They found him in the middle of a bar fight. Which was in the middle of their bar.
"This is a gastropub!" Eliot yelled, charging out from the kitchen. "There are no bar fights in a gastropub!"
"Man, I don't think he cares," Hardison said. He was watching the fight from a distance with an almost philosophical look on his face. Most of the table settings in the immediate area were already broken, so that was no longer of any concern, and he'd never liked that pattern anyway (it had been a compromise betweeen Eliot's desire for square plates and Parker's desire for lots of flowers, and nobody ended up satisfied).
"Hardison, help me stop it," Eliot said, spreading his hands at the fight. It was three on one which was hardly fair, but on the other hand, the solid-looking guy with the fantastic hair was holding his own.
"Hell no, I'm not wading into that," Hardison said, crossing his arms.
Parker dropped from the ceiling into the middle of the melee at that point, apparently on the side of Fantastic Hair, which did make deciding who to punch easier. Eliot sighed, wiped his hands on the dishcloth hanging at his waist, made sure his headband was tight, and dove in.
There was, admittedly, something familiar about how Fantastic Hair was fighting, and when Eliot swung a fist over his shoulder to help him break a guy's throttle-hold on him, he gave him a brief, businesslike nod before continuing, like he recognized him.
With Parker and Eliot participating, it didn't take long to break up the fight. Two of the men were unconscious and a third was under the bar, whimpering, by the time silence fell. Only their breathing and a strange, mechanical whirring noise from Fantastic Hair broke the silence; everyone other than Hardison had bolted, including most of the waitstaff. They had excellent self-preservation instincts born of time spent around Eliot and Parker, and they were huddled outside waiting for an all-clear.
Hardison slow-clapped them. Eliot gave him a rude salute, then turned to their new...acquaintance.
"You okay?" he asked. Fantastic Hair seemed to do a quick all-over check and then nodded. "You better be the good guy."
"I think I am," Fantastic Hair said. "At this point, anyway."
"Aw, he sounds like you," Parker said. Eliot narrowed his eyes.
"And these guys were?" he prompted.
Fantastic Hair blew air through his lips. "Would you believe me if I told you they were Nazis?"
Parker looked at Hardison, who made a complicated face before looking at Eliot.
"What, like I keep track of Nazis?" Eliot asked.
Hardison rolled his eyes and hopped the bar, taking down four unbroken glasses with one hand and a bottle of scotch with the other. He began pouring, so Eliot shuffled through the broken plates and splintered stools and chairs to take a seat at the bar. Parker hopped up on the bar and Fantastic Hair leaned on it warily.
"So, who are you?" Parker asked.
"Kinda still working on that," Fantastic Hair replied. "Name's, ah..."
"Take your time," Hardison drawled. "Pick a good one."
"Buck," he said, nodding at Hardison in acknowledgement. "It's not completely fake."
"Oh, well," Hardison said. He nudged one of the drinks over.
"You sound like a man who needs some friends," Parker said.
"Dunno about needs," Buck said. "Not sure it's healthy to be a pal of mine around now."
One of the unconscious men groaned. Eliot kicked him casually, just enough to make sure he stayed out.
"Why don't you tell us what brings you to Portland," Parker said, in her best I'm The Mastermind Now voice.
They hung a "Closed Due To Mayhem" sign on the front door of the pub and Eliot sent the staff home for the day while Parker and Hardison took Buck upstairs to apply first aid and get settled. Eliot called some pals of his to come dispose of the presumable Nazis, ziptied them all, and then went to find the others. When he walked into the upstairs apartment, he was greeted with "Eliot, LOOK!"
Buck was standing in the middle of the living room, one arm outstretched. Parker was standing on his palm.
"He's got a CYBORG ARM!" she said excitedly.
Every alarm in Eliot's brain went off at once, but Parker didn't look like she was in danger and Buck seemed at most bemused by the whole thing, so he just went very still.
"That's a very distinctive arm," he said slowly.
"Yeah," Buck said. "Thought I recognized you."
"Don't think so."
"No, you're right," Eliot said. "Johannesburg."
"Maybe..." Buck looked like he was struggling with something. Parker hopped gracefully down from her perch on his arm and slung her own arms over it, resting her chin in the divot of his elbow. "Also...the Ukraine?"
"The entire Ukraine?" Hardison asked.
"It was a long weekend," Eliot said.
"So you two are friends? That's nice," Parker said.
