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History Lessons, Part Two

Fic: History Lessons, Part Two

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four

"So what're you guys watching for your date tonight?" Clint asked as Steve toweled off the sweat from his workout. He'd come to the kitchen to get a water bottle, only to find it full of people.

"Date?" Col. Rhodes asked. He'd been visiting Tony for the past week, drastically cutting into the time Tony dragged Steve out to get caught up on television. They'd been branching out from Doctor Who to The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and other movies on off weeks, but with Col. Rhodes... Well, Steve hadn't seen much of Tony at all this week, and he absolutely was not sulking about that when Tony had dropped by to promise to make time tonight.

"It's not a date," Steve said, rolling his eyes. Though he probably should change into something a bit more suitable before he dragged Tony from the workshop.

Col. Rhodes whistled. "That's one lucky girl. So what kind of movies does Captain America watch on a 'not date'?"

"I'm just watching movies with Tony, so it's not really a date," Steve said. Col. Rhodes's eyebrows shot up, but he should know better. Tony and Pepper's relationship was too complicated, and Steve refused to upset that delicate balance. "Tony's been getting me caught up on pop-culture that I've missed."

"He has?" Col. Rhodes said, a calculating expression on his face. "Tony's been keeping secrets from me."

"So what are you watching tonight?" Natasha asked. She'd been joining them occasionally for Doctor Who, and Steve really enjoyed her added commentary.

"I think Tony said something like South Pacific?" Steve said apologetically. Natasha just nodded impassively, but she went straight for the chocolate chip cookies to cover for her disappointment.

"You're watching musicals?" Clint asked, as Col. Rhodes went still. "Sorry, Cap. There's no way around that. It's a date. No one watches musicals for fun, especially not two guys."

"Actually, Steve's getting caught up on the Civil Rights movement, and South Pacific goes into inter-racial marriages, and sure, it's a bit too pat and trope-y, but it seems like the sort of thing Cap likes," Howar-damn it. Tony said as he walked in. There was a smear of oil on his cheek and left shoulder, and his hands were a mess, a look Steve had seen Howard pull off frequently. He moved to the sink, washing what he could of the grime off before tossing Steve a smirk. "We should see if we can get in Sound of Music tonight too. You'll like that one. It's set in your time period, grandpa."

"You're watching musicals, Tony," Clint said. "I'm revoking your man card."

Clint received a sharp whack to the head from Natasha for his efforts. "Don't be sexist, or I'll tell Phil you've never watched CATS, and you know how much he likes Webber," she chided as he scowled at her.

"Coulson is an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan?" Tony asked, slightly taken aback.

"Hey, Tony," Col. Rhodes said casually. "Wasn't South Pacific one of your mother's favorites?"

The reaction lasted only a split second. Steve wasn't sure he'd seen the change at all, but Tony quickly covered up whatever emotion it had been. "Yup. Pretty sure I still know the words to all the songs and would really rather shoot myself than get them in my head again, but hey. It's a patriotic sacrifice we all have to make sometime to better educate America."

Tony's quips, while still grating, were only meant in jest now. Or so Steve told himself when he felt his hackles raise.

"I'll come and watch too, if you don't mind. Rodgers and Hammerstein were pretty manly men." The fact that Col. Rhodes included Steve in this question only made Steve feel slightly less possessive of his Tony time. Col. Rhodes had had Tony all week, after all, and now it was Steve's turn.

It wasn't him that protested though. Tony's eyes narrowed before Steve could speak, crossing his arms. "No."

"No?" Steve asked, not sure how to take that.

"I know what trick you're trying to pull, and it won't work, honey bear. Not even for you," Tony said. Steve looked at Clint and Natasha, but they looked just as baffled. Col. Rhodes looked suspiciously innocent.

"And what trick would that be, Tony?" Col. Rhodes asked, leaning back casually.

"We'll get through about twenty minutes, then you'll start moaning about how the main character's ass doesn't come close to Rosario Dawson's. Which, except for a few select cases, will probably be true because it is indeed a very fine ass, but we are watching South Pacific and Sound of Music for education. You can find someone else to watch Sin City with you for the 500th time. Just because she spent the night on my arm-"

"Yeah, sure, brag all you want, Tony. She was using you to get to me."

"-doesn't mean you have to torture me with your obsession."

By this point, Col. Rhodes was grinning broadly as Tony gestured wildly with his hands. "Rent is educational and still a musical. It'll help Captain Rogers understand the 90s," Col. Rhodes said slyly.

"I did not hear you say that," Tony said as Col. Rhodes laughed. Even Natasha was looking amused by the banter, though Steve still felt like he was in over his head. "No. I am putting my foot down. No amount of sake will change my mind, sugar pie. You can't come. We are kicking you out of the super-secret club if you sully our patriotic endeavor."

"We don't have a super-secret club, Tony," Steve said, resigned to losing all thread of this conversation. And no, he wasn't sulking over that. Much.

