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Steve steps inside the precinct and heads for his desk, dodging a couple of newbies with coffees in hand and faces lined from lack of sleep. It sits amongst the others, nothing out of place except for that maybe the computer has gathered some dust in his absence. The air smells of coffee, paper, and people but it makes Steve's lips turn up at the corners just to be within the fold of this haze.

 

A few officers raise their heads at the sound of his footfalls but none say a word. He nods in their direction and they nod back. When he sits at his desk the chair squeals and if Steve counted himself as sentimental he'd have said it had been welcoming him back. Still, squeaking chair and dusty computer aside he sighs, sets his own coffee down beside his computer mouse then boots the damned thing up. A post it note on the monitor reminds him, in Captain Monica Chang's careful script, that only typed mission reports will be accepted. The ink has faded mostly into the whitened paper since the first time he'd read it however it stays, a reminder because Steve does not count himself as sentimental.

 

The PC comes to life after Steve has taken a couple more swallows of coffee and he finds his message box brimming with inner-precinct news and assignments. One from last week tells him there had been a bar night and another congratulates Detective Sam Wilson on his years of service.

 

Once the last drop of coffee has been squeezed from the cup he shuts the computer down, stands, then starts towards the room where Captain Chang will give them their assignments. The sun doesn't yet peek through the windows but she sits inside the artificially lighted room at the seat at the head of the table designated for her. Like the desk area the tables and chairs here nearly slot together and come summer the ceiling fan above them will do little to beat the heat.

 

“Morning, ma'am,” he salutes her and she returns it quickly.

 

“Seargent.”

 

He sits, trying not to fidget as they wait for the others to make their way inside; some still hold coffees in their hands while others simply choose a seat and keep their hands on their laps. They talk amongst themselves for a few moments, catching up after days off or long shifts, but Steve keeps focused on Captain Chang. She holds a stack of papers in her hands that will be their assignments and she taps them on the table when the clock on the wall behind her ticks over to 5am on the dot.

 

“Slow night. Rogers, I've got a new recruit I want you to take a look at. Keep your radio on.”

 

He tunes out the rest of the names and takes the paper she hands him. Lang – fresh out of the academy, no record of bad behaviour at least, though neither did Steve, and much of his first year of classes had been peppered with fist fights. Once the room has been dismissed he treks down to the first floor and parking lot where he finds the newbie waiting for him in front of their assigned car.

 

Lang has her hat off exposing a blonde ponytail but he nods in approval of her dedication to appearance. She'd gotten it from the academy of course, however, he’s noticed it doesn't take long for standards to relax outside of a learning environment. He holds out his hand and she shakes it as they get introductions out of the way.

 

“We've got East 55th to East 62nd today,” he says after a second affirming glance at the report Monica had handed him.

 

Lang nods in agreement, and after they've gone over the basics of preparing for active duty again she slides into the passenger seat.

 

Steve wastes no time in starting up the radio, GPS, and mounted computer on the dash as Lang watches intently. Still, she says nothing, so he doesn't ask if she has any questions – any areas of misunderstanding will come out in the field.

 

“So, what's patrol like?” she finally does ask, once they've pulled out onto the street and into the flow of traffic.

 

“This.”

 

He scans the sidewalk and road for any infractions being made as he drives; most of their work will come from radio calls, however, nothing in the rule book says he can't be constantly on guard. Lang nods and stares out her window.

 

“What are the chances we'll have to shoot someone?”

 

Steve narrows his eyes at her, “Not very good. The only reason an officer should draw their gun is if there is no other choice but to use deadly force, Lang.”

 

“I know, I know. I was just wondering is all.”

 

He grunts and she doesn't ask any more questions.

 

~~**~~

 

They reach 62nd in time for the radio to crackle at them.

 

“Attention all cars in the area, reports are coming in of a domestic disturbance at residence 338 East 62nd.”

 

“Dispatch, this is car 24King, leave it with us.”

 

“Roger, 24King. Suspect is described as a white male, 5”10, medium build, with blonde-brown hair.”

 

“Roger, dispatch. 24King 10-51. Out.”

 

Lang sits up straighter in her seat and checks her equipment quickly, “Ready, sir.”

 

It doesn't take long to reach the residence,a multi-level, rust coloured building beside a construction company, and it takes even less time to hear the screaming coming from upstairs. A woman's voice yells that someone is going to call the cops; Steve had switched off the sirens just before they reached the place for that reason. People who knew the cops sat on their doorstep tended to run.

 

The person who had called the police stood in the lobby of the building, arms wound around herself, wearing a robe and a pair of slippers. “Can you arrest one of them? Please? Because I'm tired of this shit. Every god damn day they're up there screaming at each other and I've got work at 9am!”

 

“We'll do what we can, ma'am.”

 

“That's what you all say. Every time, 'we'll do what we can,’ yeah, well I don’t see much keeping of the peace in this damn city.”

 

He returns to Lang, standing guard near the door. “Take care of this, I'll go check out upstairs,” he tells her in a low voice.

 

“Heck no,” she whispers back, frowning, “I'm not staying down here with Kung Fu Hustle. Shouldn't I learn to deal with this sort of thing?”

 

“You are learning to deal with it. Stay down here.”

 

He sees the struggle in her face but she nods, with a “Yes, sir.”

 

“It's apartment 204!” the woman yells as he heads for the stairs.

 

He reaches the apartment quickly enough, legs still used to running, heart still used to pumping blood as fast as he needs it to in spite of a month off of work. Inside, angry voices still scream and hurl insults and he hears glass breaking. His knuckles rap on the wood of the door exactly twice, before the woman inside shrieks in a way that can only mean something bad.

 

“HELP!! Someone help!!”

 

The door yields quickly to Steve's foot.

 

Papers and personal effects litter the floor but he ignores them in favour of heading for the sounds of rustling and screaming. Loud. So loud he has to blink, shake his head to clear the ringing from his ears, though the sound still lingers, still entrenches itself in his thoughts until screams fill everything.

 

“NYPD, everyone, hands up!” he hears himself holler through as if through a fog. Like he sits somewhere outside of his own body.

 

He smells blood, sees it splashed across the linoleum of the kitchen floor where the woman gurgles there still mouthing 'help me'. The window has been opened, cool air blowing in through it and he has his radio out within the moment he recognizes what it means.

 

“Lang, suspect escaped from the window of the South side of the building. Call in paramedics the woman has her throat cut,” he rattles off quickly, bends down to press his hand to the gaping wound on her throat. Her hands twitch, grasping for something as she tries to tell him something, “An ambulance will be here soon, ma'am, just hold on.”

 

“Suspect is on foot, sir, I'm pursuing now.”

 

“Leave him, Lang. Suspect is possibly armed and volatile,” he growls, his hand wet and slipping on the plastic of his radio.

 

“We can't just let him get away, sir!”

 

“Stand down or you'll be out of a job, Lang!”

 

Sirens sound amongst the early morning rush outside then come to a stop in front of the building. The woman under his hands doesn't move anymore, her skin pale and bloodless, so he doesn't hear the paramedics pronounce her dead. But he still hears her screaming. The EMTs ask him for a quick overview of what had happened though he hadn't seen the actual act.

 

Lang waits for him at the door, head down, “I'm sorry for the way I acted, sir. I...I guess I just really wanted to be helpful.”

 

“We need to inform the next of kin,” Steve bites out as he strides down the hall with Lang close behind.

 

Heads peer out of doors but he tells them to return to their homes, that everything has been taken care of. The others have already set up a barrier outside that they have to climb over; homicide will take of it from here.

 

“Rogers, hey,” comes from his left and he sees Detective Sam Wilson a second later. Tall, though he doesn't reach Steve's height, and wearing the uniform showing his rank, Wilson stands behind the barricade with a couple of others waiting to be let onto the scene. Civilians crowd around in spite of the hour, talking amongst themselves about what could have happened, and Steve spots the recruits from earlier running interference.

 

“Wilson, good morning. Lang this is Detective Wilson of the Homicide division.”

 

“They've got you working over the new recruits, huh?” A smile spreads across his face, “Better be on your best behaviour, Officer Lang. Cap doesn't take any shit.”

 

Wilson laughs as Steve bristles at the nickname, “I'm not a Captain yet.”

 

“Nah, not yet. So what happened in there?”

 

“Domestic disturbance. Asked the caller about it and heard screaming inside when I reached the door. Boyfriend slashed his girlfriend's throat. He got out the back window but he won't go far.”

 

Wilson nods, “Never do. Got time after work for a drink?”

 

“I'll let you know.”

 

“What about you, Lang?”

 

“Yes, sir!” she smiles and Steve sees a greenhorn not yet beaten down by the populace of Manhattan. But she'll learn soon enough.

 

“You guys in 24 King?”

 

“Yep, that's the one.”

 

“Great, I'll radio you the information a little closer to go time.”

 

They mill about with the homicide detectives awhile longer, relaying all of the information they can and interviewing witnesses that may have any further information on the couple. Lang excels at it-witnesses open up to her easily and, in spite of her hastiness before, she proves him wrong. After the last person has been talked to and they have recorded it all Steve nods once more at Wilson before heading again to their car. The cab blocks out most of the noise from the city but not enough. Never enough. The screams at last begin to fade from his ears though they too won't go far.

 

Lang stares at him, “Sir? You look kind of pale, are you alright?”

 

His hands grip the steering wheel tight enough that his knuckles have turned white and he snaps back to reality when he realizes that they haven't actually moved. “I'm fine. Keep an eye out for the suspect.”

 

“Yes, sir,” she says slowly but doesn't press any further.

 

The coroner has already located the next of kin for the woman and so they pull out away from the crime scene immediately. Mrs. Smith of 320 East 53rd- mother of the victim. Steve squares his shoulders before he buzzes the call code for her apartment and sees Lang do the same.

 

“Ma'am? I'm with the NYPD, may I come in?”

 

“Oh no. Oh no.”

 

The door beeps, allowing them in, and when they reach the apartment the door sits open. Mrs. Smith stands in the space between, skin ashen, with her shaking hands resting on the doorjamb. She crumples when she sees them approach and Steve helps her inside to the couch. The sun now shines through the blinds on her window and highlights flecks of dust in the air. He spots a cat lounging in the sill, nods to Lang to grab it and bring it over while he takes a seat beside the woman.

 

“I regret to inform you that your daughter, Miranda DeSilva was killed this morning in an altercation with Mr. DeSilva,” he relays slowly. Cassie sets the cat down on Mrs. Smith's lap and it curls into a furry ball.

 

“I told her, I told her, so many times I told her to leave that man,” she wails, tears following the lines in her face until they reach her chin.

 

“I'm very sorry, ma'am. Is there someone I can call who can stay with you?”

 

Lang hovers behind him, asks with a shaking voice, “Could I get you a glass of water, ma'am?”

 

“My ex-husband, I ...he should know.”

 

“If you'll allow me to look through your address book, ma'am, I can call him for you.”

 

She nods and he gestures to his spot on the couch. Lang stares at him for a second before taking his place.

 

The man who answers the phone does so with an annoyed grunt that dissolves into tears when Steve relays his message. After a twenty minute wait they leave Mrs. Smith with him and return to their car.

 

“Let's get back to the precinct. They'll need us to write a report and we'll make sure they've put an APB for the guy. He'll be back.”

 

“How do you...” she shakes her head but she doesn't have to ask.

 

“Compartmentalization,” he replies, starts up the car, and heads back to the station.

 

~~**~~

 

The tile in the bathroom cools the sweat on his hands though they continue shaking in spite of how the floor grounds him. He breathes carefully through his nose- in, out, rinse and repeat until the bile recedes, until he stops seeing blood and necks smiling red at him. He slams his fist against the wall of the stall, the door rattles on its hinges as he gets to his feet. A quick glance in the mirror tells him he looks like death warmed over so he bends over the stainless steel sink and splashes water on his face to ease some of the redness. His heart rate starts to slow to its normal speed, his palms begin to stop sweating, and some of the haze that blankets him edges away.

 

When he returns to his desk Lang waits for him in a chair she'd obviously pulled up from someone else's spot. She doesn't mention how long he'd been in the bathroom for or how his short cropped hair has been slicked back with water.

 

“Writing a report isn't difficult if you haven't taken out your gun,” he sits, turns on the computer, “we'll be out again in a couple hours.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

They manage to submit their reports quickly enough and confirm the APB before lunch time so they return to patrol. Manhattan never sleeps and neither does the population so they have plenty to do even at 2pm. The car, the badge, the uniform represent something to people- safety- and Steve puts it on every morning with the certainty that today he will be making a difference to someone. They help a lost old woman get home, give directions, respond to calls that don't end in death and by the end of the day the jitters from earlier have gone.

 

He drops Lang off at the department, declines a drink with Sam Wilson. His bed beckons him, and for once he makes it home without any further incident. The lock clicks open, the hall light brightening the entryway of his living space enough that he can remove his shoes without tripping over them. He sets them beside his pair of trainers and hangs the keys on the small hook beneath his jacket.

 

The light in the kitchen flickers a couple of times before steadily filling the space with yellow tinged light. He opens the fridge-a sandwich he'd made earlier waits for him along with a bottle of water, both nestled in between the milk, fruit, and vegetables. It will do for now. He and Lang hadn't really had the time to stop for food.

 

He flips on the television (the History Channel had promised World War 2 documentaries for tonight rather than the usual Duck Family fare) and takes a bite of his sandwich, a sip of his water. Upstairs his neighbours talk over a late dinner, the kids (Bobby and Shelly) interrupt each other in their haste to tell their parents (Mark and Samantha) about their day and one of them laughs uproariously about something the other said. Steve turns up the TV just a bit louder, just loud enough that he can hear only indistinct sentences rather than entire words. He relaxes deeper into the couch and finishes his food in a few more bites. A woman on TV tells him during a commercial about the new line of Stark Phones that Steve would scoff at if anyone else sat beside him. He keeps it to himself-resists the urge to roll his eyes the next time the commercial comes on.

 

The clock ticks over to eleven pm before he notices how upstairs has gone silent and even then it takes him awhile just to muster the strength to get up and pad to his bedroom. The bed sits made, pale blue sheets pulled in tight corners like they'd taught him in the academy; the nightstand holds a white lamp he'd picked up at a garage sale, his portable CD player and headphones in the drawer. Steve sits on the edge of the bed before slowly pulling off his shirt and lying down on top of the covers.

 

He inhales and exhales once while staring at the darkened ceiling, then gets to his feet again. It takes all of a minute to check he'd locked the doors and latched the windows. Once finished, he stands in the middle of the kitchen with barely enough space for a man his size to walk through and runs his hand through his hair. When he opens the fridge it doesn't yield anything different from earlier and his stomach doesn't clench with hunger either. He closes it, checks the front door again then goes to the closet in the hall to retrieve his yoga mat. It falls out on him and his heart rate spikes at the sudden movement. He pulls it out, swearing under his breath as he walks to the living room and unrolls it.

 

The clock just beside the couch reads 3am and his core has long since given up and his arms will be next if he keeps going. Finally he gets to his feet and heads to the shower, though he has to check the lock on the bathroom door, make sure his pistol still lies where he'd hidden it under the sink before he can get in.

 

When he finally lies down in bed his phone buzzes on his bedside table acting as an alarm in the stead of the clock radio sitting unplugged near the window. He turns it off quickly enough that it doesn't buzz again and sits up. Outside he hears rain pattering against the window pane, the quiet roar of cars passing, and the distant, distant sound of a loud boom.

 

He gets his feet under him before his phone even starts ringing, has his uniform and shoes on soon thereafter.

 

“Rogers we need you in Midtown. Reports of explosions from various callers. Possible terrorist attack,” Captain Chang says quickly, her voice clipped and controlled in spite of the yelling in the background of officers scrambling to respond.

 

“Yes ma'am. On my way. Casualties?”

 

“No idea, just get your ass down there.”

 

His front door slams behind him, rattling the windows so hard that he'll hear about it from the landlord later and he gets into his car parked in front of the building. When he flips on his radio and sirens the channel is a buzzing with dispatch relaying information as it comes in. Unknown casualty count but probably in the hundreds, fire and EMTs on the way to the scene, no sign of further explosions.

 

The Brooklyn Bridge looms in front of him, backed up the entire way, and only luck has him able to proceed across without any problems- for once, people get out of the way at the sound of his sirens, and not even the slickness of the road makes him slow down.

 

The normal sounds of Midtown waking up have been covered by those of police and ambulance sirens, their high-pitched wails shake off the very last bit of sleep clinging to him. His arms and stomach ache but he ignores them in favour of joining the barricade that's been set up around the perimeter of the affected area. He looks up to get a bead on which buildings had been attacked, or possibly bombed to hell by how he'd been able to hear it from Brooklyn Heights, and notices lighted letters standing out on the side of the building. Stark Enterprises.

 

“We know any information?” he asks a nearby officer who shakes his head.

 

“Fire and bomb squad are in there now. They figure it's an attack on Stark, not America.”

 

“The guy with the cellphones?” Steve glances up at the building again-frowns at how it reaches higher than any skyscraper in the vicinity as though participating in some sort of millionaire pissing contest.

 

“More than cellphones, buddy, he used to be in weapons until awhile ago. Everyone said he's off his rocker since his pop died, could be he wants to get out of the business.”

 

“If it quacks like a duck,” Steve mutters and the other guy shrugs.

 

“You think someone attacked him?”

 

“I don't know what happened but if he got out of weapons it can't be for the money. Why involve all those innocent people in an explosion this size?” Debris is still falling to the ground, and from their vantage point about a block away Steve can see that it hadn't been the penthouse affected by the blast, unless Stark had a fear of heights and put it on the 12th floor. The surrounding buildings have cosmetic damage- broken windows, chunks of the exterior missing, but the Stark building still stands with the exception of the 12 floor that has been blown out damn near completely. They'll have to evacuate the other buildings before the top falls.

 

“Might be right, Cap.”

 

He scowls, “any word on survivors?”

 

“Can't imagine anyone'd survive that,” the officer- Bekowski, maybe- shakes his head.

 

“What about evac of the other buildings?”

 

“Nah, no need. Stark's building isn't gonna fall.”

 

Steve raises an eyebrow and he elaborates, “Stark built his building to survive crap like this after they tore the old one down. Damn eerie or maybe that was his plan all along-insurance for a building that big'd be a hell of a lot of money.”

 

Steve makes a noise of assent before heading over to another officer and pulling him away from his conversation to patrol for any people trapped inside the barricade. Thanks to the rain, the soot doesn't get kicked up much when they walk, but the wet puts a damper on everyone's mood, on top of the fact that explosions don't usually yield nice discoveries for any of them.

 

They reach the halfway point when Captain Chang catches up to them and snaps, “Rogers, walk with me. Phelps, take a hike.”

 

She falls into step easily with him, standing five inches shorter,but she keeping up with his long stride with ease. “This was an isolated attack. Mail bomb, but it never got to Stark's desk.”

 

“Someone who doesn't like Stark's move out of weapons?”

