Technology was confusing.
Steve could remember when he was younger. Half the time he was sick, bedridden and bored out of his mind. His mother would bring him new books from the library to read. Anything from history to poetry to adventure novels. Every once in a while, he'd get a science fiction book. They weren't his favorite genre, but he enjoyed reading them, imagining the amazing things that might happen in the future. Everything seemed so much easier. You hit a button and food was deposited fresh and hot. Cars that drove themselves and flew. Thousands of people living on the moon or in space stations.
Steve woke up to a world where there was more technology than anything Steve or those science fiction writers could imagine. But instead of making things simpler, everything was so much more complicated.
There were so many terms that he started making a list of anything he heard and didn't recognize. Then he asked for a little notebook and pencil to write things down, he might as well have been asking for a stone and chisel if the requisition officer's face was anything to go by.
The most startling thing was no one could tell him how to use anything. They would tell him to go to the "settings" but he didn't know how. Usually they would just do it for him with an indulgent smile. He knew they were trying to help, but he wasn't actually learning how to do anything.
It wasn't from lack of trying on anyone's part. Steve tried as much as he could before he got frustrated, and anyone helping him was trying to the best of their ability.
It just didn't work.
"How are things, Captain?"
"Fine," Steve muttered.
"Still having trouble with technology?" Coulson didn't like to beat around the bush, Steve would give him that.
Gritting his teeth, he reluctantly nodded. He didn't want to admit that he wasn't getting the hang of it, but he he knew nursing a hurt pride wouldn't solve anything.
Coulson gave Steve a bland smile, a smile Steve came to realize over the last few months was more genuine than it looked. "I think maybe we should try something different," he said. He reached into his inner jacket pocket and put a cell phone down on the table between them.
Steve frowned. "I was already given one of those." He couldn't get it to work any better than the computers. More often than not, he left it in his room.
"I know. This is your phone." He slid it closer. He waited for Steve to meet him in the eye again. "In-person sessions aren't working. We both know that out in the field if a tactic doesn't work, we try a different approach. We don't go into a situation with only one plan. If the mission is important enough, then we don't give up until the job gets done."
Steve's shoulders relaxed a bit. That was an analogy that Steve could understand. During the war going against Hydra, the plans that he and the Commandos made before the attack rarely unfolded as they thought it would. They always improvised, brushed aside the small failures and found a way to win the battle.
"What would you suggest?"
Coulson's smile expanded a bit. "Phone calls. And a bit of anonymity."
Steve's brow furrowed.
"I think it would be best for you to start getting help from someone who doesn't know who you are. Captain America can be an intimidating guy to try and teach."
Steve nodded slowly. The hero worship made him uncomfortable enough, but many treated him like he was dumb. Like they didn't have smarts back in the forties. "And the phone calls?"
Coulson turned the phone towards Steve. He slowly made his way through unlocking it, and opening up the contacts. "You were complaining that people wouldn't give you a chance to do things yourself." Steve wondered if Coulson saw the irony in what he just did. "Over the phone, they can't just do it for you."
Steve sat up straighter. That made a lot of sense. "Right." He carefully picked up the phone, feeling clumsy with it. He didn't know how people knew how to handle this thing without touching the screen. He held the phone in one hand and used his finger to slowly move through the contacts.
"Tech Support," Coulson said, with a nod to the phone. Steve was grateful that he didn't reach over to show him. "No one in tech support has a high enough clearance to be told who you are. When they look up your profile, they'll find Steve Raber."
Steve winced. He figured there would be few ways to explain his lack of common knowledge, but this story didn't sit well with him. It felt dishonest, but he couldn't very well tell the truth, could he?
"There is no name attached to this number in my records, sir."
Tony grumbled and rolled back the other way to reach for the phone on the bedside table. He didn't recognize the whole number but he knew that area code was used frequently by SHIELD personnel. Surprisingly enough, it wasn't 666. What did those bureaucratic weasels want now? If this was another call about that damn communication system that they outsourced to the lowest bidder like the government loved to do, he was going to send them a virus that made all their cursors Fury's face with cat ears.
Tony was in a pissy mood, so rather than letting it go to voicemail like he usually would, he answered it. "Tech Support. Here to fix all your screw-ups."
There was silence on the other end. Tony would have hung up but he could sense the person thinking on the other end. What snail-brained lackey had been told to call him?