"Sure we do," Tony replied, grinning at Steve with the same smile Howard used to throw at him. It was impossible not to smile back, no matter how much Steve was (not) sulking. "It's so awesome, it cannot be named. It's the Eldritch Gods of secret clubs."

Before Steve could gloat in the fact that he knew that reference, Bruce walked in, distractedly nibbling on his pen as he refilled his coffee. He ruffled Tony's hair as he walked by, a gesture Steve had since discovered was retaliation against Tony's poking. "What have we talked about summoning unspeakable horrors while in the lab, Tony?" Bruce said absently. "I am not saving you if you accidentally wake up Cthulhu. I will, however, lock you away if it drives you insane."

"That's why I love you best, Cookie," Tony said, batting his eyes up at Bruce.

Clint laughed from his spot at the kitchen counter. "Why does it surprise me that this is a serious conversation for you two? I should know better."

"I'm totally feeding it you last, Barton," Tony said. "Steve's first. Everyone else will just have to suffer under my insane rule."

Through all the banter, Col. Rhodes watched Tony without looking like he was doing so, and Steve had a sinking feeling that Rhodes was joining them no matter what. And it worried him just a little, because he couldn't help but think something was off with Tony.

* * *

He was right. By the time Steve changed clothes and went up to the den, Col. Rhodes was already on the couch, arms stretched over the back. Tony rolled his eyes and took a seat beside him, leaving Steve to the armchair.

Steve would like to say he didn't resent that, but he knew when to give up and just be honest with himself. It didn't make him feel any less ridiculous to admit he felt threatened by Col. Rhodes stealing away the one person who made it a point to keep Steve from being lonely.

At least South Pacific was good. He liked the songs, and he checked the Internet on his (now fixed) tablet to find that it had been released a few years after the war. He wondered if Peggy had gone to see it. She'd always liked music...

He glanced over at Col. Rhodes and Tony as one of the actresses sang about Bali Ha'i, surprised to see Tony curled up to Col. Rhodes's side. Tony's eyes were glued to the screen with a frighteningly blank expression.

Steve was halfway to his feet when Col. Rhodes caught his eye and shook his head. He was rubbing small circles into Tony's shoulder, casually taking care of Tony and giving comfort without looking like he was doing so. It was then Steve understood: if he drew attention to things now, Tony would be back on the other side of the couch in an instant without the comfort of a friend.

He forced himself to relax, and Col. Rhodes offered him an approving smile before returning his (in)attention back to Tony. Steve felt... jealous. That was the best word for it, really, though he couldn't tell if he was jealous of Rhodes for comforting Tony, or of Tony for having someone who knows him well enough to give him exactly what he needed.

Steve missed Bucky desperately.

* * *

Though Col. Rhodes had stayed quiet during South Pacific, he did start tossing out comments twenty minutes into Sound of Music about how fantastic Ms. Dawson's behind was. Steve resented the interruptions and told him so, since Ms. Andrews was really fantastic herself (Steve made no mention of her behind, but his eyes may have lingered around other curves). It took a few tries, but soon Tony was throwing quips back and teasing Steve for his developing crush on Julie Andrews. He also promised to watch Thoroughly Modern Millie at some later date, which Steve assumed also featured Maria's actress. Steve was finally able to relax, somehow feeling less isolated despite still being set apart on the armchair.

Steve wasn't surprised in the slightest when Col. Rhodes brought out the alcohol and suggested they watch Rent.

"Come on, Cap," Rhodes said, turning to plead to Steve in the face of Tony's stubbornness. "I know what the history books say about your life before the serum. If you'd been born a few decades later, Rent would have been the story of your life. Poor artists starving in New York City. Help me out here!"

Between Rhodes's taunts and the alcohol, Rent won out in the end.

It was... interesting probably wasn't a strong enough word. Disconcerting was closer. Enjoyable, but at the same time-

"I'm surprised this isn't shocking you, Cap," Col. Rhodes slurred as Steve smiled at the couple on screen singing about a thousand sweet kisses. "I mean, cross-dressers and strippers, but you're not even batting an eye."

"New York really hasn't changed that much from the 40s," Steve said with a shrug, which was what ended up bothering him the most. It felt so familiar, while being so glaringly different at the same time. "Are starving artists always like that?"

"See? Told ya Steve wouldn't fall for your ploys," Tony declared smugly, attempting to poke Col. Rhodes only to miss by a half inch. "He sees a heart of stars and stripes in everyone, even strippers."

"To strippers with hearts of stars and stripes and fantastic asses!" Rhodes said, raising his glass.

Steve really couldn't help the chuckle as all three of them drank to Ms. Dawson's admittedly lovely form.

It was well past midnight when both Tony and Col. Rhodes were laid low by the booze and the movie ended. Steve considered the amount of effort it would take to move them to their rooms, versus just leaving them as they were, lying on top of each other in slightly compromising positions on the couch. Then he remembered Natasha's gift in commiseration for his inability to get drunk.

