be working pretty closely."
Coulson blinked at him in an expression that almost looked startled. Then he gave that little half-smile and said, "That may take some getting used to, but I'll do my best to remember. And you can call me Phil." He looked over at the coffee machine and said, "I realized on my way over that I hadn't showed you how to use it, so I picked up some coffee, but it looks like you figured it out on your own."
"Don't say that until it actually produces something that we can drink," Steve said, although the burble-drip-drip it was making sounded promising. "What's 'prog'?"
Coulson looked blank. "Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic. It used to be Czechoslovakia. Why do you ask?"
"No, I mean, on the coffee maker. P-R-O-G," Steve said.
"Oh," Coulson said. "That's short for 'program'. The coffee maker has settings so that you can set it up the night before and tell it what time to start brewing, so you'll have hot coffee waiting when you get up."
"That's clever!" Steve said. "So that must be what 'auto on' and 'auto off' are for."
"Yes, exactly," Coulson said, smiling at his bright pupil. "I'll show you how to program it."
Several minutes later, they were both sitting at the kitchen table. Since Steve's coffee maker was going to take several more minutes, he accepted the cup that Coulson offered him. He took a drink and then curled his lip. "How . . . nostalgically awful," he said. "Tastes just like the coffee we used to get in the war."
Coulson smiled. "You know, almost everyone I know says that Starbucks' coffee is terrible. Yet they all continue to drink it. I've theorized that there must be some secret additive to it that keeps people addicted."
"Sounds like a supervillainy thing to do," Steve said. "Maybe we should investigate."
"I'm pretty sure Starbucks isn't a supervillain," Coulson told him.
"But they Icould/I be," Steve said, grinning. "We should ask Director Fury. I was practicing at texting last night. I think Tony put his number in my phone."
"I'm very sure that you don't want to text Director Fury and ask him to investigate the possibility of Starbucks being a supervillain," Coulson said, "and I'm equally sure that if you Ido/I, I don't want to be here to witness the results." He took a drink of his own mediocre coffee and said, "And don't tell Stark. Because he'll be all over that like a hobo on a hot dog."
This colloquial phrase, coming from the typically reserved agent, made Steve's grin widen. "I won't, I promise," he said, thinking maybe he would tell Natasha instead. She would get a kick out of it. "So, what are we doing today?" he asked.
Coulson took off the shoulder bag he was carrying and set it down on one of the kitchen chairs. "As much as you would probably be more comfortable with books," he said, "SHIELD decided a computer would be more efficient. This one has been loaded with several programs regarding history, politics, geography, et cetera. I'll walk you through using them, so you can catch up on what you need to know. Would you rather do that here or in the living room? The laptop is portable, so you can move it around."
"Oh, well, I guess the living room," Steve said. There was a desk sitting right next to the window, which had a nice view of the street through the old-fashioned curtains. He watched, mystified, as Coulson took the laptop out of the bag: about the size of a textbook, unfolding to reveal screen and keyboard. Coulson placed it neatly in the center of the desk.
"This is the power cord," he said, holding up a small bundle. "It plugs into the computer here, and from there to the wall." He demonstrated. Steve nodded intelligently. "I got you a mouse, too, because a lot of people have trouble with the touchpad. That plugs in here." Coulson took a step back and gestured. "Would you like to turn it on? Press that button in the corner there."
"Sure," Steve said, feeling apprehensive, like the computer might electrocute him. He reached out and pressed the button that Coulson had indicated. There was a quiet little whirr, and then the screen displayed a logo before going dark. "Did I break it?" he asked, alarmed.
"No, it's just loading," Coulson said, and sure enough, a little progress bar then appeared.
The screen, once loaded, looked a lot like his phone, only without the picture of his shield. More boxy pictures, more labels he didn't understand. Coulson went over them one by one, explaining what each one did. When he got to the end and saw the blank look on Steve's face, he went back to the beginning and patiently explained each one again.
"Where would like to start?" he asked.
"How about . . . history," Steve said. "I'd like to know more about the end of the war."
Coulson nodded. "Okay. Just move your mouse so the cursor is over that program, and click the button on the left twice."
