Rogers was almost exactly as the worst Tony remembered of him- impeccably dressed in clothes his grandfather would have turned his nose up at, a dufflebag in army-green swung over his shoulder, and his walk confident bordering on arrogance. Which, really, he had no business complaining about, but it was impossible not to when apparently every other portion of the human race was so blinded with stardom that they were gawking in awe rather than disgust. A too-strong word for what even Tony was feeling, but it was nice to imagine.
Of course, he could only imagine something similar- and infinitely more polite- was running through the Captain's head, considering the amalgamation of two Avengers had created quite the crowd, and Tony had at least as many people gaping at him. They had reached a mutual trust and respect after the battle of New York, but they liked each other little to no better than they had before, even if their shouting match on the helicarrier had proved to be a one-time event. So far.
"Stark." Rogers certainly sounded pleased enough to see him, and managed a smile that even Tony had to admit was winning as he came forward, hand extended. With some internal gagging, he took it, trying to meet the man's grip with as much strength of his own as could be mustered. "Thanks for meeting me here. Getting a taxi in New York hasn't gotten any easier since my time."
"You'd be surprised how well you can manage after saving the world." Tony was tempted to ask why he hadn't come zooming in on his motorcycle of wonders, but doubted he cared about the reason. "I'm parked across the street and we've got about five minutes before this place is mobbed with so many reporters even you won't be able to move, so let's get going."
Rogers nodded, and fell into step beside Tony as if they were in some sort of formation. He was, no doubt, reading too far into it, but that didn't stop him from rolling his eyes; an action which went noticed, undoubtedly, but politely (translate: reluctantly) ignored. "Have you picked a place, or are we just going for the park?"
"Park's a bit too public, Cap. Thought we'd be better off in my tower, or at least a restaurant." Still, he'd rather nobody get shots of the two of them having any sort of public meeting, whether they were overheard or not. "People see us getting too formal, they're going to expect there's another big bad running around, and I've got enough PR nightmares to deal with as it is. So let's do these normal folks of the city a favor and let them reserve their panic for a more appropriate time."
"I understand the need for discretion, but is it wise to keep things so secretive? I saw the newspaper, Stark. That was definitely Loki. Now I don't think it'll do any good to tell people who he is, but if something's happening people need the chance to prepare."
"Nothing's happening, Cap. Not that we know of. And so long as we're in the dark, they're in the dark. Let's keep the L-word to ourselves until we're somewhere a little more private. And don't worry, I meant neither 'Love' nor 'Lesbian', so your delicate forties mentality need not fear."
Tony was keeping his eyes and walk forward, trying to hurry along without looking like he was in any rush, and meanwhile Rogers was keeping pace not only free of strain, but with a heavy bag over the shoulder and his gaze fixed on Tony. "Another reference, I'm guessing? Look I'm not sure what movie you're talking about now, but if you're implying that I'm homophobic-"
"After seeing you in that Star-Spangled glory? Yeah, no worries about that."
"And now you're trying to somehow taunt me by making suggestions about my sexuality. That's more a misdirection than an insult, and for the record my clothes have nothing to do with-"
"Oh god it's like talking to a library. Lighten up, Rogers. I am insulting you, but more for the whole cultural pariah thing. For the record, "Scott Pilgrim versus the World", watch it when you figure out how a TV works," Tony retorted, still keeping his onward treck in favor of meeting the other man's eye.
He had hoped that after everything he would find it easier to get along with the Captain, that the bonding experience of saving the world and each other's lives would be enough to override Howard's praise. Unsurprisingly, however, the man was proving just too annoying to tolerate without at least a little sarcasm- and proving as well to to be too uptight to accept that without putting on his 'disapproving adult' face and making a deal of things. Publicly.
"I know how to work a television." Rogers grimaced and passed a hand over his face, as though dealing politely with Tony was taking more of an effort than he'd extended in fighting the Nazis. "Look, I didn't come here to do this again. I'll take your judgment in where to go, let's just get on the way."
"Fine. Does Fury know you're here?"
"Not yet. I wanted to talk with you before SHIELD got involved. I'd like to see the rest of the team as well, but that can wait."
So small graces did exist. Tony shut his eyes in a moment of minimal relief and exasperation, hidden thankfully behind his sunglasses. "Hey, what're your thoughts on Italian food?"
"I grew up in New York."
"Guessing that mean's no Olive Garden, then?"