"Not friends," Eliot said. "Not exactly enemies yet, though."
Buck regarded him with dark, impassive eyes. Yeah, he remembered those eyes now, though he was used to them having a lot more eyeshadow around them.
"You in the fixing business?" Buck asked.
"Got something that needs fixing?" Hardison asked.
"We provide leverage," Parker said.
"She loves to say that," Eliot sighed.
Buck gave Parker a look of pure adulation, which earned him quite a few gold stars in Eliot's book. People who liked Parker were generally excellent judges of character.
"Stark Industries -- " he began, and Hardison threw his hands up.
"No! No no no," he said.
"We have a rule," Parker said apologetically.
"It ain't a rule, it's a guideline," Eliot insisted.
"We don't mess with Stark," Parker said, in the voice of one tolerating a loved one's bizarre personality quirk.
"I don't wanna get my ass blown off by a robot-suited aggressive billionaire who does not like hackers!" Hardison yelped.
"Buried treasure," Buck said, and suddenly had the intent attention of everyone in the room.
"What kind of treasure?" Hardison asked.
"Stark Industries had a satellite office in the pacific northwest," Buck said. "It was called the Resilient Office."
"Go on," Parker prompted, when Buck looked at Hardison inquiringly.
"The Resilient Office was where Stark Senior supposedly kept his private files. Dangerous plans, dangerous items. Weapons. Also some backup cash, maybe. I'm here to beat the Nazis to it."
"Oh, this is a SHIELD thing," Hardison said.
"A what now?" Eliot asked.
"Do you not watch the news?"
"I am cooking or beating on people every hour God gave -- "
"Hey!" Parker said, still leaning on Buck.
"SHIELD is an intelligence agency -- "
"I know what SHIELD is, Hardison," Eliot said, and then it dawned on him what this was about. "Oh. This is a SHIELD Hydra Nazi thing."
"Thank you," Hardison said, spreading his arms.
"They don't know where Resilient is," Buck said. "They've been looking for years, Hydra and SHIELD both. Stark Industries doesn't know where it is either, Senior kept it off the books."
"And you do?" Eliot asked.
"I knew Stark. Back when. Kind of. It's...complicated," Buck said. "He told me about a cache like it in New York. Nothing there anymore but the boat he owned in New York was bought through a shell in Portland. Figure the office address of the shell's a pretty good place to start."
"And Nazis are following you?" Parker asked. "That's exciting."
"I don't think they followed me. I know how to shake a tail. I think they're trying to beat SHIELD to it. Hydra's in pieces but SHIELD is...."
"Like five dudes and a van right now," Hardison said, nodding.
"What about Stark?" Eliot asked. "Junior's gotta be looking for it."
"I don't think he knows about it."
"If he did he'd have destroyed it," Parker said. "He's a pacifist now. A pacifist with great big guns!"
"She's a fangirl," Hardison sighed.
"So what exactly do you want to do once we find this stuff?" Eliot asked.
"We?" Buck asked.
"This is our town. You don't go treasure hunting without us," Eliot said.
"That's Eliot's way of saying he LOVES treasure hunts," Parker said. She leaned away from Buck and patted his arm, which he lowered. "You want us to come along, don't you? We're fun and helpful."
"I don't mind, long as you know what you're getting into," Buck said slowly. "It's...there's gonna be Nazis and maybe federal agents and I'm not...the most sane. And I'm gonna burn the office down when I find it."
Eliot offered his hand. Buck shook with his non-cyborg hand, a firm grip.
"Welcome to the club," Hardison said. "For sanity you can look elsewhere."
The address that had belonged to the shell company where Stark bought his boat wasn't in existence anymore; the street had been rerouted due to some construction in 1953, and the numbers had changed. Hardison was elbows-deep in old deed records trying to find it, but he was threatening to send Eliot to the city records office to find stuff, and Eliot hated the city records office (every city records office) so he and Parker were trying to spitball other ideas.
"What about sewer tunnels?" Parker asked. "If the business office was like a hidden room it's probably underground."
"Maybe it's another boat," Eliot suggested. He liked the idea of breaking into boats. Marinas were fun.
"It must be hidden, if nobody found it," Buck said. He was wearing a pair of Eliot's pants and one of Hardison's shirts, because apparently the Nazis had gotten his luggage at some previous point, and his clothes were a little ripe. Hardison's shirt said I LIKE PI, and the cognitive dissonance was stunning. "If it was a boat or a storage space it'll be paid through...forever, if it lasted this long."