Steven looked at the mouse. He looked at the screen. He wasn't sure exactly what Coulson meant, but decided it would be too embarrassing to ask. Hesitantly, he picked up the mouse, pointed it at the screen, and clicked twice. Nothing happened.
"Like this," Coulson said, making him put the mouse back down and sliding it around on the desk. Steve made a little 'oh' of comprehension. Coulson double-clicked on the program and it opened like magic. Then he closed it. "Your turn."
Steve moved the mouse around for a few moments until he had gotten the hang of it. Then he hovered over the program and clicked. Again, nothing happened.
"Click twice," Coulson reminded him. Steve grimaced but did as instructed. Again, nothing happened. "A little faster," Coulson advised, so Steve tried again.
"Why is the screen all blue now?" he asked.
Coulson studied him for a few long moments and then said, "I think that's enough computer work for today."
Steve gave him a sideways look, but then decided that anything had to be preferable to trying to make the machine work. "Okay." He hesitated. He was loath to go out into the city, but . . . "Do you mind showing me where there's a Laundromat nearby?"
"No problem," Coulson said. "I didn't figure you would need one for a while."
"I don't actually own a lot of clothes," Steve said.
A faint frown appeared on Coulson's face. "Nobody took you out shopping? I thought one of the staff had been assigned to do that."
"Well, we had talked about it," Steve said, "but then we had to save the world."
"Ah," Coulson said. "Well, I'll be happy to show you where there's a Laundromat, but while we're out we can take you to get some more clothes. And anything else you need for the apartment, too."
"I'm not sure what else I would need," Steve said. "I mean, you've already bought almost everything I would use anyway, it's not like I don't have dishes and towels and stuff." He frowned suddenly. "Who paid for all that, anyway? I mean, I know I had money when I got frozen. Was it deducted from that?"
"Oh, no," Coulson said. "SHIELD covered all of that. As for your money, well . . . I would have to check into that, but I assume that it went to your next-of-kin. You were declared dead, after all, and I'm sure that the government would have probated your will. Being in that you're not dead, I'm sure that we can find a way to replace it. But if you want to get some personal effects, you have been earning pay since Director Fury recruited you into the Avengers. You have several weeks of back pay now. We can stop by the bank and pick up your checkbook, et cetera."
"Sounds good," Steve said. As far as he could recall, his will had left a few specific items to Peggy and Howard, and the rest had gone to charity. That was fine; he had no wish to get it back now. He didn't need a lot of things, and in any case, he was fairly sure that if he ever needed money, all he had to do was ask Tony for a loan.
The bank was something of an interesting experience; the woman who helped him was very nice and professional (although her skirt was a few inches shorter than Steve approved of), and didn't recognize his name, so there was no awkwardness. She gave Steve a card made of hard plastic that said 'temporary' on it, and had him punch a four digit number into a little pad. Then she gave him a written statement with his current balance on it. Steve nearly choked on his own spit.
"Now might be a good time to talk about inflation . . ." Coulson said, patting him on the back.
Once Steve was no longer hyperventilating, they left the bank with him still protesting that inflation or no inflation, SHIELD was paying him an obscene amount of money. Coulson calmly nodded along to all of his protests and showed no evidence of budging. Steve made a private mental note to practice his texting until he could take the matter directly to Fury. He supposed he could call him, but that idea was somehow deeply unnerving. He imagined Fury's response. "Oh, you think we're paying you too much? That's really interesting! How about you take a seat and shut the hell up."
On second thought, maybe he would just donate some money to a veteran's association or something.
"So where to now?" he asked.
Coulson gave him a thoughtful look. "Do you feel up to tackling a mall?"
Hesitantly, Steve said, "I did a USO show at the Park and Shop once."
"I'll take that as a yes," Coulson said. "I'd warn you that malls are a little different now than they were in the forties, but I'm guessing you already figured that out."
"What isn't?" Steve asked, trying not to sound too glum about it. He accompanied Coulson back out to his car, and tried to remember that Coulson was the epitome of competence, and he should stop hitting that imaginary brake. It wasn't that cars were so much faster now than they were in the forties; it was just that New York City traffic was very . . . different. By which he really meant 'psychotic'.