A quick trip down to his floor later, Steve set about putting the multicolored sharpie set to good use. He topped it all off with a sign saying "The only thing to do is jump over the moon" like in the song, and he attached a paper cow tail to Tony's sweats. With JARVIS to refresh his memory on how to use the camera phone, Steve was soon sending pictures to Clint of his handiwork, whom he knew would pass it around.

Steve went to bed feeling much better about himself, even if it was a little petty.

He woke several hours later to see a text from Bruce. 'You're either very brave, or very foolish. He's a higher rank than you.'

'There's a reason why you never go drinking with lower ranking officers who hold their liquor better,' Steve texted back smugly, viewing the picture of the stars and stripes he'd drawn on Col. Rhodes again.

* * *

Col. Rhodes was flying out tomorrow, and Steve was humming "My Favorite Things" as he drew seven Lovecraftian horrors singing in outfits made from curtains. He was looking forward to things going back to normal.

"That's freaky," Col. Rhodes said over his shoulder, staring at the Cthulhu in a nun's habit.

"Thank you, Sir," Steve said, shading in the tentacles. "I think Tony's being held hostage in his office until he finishes some paperwork for Pepper, if you're looking for him."

"I was looking for you, actually." Col. Rhodes took a seat next to Steve. "Also, you're one of us now, so you might as well call me Rhodey."

Rhodey. That... actually sounded nice. Steve looked up from the drawing curiously. "One of us?"

"Those who brave the unspeakable, unnameable terrors of Tony Stark," Rhodey said with a brief smile, before sobering. "I wanted to give you some advice, if you'll take it."

Steve nodded, putting his drawing supplies away. He smiled a little shyly, despite the fact he'd seen Rhodey dead drunk not two nights before looking more spangled than Steve did in uniform. "I won't say no."

Rhodey stared at Steve for a moment before starting, shaking his head. "I'll tell you flat out. Being Tony's friend is exhausting and stressful. You'll want to strangle him for 90% of the time when he's being an ass, he won't change or get better, and he'll pull shit like that stunt the other night just to prove that he can face something by himself, and then he'll leave you to pick up the broken pieces when that fails. Not that he'll ever thank you for it," Rhodey said as easily as if they were discussing the weather.

It was the tone that set Steve off and made him furious. One of Tony's friends shouldn't talk about him like that! "Tony's not-"

"Easy, soldier," Rhodey said, holding up his hands in surrender. "I'm not saying anything you don't already know. And trust me, there will be times he'll manipulate you into giving up on him. I'll admit, I've let him dupe me in the past. It was a hard lesson to learn."

Steve pushed the anger away when he saw the guilt in Rhodey's eyes, suddenly getting the real reason he was saying this. "Why would he?" Steve asked quietly.

"Because he's an idiot." Rhodey shrugged. "Because he occasionally comes to the dumb conclusion that we're better off without him, and he's too much of an emotionally stunted S.O.B. to do it right. You'll lose years of your life looking after him, man. I wasn't lying when I said it's exhausting."

"Then why put up with it?" Steve asked.

"I should be asking you that," Rhodey said. "You're the one who's put up with two generations of Stark bullshit. Why keep coming back for more?"

Because he never had much choice when it came to the Starks. But Steve didn't say that, thinking instead about why he'd still been friends with Howard despite the flirting, explosions, worry, and difficulty. "Howard was a good man," Steve said finally, noting the spark of anger in Rhodey's eyes when he spoke. "He was when I knew him," he qualified, needing Rhodey to understand. "He would have done anything when one of us needed to be cheered up, and he risked his own life to keep us safe in his own way. He worked for hours on end for new weapons and armor to keep the Howling Commandos and the rest of our boys out there safe. He was worth putting up with all the bad things, because he was a good man."

"Not when I knew him," Rhodey growled.

Steve winced, caught between defending Howard and screaming in frustration at the whole situation. Rhodey sighed, rubbing his temples. "Sorry. I know he was a friend of yours, but I've known Tony too long to think very kindly of Howard Stark."

Nodding, Steve batted down his own anger and forced himself to think on the second generation. "Tony... I haven't known him that long yet, but he's the same, isn't he?"

"To what you described? Yeah, but with a basket case of other issues to go along with it." Steve heard the unspoken 'because of Howard' that Rhodey bit back. "But there's no one else I'd rather have at my back. He's ten times the man Howard was."

That was a low blow, though Rhodey hadn't known it. Steve closed his eyes, reminding himself to breathe as equal parts of guilt and anger froze his lungs.

Rhodey seemed to realize he'd hit too low, even if he was mistaken on the reason. "Sorry, that was uncalled for. I really didn't come here to hash it out with you over Howard."

"It's not like I can't see your side," Steve said, summoning a weak smile.

