Los Angeles is quiet this early in the morning. When Steve started his roadwork, the sun had yet to rise and the streets were empty. He’d arrived at Griffith Park just as dawn was cresting blue and pink against the muddy sky. The dilapidated Hollywoodland sign is barely visible through the morning haze as he pauses in front of the observatory to stretch for a moment before heading back down the hill.
Steve had never been to L.A. before the war, and hadn’t spent all that much time here during his time as Captain America, but even he can see the difference in the air now, can feel it when he breathes. He doesn’t know if it’s his sensitive lungs or if it’s really just growing that bad, but if it gets any worse, Steve might have to figure out a way to pack his glass nebulizer to take with him during his morning exercise.
It would be inconvenient, but Steve remembers the days of his youth when an attack would set in and panicked onlookers would simply stand there at a loss for what to do, or worse, pat him on the back and tell him to calm down and just breathe. As if it were that simple. He has no wish to live through experiences like that again.
As is his tradition, Steve places his palm against the cool concrete of the Astronomers Monument before turning to make the six-mile journey back home. Bucky made a joke once that Steve would run to the stars and back if he could, and it stuck in his mind enough that he’d made the observatory a touchtone ever since. The stars in the sky are the only stars in L.A. he’s truly comfortable with, and there’s peace to be found in climbing the hill to the park, alone, watching as they slowly fade from view in the sky.
Leaning back to control his pace as he starts his downward descent, Steve ponders taking the triangular route, heading southeast to Union Station before turning west toward his and Bucky’s apartment. It would add another seven miles to his journey, but Bucky would probably be up and gone by the time he got home in that case.
It’s not like he necessarily wants to avoid his best friend, but Bucky gets so concerned when Steve’s going through one of his bouts of insomnia. It only makes Steve feel all the more guilty. Bucky’s the one whose life had been permanently altered by the war – he’d lost a limb, for God’s sake – yet Steve’s the one who really can't shake it, the one who is haunted, disturbed.
But Bucky hadn’t been there when they’d liberated the camps. Bucky had been in a hospital in London and he didn’t know, he didn’t see –
“No.” Steve reminds himself aloud, shaking his head sharply to derail that train of thought. These morning jaunts are supposed to give him the time to get it together every morning, to get his mind clear and focused – not lost in the muck of the past. He turns and directs himself toward home, purposefully choosing not to give in to the cowardly voice inside that tells him to hide.
He follows the Red Car line back to West Hollywood, the streets considerably more lively as the early birds start going out for breakfast, begin heading in to work. All the nightclubs and restaurants on Sunset look sad in the morning, however, drab without their lights dazzling, and their sidewalks dirty from revels the night before.
The air is beginning to warm with the day by the time he climbs the stairs to their apartment on North Hayworth; it’s going to be a hot one if the temperature is already climbing like this. Steve pauses for a moment on the landing outside the apartment door, taking time to straighten out both his thoughts and his appearance. He untucks his white and red striped tank from the tight waistband of his white running shorts and uses the hem to dry his sweaty face, then runs a hand through his hair in a poor attempt to straighten and flatten the damp strands.
Steve leans against the iron railing and concentrates on slowing his breathing, his heartbeat. He hopes that the flush of exertion will fade from his pale skin a bit before he goes inside.
A brand new Buick Roadmaster cruises down the avenue, its maroon paint job spotless and its chrome shining. The top is down and Steve instantly recognizes the passenger despite her large, dark sunglasses and black, feathered capulet. He would never comment upon it, but he can’t help but notice she’s clearly dressed in yesterday’s clothes, a strapless evening gown and shoulder high gloves. Her diamonds shimmer in the sunlight.
Janet Van Dyne is the most sought-after costume designer next to Edith Head, and she’s been staying with a friend in the apartments across the street for two weeks now. Steve tries not to listen to gossip, but it’s been everywhere that she and Hank Pym, her actor husband, are on the outs and quite possibly heading for a scandalous divorce.
Miss Van Dyne glances across the street and realizes that she’s not without an audience. Instead of ducking away, she waves good morning to him as if they know each other and then elegantly saunters inside.
“You think she knows Fitzgerald died in that apartment?” Bucky startles him. Steve turns as his friend steps out of the doorway, letting the screen door bounce shut as he joins Steve in leaning on the railing. He’s already dressed for work, on his way out.