 

“Someone who wants to scare him into doing what they want. He's a notorious womanizer but in the last six months he's been slowing it down,” she scoffs, “screening his hookups if the gossip rags are to be believed.”

 

“A past patron?”

 

“We don't know. He keeps his cards close except for the partying. I looked him up before we got here-he's a genius at weapons. I can see why someone wouldn't want him changing his speciality,” she halts just before the building, “but it's all conjecture. Even if this is an attack on Stark he's not talking and he keeps his goons on a tight leash.”

 

“So we're letting this go.”

 

“For now. This is just the beginning, Rogers, it'll escalate. And when it does I'll be there to take that son of a bitch out.”

 

He nods and she rubs at her forehead, “let's get this mess cleaned up before the Bugle gets here.”

 

~~**~~

 

Steve sets down his Styrofoam cup of coffee amongst the others waiting to be cleared off of his desk at the end of the day and sighs. The rest of the precinct all nod at him when they pass his desk, smiling and rolling their eyes as the phones ring off the hook. Dispatch took care of the phones but his desk sits only a few rows away from their call-centre for tips, and so he vacillates between rubbing the bridge of his nose to ease the headache forming there and trying to block out the sound completely. A quick glance at the clock tells him his shift ended two hours ago, but he continues filling out the paperwork for the day anyway.

 

“Rogers, go home,” Chang tells him and he startles at the sound of her voice, “get some rest.”

 

He looks up at her, takes in how the bags under her eyes have gotten worse, and opens his mouth. She cuts him off, “If the next words out of your mouth aren't 'yes ma'am,' you can take a couple of days leave.”

 

“Yes ma'am,” he grits out before standing. He gathers his cups while she watches, throws them out then heads for the door. She follows him out to the parking lot, dark eyes trained on him, their surface glassy from lack of sleep, “Every hour you're out there like this is a danger to everyone around you, Rogers. I won't have you putting my people at risk, or the citizens of Manhattan either. Get some rest.”

 

“Yes, ma'am.”

 

“I mean it, Rogers. If there's something you need help with, you tell someone.”

 

“Yes ma'am.”

 

When he opens the door to his car she nods, voice softer but just as sharp,“Now get out of here.”

 

~~**~~

 

He's just turned onto the bridge when he hears the tell-tale screams of a woman over the sound of traffic and the radio quietly serenading the car with Bing Crosby. He flicks his sirens on before even shutting off the music and spots the culprit. Some woman hanging out the sun roof of a black limo, screaming her head off, arms waving wildly in the air with a bottle of liquor clasped tightly in her hand. Her top hits the hood of his car a moment later. The bottle follows quickly after.

 

Two pairs of hands appear from the bottom of the hole and drag the woman back inside, muting her shrieking but Steve signals for them to pull over anyway. After a full minute of chasing them down-chase being a generous term because the driver had started slowing down the moment they'd heard police sirens- they turn onto the side of the bridge.

 

Steve descends upon the polished black car without delay, hand not yet resting on his pistol but ready to pull if the need arises, and raps on the window. The man behind the wheel rolls down the tinted window, mouth pulled down in a frown that turns to an uneasy flash of teeth when he sees Steve's face.

 

“Sir, do you know how dangerous allowing a passenger to ride without a seatbelt is?”

 

“Yes, officer. To be honest, I just- I'm not even really a chauffeur this guy just-”

 

The kid-he notices now how the driver's face still has the slightly chubby cheeks of a teenager- gets cut off by another voice.

 

“Just pay him the money from the glove compartment and we'll keep going, darling. We would hate to be late to the premiere.”

 

“Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to step outside the vehicle,” he points to the backseat, “bring your pal.”

 

The door opens to the sound of female voices telling the occupant to hurry back in high-pitched tones. The man who steps out doesn't stumble, but he does lean on the car once he closes the door again. He wears a dark, pinstriped suit with shoes that shine just as brightly as the car's exterior. His dark brown hair has been slicked back and his facial hair carefully groomed into a van dyke. He holds a bottle of amber liquid in one hand, the other adjusting his scarlet tie with practised ease. When Steve turns his glare on him his blue eyes widen minutely. He doesn't miss how they sweep over his body once, twice, before meeting Steve's.

 

“Dreadfully sorry, officer, it won't happen again,” the man sets the whiskey on the roof of the car before sauntering closer, “I don't suppose you could use a new cruiser.”

 

His breath reeks of alcohol and Steve pulls back just to escape the stench though he can't go far with traffic racing by behind him, “I need you to keep your hands on the car please, sir.”

 

“You don't know who I am, do you, handsome?”

 

“The last time I checked, it didn't matter who you are in America. Hands on the car.”

 

“If you're Michael Jackson maybe, darling,” he stays close, in Steve's personal space so that he can't escape.

 

He shoves him against his car while the driver lets out a shriek and says 'oh man' at least three times. “Sir, if you fail to cooperate I'll have to take you in.”

 

The man laughs underneath him, “Oh come on, the poor girl was only having a little fun, and she does have such nice breasts...far be it from me to tell her not to show them off.”

 

“It's against the law,” Steve growls and starts patting him down quickly, “any weapons?”

 

“Don't be silly. Of course it is, officer, but she's so drunk she doesn't know better,” he purrs, looking over his shoulder, “can't you let it go just this once? I promise I'll make it worth your while.”

 

“What about you, are you too drunk to know better or do you always try to bribe NYPD officers?” he pulls back as soon as the man puts his hands up and places them on the roof of the car.

 

“Everyone has a price, officer...” Steve frowns even deeper at him but tells him his name anyway, “Rogers. The sooner you realize the sooner you can get what you want.”

 

The man stretches out with an exaggerated groan, his backside angled towards Steve, “So, what's yours?”

 

Steve pulls his notebook from his breast pocket and scrawls up a ticket for drunk and disorderly for the girl who had flashed this particular length of the bridge then holds it out, “For your passenger. Driver, license and registration. You, stay there.”

 

The ticket gets plucked from his hands with a smile, “Of course, I'll just wait here.”

 

The kid hands over his license and in spite of looking like a thirteen year old he actually does have a valid license. He nods then turns his attention to the other one now lounging against the car, both palms pressed to the door and his front facing Steve.

 

“Finished already? You know what they say about a man who finishes too quickly, darling.”

 

“Do you know-”

 

“It's Tony.”

 

“Stark?”

 

“Then you have heard of me,” his lips turn up at the corners even further making him look like a very drunk lion eyeing up a gazelle. Though Steve would hardly call himself a gazelle.

 

Steve stares back at him, “Mr. Stark, do you realize that it's illegal to attempt to bribe an NYPD officer?”

 

“When did I say I wanted to bribe you, officer, really, I can't recall.”

 

“'Give him some money from the glove compartment', ring any bells?”

 

Stark laughs, a fake sounding thing that only people who have no problems but feel empty can manage,  “You can hardly blame me, officer, I promised these girls a good time and I intend to deliver.”

 

“Your building gets blown up and you go out.”

 

“Keep calm and carry on, Rogers, it's not a difficult concept.”

 

“I'm going to need you to submit to a field sobriety test, Mr. Stark.”

 

“Oh alright, but make it quick-it's only fashionably late if you get there before the premiere is over,” but Stark puts both arms out to his sides and touches his nose. Recites the alphabet backwards and walks in a straight line. Steve gets him to blow into a breathalyzer and he comes out under the legal limit but still cracks a joke about being fantastic at blowing.

 

By the end he can't find anything- with the exception of attempting to bribe a police officer- that he can take Stark in for. After all, he can't bring him in just because hearing him talk had made Steve's headache increase in intensity.

 

“Just get going,” he snaps when Stark asks, wearing a shit-eating grin, if he can leave now, “And keep your sunroof closed.”

 

Stark holds his hand up, placating him, “Of course, darling, I wouldn't dream of opening it again.”

 

Steve makes it home by the time ten rolls around, and falls asleep on the couch with the television on. A note waits for him on the door to his apartment in the morning reminding him that some people have children who need their sleep and could he please turn the TV down after 9pm. He crumples it and shoves it into the overflowing trashcan on the curb. He'll talk to them in person tomorrow about it, clear up any misunderstanding.

 

When he gets into the office Lang waits for him at his desk, “morning, Cap.”

 

“It's Rogers,” he brushes past her to check on any mail he might have gotten in the night while she waits.

 

“Wilson said everyone calls you Cap.”

 

Steve grunts and she grins, “So what's on the docket for today, Cap Rogers?”

 

“Patrol, same as always.”

 

“Yes, sir.” 

 

~~**~~

The criminals have taken a break today. Lang suggests coffee and so they head inside a Second Cup-never Dunkin because a guy can only hear a 'cops love doughnuts' joke so many times. She orders something that may as well be candy, while Steve gets his usual black.

 

“Did you hear about the Stark building?” she asks once they sit safely in the cruiser again. She keeps a lookout though, and he gives her a nod of approval when she turns his way.

 

She nods back, “Yeah. Got to the scene as they were cleaning up.”

 

“I heard an explosion but I didn't get the call,” Lang takes a sip of her drink, “Chang must've been freakin' out, huh?”

 

He grunts, “Stark didn't seem too broken up about it.”

 

“With money like that why would he? Jeez, I wish I was that rich.”

 

Steve shrugs, “A couple of his staff were killed, but he was out partying the night away.”

 

“Keep calm and carry on, I guess,” she says and he holds back a groan.

 

The rest of their patrol passes in relative silence- an order spoken when apprehending a suspect, a confirmation of something they'd seen, not withstanding. Around two, Wilson calls him to let him know that he and the other guys have plans to go out to the bar again, but Steve makes up an excuse as to why he can't. Lang raises an eyebrow when he puts away his phone.

 

“Don't you and Wilson get along, Cap?”

 

“None of your business.”

 

“Oh,” she comes to her own conclusion because she smiles and looks out the window.

 

Wilson texts him before his shift has ended to make sure he's certain he doesn't want to come out for drinks but Steve ignores it in favour of heading home. If he doesn't run into any roadblocks he should be home in time to catch the re-run of his show.

 

He's halfway across the Brooklyn bridge when he spots a car with its taillights out- can't be an accident because the car has no other damage to it. He flicks on his sirens, flashes his headlights at them to signal for them to pull over and they do so almost too quickly. Steve takes down their license plate then steps outside of his car, careful to avoid the quick traffic to his left.

 

The black Mercedes gleams in the lights from the bridge as he approaches the driver's side window, the windows have been tinted so dark he can't see the person driving but it doesn't matter much. Rich or poor, famous or infamous, the law applies to everyone.

 

He raps on their window with his knuckle, “License and registration.” The dark tint recedes slowly, and he frowns immediately upon realizing who sits behind the steering wheel. “Do you know why I stopped you?”

 

“Speeding? My incredible good looks?” Stark smiles from the front seat of his car, “You know, I really could get you a new cruiser if you wanted it. Yours is so...outdated. Honestly, all I'd have to do if I wanted to make sure I got the right cop is look at the car.”

 

“It's reliable.”

 

“Like you? Old reliable, never tries anything new or exciting. Passed over for a promotion-”

 

He clenches his fists so that he won't be tempted to grab him and shake him but Stark just continues, oblivious.

 

“Oh, I'm right. Who was it- someone younger, less experienced?”

 

Steve folds his arms over his chest, “What do you want?”

 

“You know, you really shouldn't frown so much, darling, I'd hate to see such a handsome face ruined by wrinkles so early.”

 

What do you want, Stark.”

 

“I don't know, you're the one who pulled me over, what do you want?” he says it with a purr that somehow manages to get under his skin. Annoying. The tone annoys him. That's all.

 

“Your taillights are out. Fix them,” he growls, writes up a ticket and shoves it in his face before stalking back to his own car. Stark pulls away soon after but Steve stays where he sits. Something about this guy makes his blood boil.

 

~~**~~

 

He drops off his uniform and hat in his apartment before trudging upstairs to the second floor as a civilian. The cop car out front gives away his identity, sure, but he keeps that part separate at home- has to.

 

The door opens almost immediately after he knocks on it and Mark smiles, “What can I help you with, neighbour?”

 

“It won't happen again.”

 

“Oh. Oh, thank you, we appreciate it. We were just about to sit down to a late night snack if you'd like to join us?”

 

Steve stares, shakes his head, “Thank you, but no. Have a good night.”

 

“Samantha wanted me to tell you earlier, but you know you're welcome any time- we appreciate the safety having someone like you just downstairs provides and well, you're all alone, we don't mind making you a part of the family.”

 

“It's fine. Enjoy your meal,” he nods, and Mark nods back at him before he goes. Flees is perhaps the more appropriate word for it.

 

When he gets to the safety of his own apartment he opens the practically empty fridge, the empty cupboards, and starts his fitness routine instead. Upstairs the family chatters about their day and eats something that once would have smelled irresistible to him but now just makes his stomach heave at the thought of eating it. He ignores the faint hunger pangs and keeps going until even the usual motivation fails him and he can't lift himself off the floor any more.

 

“It's so terrible,” he hears Samantha say upstairs, as though she wants him to hear, “losing his fiancee like that.”

 

Mark's reply gets lost in the rhythm of Steve's footfalls as he strides to the bathroom and slams the door behind him. He sits on the rim of the tub and puts his head between his knees, because if he pukes he would rather be close to the toilet; but he doesn't have anything to throw up, so he just sits there, shaking, and pushing memories, the sound of her voice, the way she laughed, back into the proper compartment where they can't reach him. He doesn't cry, just shivers and clenches his hands into fists until everything Gail gets locked away again.

 

He takes his shower then goes to the bedroom, picks up his phone, stares at the short list of contacts in it before putting it back down on the bedside table. He stares at the ceiling, following the edges of the room with his eyes until they close and he sleeps.

 

~~**~~

 

“I'm worried about you, man,” Sam pulls him aside at the precinct, before they get their orders for the day, “Seriously.”

 

“Why?” he can smell coffee being brewed and focuses on that instead of Wilson trying to give him the best friends talk.

 

“You don't see how cracked out you look but everyone else does, Cap. Not a good look on you.”

 

He shakes his head, starts towards the coffee maker, “Drop it, Wilson.”

 

“Yeah,” Wilson sighs, runs a hand over his short hair, “alright.”

 

They grab a cup of coffee each and stand in relative silence except to make small talk about any information the other might deem important in an investigation.

 

“Have you found that guy that killed his girlfriend?”

 

“Which one?” Wilson takes a sip of his coffee, “Should've gone into forensics.”

 

“DeSilva.”

 

He pauses then shakes his head, “Nah. No leads on him yet.”

 

Their coffee break ends and they go their separate ways, Wilson telling him to take care of himself, and Steve parroting the statement. Lang waits for him at his desk, yawns, “Morning, Cap.”

 

“Rogers. Let's get moving.”

 

“Patrol again?”

 

“Until the end of the week,” he says, yawning too before heading for their shared car.

 

“What happens at the end of the week?”

 

“You get your permanent partner and assignment,” he holds the passenger door open for her then gets into the driver's side.

 

She pushes herself back in her seat, “I thought you were my permanent partner.”

 

He shakes his head and she frowns, “Could you be?”

 

“No.”

 

“How come? We get along, right?”

 

He starts up the car in lieu of an answer and heads for the blocks they'd been assigned today.

 

~~**~~

 

Today Stark drives over the speed limit by exactly 15 miles per hour and so when Steve pulls him over he doesn't bother asking if he knows why he'd been stopped.

 

“Oh I know, I was speeding,” he says, handing over his license and registration with a flourish. “Really darling, I was only going with the flow of traffic.”

 

“Still illegal.”

“Of course it is. Should I get out of the car or are you forgoing the pat down this time?” Stark smirks and Steve’s frown deepens.

 

“I'm getting the impression you just like being patted down, Stark, so yes.”

 

“Who wouldn't? You could probably get people to pay to be patted down by you,” he purrs, licking his lips.

 

Steve leans closer, “Have you been drinking?”

 

“You could always come closer and find out for yourself.”

 

“Or you could give me a straight answer.”

 

“Only a couple of cocktails, my dear, nothing worth writing home about, honestly,” Stark leans further out of  his window, closer now so that Steve can't help but smell the alcohol on his breath and pulls back.

 

“I'm giving you a breathalyzer.”

 

“Of course you are,” he opens the door- dark navy suit this time, no stripes, and a red tie again-and holds up his hands, “I can think of something else to blow that will make this much more worth both of our whiles, you know.”

 

“I have a fiancee,” Steve growls even though his tongue trips over the word.

 

“No ring,” Stark replies, stretching his arms over his head with one of his ridiculous groans, “Oh come on, what would it hurt? It's only a blowjob, Rogers, it's not like it means anything.”

 

“It's bribery, Stark.”

 

“Not if I don't want anything from you.”

 

“You said it yourself- everyone has a price.” He grabs the equipment for the breathalyzer, “Blow.”

 

Stark looks up at him, mouth wet and Steve sighs, “Normally.”

 

“It was normally,” he makes a face when the machine beeps, “how often do you clean that, it tastes awful.”

 

“You're under the legal limit,” Steve admits with the glare, “get back in the car and go home, Stark.”

 

“You could come with me, if you liked,” he gets close enough to touch, and although Steve refrains from doing so, Stark doesn't. His hands smooth over the front of his uniform when Steve doesn't step back, “I'm very discreet, you know, it could be our secret.”

 

“I have a girlfriend.”

 

“Of course you do,” he lifts himself onto his tiptoes, presses his lips to Steve's ear, “so why are you letting me do this?” 

 

When he shoves Stark away he hits his fancy car with a thump and a laugh.

 

“Get away from me.”

 

“Well I do have other things to do, darling but it's been fun. Same time tomorrow?”

 

Steve slams the door to his cruiser behind him and doesn't wait for Stark to pull away before returning to the flow of traffic. His hands grip the steering wheel hard enough that his hands ache when he finally reaches home.

 

~~**~~

 

When he walks inside, checks the empty cupboards and the fridge, a sandwich sits already made along with a post it with a smiley face and 'dinner' written on it. He takes it and a glass of milk with him to the couch and flips on the TV. Two bites into his meal he hears the door to his bedroom open and quiet footsteps he ignores.

 

Her arms wrap around him from over the back of the couch, link together around his chest, “You didn't even come in to say hello-what am I, chopped liver?”

 

“Your shoes aren't in the hallway. Thought you wanted to be a surprise.”

 

She presses her lips to his temple, “Ooh, right, the shoe rack- how could I forget? So, what's the plan for tonight, Officer Rogers?”

 

“A little R and R.”

 

“That's what you always say,” he can hear the eye roll in her voice but she moves to plop down beside him anyway, “Steve, more WW2 documentaries, really?”

 

“It was an interesting period of history, Jan.”

 

“For white people maybe.” She curls up against his side, “You know it's still early, we could still catch a movie.”

 

“Can it wait until Tuesday?”

 

She sighs, “you know Hank's gonna get really suspicious if I keep disappearing every Tuesday.”