"Renting isn't Stark's style," Hardison said, without looking up from his laptop. "You know he had a bunker under the Stark Industries plant in Malibu? They only found it when Iron Man blew it the hell up."
"What kind of a bunker?" Parker asked.
"Fallout shelter. MREs and everything," Hardison said.
"What if he moved it before he died?" Eliot asked. "If he knew they were going to be paving over it, he might. And if I had a bunker full of dangerous crap and spare millions I'd move it every few years anyway, just in case."
"Is that what you were doing when you went to 'Disney World' last year?" Parker asked, airquoting heavily.
"There's a lot of great international cuisine at Epcot and I got a bargain," Eliot protested. "A man can't just like Disney World?"
"Was there a holding company holding the shell title?" Hardison asked Buck.
"Yeah but it was...Stark Holdings," Buck said.
"Ah," Hardison sighed.
Buck looked thoughtful. "Try...patriotic stuff. America, Star Spangled, Stars and Stripes, that kinda thing."
Hardison put up a list on the big wall screen. "Apparently there are a lot of patriots in Portland. Or were, in the fifties."
Buck got up and got closer to the screen, studying them.
"There," he said. "1953. White Star Holdings."
"How do you know?" Parker asked.
"White Star was..." Buck seemed to struggle again. "Important, I don't...it was important to..."
Eliot tensed. Buck seemed to be fighting something down, and if that something was a violent impulse -- he'd seen him fight downstairs but he'd also seen the man in...other situations, and he was remembering a lot of brutality. If he wanted to beat this guy, he'd have to get the first punch in.
But Buck just dropped his head. "I dunno. I just know. I remember...the phrase. The White Star Boys. What's the address of White Star Holdings?" he asked abruptly.
"Not far from here, couple of miles," Hardison said. "Building's still standing. I'll get the plans."
"Let's go steal Stark Industries!" Parker chirped.
"Nice van," Buck said, as they piled into Lucille, hauling tools and various bits of equipment Hardison insisted he needed.
"Nobody shit-talk Lucille," Hardison warned.
"No, I mean it," Buck said, thumping one of the walls. "Solid. Is that a Faraday cage?"
Hardison blinked. "Yeah. I mean. I did some interior decorating."
Buck nodded. "I like it."
"Uh. Thanks," Hardison said. He gave Eliot a look, as if to say Neither of you ever tell me how nice Lucille is.
"It's a nice van, can we go now?" Eliot growled.
"Touchy," Hardison observed, but Buck pulled the back doors shut and Hardison put her in gear. He kept both eyes on the road, so Eliot kept watch on Buck and Parker in the rear-view mirror.
The building where White Star Holdings had been registered in 1953 had been rehabbed from a shabby office building into trendy downtown lofts in the nineties, and was no real challenge -- they just grabbed a sofa from the alley behind the building, hauled it around front, and got one of the residents to hold the door for them while they carried it inside. Once in, they left the couch in the lobby ("That's a nice couch though." "It probably has bedbugs, Hardison." "We can come get it later." "Parker, I will buy the pair of you a new couch." "I could use a couch." "See? Buck could use a couch." "Oh my God.")
Hardison was reasonably confident there was at least one false wall in the basement, according to the building plans, so they found the stairs (Hardison still talking about how they could use a couch) and descended through two levels of parking garage to the facilities plant. Hardison led the way past elderly pipes and ancient operations equipment -- Eliot was willing to bet this entire building got shitty water pressure -- and up to a wall that looked normal.
Until you looked close, and saw that the brickwork wasn't starting to pock and crumble like the other walls were.
"It's some kind of resin, I think," Hardison said. "Maybe an early polymer -- "
Buck drew his metal arm back and punched straight through it. It spiderwebbed and shattered like glass.
"That's usually my job," Eliot pointed out.
"Metal arm," Buck replied, pulling chunks of whatever-it-was through the hole and tossing them on the ground. It didn't take long to make a gap big enough for a person to fit through; Parker put a hand on Buck's arm and went first.
"She's checking for traps," Eliot said.
"Why her?" Buck asked, brows drawing together.
"She thinks sneaky," Hardison replied.
"It's cool!" Parker called. "No traps. Sloppy," she pronounced, and a set of overhead lights went on. Eliot went through next, just in case, and Hardison waved Buck through, presumably so that he wouldn't have to put his back to a guy who could punch through walls.