“If she does, I highly doubt she’d give it any mind. She doesn’t seem to be that faint of heart,” Steve replies, coughing to clear his throat. Half the reason he and Bucky had picked this place themselves was because the famous author’s associations with the neighborhood, though that had been Bucky’s interest, not his. Steve often reminds him that F. Scott made for a horrible screenwriter and he’d best pick a different idol, but Bucky is not to be persuaded.
“You speak the truth.” Bucky claps him on the shoulder, and then wrinkles his nose, wiping his hand down the front of his suit coat. “You’re disgusting. Running to the stars again?”
“Thought I’d get it in while it was still cool out. Gonna be a burner.”
“Lovely. The bungalow will feel like a bakehouse. Might be home early if that’s the case.”
“Because this place is so much better,” Steve snorts. Their apartment is poorly designed, windows not allowing for any cross-breeze to circulate the air in and out. In the dead of summer, their rooms become a veritable maze of portable fans; small ones and big ones perched perilously wherever there’s a nearby electrical outlet to be found.
“You just don’t want to write.”
“You’re onto me, Rogers.” Bucky goes to clap him on the shoulder again but stops himself. He closes his fist instead and gives Steve a half-hearted punch to the bicep.
Steve thinks he’s gotten away without comment, Bucky walking down two stairs toward the street, when Bucky pauses and looks up at him.
“Don’t drive the bike to the lot today if you’re not sleeping. Trolley will do you fine.”
“Sure.” Steve doesn’t fight him on it.
“I mean it. I know you think you’re invincible now that you’re built like Johnny Weissmuller, but even Tarzan needs shut-eye.”
“I hear you, Buck. Promise.”
Bucky nods and then finishes descending the stairs, looking back to give him a small wave as he crosses the lawn and heads off for the streetcar himself.
Steve sighs, pushing off the railing and pulling open the screen door. He stops short inside the entryway, surprised to find Natasha sitting calmly at their kitchen table, sipping coffee and reading the paper.
How nice of Bucky to give me a heads up, he thinks sarcastically. He had absolutely no idea she was here.
Or that she and Bucky had started this up once again.
“Relax, Rogers,” she says dryly, not looking up from her reading as she sets her coffee cup back down on its saucer. “We were out late and I missed the last train back home, I opted to stay here rather than pay for a cab." She turns the page. "And I can assure you, James was a perfect gentleman.”
“It’s not really any of my business,” Steve mumbles, ducking his head and rubbing the back of his neck.
“Look at you blushing, you’re adorable.” How she knows the color is rising to his cheeks, Steve’s not sure, because she still hasn’t spared him a glance.
He lets the door fall closed behind him and goes to the refrigerator.
“Forgive me if I’m mistaken here, Natasha, but your writing partner just went to the office. Shouldn’t you be there as well? I was under the impression that was how this all worked.” He keeps his tone carefully casual as he searches for the carafe of milk. The glass is slippery with condensation as he takes it out and turns back to face his unexpected guest.
One of her legs is folded in close, foot up on the seat of her chair. Her leg is startlingly bare, skin ivory pale and silky smooth. The artist in him feels a pull at its beauty, but it’s not anything more than that. Steve attempts to train his gaze respectfully on her face, but the slinky way she moves makes that difficult.
“A lady doesn’t like to be rushed, Rogers.” Natasha unfolds from her seat, the robe of Bucky’s that she’s borrowed dangerously loose as she saunters close. A smile curves over her full lips, her green eyes bright with mischief. “You’re just too easy to rile up. I almost can’t help myself.”
“And you get far too much enjoyment from doing it, Romanoff.”
“That I do.” She stands on tiptoe and presses a kiss to his cheek, chaste and sweet. She may like teasing him, but they both know their relationship isn’t like that in the slightest. Before he got healthy, he never would have thought a woman like Natasha would pay him any mind and even if she had, he wouldn’t have known what in the world to say to her. Now they are the closest of friends and he could tell her almost anything.
“Someday you’ll make some girl truly happy, Steve.” Natasha reaches up and ruffles his hair, not at all put off by his sweaty state. She smacks the morning paper against his chest, leaving him to take it off her hands. “I just hope she’s far more forward than even I am or you’re going to be a permanent bachelor.”
Steve chooses to ignore her. He puts the milk back without even having poured a glass and puts thoughts of breakfast aside until later. All the telltale signs of another set-up, another blind date, are in the air. Natasha’s winding up to something.