 

He stiffens and she rubs his shoulder, “I know, you hate hearing about him but-”

 

“He hurt you, Jan.”

 

“And you hurt him. Please, Steve, let's just leave it alone, okay?”

 

The plate clatters against the coffee table when he sets it down, hunches over, “Yeah. Yeah, fine.”

 

“So, movie?”

 

She smiles at him and finally he nods, “Just no chick flicks.”

 

“Oh come on, everyone loves chick flicks. You didn't mind seeing that one...what was it...Safe Haven?”

 

“You know why I didn't mind that one,” he mutters, gets to his feet when she does, “I'll get some clothes on.”

 

Jan waves to him over the back of the couch when he reaches the bedroom and he smiles back. He dresses quickly enough though just sitting on the bed makes it difficult to not yield to it, to forget about Stark with sleep, but Pym will wonder where Jan has gone. Best to enjoy her visits when he can.

 

Somehow in the span of ten minutes her hair has changed from its simple short cut to something more styled and she wears a shade of red lipstick that makes her lips look full-he can't help but drop a kiss on them in spite of how she protests that it had taken her a whole ten minutes just to get the darn stuff on right.

 

She laughs at him when he pulls away and dabs at his lips with a napkin from her pocket, “Keep that up and people will start to talk.”

 

“They already do.” He tucks a stray strand of hair behind her ear with fingers that starve to touch her everywhere else too, but he leaves it at that.

 

“Come on, Romeo, we'll be late,” She folds her hand into the crook of his arm and pulls him along, “I was thinking...something Sci-Fi-y.”

 

She complains about the science of the movie in his ear the entire time but by the end the final dredges of the workday have been cleared from his mind. She lies with him in bed when they get back to his apartment, traces designs on his bare chest, and tells him that she'll get in touch with him when she can come over again, that Pym- Hank- will miss her otherwise, and that she'd told him she'd be out with a couple of imaginary girlfriends. Steve walks her to her car in spite of her protests that she doesn't need an escort and watches her go until her tail lights fade away into the rest of the late night traffic.

 

Steve wakes drenched in sweat and pushes his hair back off of his forehead. He washes his face and showers quickly before heading to the office, where Wilson waits for him by his desk, two coffees in hand.

 

“We got the guy,” Wilson tells him, handing him one of the cups.

 

“DeSilva?”

 

“Yep. Apparently he thought his dead girlfriend's mother's was a good place to hide. She turned him in last night about 12am.”

 

“Good.”

 

“Yeah. Look, about yesterday.”

 

He shakes his head, smiles, “I appreciate it, Sam. But I'm fine.”

 

“I get it. Comin' back after leave is always the hardest.”

 

Steve shrugs, “It's fine.”

 

“Yeah, I know.”

 

He finds Lang by their cruiser, hat on and waiting by the door. She opens it before he manages to, “I already inspected the vehicle, sir.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“You're...not checking it?” she glances around as if expecting cameras or a sign saying she'd just gotten Punk'd, but settles when he shakes his head.

 

“If you need me to check it over at this point you should find another job.”

 

“Yessir.”

 

He catches her grin before he starts the car but doesn't mention it, lets her have her moment because soon enough she'll be caught up in the same cycle they all are. He pulls onto the road in time to catch someone racing past.

 

Steve flicks on the sirens and lights and they fly.

 

He doesn't see the truck coming. His hands keep a hold on the steering wheel, turning it while his head swims and pain explodes everywhere. Cassie screams as they turn- he yells something that might be 'calm down' because she screams loudly and it dredges up everything from before. He sees the pole coming but he can't move his legs to hit the brakes so the cruiser slams into it and then he doesn't see anything.

 

~~**~~

 

“Oh god, Steve,” a woman's voice says. His ears ring but he manages to force his eyes open.

 

He moves his hands ever so slightly but she closes the distance and takes one of his in hers, “Steve?”

 

“Gail,” he rasps out and she makes a sound like she's going to cry so he squeezes her hand, “I'll be fine.”

 

She doesn't reply, just holds his head against her chest and sighs.

 

“Where's Bucky?” he asks and she shushes him, runs her hand through his hair.

 

Gail screams that he killed her, that Bucky is dead, her hand gripping his hair too tight, pulling it out in chunks until he bleeds, until he wakes with a scream he barely manages to muffle with his hand. Jan sits in the chair closest to the bed, face half in shadow but she opens her eyes when he starts shuffling.

 

“Steve,” she sighs out, takes his hand in hers, “How are you feeling?”

 

“Better.”

 

“What happened?” her hand carefully pushes back his sweaty hair from his forehead- he tenses though, so she pulls it away after a second.

 

“Crashed. Chasing someone speeding. Truck came out of nowhere. How is Lang?”

 

Jan shakes her head, “Who?”

 

“The kid. In the car with me. Lang. Cassandra.”

 

“Oh. I'll check for you, okay? Just rest,” she pats the hand without the IV in it then eases him back against the pillows.

 

“Jan.”

 

“I promise, I'll check.”

 

He nods, eyes abruptly heavy, and sleeps.

~~**~~

 

The nurse smiles at him when he opens his eyes, changes his IV line quickly enough that he can't manage to get the words 'leave it out' past his lips in time.

 

“Your girlfriend said she just had to step out. She'll be back.”

 

“Did she say anything about my partner?” the sentence comes slow and slurred but the woman waits, shakes her head.

 

“No, but I can check on his status if you'd like.”

 

“Her. Cassandra Lang. Blonde. She's just a kid.”

 

He falls back asleep before she returns but the next time he wakes up a note tells him that she'd been discharged yesterday. He notices that before the visitor.

 

“Well you look terrible, darling. I hate to alarm you.”

 

“Stark?” his confusion turns to annoyance and he hopes it shows, “What the hell are you doing here?”

 

“What, a man can't be worried about his object of lust?” he says it so plainly that only the drugs- less invasive but still mind clouding- stop him from blushing in spite of himself, “I got pulled over by Ms. Chang twice before I got it out of her that you'd been hospitalized. Dreadful woman. It's a shame she's so beautiful.”

 

“What do you want?”

 

“I only wanted to check up on you. Ms. Chang is far less lenient on my...infractions,” he perches on the edge of the bed and Steve can't move his arms but if he could he would shove him off, “Well, and offer you a new cruiser. God knows you'll need it.”

 

“Go to hell.”

 

“In due time, my dear,” he says. “Enjoy the morphine.”

 

He hears a couple of people greet him by name with an enthusiasm that Steve can't fathom then the conversation quiets too much for him to listen in.

 

Jan doesn't come back but Sam stops by a couple of times, offers to let him stay over because otherwise Steve will be staying in the hospital until his wounds heal enough that he can take care of himself. He sleeps at Sam's house for a total of two days before his damn bird's squawking drives him up the wall and he takes a cab home in the middle of the night.

 

He opens the door to his apartment with a click, sets his keys on the table and carefully removes his shoes. When he heads for the living room he hobbles, the crutch the hospital had given him clutched tightly in his fingers and rubbing his armpit raw. He throws it away from him the first chance he gets so that it crashes against the wall and rattles the few dishes he has in the cupboard, and then settles his leg on the coffee table with hands that shake and sweat.

 

The medications in the orange bottles clatter against one another as he pulls them from his borrowed coat's pocket. Take orally every eight (8) hours until empty, take orally as needed- do not exceed one (1) dose per eight (8) hours. Steve sets the pair of them on the table. One he knows is painkillers- not morphine because they weaned him off of it before he left- and the other some sort of a sedative. They look similar to the ones his department mandated counsellor had prescribed him after the accident. When he checks his phone he sees two messages from the woman but deletes them both. One from Lang, another few from Chang, and one from Sam from before he'd visited. The phone asks him to confirm his intention to delete them and he selects yes.

 

None from Jan.

 

He sets the phone down beside him on the couch then turns on the television but the History channel has a show about duck people on so he flips it off again and checks his phone. He turns it from silent to a ringtone that doesn't jar him too much then limps to bed.

 

~~**~~

 

The doctors look sympathetic when they tell him but his breath still comes too quickly anyway and they get him to sit down.

 

“Even with physical therapy?” he rasps out, rubs at his leg in spite of how it doesn't ease the ache in it.

 

“We're sorry, but going back on the field with a permanent injury would be ill-advised, Officer Rogers.”

 

“Answer me.”

 

The woman shakes her head, “The muscles have been torn, destroyed. No amount of therapy will return them to a condition that would allow for you to return to your work in the same capacity.”

 

He nods though his hands clench in his lap, “When do I start rehabilitation?”

 

“Any time you like.”

 

“Now.”

 

“That isn't a good idea,” she pats his shoulder, “You've been with the NYPD for a long time, give yourself some time to rest.”

 

He doesn't have any words that are appropriate to say in front of a lady so he keeps them to himself, gets to his feet and says, “Thank you for your time.”

 

“We'll be in touch.”

 

They do call him and set up an appointment, a physiotherapist, and a regular therapist that he doesn't talk to except to say hello and goodbye. Sam calls him and he goes out for drinks a couple of times until the weight of his pity gets too heavy and Steve stops answering his calls. Monica Chang calls and tells him he would do great as a teacher at the academy even though she also tells him she understands that he wants something that she can't give him. He tells her no, that he'd rather take the pension until he gets better and he can't see her face through the phone but he knows that she pities him too. Lang calls once and asks if he would be back soon- she doesn't call again when he tells her that he won't. Jan doesn't call, but he calls her once a week for a month until she finally picks up.

 

“I can't speak to you, Steve. I have,” she sighs, he can see her furrowing her brows, bracing herself, “I have a husband, you know that.”

 

“He hurts you.”

 

“It was once. He's better now, really, Steve. We can't see each other anymore.”

 

“It won't be just once, Jan, you know that. It never is. Please, sweetheart-”

 

“I'm sorry,” she says and she sounds gentle, would have been paired with a kiss on the cheek but the words hit him like a brick wall, “Feel better soon, okay?”

 

“You can call if you need me.”

 

“I will.”

 

She won't. He hurls his phone at the wall but in a testament to its durability it doesn't smash satisfyingly into a thousand pieces. Pain shoots up his leg when he stands, and only intensifies when he starts running around the block. People stare at him- his form can't be all that good- still, he keeps going until his leg gives out under him and he falls, covered in sweat, to the pavement. People don't stare at him then, or when he gets to his feet and staggers back home.

 

He opens the medicine cabinet for a moment, looks at all of the orange bottles lined up- take one (1) every eight (8) hours as needed- before closing it again. His head rests against the glass of the mirror; he needs to breathe, calm down, because holding his breath makes the pain worse. so he takes in air, lets it out until his head stops swimming.

 

And then the phone rings.

 

~~**~~

 

“How did you get this number?”

 

“Oh, you know, everyone has a price,” Stark answers through the sounds of a car engine turning over.

 

“What do you want?”

 

“You haven't been back so I thought I would check in on you,” the other end goes quiet except for the clink of ice cubes in a glass, “And of course, to offer you a job.”

 

“I don't need your pity,” he snarls, finger hovering over the end call button, “or your money.”

 

“It hardly pity, darling. I like to have the best and you certainly fall under that illustrious title.”

 

“Right, a cripple is the best you can get,” he slams his phone closed, cutting off Stark's words before he can continue with more platitudes. It calms him down further just to act without thinking about the consequences-Stark wants to screw with his head, make him think that he can help but he can't. Working for him won't bring Gail or Jan or Bucky back, it won't fix his leg.

 

~~**~~

 

He hears footsteps and then a quiet knock on the door-his neighbours gave up after the first two months so it can't be them. His feet react automatically, heading to the door in spite of how Jan hasn't called him back in three months, and he opens it. The breath he had been unconsciously holding slides out of him at the realization that Jan doesn't stand on the front steps. No, just the landlord and he carries a small stack of papers in his hands.

 

“Christ,” he says, “you look like shit.”

 

Steve shrugs.

 

“Nah, I'm serious, you oughta see someone, Rogers.”

 

“I'm fine. Will be fine,” he amends, leads him to the living room to the couch but he doesn't sit, “What is it?”

 

“Same thing we talked about on the phone last week. You ain't paid the rent in two months. Now I was willin' to overlook the first one on account of you bein' in the hospital and all but I got bills too, y'know?”

 

“You know I'm good for it,” he says, slumps his shoulders so he doesn't look intimidating.

 

Watkins shifts from one foot to the other, runs a hand over his half bald head, “I thought you were, Rogers but look, I ain't got the money to keep this place if you ain't payin' your share. I got a family to feed.”

 

“Right,” Steve nods once, “End of the month I'll have what I owe you.”

 

“Alright, I can give you til the end of the month,” he pats Steve on the arm and steps away, “Got something lined up? I got a couple guys who could use a hand on some jobs.”

 

“Yeah. Yeah, I got something in mind.”

 

When Watkins goes Steve waits a few hours before he picks up his phone, looks up Stark Industries' number and waits. A woman's voice answers and his finger hovers for a second over the button to end the call but then she says hello again and he shoves the phone to his ear.

 

“I need to speak with Tony Stark, ma'am.”

 

“I'm sorry, but Mr. Stark isn't currently in,” she replies, voice flat and then, slowly, “Can I take a message for you?”

 

“Tell him Steve Rogers called.”

 

“Steve Rogers from...?” the background noise cuts out almost completely but he still hears hushed whispers that he can't make out.

 

“Nothing. I-I'm not a businessman. Look, forget it. I'll call back when he's in.”

 

The sound returns all at once and she makes an affirmative noise, “Thanks for calling, if there's anything else I can do for you Mr. Rogers...”

 

“No. Sorry for wasting your time.”

 

“Have a great day.”

 

She hangs up before he can reply and he closes his phone, runs his hand through his hair. Of course it would take more to get a hold of Stark than just calling him. It had been naive to think otherwise but Stark hadn't said that the offer had a time limit and he needs the money. He paces from the living room to the entryway, the limp in his gait only getting worse the longer he walks but he doesn't stop. Can't stop or else he'll be admitting he can't get better, that he can't rejoin the force somehow, that he'll be stuck. He should give this place up and move somewhere cheaper, but that too would be giving up and just thinking about it- about leaving behind all of the memories here that linger like ghosts- makes his hands curl into fists. All of that time spent with Jan, with Gail and Bucky, would be gone if he left.

 

The phone rings and he stops. Can't be Stark but he hobbles over to it quickly and picks up, “Rogers.”

 

“You know you could have just called me from your contacts, darling.”

 

“Stark.”

 

“I missed you too. Now, what is it that you called about?”

 

“You know what I called about.”

 

“Do I? You know I'm a terrible drunk, I can't be responsible for remembering everything I say.”

 

Steve sucks in a deep breath, nearly says forget about it but after a moment of silence, “about the job, Stark.”

 

“Of course it is.  Now be a dear and open the door?” There's a knock and Steve opens the door to Stark standing there, a bottle of red wine in both hands, and smiling as though Steve opening the door went against an elaborate plan to gain entrance to his apartment. Steve steps back to allow him in and Stark shimmies through the space he's been given. “I was in the area and thought it best to check up on you. Ms. Potts said you sounded...well, she told me you called right away.

"Wine, Steve?" he asks the moment he catches sight of the kitchen, "You really don't have anything in here, do you? Good god, don't tell me you eat off of the same three plates. You probably do, don't you?"

Steve breaths deep, "It's only me."

"What about when you have company? Oh alright, these will have to do," Stark sighs and pours the wine into the large glasses Steve had gotten as a house warming gift from Sam. Of course there had been more when he'd first got them.

"Are you here to critique my house or talk about business, Stark?"

"Calm down, darling, I was only saying.  I hardly think Ms. Van Dyne[s1]  would find comfort in these surroundings, though she always was an adaptable woman," Tony hands him a glass of wine and downs his own in a couple of swallows.

"She never complained.”

 

He doesn't ask how he knows about Jan.

"Of course not," Stark pours himself another cup of wine with softly trembling hands then seats himself on the sofa. He leans against the arm of the couch, lounging like a model from a billboard, “So, how much does this place cost you?”

 

Steve hovers near the entryway to the kitchen, gaze flicking around the room- anywhere but Stark- and sips at his wine. It warrants another taste and he sees Stark smile, a real smile in spite of how Steve scowls at him, “None of your business.”

 

“Well how am I supposed to know how much to pay you if you won't tell me how much you make? I'll do the math myself if I have to.”

 

“90 grand.”

 

“A month?”

 

“A year,” he shakes his head, retreats further into the kitchen.

 

Stark raises his eyebrows, “Well, it's higher than I was expecting.”

 

“What were you expecting?”

 

“A gentleman never discusses wages, my dear,” he smirks now and Steve takes a bigger swig of his wine, “you have expensive taste.”

 

“How much is it?” he stares down at the dark red liquid in his glass.

 

“Five thousand dollars a bottle,” Stark stares at him, waiting but Steve just nods.

 

“It's good.”

 

“It's better with food but seeing as you have no table...”

 

He frowns, sets his glass on the kitchen counter, and goes to the closet. Carefully arranged at the side of it, amongst his mat and dumbbells, sits a foldaway table that he pulls out with both hands. When he opens it up in the middle of the living room behind the couch Stark raises an eyebrow, “Drunk already, darling?”

 

“You want to feed me.”

 

“Your refrigerator is empty.”

 

“I wasn't hungry.”

 

The glance Stark gives him makes his tongue dart out over his lips and he forces himself to close his mouth, turn away to get his drink as Stark says, “But now you are. I'll have my chef bring something. Any allergies?”

 

“No.”

 

It takes Stark all of two minutes to have a cook arranged and then he lays back on Steve's couch again, the hollows under his cheekbones and eyes made more pronounced by the overhead lighting. Steve reclaims his spot by the kitchen though Stark continues looking at him- not quite staring, but close. “So, the job.”

 

“Get to it.”

 

“Do you have a suit?” he asks, sets his glass down on the coffee table before getting to his feet. He doesn't wobble but Steve finds his eyes drawn to the shadows under his eyes, the tremor to his hands that has started to ease. He nods and Stark steps into his space, “Let me see it then.”

 

“Not much to see.”

 

“Well we have to pass the time somehow.”

 

“TV works.”

 

“I could order you new suits, if you like. Something in blue.”

 

Stark gazes up at him through thick, dark lashes, like a dame from an old noir film, like trouble, and brushes his hand lightly over the length of Steve's arm leaving tingles in its wake, “Bespoke, of course. I hardly think you would find anything on the rack that would fit you.”

 

“No,” he swallows, pulls away because suddenly the air has thickened, sticking in his throat, all because of a touch on the arm. He escapes to the fridge and Tony doesn't follow. “I have a suit.”

 

“Oh fine. You'll love what we're having for dinner, I asked Armand to prepare something to compliment the wine and...” Stark waves his hand, “the atmosphere.”

 

Steve doesn't reply, opens the fridge to find nothing, and the freezer yields only the wine that had been brought. He sighs, “When do I start?”