There was a sidelong hallway behind the wall with a door at one end; Parker was standing in the doorway, haloed in golden light, and for a second Eliot wondered if he was just being overdramatic --
"Oh, hey, wow, shit," Hardison stammered, joining her in the doorway. The glint of actual gold was visible beyond them. "Woooow, shiiiit."
"Buried treasure," Buck repeated, mostly to himself.
The room at the end of the hall looked almost like a little shrine. On either side of the tiny closet-sized space were a set of file cabinets, and between them was an enormous padlocked trunk. Atop the trunk was a small pyramid of gold bars.
Buck bypassed the gold, which Parker and Hardison were hunching over admiringly, and went straight to the file cabinets. A single metal finger jammed into the lock mechanism snapped the lockbars and allowed him to open the drawers on the left one, which proved to be full of files.
"What's in 'em?" Eliot asked, resisting the temptation to jam the gold into a bag and leg it.
"Photostats," Buck said. "Copies of a journal. Original's probably destroyed or at SHIELD. Technical drawings..." he opened the bottom drawer, sifting through rolled up sheafs of paper. "Either useless or too dangerous to get out."
"We can't burn it down here," Eliot said. "I got an oven'll destroy them back at the pub."
Buck nodded, breaking the lock on the other cabinet. This one had guns in the top drawer, clothing in the rest. He turned up a pair of elderly, disintegrating passports with false names.
"Stark Senior was paranoid," Hardison said. He had a bar of gold in his hand.
"Prepared. Stark family trait," Buck remarked. "Move 'em," he added, pointing to the gold. Parker slammed a backpack down on the trunk enthusiastically and began loading it up.
"Woman, that's gonna weigh more than you do, slow down," Hardison said, taking some of the bars out of the backpack and loading them into his duffle.
"He said to move them!" Parker protested. Hardison rolled his eyes, but between the two of them they got the bags packed and set them near the door. Buck crouched, grasped the padlock, and snapped it.
"Yeah," he said, when he lifted the lid. "This is what we gotta get rid of."
Eliot peered over his shoulder, but it looked like a jumble of electronics and blunt objects to him. It must mean something to Buck and Hardison; Hardison let out a low whistle when he saw it all.
Then there was a click behind them.
"I know nobody followed me," Hardison said, without turning around.
"Nobody followed you," Buck confirmed.
"We hardly had to," said a voice from somewhere beyond the gun pointed into the room. "We have trackers for these things. An alarm went off not half an hour ago that one of our operatives was moving."
"Shit, I shoulda swept the cyborg," Hardison sighed. Buck looked indignant.
"Aw, man," Eliot groaned. "Now I gotta kick these Nazis' asses?"
"You can take the gold," the voice said. "You can even have the files! We just want the trunk."
Buck glanced at Eliot. "Three seconds," he said.
"Wait for it," Eliot said. Buck raised an eyebrow. "Parker, darlin?"
With a yell, Parker swung her backpack up and around, a bullet burying itself in the gold bars as she hit the gun, the hand holding it, and a good part of the arm. The force of the swing was enough to drive the man's arm into the frame, and there was a sick crack as the arm broke.
Buck lunged forward, blocking another bullet from some other shooter with his arm, moving faster than a human being should be able to move. Eliot counted, one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand and then followed him through the door.
There were eight guys, which wasn't a great concern, especially since one of them had a broken bone and a second was already unconscious, no doubt Buck's work. Eliot drew most of them down the hallway, leaving Parker and Hardison to follow and play cleanup. Parker was swinging her backpack, apparently enjoying herself. Eliot ducked a swing from one of them and knocked the gun out of his attacker's hand. Most of them were big men in dark suits, hilariously neutral, like video-game bad guys.
He heard, as he fought, Hardison having a conversation he was definitely going to make fun of later.
"Are you, is this, am I seeing a Black Hydra Nazi?" Hardison demanded.
"We're not Nazis anymore!" the man replied, sounding frustrated. Hardison got him with a left cross against his jaw so beautiful that Eliot took a second out of his beating on one of the other Nazis to just admire it.
"Yeah but like -- " Hardison kicked him in the junk, good man, " -- you know Hydra was Nazis right? And you haven't actually changed your philosophy at all, so..."
"We're very equal opportu -- " the man whuffed as Parker whacked him with her backpack.