“I’m going to go take a shower.” He tosses over his shoulder, already on his way down the hall.
“See you tonight, Rogers," she calls after him, a clear implication that she can't be dodged forever.
He releases a long, deep breath as soon as he’s in the safety of the bathroom, alone. It’s then he realizes he’s still holding the paper. It’s not the news, but one of those silly gossip rags that he never reads.
Tony Stark’s picture is above the fold, his smile playful and knowing, and his tie loose around his neck, his collar popped. He looks debauched. Steve feels a twinge of attraction low in his gut, unbidden and unwanted.
He tosses it into the wastebasket without so much as looking at the headline and resolutely tries to focus on the day ahead, even if Natasha’s words niggle the back of his mind.
He can tell Natasha almost anything. Almost.
It was the house of some high-level executive at MGM and the guests had been strictly A-list. Considering he’s not exactly Hollywood glitterati, the invitation clearly meant he’d piqued the interest of someone important. Tony felt it imperative to milk the night for all it was worth in case another opportunity didn’t immediately present itself.
“Sorry, sorry,” Tony mumbles half-heartedly to Pepper as he practically crawls into the backseat of the Bentley. “Oh god, it hurts.” He winces as he reluctantly takes off his sunglasses to read the headline of the paper that Pepper has thrust into his lap.
Stark and the Starlet? screams the headline of Peter Quill’s Galaxy of Stars. Below is a candid photograph of Tony leaving the party with Wanda Maximoff cozy on his arm. Her personal assistant, Pietro, lurks two paces behind them in the fuzzy background. He’s not much more than a shock of hair so blond it’s white, but Tony knows he’s scowling. Tony is grinning dopily, two sheets to the wind and winking at the camera. Wanda has her face carefully angled to show her better side, eyes downcast in perfect picture of chaste embarrassment at being caught with a lover. His wink to the camera must have helped sell that one.
He’s not her lover, nor does he plan to be, but he can’t blame Wanda for playing it that way. Men in this town want what other powerful men have, and millionaire businessman Tony Stark is probably a nice stepping stone to the ones who can open the right doors for an up-and-coming actress like Maximoff.
“Have fun last night?” Pepper asks loudly, knowing full well how much pain he’s in. Tony shoves the paper aside and reaches for the coffee he knows she has.
Sure enough, she places a steaming cup in his hands. He breathes it in, sighing at the heavenly aroma.
“Oh, that’s the good stuff.” Tony licks his lips after his first sip, looking forward to the caffeine that’s about to jolt his system. This is his Italian dark roast, shipped over monthly specifically for his use only. Pepper occasionally sneaks a cup when he’s driving her crazy, but he doesn’t mention it. It seems only fair, with her putting up with his vast amount of bullshit and all.
“I thought you were going to this party to make some business connections.” Pepper picks up the paper again, but folds it over and stuffs it into her purse with a bit too much force.
“Genius, millionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” Tony reminds her. “I have an image to uphold.”
“We’d agreed that we were dropping playboy from that string of epithets, didn’t we? I remember having that conversation. ‘Pepper, I need to focus on the work. Pepper, I need to be taken seriously. Pepper’–”
“Pepper, I love you dearly, but can we save this scolding for a later time? Perhaps for when I do more than walk a young lady to her car?”
“It doesn’t matter if that’s what happened. It’s what Peter Quill says happened. They don’t call him Lord of the Stars for nothing.”
“Who calls him that, no one really calls him that, do they? It’s just a stupid gossip rag.”
“The gossip rag.”
“It’s hardly the New York Times. It’s not even Variety. No one I’ve talked to reads it.”
“Well, they might say they don’t, but trust me, they do. It’s the equivalent of Page Six out here.”
“What about that other one, that Luke, or Lucky, or…” Tony snaps his fingers repeatedly as he takes another long drink of his coffee, urging Pepper to fill in the right name he’s looking for.
“Loki. They call him the King of Lies. Movie Mischief has a quarter the circulation numbers, he’s nothing to worry about.”
“Then I’m on the front page of one of the most important weeklies in town. Frankly, I’m appalled it took me near a month to get there, so any publicity is good publicity. Celebrate, Pepper.” He lifts his glass to her and she sighs with a put upon frown. “Thanks for the coffee, by the way.”