The person cleared their throat. "Uhm. Hello, sir," a man said, unsure and way too loud. "I was wondering if you could help me?"
Tony rolled his eyes. Was SHIELD interning High Schoolers now? "Sure. I have nothing better to do than help you out."
"Oh. Thank you," he said, relief confusingly clear in his voice. "I'm, uh, on my lap computer and I'm trying to get onto the Google, but I don't know where to find it?"
Tony took the phone away from his ear and muted it. "JARVIS, did some guy just ask me how to find The Google?"
"It seems that way, sir," JARVIS said, sounding amused.
"Hello?" Tony could hear the man called out.
"Is this guy shitting me? Is this some kind of joke?"
"While lie detection using voice analysis has proven to be unreliable, I would say that he sounds very sincere, sir."
Tony was ready to hang up on the guy, because really? You didn't ask Mozart to write a jingle for your cat food commercial. Or to teach your 3rd grade class the recorder. Or to tune your piano. Ooh. That sounded sexual. He was getting off topic. Anyway. Really. He was ready to hang up. His finger was hovering over End Call...
"Sir? Are you still there?"
...but the guy just sounded so dejected. Like a little puppy whimpering because it lost its favorite ball. Like everything in this guy's day had just gone so wrong until something finally seemed to be going right when Tony said he would help him, and Tony. Just. Couldn't.
Unmute. "Yeah, sorry. I'm still here." Did he just apologize? Tony vowed that Pepper never meet this guy, because if she could learn the Art of Puppy Whimpering Voice, Tony would have to show up to all his meetings and actually meet deadlines. He crawled out of bed. He needed caffeine; Tony sensed this could take a while. "Right, so. What was your name again?"
"Steve." There was that relief again. "Steve R-Raber."
"Right. Steve. You don't have to talk so loud, Steve."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it. So, uh." He walked out of his bedroom, rubbing his forehead with enough pressure that he could feel his fingertips leaving indentations in his skin. He couldn't believe he was doing this. "I assume you have the computer on. What kind of computer is it?"
"Uhm. A lap computer I think."
"A laptop. Right, you said that. But what brand?"
"I don't know," he admitted.
"Okay. Look on the back of the screen. Is there an apple on it? A name?"
Tony heard the clacking of plastic as the guy looked around the outside of the computer. "No. Nothing. Do you think it fell off?"
"How do you not know any of this?" Tony demanded much sharper than he intended. Actually he didn't mean to say it at all, but it just slipped out.
"I," Oh no. There was the dejected puppy again. "I was, I was raised Amish. I never really learned any of this stuff."
SHIELD was recruiting the Amish now? "Right. It's just. Unusual." Tony could smell the coffee brewing as soon as he entered the kitchen. He vowed to buy JARVIS as many ponies as he wanted.
"Yeah, I know," Steve said, his voice wry with forced humor.
Tony poured coffee into his favorite mug. He spilled sugar over the counter as he messily scooped a few spoonfuls and stirred. The first taste was too hot but just right. "Well, there was no apple on the back, so it must be a PC. What does the screen look like?"
"It's got a bunch of colored tiles on a purple background."
Dear god. He was using Windows 8.
For once in Tony's life, he had no idea. He had never used Windows 8, and he sure as fuck never wanted to learn. "You might need to call someone else."
"I don't have any experience with your OS. I've never used it before."
The frustration was clear in Steve's voice. "If you can't even use it than why do they expect me to be able to?"
Tony couldn't help the laugh that bubbled up, not even bothered by Steve's assumption that Tony couldn't figure it out. "What can I say? SHIELD is ridiculous like that." Tony moved over to the living room and swiped his hand through the air. JARVIS turned on the television and activated the holographic keyboard above the coffee table. Tony sat down and started typing. "Tell you what, I'll help you get onto Google for the moment, and I'll try to see if I can't requisition you a better computer. Or probably a tablet. Would a tablet be better? A tablet would be better."
"Yep. A nice StarkPad."
Tony grinned at the recognition in Steve's voice. Good to know his name was known even in Amish circles. "Yep. Best of the best. Let's get you as far away from Windows 8 as we can. Windows 10 basically trashed the whole tile thing so no use you learning something already so obsolete."
