“Looks like the Starks are comin’ back to Hollywood,” Bucky announces as he barrels in through the front door. He tosses a folded newspaper directly at Steve’s face. Steve can’t help but startle, and the line of his drawing jerks askew. Bucky flops onto the sofa with a self-satisfied smirk. He loosens his tie and then unbuttons his shirt collar, making himself perfectly comfortable.
“Geez, Buck…” Steve mutters, frowning as he sets down his pen and then bends to pick up the newspaper from where it tumbled onto the ground. He curses the black smudges on his formerly pristine drawing that the newsprint left in its wake. Steve pushes back from his drafting desk and swivels to look at his best friend, feeling decidedly unfriendly at the moment. “That was two hours work.”
Bucky just shrugs, mustering up only a weak guilty look that fades quickly. He kicks his heels up on the armrest and Steve scowls at the dust shaking off his shoes and onto the faded but clean fabric. But he knows better than to think Bucky will apologize for anything – ruined drawing, ruined couch, or otherwise - so Steve sighs and reluctantly unfolds the newspaper, scanning the headlines for the story that Bucky apparently couldn’t wait to share.
“Stark heir eyes Hollywood glory…” he murmurs to himself. Below the one-inch high bold print there is a photograph of a young man, crisply posed. He has a flashy devil-may-care grin that Steve has seen before on another man’s face.
“I didn’t even know Howard had a son. Did you?” Bucky asks, digging into his front shirt pocket with his good hand and pulling out his package of cigarettes. He taps them on the back of the couch before flipping the lid with his thumb and pulling a cig out using his teeth.
“He might’ve mentioned it,” Steve mumbles distractedly as he goes back to skimming the three paragraphs, more of it seeming like idle gossip about a rich playboy with too much time on his hands than actual news. Since the war ended, it’s like these reporters have forgotten what’s worthy of ink. “What I didn’t know was that Stark Industries stopped producing armaments. When did that happen?”
“Eh, just recently? After Howard bought the farm, I guess. Instead of producing real bombs, the kid’s just going to make box office bombs,” Bucky quips, and Steve rolls his eyes at the lazy pun. Bucky takes the cigarette out of his mouth and sits up, evidently having more to offer on the subject than a lame joke. “You know how it goes when these East Coast moneybags roll into town, Steve. They have no creativity, no inspiration, no idea how to make a decent picture. They just want a piece of the Hollywood pie and to see their name up on the big screen so they can brag to the young broads they want to trick into replacing their old wives. They got no idea how to be actual producers, all they do is get in the way.”
Bucky places his cigarette back between his lips, ceasing his tirade for a moment to stow the pack in his pocket and then flick open his silver lighter. He does all this so deftly; even though it’s been four years since the war ended, Steve never ceases to be amazed at how well Bucky’s been able to get on with the use of only one good arm. Steve’s got plenty of experience making do with a body that simply doesn’t want to cooperate, but losing a limb entirely is quite a different affair.
Bucky mistakes Steve’s steady gaze as implied derision, as if Steve means to wordlessly question his stance on the subject.
“What? You don’t think this Stark’s gonna be another Hughes? That guy's already driving RKO into the ground and it's only been a year.”
Steve folds the paper and sets it aside before placing his hands on his knees. One would think Bucky was gunning to be the next studio head with the way he always harps on about these things. But the big honcho’s office is a lifetime away from the small little screenwriting bungalow Bucky and his partner, Natasha, share.
“I have no clue. I don’t know anything about Anthony Stark. I barely even knew his father.”
“But…but he produced the stellar, remarkable, unforgettable Captain America short reels!” Bucky grins widely, his teeth clenching down on the cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. Steve cheeks flush in embarrassment even though those silly films were over years ago now. Bucky’s gotten enough mileage out of them that they should no longer matter, yet he still can make Steve turn pink at the mere mention of them.
And it’s true, that Howard Stark had helped the OWI and Hollywood to finance some wartime propaganda, propaganda that Steve had in fact starred in. He’s not ashamed, per se, but there are other things he’d rather be remembered for than his brief - though ultimately useful - foray into acting.
Despite having developed into a stronger, taller version of his formerly weak and tiny self, Steve still found himself stamped 4F on account of the lengthy list of ailments that dogged him since childhood. During one of his many failed trips to the recruitment office, a casting director, a kind man by the name of Erskine, had been doing some recruiting of his own. Pretending to be war hero “Captain America” in cheesy matinee serials and bond drives hardly seemed a good substitute for actual service, but it eventually got him the ears of enough powerful men that could get his form stamped 1A no matter what the doctors said. Howard Stark had been one of those men.