“Happy, we can go.” Pepper tilts her head to speak to the man up front, his long-time driver and bodyguard and Pepper’s newly minted fiancé. The diamond ring sparkles on her finger as she tucks a wayward wisp of her long strawberry blond hair back behind her ear.
Tony’s relieved to say he pays Happy more than well enough, so he was able to buy Pepper a ring worthy of her without taking too deep a ding in his savings. He would’ve gladly given the man a loan had that not been the case, but that most likely would have been one of the most awkward conversations imaginable.
Perhaps more awkward than the time his father had tried to explain the birds and the bees to him, had given up not even halfway through, and handed him his first beer instead.
It’s odd, his former girl and his bodyguard getting hitched, but Tony thinks it should feel worse than it actually does. Ninety percent of the time he’s thoroughly thrilled about the match. It’s just late at night when he’s both alone and lonely that he feels the pang of regret and the sting of jealousy.
Tony pulls himself from his thoughts and focuses on the present rather than the past.
“So, exactly how late am I for this thing?”
“You’re not late at all, Tony. Our meeting is at noon.” Pepper smiles, looking slightly pleased with herself. Tony looks at his watch, seeing that he has a full hour before he’s expected at Paramount.
“Miss Potts, you tricksy minx. I’m paying you to lie to me now?”
“You pay me to do my job, Mr. Stark. And if that necessitates a little massaging of the truth now and again to get you where you need to be, when you need to be there, I daresay you should give me a raise.”
“I’ll look into it.” Tony lifts his glass to her in a toast, and then downs more of his coffee. He’ll need it to get through this day. “But for right now, could you look into some aspirin, because my head is –”
Pepper has already reached into her purse and pulled out the glass bottle. She hands it to him. He takes it gratefully.
“Happy, this woman is going to run circles around you, you don’t deserve her!”
Happy lifts his chin and smiles at Tony in the rear view mirror, looking quite proud.
“No I don’t, sir!”
Tony pops two aspirin and finishes the last dregs of coffee. Then he leans his head back and closes his eyes behind his sunglasses, hoping to forget the rest of the world for at least the length of this drive.
“We good?” He glances at Jones, his lead carpenter, who steps back and nods. Dugan joins Jones by his side, tucking his hammer back into his tool belt. He crosses his arms over his barrel chest and jokingly huffs with pride.
“All good on my end. Jimmy, what’s taking so long down there?”
“Bite me, Dum Dum.” Morita makes an obscene gesture in his direction and both Dugan and Jones chuckle. “Quality work takes time; I take pride in my craftsmanship, unlike some people.”
“More like it takes you three tries to hit a dang nail on the head. So sad that everyone can’t be born with god given talent like me and Gabe here, but you keep working at it and maybe one day Rogers will let you hold more than your own dick in your hands.”
“I think you’re getting confused and talking about your love life.”
“All right, that’s enough,” Steve interrupts the back-and-forth, knowing from previous experience that it can only get more coarse from there and not really in the mood to hear it. He backs up until he’s standing alongside Gabe as well, giving himself some space to survey their work. “Seems fine. Did Monty get final word on the color choice?”
Falsworth is his second in command on the crew, and Steve often relies on him as the go-between for set design and art direction. He’d do it himself, but with his own artist’s eye, he frequently finds himself perturbed by the horrible aesthetic choices being made and unable to hold his tongue about it.
He’s found over the years that it’s all well and good to be designing and building the sets, but when it comes to dressing them, he’s better off keeping his opinions to himself. He hasn’t come across a team yet that doesn’t resent his two cents.
It’s one of the few times Steve wonders if being his old self, 10 inches shorter and 105 pounds lighter, would actually be to his benefit. People look at him and see some brawny beefcake who built the rooms they stand in, but they forget that it all came from intricate, careful plans created in his mind and drawn in detail by his hand.
But then again, when he was small, most people looked at him and didn’t see him at all.
So now he sends Falsworth to do some negotiating in his place. Monty is suave and very, very British, and in Hollywood, as in most of America, that lends him some kind of intrinsic authority.
“The word did come back, and they’re still going with that damn bright blue,” Gabe informs him.
Apparently even Monty’s posh accent wasn’t persuasive enough, this time. Steve frowns at the set that’s coming together in front of him.
“That’s gonna read as downright garish on screen,” Dugan says, as if this is a new revelation.
