"Tony, to Customer Service please. Tony, to Customer Service."
"Goddamnit. I'm never getting this done today." Tony let out a grunt of frustration, slamming the mangled costume in his hand down on the desk. Steve let out a quiet, shushing noise from across the tiny office, jerking his chin in the direction of a mother and her two kids on the other side of the glass window looking at them in alarm.
Tony gave them Bland Smile #7: Everything's Hunky-Dory, Go Back to Your Shopping, then pressed the button on the walkie-talkie at his hip. "You know, we have these things for a reason, Darcy," he said into his earpiece. "Or do you just enjoy alerting everyone to the fact that I'm here? I was trying to be stealth."
"Oh, right. Sorry, Tony. I keep forgetting. Maybe you should close the blinds next time? Could you please make your way to the front desk and explain our return policy to a customer?"
"How many times do I have to tell you? If there's no receipt, there's no return. That's our entire policy." Steve looked up from the computer screen (and his game of solitaire, no doubt Tony's inner voice thought snidely) long enough to give him a tiny smirk, his eyes twinkling. "It's written in giant, three foot letters at the front of the store. And why aren't you bothering Steve with this? He's your store manager!"
"Yes, sir, understood, sir. Could you please come up anyway?"
"You're killing me." Tony let go of the button and grumbled as he shoved his way to his feet. He grabbed his travel mug and sighed when he passed Steve and Steve swiped it from his hands.
"No drinks out on the floor," he reminded Tony with a sweet smile before he turned back to his game (I knew it, the cheeky little shit) and took a deep gulp. Tony glared at his back for two seconds. Then his glare turned into a stupid smile, because Steve shifted and his shirt collar moved just enough to expose a tiny purple mark on the back of his neck.
Pathetic, his brain whispered at him. Totally, totally pathetic.
"You know, I own the damn company," Tony grumbled as he shuffled through some papers next to the computer, looking for the laminated cards he'd had corporate had sent out last week. "I get to make the rules, and if I say I can have my coffee out on the floor—"
"Then everyone can have their drinks out on the floor," Steve interrupted smoothly, tilting his head to the side a little. "And I know you remember what happened the last time Peter came in with a slushie."
Of course he remembered. The wall remembered, because it was still bright blue, and he really should get it repainted but he kind of liked having the reminder around of what happens when you don't follow the rules.
He also really enjoyed the way Peter cowered whenever Tony came in, which was the reason he tried to come in as often as possible.
Steve shifted his body a little and if Tony hadn't been staring at Steve's eyelashes he would've missed the way he cut his eyes slyly to the side, trying to see if Tony was paying him any attention.
Right. Pete was the reason.
"Mmm, put that thought on hold, princess." Tony unearthed their policy cards from underneath a stack of planograms for... wait. He distinctly remembered saying that no store of his was going to sell a single thing that blonde hag had to offer. He took out his phone and took a picture of the front page, sending it off to Pepper along with a harried wtf, i said no!! i dont care how many crockpots she gives you attached. Geez. Next he'd be selling Hammer's crappy teflon.
Tony had thought that the giant lettering outside might not be enough for the truly oblivious, so he'd had metal plates engraved with their policy bolted onto the wall of every lane. They were bright red with large yellow words on them, so if every idiot customer in line who stood right next to them for ten minutes while they waited to be rung up wanted to ignore them then so fucking be it. Tony would read the damn thing to them himself, right off the card.
Maybe he'd nod while they continued to bitch before giving them Bland Smile #4: No, I Won't Make an Exception, THIS IS OUR FUCKING POLICY, and send them on their merry way. Then he'd jump out a window, because this wasn't what he signed up for when he took over his father's company.
He wasn't supposed to have to deal with people. Honestly. The things he did for a good lay.
"Can't you get this for me?" Tony held out the shiny cards with a big, utterly fake smile. "I'm supposed to be going over the audit irregularities. How in the hell did your shrink go from two-point-six-eight to nine-point-seven-four? Have you been hiring delinquents again? I thought we talked about this after the indicent with that Sang Min kid, Steve."
"Got that backwards, Tony." Steve sighed and looked at the ceiling. "It went from nine-point-seven to two-point-seven, and that's because I fired Obie two months ago. Remember? He was falsifying return records, and MOSing legit merch. I told you that, Tony. We talked about it over the phone last month, when you were in Maine. Also, she called you, not me."