"Well, there's a way to make me feel guilty for not trying the same." Rhodey sighed, then shook it off. "Anyway, I wanted to make sure you knew some of the tricks to handling Tony when he goes on a bender. You saw what I did the other night?"

Steve pushed Howard to the back of his mind, searching for a way to lighten the conversation. "Yeah, that sake sure was something else."

"So were your drawing skills," Rhodey said dryly. Steve gave him his best 'I'm Captain America, who saves kittens from trees and wouldn't harm a fly so long as it wasn't a Super Villain' look. "Jesus, man, no wonder you've got them all fooled." Rhodey's chuckle broke the last of the tension between them, and Steve didn't have to try so hard to smile this time.

"Look," Rhodey said, leaning forward. "Tony's not easy to deal with on good days, but on days like that? You've got to let him come to you. Anything more and he'll end up pushing you away."

It was pretty sound advice. Sometimes dealing with Tony was like wandering around land mines, so Steve filed that knowledge away for later. "I'll keep it in mind."

"One last thing. Tony... He's sometimes too much for any one person to deal with on their own. Pep and I learned that the hard way." Rhodey winced, and Steve could only wonder at what Rhodey was thinking of. "If you ever just... need a break from him, or help dealing with him, give one of us a call. Or the other Avengers, if we're both out of touch. Happy'll probably even listen, if you need it. Just don't feel like you have to go at Tony by yourself."

It was more than just an offer to help with Tony. There was more to the offer than that. It was in Rhodey's words when he'd sat down across the table from Steve. 'You're one of us now.' And it was just a little terrifying, because Steve felt like it was betraying his old friends, even if he knew that was ridiculous.

"Thank you," Steve said, gripping his notebook painfully tight.

"Also, next time I come back? It's your turn to end up drunk, buddy. I've already got Bruce working on something and we'll see who's laughing the next morning then. This is War."

Steve laughed, letting go of the fear for now. He was laughing a lot more these days, and it felt good.

* * *

"This show's pretty swell."

"Cap. Steve. You're killing me here. No. For the love of electronics, no. Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles is not 'swell'. It's awesome. It's radical, dude. It's even tubular, but I'm never repeating that word outside of the 90s again. Come on, Cap. You gotta do it right."

"This show's pretty awesome?"

Tony sighed, patting him on the back. "We'll work on it."

* * *

"I don't understand how people can protest the fact that soldiers are keeping them safe," Steve practically yelled, only resisting throwing the tablet at the wall because of Tony's raised eyebrows.

"Did anyone ever think to just enroll you at NYU and stick you in a couple of history lessons?" Tony asked, not waiting for Steve to answer. "Cause that would make sense. Seriously, you could have even had some art classes too. You'd have a real history teacher who could explain these things without giving you the government propaganda with it. Who'd have thought an organization of spies would be so crappy at giving you the whole picture?"

It was a strange thing, but Tony's sarcasm diffused Steve completely. He offered a sheepish smile, releasing his death grip on the tablet, really looking at Tony. He was smiling, but not... Not the smile Steve usually saw. Steve didn't know if this was because of the subject matter or because Tony had locked himself in the lab for a full day after Pepper had spoken with him. He decided to play it safe and stick with the current conversation. "I don't think there's any sort of context that will make that understandable," Steve said.

"If we're talking about the Westboro Baptist Church, I'd grant you that, but I have the feeling we're talking 'Nam. Give me that." Tony plucked the tablet out of his hands without so much as a by-your-leave. Not that he would have taken it if Steve had offered anyway, since Tony was finicky about being handed things. By this point, Steve just let it slide. Tony was... well, Tony. It wasn't malicious or intentionally rude, and Steve was learning that if he picked his battles wisely, Tony even tried to be a little more polite. Pepper had smiled and patted his hand when he'd told her that.

He waved at Thor as Tony scanned the text with a peculiar expression on his face. "What troubles you, shield brother?" Thor asked, taking a seat across the table. He always looked far too large for the chairs, no matter how big Tony made them.

"This," Tony said with disgust, "is ridiculous. Jesus. No wonder you're frustrated. I slept through history classes, and I could write something better than this. It's not giving you reasons for anything, just expecting you to know the mindset while feeding you the whitewashed propaganda."

"Ah, those are the Captain's history assignments, are they not?" Thor said with an amused spark in his eyes. "I have heard much of your troubles on this."

Steve smiled back, ignoring the pain this continued discussion of 'history' was giving him. It wasn't really history to him. It should have been his future.

"The problem is they give you no perspective on this. I mean, we could always watch some Vietnam movies... Though you'd probably only like Miss Saigon, and I've had my fill of musicals for at least three months." Tony paused thoughtfully, then smiled. "You said you can't think of any reason?"

"I really can't," Steve said, not that he'd exactly tried. He'd felt like punching someone, anyone, just like all those times before the serum when he'd gotten into fights. Those two boys at the movie theater the night Bucky shipped off...