“Yes, yes it will.” Steve peels off his workman’s gloves and tucks them under the band of his tool belt. He scratches his eyebrow with his thumb as he studies the room, wondering if it’s not too late to put in a big picture window and cut down on the actual amount of available surface to paint. But then they’d have to project some outdoor scene for the illusion of a view, and that can be just as dicey.
He sighs, wishing not for the first time that he had more control over these projects. But if he’d wanted control, he should’ve stuck to painting or drawing or sculpting, any other art form that allowed him to work entirely on his own.
Unfortunately it’s a lot harder to make rent that way.
At least he counts some of his friends among his immediate crew members, a band that stayed together after they returned from the war and hadn’t a clue what to do with their lives. Steve had been their leader in battle, and somehow when back stateside they all just followed him here and asked him to keep right on leading.
Whenever he gets annoyed, Steve focuses on them – on their lives, their wives, their growing families – and suddenly quibbling over a shade of blue on a wall on a movie set doesn’t seem worth the anger.
“Okay. Why don’t you check in with Dernier about getting the grips to set the overhead rigging and then touch base with Lang and make sure we’re on track with the electricians on that count as well.”
“Oh, Scotty boy is sparks on this? I didn’t get that memo.” Dugan sounds pleasantly surprised; Scott Lang had been the best gaffer in the business until he got sent up the river a few years back. His crime had been a noble one, exposing some union leaders for ripping off thousands of dollars from below-the-line workers through pumped up fees and dues, but the way he’d achieved his goals had involved some less-than-legal breaking & entering followed by some light thieving.
“How’d that happen? I would’ve thought no one would touch him with a ten foot pole after what went down,” Morita comments, and after the others nod in agreement, one by one they all pause and then look at him.
“You vouched for him, didn’t you.” Gabe doesn't phrase it as a question because everyone already knows the answer. Steve shrugs a little, not about to explain himself. Scott’s a decent fellow, and when he came to Steve, desperate and broke, and asked for any help he could offer, Steve had been glad to go to bat for him with the producer of this picture.
It hadn’t taken too much convincing, honestly. Studio execs are more forgiving of people who do damage to unions rather than strengthen them, and Steve suspected that even without his assistance, Scott’s time on the blacklist was already nearing an end. Juicers with Scott’s level of expertise in both mechanical and electrical engineering are hard to come by.
“It’s fine,” Steve assures the three of them, brushing off the unspoken concern.
“I like Scott and all, but that’s your reputation, Rogers. Your reputation means our jobs, in the end.” Dugan’s got a point, but Steve would have thought after all this time, they’d have more trust in him than this. Scott Lang might be an ex-con, but he’s a good guy, and he’s not going to let Steve down.
“Have I ever steered you wrong before, Dum Dum?” Steve points out, forcing a smile to lighten the mood.
“Well, there was that dame in Itter who wasn’t actually a dame.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Dum Dum, that was Barnes who sent her your way. And you were so drunk, you didn’t notice until she took you up to her room.”
“I’d ask for an explanation, but I don’t think I want one,” Steve shakes his head, hoping that no one thinks it necessary to reveal exactly how far into the encounter Dugan got before the realization struck.
There’s a list of supplies they need for that afternoon’s work that everyone’s been scribbling down throughout the morning, so Steve pulls the paper from the clipboard, folds it in quarters, and slips it into his pocket. The pencil gets tucked over his right ear.
He opens his mouth to tell the guys that he’ll be back shortly with what they need, but their discussion of Dum Dum’s indiscretions has escalated into a good-natured argument over who has made the biggest romantic blunders in the past. Each is sure one of the others has made far more embarrassing mistakes.
Steve leaves behind the three men as they bicker over the precise details.
New York stopped being the seat of power for the film industry twenty years ago; the days of Zukor and Loew are done. Tony’s just some hotshot outsider blowing into town thinking he can make movies; these guys want his bank, but at the same time they also don’t want him to succeed. They need the cash because they’re being forced to divest their exhibition arms, while for the same reason they’re weaker than ever and looking to circle the wagons, stop others from chipping away at the system they’ve built.
Selznick came up through the ranks at RKO, MGM, and Paramount, and had more than proved his chops by the time he went independent. He was a movie man, not an imposter, an invader. And studio heads still resisted, still gave him trouble.
Tony should probably be thankful he’s being let onto the Paramount lot, that someone’s willing to talk to him about leasing him production space. Should being the operative word.