Coulson drove around the mall, trying to decide where to park, when Steve brightened at a familiar name and said, "Hey, a Sears. Let's start there."
"Sure," Coulson said, scanning the aisles for a parking space. He slid into one close to the door and watched Steve walk towards the mall doors with something like eagerness. That vanished once they got inside and Steve realized how much clothes cost. "I did tell you about inflation . . ."
"I can't spend forty dollars on a shirt!" Steve said, clearly scandalized.
"Yes, you can, and yes, you will," Coulson said calmly. "There are cheaper places to buy clothes, but they won't be as well made, so it makes the most sense to spend a little more and get something of high quality."
Steve grimaced, but had to give in. Currently, the only clothes he owned were two button-down shirts, one pair of khakis, one pair of jeans, and some T-shirts and sweats for working out in. Reluctantly, he allowed Coulson to hector him into trying some things on, thinking that at least Coulson was enjoying himself, getting to dress up Captain America like an action figure.
"Hey, look," Steve said, finding a rack of T-shirts with the different insignia of the Avengers on them. He held up a white T-shirt with the pattern of his shield on it. "Think I should wear this to the next crisis?"
"Only Stark has that much vanity," Coulson said, shaking his head. "Black Sabbath. Really."
Steve gave him a questioning look, so Coulson had to stop and explain who the band were and the song Iron Man, and Stark's initial proclamation that the title was inaccurate, but catchy. Steve shook his head, smiling slightly, and caught Coulson giving the rack of shirts a backwards glance as they continued on their trip. When the agent wasn't looking, Steve guesstimated his size and then tossed one in the cart for him, hiding it underneath a stack of pants.
Before long, Steve had acquired a sensible wardrobe, including underwear, socks, belts, and two new pairs of shoes. He went up to the checkout, where the cashier greeted him cheerfully and began ringing him up. Steve manfully resisted looking at the final total, thinking he might back out if he realized exactly how much this was costing.
"Okay, you're going to need that little card they gave you at the bank," Coulson said. "Just swipe it here – " he pointed – "and then put in the PIN you chose."
"So how does this work?" Steve asked, doing as instructed.
"Well, the machine electronically talks to the bank and tells it how much money to transfer from your account to the store," Coulson said, "since you're using debit. Credit is something different." He blithely ignored the strange look from the cashier and explained how credit cards were used.
Steve frowned. "That seems imprudent, to spend money you don't have. Why would anybody do that?"
"Well, sometimes people have no choice," Coulson said. "Originally they were designed as a temporary loan for emergencies. I have to admit that it's gotten out of hand."
"Maybe it's just hard to forget the depression," Steve admitted. This drew another funny look from the cashier as she handed his receipt over. "Thank you, miss," he said, smiling at her.
They carried the bags of clothes out to the car. "Is there anything else you'd like for your apartment, while you're here?" Coulson asked.
"Some books and music would be nice," Steve said. "Oh, I'd like a new razor. SHIELD gave me an electric one, but I don't like it very much - they had them back then, you know, but I didn't like them then, either. And maybe a few house plants."
"Sure," Coulson said, heading towards a different mall entrance. "I have a black thumb myself."
Steve tried to picture Coulson not being good at something. It didn't take. "Can we get all that here?" he asked, gesturing to the mall.
"Not sure about the plants, but probably," Coulson said. "We can start with the books and music, though. There's a Barnes and Noble not too far from here. You ready?"
Steve nodded firmly. "Once more unto the breach."
After another hour had passed, he was beginning to feel like he had this under wraps. The mall wasn't Ithat/I different from the stores from his own era – the merchandise had changed, but books were still books and house plants were still house plants. He had to admit some befuddlement at the entire row of razors. "Five blades?" he asked. "Why would a razor need five blades?"
"For that extra close shave," Coulson said, so deadpan that Steve was fairly sure he was joking. Fairly. At least some of the brand names were familiar. Gillette, Old Spice, Colgate. He picked up a few things at the pharmacy, including a TIME magazine – another familiar name – with a cover article entitled 'Who Are the Avengers?'