"Right. Let's go at this from another angle. What do you know about the Battle of Thermopylae?" Tony asked, a hidden gleam indicating mischief that Steve occasionally regretted. No more than Bucky put him through though, and that was getting easier to remember.

"It was a battle in the Persian War, wasn't it?" Steve said, thinking back to what he'd learned in school. "In Greece? A small pass defended by a few men is defensible against a force of superior numbers. Except unlike at the Battle of Marathon, the other army found an alternative route around."

"That is indeed a very wise strategy," Thor said thoughtfully. "'Tis a pity it was foiled."

"Figures you'd know the strategy, but nothing else," Tony said, shaking his head. "The Greeks were fighting off the Persian invasion. Again. As Steve said, ten years before in 490 B.C., the Athenians fought the Persians off at the Battle of Marathon using that tactic and won. In 480 B.C., they hoped for another victory using the same strategy in combination with a naval battle."

Tony spoke with his hands, and Steve was enjoying the fusion of grace and explosive energy with which Tony moved. He remembered wanting to draw Howard like that, but he'd never gotten the chance. Perhaps he should try with Tony instead. "Due to a traitor who showed the Persians a secret pass around the mountain," Tony continued, "the leader of the troops sent the majority of their fighting force away and then remained behind himself with a small group of soldiers to delay the army as much as possible. The Greeks eventually fell at Thermopylae, but the ships were given time to retreat to the Straight of Salamis where they won a decisive battle against the larger, but slower, ships."

"You are very knowledgeable about such battles, my friend," Thor said, and it wasn't hard to hear the approval.

Tony shrugged, waving it off like it was nothing, though Steve was personally impressed as well. "I helped Rhodey with his military history homework. It was better than staying in an empty apartment, and Howard didn't have to be bothered with me if I stayed out of trouble."

Tony's eyes flickered to Steve, but then he was off again, clapping his hands together with a manic energy that was a touch too explosive. It was South Pacific all over again on a smaller scale, and Steve wished that Tony didn't feel the need to prove himself like that. Or at least stop baiting Steve while doing it. Don't show you're angry, Rogers...

"Right," Tony said, talking over Steve's thoughts. "Great military loss, but the Greeks still won the war. Remember the Alamo, and all that. Let's watch the movies."

"Tony," Steve said, but no matter how much he tried, a small bit of affection slipped in on his attempt to be stern. "I've got to get this report done."

"Humor me," Tony said, a brief smile flickering across his face before he turned to Thor. "You wanna come too, big guy? Epic battles, brave warriors, yada yada. Right up your alley."

To Steve's surprise, Thor looked hesitant. "I wouldn't want to intrude on your courtship."

Steve blinked. Tony laughed. "You need to stop taking Clint's word on these things. Sorry, Blondie, but we're not actually dating, so no worries. Phil even joined us a few days ago for CATS and Phantom. Look, I'll meet you guys up in the den in fifteen. I've got something I want to put together first."

With that, Tony left the room with a whirlwind of movement. Thor looked after him with a fond expression on his face. He was one of the few people who could look at Tony like that and not have it tempered with exasperation. "The Man of Iron appears to be planning something," Thor said. "I recognize that look from my brother."

"I just hope it won't end in another explosion," Steve replied, moving to get the popcorn kettle. If Thor was joining them, they'd need twice as much.

"Are you sure it is right for me to join you, Captain?" Thor asked, getting the butter out of the refrigerator for Steve. "I have heard of your reaction when Col. Rhodes expressed his wish to join you..."

Next time, Steve decided, if he was going to sulk, he needed to do so out of sight. "No, it's fine, really. I was just... I guess I didn't realize how much time I was spending with Tony until Rhodey came. I wasn't sure what to do when Tony was hanging out with someone else." Which sounded a lot more pathetic than Steve had realized.

"Ah, now I understand." Thor placed a hand on Steve's shoulder, squeezing it gently. Thor's kindness radiated off of him, like a blanket of warmth that could shield a friend from any cold. "You should have said something, Captain! You would have been most welcome to join me and our good doctor on our trips into the city. I'm sure your presence would have a soothing effect on him."

Steve hadn't even thought to ask. He knew Thor and Bruce went out to explore the city, looking for tea shops and ethnic restaurants they would then drag the rest of the team to after long days. Tony had practically pushed them out of the tower the first time, demanding they find him a good Greek restaurant in New York. Bruce only felt safe going with someone who could stop 'the other guy' if necessary, and Thor had been eager to explore more of 'Midgard'.

He could have gone with them, he supposed. It never occurred to him that he didn't have to be alone that week. "I... Thanks, Thor. Next time I'll do that."

"You would do well to remember your friends, Captain," Thor said, not unkindly. "You are no longer alone in this strange world any more than I, and none of us wish you to feel lonely."