 

“Whenever you like. Tomorrow, next Tuesday, it doesn't matter, I have other bodyguards.”

 

“Then why bother with me?” he asks and Tony just shrugs, says something about how too much of something is just enough for him and doesn't elaborate when Steve frowns at him.

 

The dinner does sit well with him, as it turns out. Not something he would choose for himself, but he eats seconds and dessert without being prompted, drinks Stark's wine until his face feels warm. Stark himself eats like a bird and follows each mouthful with a sip of wine. They drink the whole bottle themselves and Steve notices that Stark's glass had been filled two times to his one, though he doesn't mention it.

 

“You could be a movie star if you liked,” Stark says afterwards when they've eaten and drank their fill. He sprawls loose limbed over Steve's couch, voice slurring only slightly while Steve sits on the floor in front of it. Comprehension comes slower than normal to Steve now, but it still comes.

 

“No,” he breathes out harshly through his nose, “Get out.”

 

“What? It's true.”

 

“Get out. Now, Stark.”

 

“You could stand to be a little more polite, Steve, honestly,” he sits up though, puts up all pretences of getting ready to leave.

 

He breathes even though his brain doesn't get the memo. He sees Stark standing there, unmoving, opens his mouth to tell him to get out again but he can't manage it and so he stays quiet.

 

The attack only lasts a few minutes- enough for sweat to bead on his forehead and run down his back. Jan used to hold him, run her hands through his hair and tell him everything would be okay. Stark watches him limp to the couch and sit. Stark pats him on the back and offers him more wine but doesn't say much. Steve doesn't know which approach he prefers more.

 

~~**~~

 

The next morning comes before he even gets a chance to come to terms with the fact that Stark knows how he reacts to certain words, sounds, images but he still puts on his suit and goes anyway. Being a coward doesn't pay the bills, after all.

 

He steps out the front door to a black car waiting for him. A quick look around confirms that it could be for no one else but him and he opens the back door and climbs in. They reach the Brooklyn Bridge before the driver says a word.

 

“Officer! Dude, oh man, you're working for Tony now?”

 

The divider window inches down-he refrains from reaching for it to try to push it back up, “Unfortunately.”

 

“He's really awesome, seriously, he invites me to all his parties and there're hot girls everywhere, serious.”

 

“Great.”

 

Of course the papers have plenty to say about Tony Stark but up until yesterday he hadn't been forced to directly deal with those stories. He lets the kid in the front seat chatter on about how 'sick' working for Tony is, and rubs at his leg idly whenever it twinges in protest of the slightly cramped position he sits in.

 

The front of the building with its sleek lines offers a preview of the interior fixings with black and silver as the accent colours. The tiled floors look like marble and the inside of the elevator has been painted a loud red- probably matches Stark's ties- which he has plenty of time to notice once he has been ushered into the damn thing and stays on until the 24th floor.

 

He steps out onto carpet that his shoes slightly sink into with each step and heads in the direction of the sound of someone throwing up. He passes through the open concept living room then hits a closed door behind which Stark wretches again.

 

“Jarvis, honestly, how many times have I told you not before 9am?”

 

“I don't know, how many?” he asks, opens the door because part of the job probably entails helping his drunk employer off the tile floor of the bathroom and back into bed with some aspirin and a cup of water.

 

“Countless,” Stark shivers, fingers clutching the bowl like a drowning man would a life preserver, “What time is it?”

 

“Seven.”

 

He gets a groan in response and Steve kneels beside him, “Are you finished?”

 

“Why, are you planning on giving me some painkillers and a glass of milk?”

 

“Water is better.”

 

Stark bats his hands away with a frown when he tries to lift him and stands on his own power, even if he needs to lean on Steve on the way to the couch, “Whisky. In the liquor cabinet over there. Be a dear?”

 

“Where are the others?” he asks as he pulls open the unlocked, dark wooden door of the cabinet and retrieves the half empty bottle of whisky.

 

“What others? Oh, the others. I don't know, sleeping like any reasonable person would be doing, I assume,” Stark peers over the back of the couch at him, face pale, “More than that, Steve, really. I'm not a child.”

 

“You don't have anyone here with you?” he sets the square glass on the glass coffee table before perching on the corner of the couch opposite to Stark's head.

 

“Why bother? They all have things to do and I hardly need guarding when I'm in my own building, do I?”

 

Steve hunches over his knees, “Tell that to the person who tried to bomb you three months ago.”

 

“I had that taken care of ages ago, darling,” Stark leans over and takes a sip of his drink with a sigh, “come here.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Why do you think?”

 

He glares, “Is that what this is? Because I told you before, I have a girlfriend, Stark.”

 

“Really, because I spoke with Mrs. Van Dyne and she alluded to the fact that you two were well...no longer an 'item',” he takes a larger swig of his drink, “not since your accident, which wouldn't have been my first choice in a time to leave someone, but she is so wrapped up in that work and husband of hers, you understand.”

 

“What is your problem?” his hands clench into fists though he doesn't move other than that.

 

“I don't know what you mean, Steve.”

 

“Nothing. Never mind. Call me when you need me,” he gets to his feet and heads to the entryway, leans against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest. Stark would pay his bills-he wouldn't allow anything more.

 

“Steve?”

 

“When you actually need me, Stark.”

 

He stays silent and continues ignoring him until the TV gets turned on and he hears the sounds of Maury. Steve glances over his shoulder at it, not wanting to give in to Stark's behaviour just because he has all of the shows Steve had never gotten to watch when he'd been working for the NYPD, but by the time one episode ends he turns to face the television and Stark smiles from where he lounges.

 

“You could sit down if you liked, you know.”

 

“No.”

 

“You would think that the science community would be above petty gossip but they're worse than Hollywood.”

 

“What are you getting at?” he sets his jaw and doesn't move any closer. Stark wants him to go over, act like his personal lap dog but even if standing too long makes his leg twinge he won't sit.

 

“Just that Dr. Pym has a lot of friends, my dear, and so his wife was perhaps the worst choice you could have made if you were looking for an affair.”

 

“And who would you suggest, you?” he glares but Stark just laughs.

 

“It's hardly an affair if neither of us are involved with someone else, Steve.”

 

His eyes sweep over Stark's body, mostly hidden by his obnoxiously red robe belted loosely at his waist, and Stark catches him, smiles even though Steve turns away. “I'm not like you, Stark.”

 

“Most people aren't, my dear,” he says and gets to his feet, walks quickly to the bathroom. Steve hears him throwing up again but doesn't go to see him, instead leaving a glass of water by the door and a pair of aspirin. He steps out onto the balcony for some air and watches Manhattan wake up.

 

~~**~~

 

By the time two rolls around Stark has emerged from his bedroom and has finished the half empty whisky bottle while Steve gets his itinerary for the day from Ms. Potts (“Call me Pepper”). Stark has missed two lunch meetings already but she tells him she'd already anticipated that and rescheduled, leaving three meetings and a dinner date with a woman.

 

Stark dresses quickly enough by himself but has “people” come in for his hair and any other touch ups of his appearance he might need while Steve hovers by the door of the bedroom. The one woman keeps glancing at him, whispering something in Stark's ear, and he laughs at the private joke.

 

“She says that you looked tired, maybe you should let her work on you too,” Stark says eventually, flashing a grin at the woman who covers her face with her hands without touching it.

 

“Men don't wear makeup, Stark.”

 

“Smart men do,” he replies, while the second woman moves onto cutting his fingernails. “Besides, you can hardly blame me for wanting to spend more time with such lovely ladies, can you?”

 

The pair of them giggle like schoolgirls, and Steve crosses his arms over his chest. Stark says something to them in another language and they all laugh while Steve has words on the tip of his tongue that he keeps there rather than letting out.

 

They finish quickly, though, a well oiled machine, and Steve sees a difference in how Stark looks but doesn't mention it. The dark circles under his eyes have mostly vanished and his face has more colour than before; Stark hands over a handful of bills to the women and they leave, saying they'll see him tomorrow.

 

“This is part of your routine?”

 

“Of course. A businessman should always look as though he has been hard at work but never as if the work has left him thoroughly exhausted. It'd  be terrible for my stocks,” he gets to his feet, buttons his suit jacket, and leads the way, “I believe Ms. Potts gave you a copy of my schedule for today?”

 

“You have a meeting with Mr. Osborn in twenty minutes.”

 

Stark crinkles his nose, “Dreadful man. Smart, of course, but hardly a humanitarian.”

 

“And you are?”

 

They step into the elevator and Stark adjusts his tie then steps into Steve's space to do the same for him before he can stop him. His breath catches in his throat but he manages to breathe out steadily as Stark pats him on the chest, “A good businessman never forgets the little people, darling.”

 

The kid who had dropped him off waits for them- Steve doesn't ask if he has school- in the  parking garage beside a red sports car and Tony opens his own door with a smile, “Perfect choice.”

 

“Osborn have something against the colour red?” Steve climbs in beside him, shuts the door.

 

“Of course he does, he's certainly in it often enough to develop a Pavlovian response to it.”

 

“Besides, it's kind of Mr. Stark's colour. Mr. Osborn always has meetings in his building so he feels like he's got a home field advantages so you gotta show you're not intimidated,” the kid in the driver's seat calls back and Tony smiles.

 

“Exactly.”

 

“And this is just my favourite car.”

 

Tony laughs and turns to Steve, “it won't kill you to smile, Steve, really.”

 

“Put on your seat belt. Sir.”

 

“Oh alright, be miserable then,” he says goes into the mini-fridge installed in the back of one of the seats, “Drink, Steve?”

 

“I don't drink on the job.”

 

“Suit yourself.”

 

~~**~~

 

Oscorp's building has nothing on Stark's but it cuts a striking silhouette in the skyline anyway. The moment they’re out of the car, the doorman ushers them to the elevator without hesitation. The interior of the building contrasts the dark, modern palette of Stark's, using light colours and green as an accent. The floor of the meeting room they find Osborn in clicks under their feet with every step, and when Osborn decides to take notice of them from his high backed chair he raises an eyebrow at Steve.

 

“New bodyguard? I thought we agreed those would be staying outside of the meetings,” he says, shrugging off his suit jacket.

 

“He needs to learn the ropes somehow, Norman, and I know how much you worry for my personal safety- it would positively gut you to have me in the care of someone who didn't know what he was doing,” Stark gestures to one of the plastic chairs and Steve sits.

 

Osborn gives a tight lipped smile, “I would be distraught.”

 

“Naturally. How is your wife? How’s Harry? I heard through the grapevine he's looking at Princeton as one of his prospects.”

 

“Fine. Your brother?”

 

“Incommunicado as ever, of course. One can only imagine what sort of trouble he's up to in Europe.”

 

“Not the kind of trouble that makes him donate the patents formerly promised to other people to some charity I hope,” Osborn says and Steve watches him pour a glass of water from the pitcher on the desk, “Drink, Tony?”

 

“I am quite parched,” he takes the glass and takes a sip that does nothing to lessen the amount of liquid in the cup, “and I told you; I promised those patents to you if you cleaned up your act, Norman.”

 

“Funny.”

 

“They were for clean energy,” Tony says as an aside to Steve, “and I hardly think that involving yourself in the Syria situation constitutes taking out the trash.”

 

“Like you don't have your hand in that cookie jar, Tony,” he snaps, slamming his hand on the table, “those patents were mine.”

 

“I changed my mind.”

 

“Or maybe your company isn't doing as well as you'd have everyone believe.” Osborn opens the file sitting on the table in front of him and throws the stack of papers over at them, “Your stock is up but you're hemorrhaging money.”

 

“And where did you get those figures from, Justin Hammer? And here I thought you two were rivals. I suppose a little cooperation never hurt anyone, but he'll only stab you in the back later, Norman, you know that.”

 

Osborn narrows his eyes and Tony smiles, “He's had a mole in the company for months. Of course I've known about them for some time. A shame, really, it was a fabulous idea until they sent a bomb to my office.”

 

“I don't know what you're talking about,” Osborn's face takes on a cruel quality- like the kind of guys that Steve has brought in on murder charges, who broke and confessed to the killing with a stupid excuse of how it'd been a crime of passion.

 

Tony gets to his feet and Steve mirrors the action, “A bit of free advice, Norman, stop putting your eggs in Justin Hammer's basket.”

 

The door clicks shut behind them and Steve hustles them to the elevator, following close beside Stark and watching their surroundings. Stark doesn't hurry but he lets himself be pushed towards the door without resisting, giving a small wave to the receptionist as they head for the front door.

 

“You don't have to worry, darling, he'd never try anything in his own building.”

 

“Then why didn't you drink the water? Where are your other people?” he asks, shoving him into the car. “Heading back to the tower, kid.”

 

“Sure thing, officer.”

 

“My other 'people' are doing other things, Steve, really, there's no need for you to be so paranoid,” Stark pours from another bottle of clear liquid, “have a drink.”

 

“Someone tries to kill you and you tell me I don't need to be paranoid?” he glares and Stark shrugs.

 

“I didn't drink his water because it tastes awful, truth be told, and what's a little bit of friendly rivalry between friends?”

 

“I want the others' numbers.”

 

“Well Thor hardly uses his cellphone, but if it will prevent an ulcer who am I to deny you?” he hands over his phone- Steve uses two of his fingers to hold it because it looks like anything more will crack it into tiny pieces- with the contacts list open, “Thor, Clint, and Jarvis.”

 

He spots Captain Chang's number in the list but ignores it- she has a kid by one asshole who’d left her already, she wouldn't bother trying to have another.

 

They return to the tower and take their places in a meeting room full of men older than both he and Stark- stockholders- then wait as the men make their point. Steve doesn't recognize any of them but he hadn't expected to. He sits silently in the chair next to Stark's and lets him make his own presentation on why their assets have been slowly but surely diminishing as he sells them off to other, usually smaller, companies. The men don't smile, however they nod in agreement amongst themselves when Stark mentions how the stock is up rather than down because of his charitable “donations”. One of the ones with a white moustache and thick glasses brings up the fact that they'd lost money first because of his “antics” and the others nod, murmur in assent again while Stark flashes a smile.

 

“Well gentlemen, you know as well as I do that you have to spend money to make money.”

 

The rest of the meeting goes in much the same way, and by the end of it Steve has to actively fight against the urge to slump down in his chair. Politics have never interested him much and he doesn't pretend to understand the viewpoint of the men. Money talks, his mother had always said, mouth turned down in a frown as she sewed the holes in Steve's clothing yet again. She'd been laid off for what had to be the third time, then, the product of budget cuts Steve hadn't understood and he'd known without having to be told that they would be freezing again that winter. Before getting her permanent job at the hospital she'd worked damn near everywhere for as little as the government allowed-and sometimes less. Waitressing, mostly, because they hadn't had enough money back then to support both her dreams and Steve's, and  when tips were good they filled the gaps for a little while.

 

“I hate to inform you, darling, but we do have another two to go,” Stark says as they walk towards their next meeting spot. “Try to dial back on the intimidating scowl though; as delightful as it is to see, it does rather hurt my message.”

 

“This is my normal expression.”

 

Stark laughs like he thinks Steve has told a joke and pats him on the shoulder.

 

The rest of the day goes much the same way, and the end of it has him jumping at the chance to stand around a restaurant. The kid has gone home and so Jarvis- a tall, brick of a man- drives them to some place Steve has only ever walked by, rather than entered.

 

“You know you can go home now, Steve, I'm sure Jarvis would be happy to take over for you,” Tony says, lips tilting up at the edges because of something Steve doesn't see. “Wouldn't you?”

 

“Sure thing, boss.”

 

“It's fine,” Steve grunts.

 

“Alright then, but after this you're going home, darling, I'd hate to see you lose sleep over me,” he flattens Steve's hair down, in spite of how he moves away and scowls, then steps out of the car.

 

Paparazzi have somehow already gathered there and wait for him to make a comment or stop to take a picture. Steve pushes him along after two, growling in his ear that he's already late. Still, Stark blows the photographers a kiss before Steve can finally get him through the door of the restaurant.

 

“You can wait here. Guard the door, unless that's a problem?” he glances up at Steve, stays in his personal space until Steve snaps to attention and shakes his head. He takes his place by the door and watches Stark saunter over to the table tucked into the corner. He can't see the woman's face from here but she has to be a model or something, for Stark to give her the time of day.

 

His leg starts to twinge by the time an hour passes so he leans more heavily on the door while chefs bring impossible amounts of wine and food to the table. One of the waitresses asks him if she can get him anything but he shakes his head- even with Stark's salary, the price tag on a meal from here probably has more digits than anything he could just make at home. By the time Stark's date has finished he limps behind him to the car and shuts the door behind him.

 

Stark rolls down the window, leans out, and Steve smells the alcohol on his breath, “You know you could ask for a ride, Steve.”

 

“I'm calling a cab.”

 

“Oh don't be like that-even Thor enjoyed it the last time.”

 

“I'm not Thor,” he snaps, does his best to walk with confidence away from the car. It follows him at a crawl.

 

“You could be the camera man.”

 

“No.”

 

“Well it's your loss, darling, come in later in the morning tomorrow, won't you?”

 

~~**~~

 

The next few weeks blur together with little in the way of out of the ordinary occurrences. Stark still drinks too much, Steve still wakes the previous night's booty call at 4am and sends her( or once, him) on her way, and they go to an impossible amount of parties that Steve has to drag Tony into the car from. Jarvis helps, always does, but Steve usually stays well past the time that any of the others do. They check in one last time, and Jarvis and Thor live in other parts of the building, but Steve makes sure he gets to bed and stays there.

 

“You care a great deal for him, Steven,” Thor says one night after they've wrestled Tony into his room and made sure he won't choke on his own vomit.

 

“So what if I do?” he narrows his eyes, and Thor shakes his head.

 

“No offence was meant, I simply noticed you care for him as much as I do.”

 

Maybe Thor does. He puts up all the pretences of it anyway, when he and Steve do work together, and, unless he has a problem elsewhere that needs his attention, he usually switches off with Steve promptly. He and Stark work on things together- Steve sees the results of their tinkering sessions every time he follows Tony down to his workshop- and Tony invites him to as many parties as he does Steve.

 

“I do not wish to present myself as a romantic rival-”

 

“I'm not.”

 

“Of course, Steven. However you must know that I will allow no harm to come to my friend.”

 

“Tell that to the person who sent him a mail bomb,” he mutters, allows the couch to drag him down into its embrace.

 

“You could use the spare room,” Thor nods to the short hallway holding the bathroom and Stark's room, “it hasn't been used in months and the likelihood of its former resident returning...”

 

Steve notes the way his mouth turns down in a deep frown before he moves to Stark's room, peering inside one last time. He shrugs and Thor bids him goodnight as he reaches the elevator door.

 

Without other inhabitants the place makes no sounds except for the barely audible hum of electricity. He walks carefully over the floor as though someone below will hear his steps- or worse, Tony- and pulls open the door to the spare room.