He’s kind of just annoyed.
They’ve stopped in the set, lighting and grip department and Thomas Lowell, the poor schmuck tasked with leading him and Pepper around, is blathering about equipment and crews and other such-and-such.
Tony leans back on his heels, tuning Thomas out and tilting his head to look at the high sheet metal ceiling, buttressed by wood rafters. Pretty solid construction. Humming lightly to himself, he lets his gaze wander aimlessly around the rest of the warehouse.
That’s when Tony sees him.
He’s walking in out of the sunlight and Tony swears for a moment that he’s witnessing the visitation of an angel. This man is so beautiful that he makes Tony doubt both his sanity and his religion.
Tony automatically turns his whole body toward the open warehouse door, his responsibility to the guided tour utterly forgotten as he watches the man’s muscular frame shift and stretch underneath his sinfully tight white undershirt. He turns and bends to lift up a long, heavy backdrop roll – singlehandedly – and the curve of his ass beneath his dark denims is spectacular. A tool belt is slung loosely around his slim waist, and doesn’t that do something to Tony, he doesn’t even know what.
The way the man moves is somehow familiar – an impossible grace and control as he quickly loads up a cart with supplies, heavy items giving him not the slightest trouble. When he stops to pull a list from his back pocket, he pulls off his right work glove with his teeth and grabs the pencil from above his ear, checking off items with an intense concentration that brings a furrow to his brow.
His jawline is cut from stone, his cheekbones equally chiseled. At this angle, Tony has yet to see his face in its full glory, but in profile, he’s striking. He still has a fingertip of his tan work glove caught between his teeth, his full, pink lips seeming to mouth something against the leather as he finishes his task.
He shoves the ragged piece of paper back into his jeans and slips his work glove back on his hand.
And then like that, the most perfect man Tony has ever seen is walking away.
“Pepper, I’ll be right back.” Tony informs her distractedly, moving toward the door like a man in a trance.
“Tony, where are you going –”
“Mr. Stark, forgive me, but you’re not allowed to go off on your own. Insurance liability, you must understand.” Thomas is simpering over something, but it barely registers. Until the man scampers in front of him, waving his hands. “Is there some place you would like to go? I would be happy to take you.”
“Where did he…?” Tony mutters to himself as he brushes Thomas’ query aside. There’s no sign of his mystery man on the avenue; he scans the passers-by for those broad shoulders, that lovely head of golden hair, but everyone around him at the moment is dull, useless.
The lumber yard is just across the way, and Tony wonders if that’s where the man ducked into. The tool belt and the sawdust on his pants clearly mean he’s a workman of some kind. They’ve already seen the lumber yard, but Tony debates asking to go back and hurriedly tries to come up with a good reason for doing so.
“What is the matter with you?” Pepper hisses as she catches up to him, stopping at his side and putting a tight hand on his elbow, manicured fingernails digging into his arm. “You’re being rude, and you can’t just go wandering off. Do you want this deal or not?”
“No, no, I want this deal. I want to be on this lot as much as humanly possible,” Tony replies quickly. Pepper’s eyes narrow.
“All…right. I suppose that’s the enthusiasm I was looking for…”
“Shall we continue, then?” Thomas asks, and Tony nods absently, his eyes still scanning the street.
They all power down their tools hurriedly, however, perhaps realizing their hungry stomachs haven’t forgotten the hour. He watches idly, not that hungry himself, as everyone heads outdoors, eager to get some fresh air.
Without the studio lights on and the entire cast and crew present, the soundstage tends to be cooler than outside. The facility’s ceiling is so high and the room so cavernous and empty that when he first arrives in the morning, it can actually be downright chilly. But by one in the afternoon, the sun has warmed the metal roof and walls, and the heat of the day has seeped in enough to make the air seem stale and oppressive.
Steve’s been pushing himself hard enough that his flannel shirt came off long ago and his white undershirt now clings to his skin, damp with sweat. He picks up his over shirt from where it’s hanging on a rack of C-stands and contemplates throwing it back on before going outside. No one expects workmen to be dressed prim and proper, but he is the head of his crew. When he leaves the soundstage to walk the backlot in his work clothes, he always feels a bit underdressed.