Considering he got to Europe just in time to personally pull Bucky from a POW camp, he’s thankful that his miserable excuse for a Hollywood career paved the way. But it doesn’t change the fact that he once marched around on stage firing dummy guns and throwing fake punches at Hitler impersonators, all while wearing tights. Nor does it stop Bucky from mocking him mercilessly for it.
“Howard Stark provided funding and stage weapons, he wasn’t exactly in the film business.” Steve rubs his palm over his heated face as he turns away from his friend and back to the drawing board. “Once the war ended, I don’t think Howard had anything more to do with movies.”
Bucky climbs off the sofa and crosses the cramped room in a few wide paces, giving Steve the cigarette. He clamps his hand over Steve’s shoulder for a moment before passing toward the kitchen.
“Well, his kid caught the bug somehow and now we’re all going to have to deal with it.”
“You make it sound so personal, Buck,” Steve chuckles. He contemplates taking a drag of the cigarette, but stubs it out in the overflowing ashtray. Bucky opens the fridge and pulls out a beer, opening it using the edge of the countertop in that way that Steve hates. It gouges the tile and it’s already beat to hell as it is. “It’s not like we’re ever crossing paths with the man.”
Bucky tosses the cap into the air and snatches it open palmed, holding his beer tightly with the metal prosthesis that serves as his other hand. With his thumb he sharply flicks the cap in Steve’s direction, his aim impeccable as always. Steve deflects it easily toward the threadbare throw rug. It rolls down onto the worn hardwood floor with a metallic rattle.
“Ah ah ah, read the article again, Rogers. Mr. Independent Producer still needs the studios, and guess which one he’s partnering with first?”
Steve doesn’t bother looking, as Bucky’s comment serves well enough to clear up the mystery.
“It’s just one project. Doesn’t mean it’ll affect you and Nat, doesn’t mean it will affect me and my crew.”
“Mark my words, Steve – the guy thinks he’s gonna be the next Selznick and you remember what happened last time Selznick came around. Getting through the war was easier.”
“And here I thought Natasha cured you of your tendency toward hyperbole.”
“You think I’m being overdramatic but I’m actually making an astute prediction of the months to come. Tony Stark’s gonna mess with our livelihood – hell, our lives, even.”
“Bet you a dollar that neither of us ever meet the man.”
“You’re on.” Bucky sets his half-finished beer on the small table beside Steve’s drawing board, evidently meaning for Steve to drink the rest. “I’m gonna go meet Nat, Clint and Sam down at The Shield for a nightcap, you wanna come?”
“Like to, but I -“
“Have to work, yeah, yeah…” Bucky speaks over him, sounding tired and bored. He grabs his coat from where he’d carelessly tossed it over the piano bench and throws it over his shoulder. “One of these days, Steve, I’m gonna catch you having fun.”
“Let me know when that happens,” Steve replies, turning back to his set design and picking up his pen. The drawing can probably still be salvaged if he can figure a way to mask that errant mark, erase the newsprint smudges. Behind him, Bucky sighs, but Steve doesn’t look.
“One of these days,” Bucky says again, the door closing quietly behind him as he leaves.
“Tell me again why I’m doing this?”
“What do you mean, why are you doing this. This was your idea.” Pepper keeps pace with him as he stalks down the long hallway, pencil scratching shorthand furiously over her steno pad as she jots down notes for the day.
“I don’t mean this, like, this, overall, I mean this in particular. Who set up this meeting? I don’t want this guy, don’t want him directing this picture, don’t see why I have to sit down with him and pretend otherwise. It’s a waste of my time.”
“The man’s a genius.”
“I am a genius. He’s just made some decent pictures.” Tony waves the idea off disdainfully.
“He has six Academy Awards. How many do you have?”
Tony stops, turning to face her with exasperated impatience.
“He likes expensive location shooting out in the middle of the god forsaken desert. Who in their right mind likes the desert? I’ve seen enough desert to last me two lifetimes.” He arches an eyebrow at her before turning on his heel and marching onward, tossing another criticism over his shoulder. “I also hear he’s a mean old drunk.”
“So, may I point out, are you.”
“Ah ah ah, I’m a drunk, but I’m not a mean old one. I actually think I’m quite fun. Not to mention young and devastatingly handsome.”
“We’ll have to agree to disagree,” Pepper states as she opens the heavy door to Tony’s new office, pausing to let him enter first. She closes the door behind them, listening to hear the latch catch shut. Sighing heavily, she looks down at the schedule as Tony circles around the large mahogany desk and sits down in the expensive handcrafted leather chair he’d had shipped directly from Italy. “He is expecting to see you in half hour’s time. Shall I cancel?”