"You're the bad guys! Come on man, this is some bullshit!" Hardison yelled. "You can't join the KKK just because they changed their name! You didn't even change your name!"
"Hail Hydra!" the man cried, and between the pair of guys he was fighting, Eliot saw Hardison jab the man in the sternum and turn, ramming his head into a wall.
"Hail my ass!" Hardison said. "Eliot?"
"I'm good," Eliot said, as he knocked one of his guys unconscious and Parker took care of the other one with the Backpack of Golden Doom.
Buck stood over the rest of the Hydra agents, hands on his hips.
"We gotta find the tracker," he said. "Might be in the arm," he added, offering it to Hardison.
"I'm not magic, I don't have cyber eyes that can find your tracker," Hardison said. "Let's get back in Lucille, get you in the Faraday cage."
They probably didn't have much time; Eliot grabbed a dolly from the basement and loaded both file cabinets sideways onto it, grunting and straining to get it out to the van while Buck effortlessly carried the trunk.
"Are you moving out?" someone asked, as they paraded through the lobby. "You're supposed to use the loading dock."
"Heh, yeah, this won't take long," Hardison assured her. "Hey man, what about..." he pointed at the couch.
"Seriously, Hardison?" Eliot asked.
"We're moving out, we don't wanna leave the couch..."
Buck, already returning from loading the trunk, picked up one end of the couch and gestured Parker to take the other.
Lucille was cramped by the time they locked Buck into the Faraday cage in the back and pulled away. A car full of big dudes in dark suits passed them, and Eliot narrowed his eyes, itching to finish things clean. Still, a getaway was more important, so he let it go, for now.
They couldn't risk going back to the pub while Buck was still, somehow, being tracked. Instead they went to an empty lot by the airport, a decent spot for a little bit of destruction. Eliot built a fire and began feeding the files and whatever he thought might melt from the trunk into it, while Hardison and Parker sat on the couch and sifted through the rest and Buck stayed in the cage.
"Hey, okay, I'm gonna take this apart and then we'll fix your arm," Hardison called back to Buck. Improbably, Parker had found a bag of marshmallows and was using what looked like some kind of electricity-based torture device to toast one over the fire. "Baby, make me one?"
"Sure," Parker said, adding another marshmallow. "This was fun. Next time we need graham crackers."
"Anything you can't destroy?" Buck called.
"Doesn't look like it," Hardison said. "I might keep this one, it looks harmle -- "
The object in his hands clicked and then shot a plume of colored smoke fifteen feet in the air. Hardison somehow slammed it shut and looked down at it, then hastily threw it on the fire, where it turned the flames bright purple.
It took them a few hours to destroy everything and find the tracker in Buck's arm, but by the time night was falling they were on their way back to the pub. On the couch in the back of the van, Parker did a count of the gold bars they'd taken and started calculating their worth with the help of a real-time gold value app on Hardison's phone.
"We could gold-plate your arm," she told Buck. "You'd be so shiny."
"I think I'm shiny enough," Buck said hesitantly. "But that's nice of you."
"Where do you really come from?" she asked.
"1944," he said.
"You're real well-preserved, man," Hardison called. "You should think about it. Gold arm. It'd go with your skin tone."
"Your share comes out to three bricks," Parker put in.
"You keep it," Buck said. "You gotta buy some new stuff for the bar."
"Don't tell her that unless you mean it," Eliot said, as the van pulled up to the pub.
"Too late, he said I could!" Parker said, which was when the door of the pub opened and Captain motherfucking America stepped out.
Hardison stopped in shock, and Parker stopped because Hardison did; Eliot, who was just behind Buck, saw him shudder to a stop like he was about to fall over.
There was a mechanical grumble and a shift in air pressure, and to their left, a man came slowly down to Earth, wide mechanical wings folding up into his back.
Hardison bit his fist, staring at the man with the wings. That was the Falcon; Parker had breathlessly reported that he'd broken into some top-secret military base to steal back his wings, and Hardison had a google alert set up for him.
"Hi, Buck," Captain America said, an uncertain smile on his face.
Buck heaved a deep breath.
"Bucky Barnes," Eliot said aloud. "He's Bucky Barnes."
Hardison, fist still in his mouth, looked at Captain America and then back at Falcon.
"We have alibis!" Parker blurted.
Buck gently shifted Parker out of the way, then Hardison, putting himself between Captain America and the three of them. Eliot kept his eyes on the guns strapped to Falcon's wrists.