"I'm the boss of you, damnit. I say you go, you go." Tony grumbled. He looked back at the box of damaged costumes. "I bet I can salvage most of that into something sellable in the time it takes for you to take the call."
"Technically Bucky's my boss."
"And I'm Rhodey's boss, who is Fury's boss, who is Coulson's boss and so on and so forth until we get to your little totem pole, so. Technically, I'm still the boss of you. Don't give me that look. You liked it when I said that the other night. You agreed, even."
Steve turned bright red and choked on Tony's coffee. "Tony, not when we're at work," he demurred, wiping at his face with an honest-to-god handkerchief. "You should get up there. Also, hey. Chinese or Italian for lunch? I'm thinking of ordering in a bit, and since you'll be around for a while... You are going to be around for a while, right?"
"Oh, stop fishing. I'm taking you and Bruce over to Friday's. We've got to discuss the Christmas displays and the fourth quarter budget," Tony said, peeking over his shoulder through the window in the door leading to the stockroom. He could just make out Peter struggling, trying to get a box twice his body mass up onto an overhead. Peter's foot slipped from underneath him and he landed flat on his back with the box on his chest, looking like a squished spider. Tony smiled in delight.
"Bruce hates Friday's," Steve said quietly, moving his six of diamonds. He turned in his rolling chair and looked up at Tony, his arms crossed over his chest. "You don't want him to go into another homicidal rage and try to kill you again, do you?"
"Fine, fine. We'll do the Japanese steakhouse. He likes the onion volcano thingie they do."
"Tony, please come to Customer Service. Tony—"
"Christ, I'm coming!" Tony bellowed, making the customers standing near the office all flinch. He gave them all Bland Smile #1: Yes, I See You and Still Don't Give a Fuck and snatched up the cards, doing his level best not to slam the door on his way out.
Tony stalked to the front of the store, where a mother had been adamantly trying to return a toy whose box had been ripped open in several places. He calmly explained to her that without a receipt, he couldn't accept the merchandise, sorry, but if she wanted she could exchange it for the same item, to which she responded that her kid already had one, and what the hell was she supposed to do with two of the same thing?
Tony looked at her crazy eyes and tried a leering smile. It never worked, especially on angry housewives, but the employees always thought it was funny.
"You know," he said, leaning forward over the counter to lay his hand on her wrist, "if you'd like to discuss this matter over a cup of coffee I could get my store manager to watch your children for you. There's an excellent little bistro on the corner." He stroked his fingers over the inside of her wrist and she stiffened. "We could discuss our store policy in depth, maybe work something out."
"Oh my god, are you hitting on me? Have you no shame?" The woman snatched her hand back, as well as the toy box (and Tony could see the $14.88! red Target sticker on the bottom of it). "I want your name. I'm going to write to your main office, you have no right to treat me like—"
"Let me introduce myself. I'm Tony Stark," he said, deadpan. Tony straightened up, suddenly all business, and held out his hand. Immediately her eyes widened and she pushed her frazzled hair back.
"Oh. Oh!" Tony watched as the recognition set in and held back a smirk as she tried to discreetly pick off the lollipop that had been stuck to the side of her sweater. "Mr. Stark. It's so wonderful to meet you! I'm so sorry, but my son got this as a birthday present, and he opened it up before I could stop him, and I just wanted to know if I could—"
"Let me stop you right there, miss." He gently took the toy from her hand and turned it upside down, showing her the sticker she'd somehow missed. "Target's in the next shopping center. I hear they take things back with no receipts and no penalties. Okay? Okay. You have yourself a good day now, ma'am."
The mother blushed when she saw the sticker and brushed her hair back again. Darcy made a small noise behind him when the lollipop got stuck in it. Tony stepped back a little, right onto her foot, and pressed down.
"I'm so sorry, I had no idea! I feel like an idiot, now."
"Happens all the time." Tony gave her Bland Smile #12: That's Right, You're an Idiot, It's Okay and waved at her and her kids. The little boy in the shopping cart stuck his tongue out at him. Tony waited for the mother to turn around before he bared his teeth at him.
She walked away, muttering to herself under her breath, and Tony was finally free to spin around and glower at Darcy. She did her best to look innocent, but he knew all her tricks.