Some quick typing brought up SHEILD's network, and with a few more commands he was in their tech support. What a damn mess. Tony was tempted to replace the whole system, but refrained. Despite popular belief, he did know how to be conspicuous when he needed to be. He created a new account for Tony the Tech Support, letting JARVIS set up all the information. If anyone with half a brain actually looked at it, it would be obvious it was faked, but Tony didn't feel like putting in all the effort to make it legitimate. He was just helping out some guy who dialed the wrong number. It wasn't like this would become a reoccurring thing.
"So," Tony said as he created a new ticket and submitted a requisition for a StarkPad, "what's a guy like you doing with an organization like SHIELD anyway?"
Steve paused. Tony assumed he was trying to figure out if that was an insult or not, but when Steve spoke, his voice was somber and sad. "I can't," he said. "I can't go back home."
Tony couldn't even begin to imagine why a NICE guy like Steve would be banned from an Amish community. Maybe he liked buttons. Steve seemed like a guy who liked buttons. Wait, did the Amish actually not like buttons or is that myth? Tony was halfway through typing out 'Amish button hate' on his tablet when he stopped.
God, he was such a jerk, thinking about buttons while Steve was clearly having a moment, having a painful moment because he couldn't go back home. "Ah," Tony said, his voice strangled. This was why he didn't do emotional mumbo-jumbo. He didn't know if he could really relate. If he had to leave any of the places he owned and never come back, he didn't think he'd have much trouble with that. Maybe his workshop. He didn't want to admit it but not having Dummy or Butterfingers or You around would be tough. Not to mention never seeing Pepper or Rhodey again. So maybe he could relate a little.
Whaddaya know. Tony could actually sympathize with other living beings. "I'm gonna be honest and say I really have no idea what to say."
"Don't worry about it," Steve said. At least it sounded like he had a bit of a smile on his face, so Tony must have said something right. "I'm a, a mutant." The term stumbled off Steve's tongue like he wasn't used to it. Maybe he wasn't.
"Neat," Tony said, because even he knew it was rude to just interrogate some guy over the phone about his mutations. He did a quick skim of Windows 8 guides, and was relieved to see you could still get back on the original format. He could definitely work with that. He hoped the guy had an Internet connection. "So, I want you to look for a tile that says desktop. It's probably a picture of a hill..."
Luckily, Steve didn't seem completely unfamiliar with computers, and Tony made quick work getting the guy online ("Trust me, Steve. They're not the same. Just use it to download Chrome."). He seemed a quick learner, and it didn't take long for him to catch on. Tony got him an email account and gave a few minor tips about surfing ("Don't turn safe search off. Ever.").
By the time they were done, the sun was higher, Tony was on his third cup of coffee, and Steve had looked up what he wanted to, which was I Love Lucy strangely enough.
"Thank you so much, Tony." Steve's voice was so grateful. But not the usual 'gratefulness' Tony is used to hearing, the fake kind just said in obligation. It was so damn sincere, it struck Tony quiet for a long moment.
"Don't worry about," he finally said. "Happy to help."
"Can I call again? If I need help with anything else?"
"Yeah, sure. Anything you need," he said before thinking about it.
"Yeah?" Steve asked, tentative and unsure but hopeful.
Tony had a feeling Steve was taking 'anything' more literally than Tony had really intended. Tony should probably clarify that it could only be computer matters, official consulting hours 8 to 5 every other Thursday. Because if he didn't, who even knows what Steve could be calling him about next. "Yeah. Anything."
So much for that.
Then, a thought struck him. "Hey, I'm just curious. How did you get this number, Steve?"
"Oh. Well. They told me I could get a hold of Tech Support if I needed help." 'They.' Sounded ominous. "I'm not very good with all these acronyms nowadays, but I looked in the address book in the phone they gave me, and there was one labeled TS."
TS. Tech Support. Tony Stark. Tony facepalmed so hard it made a smacking noise. Tony couldn't even fathom the idea that SHIELD would give his number to anyone considering they didn't want their agents exposed to logic and sense and free will. Maybe Steve wasn't the only one messing his acronyms up.
"I've got to go, but I really appreciate this," Steve said. "I've been having a really hard time with this."
"Sure. Good luck."
When Steve said his goodbyes and hung up, Tony slouched back on the couch. "I need more coffee."