"It's okay, we're not here to fight. Just came to find a friend," Captain America said, in a low, soothing voice. "Just wanna talk, Buck."
"My Nana loves you," Hardison said to Falcon.
Eliot rubbed his eyes.
"Like, I'm a huge fan, I don't know why I said that first, but she has all your videos bookmarked on YouTube, I had to make her a special page so she can go watch them and show her church friends," Hardison continued. "Please, even if you shoot me, just don't make it vital, my Nana would love to brag that her boy got to meet the Falcon -- "
"Sam?" Captain America said, looking uncertain now.
"Hey, so," Eliot heard himself say. "Maybe let's do this inside where at least nobody calls the cops because half the staff of the pub is in some kind of weird standoff with a couple of superheroes?"
Captain America held the door open, and Buck led the way inside, still wary and pale, followed by Parker, followed by Falcon and Hardison, who was still talking.
"Pleasure to meet you, sir," Eliot said, stopping at the door and offering his hand. "Eliot Spencer. Sorry about the last five minutes. And everything that's about to happen."
The smile Cap gave him was genuine, and looked a little relieved. "Don't worry about it. Steve Rogers," he added, shaking Eliot's hand. Deep down inside, seven-year-old Eliot Spencer squeaked in delight.
Inside, Hardison, still talking, poured out another round, and Parker clung protectively to Buck while Wilson shrugged out of his flight rig and Rogers set his shield (the shield) down under the bar.
"How'd you find us?" Buck asked, as Hardison fell silent.
"Connections," Rogers said vaguely. "Got word of a guy beating up some people in Portland, got some security footage...put two and two together."
"Didn't have to. I was taking care'a myself," Buck said.
Rogers' eyes dropped to his I LIKE PI shirt. "I see that," he said quietly, but there was a hint of a smile on his face. "You look good, Bucky."
"Ain't goin' back to New York," Buck continued. "I got business to finish."
"Like what?" Wilson asked. He sounded honestly curious.
Buck glanced at Parker. "Owe these folks a favor, for one," he said. "I can't -- s'too close, Steve. I gotta -- New York's too close. I gotta make sure I'm...me. First. I think."
Eliot, confident that nobody was gonna throw a punch and, if they did, Captain America would probably handle it, ducked back and into the kitchen, keeping one ear cocked as he raided the fridge. What did one serve Captain America? Did he even like beer? No, Hardison was pouring scotch --
He settled on some gazpacho he'd been assembling for the evening menu, along with a plateful of cheddar crackers and some onion dip he'd been messing around with. Gazpacho wasn't very American, not like apple pie or something, but...
He re-emerged to find that Parker had put herself between Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers and was haranguing Captain America, who looked completely bewildered and a little shamefaced.
"...so you don't get to just walk into my gastropub and give us orders when Buck gave me all this gold," she said, waving a bar of gold under Cap's nose.
"O-Kay," Eliot said, and everyone turned to look at him. "I have food," he said.
"That sounds good," Wilson said, tugging Rogers subtly away from Parker, who was slapping the gold bar against her palm.
Food seemed to help; Buck, for one, ate like he hadn't had a meal in a week, and Parker usually calmed down when she had crackers and dip in front of her. Hardison sat next to Wilson and kept up an enduring but quiet monologue, which seemed to both amuse and delight the superhero.
"Now, what's the damn problem?" Eliot asked, pulling a chair between Rogers and Buck.
"He can't be in the wind," Rogers said. "It's not me, I swear, Buck, like half of the entire country's law enforcement is looking for you. We'll get it straightened out but they gotta stop having kittens over finding you. If you come back to New York they'll stop looking. And we can at least protect you."
"I can't," Buck said, with an immovable expression on his face that looked like it was poorly masking terror.
"Okay, but -- maybe we could find a safehouse -- " Rogers started.
"No! I ain't been free in seventy years, I'm not gettin' locked up now!"
"Hey," Eliot said sharply. They looked at him. "Man doesn't wanna go, he ain't goin'," he said to Rogers, and then turned to Bucky. "And you, you gotta hear what he's saying because it sounds like you are in a whole truckload of trouble."
"Thank you," Rogers said.
"Not done with you," Eliot told him, then turned back to Bucky. "They gotta know you're somewhere safe, right?"
Bucky looked reluctant.
"Ain't playin' with you, Buck, you tell me straight," Eliot insisted.
"Yeah," Buck muttered, turning sullenly to the remains of his gazpacho.