 

His eyes land first on the huge bed and then on the closed door on the left of the room. Ensuite bathroom with a huge tub; if he hadn't already seen Stark's ridiculous room he would have given the intricately laid tiles and golden fixtures more than a passing glance before toeing off his shoes beside the bed.

 

The room holds nothing more than the necessities and a small vase of fresh flowers that Steve very nearly tips out a window to rid the space of the cloyingly sweet scent. He leaves them, though, and opens the closet.

 

He sees the dress first- black, small so that it would have hugged the person wearing it's body closely- and then the four pairs of shoes, all either red or black with heels that could probably kill a man. Steve shoves it all aside to make room for his own things, and when he hits the bed he falls asleep almost immediately.

 

~~**~~

 

“You know you can't come to the gala if you wear the same suit you always do,” Stark says, perusing the racks of a suit shop while the owner follows along telling him the differences between each style as if Stark doesn't already own them all. He'd woken around twelve and dragged Steve with him as though he hadn't just gone to a party the night before.

 

The interior of the store looks nothing like the places Steve has visited for suits- racks upon racks of staple items- with its moderately sized selection of jackets and pants, a small collection of ties and pins and pocket squares located conveniently near the dressing rooms, and wall of mirrors near the back of the shop.

 

“I'm running security, not the dance floor, sir.”

 

He laughs with the owner as if he's just told a hilarious joke,“Who's to say that isn't the same thing, my dear? Besides, even security needs to have some sort of uniform. Pick something out and I'll have three others made.”

 

Steve pretends to look around but he keeps spotting price tags- when they do hang from the sleeves of jackets- and turns away from them immediately. Half of these cost as much as his monthly rent or more and the rest hang blank, waiting for someone with too much money and not enough sense to happen upon them.

 

“Oh don't pout, Steve, it's only a suit,” Stark calls back to him once he finally wears one of his choices, saying something Steve can't hear to the owner, who disappears into the door marked “employees only”.

 

“Tell the guy who makes 'em that,” he mutters, letting a tag drop.

 

“So you're planning on wearing that drab old thing?” Stark looks him up and down without bothering to hide it, though for once only to inspect his clothing, and Steve crosses his arms over his chest. “I told you before, it's nearly a crime to put you in something so...plain.”

 

“No you haven't,” he shoots a glance at Tony's choice- black, of course- and notices the lapels differ from his usual type, but not much else.

 

“What do you think?” he does a turn and the fabric frames his body perfectly. Stark smirks, “But you know, darling, I am having trouble with the tie.”

 

“It's a suit. No difference from the others,” he says even though he fights to keep from looking again in spite of how he isn't like that

 

“The lapels are different, the cut is different. You know, Ms. Van Dyne always had an eye for fashion- I tried to get her to apprentice here, but she is so stubborn.”

 

Maybe Stark intends for him to get angry, because when Steve scowls he smiles, “Why are you mentioning her?”

 

“You're even more handsome when you're angry, I suppose that's why,” he shrugs, turning around to face the mirror. “You will help me with my tie, darling, won’t you?”

 

He should strangle him with it but instead waits for him to loop it around his neck, reaches his hands under his arms rather than having him face him, and starts tying. Stark stands flush with his front, the warmth of his body seeping through the suit material. He breathes out to steady his hands as Stark shifts and Steve glares at him in the mirror.

 

“Stay still.”

 

“Oh for god sakes, Steve, it's only tying a tie.”

 

“Then you do it,” he snaps, moving to pull away, but Tony catches his hands. “you'll just take it off as soon as I'm done anyway.”

 

“If I don't like the look of it of course I will.”

 

“Just stay still,” he manages to say before Tony moves again and he succeeds this time in stepping away.

 

“Oh fine, be like that,” he returns to the tie himself, blatantly fumbling with it and Steve only frowns when Tony finds his other jacket and pulls out the flask hidden in the inside pocket.,  He takes two large swallows and his hands stop shaking after a few minutes. “If you'd let me have something before we left, darling, you wouldn't have to facilitate my dirty habit.”

 

“Keep you from it long enough and maybe you'll break it.”

 

“The others don't give me nearly as much of a hard time as you do, you know,” Tony continues failing to tie his tie and just drops it, flashing a smile. “You get the idea.”

 

“Just pick something for me,” Steve says without thinking, tucking the flask away in his own pocket for safe keeping.

 

“Have you ever gotten your inseam measured?”

 

“No,” he manages to frown deeper at the question, and if anything it makes Stark's smile brighter.

 

“Oh you'll hate it.” 

 

~~**~~

 

The suit jacket presses against his neck at the back but it doesn't quite itch as much as his usual choice does, in spite of being starched to hell and back. Tony had said something about the material being higher quality, but he'd tuned it out after the first couple of sentences- it doesn't matter anyway because Thor tells him in the earpiece that they have a problem.

 

Considering “a problem” varies from a woman drunkenly puking on Stark's shoes to Stark falling up the stairs to the podium to make his speech, Steve shoves his way into the thick of the crowd. The people all have money and have gathered to throw it around at causes they pretend to care about- in this case, starving children- while getting so drunk they don't remember the night at all. They form an amorphous group in the middle of the room; he manages not to step on anyone's toes, keeps his hands close to his body so no one can accuse him of groping them, and yet his progress slows to a standstill.

 

“Are you here with someone?” a woman purrs, and he takes a breath before answering.

 

“I'm security, ma'am, please excuse me.”

 

“You don't look like security. You're way too hot for that.”

 

He gently pushes her aside, “Not interested.”

 

“Really? Come on, one dance,” she doesn't take his head shake as an answer and follows when he manages to continue pushing his way through the crowd.

 

“Thor, get to Stark. I'm held up.”

 

“I've got eyes on you, Cap. Comin' for a diversion,” Clint says and Steve hears the grin in his voice when he cringes at the nickname.

 

“What the hell is going on?” he emerges from the other side, eyes scanning the room for Stark or Thor or any sign at all that something needs his attention. The woman at least doesn't follow him anymore, but he still can't see anything that would require him to move across the entire room to take care of.

 

“Surprise,” he hears him before he sees him and then feels his hand on his wrist, “let’s dance.”

 

“I don't dance. Is this some kind of joke?”

 

“Of course not, now hurry up.”

 

He turns around, narrows his eyes, “You're not Stark.”

 

“Well, I'm A Stark. You must be Mr. Rogers,” the man with Tony's face drags him further into the crowd again before sticking out his hand for Steve to shake, though he gets the feeling this Stark wouldn't say no to him kissing it on bended knee, either, “Gregory Stark. As I'm certain you've ascertained, I am his twin.”

 

The guy- Gregory- wears an all-white suit (Steve would make a comment about it being after labour day if he weren't shoved up against the guy and feeling weirdly vulnerable) and his hair reflects the lightness of his clothes, as though someone had decided on an angelic colour scheme for him and gone crazy.

 

“What can I do for you, Mr. Stark?” he asks, while Thor tells him he would do well to disengage himself from the conversation.

 

“Much more than my brother has you doing. I could use a man with your skills much more effectively than parading you around like a trophy- Tony is so fond of his trophies.”

 

Steve doesn't say anything, but Stark continues, leaning in so that his breath warms Steve's neck, “You're not built for his type of work, you're made for mine. Think about it.”

 

He slips a business card into the front pocket of Steve's jacket then disappears, or rather turns his attention away from Steve, and ends the interaction.

 

It takes him a couple of minutes and a few rereads of the card to return his attention to the party, but when he does he spots Stark- his Stark- by the bar and strides over. He has a plethora of women surrounding him as usual and a few actually look like they understand what Tony is talking about when he rambles about something to do with engineering..

 

“Steve! Ladies, my knight. Show them your shining armour, darling,” his voices nearly rises over the sound of the music playing and Steve only stays because there has to be some sort of problem.

 

“Is everything alright, Mr. Stark?” he stands up straighter when he realizes that all eyes have been shifted to him.

 

“Do they look not alright? Come over and sit down. Tell Thor to come too with that earpiece of yours.”

 

“You're high,” he sighs.

 

“What? I'm just happy, Steve, come here, I want to dance and I'm afraid all of these lovely ladies have thoroughly worn themselves out already.”

 

He only goes because the women really do look worn out and Stark wobbles so much on his feet that he doubts they'll be doing much actual dancing. Stark's hands sweep up his chest and across his shoulders before settling around his neck.

 

“I see you've met my brother, darling,” he breathes into Steve's ear.

 

Steve grunts, shifts his hands so that they don't fall any closer to Tony's rear than they have to, says, “Doesn't he realize it's after labour day?”

 

Stark's laugh in his ear damn near deafens him, “You ought to have told him that, he hates when people say that.”

 

“He offered me a job.”

 

“Did he. Not surprising, he hates it when I get something he can't.”

 

“Why can't he?” he asks because Stark reacts like he'd just thrown a bucket of ice water on him.

 

He pulls back to stare at him with eyes made unfocused by drink and whatever else he'd put into his body, “It's in your employment contract.”

 

“No it isn't.”

 

“It is now.”

 

“He said he would put me in the field,” he growls, lips brushing Stark's ear, swaying to the music so that no one catches wise, “rather than just using me like a trophy.”

 

“Well. If you really want to work for him I suppose I can't stop you,” his hands move and slip under the bottom of Steve's jacket before coming to rest on his belt and Steve should pull away before he gets any ideas but he doesn't. “The colour suits you.”

 

“It's only a suit.”

 

 Tony's fingers hook into the waistband of his pants, the movement hidden by the proximity of their and everyone else's bodies. The white shirt tucked there gets pulled out until he feels Stark's skin against his. It should make him move away. It doesn't.

 

“An expensive suit, there's a difference, my dear. The other one you have is just a suit,” he murmurs, eyes locked on the navy pinstriped material, “I'll buy you more.”

 

“I don't want them,” he clears his throat, trying to alleviate the dryness settled there, but Stark smirks like he knows and steps backwards without a care in the world, one finger still tucked inside the waistband of Steve's pants.

 

Steve glances around at the people dancing and hanging around the gala but finds all of them have chosen this exact moment to turn their attention elsewhere. He sees an older man climbing up to the podium and Stark tells him it's Justin Hammer. The name pings as the man who had sent the bomb to the tower- three casualties, they'd found out later- and he keeps staring until Tony leads him away from the crowd.

 

“I had it taken care of, Steve, there's no need to get all alpha male,” his hand- one holds a champagne flute and Steve stares at that for half a second before Stark snaps him out of it- unbuttons his jacket with quick fingers in spite of how out of his head he must be by now. He lets him, lets him push him against the wall to get a better angle, and drinks from the glass Stark passes him.

 

“What did you do to me?”

 

“I haven't done anything to you. I'm an alcoholic, darling, not a rapist.”

 

Tony tastes like champagne and smoke and it should have disgusted him except that he's pulling Steve's belt open and his focus narrows to that. He can't be doing a very good job of kissing back. “Then what did you do?”

 

“Oh for God sakes, just shut up and let me suck you off,” he slurs and he opens the fly of Steve's pants.

 

“I'm not queer,” he pushes him away about the same time Thor rounds the corner and just the sight of him breaks the hazy feeling from his head. He zips his pants up, ignoring how hard he is and stands up straight.

 

“Your speech,” Thor says as an explanation and Tony sighs, heads for the curtain they'd breezed through to get to a more quiet part of the building.

 

“Coming, dear, coming.”

 

Thor regards Steve with a raised eyebrow but Steve turns his attention to adjusting his suit so that it mostly lies flat against him. They go quickly, already late for the proceedings, and Tony delivers his speech like he hadn't spent a good portion of the night drinking. If superheroes existed it would probably be his power, considering how often he gives speeches drunk or worse.

 

He watches without much interest and the rest of the night continues as such.

 

~~**~~

 

“I have to ask you to leave now, ma'am,” he guides her gently with his hands towards the elevator and she stumbles drunkenly towards it.

 

“It's 3am.”

 

“I'll call you a cab,” he says, nodding to Jarvis who steps inside the elevator with her, “get home safely.”

 

It makes for an interesting scene-Star k splayed out barely conscious on the bed, bottle gripped in his hand- but not one Steve hasn't been privy to before on patrols or even the first couple of days of being in service to him. He pries the bottle of booze from his fingers then pours the remainder down the sink in the bathroom before flipping Stark onto his side, in the recovery position. He yanks the blankets out from under him and pulls them up over his shoulders to keep him warm considering how his clothes have been discarded on the floor next to the bed with little care. Steve folds them, puts them into the hamper so they'll be washed, then stops, still holding Stark's white button down in his hands. He shoves it into the hamper a second later with a frown- folding laundry isn’t in the job description and Stark has people for that- and goes, closing the door behind him.

 

He could use the spare bedroom if he wanted due to how late his shift has run, but he heads for the couch and flips on the television, sets the volume to a low murmur. His jacket he hangs over the back of the couch and he places his shoes near the end of the sofa by his head. Jarvis' shift starts in four hours-he can rest until then with Clint watching the door and Thor in charge of the building's lobby.

 

~~**~~

 

Jarvis taps him on the shoulder then retreats, murmering “You can head out now, Cap.”

 

“Thanks,” he says, pulling himself up amid aches and pains that can only come from sleeping on something not meant to be a bed for a man of his size.

 

“He still sleeping?”

 

“As usual. Be up in an hour or so puking. Left a glass of water and some aspirin on the bedside table. He'll sleep for another few hours after that unless he has somewhere he has to be.”

 

Jarvis’ relief raises his eyebrows, “Got the whole schedule figured out, huh.”

 

“Close as I can, anyway,” he shrugs, gathers his things, and starts towards the door, “call me if you need anything.”

 

“Yeah, sure.”

 

The ride back to his apartment gives him another half an hour of sleep so that by the time he opens the door to his home he lingers inside only long enough to change clothing before leaving again. The shop down the street sells sandwiches good enough to warrant return visits, and his stomach complains for food loudly enough that he decides to pay attention.

 

He hesitates when the cashier asks him how many he wants but settles on just two- Stark eats even less than he does, and besides that he doesn't plan on making another visit to the tower just to drop off an unasked for sandwich. Steve sits in a two person booth near the window and watches people walk by, frowning at women wearing too little in spite of the weather, frowns even deeper at the men who, when he heads outside, he hears wolf whistle at them. But he pushes it from his mind and returns home again, briefly, to call up Sam. They agree to meet up at the usual place in a couple of hours, which gives Steve enough time to shower and get on a shirt that doesn't scream about his job. He doesn't own many pairs of pants but he finds a pair of jeans that still fit and pulls those on before heading out.

 

The sign in front of the pub says “Welcome NYPD!” in reference to how many cops the place draws in and Steve steps inside the darkened space without another thought. He spots Sam sitting at the bar- hard to miss in the bright red t-shirt- then walks over, hiding his limp as best he can. Most patrons haven't come in yet so the conversation around them doesn't overpower the place like it usually manages to.

 

“Hey, man,” Sam gets to his feet, clapping him on the shoulder, “been too long.”

 

“Yeah,” Steve says and sits, “what's new with you?”

 

“Same old. Workin', church on Sundays when I can. What about you? How's the Stark thing workin' out?”

 

They order a couple of beers, watch the baseball game on the small TV over the bar until Steve finally shrugs, “Going fine.”

 

“Pay must be good though, right?”

 

His bank account can attest to that and Steve nods, “Well enough. He doesn't ask for much. How is Lang?”

 

“Cassie? She's doin' great. Bit rough after the accident but she's a strong kid- Chang's already talking about promoting her.”

 

“She's a good kid,” he says and Sam nods.

 

“You know Chang's been asking about you. I know you got the Stark thing but she could use you back if you wanted.”

 

“At a desk job, Sam. That's not what I trained for.”

 

“Sometimes God throws you a curve ball, Steve, you know as well as I do.”

 

“This is more than a curve ball,” he takes a swig of his drink to keep himself from saying anything harsher. God might have a plan or he might not, but it doesn't keep Steve from hearing, seeing nothing that would suggest it.

 

“If anyone can make it through this you can. You're always welcome at my dad's place.”

 

“Thank you,” he says with no intention of visiting.

 

The conversation dies soon after but they don't try to revive it- Sam can't talk about work too much, nor can Steve and the hobbies they might have had have all fallen to the wayside. Still, when he walks home his leg aches a little bit less at having spoken with someone not tied to Tony Stark.

 

~~**~~

 

Tony brings him with him to some sort of makeup convention the next week, the Nguyen sisters- he learned their names the previous week but every time he tries to pronounce them they just poorly stifle their laughter at how his tongue trips over the words- in tow. They spend most of the day cruising the floor, taking in the booths as the pair of them switch between English and Vietnamese. Steve recognizes a couple of names just from memories (Gail had worn Russian Red, had told him every time he mentioned how good the colour looked on her that it's from MAC) and finds his fingers picking up the lipstick without thinking.

 

“It would suit you, darling, you'll get no judgement from me,” Tony smirks and Steve quickly puts the tube back into the line.

 

“Shut up,” he growls, turning away from the lights and display, though he doesn't distance himself much. 

 

“Oh don't get grumpy, I was hardly serious.”

 

“Why don't you wear it?” he doesn't say the rest- 'you already wear everything else'- but Tony infers it, plucks a tube from the display with long fingers. The girls look from Steve to Tony then back again. They have the decency to stop when they catch sight of Steve's face at least.

 

“A more orange tone would suit your face better,” the older-she acts older anyway-one pipes up, and scans the selection quickly.

 

“Oh it's not for me, dear, I'm not quite ready to embrace the queen lifestyle.”

 

They glance again to Steve and this time his glare doesn't dissuade them.

 

~~**~~

 

Lunch consists of Tony buying a chunk of a restaurant and inviting a pack of women he picks up off the floor of convention while Steve sits by the door not pouting. He watches them put back bottle after bottle of wine, interspersed with food too expensive for how little actually sits on their plates. A blonde woman leans too heavily on Tony, her breasts nearly falling out of her top, and Steve sweeps in then, pulls the half full bottle of red wine from the table.

 

“You've had enough, Mr. Stark. Ma'am.”

 

“Have I?”

 

“You're drunk.”

 

“How could I not be with so many lovely ladies so willing to drink with me? You should try it sometime, Steve, you might like the end result more than you think.” He doesn't reach for the bottle, instead pulling the silver flask from his jacket, “You'll find you've only delayed the inevitable, darling, really. Sit down, stay awhile. Shouldn't he. ladies?”

 

They all make affirmative sounds and he pulls back at the sensation of a hand creeping up his leg, frowning at the woman responsible. She giggles and hiccups at the same time, the entire table erupting into laughter that Steve doesn't join in on. Still, he takes the wine and goes to sit with the sisters.

 

“That woman was trying to touch your...”

 

“I know. Why bother coming with him?” he glowers at Tony, who waves and blows a kiss in return.

 

“Mr. Stark is a good man,” the one with longer hair says, catching the look on his face, “a drunk, yes, but he treats us well.”

 

“He's never-” he starts, because Stark would be the type to get involved in a scandal, to take advantage of people like this, but she cuts him off.