"It's a restaurant. Really phony Italian food, there's this joke about it.. You know what, let's just- come on."
Rogers seemed more than happy to comply, and their less than friendly chatter was put on a blissful hold until they finally broke free of the public clamor and made it to Tony's car. There was no Happy waiting by, not today, and he slipped behind the wheel himself, ignoring Rogers' look of obvious apprehension. He popped the trunk but didn't bother to do anything beyond that, knowing it would be a cold day in the pre-serum nineteen forties before Rogers needed his help with a bag.
When the 'door open' warning was off and Rogers' seatbelt safely buckled- because he definitely needed one, right?- Tony kicked into gear and swerved off cutting off the nearest car a little more closely than he might have done had he been alone in the car. Rogers tightened his jaw, but kept remarkably quiet… at least on that front. Tony didn't look over (even he was not going to risk that in airport-exit traffic) but at the intake of breath beside him, presumably in preparation, he hurried to speak.
"Don't. Listen, I've heard the lecture already. Attacking Loki in public was excessive and you, and I, and apparently the entire world know that. I'm used to bad press, but I've gotta tell you, the repetitive lecture thing's getting older than you at this point," Tony interrupted, lifting one hand from the wheel to hold out in front of Rogers, for an effect which made him more uncomfortable than anything. He went back to a two-hand grasp for both their sakes, but did not distract from his words. "I'm dealing with it. In a mostly-legal fashion. I've given the press releases, made the apologies, and though I'm probably banned from that coffee shop for life, which means nothing considering I'll be going anyway, I am handling this PR nightmare. Or, okay, it's mostly Pepper, but my name goes in the articles."
"Stark." Tony did not go for the dramatic word-halt-and-head-turn that Hollywood would have demanded, considering he was busy merging onto a freeway, but he did pause, his own jaw a little tense, to give Rogers time to speak.
And for a moment he filled that space instead with silence, eventually broken by a slightly resigned sigh as he shifted in his seat, angling a little more towards Stark so the man might be able to catch at least a glimpse of his expression peripherally. "Can you promise me that you were certain Loki was trying to cause something?"
"I'm not even certain that is Loki."
"That's not what I mean. When you put on your suit, when you attacked him, were you sure that you were arresting Loki before he could do any harm?"
There was a long and not entirely comfortable pause, and a nod. "Yeah. One hundred percent. It was mostly driven by mild panic and the lack of a better explanation, but yup. I wouldn't have attacked him if I weren't."
Considering Stark's expectation had been that Steve's concerns would be solely for the issues of public affairs, he frowned with some suspicion at the assurance, but couldn't hear enough doubt in the man's voice to justify retaining it. "Good."
"Wait, that's it?" Now Stark did turn to him, with a suddenness that nearly pulled the car out of its lane. "Are you kidding me with this? You think I would have attacked a waiter just for the fun of it? I know you like to think I'm Satan's more-handsome and equally-evil twin brother, but I do not kill civilians," he snapped, taking his anger out on the steering wheel with a rough turn, jarring Steve against the seat belt.
It was uncomfortable, but far from painful, and Steve didn't spare the movement more than a thought. "That wasn't my point, Stark, and you know it." Or did he? It was definitely interesting that he had jumped so defensively and so quickly, but it was neither his job nor his place to start making guesses as to why. "I wasn't asking about whether or not you thought that was Loki. I wanted to make sure you thought he was dangerous at the time."
"Putting aside the very amusing idea of a not dangerous Loki, are you actually worried? About him?" Stark demanded, seemingly incredulous, as he finally righted the car down a lane now mostly empty, all others having sensibly fled to adjacent lanes.
"Yes." Steve knew that if Hawkeye had been in the car with them, he'd likely have had an arrow and a few barbed words aimed his way before the word was done, but he figured that of all of them, Stark would get his point the most. And he was not disappointed, the man merely waiting, with some obvious impatience, for him to elaborate. "For one thing, let's not forget that Loki is under Asgard's jurisdiction. As much as the people of Earth deserve a hand in his punishment, we promised we wouldn't get one unless we felt like risking a cross-dimensional war."
"They're realms, technically, not dimensions, so-"
"Don't. If Loki escaped, as you apparently thought he had, then you had plenty of reason to go at him. But if this was part of his punishment, then we have to be careful how we interfere, and not just because of Odin's temper. If that is Loki, he's obviously weakened, and I wanted to be sure you didn't know that before you went after and almost killed a guy who had no way of defending himself."