"You've been working here for six years now," he started. "You saw the sticker, you have a tracker right here next to you, you knew that barcode was about nine numbers too long to be recognized by the software, yet you still pulled me up here to deal with an Angry Annie. What gives? You mad at me? You're mad. Look, I'm not sure what's going on with you—"
"Not mad, boss," she stopped him with a smile. "I just thought, you know, it's been so long since we've seen you, and with all your clothes on—"
"I swear, your assistant sends out one bad Christmas card—"
"—and we just wanted to know if you'd be here for the weekend, 'cause the girls wanted to throw you and Steve an engagement party."
"—and it haunts you for the rest of your— wait, what?"
Darcy and the other front end specialist, the sassy redhead with too much of an opinion for retail, both beamed at him in glee. He glared back but they weren't swayed at all. What the hell? He was the boss. He remembered birthdays, promoted synergy and all that other stuff. They were supposed to fear him, damnit.
"Oh, so you aren't moving to Malibu to live in sin together?" Natasha picked up the magazine that had been on the counter, which hey, they were supposed to be selling those, not leafing through them while on the clock. "Entertainment Weekly said you were."
She chucked the magazine at him and he snatched it out of the air, staring in horror at the candid shot of Steve and him on a boat (motherfucker, his brain helpfully inserted for him, and he really needed to stop listening to The Lonely Island) that graced the cover.
Two days ago they had been on Tony's yacht. They had been topless, like most people out at sea tend to be, which wasn't so surprising. But they'd been fresh into this whole sex thing between them for just over a week, so they were still in the honeymoon stage and they might've been a little... handsy. The snapshot wasn't the greatest quality, but it showed Steve holding up a strawberry to Tony's mouth with a coy smile clearly enough.
He stared down at the title splashed across the cover (BILLIONAIRE CEO CAUGHT WITH BOYTOY, SEE PAGE TWELVE FOR DETAILS!) for a full minute before his brain came back online.
"Okay, this is just, no. We're not, like, it's seriously not like there's anything, I mean, if there was anything it's not like it would be serious. Not that I wouldn't like things to one day, maybe, and alright. You know what? This is forbidden. We are never discussing this, you hear me? This is just, nothing that anyone needs to spend any time talking about, okay." He knew he was babbling, but there was nothing he could do to stop himself.
Not when Darcy and Natasha were looking at him with those stupid, tiny smiles of theirs.
"Stop looking at me like that. I take people out on the boat all the time. I took you and that hippie out for your one year. Don't give me that look, Loki's totally a hippie."
Darcy soft smile disappeared and she opened her mouth, probably to say something catty and inappropriate (fired, Tony thought darkly, totally, totally fired) when the lights flickered off and the store was plunged into darkness.
The generators in the basement came to life and the store lit up again almost immediately. It was quiet for about two seconds before everyone burst into movement.
It was only a brief blackout, but that was all they needed. The registers all whined and started beeping like crazy and people, stupid animals they were, started to panic.
Tony closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose as Darcy and Natasha started moving around him in a flurry.
"What's going— oh no, they're—"
"—yes, they're rebooting. And the doors are jammed, hand me the—"
"—the lines are all down, damnit, here, use my cell phone, see if we can get Jarvis from Tech—"
"—Happy's got his men on the door, and that's just perfect, now the alarm system's gone offline, that's just fuc—"
"What's going on?"
Tony didn't startle when Steve came up behind him and brushed a hand over his hip, but he did narrow his eyes when Natasha nudged Darcy and jerked her head back at them.
"My tracker won't come back online," Steve whined, holding up the dead scangun in his hand. "I think it's broken."
"The system's down," Tony said, pulling the tracker from Steve's hand and placing it on top of the glossy policy cards. He tugged Steve from the customer service desk by his belt, ignoring the way Darcy grinned down at her computer. Hey, they already knew there was something going on. In for a penny, and all that.
"We're going to go... call MIS for you. Keep up the good work, ladies!"
"Tony!" Steve yelped as Tony backed them into the electrical closet. "That's not my phone!"
Natasha shook her head at the closed door, then she jumped when she heard an almighty crash come from the front door and Thor's booming voice floated over the crowd.
"I knew I should've taken that job at Langley," she said. Then she picked up her emergency baseball bat and marched into the fray.