Tony taps his hands against his desk, fingers dancing over its surface. He’s not sure what he’s looking for – his reading glasses, maybe? He pats his breast pocket – no, those are his sunglasses – then his other pockets.
“Top drawer, center. Next to the pens.” Pepper informs him as she saunters toward the desk. Tony pauses in his search to watch her move; she’s still breathtakingly beautiful, after all, even if the way her lips pull into a tight, unflattering line gets more severe as the day goes on.
“Smile for me, would you? You look positively dour.” Tony says as he pulls open the drawer and finds his glasses right where Pepper said they’d be. He slips them on and looks back up, Pepper’s sarcastic grin all the more crisp and clear. “Aw, Pep, at least pretend like you mean it.”
“I’ll smile when there’s something to smile about, Mr. Stark.”
“Mr. Stark. Oh dear. I’ve gone and done it now. You know, Pepper, smiling is the Hollywood way. There are many lovely young ladies who would love to work as my executive secretary, there would be a lot of smiling, I guarantee it.”
“And I’m sure smiling is all they’d do.”
“I resent the implication.” He doesn’t really. It’s probably true enough, although his love life has been remarkably uneventful since he and Pepper decided to keep things professional and friendly rather than romantic. Well, since Pepper decided. Tony had nodded at some point in that conversation, just to make it mutual. “Just once I’d like to see you turn that frown upside down, Miss Potts.”
“Tony, you would despise anyone who actually smiled just because you told them to. Mindless sycophants aren’t your style. It’s pretty much the only reason I keep working for you.”
“And here I thought it was because I was so dashing,” Tony smirks, and then sighs theatrically. “Very well then. Tell me, what else is on the agenda for this afternoon besides that meeting that is now cancelled?”
“Oh, so we’ve decided to cancel, good to know. Apart from that, you have a development meeting at three o’clock, and Mr. Hogan should be delivering those items from storage that you requested.”
“You can call him Happy, Pepper, I know you two are dating.” He kicks back, propping his feet up on his desk as he shoots Pepper a knowing wink. “Courting. Going steady. Whatever you kids call it these days.”
“I prefer to keep my relationship with Mr. Hogan –”
“And what items from storage?”
“Your father’s film collection. The negatives and prints from his wartime work?” Tony knows what she means, but he keeps his face blank, feigning disinterest. He folds his arms behind his head, leaning back and pretending to stifle a yawn. “The Captain America footage? You specifically asked –”
“No, I think I specifically asked for you to take all that out and burn it. Light it up.” He sits back upright, searching his desk for a moment until he locates the fresh box of cigars that his best friend, Rhodey, brought back from his last trip to Cuba. “Just get rid of it, I don’t want to see that shit.”
“I am not burning the Captain America films, Tony.”
“What was that about mindless sycophants? How did they get such a bad rap?” Tony decides against lighting the cigar now; he takes out his sunglasses and stows the cigar in its place. He’ll need it and a good glass of scotch in order to wind down after the development meeting; his budget man, Coulson, is intent on shooting down all of his grand plans purely on the basis of monetary concerns.
Tony’s tried to fire him twice already, but Pepper always hires him back. He wonders what people would think if they knew his secretary secretly runs his company. Or maybe they already know and are just playing along with the great farce.
In the end, he doesn’t mind. He’s a big idea guy. Well, he’s a details guy too. He can see the grandiose big picture and the nuances of the small picture, but Pepper’s just really good at getting everything out of his way so he doesn’t get bogged down in the daily minutiae that don’t directly relate to whatever’s on his mind at the moment.
She has likened it to clearing the area before a bomb goes off, but he thinks that metaphor’s just a leftover from when she used to work for his father. At the very least, he’s sure he’s a better boss than his old man.
He doesn’t make money by finding more effective ways to kill people, for one.
“Are we doing this development thing here or at Lew’s? He’s the agent, he should come here.”
“We’re going there.” Off Tony’s displeased look, Pepper gives him one of her own. “Face facts, Tony, you don’t have a name here. If you were making weapons and we were in Washington, then yeah, everyone would come to you. But you’re nothing more than a dollar sign out here, especially if you’re not willing to trade on your family’s history with the Captain America work. So we’re going to MCA and they’re going to help you package this.”
“Did I argue?”
“You were going to.”
“You think you know me so well.”
“I do. That’s why the Cap stuff stays safe.”
Tony just grunts in response, sure that Pepper is going to be wrong on that point.
Two weeks later, he meets Steve Rogers and immediately realizes she was right.