The blast of Los Angeles summer heat hits him like he’s walked into a wall. It’s a different kind of heat than June in New York – less muggy here, more space and fewer people – but the pavement bakes just the same. He ducks back inside and tosses his flannel and his tool belt to the floor, just out of the way of foot traffic. His things will be safe there for a while; these few days of preparation before a shoot begins are incredibly busy but they are less hectic, and the suits won’t be around to take a look at the progress until at least tomorrow.
Steve squints into the bright sunlight, taking a cautious moment to survey the back lot before moving. The alleys between studio spaces can be as hazardous as a city street when production is in full swing, but today, at least in this corner of the Paramount stages, is low key. It seems their film is not the only one in the process of ramping up.
“Où est-ce qu'il va?” Steve hears Dernier ask Gabe. Steve’s picked up enough French over the years to know what’s being said. The question is about him, but not directed at him, so he chooses not to answer it.
“Cap, you gonna eat?” Jones calls, and Steve turns to see him and Dugan pulling some apple boxes up to sit, Morita lounging on the pavement with his feet propped up on a sandbag. Dernier and Falsworth are sharing a furnie blanket, which really, they shouldn’t have and shouldn’t be sitting on. They’re opening their metal lunch boxes and digging in to the meals lovingly prepared for them by their wives. Cold fried chicken and biscuits and ripe red apples, thermoses full of cool lemonade, and freshly baked cookies wrapped in wax paper.
Steve’s lunch consists of some questionable bologna on stale bread, because it’s Bucky’s turn to do the shopping and he hasn’t quite gotten around to it yet.
“Come join us, Captain,” Falsworth encourages kindly, waving him over, but Steve gestures over his shoulder in the opposite direction.
“I think I’m going to take a walk, stretch my legs.”
“We’re on our feet all day, the dang fool,” Dugan mutters around a mouthful of chicken as Steve turns and ambles away.
It’s silly, but some days when he’s feeling a little rough, he treks to the sets that are designed to look like New York City. Luckily, Stage 30 isn’t that far from “Brooklyn” so he won’t spend too much of his break today making the walk. They’re shooting some De Havilland picture down at the end of the avenue at “Washington Square,” but he avoids getting in their way and finds a stoop on which to cop a squat.
Of course, this doesn’t really feel like home. It smells all wrong and it sounds all wrong, but there’s enough here in the familiar architecture to be vaguely comforting.
It’s actually very quiet on this vacant street, and the warmth of the sun makes him feel lethargic. The previous night's lack of sleep is hitting him now, and it's hitting him hard. He shouldn’t have sat down.
His eyes drift slowly closed.
“This is impressive. They’ve even added bums for authenticity.”
Steve jerks back awake, snapping toward the sound of someone’s amused voice.
“All we need now are some pigeons and the stink of the subway and it will be as if I never left home.”
The person standing above him is backlit by the sun and it makes it hard for him to make out anything more than his shape, and perhaps the light glinting off a pair of sunglasses.
He shades his own eyes with his hand and slowly the man standing there comes into focus.
Steve scrambles up, his cheeks flushing pink with something other than the heat.
He would have to pick what is likely to be the hottest day of the year to walk around outside for hours. Though…he hadn’t picked it – Pepper had, so he supposes that she’s to blame for the way he’s sweating through one of his most expensive suits.
There’s a bit of a to-do when Olivia De Havilland and Montgomery Clift finally arrive to set, their stand-ins gratefully ducking out to go find some shade. He smiles when Thomas looks back at him for his reaction; he’s probably supposed to be impressed, just as he was probably supposed to be awed when he shook William Wyler’s hand, or when they crossed paths with Claude Rains earlier in the day on a different set.
With his father being who he was, Tony had grown up in the presence of some of the world’s most powerful men. It takes more than Melanie Wilkes to wow him.
Realizing that everyone, Pepper included, is momentarily distracted, Tony slowly starts backing away from the crowd. Sufficiently convinced that no one is paying him any mind whatsoever, he turns heel and slips away as casually as he can.
Away from the hubbub, the backlot is strangely empty. It’s odd to go from a bustling hive of action to desolate sidewalks, but it’s a good kind of odd, a soothing kind of odd. It makes him feel a world away. The architecture is turning from the Upper West Side into Brooklyn when Tony stumbles across someone else who must have also been seeking the solitude.
Tony turns to go in the opposite direction, not wanting to be caught out and sent back to set with a scolding, when the lightning bolt of recognition hits him.