On the way back to the car, they went through the food court. Steve saw several groups of teenagers hanging around various restaurants and stared at them, appalled. He had thought the woman at the bank had a short skirt, but some of these people practically weren't wearing anything. And they were just children! He knew it was summer, but this was ridiculous. That wasn't even going into the makeup the girls had caked on their face, or the rings they had in unlikely places, like their eyebrows.
"Where – where are their parents?" he spluttered to Coulson. "Where are their Ipants/I?"
Coulson pressed his lips together to avoid laughing. "That's the fashion these days," he said.
"Fashion?" Steve was clearly horrified. "I can see three inches of that guy's boxer shorts. What's fashionable about that?"
"Society decides what's fashionable and what isn't," Coulson said. "It doesn't make sense to me either. But teenagers have never been credited with stunning amounts of intelligence."
Steve just shook his head and walked past the group of teenagers as fast as possible. It was times like this that he so keenly felt the disparity between the past and the present. Sure, thugs and jocks had beaten him up back when he had been scrawny, but at least they'd been fully dressed while they did so.
He recovered a few moments later when they walked past a store called 'Michael's Arts and Crafts'. "Where creativity happens," a sign in the window told him. Steve brightened as a set of colored pencils in the window display caught his eye. "Hey, mind if we stop in here for a few minutes?"
"It's your dime," Coulson said agreeably. "Do you want me to look after the bags?"
Steve had been carrying all the bags – Coulson had tried to help, but Steve had basically ignored this – full of books and CDs, the stereo they had gotten so he could play the CDs, the box with the house plants, et cetera. He glanced at the narrow aisles of the store and said, "You know what, I would appreciate that."
"I'll just wait over here," Coulson said, gesturing to a somewhat emptier area outside the store, where there was a bench. "Take your time."
It was as good thing he said that, because upon entering the store, Steve was in Heaven. He thought he could spend hours looking at the different kinds of pencils, paints, and paper. When he had been young, he had never been able to afford much of this kind of thing. His family hadn't had a lot of money, and what they did have usually went to his medical care. That was why the majority of his art had been pencil sketches, or on a rare occasion, pastels.
Steve got a cart and loaded it up with pads of paper, colored pencils, and paints. He grilled a saleswoman on the difference between acrylic paint and oil paint for nearly five minutes. Then another five minutes on the differences between all the paintbrushes. There was an entire aisle of them, which stunned him.
He passed an aisle full of sculpting supplies and gave it a rather wistful look. He had often wanted to try that, but never really had the time, and certainly hadn't had the money. It occurred to him suddenly that he Idid/I have the time now. As far as he could tell, until a disaster struck, all he had to do was lay low, learn about the twenty-first century, and keep himself in peak physical condition. Surely that would leave him a little time to learn about sculpting.
"Excuse me," he said, nabbing another clerk. She gave him a smile and a questioning look. "I'm thinking about taking up sculpting. Can you make some recommendations about a good place to start?"
"Well, what medium?" she asked. "There's clay, wood, stone . . ."
Steve thought about it and decided that clay seemed safest. He chatted with the clerk for quite a long time, and ended up with a set of tools, several boxes of different colored clays, and a beginner's book. He was busy thanking the salesclerk for all her help when he heard a jaunty tune coming from somewhere around his waist. "He's Iron Man, all jets ablaze! He's fighting and smiting with repulsor rays!"
"He's what?" Steve muttered, fumbling for the phone and trying to make it stop singing that terrible song. He made a mental note to never again accept a phone programmed by Tony Stark. The phone now displayed a picture of Coulson and two buttons: accept or decline. He poked at the accept button and lifted the phone to his ear. "Hello?"
"Steve, it's Phil. Do you need any help in there?"
"Oh, gosh," Steve said. "I'm sorry, I'm taking forever, aren't I. I'm almost done, I promise I'll be right out."
"Okay, no problem," Coulson said. "I just wanted to check in with you."
"Thanks," Steve said, and fumbled with the phone until (he hoped) he had managed to end the call. Then he stuck it back in his pocket and headed up to the front.