Steve looked down at the kettle, his throat constricting painfully as he let himself lean into Thor's hand on his shoulder. Then he laughed, rough around the edges in a way that Steve didn't stop to think about. It still felt like betrayal to Bucky and the others, so he needed to deflect. "Must be pretty stupid, not to remember that, huh?"

"I find humans' inefficient memories to be refreshing sometimes," Thor said, his laugh far more hearty. "Come. Let us make this fine Midgardian snack and await our shield brother."

Steve took a deep breath and nodded, pouring the un-popped kernels into the pan. It was a concession Tony had made when Steve proved how much better popcorn tasted when it wasn't microwaved. The thought of Tony's stubbornness at the time made Steve feel better. Warmer.


"Yes, my friend?"

"Thank you."

* * *

Tony took twenty minutes, not fifteen, to come up to the den, but with Thor there, Steve didn't mind the wait. They'd been looking up the Battle of Marathon on Steve's tablet, since looking up Thermopylae would have had spoilers, and Thor had a very strict taboo on those. "These Athenians are very wise warriors," Thor remarked, impressed by the valor of a scholarly city-state.

"Tell that to the Spartans," Tony said, leaning against the doorframe. "Athens did lose the Peloponnesian War to them."

Steve looked up to see a smile on Tony's face. He supposed they must have been a sight, two large men on the couch, huddled over a small tablet. "We brought popcorn as an offering to the great Hollywood," Steve said, repeating Thor's earlier phrasing and gesturing to the bowl on the table that they'd clean forgotten in favor of Wikipedia. It meant there was still popcorn left for Tony.

"Awesome," Tony said, walking in and pushing Steve over until he could plop down between them on the couch. "Next time, you can ask JARVIS to put your research up on the big screen, by the way. Also, send a picture to Pep, JARVIS. I'm a Tony-sandwich between two gorgeous blonds. She will drool."

"As you wish, Sir," JARVIS replied as Steve chuckled. "I'm sure Ms. Potts will be most thrilled by this development."

Tony just hogged the popcorn bowl in response, but it was the only way he'd actually be able to eat any before Steve and Thor demolished it, so Steve didn't mind too much. "Okay, first movie!" Tony said as the lights dimmed automatically. "300, made in 2007, directed by Zack Snyder. Pay attention, there will be a quiz. Not that it's hard to pay attention to the sausage fest in this one."

The movie was... interesting. Stylistically, Steve was intrigued by the use of colors and shadows. "It's based off a comic book," Tony told him, and Steve could see the influence. It was a little too bloody for his personal tastes though. He saw enough violence in his day job.

"Why do these Warriors not join in the fight?" Thor asked, anger coursing through his voice. "There is a war, and they are able. Surely their gods would forgive a missed festival?"

"It's politics, big guy," Tony explained, patting Thor on the shoulder.

"They are foolish and cowardly," Thor spat out.

Steve thought back to the years before America entered the War. He might have disagreed with staying out, but he'd had the other point of view pounded into him a few times, occasionally literally. A few of the reasons were even good ones, though Steve still argued against them. As if he knew what Steve was thinking, Tony winked at him, and Steve realized that was possibly part of the 'lesson' Tony had planned.

"That was indeed a movie worthy of such valor these warriors showed," Thor boomed as the credits rolled.

"I don't think the real Spartans would have agreed," Tony said with a smirk.

"I do not understand you, friend Tony," Thor said. "Would they not feel honor at how their warriors were portrayed?"

"Well, I just don't think they'd be all that thrilled with a few of the themes," Tony said. "They make a big deal about fighting for freedom, when Sparta had the biggest slave population out of all the city-states. I'm pretty sure the love story would have thrown them for a loop too. Sure, Spartans didn't like the Persians, but I don't think they were overly concerned with fighting for freedom."

"So what you're saying is that the Greeks wouldn't have understood where the writers were coming from?" Steve asked.

"Good job, Cap. You get a sticker," Tony said, and Steve felt a little foolish for taking so long to get Tony's point. But the other man was smiling, telling JARVIS to start up the next film. "This next one is over the same event and is slightly more historically accurate. Which isn't saying much, considering the liberties 300 took with the source material. 300 Spartans was directed by Rudolph Maté, and made in 1962. Let 'er roll, JARVIS."

This movie was much more Steve's pace. It was interesting, not overly graphic in the gore department, and Steve really admired the strategy Leonidas employed over the course of the movie. Sure, it wasn't as flashy as the first movie as Thor pointed out a few times, but Steve enjoyed it a lot more.

"This narration is strange," Thor said, frowning as the narrator continued to talk. Steve frowned. He liked the narration. "The Spartans were a monarchy, and Leonidas is their King. Why would they be fighting for democracy as this speaker is saying?"

Oh. That was a point.

