Before actually meeting Jane Foster, Steve had heard enough about her to be pretty intimidated. Sure, he figured Thor was exaggerating when he described her as fierce and magnificent and about fifty other adjectives since he knew Thor loved telling even the most everyday story as though it was worthy of a Wagnerian opera. Plus Thor was pretty firmly in love with her, which Steve certainly knew made a guy grander in his praise. Tony and Bruce, though, tended to be more realistic about people. Steve guessed it either took a lot to impress them or, perhaps, they had too much experience being disappointed. Jane Foster was on the list of about four people Steve had seen Tony and/or Bruce get really excited about.
This was because she was a brilliant astrophysicist, apparently. Steve wasn't entirely clear what that meant in practical terms. Tony had explained, after a fashion, and Bruce had translated for Steve that Dr Foster had studied things called wormholes, which were theoretical ways to travel through space and sometimes time, like short cuts. They were how Thor got to Earth and what the Tesseract opened. Also, she was a storm chaser. Steve didn't think that driving towards tornados instead of away sounded as "incredibly cool" as Tony did. More like "terrifying."
So Steve imagined Dr Foster as similar to the other scientists he knew: passionate about a subject he didn't understand, inclined to bury herself in work, and, putting it charitably, slightly insane.
He didn't get a chance to meet her properly until she'd been at the Tower for about two days. When she wasn't with Thor, she was down in the R&D labs with Tony and Bruce. Presumably they were "fangirling" (word provided by a dryly amused Natasha) or "sciencing" (Steve's pretty sure that Clint made that one up) down there.
When he hadn't seen any of them in over a day, Steve started to wonder if they had somehow melded into one triune scientist-being. There hadn't been any explosions, so he wasn't any more worried than usual about the possibility of the building suddenly collapsing in on itself because someone had ripped a hole in the fabric of reality or something. Really, though, he was more concerned about what they were living on down there. A diet of coffee, whisky, and microwave dinners stopped being good for you after about age 25, according to Pepper. Tony had disagreed at the time, but that was Tony. Steve figured the guy was more than old enough to take care of himself, but he was still a worrying individual.
Just when he was thinking of venturing down into the labs to do a recon, Jane Foster came into the common kitchen. At least, Steve assumed the tiny woman wearing a T-shirt with "SETI" printed over a picture of a scientific instrument he didn't recognize was Dr Foster. Unless Bruce, Clint, or Natasha had a secret girlfriend visiting, there wasn't anyone else it could be.
Before Steve could figure out how to greet her (say hi? Wait for her to introduce herself despite already knowing who she was? Offer her tea?), Dr Foster looked up from the paper she was reading and noticed him staring at her.
"Oh, hi! You must be Captain Rogers. Tony said you might be up here. Actually he said if I ran into someone who looks like a Greek statue dressed in somebody's grandpa's clothes, that would be you. Though, really, you dress much better than my grandpa ever did. Sorry, I'm rambling." After a slight pause, she stuck out her hand for him to shake.
"Dr Foster, I presume." Steve smiled, hoping to make her less nervous. Truth be told, he was almost getting used to this sort of reaction.
"Call me Jane, please. Sorry, I was kind of hooked on your – on the Captain America comic books as a kid. It's kind of like meeting Superman in the flesh."
"Call me Steve, then. Um." This was always the worst part of an introduction. Steve searched for something else to say. "Tony and Bruce have been very excited about your visit… What's that dish thing on your shirt, if I can ask?" He really hoped she wouldn't think it was creepy that he'd been looking at her chest.
Jane looked down as though she had forgotten what she was wearing. "Oh! That's a radio telescope. They pick up radio waves from space, which is how we discovered things like pulsars. SETI stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Darcy got this for me because she thinks it's hilarious."
"Because you're dating an alien?"
"Yeah." Jane grinned like she still couldn't believe it. Steve sympathized; he could hardly believe he was in a situation where that question made sense.
"Um, so, you're an astrophysicist? How does one get to be an astrophysicist? Not to pry."
"That's okay," Jane assured him, sitting down at the kitchen table. "In my case, you study physics as an undergrad, apply to about a million physics grad programs, and pick the best deal you get, which involved research in an astrophysics lab. I loved it so much I knew what I wanted to study for the rest of my life, if I could get away with it."
Steve could hear the same passion in her voice that he heard in Bruce's when he talked about studying radiation and in Tony's when he talked about programming and tech. It was the same way Steve had felt about joining the army and still felt about protecting people who needed his help. If he'd had any doubts about Jane fitting in with the group while she was visiting, they were certainly gone now.