He had not at all been circumspect with his purchases, tossing things into his cart with abandon, and he nearly choked when he saw the final total. He almost wanted to put some of it back, but after a moment's thought decided not to. He Ihad/I the money, and not much else to spend it on. He was a superhero now, and if he wanted to spend a ridiculous amount of money so he could get actual Prismacolors (a full set of seventy-two, an indulgence he would likely both regret and enjoy later), he was entitled.
The cashier was pleasant while ringing him up, and then actually looked up at his face while giving him his receipt. Her eyes widened. "Oh – oh my God! You – you're Captain America!"
"Uh – " Steve said. Her face was vaguely familiar. One of the people from the bank where the Chitauri had pulled his helmet off? He should have figured that someone would eventually recognize him. "Please not so loud," he managed.
"Sorry!" She lowered her voice to a dramatic stage whisper. "I think you're really, really amazing. Really. Ignore all the haters!"
"Thanks," he said, smiling at her.
"Would you, oh my God, would you sign something for me?" she asked, fumbling around at her cash register for something for him to write on.
"Sure," Steve said, pulling one of his new pads of paper out of the bag, along with the box of Prismacolors. He took out a bright red pencil and did a quick doodle of a stick figure Captain America, then signed it 'Steve Rogers' and handed it over to the cashier, who looked like she might faint.
"Everything okay here?" Coulson materialized at Steve's elbow, startling the hell out of him.
"Yeah, it's fine," Steve said. He saw the sparkling eyes of the three people in line behind him. "Though, uh . . ."
"We'd better get out of here before you get mobbed," Coulson agreed.
"Yeah," Steve agreed. He grabbed his bags and hurried out of the store. Between the two of them, they managed to get everything back to the car. Steve surreptitiously slid the Captain America T-shirt out of the Sears' bag and slide it under the seat for Coulson to find later. "Sorry about taking so long in there. I just had a lot of questions."
"No problem," Coulson said. "Did you get everything you needed?"
"And quite a few things I probably don't need," Steve said. "Thanks for taking me shopping. I really appreciate it."
"That's my job," Coulson said. He pulled out into traffic and said, "Let me give you one piece of advice."
"Shoot," Steve said.
"Do not, under any circumstances, ever utter the words 'at least now I'll have some peace and quiet'. It's a sure way to guarantee a disaster."
Steve laughed and said, "Okay. I'll remember that."
"You want some coffee?" Steve asked, accepting the pile of papers that Coulson had brought him. Then he frowned. "Oh, sorry, it's cold."
"That's okay, I don't mind it reheated," Coulson told him.
"Yeah . . . that might be a problem." Steve had the good grace to look somewhat chagrined as Coulson looked into his kitchen. Specifically, at the little cabinet where the microwave had been. 'Had' being the key word: the appliance was now gone. There was a potted plant sitting there instead.
Coulson viewed this for a few moments before saying, "Ah. Might I ask?"
"It, uhm, it kind of exploded," Steve told him.
"Exploded," Coulson said.
"What were you doing with it at the time?"
"Well, I was trying to make soup." Steve saw the expression on Coulson's face and hurriedly continued, "I remembered to take it out of the can. I wasn't about to make Ithat/I mistake again. So I took it out of the can and put it in a pot, and then the next thing I knew, there was smoke and little flashes of light. I unplugged it, but there was this really horrible smell, so, uh, I threw it out. I think it's safer if I cook on the stove."
"I see," Coulson said. "Was it a metal pot?"
"Yeah," Steve said, his face blank.
"You can't put metal in a microwave," Coulson said. "That's why you can't just heat it directly in the can."
"Oh." Steve considered this for a few moments. "Why not?"
"Because . . ." Coulson realized he didn't know. "Because science."
Steve laughed. "I guess it's something of a relief to realize that you don't know everything. Otherwise I'd be really embarrassed all the time. But I guess it makes sense. I mean, I knew how to use a radio, but I wouldn't have been able to tell someone how one worked."
"Would you like to get a new microwave?" Coulson asked him.
"I . . . think I'm okay with the stove," Steve said. "I'm afraid I would burn my apartment down otherwise."
Coulson was hard pressed to argue.
"Now, I know that you know how to drive a motorcycle," Coulson said, "but New York City traffic is very different from what you're used to, so be cautious. Take it slow if you need to. Remember that I'm right here behind you if you have any questions."