"Yeah, like I was supposed to expect the guy who could take a bashing from the Hulk and barely bat an eye would be bothered by my suits," Stark retorted in defense, likely rolling his eyes behind those glasses. "Something's up with him. You think it's- what? His punishment? All signs point to him not even knowing his own name. Last I checked, amnesia wasn't exactly an effective form of correction. For one thing, he seems to be living pretty large for a guy who's supposed to be locked up in a medieval jail cell."
"Yeah, I read about that, the article loved to play it up. I also saw the scar." Loki had been so badly damaged in the photo that Steve had almost failed to recognize him, even after reading and reviewing the article three or four times. It hadn't made much sense- but he'd had a few days and a very long plane ride to think about it, and he had a few suspicions at the very least. "You never talked to Thor while he was still here, did you? It was in his file anyway, but he told me that when he came to earth last, he was mortal."
"Big daddy Odin wasn't too happy with him and put his powers in the corner for time-out. You think he gave the same treatment to Loki? And what, he just knocked his head conveniently on the most convenient park statue afterward?" Starl's tone was no more polite than usual, but a hand came up and pulled the sunglasses away, folding them shut and tossing them into the backseat. "Yeah, okay, as plausible as anything else I've got. But what kind of punishment is that? Letting him go completely free?"
"You saw how arrogant he was; forcing him to be human would take him down a peg or two. He thought he deserved to be the master of our entire race, making him a part of it would almost be fitting." And it seemed like just the sort of poetic justice the gods were always fond of in those old stories. Still… "Humiliating him wouldn't be enough, but it wouldn't have to be. If he hadn't been hospitalized he would have no money, no food, no shelter. He would be living in the streets, and he couldn't risk anything that would draw attention to him in case we found him again. Without papers or decent clothes he couldn't get a job very easily, and until he did he'd be begging from humans, or committing petty theft just to eat."
"All of which he would be doing anyway if he managed to break out of jail. He probably would find that a hell of alot better than sitting in a dungeon. I think you're right about the mortal thing, if that is actually Loki, but I'm guessing he was made like that before being shoved in prison. Then he came running to earth, and knocked his head on the way," he suggested, though it came out sounding as more of a retort.
"Then Thor would have come down to warn us, and Loki would be back in a cell already. It's more likely that this is exactly what Odin intended."
"What? Letting him off with a slap on the wrist? That's bullshit and you know it, Captain."
"Calm down, Stark. We don't know anything yet, we're talking possibilities, not facts."
The man tightened his grip on the wheel, but didn't argue the possibility any further. Aside from the color of his hair, and maybe the working of his jaw when he was annoyed, there was nothing in Stark to connect him with Howard. And maybe that wasn't the problem so much as that Steve kept trying to find it. "Are you alright?"
"Just peachy. I just get- there's this thing about Loki, doesn't sit too well with me. Fine talking to him, he's not really like him, but if that's Loki, and this isn't some sort of accident, then I'd like to have a few words with Odin about what constitutes punishment."
"Stark, we don't know anything for sure yet. I understand you want to make sure Loki gets what he deserves, but I also know you don't want to do anything like you already have." Or at least he hoped not. Killing was one thing- they had all done it, would do it again whenever necessary, and admittedly sometimes when it wasn't. But choking or beating somebody who couldn't fight back wasn't an idea that sat well with him, at least.
And apparently not Stark either, as he grimaced and let out a sigh, his shoulders slumping somewhat. "You know, you really know how to lay it on thick, don't you?"
"So I've been told."
They were nearing their exit, as far as he remembered it, and Stark pulled them into the right-most lane as it approached, hardly slowing down on the off-ramp. "Look, I don't really do the heartfelt chat thing, and I don't vent. So if you flew down here to get a psycho-analysis either on me or Loki, you're out of luck. I'll tell you everything that's happened, so long as you drop it with the guilt, and don't read into anything until I'm done."
Now that did sound like Howard, and Steve had to smile, which seemed to take Stark by surprise. "That sounds good to me. Start with when you first saw him."
"That would actually be a lot earlier than Fury knows, so I'd thank you to shut up about the first two minutes of what I'm going to tell you, because I had enough trouble bribing the security team into keeping quiet, and I don't want the hissy fit when our one-eyed-wonder finds out a supervillain got into his 'secure' restoration site."