"I was thinking about making some coffee. Want any?" He offered.
Steve pulled out the coffee maker they'd gotten when it became apparent that the only people who knew how to use the other, incredibly complicated coffee maker were Pepper and JARVIS.
"Ok, I've got to ask because you basically traveled in time and I know it wasn't fun but: what do you think about all the advances in astronomic knowledge and space exploration? It's got to be a completely different world."
"I don't know much of anything about … any of that. I've heard there's some sort of probe they sent to Mars recently because it was in the news, but other than that…" Steve confessed.
"Wait, wait, hang on, what has SHIELD even been teaching you? Gemini? Apollo?"
Steve shrugged. "Most of the information they've given me has been on the last 70 years of warfare and my teammates. I guess they thought I could learn the rest later."
Jane looked like she was only barely resisting pulling out her own hair. "Okay, I know I'm biased, but this stuff is important!"
"Well, what am I missing? Are there people living on Venus now or what?"
"God, Steve, I've read science fiction written in the 40s when people still believed you could live on Venus! You are going to have to wiki this shit; there's no way I can explain it all, but I will attempt the basics."
The coffee machine beeped, interrupting her rant. Steve got them both a mug, then sat down across from her. The coffee seemed to calm her somewhat.
"Okay, in the 40s people started being able to send rockets and missiles into space. This was mostly the US and USSR—and I have no idea how they can teach you about the Cold War without mentioning the Space Race—and then in the 50s animals were sent into space. In 1961 Yuri Gagarin was the first person in space."
Steve listened in fascination. People had been in space? He'd thought at first that he'd been short-changed by a future without rocket boots and food capsules and all that other stuff from short stories, but maybe he had been wrong.
Jane told him a bit about the Gemini and early Apollo missions and the Mariner planetary flybys, then paused.
"This is all really great, Jane. It's a little more like what I expected from the future, honestly."
Jane grinned. "Well, hon, you are going to love Apollo 11. 1969. Not only did we land on the moon, but we walked on the actual surface. Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon."
"Wow." Steve had the feeling that the expression on his face looked pretty stupid. Man had been on the moon? Okay, so it wasn't colonies on Venus, but people had literally stood on the surface of that little white circle in the sky. He was definitely going to "wiki this shit" once he figured out what that meant.
Jane was laughing delightedly at his surprise. "I know, right?"
This was the moment when Tony walked into the kitchen. Because of course it was. "Holy crap, Foster, did you break Cap?"
"I'm teaching him about modern astronomy—apparently SHIELD didn't think he needed to know about the moon landings."
"There's coffee," said Steve because he might be having what Clint would term a "geek-out," but he wasn't going to lose his manners.
"That's why I'm here, old man. So they didn't tell you jack? Hmm, let me think, what about Pluto, did you get to Pluto yet? Pluto's fun."
"Seriously, Tony, if I'm an "old man" what does that make you?" Also, no."
Tony grimaced into his coffee. "Yeah, I try not to think about that too much. They found ice worms on Pluto."
"They did not," Jane interrupted, rolling her eyes. "It's just not a planet anymore."
"Aw, why?" Steve protested. "I remember when they found Pluto!"
"Because of stupid reasons," said Tony.
"No," said Jane, "because of legitimate reasons, such as its size, its relationship with Charon, and the elliptical nature of its orbit."
"Reasons a lot of astronomers don't even agree with, Foster."
Steve got up and went to rinse his empty mug in the sink. "Thanks for the science lesson, Jane. I've definitely got a lot to look up with Google."
He grinned back at them as he headed out the door. "I mean, if we landed on the moon by 1969, I can't imagine what we've accomplished by 2012!"
Tony and Jane stood looking after him, coffee mugs in hand.
"Poor kid, he's probably expecting men on Mars and 2001; he's going to be so disappointed."
"Hell, I'm disappointed! We're had, what, your entire life and we've never landed a person on another planet."
Tony made a face at her, then brightened. "Speaking of me, I'm brilliant. And you, I've read your papers, you're brilliant too. And our buddy Bruce downstairs…"
Jane grinned slowly. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
He grinned back. "If not I would be severely disappointed in our power as Science Bros."
As one they put down their mugs and ran back towards the elevator.
"Bruce! Bruce, we're going to make and send a rocket to Mars!"
"And Steve Rogers!"
"Mostly science, though."