"Right." Steve gauged the flow of traffic around him. "Hold on tight," he said, and zoomed off without another word. Coulson might possibly have made a noise that was something like 'eep', as his casual grip on the back of the bike became a death clutch around Steve's waist. Steve rocketed through the dense lines of cars, squeezing into seemingly impossible spaces, ducking around obstacles, and narrowly avoiding solid objects at the last moment. They made it to SHIELD HQ in record time.
Coulson wobbled a little when he got off the bike. "You – your driving skills – seem to be – quite acceptable," he said. "That was, uh, that was quite an experience. One which I hope to never repeat." He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "Forgive me for being unprofessional."
Steve grinned at him. "Aw, Phil, I forgive you," he said. "Someday I'll teach you how to have fun."
"Now click 'okay'," Coulson said.
There was a pause. Then, "Sorry, I accidentally hit cancel. That's wrong, huh?"
"Yes." Coulson massaged his temples, glad that he was in the privacy of his own living room and nobody would see him actually getting frustrated. "That's okay. We'll start over." It had only taken half an hour to get this far, after all. He wondered what had possessed him to try to help Steve install Photoshop over the telephone instead of just going over to his apartment and doing it himself. Then he might have been able to get a photograph of Steve using his CD-ROM drive as a cup holder.
They started over. It was a little less laborious the second time, and they managed to get the program installed without further trouble.
"Whoa, what do all these buttons do?" Steve asked.
"There I can't help you," Coulson said. "Digital artwork isn't my forte. Try clicking 'help'."
"Okay. Help . . . let's see . . . okay, Photoshop help." There was a pause. "It's telling me I need to be connected to the internet."
Coulson frowned. "You should already be connected to the internet."
"Oh. I guess I'm not?"
"But you should be," Coulson persisted. "Did you disconnect?"
"Not on purpose . . ."
"Okay. I'm going to have you take a look at your modem. You know, the little box that usually has green blinking lights on the front? It's sitting right at the base of your desk. Do you see it?"
"Yes," Steve said.
"Are there green lights?"
"Uhm . . . no."
Steve sounded a little apprehensive. Coulson's eyes narrowed. He said, "Look, we could troubleshoot for the next forty-five minutes, or you could just come clean and tell me what, exactly, you did to your poor, innocent modem."
Steve cleared his throat. "I may, uhm, have possibly spilled grape juice on it. I cleaned it up really well, though!"
"I see," Coulson said. "Okay. I'll bring you over a new modem tomorrow. For tonight you're on your own. I guess you'll just have to play with Photoshop until you've figured out what it does yourself."
"I've had worse evenings," Steve said cheerfully.
"Excuse me, mister?" the little girl tugged at Steve's arm and looked up at him with impossibly big eyes. "Our Frisbee went into the tree. Can you reach it?"
"Oh, sure," Steve said, walking over to the tree in question. He shielded his eyes from the sun, looking up, and up, and up. "Wow, one of you has a good arm, huh?" he asked, jumping up to grab the first branch of the tree. They group of children oohed and ahhed as he pulled himself up onto it, then lifted himself up to the next branch. The Frisbee was lodged about twenty feet above the ground. Steve tossed it down to them, then carefully climbed back down.
"Thanks, mister!" the children chorused, before going back to their game. Steve noticed one of them sitting off to the side, not participating. He was a little skinnier and shorter than the others, and wore glasses, and Steve felt an immediate kinship with him. He walked over and sat down next to him.
"You don't like Frisbee?" he asked.
"I have really bad aim," the boy said, glum. He was scooting a toy car around. "And my toy's broken. Today sucks."
"Here, let me see it," Steve said, and the boy handed it over. It looked like a simple windup toy, but Steve was sure that when he opened it, he wound find a mess of wires and electronics, all made in China and labeled in Greek – if they were labeled at all. Much to his surprise, he found simple gears and wheels. It was easy to see where the trouble had started, a little rock that had gotten wedged inside. He picked it up carefully, then put the car back together. This time, when he wound it up, it took off like it was supposed to.
"Whoa!" the boy said. "You fixed it!"