It took Stark the rest of the trip to the tower to describe everything that had happened thus far, minus a couple of intermissions to make and then pick up an order at Maggianos. Steve listened carefully, interjecting only when he thought something had been forgotten, skimmed over, or entirely emitted. This wasn't all too common, surprisingly- he was extremely detailed, which, probably because of his usually flippant speech, had come as something of a surprise. Still, despite how rarely he could actually be seen doing work, Stark owned a business, which meant giving speeches to investors, partners, and CEOs. And he was a creator, an inventor, and you couldn't build a working robot suit without the ability to focus, and micromanage.
Even knowing that, it was still something of a surprise to hear the guy who exhibited selective hearing to the highest degree proving that he was as aware of the barista behind the counter as he was of his own ego.
By the end of it, Steve had a fairly complete idea of what Stark, at least, knew and had experienced of the 'Loki situation', as he had rather aptly put it. They were seated at the table of a mostly in-tact kitchen (the entire tower was still undergoing repairs, and while the first few floors were habitable they weren't exactly the pinnacles of luxury that Stark had originally envisioned), a plastic dish of chicken parmesan set for each of them, though neither had taken more than a few bites so far.
"I'm hoping it'll all be a bit clearer when Foster gets in, but I'm taking care of things myself for now. That neurologist he'll be seeing is the best SHIELD has to offer- so he probably sucks but whatever, he'll be all creepy and discreet for us," Tony assured, stabbing at the chicken with his fork until a bite-sized chunk tore away. "And I've got a more magic-savvy team analysing his blood while we speak. The doctors who dealt with Thor didn't notice anything weird with his blood, when they finally managed to get a sample, but Fury's guys figured out there was something supernatural in it. Nobody'll give me details, but they're looking for the same thing in Loki."
"So we'll know one way or another once they're done?"
"Not necessarily. Loki's adopted, remember? They might've just found whatever mojo Odin used to make him human, in which case we'd be all set. But if they find nothing, we won't know if there's something else they should be looking for instead."
Rogers let out a sigh that was much more patient than anything Tony felt like giving, and shook his perfect blond head. "And even then we don't know if the amnesia's a game or not."
"Will it make much of a difference if he is? We get proof that he's Loki, and Fury'll have him in a cage before you can say 'Geneva Convention'."
"I don't think Fury's the one in this situation who needs a lesson on human rights."
"Oh, I think he understands them just fine," Tony admitted, shrugging. "But do you really think he'll actually follow those laws where Loki's involved?"
Rogers' eyebrows seemed to be attempting valiantly to fuse together, as tightly as he had drawn them in with concern. "You have a point. But Loki or not, if he has got amnesia, I don't think I'm the only one who'll protest if Fury shoves him in a cell to be tortured."
"So, what, you wouldn't protest if he did have his memory?"
"Of course I would. But I'd probably be the only one doing it."
"Hm." Tony twirled the accompanying pasta around his chicken, but if Rogers was looking for his personal input, he wasn't going to get it. True, he hated the idea of torture, but… Loki. If anyone deserved it, didn't he? Yes, but the fact remained that he still couldn't be sure anyone did. "Well things are going to get pretty morally muddy when we start talking memory. If he can't remember what he did, is he still to blame for it?"
"That's not an easy question to answer. On one hand, he still would be the one who attacked Manhattan- but if he has no memory of it, he's almost a different person entirely. There's not much point punishing somebody for something they don't remember doing. That's just wanting to see them suffer, they can't repent, or reform."
"Sometimes the suffering is all people want to see." The chicken had grown tepid on the way home, but it tasted good enough, and Tony allowed himself a few moments of chewing before continuing. "He killed a lot of people. Did you get a good look at the casualty list? Newborns, infants, teenagers. There are a lot of parents out there who won't give a damn if he remembers or not- they'd stick him on a crucifix if not for the whole church and state thing."
"That would be sacrilegious anyway, I don't think people would react well to comparing Loki and Christ," Rogers pointed out, perhaps a little gruffly. "And whatever he did, he doesn't remember doing it. He may as well not have done it. But is it really fair for him to have a clean slate?"
"Not a fan of second chances, big guy?"
"This isn't quite the same thing. A second chance is earned- Loki would be given a completely new life without doing anything for it, or even proving he wanted it. That's a reward, not punishment. But if he really is a better person as he is now…" Rogers trailed off with a rather despondent sigh, and took a sip of his own drink (water, and he couldn't even get drunk), as if to give himself time to think. "This would be a lot easier if we could get Thor down here to at least explain if Asgard had a hand in all this."