 

“We are not stupid, Mr. Rogers. We act as we know is expected,” she giggles behind her hand, says something in Vietnamese, then drops it and continues, “Men like you think they know what's best for us but we know. You think 'how terrible that they are forced to work for a man like Mr. Stark' but he treats us better than the man before him who didn't pay us what we were worth and told us to accept it because he gave the poor immigrants jobs. Mr. Stark pays us the amount we deserve.”

 

Her sister comments, for possibly the first time ever in Steve's presence, “It's a lot.”

 

“So do not come here and talk to us as if we are stupid women who do not speak English or know how to take care of ourselves,” she finishes and returns to her meal, “eat.”

 

He sees Jan, even though she would purse her lips at the comment, but shakes it away to take advantage of the Stark-less dining experience.

 

“Why did you come to America?” he asks and they wrinkle their noses.

 

“Why do all Americans ask the same thing?”

 

“Forget it then.”

 

The younger rolls her eyes, “We saw Hollywood on vacation.”

 

“And Brad Pitt. We wanted to pursue a career here, where we would not be asked to give it up.”

 

“For marriage?”

 

“For working in the family business. Our uncle and aunt were farmers,” the older sister pours her sister a glass of wine, who returns the favour, then fills Steve’s glass. “We are not farmers. Why do you work for Mr. Stark, Mr. Rogers?”

 

“I need a job and not many places will take cripples.”

 

“Then you should be glad Mr. Stark is a good man.”

 

He grunts and she turns to her sister to talk about something else while he eats, abruptly starving.

 

When Stark leaves it’s at a crawl, thanks to the paparazzi that have gathered around the place. Steve earns his paycheque by keeping them at bay, or more accurately keeping Tony from showing off exactly how much wine had been drunk. When he pushes him inside the car Tony smiles.

 

“Have fun talking to Diu and Huong, Steve?”

 

“Sure.”

 

Another woman tries to grab his ass so he gets into the car because Stark needs someone to keep him in line with the whole group of them. He manages not to snap at any of them because his mother had taught him better than that, but by the time they reach the tower he hands them over to Clint without looking back.

 

“Not staying for the orgy, Cap?” he asks, feet up on the coffee table and UFC on the television. Steve frowns for a moment, eyeing the offending appendages until Clint gets the point and puts his feet on the ground, “C'mon and crack one open, not like Stark'll be needing us any time soon.”

 

~~**~~

 

The first fight winds down amid laughter and the occasional scream from Stark's room and Clint puts his feet back up on the table. The commercials run in the meantime- one of a happy family eating dinner, one for an energy drink, three for beer in a row.

 

“So why'd you come work for Stark, anyway?”

 

Steve shrugs and Clint mirrors the motion, “Why'd you?”

 

“Used to have a family before all this. Wife, kids,” he gestures to the TV where a guy in a black mask runs away from a house blaring an alarm, “then that happened.”

 

“I'm sorry.”

 

“Thanks. You know what that's like, huh? Stark said you had a fiancee before this.”

 

They both take a drink and Steve breathes out, keeps himself under control, “Car accident.”

 

“Shit. You ever find the guy responsible?”

 

“Yeah. Died at the scene,” he grits out, “drunk driver.”

 

“Deserved it then.”

 

Steve nods and the second fight starts. The conversation turns to the prospects, to imaginary bets on opposing sides because the first has skill but the second has heart (Steve votes for the second). Clint laughs at him but doesn't say much else.

 

“He'll buy you stuff,” Clint says once the television and the noises from the room die down and Steve looks at him, “y'know, whatever. Must be nice being so rich.”

 

He grunts- he doesn't need anyone to tell him that- but Clint continues, features tinted blue and outlined in shadows cast from the TV.

 

“He bought you that suit, huh? That's his thing. He's got a type.”

 

“What do you mean?” his eyes narrow and Clint laughs, takes a swig of his beer to finish it off before replying.

 

“Haven't noticed how every one of his bodyguards is a buff blond guy yet? Seriously, me, you, Thor, Jarvis. Other than that redhead bitch he dated last year...”

 

He frowns at the word and Clint cracks open another bottle, adding to the small pile already on the table, “No, really, it was a clusterfuck of epic proportions after that. Anyway, long as you don't push him away he'll buy you whatever. I got me a couple of nice weapons.”

 

“Do you have a permit?”

 

“You think I'm carrying without one? I've got a permit for damn near anything that shoots any kind of projectile. I could use a fuckin' bow if I wanted to.”

 

“And he just bought you them.”

 

“Sure. Let him call you darling a couple hundred times, get taken out to dinner, maybe let him kiss you a couple times...” Clint smirks and Steve clenches his fists, “Come on, you didn't think it was just you, right?”

 

“That's prostitution.”

 

“Tomato, to-mah-to.”

 

“You whored yourself out for weapons, Barton.”

 

“What the hell have I got to lose, huh, Steve? My family?” he laughs again, the sound twisting out of his mouth like something sharp escaping its cage after a long jail sentence.

 

“Your pride. Your morals,” he snaps and pokes him in the chest, shoves him back a little like it will snap him out of it.

 

“Those are things for people with something worth keeping, okay? Say it however you want, Cap, but I haven't got anything. And if you did, you wouldn't be here with the rest of us.”

 

When he steps outside, leaving Clint behind in the living room, the cool air hits him in one harsh slap then dulls after a moment. He wears only his button down and suit pants, but fall hasn't quite descended yet, so he doesn’t feel cold in spite of how harsh the wind blows.

 

The balcony sits high above the rest of the city, high enough that the lights in the other buildings remain just squares of light among the dark exteriors. He walks along the perimeter of the large, circular space, not checking for anything in particular but finding something anyway.

 

He ducks behind a chair- not adequate cover but he manages to do it before the silhouette turns and catches sight of him. Can't be someone over 5”7, 5”9 at the most, and he sees them skulking around the window to the bedroom. He moves in less than a second, sprinting towards them and tackling them to the ground.

 

They fight back immediately with hands and legs flailing. Or at least it looks like flailing to him but he recoils slightly from a hit to his side that leaves him gasping. It gives the person enough time to hit again, this time landing a blow to his throat. Tactical strikes. He coughs, hacks out breaths that don't make his lungs expand as he reaches for their mask to yank it off. They hit him again, before he gets his wits about him to strike back, at his groin.

 

Clenching his jaw doesn't do much for the pain and he struggles to reach for them- a woman, this close he feels the curve of breasts and hips- before she wiggles free. A kidney punch keeps him incapacitated long enough for her to get out of his grip.

 

He hears irregular footfalls coming towards him, but by the time Clint reaches him the intruder has already somehow disappeared. Steve pushes away the helping hand and gets to his feet before giving chase, leg, throat, and abdomen throbbing with pain.

 

A tiny peg sticks out of the edge of the barrier around the top of the building- some sort of grappling hook or rappelling equipment- and he can't see the woman in spite of how quickly she would have to have dropped down to get to safety before he got to the edge.

 

“Secure the perimeter and the lobby,” he snaps, yanking his walkie talkie from his belt, “Thor, no one gets in the doors without a pass. Over.”

 

“What has happened?”

 

“Intruder on the roof of the penthouse. Secure the lobby. Over.”

 

“Of course.”

 

Stark and his women all pile into the main portion of the penthouse in various states of undress as Steve proclaims the roof clear for the moment and slides the glass door shut behind him, “Problem, darling?”

 

“Someone was trying to get in your window. Tried to catch them. Got away,” he pants, limps to the alarm control panel to arm it but Tony lays his hand over Steve's.

 

“I'm sure it was nothing, really, there's no need for such an extreme reaction, is there ladies?”

 

A couple of them mumble some sort of response that sounds neither positive nor negative and Steve completes the process of arming the system anyway.

 

“It's for your own protection, Mr. Stark. I'll have your guests escorted home.”

 

“Oh will you?”

 

“They could be in danger, Stark,” he growls under his breath and Tony rolls his eyes, turns to the group of women.

 

“Well, you heard the man. I'm terribly sorry dears, but it really is safer-I'd hate for any of you to be hurt. You all have my card, of course.”

 

They chatter amongst themselves, gather up pieces of clothing while they wait for Jarvis to wake up and take them down to the parking garage. Their lips are red and he sees smudges of lipstick on chests and over Stark's neck and lips. Steve paces the length of the place, checks doors and closets and windows and locks until they've all gone and only he, Tony, and the other guards remain. Stark keeps insisting that they don't need to go somewhere safer and so they don't escort him to one of his other homes in Manhattan or elsewhere.

 

“Go home, Clint,” Steve says after he's checked the balcony for the third time, because Clint can barely stand up straight and when he says “Sure thing, Cap” the words come out slurred.

 

Thor does his own patrol of the space, checks on Tony a few times because the blue of his irises are nearly lost in the black of his pupils and he flits around the room doing nothing in particular. 

 

“You should return to bed, Tony,” he says and Stark stops for a moment, sighs, then goes back to whatever passes in his mind as doing something.

 

“What if it's her?”

 

“Then I will shoot her on sight.”

 

“You wouldn't. You wouldn't really, would you?” Tony runs his hands through his hair for what is possibly the fifth time in the last five minutes.

 

“Who's her?” Steve looks between the pair of them but settles on Tony because words come quicker from him than Thor.

 

“My ex. Lovely woman.”

 

He waits for the rest of the story (it doesn't come) until Tony finally settles on the couch. He drops it for now, there will be other chances to ask, and gets one of the square glasses from the bar. He fills it and Stark groans when he hands it over.

 

“Have I told you how much of a saint you are, Steve? Really. Sit down, both of you.”

 

Steve doesn't sit, but he hovers near enough to the couch for it to count in Stark's mind at least.

 

“How do you feel about threesomes?”

 

Thor's laugh booms. Steve's scowl deepens and Stark makes a noise too close to a giggle for his comfort.

 

“I knew you would say that. I only asked because I knew what you'd do, honestly.”

 

“Do you not find me appealing, Steven?”

 

Tony laughs uproariously and leans his head on Thor's shoulder, “Oh come on, darling, it's only a threesome. Everyone does it.”

 

“I don't.”

 

“Fine, live in your boring world, see if I care,” he pouts, it definitely can be called a pout, then gets to his feet, wobbling only a little bit, “I suppose I'll leave you two to your guarding now that you've thoroughly ruined my party.”

 

His eyes return to his lips and stay there. Red has been streaked across his lower lip and in small spots on his upper lip, disappearing into his facial hair. The colour doesn't belong to Gail except that it does and his hands twitch at his sides. Tony notices.

 

“Unless of course one of you were thinking of helping me clean up.”

 

“I will ensure everyone is aware of the situation,” Thor says, stands, “I trust Steven is able to maintain the perimeter in my absence.”

 

“Naturally, darling.”

 

He manages to wait until Thor disappears behind the elevator doors before shoving Tony against a wall, his hands buried in the collar of his open dress shirt. He sees red and not much else as he pushes their lips together, eliciting a groan from Stark that gets lost amongst the sounds of the television recapping the night's matches.

 

“What the hell is your problem?” he growls, bites at his lip until Russian Red gives way to blood red and he yanks him closer with his hands on his hips until they're pressed together  against the wall.

 

“I don't know what you mean but whatever it is I'll be sure to do it again.”

 

“Why did you tell Clint about Gail?”

 

“He asked why you were here,” Stark breathes out, voice shaking.

 

He slams their hips together and Tony whimpers as he hooks his leg around Steve's waist, “Tell the truth, Stark.”

 

“I wanted to make you angry. Historically, it works out well for me.”

 

“Is that all I am to you? A conquest?” his fingernails bite into cloth and he doesn't give him time to answer before kissing him again. His lips are hot against his- bruised from where Steve had bitten them- and Tony's hands work their way into Steve's shirt, yanking it out from his pants and fumbling with buttons.

 

“I never got the impression you wanted to be anything more, darling. I mean look at you,” Stark looks up at him through his lashes and Steve's fingers grip tighter, “all upset because I was having fun with someone else. But God forbid we call a spade a spade.”

 

“That's not-”

 

“Of course. Not Captain America,” Tony's hands slide up to the back of his neck then down, tracing the planes of his chest and ribs and stomach, “it's not like anyone has to know, Steve. It's almost expected-everyone knows that Tony Stark is a whore and you've been alone for god knows how long...No one would blame you.”

 

“Are you going to bribe me with things too like you did with Clint?” the red clears from his vision and he pries his hands off of Stark's body.

 

“I wasn't under the impression that I'd need to but...”

 

“I'm not a whore, Stark.”

 

“I thought we established that I am, Steve,” he smiles, lowers his leg so that they stand on equal ground, “but I suppose you want to leave.”

 

He does, but doesn't. “Your room isn't safe.”

 

“She couldn't have gotten in through that window- it's bulletproof.”

 

Steve checks anyway, finds a hole shaped slice in the glass that makes Tony shrug like it doesn't matter. “Go to sleep.”

 

“Well I can't now that I've found my room is unsafe. You'll have to join me.”

 

He sits on the end of the too large bed, elbows on his knees, “Go to sleep, Stark.”

 

“Oh alright, suit yourself then.”

 

He wakes in the morning under the blankets with Tony pressed against his back and pulls away before getting out of bed. Stark doesn't stir, but then, the clock only reads 6am so he won't be rising for another five hours at least. Thor sleeps on the couch, amongst the bottles and he taps him on the shoulder.

 

“Spare room is free.”

 

“And you, Steven?”

 

“I'll go check on Clint.”

 

“Very well.”

 

He checks the locks and windows and balcony, now that he has the sunrise to help him, before heading downstairs. Clint's apartment could pass as a bar with all of the empty bottles and cans of beer piled by the door and Steve eyes them with a frown. The man himself lies strewn across the couch with the television on and another smaller pile of bottles in front of him.

 

Being situated inside Stark Tower means that the space stretches on for longer than seems possible and the decor reflects Tony's style even here. A quick look in the bedroom yields nothing but a still made bed, the bathroom more cans as though, along with the décor, Stark's habits have taken root here too.

 

It takes all of ten minutes to flick off the TV and clean the pile of bottles by the couch, even in the dark, and he continues downstairs to the gym.

 

He swipes his keycard then sets up his equipment- it takes longer than it should have, but then he hasn't been inside an actual gym in close to two years. Still, his muscles remember so he manages without referring to the manuals.

 

He stops when his muscles scream, sweat oozing from every pore, and returns to the penthouse to retrieve the grappling hook. The line has been cut off, judging by the break, and yet he doesn't expect to see anything about someone falling from Stark Tower on the news. It doesn't pull apart when he yanks and a knife from the kitchen does a similarly poor job of severing it.

 

“That's not going to work.”

 

“I can see that. Go back to bed.”

 

“How can I? You left me,” Tony saunters up beside Steve, hip cocked against the counter, “it's dreadfully cold in bed alone, darling, I don't know how you do it.”

 

“What is it?”

 

“An experimental metal. Can only be cut by something made from the same material I'm afraid.”

 

“You know where to find it?” he regards the coil of line again, turns it over in his hand-it doesn't look like anything other than regular climber's rope.

 

“I as good as invented it, my dear,” his lips flicker into a smile which only makes the bags under his eyes worse, “of course when I was working on it I hardly thought that it would be used by someone trying to break into my house.”

 

“Then you know who it was.”

 

“Does it matter? You chased them away,” his hands reach out to pull him in and Steve lets him, still staring at the rope, “my hero.”

 

“Have you considered going to anyone about this?”

 

“You mean the NYPD. No, but you could convince me.”

 

He turns to him, grunts. It's good enough and he doesn't examine the why of it- just kisses him.

 

“Well I didn't mean like that, but alright.”

 

Tony tastes like booze and morning breath- when he pulls away the first time, Tony makes a face but still kisses him again anyway, slow, like this could be anything other than what it is. His hands move everywhere quickly though, as if desperate to map out every part of Steve's body and Gail and Jan hadn't touched him like this, had been gentle rather than hard and fast, but he groans anyway.

 

“This is alright, isn't it? All I need is a lawsuit, Steve.”

 

“It's fine.”

 

“So yes?”

 

Yes,” he presses him against the counter, attacking the spot he had last night with a more concentrated fervour.

 

“God you're going to give them a hard time covering that up.”

 

“I know,” he says against his ear, sucks a bruise into the skin below his jaw so that he squirms, rolling his hips against Steve's. It makes Steve gasp, though he tries to hide it because he can't be this easy, except that he is. Tony doesn't seem to mind.

 

“That's it, like that.”

 

“I'm not a dog,” he growls and it doesn't do much but make Tony laugh. His hands manage to pull down the zipper of Steve's pants and he slips his hand inside his boxers. Steve’s hips jump, pushing his dick into the circle of Tony’s fist and he pants against his slender neck.

 

When Ms. Potts walks in she shrieks, though Steve can't believe this is the worst thing she's caught Stark doing, and she has her clipboard raised up to her eyes when he glances at her. “I'm sorry!”

 

“Of course you are, Ms. Potts, what can I do for you?” Stark doesn't pull away or take his hand out of Steve's pants and it's only when Steve steps back that he does.

 

“Your schedule for the day, sir?”

 

“And what is the first thing on the docket today?”

 

“Meeting with your brother, sir!” she peers over the top of her clipboard, even her forehead has turned red, and Steve avoids looking her in the eye.

 

“Reschedule until tomorrow- I have important problems to work out.”

 

“But-”

 

“Why am I not surprised?” Gregory Stark rounds the corner from the entryway, “eschewing your own brother for your...hobbies.”

“Lovely to see you, Greg, really, how long has it been? Not since you tried to buy out the company, surely.”

“You make it sound so unpleasant.” He sweeps into the room, still clad in white and Steve sees him glance to him then to the mess that is the couch area, “You would have still had your fun. You may leave now, Ms. Potts.”

“Until you had me killed.”

“You're so needlessly emotional, Tony, it's a wonder you've survived this long in the business world.” His smile turns into more of a sneer as he regards Steve's rumpled appearance, “Thought of my proposal, Mr. Rogers?”

He takes a deep breath before answering but Tony cuts him off, “A better opportunity arose. You know how it is, darling.”

Gregory Stark raises his eyebrows a split second, giving the impression of surprise, yet he settles back into the smirk easily, “Now Tony, don't talk over our friend- let him answer himself.”

Steve straightens his collar, stands up straighter to highlight the height difference between them, “If you have to ask, then you have you answer, Stark.”

Mister Stark- do you let all of your help talk to you like that, little brother? It's a wonder you don't have one of your goons running father's company into the ground by now.”

“Don't be grouchy because you got rejected, Greg. I'm sure that Mr. Rogers just sees more potential in Stark Industries than your megalomaniacal scheming. You can hardly fault him for speaking his mind, can you?” Tony waves to the bar, “Fetch us a drink, wouldn't you, Steve?”

He pours Tony a whiskey, Gregory a scotch then a glass of water from the fridge for himself.