"You be fine long as you know whereabouts he is?" Eliot asked Rogers.
"Be happier if he was with me," Rogers replied.
"Jesus, no wonder we won the war, do you ever give an inch?"
"Not likely," Bucky muttered. Parker snickered.
"He can stay here," she said, and both men looked at her. "What? He's fun. You can be our bartender, with your fun fancy arm," she added. "You can be our startender."
"Let's not get carried away," Eliot started, with visions of poorly-poured beer and badly-matched wines, but Parker waved him off.
"You can teach him, he'll be fine. And he can hit people so you don't have to bruise your knuckles," she added.
"I like hitting people," Eliot said.
"FINE, you can take turns. Then you'll know where he is," she told Rogers, "and nobody has to be upset and everyone will be happy and I'll convince him to let me gold plate his arm."
Rogers looked reluctant, but a glance at Bucky and he nodded. "That could work. I could -- make that work with SHIELD and the FBI."
"Oh, the FBI's giving you grief?" Hardison asked, head rising from his conference with Wilson. "Shit, that's no problem. Parker and I are FBI agents."
"What?" Rogers asked.
"Fake FBI agents, but our credentials are solid," Parker said. "Technically he's in FBI custody right this minute."
"Do I want to know?" Rogers asked Eliot.
"Probably not," Eliot said.
"You'd be okay staying here?" Rogers asked Bucky, who nodded, eyes darting to him and back down to his clean soup bowl.
"Hey," Eliot said, gesturing at Parker and Hardison. "Let's go upstairs."
"But -- " Hardison began, but Wilson stood too.
"You said you had the new Lords of War beta, right?" Wilson asked. He gave Hardison a significant look, then glanced at Bucky and Rogers.
"Oh -- yeah, man, let's hook you up, it's got two-player, we can go head to head, like -- " Hardison was already running for the stairs. Eliot followed them up, glancing back down at where Rogers and Bucky were now sitting close, speaking quietly together.
In the apartment, he settled in on the couch next to Parker, who was watching Hardison and Sam Wilson play through Hardison's favorite new video game beta.
"We did a good thing today," she said. He kissed her temple.
"Yeah we did. Now I gotta train a new bartender," he said, "but we did a good thing."
"And Captain America shook your hand."
"And Captain America shook my hand," he agreed. "That was awesome."
Despite Hardison's unilateral offer to have Steve and Sam stay the night, they left about an hour later. Being fair, they had a private quinjet, so it wasn't like they were suffering. And Sam signed an autograph for Hardison's Nana, so Hardison had to go lock it up in the safe until he could hand-deliver it.
Back when they'd moved into the apartment over the gastropub, they'd set aside one bedroom for Hardison and Parker, one for Eliot, and one to use as an office when meeting clients. At this point Eliot hadn't used his bedroom in months, and he'd moved his few possessions over to the master bedroom, but he liked the security of knowing he still could go back, if for some reason he had to. Parker and Hardison, with what was probably equal parts laziness and kind understanding, had left it as a bedroom, even though Hardison sometimes made rumblings about building a Gamer Cave. Eliot was new to all this, relatively speaking; they let him have his boltholes, for which he was grateful.
At any rate, the bed linens were dusty but the spare bedroom was still pretty much move-in ready. Barnes prowled around it, investigating, and then sat on the bed and said, "Thanks."
"Get settled in. You can eat anything in the fridge but the cheese," said Eliot, who was apparently appointed the Hospitality Committee if the way Parker and Hardison had abandoned Bucky to him was anything to go by. "Well, you can eat the cheddar."
"Preciate it," Bucky said. "You mean what you all said? About working for you?"
"Betting your paycheck'll be more about punching than pouring, but sure," Eliot said. "You see what we do. Help people who need helping. Sounds like you could use a little of that."
Bucky nodded, almost absently.
"Well, okay," Eliot said awkwardly. "See you in the morning. Be up early, you gotta help me clean up downstairs before we open for brunch and then I gotta teach you about the microbrew menu."
He left Bucky in the bedroom and made a note to dig out some more clothes for him in the morning. He crossed the living room, flicking lights out as he went, checked the lock and booby trap on the front door, checked the kitchen to make sure the lights were off, and passed down the hall into the master bedroom. Hardison and Parker were already curled up on the bed, smelling like hand cream and toothpaste respectively. He changed into his pyjamas quietly and crawled in next to Hardison, carefully making enough noise to reassure Parker nobody was sneaking around.