"Wouldn't that be nice. Guess gods have bigger things to deal with than the people their prince slaughtered."
"I don't think they're strictly gods, Stark."
"What, I threatening those delicate Catholic-boy insecurities? Easy, I'd be very surprised if it turned out they had some all-mighty control over our planet, but they're a few thousand years old and had a culture full of worshippers. 'Alien' doesn't cut it, and I've learned that demi-god just makes people think of Rick Riordan. So, gods for now." Not that Tony thought Christianity, Judaism, or whatever any more likely, but he really hadn't brought Rogers here for a religious debate. "Look, putting all that aside, we don't get Thor. We have to work this all out ourselves… including the right-and-wrong debate."
Rogers, almost surprisingly, merely nodded. "But are we going to be the ones to make that decision? I'd like to think we'll get a say in it, but I have a feeling that isn't going to happen."
"Well, I wanted to talk to you about that, actually," Tony cut in, quickly swallowing the chicken he had busied himself with, and clearing his throat once or twice so the words that followed would have the effect he intended. He leaned forward, and fixed the Captain with his most serious look, hoping the other's opinion of him wouldn't be so bad that he would choose to ignore it. "I want you to stay here."
"What? The tower? SHIELD gave me money for a hotel, I don't need-"
"It's not about your wallet, Winter Wonderland. I asked Bruce as well, and he's fine with moving back in," Tony added hurriedly, seeing despite Rogers' attempts to hide it that he wasn't all too comfortable with the idea of living in the tower with no company other than Tony. (And JARVIS, but the AI was keeping blessedly silent to avoid frightening their houseguest just yet.)
Rogers nodded, in apparent comprehension. "You're gathering the team."
"No." The eyebrows fled apart with remarkable speed, and Tony, despite his busied thoughts, couldn't help but marvelling at their ability to express. They were almost doing a better job of it than Rogers as a whole. "I'm gathering the two of you. Natasha knows what she's doing, but she cares about protocol too much, and her morality is weaker than mine,even if her punches aren't. And Barton… I don't need to explain that. The point is, the two of you are the only ones I can trust, and I want you nearby so that when Fury crosses a line, we'll know, and be close enough to stop him."
And he could have sworn that Rogers was startled, even flattered, by that- and not just his eyebrows. "...All right. You know he's going to be suspicious when he finds out you've made the tower a hostel for wayward superheroes, right?"
"Fury's always suspicious, won't make much of a difference. Now, by next Saturday I'll have everything from Foster and the neurologist, so I want you to come with me to meet Loki. I'd bring Bruce, but I have a feeling the Hulk won't care whether Loki's got amnesia or not, and I'd really rather ease them into a second meeting-"
"Sir? I do hate to interrupt, but Natasha Romanov has attempted at least ten phone calls in the last five minutes, and I am beginning to think it is urgent."
It was a bad, poorly prioritized thing to do, but Tony kept his gaze fixated hopefully on Rogers as JARVIS gave his alert, and felt a sting of disappointment to see the Captain moving no more than to turn his gaze up to the ceiling, where he apparently assumed the cameras and voice were centered. Damn. "I said no calls."
"You say a great many things, sir, and I have been programmed to inform you when they appear to be foolish, no matter how often you ignore me."
Fair enough. "All right, patch her through."
A few moments later, and Tony's kitchen was filled with the dulcet tones of an angry Russian's swearing, coming to a rather abrupt end as she realized the phone had collected. "Stark, I am going to yell at you for this, but right now we don't have the time for that. Where's Captain?"
"Right here with me, enjoying a plate of real Italian food," Tony joked (for nobody's sake but his own), lifting his glass in a mockery of a salute. Rogers didn't even deign that with a roll of his eyes, merely watching him with a slightly tilted eyebrow. (Fucking eyebrows.) "Considering you have just bombarded the ear of my AI, I'm assuming you have big news."
"The both of you need to get to Loki immediately, the rest of us are on the way, but we're still miles out."
Tony's head jerked slightly upward, eyes narrowing in response to the scenarios his mind was already supplying- Loki blowing up a city street, Loki covered in that kid's blood, Loki grabbing for his throat- and heard Rogers' chair scraping back as he, too, tensed up. "What's the situation?"
"Barton's broken out of lock-down, and his bow's gone with him. Get moving, now."