"So I did!" Steve said, almost as surprised as the boy was himself. It was good to see that not everything had changed. And the boy gave him a heartfelt, sunny grin. For the first time in a long time, Steve truly felt like a hero.
"Just try it," Coulson said. "I can't see what it's doing wrong if you don't show me."
Steve cleared his throat, looked distrustfully at his phone, and said, "Launch internet."
Coulson resisted the urge to reach for his aspirin and said, "Steve, your phone is always connected. You don't have to tell it to launch the internet. Just tell it what website you want to go to."
"Oh. I knew that," Steve said. "Launch Hopstop."
Coulson blinked at his phone as it loaded something completely different. "I think that's Hotspot," he said.
Steve growled. "Why would anyone name something so similar?" he asked. "I just want to get a cab."
"Well, just use Taxi Magic," Coulson advised.
"I don't know if I have that one," Steve said, poking buttons on his phone confusedly. "Why can't they just make one app that does everything? This is so confusing! And now – whoa, what's this screen, I don't think I've ever been on this screen before – "
"Ah, that's for settings, don't – "
"Now all the text is tiny – "
"Let me – "
"Oh, here we go – no, that isn't right – "
Coulson resignedly reached for his aspirin.
"Steve, have you eaten anything besides Pop-Tarts since the last time I saw you?" Coulson asked.
Steve looked up at him with a smiling expression and declared, "There are so many flavors!"
The sound of music greeted Coulson as he opened the door. Steve had warned him that he might not be ready on time, and to just come on in. Coulson wasn't sure whether he had specifically unlocked the door for him, or whether he just left it unlocked all the time. It wasn't as if anybody would try to rob Captain America – although if they did, they would certainly be in for an unpleasant surprise.
Steve had gotten a real kick out of the ability to download music, and it was one of the few things he had picked up with relative ease, blaring jazz and swing music loud enough to occasionally have the neighbors knocking on his door. Coulson fully agreed with him in that modern music wasn't worth listening to, and Steve seemed to have good time listening to what was familiar.
Currently what was playing was an upbeat tune that Coulson recognized as Bing Crosby, although he didn't know the name of the song. He heard Steve singing along in a pleasant, if not professional, baritone. The superhero came bouncing down the hallway wearing only his socks and boxer shots, holding his hairbrush to his mouth like a microphone and belting out the lyrics at top volume.
He skidded to a halt when he saw Coulson, then rubbed his hand over the back of his head and said, "Hey, uh, hey, Phil."
"Good morning," Coulson said, as unflappable as always.
"I just, uh, I'll just go finish getting ready," Steve said, his cheeks flushing pink.
"Take your time," Coulson said.
Ten minutes later, a somewhat embarrassed Steve was on his way to SHIELD headquarters with a typically reserved Coulson. He adamantly didn't bring up what had just happened, watching the scenery go by instead.
"You know," Coulson said, "next time you're going to do that, let me know. If I could get a picture to sell to the tabloids, that would cover SHIELD's entire quarterly budget."
"Uh . . . okay," Steve said. That was the one problem with Coulson: he could never tell whether or not the man was joking.
"I told the others we would stop and get coffee on the way to the meeting," Coulson said, rather apologetically. "Sorry that we had to leave so early."
"No, it's fine," Steve said. A trip to the coffee shop sounded more appealing than a meeting with the other Avengers, anyway. Not that he disliked them, but he sometimes felt awkward around them. Especially around Tony Stark. Especially since learning how to use the internet. "I could go for some caffeine, anyway. I'm out of instant at home."
Placing a coffee order for the Avengers was complicated, but Coulson, the consummate professional, had everything stored in his phone. A skinny latte for Natasha. Double mocha espresso for Tony. ("Why does that seem like a bad idea?" Steve asked.) Plain black coffee for Nick Fury, who was fond of saying that the first time someone tried to get him anything frilly in his coffee, they would get an eye patch to match his. Unsweetened green tea for Bruce, for whom caffeine was never a good idea. A caramel frappuccino for Clint, who would probably never admit to ordering such a drink. Hazelnut coffee with a shot of vanilla for Coulson. ("Very classy," Steve remarked.)
"For you, sir?" the barista asked Steve, smiling.