“Yes, your little toys are all loyal to you for whatever reason- you've made your point with every one of them.” Gregory sips from his drink slowly, in contrast to Tony's quick and frequent pace.

“You aren't getting the company, Greg, you know that.”

“Is that what you think I'm here for?”

“Anyone with half a brain could see it, darling.”

“The way you're running it someone with half a brain could do a better job.”

The pair of them move to Tony's room and Steve lingers outside, waiting while they argue over other ridiculously mundane things only rich people see as worth fighting over. Tony emerges in a suit with a black tie-contrasting perfectly with Gregory's ensemble-twenty minutes later.

“Get one of your suits, Steve, we're going out for brunch.”

“I don't have-”

“The spare room, darling, take your pick.”

A quick look into the closet and he sees a line of suits that could rival the store where they'd bought the one he’s still wearing the pants from. He washes quickly, pushes his wet hair back against his head to let it dry. When he slips on a new pair he finds they fit perfectly, along with the shirt and jacket. He slips on the tie hung around the neck of the hanger, and his re-entry to the living room is met with Tony's eyes sweeping up and down.

“Ready?”

“Let's go.”

“Well now that you've both gotten yourself prepared we can finally eat dinner,” Gregory comments and Tony rolls his eyes.

“Who's being needlessly emotional now?”

“Just hurry up, I do have other appointments, you know.”

“I hardly think the league of super villains prizes punctuality, Greg,” Tony starts for the door and they follow, Steve hanging close beside him. Gregory Stark makes the hair stand up on the back of his neck, makes his skin prickle, and his years with the NYPD have taught him not to ignore that kind of feeling. Tony shakes his head, murmurs, “You could stand to be more possessive, Steve, really, I don't think anyone's gotten the point yet.”

He says nothing but puts a small amount of distance between them- Tony had said it before, all he needed was a scandal.

“Yes, call off your dog, Tony. What have you been telling him?”

“Only the good things.”

“Of course. Italian.”

“Naturally.”

The place they end up doesn't fit with the other restaurants Tony has taken him in the past but the owners also call them both by name- in spite of how Gregory purses his lips- and know their orders without having to ask. Steve hovers, mostly, by the door and then afterwards in a booth while they talk. The pasta makes his mouth water and he finds the plate empty the next time he looks down as though it had been cleaned by magic.

He doesn't pay much attention to the conversation happening just a few booths away. Their back and forth sounds like posturing to him, so he just keeps an eye on the door, the kitchen, the amount of drinks passing between the pair of them.

“Picked up another habit, brother?” Gregory says and that gets Steve to pause in his visual inspection of the other parts of the restaurant.

“Well one of us has to- I'm having fun for the two of us,” Tony drawls, sniffing, and Steve catches him pressing a napkin to his nose, his hands lightly shaking, “life is too short, after all.”

“Do you ever tire of being a disappointment?”

“To father? Not particularly, no.” Tony waves his hand when he sees Steve staring and sighs when he goes over anyway, “Really, darling, it's only a nosebleed.”

In spite of his best efforts red trickles down into his goatee- red like his ties, like his cars, like lipstick, and he offers a wry smile when Steve frowns at him, “If you need something to do, Steve, go get my jacket, won't you?”

The moment Steve brings it he reaches for his flask, apparently craving something harder than white wine. “Hair of the dog,” he offers as explanation, “now where were we, Greg?”

~~**~~

 

The brunch ends when Stark puts on his jacket and tells Tony he'll be in touch to negotiate more. He glares after him for a moment before grabbing Tony's wrist, “What are you thinking?”

 

“I'm assuming you mean about the drugs, but let’s not right now.”

 

“What the hell is your problem? Is this what you do for fun- take in people like Clint to make yourself feel better about being a druggie yourself?” Steve tries to meet his eyes, can't because of how Tony looks everywhere but his face.

 

“I'm sick, Steve, what can I say?”

 

“You're full of shit.”

 

“And you aren't? Good God, you come here begging for work and then you walk around like you're better than everyone else. Clint lost his family, what am I supposed to do, Steve, tell him they'll all be together in heaven?”

 

“Listen here, buster-”

 

“I have work to do, Steve, so unless you're coming along, be my guest to go home,” he pays the bill and the door jingles when he pulls it open. When Steve doesn't follow he lets it close behind him.

 

He pulls on his jacket and goes, intent on catching a cab home, when he sees it.


Steve shoves him against the pavement without a word, though Tony yelps when he hits the ground. The screams rippling through the street serve as explanation enough and so Tony doesn't ask why Steve had suddenly gotten aggressive.

"Stay down," Steve whispers lowly.

Tony complies almost immediately allowing Steve to get a bead on the shooter. They'd been somewhere in the crowd, close but not close enough that they will be right on top of them yet. It takes him only a couple of seconds to shove aside the sounds of the screams and he just manages to isolate the sound of footsteps coming nearer to them, striding with purpose, when they stand right beside them. Inspecting their handiwork.

 

Steve acts.

 

He makes a blind grab that pays off and clamps his hand around the shooter's wrist. A woman. He doesn't let her see his surprise before forcing her arm away and ordering, “Stark, get to safety.”

 

She twists out of his hold and shoves him backward, her retaliation as surprising to him as her sex had been, because her arms don't look like they belong to a person with that much strength. Their friend from the tower then. He trips over Tony who has yet to get to his feet, stumbling around like a blind man amongst a panicked crowd that will spread to their location and trample them in moments. He swears and struggles to regain control of the situation and himself. The woman’s red hair stands out against her black clothing, against the bright blue sky behind her, and it covers nearly half of her face.

 

“Goodbye, Mr. Stark,” she says and raises the gun again.

 

His heart leaps to his throat-Tony won't survive a hit from this close, not from someone with the intent to kill and the training to do it right. He jumps but she simply steps out of the way. Failure roils in his gut as his elbows scrape the ground, as he pushes himself to his feet, but not fast enough. He turns, not quick enough, not good enough, never good enough to save anyone, but she hits the ground with a grunt. Down but not out. Steve grabs for her as Stark stands, red blossoming on the left side of his shirt. His heart pounds in his ears, loud like screams, like gunshots, like the screech of tires and the wail of sirens- not fast enough, not good enough.

 

Blood spatters against the pale grey pavement of the sidewalk, the spray a sharp edged thing that cuts, stabs into his consciousness. He doesn't drop the gun, training had taught him not to drop his gun but he holds it up, and stares at it. When had he drawn it?

 

Tony lets out a whimper, “You- you-”

 

“Safe now,” Steve says, steps over her, “call Thor.”

 

“Steve you-god, you can't just-” Tony's voice shakes and he raises eyes as huge as saucers from the woman's body when Steve stands in front of him.

 

“Call Thor.”

 

People swarm around again, makes him deaf from the sound of them all, and Tony stands in front of him shaking. “I'm going to be-”

 

He throws up, and when he stands upright again red drips from his nose. Steve moves to wipe it away, moves to grab him because they need to get safe but Tony flinches away so he doesn't try again. “She would have killed you, Stark.”

 

Her fingers still grip her weapon tightly, even in death.

 

“I-I just-I...knew her,” Tony makes a shuddering gasp, turns away, “god I didn't want you to kill her. We could have-”

 

“She had a gun to you,” this time he does manage to grab him, shakes him, “what the hell is wrong with you?”

 

Tony squawks when Steve lifts him off his feet but doesn't struggle much-not surprising considering he's been losing blood for a couple of minutes now, “What are you doing, Steve?”

 

“Getting you somewhere safe. You've been shot.”

 

“I'm fine, darling, really.”

 

He carries him away from the scene. He doesn't know where, just keeps walking, Tony held in his arms, until he can't hear the blood roaring in his ears and the crowd disappears. An alley will do for now, until Tony calls Thor, until they can get back to the penthouse or the hospital and he sets Tony down before immediately pulling open his shirt to inspect the damage. No wound. Blood, but no wound.

 

His knees buckle and Tony bends with him, hands shaking as he opens Steve's jacket and shirt. It makes the pain kick in and he grits his teeth to trap any sounds he might have made from escaping. “Apply pressure,” he forces out because Tony hasn't done much of anything but gawk at him.

 

“I wish I were drunk, right now,” he says, presses both hands against the hole as Steve feels for an exit wound. It pulls at the wound to do it but he continues anyway, doesn't find one.

 

“Focus, Stark,” Steve pushes his hands into Tony's, forcing them harder against the bullet hole in spite of how it makes him grunt with pain and Tony's hands try to jump back, “got to. Do it this hard.”

 

The world around him fades to shades of grey and he sags against Tony's shoulder, head using it as a pillow. He hears Tony's heart hammering away in his chest like a bird's, too quickly, and breathes slower so that Tony will follow suit and calm down. He hears his mother telling him he's destined for greater things, Gail telling him as she runs her hands through his hair that he could be a movie star if he wanted now, with how he's filled out so much- can hear the jealousy in her voice even though he'd never love anyone but her, never. Tony pulls him closer, hands gripping the back of his suit tightly, “don't go, Steve.”

 

He sputters, unknown words on his lips and Tony makes a sound like a whimper, “I'll stop drinking so much if you just stay awake, darling, really. Anything you like, I'll do it.”

 

“Shut up,” he coughs out and manages to keep his gun raised defensively, though his hand is shaking badly. Tony just clings to him, in shock, no doubt.

 

The darkness in his vision overcomes him then, and he hears Thor's rumbling voice, feels himself being lifted off the ground, and finally nothing.

 

~~**~~

 

He wakes to the familiar sound of beeping that speeds up when he notices it. When he pries his eyes open he finds himself lying in a hospital bed, the room empty of other residents, but he spies a form that must be Thor outside the door when he glances that way. He smells antiseptic laundered linen, and his own sweat. IV lines stick out from his wrist, the white medical tape itching, but he leaves them alone for now.

 

“Tony,” he breathes, then grits his teeth because he shouldn't call him here. But the fact that he can't see him makes him fidget with his blankets and kick at them in an effort to push the tightly tucked covers away. “Tony.”

 

He has to see him. Has to make sure he doesn't lie under white sheets, his face pale and smudged with red, because he can't fail again. “Tony.”

 

The drugs knock him out again, but he opens his eyes- the light has shifted in the room so it can't be less than a couple hours later- to Tony sitting by his bed, a white patch over his right ear and his suit impeccably pressed.

 

“If you keep sleeping like that you'll give Jarvis a run for his money, darling,” he says, hand stopping in mid-air, then switching gears to pull a flask out of the interior pocket of his jacket, “but I still have you beat for most trips to the hospital, I think.”

 

“Said you'd stop.”

 

“I said I'd drink less,” Tony takes a swig of his drink with a grimace, “besides, you can hardly blame me for needing a drink. I'd offer you one, but it doesn’t mix well with morphine.”

 

“What happened?”

 

He shrugs, “Oh, you know. Man meets woman, woman turns out to be a spy hired by man's twin brother hell-bent on revenge. A true Hollywood classic.”

 

“Are you safe?”

 

“One can only assume. You killed the assassin after all,” Tony takes another drink at that and Steve nods.

 

“Why're you here?”

 

He laughs, “In case you haven't noticed, Steve, you don't have anyone else to sit by your bedside and my schedule has been light on the charitable acts lately.”

 

“I have people other than you,” Steve growls, except that Sam hasn't called for a week or two and Jan never will again. He scrapes at the tape holding his IV against his wrist, ignoring how Tony pats his hand and tries to pull it away.

 

“Then where are they?”

 

His medical file still lists Gail as his next of kin and the memory makes grief bubble in the back of his throat. He stares out the window, breathing to keep everything back because he can't let Tony see this again. His fingernail finds the edge of tape and pulls it back so that it rolls into a tube, then pushes it back to lay flat against his skin. But he clamps down on that too and so he settles on just staring at the thin sliver of blue sky he can see from the window, not moving except to blink.

 

“They would give you something for that you know,” Tony says, pauses as if rolling the words he wants to say over his tongue to choose the correct ones,“the attacks.”

 

“Do they have something that'll shut your mouth?”

 

“There are only two things that will shut this mouth, Steve, care to guess them?” his thumb rubs across the back of Steve's hand and it doesn't remind him of anyone-not with how calloused Tony's hands turn out to be. The tension in his shoulders drains slightly, like pus from a wound, but he doesn't look at him.

 

“No.”

 

Tony hums, “You really should relax, darling, you'll get wrinkles.”

 

“So you've said.”

 

“It would be a shame,” Tony says again, and the chair he sits on scrapes along the floor, warning him before he moves but Steve stays still while he strides to the door and closes it with a faint click, “how are you feeling?”

 

“Fine.”

 

The bed doesn't creak when he climbs onto it but the mattress dips at each knee, pulling Steve to one side until Tony swings one leg over to straddle Steve’s. His jaw clenches, because he imagines spending time in a bed with Tony Stark rarely ends with sleeping (the last time gets placed into the 'anomaly' category) but the blankets keep his legs immobilized and his breath leaves him in a soft woosh.

 

“I'm not a queer.”

 

“Good God,” Tony laughs at Steve's expense, “if a blowjob made you gay I would be on the cover of Out by now.”

 

He glowers but Tony shifts again, pulls the blankets down to where his chest rests against Steve's calves, “you know you only have to say no, darling, and I'll forget all about it.”

 

Tony glances up at him a couple of times, waiting, but the words- word, just one word- won't come because Steve has pushed him against walls and counters too many times for it to be truthful. He pulls the green hospital pants down and Steve forces himself to look elsewhere, to follow the lines of the window frame over and over.

 

“How long has it been?”

 

“Just get it over with, Stark.”

 

His hips jump when Tony's tongue drags along the length of his cock and he curls his hands into fists to keep from doing it again, from giving him the satisfaction of knowing exactly how long it'd been since Jan, since anyone had touched him like this. He says nothing when Steve's breathing gets heavier or when he gets fully hard, and when Steve peeks at him his focus remains on Steve's dick and not much else. He doesn't see him looking or comment on how simple reducing him to groans had been. Not yet, anyway.

 

Tony's hair slides through his fingers easily, the strands silky and soft and then he does raise his eyes, lets Steve's dick slide out of his mouth so that it rests just out of reach of his lips, “You know I took you for a gentleman, Steve, but I'd hardly complain if you pulled my hair.”

 

He winds some of it- presenting more of a challenge than Jan's had, he never pulled her hair- around his fist and yanks, grunting, “Get on with it.”

 

A shudder ripples through Tony's shoulders and his mouth falls just the slightest bit more open before taking Steve’s cock inside his mouth again. It takes an embarrassingly small amount of time for Steve to come, though Tony doesn't mention it, just swallows and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand while Steve lies back against the pillow breathing harshly.

 

“There,” he says and tucks him back into his pants, “better?”

 

He can't muster enough strength- he puts it up to the meds- to tell Tony to fuck off, so he just gives a short nod. Tony's eyes keep returning to his face every few moments and then he climbs off the bed. Steve can see how hard he's gotten but he doesn't offer anything and Tony doesn't ask. He doesn't hear him leave but he must have, because the next time he wakes up Tony is gone.

 

~~**~~

 

They release him the next morning and he takes a cab back home in spite of there being a black car out front that looks like Tony's. His apartment sits empty, same as always, the fridge mostly barren except for leftovers from the last time he'd come home and the last of the wine. He tips the plate into the garbage along with the stupid yellow post-it with the winking face on it. His wound twinges when he reaches overhead to the cabinets, but he ignores it and doesn't take the medication sitting on the counter.

 

He lets the cup drop to the floor, and then another, and he shouldn't because he'll have to clean them up and Sam had bought them for him. But Sam hadn't called in a month anyway and neither had Jan and Jan won't call because she'd made it clear she wouldn't ever again. He slams his hand against the counter, letting himself sob exactly once before clamping down on it, because one begets others. But he doesn't move. He stands there, waiting until the sharp points of his grief dull, then goes and lies down on his bed, pills in hand. Their effect comes on him so suddenly that he doesn't have the strength to get under the covers or change into more comfortable clothing.

 

He keeps the lamp off so that the only light comes from the tiny slats of the blinds and he watches the dust dance in the sun with fascination he can't muster normally. He blinks slowly- everything he does is slow now. But then Jan and Gail whisper to him and Bucky stands in the corner, smiling, and he squeezes his eyes shut until they stop. The sun has set when he opens them again and he checks the time just for reference. One in the morning.

 

His torso aches again and his leg joins in but he doesn't take the medication. He picks up his cellphone and calls Stark. He shouldn't. He shouldn’t, but he does, and Tony picks up after a few rings, sniffling on the other end.

 

“I'm assuming you know how late it is.”

 

He ignores him, “Come over.”

 

“You know I do have other things to do sometimes. The press is all over asking about things and the police have already asked for my statement so I suppose you can expect them to be knocking at your door.”

 

“I don't care. Come over.”

 

Tony sighs, “You could stand to be a little nicer to your boss, Steve, really.”

 

“Please.”

 

“I'll assume you have no food.”

 

Steve hears the ding of the elevator and then silence. He goes to the kitchen and cleans up the glass with the broom from the closet, eyes his yoga mat but leaves it alone for now. He owns exactly four shirts; two of them he'd bought to go with his suit, one he wears for working out, and the other Gail had picked out for him for their anniversary dinner the year before the accident. He grabs the deep blue sleeve, feeling the fabric between his fingers, and pulls it out of the closet. Maybe too formal for what this is, but a ratty t-shirt wouldn't fit either. Tony had said he liked the colour on him.

 

He hangs it on the bathroom door while he carefully showers and shaves, then stares at himself in the mirror. He doesn't look any different- blond hair cropped short, dark smudges under his eyes- but he should. Having another man suck your dick means you're different and he doesn't linger on the specifics of it so that the rest of it (counters and walls and lipstick) stays away too. Tony knocking on the door makes him turn his head. He dries off quickly then slips on the shirt even though doing so nearly chokes him with memories that he struggles to push back.

 

When he opens the door Tony raises his eyebrows. His eyes are glassy in the porch light, “Well, why didn't you say it was this kind of visit on the phone?”

 

“Come in.”

 

He takes Tony's coat, hangs it on the hook by the door while he toes out of his shoes, “How's the bullet hole?”

 

“Been a few days. It's fine.”

 

“Well my ear will take a few weeks at best to heal according to the doctor, so you'll have to speak up, darling,” he holds up a bottle of wine, the same as the one Steve still has, “I assume I have access to your fridge.”

 

“Go ahead,” he watches him go, eyes lingering too long on how his slacks frame his body and Tony notices, smirks.

 

“You know I intended for you to drink the other one. A cup of red wine a day is only healthy.”

 

“I haven't been home. I don't drink.”

 

“Is eating also out of the question?” he hears Tony huff in the kitchen, “I don't suppose you plan on buying any more glasses, Steve.”

 

He doesn't say anything and Tony comes back, the bottle still in his hand, “I'll have some brought over.”

 

Sweat trickles down his back when he sits on the couch, in spite of how he has all of the windows open and blowing a breeze through the house. The cushion dips as Tony sits next to him, holds the wine out to him, “Have some wine.”