"Bingo," Tony said with a snap of his fingers. "Well, not quite bingo. Sparta was technically an oligarchy. But the point is they wouldn't. Except, this movie was made smack dab in the middle of the Red Scare, with Communism creeping towards America. It had to be stopped at all costs, according to politics at the time. So even the Greeks had to be fighting for Democracy, 'cause that's how the cool cats rolled."

Once the movie was over, Tony leaped on his point. "Two different movies, over the same events, with vastly different takes on them," Tony summarized. "We see history different from the way the people living it did, even from how the three of us see it due to how we were brought up. The context is different for all of us, and for the time period. So, context. Steve, how much did the papers get back home about the war efforts?"

Thrown off by the non sequitur, Steve had to take a minute to collect his thoughts. "Not a lot. And what they did say, it wasn't always strictly true."

"So did the average Joe in New York have any access to battlegrounds? Any pictures of the fights?" Tony asked.

"Not really," Steve replied. "It... People shouldn't have to see that."

"JARVIS, put up the powerpoint I made earlier," Tony said.

Steve's breath caught as the black and white image of a man about to be shot by a soldier flashed up on the screen. God have mercy, his face... Steve had to close his eyes for a moment and swallow the bile in his throat. He'd seen that expression before, but it never got easier. He could hear Thor growling softly, and Steve could feel the couch shift as he tensed.

"That," Tony said, his voice grim as Steve opened his eyes again, "is one of the most famous pictures to come out of the Vietnam War. Followed by this one." The picture shifted to show a monk calmly sitting in the middle of a sidewalk while burning to death. Steve had to look away. "He was protesting the government that the US was supporting."

Tony clicked through more slides as he spoke, each one showing a picture or a news article. "Napalm, the symbol of the war, and the public got to see all of its nasty side effects. This was the first time the public saw that war wasn't the glorious thing all the movies and books made it out to be. They saw death. They read about military abuse and their government condoning unspeakable things to people they could see and empathize with. So they protested."

That... was a pretty damn strong reason, no matter how sick it made Steve feel. None of that had been in his reading. "I don't agree with how they treated veterans," Tony said quietly, "And whether or not the US should have kept their nose out of things is a loaded question I'm not even going to try to answer. You fought in a war, Steve. You know how complicated orders can be. But protesting was the only thing a lot of them could do to let the government know they were horrified by what they were seeing."

The screen went blank and Steve wrestled to be able to think properly again. He hadn't wanted to see it from their point of view, and now... Now he didn't know what he wanted.

"I used to think that war was a glorious thing," Thor said softly, with a haunted expression. "Perhaps I should have visited Midgard earlier, and seen the truth with my own eyes."

"Hindsight's 20/20." Tony leaned against Thor's shoulder as he spoke, giving comfort where he could. Now that Steve was looking at him, he could see the tension in Tony's shoulders as well. Was that the reason Tony put himself between Thor and Steve? Despite how level Tony had kept his voice during the explanation, now that Steve knew where to look, he could see how tired Tony was. "Damn, that was a downer to end on. Sorry. Didn't think that one through very well," Tony said.

"How 'bout another movie?" Steve suggested, his voice a lot shakier than he liked. Rhodey's tactics of 'do not mention the problem then provide a distraction' worked last time. Steve could go for some of that himself right now.

Tony thought a moment, absently bringing up a hand to squeeze Steve's shoulder. The selfless comfort -even when Tony himself was upset- still surprised Steve, despite knowing that he was far from selfish as Steve had originally thought when they'd first met. "Nothing Greek or with wars. I think it's time to introduce both of you to Mel Brooks. JARVIS, start up Silent Movie. Grandpa'll get a kick out of that.

Despite the jab at his age, Steve really did enjoy that movie. And if he laughed a little too hard, so did Tony, so neither of them mentioned it.

* * *

Steve stared at the door to Dr. Doom's lair that was so stereotypical that none of them actually believed the pictures until they saw it themselves. Thor and Tony were still skeptical since they were off running air support. Clint and Natasha flanked him, and Steve looked back to Natasha, then to the door again. "What knockers," he said, just as innocent as the day he was born.

Bruce was laughing so hard that he nearly doubled over, and Clint's jaw was on the floor. "You're lucky I like you, solnyshko," Natasha said as she pushed the door open and tranquilized the guards with deadly efficiency.

* * *

Steve had seen enough Doctor Who now to really wonder about some of Tony's favorites. They had just spent half an hour arguing about Nyssa and Tegan after watching Mawdryn Undead, and Steve was still no closer to understanding why Tony liked Tegan. The real puzzle though... "I never would have thought the Third Doctor would be your favorite," Steve said, coming to the real reason he'd been considering it while watching the Fifth Doctor. "Or the Brigadier."

"I've always liked UNIT," Tony said. "Besides, who doesn't love those smoking jackets Three wears? He's dashing. Dashing's a good word for him. Everyone loves dashing."

"It's just, you're always complaining about how unscientific the Third Doctor is, and I never really expected you to like the military side of things," Steve said, working his way through the puzzle and coming up blank.