The man sprawled out on the stoop across the street is none other than the mystery man from earlier.
Tony’s walking over before he has time to think about what he’s doing.
Getting closer, Tony realizes the man is asleep, or doing a good impression of it. He knocks the man’s leather work boot with the polished toe of his Oxfords.
“This is impressive. They’ve even added bums for authenticity,” Tony quips loudly when the man doesn’t stir. The joke does the trick, the man snapping to like he’s been slapped awake.
As opening lines go, it’s not a great one. Belatedly it occurs to him that he’s insulted this utter perfection before him, but he’d gone with it and now it’s too late to take it back. So he commits.
“All we need now are some pigeons and the stink of the subway and it will be as if I never left home.”
The man stands up, fair cheeks pink from the sun, and a frown creasing his face.
Tony has to admit, this does throw him for a loop. It shouldn’t – people know who he is, it’s not so unbelievable that this stranger would too. Nevertheless, it’s the way the man says his name so crisply, like he knows more about him than his name, that sets Tony off guard.
“I apologize, but I don’t think you’re supposed to be alone back here.”
“Are you supposed to be here?” Tony counters, suspecting that they’re both where they should not be.
“I work here, sir.”
“Oh, because it looked like you were sunbathing.”
“I was just taking a break. I should probably be getting back.” Tall, blond and beautiful looks down to his wrist, then pats his pockets. He sighs with resignation, apparently realizing he’s left his watch somewhere else.
“Are you with that boring Henry James flick down there?” Tony points from whence he came. “Then I don’t blame you in the slightest for wandering. That’s precisely what drove me to Brooklyn. And I tell you, I usually avoid Brooklyn when at all possible.”
This earns him yet another frown. He’s doing very well here.
“I’m not with that picture, no. May I escort you back to set, Mr. Stark?”
“You have me at quite the disadvantage here – you know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
The man hesitates slightly at this, which only piques his interest.
“Steve Rogers,” he finally says. Tony stops walking.
“Steve Rogers. You’re Steve Rogers.” Tony repeats. He holds up a hand, blocking the upper portion of Steve’s face from his line of vision, remembering that nose, mouth and jawline below the cowl and imagining the incredible body in front of him dressed in Captain America’s red, white and blue costume.
“I happened to know your father, during the war.”
“Captain America, in the flesh.” Tony forces a smile through the disappointing revelation that the man who has held sway over his mind all day long is in fact the one man he’d wished to avoid. “No one seems to know what happened to you, after. You’re still an actor?”
Steve chuckles a little at that, which makes Tony feel victorious even as he’s sure he should be giving up this whole conversation and walking away.
“I was hardly an actor then, it’d be hard to be one still." His voice changes slightly, turning deep and warm like a really nice, smooth bourbon going down. His smile is slightly crooked and it's nothing if not endearing. "I’m actually behind the scenes now. Set design.”
“Set design. That’s unfortunate, you have the face for the flicks.”
Steve shifts awkwardly in front of him, avoiding his look.
“I’m…I’m where I should be.” His words go slightly soft at this, then it's back to that formal tone he began with. “And speaking of where I should be, I really am needed back on my own set, and your people are probably wondering where you are.”
“Probably,” Tony agrees. He lets himself be guided back in the direction of Washington Square.
They walk in silence for a short while. Tony’s skin is itching, his heart beating slightly too fast. The very idea of Steve Rogers has long been a thorn in his side, a nagging reminder of everything wrong between himself and Howard.
He’d expected to hate the man if they were ever to meet. Instead, Tony wants nothing more than to see him again.
He reaches into the inside pocket of his double-breasted suit and pulls out his silver card case.
“Here, please take this.” Tony hands Steve one of his business cards. Steve takes it gingerly. “I’m sure you know that I’m getting into the movie business. I’d like you to give me a call, perhaps we can work together on a project.”
“You’re in need of a set designer?”
“Sure,” Tony shrugs. “I’m also in need of a star.”
“Mr. Stark –”
“Call the number, we’ll get a meeting on the books.”
“Tony!” Pepper is stalking toward him, which is quite a feat in her fashionable high heels. “There you are! Where have you been?”
Mr. Lowell is shortly behind her, looking hugely relieved at seeing him.
“Call it.” Tony mouths to Steve, mimicking a phone with his hand, and then turns to greet Pepper. By the time he’s done soothing ruffled feathers, Steve is long gone.