"Uh, can I have a . . . which one is medium again?"
"Grande," Coulson told him.
"Can I have a grande . . . coffee . . . which one has the foam on top?"
"Cappuccino," Coulson supplied.
"A grande cappuccino with . . . you know what, just a grande cappuccino. I don't want to get too complicated when I don't really have any idea what I'm ordering."
"Coming right up, sir," the barista said, with an amused look on her face, while Coulson quietly added Steve's coffee order into his phone so he wouldn't have to remember it.
"That's a really nice new poster you've got," Coulson said, admiring the framed picture on the wall. "Where did you get it?"
"Oh, it's a picture I took," Steve said. "Last time I decided to go to the beach." He held up his phone and asked excitedly, "Did you know this thing can take pictures?"
"Er . . . yes," Coulson said, and left it at that.
"I couldn't figure out how to transfer them to my computer, but I did figure out how to email them to myself," Steve said, clearly proud of this discovery, "so I was able to put them into Photoshop and play with them. Then there was a really nice guy at the Kinkos who helped me make that one into a poster."
Coulson hoped he never found out about Instagram. There wasn't enough wall space in the world.
"Here, I have something for you," Coulson said, and handed over a new phone.
Steve sighed. "Just because I broke two already – I haven't broken the new one yet! What's this one?"
"It's from Stark," Coulson said. "He said that he's developed a better voice recognition system for you, since you have trouble with the one you have now. It's supposed to be better at interpreting loose commands, so you won't have to remember how to specifically launch each app."
"Oh, that sounds useful." Steve accepted the phone and turned it on. The screen, rather than having the little boxes he had become accustomed to was blank except for a big red question mark. "Okay, that's a little insulting," he muttered, but tapped on it anyway.
"How can I help you, sir?" the smooth tones of none other than Phil Coulson immediately asked.
Steve jumped. "What – how – "
"He must have given it my voice print," Coulson said, rolling his eyes. "Tacky."
"I have been programmed to help you navigate the twentieth century," phone!Coulson said. "It seemed apt to use the voice print of the man that had been assigned to do the same."
"No! It's creepy!" Steve protested. "Use a different one!"
"Is this better, sir?" the phone asked, now using Jarvis' typical voice instead.
Steve let out a quiet sigh of relief. "Yeah, that's much better. Thanks." He was surprised for a moment. "And hey, that works pretty well. It changed the voice print without me having to use a specific command."
"Ask it something else," Coulson suggested.
Steve considered for a few moments, then said, "I want to get a cup of coffee."
"There are three coffee shops within a two block radius," the phone replied. "I will display them now." Three addresses, with little pictures next to them, popped up on the screen. Steve picked one, and the phone gave him simple, step-by-step directions. Both Coulson and Steve were impressed.
Then Coulson frowned. "Are you tapped into the SHIELD mainframe?" he asked, and the phone confirmed that it was. "What is the location of Director Fury?"
"Director Fury is currently overseeing operations on the helicarrier, which is located in the Indian Ocean, latitude – "
"That's enough." Coulson sighed. "I really have to have a talk with Stark about what 'classified' means. Not that I haven't already. If this phone fell into the wrong hands, I mean . . . only Stark would come up with something so reckless and inadvisable."
Steve couldn't help but smile a bit. "Okay, phone, I want you to unhook yourself from the SHIELD mainframe."
"That will limit my usefulness – "
"Just do it. And whatever, uh, chips or bytes or whatever you used to tap into it, get rid of it. Delete it."
Sounding defeated, the phone said, "Yes, sir."
Steve smiled brightly at Coulson and then said, "I'm starved. How do you feel about Italian food?"
"Sounds great," Coulson said.
Steve tapped the question mark on the phone and said, "Find me a recipe for lasagna."
"With at least four stars on review," Coulson chipped in.
The phone again put a list up on the screen. "Choose from the following options."
Looking at the pictures, Steve's mouth began to water. "Finally," he muttered, "technology I can get behind."
"So!" Nick Fury barked, as Steve took his seat at the table. "Captain Rogers, I trust you're ready to face the twenty-first century?"
"You know what," Steve said, with a sidelong smile at Coulson, "I think I am."