He got an honestly baffled expression in return. "I mean," Steve hastened to clarify, "I know you're friends with Rhodey, but you've always scoffed at Director Fury and everyone knows how many issues you have with SHIELD."

"One, UNIT is way more awesome than SHIELD, no lie. As far as super-secret government programs go, the Brig tops all, end of story. Torchwood can't even touch him." Steve smiled at Tony's half-insulted expression that SHIELD and UNIT were even comparable. Tony grew more serious with his next point. "Two, I'm a patriot, Steve. I might not always act like it, but I've spent the majority of my life working for the military. I've never wanted anything but the best to protect the men and women who serve our country. That's why I couldn't keep making weapons after I saw that my weapons were the ones being used to kill them."

Steve immediately felt guilty for asking. He should have realized... It wasn't like Tony went off on Rhodey's job choice, and Steve knew that Stark Industries still had a lot of defense contracts with the military. Tony had to cut out of their Bond marathon with Clint just last week because one of the radar systems he'd made was giving off false positives. It was one of the few times Tony had ever walked out on their 'lessons'. Steve had just never realized the depth of that passion, and he should have. He couldn't keep missing the real Tony like this.

He'd expected that to be the end of the conversation, but Tony haltingly went on. "Third... Dad would take me on base sometimes, when I was a kid. It was to prove to Mom that he wasn't just ignoring me, or whatever, but he always ended pawning me off on whoever was on duty at the time to discuss weapon contracts."

Steve refused to let his muscles stiffen at the mention of Howard. For once, he was grateful to Tony's previous baiting for giving him the practice. It occurred to him that Tony might have done that for just this purpose, so that when he really was genuinely trying to speak about something relating to his childhood, Steve wouldn't ruin things by losing his temper. It made him a little sad, to know Tony prepared for that.

He stretched his arm over the couch in an open invitation like Rhodey had done the night they watched South Pacific. Tony gave him A Look that said he knew exactly what Steve was up to and he wasn't falling for it this time.

Steve supposed he needed to work on being more subtle, but he was glad that Tony hadn't taken enough offense to stop talking. "Some of them were jerks. It was easy enough to run circles around them. But I guess one of the higher-ups caught on and... Instead of calling me out to Dad, or finding some way to punish me, they made sure someone who was good with kids was on guard whenever Dad visited. They'd listen to a six-year-old ramble about physics, and they didn't treat me any differently because I was smart. They..." Tony paused, looking for the right word. "They cared. Rilley, Perlowsky, and Jefferson... they cared about me, not who I was or what I could make for them. I was just Tony."

And how sad was it, that Tony had to be on a military base among strangers before he found that? Steve found himself getting angry again, but this time not at Tony for going off on Howard. This time he was angry at who Howard had become, leaving Tony to grow on infertile soil instead of nurturing like he should have, and at himself for still looking at Tony and seeing Howard three times out of ten.

Tony had grown up strong anyway.

"So that's why I like the Brigadier," Tony said. "He cared. You could see it when he told the Master to stop in The Claws of Axos, when he yelled out Captain Yates' first name after the bomb in Time Monster, or any time he smiled after giving Sergeant Benton a stern lecture when no one else was looking. He really did care."

Steve, who was also inordinately fond of the Brigadier, agreed readily with those points. He and Tony didn't agree often, their recent fight over Tegan and Nyssa proof of that, but the Brigadier was impossible not to love. It was as universal as hating Adric.

"Besides," Tony added, a smirk slowly spreading on his face. "He really did have an awesome mustache. And Three's jackets are just that snazzy."

That, at least, Steve had a bit of trivia on that he'd found while searching the net. He'd been waiting for just such a moment to divulge. "According to the Internet Movie Database, all of Nicolas Courtney's mustaches up to his appearance in this last serial were fake."

"What?" Tony's eyes went round as a look of pure betrayal entered his eyes. "No. That's not.... That's wrong. Steve, you have just ruined my childhood. I will never be able to watch those episodes again. I am scarred for life. And it's all your-Cap! What are you-"

Tony squeaked indignantly, a sound Steve was smart enough not to mention, as Steve pulled him into a tight hug. It felt good to give in to the urge, and Steve was willing to put up with Tony's glares if Tony wasn't actually trying to wiggle away.

* * *

With intel from Natasha, the mission was bound to be solid. Steve and Clint would go undercover to infiltrate AIM's warehouse while Tony and Bruce concocted some sort of technological wonder that would take care of the the tech problem in one fell swoop. Thor would create a distraction once they were ready and give the signal to those inside.

"Let's be bad guys," Clint said at the end of the strategy meeting.

"Shiny. I aim to misbehave," Steve replied, getting a round of raised eyebrows.

"Tony, that's not cool, man," Clint groused as he rounded on Tony. "You finally show him something I approve of and you don't invite me! I can't believe I missed a Firefly marathon!"

-Part Three-