 

“What are you going to do about your brother?”

 

“As charming as your concern is, darling, I have enough of a scandal on my hands already.”

 

“So you're not going to do anything,” he reads between the lines, growls, “he tried to kill you.”

 

“He's only throwing a temper tantrum. He's really very good at it, I'd hate to take it away from him,” Tony reaches into his jacket and pulls out a corkscrew, uncorks the wine, then takes a swig, “Wine?”

 

“No.”

 

“Oh don't pout, he didn't actually hurt me. He wouldn't know what to do with himself if he actually killed me. It's all a game. Besides, I had you there, didn't I?” Tony says and Steve yanks him onto his lap, a splash of wine staining the sofa dark where it lands.

 

“Shut up.”

 

“You know there are easier ways to get me to stop-”

 

He shoves their lips together and it scratches where Tony's facial hair rubs against his skin, but he doesn't stop because Tony had it right the first time he'd come here. He hadn't been hungry before but he is now, and he swallows Tony's groan, grabbing his hips tight enough that Tony makes a quiet sound of encouragement. Tony's hands run through his hair, settle at the nape of his neck as he grinds his hips down against Steve's.

 

“Please say we can go to your bed.” Steve stands, lifts him even though he shouldn't, with his stitches, drops the wine wherever it falls, and Tony gasps,“Show off.”

 

He lets him fall, not as carefully as he probably should have, onto his bed then follows, dragging his hands up Tony’s sides, then back down over his chest before ripping his button down out of his suit pants.

 

“God, Steve, don't tease.”

 

“I'm not.”

 

“You are,” he unbuttons Steve's shirt quickly, quicker than Steve manages Tony's, “by keeping this on, as much as it brings out your eyes.”

 

“Gail picked it out.”

 

“Of course she did,” his hands push Steve's shirt off of his shoulders and he forgets Gail, forgets Jan for the moment, “now hurry up and fuck me, Rogers.”

 

His arousal flares at that and finally just pulls the shirt apart rather than waiting for his fingers to stop shaking. Tony arches into it, like he’s getting off from the buttons pattering against the floor, and presses their lips together again, all tongue and teeth and fevered desperation. His pants take less time, even with the belt, but he stops to stare at Tony because he has red silk briefs on. He sees a wet spot forming on the front of them and it is an obvious reminder that Tony is a man.

 

“God, please don't tell me you're getting cold feet, darling.”

 

“No,” Steve mutters, kissing him again as he shoves his hand between their bodies to grab his cock through those stupid briefs. It makes him breathe out when Tony breathes in quickly- he can do this. He wants to do this. He'd called Tony over just to do this. He squeezes and Tony moans against his lips.

 

“Like that, just like that, sweetheart.”

 

“Don't,” he says but Tony doesn't hear him and keeps babbling pet names and encouragement until Steve pulls him out of his underwear and works up enough of a rhythm that it fades into panting with the occasional 'fuck' thrown in for good measure. He comes in his hand and Steve wipes it on the blankets almost immediately.

 

“Don't look so conflicted, darling, it's only a handjob. Now come here.”

 

Tony unzips Steve’s pants with shaking fingers, “You have no idea how long I've wanted to-”

 

“You're not exactly subtle,” Steve growls, bucking his hips into Tony’s hand, in spite of how it makes his job more difficult.

 

“And you are?” The smirk makes his face flush, “Oh don't try to be demure, Steve, you were the one who kept shoving me against things.”

 

“I-”

 

“You really want to go into this now?”

 

“No,” he says after a pause that lingers long enough for Tony to raise his eyebrows, “hurry up.”

 

He starts when Tony wiggles out from under him and curls his hands into fists to keep from reaching for him because he doesn't go far. “I don't suppose you have lube.”

 

“For what?”

 

“I said I wanted you to fuck me and I'm afraid it would be dreadful without some sort of...help,” he pulls open the drawers of Steve's bedside table to his delayed protests, “Enough. I don't have anything like that.”

 

“Then it's a good thing I brought some, isn't it? Really, for someone who prides himself on always being prepared, darling...”

 

He watches, because Tony insists on making the whole thing into a show, like it will somehow turn him on more- he watches those blue eyes flutter closed, watches him slide another finger inside himself with a bitten off moan.

 

“Don't hurt yourself,” he mutters, voice breathy, and his hands go to Tony's hips again, squeeze hard enough that he wouldn't be surprised if he saw marks afterwards.

 

“Oh now you're worried about that,” he laughs though it turns into a moan when one of Steve's hands moves to his ass and squeezes there too, “just a little more.”

 

He doesn't notice at first that Tony has stopped until he doesn't hear him panting anymore, “What?”

 

“Just admiring the view, darling,” his fingertips skate delicately over the square of gauze on Steve's abdomen, “you know you could have been killed.”

 

“Don't,” he says, because Stark's voice takes on that same tremor as before on the street, “it's my job.”

 

“Yes, well. Of course it is,” he smiles and blinks away the remnants of the glassiness in his eyes, “Now hurry up and fuck me because Armand doesn't like to wait.”

 

~~**~~

 

They linger in bed for a few minutes afterwards, just breathing, until a knock on the door rouses them and Tony pulls on his ruined shirt and a pair of pants to answer it. Steve wipes himself off first, applies more deodorant and pulls on some clothes before heading out to the living room, still trying to straighten out his hair.

 

Monica Chang, to her credit, doesn't look more than faintly surprised, “We need to take you in for questioning, Rogers.”

 

“Right,” he says, because of course they do, and he glances to Tony, expecting some sort of plot to be revealed but he just goes to the kitchen, brings back the bottle of wine.

 

“Stark can stay here.” She gives him an appraising look, frowns, then turns back to Steve, “You’re under arrest, so I’m afraid you'll have to be cuffed.”

 

“I know the procedure.”

 

“Then you know that I'm not saying it because you don't.”

 

He submits willingly as Chang rattles off the usual spiel, and is sat down in the back of her cruiser without fanfare. They get halfway to the station before she speaks again.

 

“So that's why you don't want to come back.”

 

“You know why I don't want to come back. Ma'am.”

 

“I'm not your superior officer, you can call me a bitch like everyone else if it makes you feel better,” she glances at him in the rear view mirror as if waiting for him to take her up on her offer. He doesn't, though, and her eyes return to the road, “I'd say I expected differently but Stark has a way of getting what and who he wants.”

 

He doesn't answer and she doesn't say much else.

 

When they get to the precinct she takes him up the back way, avoiding most of the prying eyes, and into one of the far interrogation rooms. A couple of cops he only recognizes the faces of wait for them there and one of them stays, the other going to start the recording.

 

“Name?”

 

“Steven Grant Rogers.”

 

He rattles the rest of the information off that they need, declines needing to call a lawyer for the moment, and then sits with his hands in front of him on the stainless steel table. The position makes his shoulders relax a little, in spite of how he sits on the opposite side of the law this time, and Chang nods.

 

“Where were you on the afternoon of April 3rd?”

 

“I was at a restaurant with Mr. Antonio Stark acting as his bodyguard. In the line of duty I fired my weapon at an assailant until she was dead.” 

 

“Do you have a permit for that weapon?”

 

“Yes. It's in my wallet which I do not have on my person currently.”

 

“So you admit to killing Ms. Natasha Romanova with your concealed weapon on the afternoon of April 3rd.”

 

“I do.”

 

“You'll be held until the court can decide on your bail agreement. If you do not have an attorney, one will be provided for you.”

 

“I don't have one,” he answers, lets himself be escorted to the holding cell that will be his home for the next twenty four hours. His cellmate doesn't say much, preferring to sit with his arms crossed over his chest on his side of the cell. Steve mirrors the action because he knows he can’t sleep.

 

~~**~~

 

His lawyer sits down, runs his hand over his half bald head that shines under the lights of the visitor's room. “I understand that you're looking to plead not guilty due to self-defence.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I also understand you were in an...” the man coughs, “intimate relationship with your employer.”

 

He clenches his jaw and his lawyer- Payne- flinches. “It came out in Discovery! You should be prepared to have people ask!”

 

“I get it. Discredit me and Stark.”

 

“Well. Yes.”

 

“Okay,” he says, sighs because the papers will have the story splashed across the front page and Tony had said that no one had to know only days before.

 

Tony doesn't visit, doesn't call, and Steve doesn't bother waiting for him to show up either. He spends the free time he gets- because no one pays his bail- reading up on law, getting ready for the inevitable lines of questioning and the possibility that he won't be getting out. Stark will be fine. Stark will pay someone off and sweep it all under the rug and then maybe remember Steve rotting in a jail cell somewhere.

 

He doesn't complain. He gets meals, sleeps, exercises, and reads on a schedule, so the days blend together so perfectly that he almost forgets his court date. When he walks into the courthouse that morning he manages to dodge the paparazzi- they care more about Tony anyway, and even with his lawyer Steve doesn't differ much from everyone else huddled around the place- white, blond, blue eyes.

 

The first question he gets after they finish swearing him in is about his injury. The next about his time with the NYPD and then finally about his 'relationship' with Mr. Stark.

 

“And do you think that your...dealings with Mr. Stark could have muddied your judgement somewhat, Mr. Rogers?”

 

“No.”

 

“And why is that?”

 

He manages to keep the frown off of his face, “I've worked with the NYPD, sir. You learn to keep your feelings separate.”

 

“So you fired your weapon 'in the line of duty' without thinking.”

 

“I fired it with the intention of eliminating a threat. Ms. Romanova had already fired on my employer once before trying again.”

 

“A threat to your employer or to your relationship with Mr. Stark? He and Ms. Romanova have been tied in the past.”

 

“A threat to his life. She had a gun.”

 

Payne calls a recess before he can go any further and Steve takes a breath. He needs to keep calm, answer their questions without getting visibly irritated at how they have a fixation on his 'affair' with Tony and how it would change his judgement. He goes to the bathroom, splashes water on his face, and when he returns to the room he keeps calm.

 

~~**~~

 

“I know I said that no one would find out but I wasn't exactly anticipating the hired killer, darling. Oh pick up the phone, Steve, a few months from now no one will remember at all, really. Fine, be that way.”

 

“You know I could just come over if I wanted. It's not like you do anything. I know you're home. Please pick up? I'll bring wine.”

 

Steve turns off his phone after the third message in three days and doesn't turn it back on. He goes to physiotherapy, talks with Monica Chang, Sam, Lang, buys food for his fridge, puts away pictures and mementos that don't need to be out, flushes his sleeping pills. Tony doesn't show up at his doorstep and he hears knocks on the door- swears he does- but Tony doesn't show up. He doesn't show up and Steve doesn't go to him, so long that Sam stops asking him what he'll do for a job and starts asking him what he thinks about the scores again. Spring turns to summer, to winter, and Steve stops thinking about Tony Stark. His only mementos remain in the penthouse and he'd drunk the wine with Sam and the girl Sam has started seeing.

 

~~**~~

 

The headline cuts through the haze of sleep that still hangs on him. “Tony Stark dead.” His hands shake, breath abruptly coming quicker as he quickly skims the article. Cause of death had been cancer, which the paper opines had been the reason for his sudden interest in humanitarian endeavours during the past year. Steve drops it before he can read the rest. He should have known, should have guessed, should have stayed.

 

He calls Tony's number- the private one- and it goes to voice mail immediately.

 

“Stark,” he says, voice rough until he clears his throat, “Tony. Call me back.”

 

He waits while he gets something from the fridge though he doesn't end up eating the food in front of him, waits while he takes a shower, waits while he goes for a run, but Tony doesn't call him back. He drops to the couch, presses the phone against his forehead, and puts his head between his knees. Breathing slowly doesn't help much- he throws his phone, leaving another dent in the wall a couple of metres from the other one, and breaks the last of his dishes.

 

The ride to the tower stretches far too long but he makes it anyway. Thor watches the lobby as usual, frowning at Steve's approach, “Steven.”

 

“Is it,” he pulls himself back, pushes himself into a box and locks it so that he can look Thor in the eye without any hint of tears, “is it true?”

 

“Fake deaths are not looked upon with as much kindness in the real world as they are in stories.”

 

“Where is he?”

 

“The funeral home. There will be a funeral within the next couple of days.”

 

“Right.”

 

“You are permitted to come, Steven,” Thor says, uncrosses his arms but doesn't put his hand on Steve's shoulders as he had done before, “while your methods were cowardly I am certain your reasons were not unkind.”

 

“I would have come anyway,” he nods, “if there's anything you need.”

 

“Not as of yet.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

He lets himself out and resists the urge to go back in, try to force his way into the penthouse, because Tony had thrown up every morning, he'd been so thin and sickly looking, had nosebleeds. Steve had chalked it all up to the booze, to the not eating, to the stress, to drugs, and he ducks into an alleyway because a sob has been bubbling in his throat since he'd seen the headline and it finally escapes, in spite of his best efforts. One leads to others until he can't tamp down on it and crying in public makes him want to punch something, but the only thing close are hard exteriors of buildings. The brickwork scrapes at his hands when he braces himself against it, chest heaving like an asthma attack from his childhood.

 

Tony hadn't been a good man- any one could do good when they feared dying- but Steve isn't either, not really. He'd been just as much of a coward, maybe more so. It bites at him, the realization,  because he runs towards danger,  takes bullets for people, but the idea of withstanding two months of what Tony endured his entire life had made him run with his tail between his legs. Coward. His mother had raised him better, his father would have expected better, even if Steve ended up like this because he'd been caught in a relationship with another man. This must be his punishment from God, then, for both things.

 

He takes one last shuddering breath of cold air then reigns himself in, wipes his face with his sleeve before merging back in with the foot traffic. If people look at him, he doesn't see them as he heads for the precinct. It isn't far and his leg has been improving with how he has been eating regularly and not being so demanding of it, so he manages to make it there without incident.

 

Monica Chang isn't in, but Nick Fury- the man she'd taken the Chief position from- sits at her desk. He looks up as if expecting Steve to be standing at the door of the office and waves him in before he can knock.

 

“Where is Chief Chang?”

 

“Conference with the mayor. What're you here for, Rogers?”

 

“I want a job,” he says, “not my old one. Chief Chang said she could find a place for me.”

 

“Doesn't seem like her but knock yourself out.”

 

He takes the hint and leaves, doesn't go far though because he has time to waste, so sitting in the corridor doesn't ruin any plans he might have had. People rush by at various intervals, some slower than others, but only a few give him an acknowledging nod. He might as well be invisible and for now he doesn't do anything to change that.

 

~~**~~

 

The funeral is large, with most of the businessmen and women of Manhattan in attendance, along with employees, friends, and a few particularly distraught one night stands. He and the other members of security stay dry-eyed throughout, but Steve's chest still tightens when they present the urn to Tony's brother, clad in white with tears in his eyes that Steve can only think of as fake. They don't bury him. His last wishes hadn't been to be buried, for whatever reason, so there will be only a grave marker and the urn- God knows what Gregory Stark will do with it- so the populace is spared the sight of a coffin being lowered slowly into the ground as if wood and dirt could contain someone like Tony.

 

The party afterwards is lavish and over the top as anyone could expect-Steve never manages to catch anyone refilling his glass when he drains it halfway and yet it never ends up empty. His stomach doesn't complain for food but he eats anyway because in the past year and a half his idea of hungry has been skewed so that he doesn't know what hungry is anymore. No one talks to him except for the odd woman with trails of mascara down her cheek who says “It's just terrible, isn't it? He was such a good man.” He finds the Nguyen sisters and stands by them. They don't talk to him either, but they don't walk away.

 

Gregory Stark makes a speech that Steve mostly tunes out, announces a charity he's setting up in Tony's name to fund cancer research. Steve ducks out before the end of it, bile rising in his throat at how he can stand there in front of thousands of people and lie, at how Steve should have stayed, should have been there because he doesn't deserve to be here.

 

When he makes it home he finds the messages Tony had left him and plays them until the words run together and he can't hear the sounds of a hospital in the background. “I know you want nothing to do with me, darling, but it's terribly boring without you. I know you're there, Steve, you never do anything but watch TV and frown at things. Please?”

 

Steve is a coward. He should have picked up the phone, should have gone to him because he'd been dying and he'd always sat by Steve's bedside when he'd been injured. He doesn't throw the phone this time- he holds it closer, presses it tighter against his chest, but it does nothing to ease his mind. He should pray for forgiveness and for Tony and this should make his faith stronger. But he doesn't talk to God. He hasn’t since Gail.

 

He goes to bed that night and tries to pray but he can't think of anything that doesn't start accusatory so he just sleeps.

 

~~**~~

 

The next couple of weeks pass quicker than he would have expected. Tony's lawyer calls him into his office and tells him he'd been left a sum of money- all of his bodyguards had been, he says. Steve hesitates for all of twenty seconds before asking that it be donated to a charity that Tony had contributed to, whatever it happens to be. God hasn't given him an answer yet, but Steve has read the bible and has seen the need of New Yorkers. The charity ends up being one that provides schooling for underprivileged youth, so Steve nods, signs the mountain of paperwork that authorizes the transfer of funds.

 

The lawyer raises his eyebrows when he thanks him and goes, but Steve doesn't linger any longer than it takes for him to get to the door. His pay had been more than good enough for the kind of life Steve leads and a giant windfall won't change anything- he could still not work if he chose not to. He passes Thor in the hallway, nods before stepping into the elevator. It dings as the doors close and Steve bids farewell to high rises, and men in suits with too much money than they know what to do with.

 

The smell of coffee, paper, and people hits him like a wall when he goes into the precinct the next morning, the rasp of his uniform against his arms familiar. A few people nod to him but the majority look up from their work a split second before returning to it without another thought. He follows the path of desks until he reaches his own, a post-it from Sam reminding him that they will be holding a Welcome Back party tonight, so he’d better prepare himself for it. Steve peels it off of his otherwise empty computer monitor, tosses it into the trash bin under his desk.

 

He checks his email to confirm any last minute changes before opening the file he'd prepared for himself the week before. After a quick flip through it to refresh himself on the details he tucks it under his arm and heads for the conference room. A kid- still a kid, no other way to put it- waits outside the door for him, at attention. A nod communicates his intentions well enough and the kid waits for him to get inside the room before joining him.

 

They sit and Steve leans forward, fingers knit together, “What makes you think you'll be a good fit for the job, son?”

 

He sees the kid's eyes widen slightly at him cutting directly to the chase but he doesn't choke. “My grandfather, sir. He was a Captain, same as you.”

 

The interview doesn't go on long, seeing as it's mostly a formality, but he still puts the kid through his paces anyway, lets him see how tough it can really be though he gets the idea by the end that he isn't the kind to be deterred by a little hard work. He's got the heart for it anyway, and Sam grins at him later, tells him he's going soft over a couple of drinks.

 

“So what'd you say his name was again? Barkley?”

 

Steve shakes his head, takes a sip of whiskey, “Bradley. Eli Bradley.”