"How's Bucky?" Parker asked.
"Fine. He'll settle in," Eliot replied. "What'd you do with the gold?"
Parker yawned. "Under the bed."
"She's gonna gold-plate everything that can be gold-plated," Hardison mumbled sleepily.
"You stay away from my knives," Eliot warned. Parker pointedly snored by way of reply.
Eliot planted his face between Hardison's shoulderblades, which was one of his favorite ways to fall asleep, and drifted off with one ear still cocked towards the guest bedroom, just in case.
He woke an indeterminate amount of time later, and wasn't sure why. Hardison slept like the dead unless his phone rang, but Parker was a light sleeper and usually if something woke him, it woke her too. She was still curled up in Hardison's arms, though, so Eliot slipped out of the bed and went to investigate.
As soon as he put his head out of the bedroom doorway he knew what had woken him -- the quiet buzz of the screen going on.
Bucky was sitting in front of the muted wall screen; he'd apparently worked out a lot faster than Eliot had how to switch it over to TV and browse the cable. He turned, knife already out, when Eliot closed the bedroom door -- then relaxed, the knife vanishing as fast as it had appeared.
"Didn't mean to wake you," he mouthed.
"It's all right," Eliot said quietly, joining him in the living room. "They won't wake up if they know I'm out here."
He let the Couldn't sleep? go unsaid, because it was obvious and he didn't get the sense Bucky was a guy who liked to be prompted to share.
"Science channel almost always has birds on, this time'a night," he said instead, going to the kitchen. Bucky watched him, still a little on edge. "Or Cinemax has softcore porn."
He heard a snort, and smiled. The buttons on the universal remote clicked softly, and then David Attenborough's voice emerged from the speakers, muffled down to low volume.
Eliot took salami, cheese, and some prosciutto out of the fridge, chopping the cheese into cubes and slicing the salami, throwing some more crackers onto the plate before carrying it into the living room and plopping it onto Bucky's lap. He sat down next to him and stretched out, leaning back into the cushions, arms casually draped over the back of the couch.
"You always feed your strays?" Bucky asked.
"Didn't used to. Getting to enjoy it," Eliot said. Bucky tried some of the salami on a cracker, and then with a sidelong glance at Eliot, poked one of the cheese cubes. Eliot picked one up at random and popped it into his mouth. Sure enough, Bucky waited until he'd swallowed before eating one. There sat a man who'd had his food drugged more than once. Getting the history of Bucky Barnes was going to be interesting.
"So what's the story with the other two?" Bucky asked. Eliot glanced at him. "You and them."
"You met them," Eliot said. "Someone's gotta look out for 'em."
"That what you do?"
"Among other things."
Bucky made a small, wondering noise and ate a slice of prosciutto. Eliot watched the television and waited patiently.
"I only remember 'bout half the life I lived," Bucky said eventually. "It starts comin' back in dreams. Sometimes it's all right, you know. Sometimes I don't wanna remember what I do, so I don't sleep."
"I did some bad things, in my past," Eliot said thoughtfully. "Made some dumb choices."
"It bother you?"
"Not anymore. I make better choices now."
"I didn't always have a choice."
"Well," Eliot said, "then you don't gotta atone for it, if it wasn't your choice. And every one of those is one more reason to hit back."
Bucky ate another bite of cheese. On the screen, David Attenborough expounded on the skeletal structure of emus.
"How long you and them been a thing?" he asked finally.
"Officially? Bout a year, little over. They were together first."
Eliot snorted. "I know they were gonna be the end of me the day we met. Took a couple years to admit it, that's all."
"Yeah?" Bucky asked. "What do you know about me?"
Eliot glanced over at him. "You? Trouble, probably."
"Bet you're gonna be our favorite kind of trouble," Eliot added.
"What kind is that?"
"Never boring," Eliot said with a grin.
Bucky grinned back, then turned to the television again, absently eating. He was about halfway through the plate of food when his eyelids started to droop; Eliot gently reached over and took the plate out of his hands, setting it aside before leaning back in to tug Bucky's head down onto his shoulder. A minute later he was out like a light, breathing soft and even, a dreamless kind of sleep Eliot knew you only got in their line of work when you felt safe.
The kid could use someone to look out for him, someone he didn't have a history with. Eliot had kind of got in the habit of that now, anyhow.
Besides, he did help them find an awful lot of gold.